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Kids as programmers

An increasing number of basic and simple programs are coming on the market to enable even very young children to build codes to run things like robots and to build animations, among other things.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the kids will be all the better for learning to code and getting an early start on computing. Thus, it follows, society will be better off, as well, since some of these youngsters may grow up to be real nerds of the techie variety.

The latest issue of The Economist has a lengthy article about these kiddie programming guides, such as Scratch and KIBO and Blockly, and the author adopts a somewhat (and suitably) skeptical tone. He or she makes a very good point: Computers, which are in everything these days, are so plebian that it would be an absolute wonder if anyone cared how they work other than the select few in Silicon Valley and Austin who need to know.

An example, not taken from The Economist: Flight is so common and so taken for granted that very few people actually need to know how a 777 stays in the air. Everyone else doesn't care. And that's perfectly OK.

Up, up and up again

U.S. college students are weighed down by unprecedented costs, and they graduate with unprecedented debt accumulated to get their degrees.

No news there.

The latest news is that the prices just keep right on rising. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported recently that between 2012-2013 and 2014-2015, the average tuition and fees at four-year public, nonprofit institutions rose 4 percent. And that's with inflation factored into the equation. 

What else in this country rose 4 percent, adjusted for inflation, over that period of time? Well, the Consumer Price Index rose less than 2 percent in 2013 and 2014.

So, we hear a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about the persistent price increases for college attendance.

But, nothing at all is being done about it.

A cynic would suggest that's part of a broader plan to dumb down Americans.

But, wow, that sounds like something right out of science fiction, doesn't it?

Still ... you have to wonder.

Another take on Lee novel

Adam Gopnik, one of The New Yorker's most astute and erudite writers, gives us one of the best critiques I have read on Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman," the famed novelist's newly released literary oddity.

Much has been said about Lee, who is now in a nursing home, and "Watchman," most of it not repeatable or even smart.

Gopnik, on the other hand, breaks down why Atticus Finch might actually fit in the new role ascribed to him in "Watchman." His knowledge about Southern history is impressive, his argument persuasive.

He also shows why it is unlikely that "Watchman" was intended to be published as we now know it, as the full and complete work of an artist who knew what she was doing.

Gopnik speculates, with something bordering on certainty, that the book is a revised first draft of "To Kill a Mockingbird," never intended by the author to see the light of day.

Buy a New Yorker July 27 edition. His piece alone is worth the price of admission.

In an uproar

Texas librarians are in a tizzy, my library director tells me, because of interpretations coming out of Austin about libraries and guns.

Seems the Texas State Library & Archives Commission staff has been looking into how new gun laws will affect libraries and the ruling so far is that state law prohibits libraries from keeping people who carry guns out.

That's right, it appears that people with pistols under their belts, on their hips and in their pockets can mosey on in and check out the latest shoot-'em-up by Cussler or Patterson.

This is all a cause for consternation, I am told.

I can't see why.

My plan is to start wearing my M-16 on one shoulder, my AK-47 on another, a .380  pistol on my hip and a Bowie knife between my teeth.

Go ahead: Make my day.


I may have to eat my words.

Those would be words that I wrote in this space last week about the book just published by Harper Lee, "Go Set a Watchman."

I wrote that I would not read the book. I'm happy with Atticus Finch the way he was portrayed in her first book, "To Kill a Mockingbird."

More than that, though, I am unsettled by the story about how the new Lee novel got itself into the hands of publishers.

I'm not at all sure she wanted the book to see the light of day. I mean, why didn't she publish it when she had the time and energy?

So, here we are in an uncomfortable position. That's because Random House is publishing a newly found book by Dr. Seuss called "What Pet Should I Get?"

The beloved author of hundreds of children's books never got "What Pet Should I Get?" into the hands of publishers in his lifetime. Maria Russo, writing a review in the New York Times Book Review, speculates on why that is the case.

Based on the precedent I set on the Harper Lee book, I should announce that I will also not read "What Pet Should I Get?" And perhaps I won't.



But, I DO have a new grandson ...

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