WordsDay: Literature

The consolations of literature…

 

Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I though so once; but now I know it. – John Gay

It’s just words, folks, just words…. – Donald Trump

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Friends ask me with some regularity why it is that I spend so much of my free time reading and contemplating and writing about literature. I forswore writing about politics several years ago. (I think it was about 2010 that I gave up trying to say anything useful on the topic. I may have let slip the odd veiled or not-so-veiled reference in the essays I write about literature, but my active days as a critic of this, that, or the other political activity or politician are over.)

Great days – or if the Chinese curse is more apt, interesting days – are upon us, however, and while I can and do find comfort at times in Lord Byron’s flippancy:

I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling—
Because at least the past were passed away—
And for the future—(but I write this reeling,
Having got drunk exceedingly today,
So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)
I say—the future is a serious matter—
And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water!

I find that as I contemplate the changes likely to be wrought in my country with the election of the author of one of the epigraphs that begin this essay, that I must find more – and healthier – consolations than the one the 6th Baron of Newstead Abbey proposes.

And so I turn to literature.  Continue reading

Image Credit: Getty

Next time, ask the Reagan question before you vote

On January 1, 2019, as President Trump approaches his third state of the union address, people in America should pop the Reagan question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Those in the United States should ask, for example:

“Is my health insurance costing me more out of pocket than under Obama? Am I getting better, more affordable benefits?”

“Can I still get health insurance?”

“Have work restrictions been placed on my Medicare benefits? Has my state limited Medicare benefits?”

“Has my property tax bill gone up or down?”

“Has the rusty bridge carrying my daughter’s school bus been fixed?”

“I live in a city. Has my child developed asthma in the past year?”

“What’s the interest rate on a new car now?”

“Do I have to pay more for my prescription medications?”
Continue reading

Playing Marco Polo…WITH Marco Polo: S&R Honors

Marco Polo is one of our most renowned travelers and explorers. Yet there is controversy about whether he actually went where he says he did. If only he’d taken a selfie stick and set up an Instagram account….

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

On my book shelves are several of the nicely bound sets of what used to be termed “classics” (i.e., books considered sacrosanct members of the Western Canon) that were all the rage many years ago when the American middle class aspired to be like their betters and give the appearance of being cultured – back when part of being cultured meant being well read, of course. Please do not misconstrue my intent here; owning a handsome set of “classics” is not the same as having read them. Lea and I have bought most of these sets in used book stores and antique shops and found almost all of the volumes in a given set in mint or near mint condition (after all, sitting on bookshelves year after year does cause some slight aging, as does being moved from the prominent bookshelves in the den to the ratty ones in the basement).

Thus it is that I have, as mentioned above, several sets of these “collections of ready made culture” (I have mentioned one popular collection in another essay). The set from which the book that is the subject of this essay, Travels of Marco Polo, The Venetian, is taken is called, interestingly, “The Programmed Classics,” and is published by Doubleday. It’s a handsome book, though the translation by 19th century “Orientalist” William Marsden is, at best, creaky.

So, to Marco Polo’s travels…real or made up…. Continue reading

Police Violence

What if cops were Skittles?

According to Vox, police have killed over 2,000 people since Ferguson. Their map of fatal encounters illustrates the point with red dots.

That made me wonder. What if cops were Skittles?
Continue reading

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Examining a cynical, fake-patriotic Facebook meme

Instead of making yourself a tool for those whose agendas run counter to the best interests of the nation that flag represents, how about stepping back and asking  who’s playing you, and why?

This meme came across my Facebook feed earlier today.

facebook-arrechaga-meme

Obviously somebody has an issue with Colin Kaepernick (and other black athletes) protesting injustice in America by refusing to stand during the national anthem. Continue reading

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Did Russia poison Hillary? An inductive argument

clinton-collapse-696x385Dear Hillary,

Get rid of all your stuff. I know I sound like Inconvenient Jesus right now. Just do it. All the pantsuits, all the jewelry, all the hairspray, the mouthwash, everything, especially the sentimental stuff. If you can’t pass through the eye of the needle, the road ends here.

Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading

Woman-Power

Goodbye forever, Phyllis Schlafly, 9/5/16

Schlafly’s personal formula was to marry rich, employ a housekeeper while proudly touting her housewife credentials, follow her bliss (into enterprises for which she did not require a living wage), and then work to deny equality for all women.

We knew you too well and for too long, hypocrite extraordinaire.

She was a conservative who was against the New Deal, feminism (“Men should stop treating feminists like ladies, and instead treat them like the men they say they want to be.”), an equal rights amendment to the Constitution (“I simply didn’t believe we needed a constitutional amendment to protect women’s rights.”), legalized abortion, laws against the harassment of women in the workplace (“Sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women.”), sex education for children in public schools (“Sex-education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions.”), and the Supreme Court’s ban on teacher-led prayer in public schools (mind you, she only wanted Christian prayer in all children’s schools, of course). Continue reading

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Book Review: Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait

“Review a little history and you’ll see that creators seem to find inspiration in adversity.” – Gavin Chait, Lament for the Fallen

Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait (Image courtesy Goodreads)

On the surface Gavin Chait’s debut novel Lament for the Fallen seems to have a classic sci-fi plot: an alien comes to Earth, interacts with humans, reveals remarkable super human powers in helping his human hosts/friends, then returns to his home, humans having been taught an important lesson or two. If it seems that this plot line that has been used with remarkable success in the genre, it’s because it has. While it is well known among my friends and critics that I am not a fan of science fiction books (which I noted again very recently), I am a fan of sci-fi films. Besides the ubiquitous and just okay behemoth E.T.: the Extraterrestrial, other films that have explored the genre interestingly include The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Starman.

Having said all this, I suppose I should make a clarification. Lament for the Fallen is not about an alien visiting Earth. It is about a human who has lived his life in a “space city” (think colony – that’s important to the themes of this work) visiting Earth and doing some of those remarkable things mentioned above. To miss this might cause one to miss important themes and ideas that this book explores.

As I find I must say too often in my role as crusty old professor, read more closely, students. Harrumph…now to this excellent book… Continue reading

ArtSunday

Writers of slender acquaintance: Karel Capek

Our houses and machines will be in ruins, our systems will collapse, and the names of our great will fall away like dry leaves. Only you, love, will blossom on this rubbish heap and commit the seed of life to the winds.” – Karel Capek

Karel Capek (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Czech writer Karel Capek, in terms of being a writer of slender acquaintance, falls somewhere between Rudyard Kipling, a Nobelist remembered now only for children’s stories and Rhian Roberts, a Welsh writer of great promise who published a few short stories and then disappeared. While he is often (erroneously) credited with having coined the word for a creation that may haunt the 21st century,  was nominated for the Nobel Prize numerous times, and even has literary awards named for him, Capek is not widely read now.

He should be. His central themes – the ability of technology to overwhelm and destroy humanity, the dangers of rampant consumerism, corporatism run amok, the evils of authoritarianism of both left and right political persuasions – will resonate powerfully with contemporary readers. Given that Capek died in 1938, his prescience about the power of these forces in our lives makes him a writer who should be widely read and discussed. Continue reading

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Father of Muslim soldier’s message to DNC is powerful, but laced with manipulation and irony

Remind me – Khizr Khan’s son died in which war, again?

The headline and video couldn’t be much more compelling.

WATCH: Muslim Father Of Fallen Soldier Tells Trump ‘You Have Sacrificed Nothing’

The soldier’s father, Khizr Khan, could not be more right about Donald Trump, a narcissist of the first order, and maybe even a sociopath, who has spent his life serving nothing but his own insatiable, infantile id. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Lauro De Bosis

Award-winning Italian writer lost his life protesting the fascism of Benito Mussolini.

Lauro De Bosis (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“Every regime in the world, even the Afghan and Turk, allows its citizens a certain amount of liberty. Fascism alone, in self-defense, is obliged to annihilate thought.” – Lauro De Bosis

This week’s writer of slender acquaintance is less a mysterious one like Rhian Roberts and more a tragic one like – well, like many artists who oppose and are destroyed by repressive regimes. As I mentioned last week, I am meandering through a massive collection of short stories called A World of Great Stories. As I made my way through the Italian section (and came across one of the worst edited “story” selections I have read so far in this volume – and that’s saying something – an excerpt called “The Travelers” from Ignazio Silone’s The Seed Beneath the Snow), I encountered De Bosis and a piece (it’s not really a story, it’s a heartfelt autobiographical essay about and against Mussolini and Italian Fascism) he wrote before his last flight (De Bosis was an amateur aviator). Continue reading

What’s a little martial law between friends?

Wait, isn’t that what they’re asking for?

Cleveland Police Calling for Open Carry Ban at RNC After Baton Rouge Shootings

This just gets touchier and more complex as the hours roll by. I feel like I’m watching a tennis match. I’m seriously gonna get a crick in my neck at this rate.

Martial law, simplified: when the government suspends ordinary law for the sake of keeping things orderly and peaceful during the kinds of extreme circumstances the government claims warrant their entirely reasonable reaction.

Look out. We’re gonna get martial law! Continue reading

Donald Trump

New Yorker starts analysis of Trump with, “honestly…”

What have we learned about that?

Well, actually, the headline is just a hair away from that, “Being honest about Trump.” I think it qualifies, though. So would WSJ in this piece, I think.

For all of my complaints about Glopnik’s article, I love his description of the center:

“While the habits of hatred get the better of the right, the habits of self-approval through the fiction of being above it all contaminate the center.”

One has to love this much naive honesty. The problem with their fiction is that they’ve believed their own PR just a bit too much. Continue reading

Cui bono: how did Berrien County, Michigan hit the headlines?

Horse race reportage, part umpteen. Special Edition: Not Election Coverage

I first spotted this tragic news at BBC, when there wasn’t yet anything world newsworthy about it, even from their own coverage perspective. One might notice the author was in such a rush to post they didn’t even bother to finish writing it first. The telltale error of haste that reveals the race to the bottom should embarrass an author not yet qualified to have their own byline.

Rule 1 of race to the bottom reporting: Be sure to include factoids that do not advance the non-story even a little, and don’t bother to edit it when done. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Writers of slender acquaintance: Rudyard Kipling

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Another in the series I began last week about writers who have become neglected. This week’s choice is one whose literary reputation has been as high, as low, and as controversial as any writer in the history of literature. Rudyard Kipling has been revered – and reviled – by authors as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges, R.K. Narayan, and George Orwell – who noted that Kipling:

…sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.

For those who know Kipling – and that’s almost everyone – only for “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” or The Jungle Book or Kim – Kipling is a dimly remembered writer of exciting stories for young readers. But he was a complicated figure who produced a wide range of work with interesting themes. Continue reading

#blacklivesmatter versus #alllivesmatter

White man ISO white people to explain something to me

I have yet to take a strong stand on this whole #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter and #enoughwiththehashtagsmatter issue, and I’m fairly certain it’s a privilege thing that I, as a cisgendered white hetero man in farm country, have this luxury. I can’t help that. Continue reading

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Chilcot is out, and it’s devastating

photo-op-0011 So, after seven years and lots of pounds, the Chilcot report on “lessons to be learned” from Iraq has finally been published. It tells us nothing we didn’t already know, frankly, and takes away the rationale for the ongoing denial we have continued to see among Blairites over the years, although god knows they’re still trying. I could write a long post on this. Or I could just let The Independent summarize in seven sentences,which they have done, and which admirably seems to sum up the entire enterprise. Continue reading