Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pivot Point: Vietnam memories (Revised Posting)

As a postscript to this recent Memorial Day weekend, and as a tribute to all who have served (and now serve) in military uniforms, I offer you these important statements:

First, there is this very important posting from a former shipmate, fellow Navy and USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63) veteran Paul Davis; make sure you visit Paul's first-rate blog regularly because you will discover and learn something interesting and important every day.

Second, I pivot from my praise for Paul Davis's blog, and I tell you this:

When I was in the United States Navy (1966-1969, and 1975-1994; beginning as an E-1 and retiring as an O3E), places like Viet Nam and existential threats to the United States from Communism (from USSR, Cuba, southeast Asia, and elsewhere) were main items on my daily menu of food-for-thought. Serving on behalf of peace-loving Americans, I was proudly at the poised and pointed end of the nuclear spear, the lethal weapon halting the spread of Communism. That was my bold and unshakeable raison d'ĂȘtre; yes, without apologies to liberal, anti-war doves, my identity was completely wrapped up in my warrior, hawk career. I followed orders, served proudly, and remained 100% committed to the task. However, I admit that I was (and I remain) woefully ignorant about the actual enemy. Now, though, with my uniforms long ago abandoned but with the American flag still on display in my front yard -- where it appears every day and not only on Memorial Day weekend -- I will be making up for my past omissions and shortcomings, and I will become a more complete, well-educated naval officer by learning more about the true nature of my military commitment, the deadly and tireless enemy, and contemporary history.


My literary blogging days are not over, and I will still be focusing frequently and regularly on literature, but I have added a focus: military and political history. The first destination is Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall:

So stay tuned for further announcements about my discoveries.
Comments? Questions? 


The old man curses
nose hairs, ear hairs, and cancer,
but he keeps breathing.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers --

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.


What a lovely poem by Emily Dickinson. I especially like the bird metaphor: universal and sublime, it sings, it endures, it comforts.  

However, like so many of her poems, this one has parts that puzzle me. Perhaps you can help me solve the puzzles. Why, I wonder, is "Hope" capitalized and in quotation marks? And I do not think I understand that closing quatrain.  Doesn't "Hope" need to be nourished? 

I so much look forward to your feedback.

Investing in the future: read Shakespeare

The CIO of a $114 billion firm explains why all investors should read Shakespeare:

"Read Shakespeare. There's more in Shakespeare about power, decision-making, ambition, and how people are blinded by their own needs that's so incredibly applicable to the investment process. To see it in that context is something that makes it real."

And here is the rest of the very brief (too brief?) article.

Well, even if you are not an investor (but aren't we all in many ways?), you should find in the brief article good reasons to read Shakespeare. Perhaps you have your own reasons. Would you please share your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Christopher Marlowe's death and afterlife

First there is this from The History Channel:

Playwright Christopher Marlowe, 29, is killed in a brawl over a bar tab on this day.

Marlowe, born two months before William Shakespeare, was the son of a Canterbury shoemaker. A bright student, he won scholarships to prestigious schools and earned his B.A. from Cambridge in 1584. He was nearly denied his master’s degree in 1587, until advisers to Queen Elizabeth intervened, recommending he receive the degree, referring obliquely to his services for the state. Marlowe’s activities as a spy for Queen Elizabeth were later documented by historians.

While still in school, Marlowe wrote his play Tamburlaine the Great, about a 14th century shepherd who became an emperor. The blank verse drama caught on with the public, and Marlowe wrote five more plays before his death in 1593, including The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. He also published a translation of Ovid’s Elegies.

In May of 1593, Marlowe’s former roommate, playwright Thomas Kyd, was arrested and tortured for treason. He told authorities that “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested. While out on bail, Marlowe became involved in a fight over a tavern bill and was stabbed to death.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

I remember reading about Christopher Marlowe's death, but I don't remember the sources, and my memory suggests the "fight over a tavern bill" story fall's a bit short on facts, and the truth might be better served by the one of several other theories: one theory involves hostility over Marlowe's sexual escapades; and another theory involves a murderous double-cross because of Marlowe's espionage activities. I guess I need to dig into my bookshelves and see if I can find more about those theories.

Now, though, I leave you with a couple of thoughts in the form of two questions (the first gives you a speculative opportunity, and the second (in two parts) is based upon my experiences trying to teach literature and drama students to read, understand, and speak blank verse, the poetic form that was one of Marlowe's great contributions to drama):

(1) If Marlowe had lived a longer life -- more like the 40+ year expectancy for a man in London in that era -- would he have equaled or eclipsed William Shakespeare in fame and success? Why or why not?

(2) Why do so many people have such a hard time stumbling upon the easy-as-pie solution to effectively reading blank verse, and which poet now (or in the last hundred years) has been writing the best blank verse poetry?

Monday, May 29, 2017

G. K. Chesterton -- a new day and new beginning

Today is the birthday of English author G.K. Chesterton (books by this author), born Gilbert Keith Chesterton in London (1874). He was a large man, well over six feet, and rotund. He disagreed sharply with many people, most notably H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, but he was so agreeable and full of good humor that he kept them as close friends. He was also remarkably prolific, writing fast and scarcely editing what he wrote. He considered himself primarily a journalist, and he wrote 4,000 newspaper essays; he also wrote some 80 books - books of fiction, criticism, literary biography, and theology - as well as several hundred poems, about 200 short stories, and several plays. His best-known character is Father Brown, a detective-slash-priest, who features in several short stories. He dabbled in the occult as a young man, and he and his brother tried out the Ouija board, but eventually he returned to the Church of England, and converted to Catholicism later in life; his thoughts on religion influenced much of his writing. His book The Everlasting Man (1925) contributed to C.S. Lewis's conversion from atheism to Christianity.

George Bernard Shaw was his good friend and verbal sparring partner. They rarely agreed on anything, but disagreed amicably. Chesterton wrote of Shaw, a modernist, in Heretics (1905): "If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby."

He made his points with wit and paradox, and in such a large body of work, there is no shortage of quotable material:

"The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane." (Orthodoxy, 1908)

"Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." (Tremendous Trifles, 1909)

"Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property, that they may more perfectly respect it." (The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908)

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad."
(The Ballad of the White Horse, 1911)

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:
There were moments during the past 48+ hours that I had some grave doubts about my future on this side of the sod. This morning, however, I feel as though I have been given a reprieve from a Higher Power who has a wisdom that goes far beyond the here and now of my understanding.

And, as a bonus to my exit from the binnacle list, in a moment of serendipity, combining with today's beautiful post-thunderstorm sunrise and giving me some hope for the hours, days, and weeks head, I discovered the foregoing Chesterton posting at The Writer's Almanac. I take joy in the discovery and being able to share it with you.

Now, though, I feel the need for a bit more rest and recovery, so I will simply close the posting, I will maybe do a little Chesterton reading if my mind and body will cooperate (finding comfort in sadness, my touch of madness, and the reality of dragons), and I wish you all a beautiful day.

But, wait a minute, you cannot get away without answering a question: What are you favorite Chesterton reading encounters?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Blogging note -- I'm on the binnacle list

Until God knows when, this blog will be inactive because I am on the binnacle list and in pretty bad shape. I blame it on today's therapy. Yeah, better living through chemistry is a damned big lie.

Your prayers might help me. Well that request might piss off the atheists out there. 

Such is life. And so it goes. 

Why do writer's write?

First there is Huffington Post article about writers' motivations.

And there is this personal observation about writers, especially two 19th century American authors: I have been giving a lot of thought to the question, "Why do writers write?" My thinking is provoked by my reading of Hawthorne and Melville biographies and fiction. I remain unclear about their motivations, but I will probably make some discoveries, reach some conclusions, and offer some postings on Hawthorne's and Melville's fiction and their reasons for writing in the not too distant future.

Now there is this personal postscript. 

I invite you to take a look at the Huffington Post article; I tell you up front that I remain unconvinced by what I see as the central thesis of the article (and my point of view regarding this subject might either surprise or offend people, but more will be said about that article's thesis and my POV either in a later posting or in discussions here); now, though, I leave you with a two-part question:

(1) What are your thoughts about or reactions to the Huffington Post article?
(2) Why do you think writers write; moreover, if you are a writer, why do you write?

Troublemakers in history

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1521 that German priest and theologian Martin Luther was declared an outlaw and his writings were banned by the Edict of Worms. The edict made Luther more of a hero than he already was, and it's a big reason that Protestantism caught on so quickly.

Luther decided to become a priest after getting caught out in a thunderstorm one night. He swore to God that if he survived he would enter the religious life. He did survive, and he went on to study theology, become ordained, and get a job as a professor in Wittenberg. As he became more and more involved in the church, he began to grow disgusted with some of its practices. He was especially angry about the church's sales of indulgences, which were said to decrease the time a person had to spend in purgatory.

On the eve of All Saints' Day in 1517, Luther nailed to the door of his church 95 theses attacking the sale of indulgences and other excesses of the church. They were originally written in Latin, but they became so popular that people demanded they be translated into German, and so they were. Hundreds of copies were printed up on a printing press, which was still a fairly recent invention, and Luther's message spread throughout Germany and Europe.

Religious leaders and politicians began to realize how dangerous he was becoming to the traditional church, and in April of 1521, a group of Roman princes pressured Emperor Charles V into forming an assembly in the city of Worms to try to get Luther to reject his writings.

On his trip to Worms, Luther was celebrated as a hero at most of the towns he passed through. He refused to recant and went back to Wittenberg to start the reformation.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

I am interested in troublemakers, people who defied authority and (for better or worse) influenced history. Luther ranks near the top of my hit parade of golden oldies because of the profound changes he provoked. Closer to home, even John Brown (the pre-Civil War America fanatic and murderer) fascinates me. Casting my net wider, here is a link to a list of troublemakers. And, giving equal time to women, here is another list. Going even further, here is another list.

Choose either from the lists or from elsewhere, and tell me what troublemaker most fascinates you? 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Emerson: Tomorrow is a new day!

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of philosopher, poet, and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author). He was born in Boston in 1803, and his father's unmarried sister, Mary Moody Emerson, was a great influence on him. She wasn't formally educated, but she was sharp, and she was widely read. She introduced young Waldo, as he was called, to a wide variety of philosophies and spiritual beliefs, including the Hindu scriptures that he would return to in later years, and it was from her that he got many of the aphorisms he passed on to his children, like "Always do what you are afraid to do," and "Despise trifles," and "Oh, blessed, blessed poverty." He entered Harvard at 14, and began keeping journals, which he called his "savings bank;" when he became friends with Thoreau in 1837, he suggested that Thoreau, too, might benefit from keeping a journal.

In his book Nature (1836), Emerson first introduced the concept of Transcendentalism - the idea that spiritual truth could be gained by intuition rather than by established doctrine or text - and he would become a leader of that movement. He was a popular public speaker, and gave more than 1,500 speeches in his lifetime.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."

And, "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."


And there is this personal postscript:
Tomorrow is a new day, and this blog will resume with a "new" direction (i.e., a return to guilty pleasures) and different content (i.e., reviews and reader-responses). Stay tuned.

Now, tell me about your favorite Emerson reading experience. Or let's talk about Transcendentalism, a quite sensible approach to life. Perhaps this link to my BookLoons review of American Transcendentalism: A History by Philip F. Gura will help get the discussion started.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Blogging note: postscript to previous posting

My previous posting included an announcement about my Bible reading plans.  Because of the intensely personal, spiritual nature of my reading and quest, I will not be using this blog for any postings or discussions relevant to that journey. That news will probably come as a relief to some of my blogging friends. So, if this book blog continues, which may or may not happen depending upon my motivation, time-availability, reading habits, health, and other factors, Informal Inquiries will remain inoffensively secular rather than personally spiritual. And so it goes.

Not by accident have I stumbled upon Balaam's words

Earlier today I posted something about Samuel F. B. Morse and the telegraph, and I became curious about the words used in Morse's first telegraphic communication: "What hath God wrought!" So, I have been doing some research. You might be stunned by my discovery, my reaction, my belief, and my resolution.

I found this link, I explored the different avenues available to me in that link, and I now believe my previous posting was not an accident but is essential and transformational. Moreover, I believe my posting was predetermined by God, a higher power that I do not but should better know, understand, and trust; and I believe I must from this moment onward expand my inquiries into the word of God: the Holy Bible. And even though I might drive away a few visitors who prefer to avoid the Bible, this book blog will allow me to focus almost exclusively on that one book.

Some of you, my friends, might scoff at my belief. However, I hope you will not react too critically and intolerantly but instead celebrate and share in my transformational discovery and commitment. So, if all goes according to plan -- not my choice but one commanded from elsewhere -- this blog will bear witness to my spiritual quest and journey. Onward!

What hath God wrought?

First there is this from The History Channel:

In a demonstration witnessed by members of Congress, American inventor Samuel F.B. Morse dispatches a telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland [on May 24, 1844]. The message–“What Hath God Wrought?”–was telegraphed back to the Capitol a moment later by Vail. The question, taken from the Bible (Numbers 23:23), had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellworth, the daughter of the commissioner of patents.

Morse, an accomplished painter, learned of a French inventor’s idea of an electric telegraph in 1832 and then spent the next 12 years attempting to perfect a working telegraph instrument. During this period, he composed the Morse code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages, and convinced Congress to finance a Washington-to-Baltimore telegraph line. On May 24, 1844, he inaugurated the world’s first commercial telegraph line with a message that was fitting given the invention’s future effects on American life.

Just a decade after the first line opened, more than 20,000 miles of telegraph cable crisscrossed the country. The rapid communication it enabled greatly aided American expansion, making railroad travel safer as it provided a boost to business conducted across the great distances of a growing United States.

And then there is this personal postscript:

I remember learning Morse Code in the Navy, and the experience nearly drove me crazy: listening to code for eight hours a day was an unpleasant way to earn a paycheck. However, it was an important part of my job as a cryptologist.

But now think about this: The world without rapid communication is nearly unimaginable and would be unbearable for many people; however, other technologies might be more important to modern life. So, which invention of the last 200 years do you think is the most important and essential to your everyday life?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Time-travel to the past in America

Well, first there is this, a statement that has long intrigued me:

Philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist George Santayana is known to be the originator of the quote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

And then there is this:

As I pointed out in an earlier posting, I have spent a significant but not lengthy portion of my adult life reading, studying, and talking about literature, and my blogging activities over the years have been determined largely by that focus, but long ago -- once upon a time -- I never gave much thought to imaginative literature but instead planned on becoming an American history teacher. Alas, that career goal was never achieved, and my previously posted autobiographical sketch somewhat explains the reasons. Now, though, it is time for a return to the past. What do I mean? Please continue reading.

My posting this morning included my fanciful desire for time-travel. Now, friends, I recognize the folly of that fantasy, especially as it might unless amended involve even more reading and talking about literature. The prospect of another far flung, meandering adventure among fiction and poetry does not interest me except for time spent with a few exemplary writers from the past. But I have stumbled upon a different and more interesting doorway for a pleasurable itinerary, one that will help me remember the past and avoid repetitions in my own life: I will give myself over to the reading and studying American history (and a few exemplary writers from the 19th century).

Here is my first time-travel reading project:

Paul Johnson's 1100-page narrative history, portions of which I have read in the past and will read in bits and pieces again, will be among my many "time travel vehicles." Similar books will become my time-consuming transports to thousands of discoveries in the days, weeks, and months ahead; I have already accumulated 27 history and biography texts that have for too long collected dust among on my iPad.

Now, though, while I have no definite plans for the future of this blog, which might be more silent than active, I leave you with a two-part question:

What moment in American history interests you so much that you would if you could time-travel and become an on-scene witness to history in the making? Why?

Margaret Fuller, Emerson, and time-travel

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of writer, literary critic, and woman of letters Margaret Fuller (books by this author), born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts (1810). She was the first of eight children, and a precocious child. Her father - a Harvard-educated lawyer and politician - had hoped for a son. Even though girls received very little in the way of formal schooling in those days, he insisted that Margaret receive the very best education. He homeschooled her rigorously for several years and then sent her off to the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies. She took after her father in forcefulness and drive, but he was a demanding and cold teacher, and she suffered from migraines, nightmares, and depression. She wasn't popular at school, mainly because she came across as a tactless know-it-all. A lot of her bluster was a front for her insecurity, which she revealed in her journals. "I shall always reign through the intellect, but the life! the life! O my God! shall that never be sweet?" She felt that she was cursed with "a man's ambition" and "a woman's heart," but later wrote that the ambition was necessary to keep her heart from breaking.

In 1832, her childhood friend James Freeman Clarke suggested to Fuller that she might channel her passionate nature into writing. And just a few years later, in 1835, she met Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author). Their personalities could not have been more different, but they ended up being very close friends for the rest of Fuller's life. Being in Fuller's company, Emerson once said, "is like being set in a large place. You stretch your limbs & dilate to your utmost size."

It was also in 1835, the year she met Emerson, that Fuller's father died. She went to work as a teacher to help support her family, even though she had been planning to write a biography of Goethe, in whom she had a passionate interest. She did take Clarke's advice and published her first book, Summer on the Lakes, in 1844. Her most famous work is Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), in which she argues that women should not be constricted by gender roles in their choice of career, but should rather be allowed to do work that appeals to them. "Let them be sea-captains, if they will," she wrote.

Fuller hosted a series of parlor discussions that she called "Conversations." They were on various topics, from literature to education to philosophy, and only open to women. Fuller's real purpose, besides education, was to enrich the lives of women. She ran these conversations for five years, and then she felt she needed a change of pace, so she moved to New York and went to work as a reporter for Horace Greeley. Greeley gave her a front-page column in his New York Tribune, and she later became the paper's first female editor. In 1846, Greeley sent her to Europe as a foreign correspondent. She ended up in Rome, covering the Italian revolution, and that's where she met Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a nobleman who had been disinherited by his family for his radical sympathies. They began an affair, and may have even secretly married after Fuller became pregnant.

She was returning to the United States with her lover and their toddler son, Nino, when a hurricane forced their ship onto a sandbar off of Fire Island, New York. The whole family lost their lives in the shipwreck.

And there is this personal postscript:

The lives and times of Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and their contemporaries fascinate me. If I could time-travel and begin life again elsewhere, I would choose Emerson's neighborhood in the mid-19th century. 

Now, though, here is a question for you: Where would you begin again if you had the time-travel opportunity?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit

In Act 2 Scene 2 of Hamlet, the Prince Hamlet says this to his ostensible friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:

"I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours."

I offer and embrace the foregoing, appreciating the irony (i.e., using a sublime source from literature), as a statement of my attitude with respect to life, literature, and more. A bit of autobiography might help explain the foul and pestilent offering.

When I graduated from high school in the early 60s, I went on to college as a history major who looked forward to becoming a high school teacher. Then, when my father died in the summer following my freshman year, I felt abandoned (like Hamlet), and l fell into a melancholy that derailed my future plans. Soon thereafter I received a draft notice (i.e., the U.S. government's selective service wanted me to become a soldier in Vietnam), so I came up with an alternative plan: I enlisted in the Navy. Following four years of the Navy as a cryptologic technician in Norfolk and GITMO, I returned to college again thinking I would become a high school history teacher, but I soon was seduced into a different academic plan: I became a theater major who hoped to someday become a drama teacher in either high school or college. Well, in spite of a B.A. and an M.A. (ABT) in theater, I found myself among the acutely and chronically unemployed. So I returned to the Navy, and I remained there for more than twenty years of service (with shore duty stations in California, Florida, and Iceland, and sea duty on three aircraft carriers in the Pacific). When I finished my naval career, I returned to college because I decided I would become a teacher. First I thought I would become a K-12 special education teacher, but then I set my sights on becoming a university teacher of English composition, literature, and drama. After a few more years as a student (M.A. in English) and a decade as a teacher in university classrooms, I eventually became disillusioned with teaching, literature, and life. My disillusionment, exacerbated by acute and chronic distractions, led to my "retirement" from all labors.

Now, even though I should be enjoying what I thought were going to become my "golden years" and carefree living, problems continue to besiege me, and again but more than ever "I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth." Moreover, just as Hamlet says at the end of his life, I also have this to say: "The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit." Yes, you see, my view of literature and life has been poisoned. I do not understand why.

In any case, I suppose I should apologize for this posting. The tone and substance is not very useful. Perhaps I should take my cue and stage direction from another statement by Hamlet: "The rest is silence." Hmmm.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Creators and contributors in society

First there is this selection from The Writer's Almanac:

"Observations of an OB/GYN Nurse"
Lois Parker Edstrom          
In memory of Dr. Tom Critchfield

The babies, CEOs of his life,
set the schedule, write the script.

They arrive in predawn hours
and the middle of the afternoon

unaware of an overflowing
waiting room or his need for a few

hours of uninterrupted sleep.
The police recognize his car,

escort him to the hospital
for those middle of the night calls.

Surgery, lunch in the hospital cafeteria,
then office hours where the babies,

bundled in mother’s arms,
check in for a six-week visit

peaceful and slumbering, as if making up
for the sleep he missed.

At career’s end, twin granddaughters
born on his birthday.

Memories streak across the mind’s sky.
We need their bright, yet fleeting comfort.

His life of births, his solitary death.
This night Venus trembles

below the crescent moon
like a glistening tear.

"Observations of an OB/GYN Nurse" by Lois Parker Edstrom from Night Beyond Black. © Moon Path Press, 2016.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

I offer the foregoing poem, copied from today's edition of The Writer's Almanac, without comment about the poem's qualities, which I am not qualified to judge; however, the subject of the poem, which I think is poignant and powerful, and the poem's mere existence provoke me to ponder the question: who are more important contributors to society -- people who create art (reaching and influencing some people) or people who do something more substantial and essential in life (reaching and influencing many more people).

In a less circuitous approach to the issue, I ask you this more specific question based upon my thinking about and reaction to the poem: what types of people are more important contributors to society at large -- people like the doctor (i.e., the millions of tangible, necessary contributors to society) or someone like the poet (i.e., the fewer and perhaps less important and less essential contributors to society)?

Yes, you will counter that I am being foolish because the world needs all types, and you might argue that a world without the arts is both unimaginable and unacceptable. However, I am not quite certain of that notion. This is a complicated issue, and I am probably guilty of not framing the argument sensibly. Perhaps I should say it this way, not intending but perhaps unconsciously swerving into irony: I would rather have doctors than poets in the world. Hmmm.

Well, what do you think?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Remembering Shakespeare and predicting the future

Here is something from The Writer's Almanac:
Shakespeare's sonnets were first published on this day in 1609, most likely without Shakespeare's permission (books by this author). The book contained 154 sonnets, all but two of which had never been published before. Shakespeare (or perhaps the publisher Thomas Thorpe) dedicated the collection to "Mr. W.H." whose identity has never been known. The poems are about love, sex, politics, youth, and the mysterious "Dark Lady," and they have given young lovers and the hopelessly romantic words for the ages:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, a
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade,
Nor loose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time though grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

And here is a personal postscript:
I would often hear students complain about having to read Shakespeare's plays and poems because of what students referred to as his "old English." To be fair, I understood their complaints. After all, too many people have lost their ability to read anything not compressed into small-brain bits on a cell-phone screen. I suspect the future of Shakespeare is bleak (i.e., students will neither be assigned nor be able to read and understand the works of William Shakespeare or similar giants of literature). In other words, even though men can breathe and eyes can see, Shakespeare's words will no longer have a life. What do you think?


Friday, May 19, 2017

Oscar Wilde, crimes, punishments, and sticky wickets

First there is this from The History Channel website:

On this day in 1897, writer Oscar Wilde is released from jail after two years of hard labor. His experiences in prison were the basis for his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898).

Wilde was born and educated in Ireland. He studied at Oxford, graduated with honors in 1878, and remained in London. He became a popular society figure valued at dinner parties for his witty remarks. Embracing the late 19th century aesthetic movement, which embraced art for art’s sake, Wilde adopted the flamboyant style of a passionate poet and self-published a volume of verse in 1881. He spent the following year in the United States lecturing on poetry and art. Wilde’s dapper wardrobe and excessive devotion to art were parodied in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Patience in 1882.

After returning to Britain, Wilde married and had two children. In 1888, he published a collection of fairy tales he wrote for his children. Meanwhile, he wrote reviews and became editor of Women’s World. In 1891, his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published. He wrote his first play, The Duchess of Padua, the same year and wrote five more before his arrest. His most successful comedies, including The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan, are still performed today.

In 1891, the Marquess of Queensbury denounced Wilde as a homosexual. Wilde, who was involved with the marquess’ son, sued the Marquess for libel but lost the case when evidence supported the marquess’ allegations. Because homosexuality was still considered a crime in England, Wilde was arrested. Although his first trial resulted in a hung jury, a second jury sentenced him to two years of hard labor. After his release, Wilde fled to Paris and began writing again. He died of acute meningitis just three years after his release.

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And there is this personal postscript:

I suppose different people have different points of view about Wilde, his writing, his personal life, and his criminal conviction (and imprisonment). As for myself, living much of my life in a glass house, I will not throw stones but will remain silent about Wilde's specific issues (except to sing the praises of The Importance of Being Earnest, one of my favorite stage comedies), and I leave the door open for your comments. More generally, though, I have a two-pronged question for you:

(1) To what extent if any should a government (society) criminalize personal, private behaviors? (This is a complicated question and a bit of a sticky wicket, friends.)

(2) Have you ever broken the law and escaped either discovery, prosecution, or penalties? (And there you have another sticky wicket, friends, so make sure the statute of limitations has run its course for any crime(s) you own up to here because Big Brother might be monitoring this site.)

My answers to both question might surprise you, but I wait for your answers before I even think about spilling any beans about myself.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A brief but spectacular take on growing old

Here is a brief but spectacular take on growing old. The delightful "star" of this PBS video is my former writing teacher (Berkeley, 1979).

And here is the link to an article by Flossie Lewis, "Maude's Pill," a cautionary tale about the perils of growing old.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bloggers: motives, methods, and madness

Here is a topic that has been on my mind for a long time: Why do people "speak" to other people -- total strangers -- via blogs? After all, it seems like an odd expenditure of a limited commodity: time. I might even classify the behavior as some sort of madness. As for that latter assertion, my own blogging experience is an illustrative example, and perhaps I will "speak" more about my motives, methods, and madness in the near future, but first I would like to hear other people "speak" about their motives and methods. So, go ahead. I look forward to hearing from you.

Voltaire goes to prison (and others should be next)

First there is this from The History Channel website:

Writer Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, is imprisoned in the Bastille on this day in 1717.

The outspoken writer was born to middle-class parents, attended college in Paris, and began to study law. However, he quit law to become a playwright and made a name for himself with classical tragedies. Critics embraced his epic poem, La Henriade, but its satirical attack on politics and religion infuriated the government, and Voltaire was arrested in 1717. He spent nearly a year in the Bastille.

Voltaire’s time in prison failed to dry up his satirical pen. In 1726, he was forced to flee to England. He returned several years later and continued to write plays. In 1734, his Lettres Philosophiques criticized established religions and political institutions, and he was forced to flee again. He retreated to the region of Champagne, where he lived with his mistress and patroness, Madame du Chatelet. In 1750, he moved to Berlin on the invitation of Frederick II of Prussia and later settled in Switzerland, where he wrote his best-known work, Candide. He died in Paris in 1778, having returned to supervise the production of one of his plays.

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And there is this personal postscript:

I'm sure there is more to the story than is hinted at in this brief article (i.e., the reasons for Voltaire's imprisonment), and I will be taking some time to further research the incident, but taking the story at face value for the moment, I am not surprised that writers in the past could be (should be?) imprisoned for running afoul of  governments.

However, I begin to wonder if such an event -- the imprisonment of writers (including journalists and others) because of their offense(s) against government/society -- would either be possible or desirable in our 21st century world. There is an easy knee-jerk answer many people might throw out there, especially since we in the United States have a "freedom of speech" obsession, but I think the really useful and accurate answers are more nuanced and complicated. After all, for one example, in this era of WikiLeaks, "fake-news," public utterances, and other indiscretions, some people including writers, so-called print and media "journalists," editors of Internet sites," politicians, public figures, and others can (and do) cause serious damage to government/society.

Note: I am very sensitive to this issue, especially since a portion of my U.S. Navy career involved the protection of highly classified materials, equipment, and information. If I had failed to perform my duties or if I had run afoul of government rules and regulations, I could not have claimed immunity from prosecution because of accident, ignorance, good intentions, patriotism, or "freedom of speech" concepts, and I would have been imprisoned for a long time.

So, I ask you to think about this issue, and I invite you to respond to this provocative question: Do we now have any writers (or others) who ought to be imprisoned?