ArtSunday: LIterature

Horace: a few rambling thoughts on the Odes…

One of the reasons Horace’s odes have been so admired and imitated is best described by one of his foremost admirers, Alexander Pope. Horace is a master of “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed…” 

Horace as imagined by painter Anton von Werner (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I mentioned in my essay on La Chanson de Roland, I’ve been working my way through Horace at a pretty deliberate pace, mainly because I’m using an old “pocket” edition of The Works published in 1896 with a prose translation by one “C. Smart, A.M., Pembroke College, Cambridge University.” This is the remarkable – and slightly mad – poet and scholar Christopher Smart. Smart’s madness manifested itself as religious mania (slightly odd in a high church Anglican of his time, a group who were more often political than devout, but there we are) and he became a cause célèbre among poet friends in his day because they often had to fetch him out of St. Bethlehem (know as Bedlam in the local parlance), the institute for those with mental illness. Smart was most noted for falling to his knees in public places and beginning to pray loudly. When asked if he thought such behavior made Smart a public danger, Dr. Samuel Johnson replied calmly, “I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else.” Continue reading

CATEGORY: RacePolitics

Inequality in America: can we find ourselves after losing our way?

If you believe that America’s infrastructure is in good shape, that the American middle class is thriving, that our nation supports our troops by providing them with top-notch care after they return home, that the American education system needs more standardized testing and fewer schools, and that the economic gap between the rich and the poor is nothing to worry about, then Bob Herbert’s book Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America is not for you, and you can stop reading now.

Herbert wrote for the New York Times before he left in 2001 to join Demos, which the book jacket defines as “a public policy think tank” in New York. To get an idea of Herbert’s take on life in America, consider the beginning of “The Fire This Time,” which he posted in August on HuffPost:

I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.

Continue reading

Politics

What to expect from 2015 State of the Union address: no surprises at all

If you want to know what President Barack Obama will discuss in his 2015 State of the Union speech, there is no need to wait until Tuesday when he delivers his annual message to Congress and the American people.

The president already has begun traveling around the nation to promote the initiatives he will outline next week. Among them are proposals for free community college, more affordable housing and stronger cyber security.

By pushing his agenda before the speech, Obama is reversing the usual sequence of events that accompany State of the Union addresses, as well as similar annual reports from governors, mayors and other public figures. For years, the norm has been to unveil an array of public policy proposals in the speech and then go out on the road to promote them.

Why the change? Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

The Daily Caller distorts the results of the latest CNN/Gallup poll on global warming

The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastach published another superficial and oversimplified story about global warming, this time about the latest CNN/Gallup poll.

The Daily Caller, a right-wing website founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, has a history of misleading its readers when it comes to the subject of industrial climate disruption1 (aka global warming or climate change). They have published error-filled commentaries by an established liar, Steve Milloy. They have misrepresented legal filings with the Supreme Court of the United States and when they were criticized for their blatant errors, the managing editor refused to correct or retract the false claims. And they have published shallow and oversimplified stories about global warming science, research, funding, and economics.

Today, one of their climate and energy contributors, Michael Bastach, published another story that either missed or ignored important details of the story. S&R looked at the actual poll questions and detailed results (linked from the global warming section of the CNN article) and found that the detailed results contained not just how answers from December 2014, but from prior polls going back to 2007 in one case and back to 1997 in the other. When considered in context, the detailed results paint a very different picture than that painted by Bastach. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The Song of Roland – timeless is as timeless does…

Disagreements about whether The Song of Roland is about Roland’s heroic (and foolhardy) geste or about the ultimate triumph of Charlemagne over enemies within and without his empire seem less important with this re-reading than noting how many people die for that amorphous and deadly social construct we call honor….

The Song of Roland, trans. Robert Harrison (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I make my way methodically through the works of Horace (3 books of odes down, one more to go, then epodes, satires, and his “Art of Poetry”), I’ve been reading at the same time in the epics on my 2015 reading list. I’ve finished The Saga of the Volsungs and am now digging into the Song of the Niebelungs. This made more sense to me than my original plan which was to read about the Volsungs, then go off and do some medieval Chinese poetry before Das Nibelungenlied. Since the German epic tells a version of the Volsung story, I’ll write about those two together – and be able to discuss how a Viking saga got changed for the purposes of courtly literature. Given this dive into epic lit, I’ll probably take on The Mabinogion, the Welsh epic, before heading east for Chinese courtly poetry.

That said, astute readers (and I know you all are) will notice that this essay is clearly going to be about a work not even on the original 2015 reading list. I was (where else?) in my favorite used book store last week when I came across this version of  The Song of Roland. It was nearly a giveaway it was so cheap, so naturally I scooped it up. As I mentioned above, it seemed apropos given that Horace is, while most rewarding, in an 1890’s prose translation sans notes (always read the notes, students) that is costing me extra time as I do some background work so that I understand both poet and translator fully, that I read something along with that noble Roman. I raced through the Volsung saga (in a good critical edition) and now the Chanson de Roland (in a good critical edition).  Continue reading

Hotel Shell

Where you stay during your vacation might be more interesting than you think…

My wife and I needed a break from where we live in Brisbane, California, so we took a drive down the California coast to Pismo Beach for a weekend vacation. We found modestly-priced hotel on Shell Beach Road, and stayed for two nights.

It was nice. We liked it…

Continue reading

Kill your TV: RT has landed

rt-logoLet me show you what RT does to a person. I have a friend who calls himself Lee Camp. This man is incredibly talented in terms of logic, rhetoric, charisma, and humor. He recently became exposed to RT television. Suddenly his comedy, which had been brutal satire of the excesses of capitalism, in which he spoke the truth to an audience of 99% of the people, became a farce in which he peddled cheap jokes at the expense of 90%+ of the population, effectively shooting himself in the foot.

This guy was good. He used to do a bit called the “Moment of Clarity,” a manic two or three minute rant about slippery pension-thieving consultants. He spoke the truth and everyone respected him for it. We still do. We just want the facts. Say it as expletive deleted as you want. And just like every purely good deed, it created a natural depression in the fabric of the universe. Attracted evil. Karma or whatever. He paid his dues and the opportunities were not forthcoming, except from an outlying Russian syndicate. Continue reading

It’s a good day to be a Buckeye

OSUScoreEven if Ohio State had lost the National Championship last night, I’d still be a Buckeye fan today. Granted, I’d be wearing my scarlet and grey a bit more humbly, but I would still be wearing it. My earliest sports memories are of watching Ohio State football on TV. The first coach whose name I knew was Woody Hayes (no, I’m not getting into an argument today about him).

What a season. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Apologia and Apology: Edmund Morgan’s Puritan Dilemma

Edmund Morgan’s The Puritan Dilemma is an interestingly apologetic biography of Massachusetts Bay Colony’s leading figure, Governor John Winthrop.

The Puritan Dilemma: the Story of John Winthrop by Edmund S. Morgan (image courtesy Goodreads)

The other “outlier” from the 2015 reading list is a brief (less that 300 pages, a mere glance by scholarly biography standards) biography of a founder of Massachusetts Bay Colony (and its multiple term governor), John Winthrop. As I mentioned in my discussion of this year’s list, I picked up this interesting volume before hitting upon the “global/local” reading plan. And so it becomes the second book essay of 2015.

Over the last three years I have read Williams Bradford’s history of the Plymouth colony, Ed Southern’s compilation of accounts of the Jamestown colony, and now this biography of Winthrop which serves as an account of the first two decades of Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, however, is a somewhat different sort of book from those other two in a couple in interesting (and significant) ways: first, it is an apologia of John Winthrop’s life and career, and by extension for the Puritan experiment. Yet it’s also an apology of sorts, or maybe a wistful expression of regret, by Professor Morgan to Winthrop that somehow historians have not treated him as kindly – indeed, reverently – as they should. Continue reading

Book-Review

The great war and the need for memory…Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August

Historian Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August clearly illuminates the truth of war: in any era it is what is done wrong as much as what is done right that decides conflicts….

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman (image courtesy Goodreads)

The first book from the 2015 reading list was a Christmas present. I have long been an admirer of historian Barbara Tuchman and have long considered her superb A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century among my favorite books of any genre. Given that 2014 was the centennial year for the beginning of World War I, I began looking for a copy of her Pulitzer winning exploration of the first months of that “war to end all wars,” The Guns of August sometime last year. Alas, because of my dedication to what we might call “book rescue” (I try to buy used books whenever I can), I found myself (I suspect) competing with others who thought “Hey, its the centennial of the Great War – good time to read (or re-read) Barbara Tuchman.”

So I floundered about trying to catch a used copy at my favorite book stores both physical and online. No luck. Eventually, my interest waned and when I put the book on my Christmas list, it was with little hope that even my clever and perspicacious Lea could find a copy for a Christmas present.

Oh, me of little faith. Find one she did, and I spent the holidays working my way through this fascinating account of the beginning of World War I. Continue reading

Look out white people, Fox host Shannon Bream thinks you’re dodgy

Oh, wait. Is that not what she meant?

In a panel discussion with a black woman, a white man, a woman of…judging solely from skin tone, that is…indeterminate origin, and one blond-haired, alabaster-skinned twit, which would you think would be responsible for the following:

Bream suggested profiling may not be effective in situations where criminals are wearing masks or where the tone of their skin doesn’t “look like typical bad guys,” apparently implying that certain skin stones should raise red flags for law enforcement. See video clip here.

Awkward. Especially when this is what we know of the racial breakdown of “bad guys” in the U.S. And by “bad guys,” I mean people actually convicted of wrongdoing and spending time in prison for it. Continue reading