Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

What Valuable Lesson Has Life Taught You?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWhen H. Brown Jackson turned 51, he sat down to write down what half century of living had taught him. It became a cherished weekly ritual and soon he began asking his family, friends, acquaintances, and students of all ages to answer this compelling question: what valuable lesson has life taught you?

Over time, he collected all these pearls of wisdom in a little book entitled Live and Learn and Pass It On published in 1992. “This book,” he writes in the introduction, “contains the combined wisdom of thousands of years of living… It is lessons learned from loving and winning and… losing, from the school of hard knocks, and the old method of trial and error… Regardless of how much we know, it is never enough… with every new experience, we are offered new opportunities for discovery and growth… School is always in session and life challenges us to excel at being both enthusiastic student and inspired teacher.” Amen, brother. And the beautiful thing about personal wisdom is that is priceless — and free. As Jackson pleasantly discovered, you just need to have the curiosity to ask — and the willingness to learn from it. Here are some highlights (age of contributor in parenthesis).

I’ve learned that deciding whom you marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make. (95)

I’ve learned that most of the things I worry about never happen. (64)

I’ve learned that the great challenge in life is to decide what’s important and disregard everything else. (51)

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t compare yourself to the best others can do, but to the best you can do. (68)

I’ve learned that it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. (66)

I’ve learned that nothing of value comes without effort. (64)

I’ve learned that even the simplest task can be meaningful if I do it in the right spirit. (72)

I’ve learned that enthusiasm is caught, not taught. (51)

I’ve learned that in every face-to-face encounter, regardless of how brief, we leave something behind. (45)

I’ve learned that you can’t hug your kids too much. (54)

What valuable lesson has life taught you?

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The Most Beautiful Movies of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf moviesWhen discussing the most beautiful movies of all time, we mean the most visually beautiful movies of all time — that is to say, ones with stunning cinematography, art-direction, composition, and use of light and color. The litmus test for a beautiful movie is quite simple: if you turned off the sound, would it be compelling and entertaining to watch? Here are ten of the most visually beautiful movies of all time (name of film, followed by year, director, and cinematographer):

1. Samsara (2011): Ron Fricke, Ron Fricke

2. The Tree of Life (2011): Terrence Malick, Emmanuel Lubezki

3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962): David Lean, F. A. Young

4. Hero (2002): Zhang Yimou, Christopher Doyle

5. The Fall (2006): Tarsem Singh, Colin Watkinson

6. The Conformist (1970): Bernardo Bertolucci, Vittorio Storaro

7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Stanley Kubrick, Geoffrey Unsworth

8. Citizen Kane (1941): Orson Welles, Gregg Toland

9. Manhattan (1979): Woody Allen, Gordon Willis

10. Russian Ark (2002): Alexander Sokurov, Tilman Buttner

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For further reading:

What is the Average Cost of a College Credit?

alex atkins bookshelf educationCollege students are some of the worst consumers in America, flipping the commonsense frugal strategy on its head: rather than “pay less for more” they “pay more for less.” It’s like prepaying for an elegant steak and wine dinner and then choosing a hot dog and chips for your meal. Expressed another way, college students (or more accurately, their parents) pay a very high price for an undergraduate education, while college students choose to take the minimal amount of courses, and often the least challenging courses to graduate. But the biggest waste of money occurs when college students — without parents to nag them about it — cut classes for whatever reason (hangover, went to bed at 4:00 am, the dog ate my homework, etc.). When you consider the average cost of a college credit, you might want to reconsider whether it makes sense to skip those classes.

The staff at Student Loan Hero used data from the Department of Education to calculate the average cost per college credit. There are significant differences of course between 4-year and 2-year schools, and whether the schools are public, private, or for- profit. Four-year colleges typically require 120 credits to earn an undergraduate degree. Thus, to earn a degree at a public school, tuition will cost $39,000; at a private school, the tuition adds up to a staggering $77,640. Here are the average cost per credit hour for colleges across these four sectors:

2-Year Public College: $135

4-Year Public College: $325

4-Year for Profit College: $647

4-Year Private College: $1,039

Average Cost of a College Credit: $594

So the next time you want to sleep in and skip morning classes, you may want to consider the actual hit to your pocketbook and decide if that is a wise use (or misuse) of your money.

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Education Reform
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Education or Indoctrination?

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All Great Discoveries Have Involved a Leap of Intuition

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Certainly there are things worth believing. I believe in the brotherhood of man and the uniqueness of the individual. But if you ask me to prove what I believe, I can’t. You know them to be true but you could spend a whole lifetime without being able to prove them. The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove. There comes a point where the mind takes a leap — call it intuition or what you will — and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) quoted in the Life Magazine article Death of a Genius (May 2, 1955). Einstein was a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and poster boy for geniuses and bad hair days. As early as 1975, a variant of this quotation appears in The Human Side of Scientists by Ralph Oesper: “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.”

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What is the Liar Paradox?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAncient Greek philosophers loved a good paradox. Some of the most famous paradoxes were developed by Zeno of Elia, who lived in the 4th century BCE. Unfortunately, Zeno’s book of paradoxes was lost and we only know about them secondhand from Aristotle and his commentators, such as Simplicius. His most famous paradoxes focus on motion, namely, Achilles and the Tortoise and Arrow. However, our discussion today is about one overlooked writer of paradoxes — Eubulides of Miletus, one of Zeno’s contemporaries. While Zeno developed dozens of paradoxes, Eubulides came up with only seven. The most famous of them is the Liar Paradox (or Liar’s Paradox); Eubulides asked, “A man says that he is lying. Is what he says true or false?” Here is the conundrum: is what the man says true or false? If it is true, it is false; and if it is false, it is true. So it is both true and false. WTF?

Graham Priest, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne and author of Logic: A Very Short Introduction, discusses how these paradoxes tied up philosophers in knots: “The paradox and its variations were discussed by Ancient philosophers, and have been subject to much discussion in both Medieval and modern logic. Indeed, those who have engaged with them in the 20th Century reads rather like a roll call of famous logicians of that period. But despite this attention, there is still no consensus as to how to solve such paradoxes. Solutions are legion; but the only thing that is generally agreed upon, is that all of them are problematic.” Two philosophers wrote extensively about the Liar Paradox: Theophrastus, a successor to Aristotle wrote three papyrus rolls, while Chrysippus, a Stoic philosopher, wrote six. Sadly, like’s Zeno’s book, these manuscripts are lost. In fact, one scholar died trying to solve the paradox — Philitas of Cos, the first major Greek writer who was both a poet and scholar, died of insomnia. His epitaph reads: “Philitas of Cos am I / ‘Twas the Liar who made me die / And the bad nights caused thereby.”

This begs the question: why should we give a shit? That is to say, more politely, why have philosophers wrestled with this question for centuries? Why does this matter now? All good questions. Meet Philosophy Professor Bradley Dowden, CSU, Sacramento and a contributor to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy who believes that the Liar Paradox is a serious problem: “To put the Liar Paradox in perspective, it is essential to appreciate why such an apparently trivial problem is a deep problem. Solving the Liar Paradox is part of the larger project of understanding truth. Understanding truth is a difficult project that involves finding a theory of truth, or a definition of truth, or a proper analysis of the concept of truth.” Thus, at the heart of the paradox is man’s age-old quest for Truth.

Eubulides would be delighted to know that the Liar Paradox is alive and well in the modern Google Era. If you read or listen to the news each day you know what I mean. Take the President of the United States (please!). Many historians, journalists, and pundits recognize that President Trump has some difficulty discerning the truth. As former FBI Director James Comey wrote in his recently published book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.” And according to The Washington Post, that has staff dedicated to tracking the President’s lies, Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading claims in just 263 days: “This tendency of Trump is all too familiar to The Fact Checker. He is quick to make claims full of superlatives — the greatest this and the most beautiful that — with little to no empirical evidence to support them… The Fact Checker has completed two-thirds of our year-long project analyzing, categorizing and tracking every false or misleading claim by Trump, as well as his flip-flops. As of our latest update Oct. 10, 2017, or his 264th day in office, the president has made 1,318 claims over 263 days. He has averaged five claims a day, even picking up pace since the six-month mark.” And herein lies the rub: each week when Trump is confronted with the lies, this is his response: “President Trump states that the story on X is fake news.” Is it true, is it false, is it true and false? Like, Philitas of Cos, Americans are inextricably trapped in the Liar Paradox, struggling with heightened anxiety and insomnia.

Certainly, as Zeno and Eubulides have shown us, the search for truth is critically important — especially in a democracy — and worthy of attention and discussion. In his essay on Truth, Michael Glanzberg notes: Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years.” Unfortunately, in the topsy-turvy Trumpian world, one has to carefully traverse the minefield of Liar Paradoxes on a daily basis to arrive at the truth.

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For further reading:

Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsQuoting famous authors or thinkers is presumably a reflection of one’s erudition. But what it does it say about the speaker, if they don’t even know that the quotation they are using is incorrect — specifically, it is a paraphrase of the actual text. A speaker who actually knows the original text would say, “To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘methinks the lady doth protest too much'” rather than “To quote Shakespeare…” It doesn’t help that the internet functions like a global version game of telephone, where inaccuracies are disseminated in the time it takes to send a tweet — the twitterings of twits, as it were. Here are some famous misquoted quotes, for those who appreciate the nuances of the actual written words:

Misquote: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”
Original quote: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Source: William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (c. 1600), Act III, Scene II

Misquote: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Original quote: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are always bad men.”
Source: Lord John Acton

Misquote: “Blood, sweat, and tears.”
Original quote: “I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
Source: Winston Churchill, speech to House of Commons, May 13, 1940

Misquote: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Original quote: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
Source: William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697), Act III, Scene VIII

Misquote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Original quote: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
Source: Edmund Burke, Thoughts in the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), Volume I

Misquote: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Original quote: “James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grow out of his illness; the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Source: Mark Twain, note to a reporter, dated May 1897

Misquote: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.”
Original quote: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
Source: Mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. Actual writer was Nicholas Klein, speech to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, 1918

Misquote: “Money is the root of all evil.”
Original quote: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Source: The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10

Misquote: “No rest for the wicked.”
Original quote: “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”
Source: The Bible, Isaiah 15:21

Misquote: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
Original quote: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
Source: The Bible, Proverbs 13:24

Misquote: “Pride comes before a fall.”
Original quote: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
Source: The Bible, Proverbs 16:18

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusions by Andrew Delahunty

Colorful Victorian Slang

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhen James Joyce began writing Ulysses in 1914, he was researching language. One of the works he consulted was J. Redding Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase that was published in 1909 by Routledge. A year earlier, Routledge had published a one-volume abridged edition of the seminal seven-volume Slang and Its Analogues by John Farmer and William Henley. In the introduction to a modern facsimile, John Simpson notes “[Ware’s Dictionary of Victorian Slang] is one of the most engaging and enjoyable English dictionaries you are likely to find… He includes [more than 4,000] words and phrases, and the core of his work covers vocabulary and expressions that he encountered during his life in and around the music halls, theaters and streets of London…  [This] results in a remarkable picture of how English was changing in the late nineteenth century.” Here are some interesting entries.

argol-bargol: to have a noisy quarrel

boodle: money

carriwitchet: a puzzling question

chivy duel: fight with knives

Coxey: a wild political leader

diffs: difficulties

Donnybrook: a riot

hinchinarfer: gruff-voice woman

knee-drill: hypocritical prayer

mops and brooms: drunk

plain as a pipe-stem: utterly plain

quite a dizzy: a very clever man

sham-abram: fake illness

three-quarter man: a bad employee

zeb: best

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For further reading: The Victorian Dictionary of Slang & Phrase by J. Redding Ware

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