Worth noting that the protest wasn’t that out of place at the time:
This is actually not as random as it may seem (and this is the one hole in the documentary’s treatment of the topic). An open umbrella was a common protest of appeasement policies. According to the historical society:
Umbrella protests first began in England after Chamberlain arrived home from the conference carrying his trademark accessory. Wherever Chamberlain traveled, the opposition party in Britain protested his appeasement at Munich by displaying umbrellas. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Americans on the far Right employed umbrellas to criticize leaders supposedly appeasing the enemies of the United States. Some politicians even refused to use them for that reason. Vice President Richard Nixon banned his own aides from carrying umbrellas when picking him up at the airport for fear of being photographed and charged as an appeaser.
That puts the umbrella protest into more context. In the early 1960s I can see there still being people around who were angry at any attempts to appease Hitler and the Nazis prior to the start of WWII. I also wonder if Witt was protesting JFK in some way, but did not want to say so after he was assassinated and so blamed the protest on his father. Either way, the umbrella is not such a random detail after all.
In 1732, a vampire “outbreak” happened at Český Krumlov, not far from Prague. I say a bit more about this in an article for Disinfo (“What’s a Vampire, Really?“), but the question, for me, was this: Why outbreak? Why not, for instance, call them vampire attacks? Because the fear of vampires at the time were linked to contagion and spread of disease, and by some accounts, vampirism sounds much more viral than supernatural. The “vampire debate” of the 1730s borrowed from science and from folklore. Some 40 years later in 1775, Kirby’s Miscellany carried the story of a young woman struck by palsy who could not eat. She must have been starving and dehydrated, but the witness describes something else entirely: “her cheeks [are] full, red, and blooming. […] she slept a great deal and soundly, perspired sometimes, and now and then emitted pretty large quantities of blood at her mouth.”i Such descriptions probably sound familiar, and it’s no surprise; Bram Stoker spent years researching strange tales of folklore for Dracula, and the vampire-infected Lucy is described much the same way.
I don’t think anyone is out to completely destroy the passive voice, most would say it has a purpose, but Pinker seems to think there’s a marauding band of grammar fanatics out to kill it. Although he does conclude by noting the serious issue with the passive voice:
Then why is the passive so common in soggy prose? Good writing narrates a story, advanced by protagonists who make things happen. Inept writers work backward from their own knowledge, plonking down ideas as they think of them. So they begin with the outcome, and throw in the cause as an afterthought. The passive makes that all too easy.
Finding a topic that is not yet covered on Wikipedia is also a useful lesson in reviewing sources and a good exercise for finding research gaps. Such an assignment, instead of going to the shredder after being graded, stays online and remains useful for others, even if just as a starting point for a good article to be developed in the future. As a bonus, students take assignments with real-world impact more seriously. Even better, new articles on Wikipedia will often be reviewed by Wikipedians, reducing the amount of work for the professor.