Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When you had your first kiss, the crows were there . . .

Count on Crows

March/April 2001

Ian Frazier DoubleTake (

Lately, I’ve been working for the crows, and so far it’s the best job I ever had. I fell into it by a combination of preparedness and luck. I’d been casting around a bit, looking for a new direction in my career, and one afternoon when I was out on my walk I happened to see some crows fly by. One of them landed on a telephone wire just above my head. I looked at him for a moment, and then on impulse I made a skchhh noise with my teeth and lips. He seemed to like that; I saw his tail make a quick upward bobbing motion at the sound. Encouraged, I made the noise again, and again his tail bobbed. He looked at me closely with one eye, then turned his beak and looked at me with the other, meanwhile readjusting his feet on the wire. After a few minutes, he cawed and flew off to join his companions. I had a good feeling I couldn’t put into words. Basically, I thought the meeting had gone well, and as it turned out, I was right. When I got home there was a message from the crows saying I had the job.

That first interview proved indicative of the crows’ business style. They are very informal and relaxed, unlike their public persona, and mostly they leave me alone. I’m given a general direction of what they want done, but the specifics of how to do it are up to me. For example, the crows have long been unhappy about public misperceptions of them: that they raid other birds’ nests, drive songbirds away, eat garbage and dead things, can’t sing, etc.—all of which is completely untrue once you know them. My first task was to take these misperceptions and turn them into a more positive image. I decided the crows needed a slogan that emphasized their strengths as a species. The slogan I came up with was Crows: We Want to Be Your Only Bird.™ I told this to the crows, they loved it, and we’ve been using it ever since.

Crows speak a dialect of English rather like that of the remote hill people of the Alleghenies. If you’re not accustomed to it, it can be hard to understand. In their formal speech they are as measured and clear as a radio announcer from the Midwest—though, as I say, they are seldom formal with me. (For everyday needs, of course, they caw.) Their unit of money is the empty soda bottle, which trades at a rate of about 20 to the dollar. In the recent years of economic boom, the crows have quietly amassed great power. With investment capital based on their nationwide control of everything that gets run over on the roads, they have bought a number of major companies. Pepsi-Cola is now owned by the crows, as well as Knight Ridder newspapers and the company that makes Tombstone frozen pizzas. The New York Metropolitan Opera is now wholly crow-owned.

In order to stay competitive, the crows recently merged with the ravens. This was done not only for reasons of growth but also to better serve those millions who live and work near crows. In the future, both crows and ravens will be known by the group name of Crows, so if you see a bird and wonder which it is, you don’t have to waste any time: Officially and legally, it’s a crow. The net result of this, of course, is that now there are a lot more crows—which is exactly what the crows want. Studies they’ve sponsored show that there could be anywhere from 10 to a thousand times more crows than there already are, with no strain on carrying capacity. A healthy increase in crow numbers would make basic services like cawing loudly outside your bedroom window at six in the morning available to all. In this area, as in many others, the crows are thinking very long term.

If more people in the future get a chance to know crows as I have done, they are in for a real treat. Because I must say, the crows have been absolutely wonderful to me. I like them not just as highly profitable business associates but as friends. Their aggressive side, admittedly quite strong in disputes with scarlet tanagers and other birds, has been nowhere in evidence around me. I could not wish for any companions more charming. The other day I was having lunch with an important crow in the park—me sipping from a drinking fountain while he ate peanuts taken from a squirrel. In between sharp downward raps of his bill on the peanut shell to poke it open, he drew me out with seemingly artless questions. Sometimes the wind would push the shell to one side and he would steady it with one large foot while continuing the raps with his beak. And all the while, he kept up his attentive questioning, making me feel that, business considerations aside, he was truly interested in what I had to say.

Crows: We Want to Be Your Only Bird.™ I think this slogan is worth repeating, because there’s a lot behind it. Of course, the crows don’t literally want (or expect) to be the only species of bird left on the planet. They admire and enjoy other kinds of birds and even hope that there will still be some remaining in limited numbers out of doors as well as in zoos and museums. But in terms of daily usage, the crows hope that you will think of them first when you’re looking for those quality-of-life intangibles usually associated with birds. Singing, for example: Crows actually can sing, and beautifully, too; so far, however, they have not been given the chance. In the future, with fewer other birds around, they feel that they will be.

Whether they’re good-naturedly harassing an owl caught out in daylight, or carrying bits of sticks and used gauze bandage in their beaks to make their colorful, free-form nests, or simply landing on the sidewalk in front of you with their characteristic double hop, the crows have become a part of the fabric of our days. When you had your first kiss, the crows were there, flying around nearby. They were cawing overhead at your college graduation, and worrying a hamburger wrapper through the wire mesh of a trash container in front of the building when you went in for your first job interview, and flapping past the door of the hospital where you held your first-born child. The crows have always been with us, and they promise that by growing the species at a predicted rate of 17 percent a year, in the future they’ll be around even more.

The crows aren’t the last Siberian tigers, and they don’t pretend to be. They’re not interested in being a part of anybody’s dying tradition. But then how many of us deal with Siberian tigers on a regular basis? Usually, the nontech stuff we deal with—besides humans—is squirrels, pigeons, raccoons, rats, mice, and a few kinds of bugs. The crows are confident enough to claim that they will be able to compete effectively even with these familiar and well-entrenched providers. Indeed, they have already begun to displace pigeons in the category of walking around under park benches with chewing gum stuck to their feet. Scampering nervously in attics, sneaking through pet doors, and gnawing little holes in things are all in the crows’ expansion plans.

I would not have taken this job if I did not believe, strongly and deeply, in the crows. And I do. I could go on and on about the crows’ generosity, taste in music, sense of family values; the 'buddy system' they invented to use against other birds, the work they do for the Shriners, and more. But they’re paying me a lot of bottles to say this—I can’t expect everybody to believe me. I do ask, if you’re unconvinced, that you take this simple test: Next time you’re looking out a window or driving in a car, notice if there’s a crow in sight. Then multiply that one crow by lots and lots of crows, and you’ll get an idea of what the next few years will bring. In the bird department, no matter what, the future is going to be almost all crows, almost all the time. That’s just a fact.

So why not just accept it, and learn to appreciate it, as so many of us have already? The crows are going to influence our culture and our world in beneficial ways we can’t even imagine today. Much of what they envision I am not yet at liberty to disclose, but I can tell you that it is magnificent. They are going to be birds like we’ve never seen. In their dark, jewel-like eyes burns an ambition to be more and better and to fly around all over the place constantly. They’re smart, they’re driven, and they’re comin’ at us. The crows : Let’s get ready to welcome tomorrow’s only bird.

FromDoubleTake(Fall 2000). Subscriptions: $32/yr. (4 issues) from Box 56070, Boulder, CO 80322-6070.

“Count on Crows” (some questions)

A) Describe this text. Fiction or non-fiction? Genre? Who wrote it? In what magazine or on what website did it appear? When? How many paragraphs?
B) Describe the first sentence of this piece? On what does it depend for its effectiveness?
C) Describe the vivid visual and auditory imagery in the first paragraph. What purpose does it serve?
D) At what point might the reader decide that this is not exactly realistic fiction? If it’s not realistic, then what is it? How does one describe it?
E) In what way does the content of the second paragraph contradict itself? Explain. What does this reveal about the crows? About the narrator?
F) Describe the content and the language register of the third and fourth paragraph? In what context might such language appear? Describe the effect of using this type of language to discuss the crows.
G) Paragraphs 5 and 6 (and again quite notably paragraph 9) seem to be an effort on the part of the narrator to try to convince himself of something as much as to convince the reader. Explain. What might the narrator have doubts about? Is it the reader reassured by these efforts?
H) Review your answers above and characterize the narrator. What label would you apply to his professional role? His services? What kind of person might he be? What can we infer about his values and goals?
I) One reader described the imagery in paragraph 7 as “haunting.” Why might this be a good description? Why is the imagery in this paragraph so effective?
J) Some readers describe the last paragraphs, (or this whole piece) as dark and ominous. Are these descriptions accurate? What details support this assessment?
K) What if this whole piece were read as a fable or parable? What might the relationship between the crows and the narrator represent? What, in other words, is this text saying figuratively?
L) Now use the best insights from your answers to the above questions and compose a two or three paragraph response to this text.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

From the MLA handbook


Derived from the Latin word plagiarius (“kidnapper”), to plagiarize means “to commit literary theft” and to “present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary [11th ed.; 2003; print]). Plagiarism involves two kinds of wrongs. Using another person’s ideas, information, or expressions without acknowledging that person’s work constitutes intellectual theft. Passing off another person’s ideas, information, or expressions as your own to get a better grade or gain some other advantage constitutes fraud. Plagiarism is sometimes a moral and ethical offense rather than a legal one since some instances of plagiarism fall outside the scope of copyright infringement, a legal offense (see 2.7.4).


A complex society that depends on well-informed citizens strives to maintain high standards of quality and reliability for documents that are publicly circulated and used in government, business, industry, the professions, higher education, and the media. Because research has the power to affect opinions and actions, responsible writers compose their work with great care. They specify when they refer to another author’s ideas, facts, and words, whether they want to agree with, object to, or analyze the source. This kind of documentation not only recognizes the work writers do; it also tends to discourage the circulation of error, by inviting readers to determine for themselves whether a reference to another text presents a reasonable account of what that text says. Plagiarists undermine these important public values. Once detected, plagiarism in a work provokes skepticism and even outrage among readers, whose trust in the author has been broken.

The charge of plagiarism is a serious one for all writers. Plagiarists are often seen as incompetent—incapable of developing and expressing their own thoughts—or, worse, dishonest, willing to deceive others for personal gain. When professional writers, such as journalists, are exposed as plagiarists, they are likely to lose their jobs, and they are certain to suffer public embarrassment and loss of prestige. Almost always, the course of a writer’s career is permanently affected by a single act of plagiarism. The serious consequences of plagiarism reflect the value the public places on trustworthy information.

Students exposed as plagiarists may suffer severe penalties, ranging from failure in the assignment or in the course to expulsion from school. This is because student plagiarism does considerable harm. For one thing, it damages teachers’ relationships with students, turning teachers into detectives instead of mentors and fostering suspicion instead of trust. By undermining institutional standards for assigning grades and awarding degrees, student plagiarism also becomes a matter of significance to the public. When graduates’ skills and knowledge fail to match their grades, an institution’s reputation is damaged. For example, no one would choose to be treated by a physician who obtained a medical degree by fraud. Finally, students who plagiarize harm themselves. They lose an important opportunity to learn how to write a research paper. Knowing how to collect and analyze information and reshape it in essay form is essential to academic success. This knowledge is also required in a wide range of careers in law, journalism, engineering, public policy, teaching, business, government, and not-for-profit organizations.

Plagiarism betrays the personal element in writing as well. Discussing the history of copyright, Mark Rose notes the tie between our writing and our sense of self—a tie that, he believes, influenced the idea that a piece of writing could belong to the person who wrote it. Rose says that our sense of ownership of the words we write “is deeply rooted in our conception of ourselves as individuals with at least a modest grade of singularity, some degree of personality” (Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993; print; 142]). Gaining skill as a writer opens the door to learning more about yourself and to developing a personal voice and approach in your writing. It is essential for all student writers to understand how to avoid committing plagiarism.


Innumerable documents on a host of subjects are posted on the Web apparently for the purpose of being shared. The availability of research materials and the ease of transmitting, modifying, and using them have influenced the culture of the Internet, where the free exchange of information is an ideal. In this sea of materials, some students may question the need to acknowledge the authorship of individual documents. Professional writers, however, have no doubt about the matter. They recognize the importance of documentation whether they base their research on print or electronic publications. And so they continue to cite their sources and to mark the passages they quote.

In the culture of the academy, too, the free exchange of information is a long-standing ideal. Under certain circumstances, this ideal is described as academic freedom. But nothing about academic freedom or the free exchange of information implies ignoring authorship. Academic standards require all writers to acknowledge the authors whose work they use when preparing papers and other kinds of studies and reports.

New technologies have made information easier to locate and obtain, but research projects only begin with identifying and collecting source material. The essential intellectual tasks of a research project have not changed. These tasks call for a student to understand the published facts, ideas, and insights about a subject and to integrate them with the student’s own views on the topic. To achieve this goal, student writers must rigorously distinguish between what they borrow and what they create.

As information sharing has become easier, so has plagiarism. For instance, on the Internet it is possible to buy and download completed research papers. Some students are misinformed about buying research papers, on the Internet or on campus. They believe that if they buy a paper, it belongs to them, and therefore they can use the ideas, facts, sentences, and paragraphs in it, free from any worry about plagiarism. Buying a paper, however, is the same as buying a book or a magazine. You own the physical copy of the book or magazine, which you may keep in your bookcase, give to a friend, or sell. And you may use whatever you learn from reading it in your own writing. But you are never free from the obligation to let your readers know the source of the ideas, facts, words, or sentences you borrow. Publications are a special kind of property. You can own them physically, but the publisher or author retains rights to the content. You should also know that purchased papers are readily recognizable, and teachers can often trace downloaded materials through an Internet search.


You have plagiarized if:

-you took notes that did not distinguish summary and paraphrase from quotation and then you presented wording from the notes as if it were all your own.
-while browsing the Web, you copied text and pasted it into your paper without quotation marks or without citing the source.
-you repeated or paraphrased someone’s wording without acknowledgment.
-you took someone’s unique or particularly apt phrase without acknowledgment.
-you paraphrased someone’s argument or presented someone’s line of thought without acknowledgment.
-you bought or otherwise acquired a research paper and handed in part or all of it as your own.

You can avoid plagiarism by:

-making a list of the writers and viewpoints you discovered in your research and using this list to double-check the presentation of material in your paper.
-keeping the following three categories distinct in your notes: your ideas, your summaries of others’ material, and exact wording you copy.
-identifying the sources of all material you borrow—exact wording, paraphrases, ideas, arguments, and facts.
-checking with your instructor when you are uncertain about your use of sources.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

poem of the week


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician--
nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination"--above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1961 Marianne Moore, © renewed 1989 by Lawrence E. Brinn and Louise Crane, executors of the Estate of Marianne Moore.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Poem of the Week


The glass does not break because it is glass,
Said the philosopher. The glass could stay
Unbroken forever, shoved back in a dark closet,
Slowly weeping itself, a colorless liquid.
The glass breaks because somebody drops it
From a height — a grip stunned open by bad news
Or laughter. A giddy sweep of grand gesture
Or fluttering nerves might knock it off the table —
Or perhaps wine emptied from it, into the blood,
Has numbed the fingers. It breaks because it falls
Into the arms of the earth — that grave attraction.
It breaks because it meets the floor's surface,
Which is solid and does not give. It breaks because
It is dropped, and falls hard, because it hits
Bottom, and because nobody catches it.

A. E. Stallings
TriQuarterly Books

CRQs chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby

English 11
Gatsby Ch. 9

Answer all parts of the following questions. Write your answers on your own piece of paper in complete sentences/paragraphs. Staple your answers to this sheet when you turn it in.

The first three words of Chapter 9 remind us of the narrator’s relationship to the events described in the novel. (When was he writing and where? When and where did the events of the novel occur? Explain.

The police, Michaelis and Catherine provided the information for the press. How did the story play out in the papers? What does this reveal about larger questions—questions about narrators and knowledge of events?

Describe Gatsby’s father and his response to the events.

How is Nick able to finally get through to Meyer Wolfsheim? What is revealed in this conversation?

About what does Gatsby’s father say, “It just shows you, don’t it?” What does he mean? What other object does his father show/carry around with him?

Describe Gatsby’s funeral. Who attends?

“I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all. . .”(184). What is Nick trying to explain in this passage?

Describe Nick’s last conversation with Jordan Baker and (separately) Tom Buchanan. How does the content of these contribute to our understanding of the first few pages of the novel?

Why does Nick imagine seeing Long Island through the eyes of “Dutch sailors”? (189)

“He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night” (189). What is Nick talking about here? What does this mean? What is the antecedent of the pronoun “it?” Why is it behind him? In what ways is this true?

CRQs chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby

English 11
Gatsby Ch. 8

Answer all parts of the following questions in complete sentences/paragraphs on your own piece of paper. The first questions are the most complex—be sure you make an effort to do the required interpretive work.

Nick tells us that it was on this morning, the morning after Myrtle’s death, that Gatsby talks about his youth with Dan Cody because “‘Jay Gatsby’ had broken up like glass against Ton’s hard malice and the long secret extravaganza was played out” (155). Why does he put “Jay Gatsby” in quotes? What has “broken like glass?” What does that mean? What is this “long secret extravaganza” that “has played out”? What does this mean?

“In any case,” he said, “it was just personal” (160). Who says this? What is he talking about? What does Nick say about it as he tries to figure out what the man meant? What does his explanation mean?

What was Nick talking about when he asserts, “I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end” (162). How can both what he said and the disapproval part both be true? What lines from the first few pages of chapter 1 might be recalled here?

On 162-3 Nick gets a personal phone call at work. From whom? How does it go? How does it end?

How did George Wilson begin to suspect his wife’s affair with Tom Buchanan? How does the reader learn this?

“That’s an advertisement” (167). Who says this? In response to what statement? What does this mean?

Describe Gatsby’s last afternoon? What was he doing at the end? What was he waiting for?

How does Gatsby meet his end? What about Wilson?