Books deserve a triumph, computers a mere ovation

My TV showed a room full of incipient dropouts playing with computers, and being of sound mind I didn't worry too much until they began talking about education. So far, the only thing computers have done is teach us to be rude one unto the other. So when they tell me I must learn to get along with computers, I whip out my lifetime pass on the Revere Beach narrow-gauge railroad and smirk. I suppose you haven't heard that Sandy Phippen wrote a novel?

Sandy, a solid Down-East reformed clam-digger, teaches school in Orono (pronounced "OR-no"), Maine, so he can earn enough money to write books, and he has succeeded. His book is good and is named "Kitchen Boy" (Blackberry Press, 1996). So Sandy wrote to a big bookstore outfit that is highly computerized to ask why they weren't stocking his book. This question is foremost with all writers (Sandy will learn), but in novice zeal, he tried.

The store responded with a computerized reply, indicating they had run Sandy through the grinder and he had come up with a modest plus. The store would indeed like to buy "about" 10 copies, which in noncomputer terms is like taking 10 peanuts on an around-the-world cruise. But first, Sandy was told, he would have to supply the wholesale distributors, as the bookstore never bought direct. A list of such distributors was enclosed.

In pursuit of this, Sandy seems to have learned that none of the distributors will take his book, on the grounds that the computer says his books don't sell. There are many, many things there on which to meditate long and hard, one of which is the coast-to-coast bookstore willing to splurge on copies it won't sell. Then, too, I would quote Milton: "For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are.... [A]s good almost kill a man as kill a good book.... [A] good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit...."

On the general subject of television, I will speak feelingly on the prevalence of the ovation. When the home team is down one run in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two men out, and the pitcher ahead of the pinch-hitter three and two, you may correctly say the moment is tense. Then the announcer says, "And there it goes! The center fielder is looking up! It's gone! A grand-slam home run!"

Then you hear the announcer say, "As Chumlay rounds third, every fan in the park is on his feet for a standing ovation." You may indeed wonder how the fans would manage a standing ovation while seated.

I have no memory button to press, so will rely on mere memory again to guess that it was Julius Caesar who said he expected a triumph but the Senate gave him only an ovation. An ovation is a letter filled with rapturous endearments that starts with "Dear Sir." A triumph includes a bonfire, a band and paeans, flags and flourishes, a banquet and dancing girls, and the entire works. It means you made it. It was the public celebration with which ancient Rome received its victorious commanders when they returned with their legions to the Forum.

A triumph in similar style is what Casey deserves if he belts a game-winning four-bagger in the bottom of the ninth with two out. Why insult him with a mere ovation? Should he go back to the minors, the way Caesar probably returned to East Omnis, in Gallia, to try again? For an ovation, you get to shake hands with the assistant pound-keeper on the schoolhouse steps while everybody else in town has gone to the picnic.

We had an interesting citizen here in Wellington, Maine, years ago who devised a new kind of windmill. The wind has always teased man as a useful force, but it is persnickety and likely comes from the wrong direction and frequently peters out. In Holland they put windmills on turntables so they can revolve and always be facing into the wind. This fellow devised a windmill that didn't use blades, but depended on cylinders mounted up-and-down that caught the wind from any direction. People marveled that nobody had ever thought of this before. They came from all over to be amazed.

Then one morning this gentleman took advantage of a dead calm and he took his oil can and went inside the cylinder to grease the bearings. While he was inside a breeze picked up, the windmill began to turn, and the gentleman couldn't get out.

That was the summer of the big blow, and the wind continued unabated through July and well into August. Again, people came to see, but there was nothing to be done. Days became weeks, and it wasn't even possible to toss biscuits to him in the twirling cylinder. They thought of building baffles around the outside, to close off the wind, but that was a big job and in the meantime the wind might stop. The inventor was h'isted on his own genius.

Then the wind fell to a flat calm, and the gentleman stepped out with his oil can and was given a standing ovation by friends and neighbors. He was haggard and wan, but he said he had learned a great lesson: It was unwise to start something you couldn't stop.

Meantime, if you wish to contact Sandford Phippen, he can be reached at Orono High School, 14 Goodridge Drive, ZIP 44730. He may remember the name of that inventor in Wellington. It may even be in the school computer.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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