January 16, 2010

Weekend poem: Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.--Matthew Arnold

January 15, 2010

Somebody needs a handler

In case you were wondering whether televangelist Pat Robertson could top some of his older zingers (such as defining feminism as a "socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians"), the answer is one big YES.

Speaking of the humanitarian disaster in Haiti, he had this to say:

[S]omething happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, "We will serve you if you get us free from the prince." True story. And so the devil said, "OK, it's a deal." They kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free.

But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor...

You can watch it here.

(Actually, Pat, leaving aside the whole foam at the mouth/howl at the moon/whackadoodle devil part, I think the trouble was with the first Napoleon and they handled it themselves with a little help from yellow fever--but that's not the point right now. It might be time you considered getting a little help in the messaging department.)

MEANWHILE, BACK IN REALITYLAND. Many governments and good groups from around the world are trying to come to the aid of earthquake survivors in Haiti. As I mentioned yesterday, the American Friends Service Committee is one of these and you can click here if you want to support those efforts.

TALKING SENSE on politics is E. J. Dionne here. (Sorry about the weird word order thing.)

ANOTHER LATE ANNIVERSARY. Jan. 11 was the date of President Franklin Roosevelt's talk on the need for a "Second Bill of Rights" that dealt with economic issues.

A DEAL has been struck between labor supporters, the White House, and congressional leaders about the proposed tax on high end health care plans in the Senate's health care reform package.

TORTURING THE NUMBERS UNTIL THEY CONFESS. The WV Department of Health and Human Resources wildly exaggerated the costs of Medicaid expansion as part of health care reform.


January 13, 2010


HAITI. Haiti faces a humanitarian catastrophe in the wake of Tuesday's massive earthquake. The American Friends Service Committee has a history of working in that country and will respond with immediate humanitarian assistance by working with partner organizations in the country and plans to commit available resources to longer term reconstruction. For more information on how you can help, click here or call 1-888-588-2372.

Regular posts will resume tomorrow.

Round about the cauldron go

Painting by William Rimmer by way of Wikipedia.

I've always subscribed to the view that a mind is a terrible thing not to mess with--especially a young one. This was inherited from my late father, who read a lot of Poe to me when I was a little kid, scaring the bejesus out of me to my immense delight.

When my turn came, I attempted to pass on that tradition by reading aloud and making my kids listen to all kinds of things that are not standard kiddie fair. Depending on their age, these have included things like the poetry of William Blake and Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, about which they said things like, "Let me get this straight: this guy just got turned into a giant bug and he's worried about being late for work?"

Shakespeare found its way into the unofficial curriculum by means of a comic book full text edition of Macbeth. Both kids were fond of it, but it was a particular favorite of my oldest, who had large sections of it memorized at an early age. The witches of course were a particular favorite, but she also liked things like "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow."

There is something endearing about hearing a little kid go around babbling "Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed..."

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. Here's more from the AFLCIO blog on the need for jobs and what the US Senate can do about it.


NEANDERTHALS may have been smarter (and more artistic) than we thought.



January 12, 2010

A friend for life

I first became a Shakespeare fan in high school when we read Macbeth. What more could you ask for? Witches, murder, ghosts, not to mention cool plot devices like Birnam Wood and Macduff not being of woman born. I think I might have done Julius Caesar at about the same time.

It was also around then that I first read Hamlet. This was the beginning of my tragic existentialist phase, from which I have not entirely emerged, and I especially liked the "to be or not to be," "oh that this too too solid flesh would melt," and "now could I drink hot blood" parts.

I was probably hooked from the beginning, but I really only came to know his works years later as a way of coping with the recession that smacked down West Virginia in the 1980s. Actually, depression would be the better word, with massive unemployment (17 percent in 1983) and plenty of misery to go around.

One way I coped with poverty, hopelessness and struggling to feed my kids was by reading classics. It was cheaper than drugs, less risky than crime and less harmful to my health than suicide. I'd recommend the same to everyone.

THE BIG ISSUE OF 2010, at least domestically, is unemployment.

YOU KNOW YOU'VE BEEN WONDERING what kind of tattoos scholars get. Click here to find out.

MONKEY TALK? Kind of sort of but not really.


January 11, 2010

Better late than never

This blog has been up and running for nearly four years (come March). In all that time, I've gone off on various jags about Dante, Homer, mythology, philosophy, etc., aside from all the links and comments about current events.

But, while Shakespeare has shown up here quite a few times, he hasn't gotten any extended attention. I'm not sure how that happened given my love for the Bard and his sheer greatness, but I intend to remedy it right away.

For the next stretch, I intend to give him a bit of his due, with a special focus on Hamlet, my personal favorite and a character Harold Bloom referred to as "the intellectual's Christ." I don't know about that and I'm no literary critic, thank the gods, but like the guy said I know what I like.

For starters, I like the tragedies better than the comedies (the way to tell them apart, by the way, is whether there is a wedding or a bunch of dead bodies at the end). I'm not sure why this is, but I even find the funny parts of them to be more amusing than those of the comedies. I think one reason Hamlet works for me is its dark humor.

More on that to come.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, a screenwriter is attempting to combine Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona with The Big Lebowski. This could be a sign of the apocalypse. But...I'm calmer than you are.

EUROPE, the new USSR according to conservative fantasies, isn't exactly an economic backwater.

RECESSION PROOF? One business that seems to be doing OK in hard times is dog walking, according to this NPR story. It occurs to me that if I paid someone to do it, I'd be contributing to GDP.

ANOTHER SIGN OF THE TIMES from the same source: in the wake of the recession, the number of unclaimed bodies has increased because survivors can't pay for funeral expenses.

GOING TO SEA. Early humans may have done it way sooner than previously thought.