5CT November 2014

Escape from Microsoft Word

Escape from Microsoft Word

In this season of thanks, dear readers, I send you mine. This issue — a big heart tackles big injustices, a brilliant take down of a “church”, Greek philosophers and Microsoft Word, and I sign up for a handwritten note from Joan Didion. Plus, an amazing Seattle bookstore/cafe. Lastly, 5 cool keepsakes to revisit, and introducing The LIST. “I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing,” said Flannery O’Connor. If you like 5CT, squint one eye and share.

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The Equal Justice Initiative and Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson at TED

Bryan Stevenson at TED

Human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson heads up the Equal Justice Initiative and was on the NPR show Fresh Air recently. What a lovely human being he is and how on this god’s earth does he keep going? Of all the Sisyphean challenges a person could take on, here’s his list — mass incarceration, children in adult prisons, wrongful death penalty sentences, the role that race and poverty play in the American justice system and so forth.

To hear his stories, your heart gives out. To hear his voice and what he accomplishes, is to be healed again.

He reports that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. And in this land of the free and home of the brave, children as young as 13 years old have been sentenced to die in prison. (He’s also worried about England.)

A tiny snippet from his new book Just Mercy: 

So you hear this tape where the witness is saying, “You want me to frame an innocent man for murder? I don’t feel right about that.”

“Well, if you don’t do it, we’re going to put you on death row, too.”

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Bryan Stevenson knew Rosa Parks and spent time with her. His grandmother was born into slavery. He is the best we have. Watch him — notice those expressive hands — weave a powerful spell at TED, where he tells his story with grace and humor and conviction. You can visit the Equal Justice Initiative here >>

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Going Clear, and the most astonishing story ever sold

Lawrence Wright and his great new book.

Lawrence Wright and his great new book.

On a recent road trip I audio booked New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright’s head snapper, Going Clear – Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief. This is the world as created by (former science fiction writer) L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology and the author of Dianetics.

You may not give a whit about Scientology — I sure don’t. But I do care about anything that Lawrence Wright is on about. Lawrence Wright is money.

About this scorching, ass whooping of a book I can promise you this: you are unlikely to find anytime soon a story so deeply reported, compelling and meticulously fact-checked. And, so absolutely off the charts bat shit crazy, you will not believe your eyes or ears. An epic American tale of madness, megalomania, power, delusions, money, celebrity, beatings, ‘Sea Orgs’, ‘Suppressive Persons’ and ‘Thetans’. Review from Salon’s Laura Miller here >>

Wright’s The Apostate launched this project in the New Yorker. That article profiled director Paul Haggis (Crash / Million Dollar Baby), a high-profile Scientology defector. It’s well worth a read >>

Editors note: Soon after the above post was published, HBO announced that in 2015, they would air a documentary, Going Clear, based on Wright’s book. Over 160 lawyers are looking at the film for HBO, in preparation of a legal onslaught from the “church”.

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Plato and the Escape from Microsoft Word

Escape from Microsoft Word

Escape from Microsoft Word


Don’t know if Bryan Stevenson, Lawrence Wright or Joan Didion use it. But I suspect I speak for every human alive and those not yet born when I say that Microsoft Word is a loathsome thing — a portal to an inescapable hell. That it’s the commonly accepted way to deliver “documents” only rubs the Fleur de Sel de Guerande deeper into the wound.

We all live with it, we all hate it and life goes on.

Except for Edward Mendelson at The New York Review of Books, who tripped over some W.H. Auden, landed on Isocrates and Plato and voila! Escape from Microsoft Word, 1300 words on genius, mediocrity and how “Word” has nothing to do with how “writing” gets done.

Here’s Mendelson:

The original design of Microsoft Word, in the early 1980s, was a work of clarifying genius, but it had nothing to do with the way writing gets done. The programmers did not think about writing as a sequence of words set down on a page, but instead dreamed up a new idea about what they called a “document.” This was effectively a Platonic idea: the “form” of a document existed as an intangible ideal, and each tangible book, essay, love letter, or laundry list was a partial, imperfect representation of that intangible idea.

Read Escape From Word, entirely >>

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We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live – Joan Didion Documentary

Hit that play button for a very cool short film.

Some people began their relationship with Joan Didion via the two highly touted books that deal with the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne and her daughter, Quintana — The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. I loved them both and when the opportunity came I explored a little deeper via The Everyman Library Edition of We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.Screen-Shot-2014-10-24-at-10.27.03-PM

Now, Joan’s nephew, Griffin Dunne has taken to Kickstarter to, er, kickstart a documentary film by the same name.  As you might expect, Griffin quickly shot past his (rather modest) goal of $80,000. I pledged $35.00 in order to receive (via email) a handwritten note from Joan telling me what  her 12 most important books are. Visit Kickstarter >>

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Ada’s Technical Books, Seattle landmark bookstore, cafe, workspace

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Ada's is named for Ada Lovelace, often called the first computer programmer.

This is Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer known as the world’s first computer programmer.

A cafe – bookseller named for the world’s first computer programmer? Yes, where the coffee is top, the food & pastries are superb, the books are many and great and the space is — well, just look. Amazing. Plus there’s a busy calendar of readings and other events. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this gem in my very own ‘hood.

I give you Ada’s – the bookstore/cafe and The Office, their co-working space. Seattle’s best cafe by a thousand pixels.

The space is by Seattle’s Board & Vellum, founder Jeff (ahem) Pelletier from Massachusetts. Photography by Cindy Apple.


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Below, photos from The Office, Ada’s co-working space.




 To learn more about the fascinating Ada Lovelace, pop over to Wikipedia >>


  • John Simmons
    November 23, 2014

    Serendipity strikes again. As I write this in a very grey, wet London, we’ve just celebrated the fourth birthday of my grandaughter whose name happens to be Ada.

    Ada says Hi and save some cake for me

  • Richard
    November 23, 2014

    As I write this in a very gray and very, very wet Seattle, I think that any more serendipity and the space / time continuum will have a sneezing attack. Knowing how much you love those two munchkins — you must have had a delightful day. Thanks for writing.

  • sheila
    November 24, 2014

    The site looks so great. I want to read all of these books.
    Can’t wait to visit you and “Ada”.

  • Richard
    November 24, 2014

    Thank you, thank you. It’s been fun getting this to this level. We await your visit!