Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lessons, Week of 28 October - 1 November 2013

English 1301
Week of 28 October – 1 November 2013

Excellent work on the semester exam by almost everyone.  Congratulations!

This week is dedicated to research writing, so bring all your impedimenta, including your Orwellian telescreen.

We will read lots of old research papers (with the permission of the writers) of varying quality.  These are examples for you to consider, and some of the examples are not good. 

You, as an individual, must make a final decision on your topic this week, and have your instructor sign off on it.

You, as an individual, must write your thesis statement and have your instructor sign off on it.

You will have some time in class this week to research and write, either working from your personal Orwellian telescreen or in the library.  Staring at your MyFaceSpaceBookMeMeMe or email for repeated ego validation does not constitute work.  Next week we will enjoy a literary selection for its own delight and its relevance to your lives, and as the basis for an expository essay, so make use of your individual-choice class time now.

Everyone currently enrolled has a passing average; however, the research paper will be, for some, the cause of final failure due to repeated topic changes, lack of individual initiative, plagiarism, or shoddy workmanship.  Passivity is your enemy, and is defeated only by your own initiative every day.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Upon Reading Doctor Zhivago

Mack Hall, HSG
Upon Reading Doctor Zhivago
Love lost along abandoned railway lines,
Grave-cold, grave-still, grave-dark beneath dead snow,
A thousand miles of ashes, corpses, ghosts -
Sacrarium of a martyred civilization.
A silent wolf pads west across the ice,
The rotting remnant of a young man’s arm,
Slung casually between its pale pink jaws -
A cufflink clings to a bit of ragged cloth.
Above the wolf, the ice, the arm, the link
A dead star hangs, dead in a moonless sky,
It gives no light, there is no life; a mist
Arises from the clotted, haunted earth.
For generations the seasons are lies,
Since neither love nor life is free to sing
The eternal hymns of long-forbidden spring -
And yet beneath the lies the old world gasps
The old world gasps in sudden ecstasy
A whispered resurrection of the truth
As tender stems ascend and push the stones
Aside, away into irrelevance.
And now the sunflowers laugh with the sun
Like merry young lads in their happy youth
Coaxing an ox-team into the fields,
Showing off their muscles to merry young girls.
The men of steel are only stains of rust,
Discoloring the seams of broken drains,
As useless as the rotted bits of brass
Turned up sometimes by Uncle Sasha’s plow.
For this is Holy Russia, eternally young;
Over those wide lands her church domes bless the sky,
While Ruslan and Ludmilla bless the earth
With the songs of lovers in God’s ever-spring.

You and the Government Shutdown

Mack Hall, HSG

You and the Government Shutdown

In our nation’s capital, a number of veterans have torn down barricades that were blocking several war memorials, and taken them (the barricades, not the war memorials) away to dump in front of Tsarkoe Seloe…um, the White House.  That’s the stuff!  Our little rural county is not important enough to have any federal memorials to barricade, hence no protests, but maybe someone could go tip over a traffic cone in front of a convenience store.

The government shutdown is so bad that young military recruits aim their weapons at the targets and shout “Bang!”  When range drill is over they must collect, count, and turn in all vowels and consonants discharged in the exercise.

As a cost-saving measure, flags over government buildings will feature only four stripes and fifteen stars.

The Lincoln Memorial is closed, but visitors to Washington may stand reverently before a cardboard cutout of President Millard Fillmore.

Navy tankers are unable to fuel warships at sea, and are sending them song sheets for “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

For the duration of the crisis Canada has offered to lend their good neighbor to the south their four submarines, just as soon as any of them can be made to float.

In sympathy with our government’s funding crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to laugh at our President and Congress only three times a week instead of five.

Recently I referred to Speaker Boehner and the House of Representatives as a lot of harmless Merovingians.  The other night the ghost of King Childeric III appeared to me in a dream and demanded that I stop insulting harmless Merovingians.

The Veterans’ Administration, in the spirit of shared sacrifice, has agreed to ignore veterans at a slower rate.

In large cities, minimum-wage private sector workers are setting up soup kitchens for IRS employees, who are asked not to double-park their government-issued SUVs out front.

Until the budget crisis is resolved, the five full-time White House chefs will be reduced to seven.

In the last presidential election only about half of all Republicans bothered to vote; the other half stayed home to listen to Rush Limbaugh, war hero and family counselor.  Republicans are now so outraged at the shutdown that in the next election they will avoid voting in even greater numbers.

Transportation Security Agents at the nation’s airports have warned our government that if their pay is delayed they are going to start being nice to travelers. 

But keep calm, America, the chaos can’t last much longer – the Speaker of the House has threatened to wear his flowered golfing shorts and cry if the President doesn’t accept the Speaker’s abject surrender.


Fabrique au Canada

Mack Hall, HSG

Fabrique au Canada

Those of a certain age – born when giant hamsters roamed primeval swamps – will remember when Niagara Falls was a clichĂ©’ honeymoon spot.  If in a newfangled talkie film anyone mentioned Niagara Falls, that was code for a wedding, and at the end of the movie, all conflicts resolved, Jimmy Stewart and Myrna Loy drove Pa’s sputtering 1935 Ford roadster north to Canada.

Niagara Falls, Canada, is great fun, much like Disneyland, only without Disney's understated elegance.  The center of jollification is Clifton Hill, or, in French, Rue de la Moulson’s et la barfe-on-les-sidewalks. 

Okay, that’s not really French; I just made that up, but I’ll bet you couldn’t tell.

The views of the Falls are better from the Canadian side, but very expensive.  The free parking lots of only a few years ago are gone, and now the amateur hydrologist must slosh $20 into the wet kitty (or la chat) in order to park his Ford and spend some quality time with the water.  Lots of water.  Beautiful water.

The views from the American side are also quite good, and parking that ’35 Ford is much cheaper, but you also get the idea that you probably don’t need to be there after dark.

One New Yorker faulted the Canadian side for being too commercial; his idea of the natural and free was reflected in the broken glass of abandoned buildings on the American side.

Niagara Falls is a romantic fashion again, but now folks want to be married when they get there, not before.  A young couple of my acquaintance made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Ontario, and their families and friends dusted off their passports and their Christmas accounts in order to join them for the happy occasion.

The couple were wedded one beautiful autumn morning on a wet Maid-of-the-Mist boat wetly sloshing around at the wet foot of the wet American Falls, the wet Horseshoe Falls, and wetly back to the wet American Falls, thus adding to the occasion lots of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in proper portions just in case not everyone aboard had been baptized.

One thought perhaps the boat captain would perform the rites, but he was busy enough avoiding a low-budget Titanic finale to the wedding, and so a wet rent-a-reverend-doctor (he also teaches t’a chi and is a motivational speaker and a singer/songwriter) in a Roman collar and sporting a big, shiny Celtic cross wetly said some things to the wet couple on the wet fantail. 

The Very Impressive Clergyman must have spoken the right things though mostly unheard among all the racket of engines and water, for the happy (and wet) couple kissed, surrounded by several hundred wet friends, most of whom were Japanese and Korean (and wet), along with Kate and Lily, those adorable (and wet) little scene-stealers.  Even now, in Seoul and Tokyo, folks are happily passing around hundreds of photographs of the young American couple who made their vacations in Canada, God’s second-favorite nation, even more enjoyable.

After docking, the wet couple and the wet VIC sat at a (dry) table in a cafĂ©’ and spent a half-hour signing and witnessing lots of papers, and, finally, by the rules and regulations and august majesty, and, like, stuff of the Province of Ontario and the Dominion of Canada, not to mention the Maid of the Mist company, Frankie and Sarah were well and truly united in the wet institution of marriage.  When last seen they were catching a modern Canadian train, not a 1935 Ford, to Montreal, where no one can speak Spanish where no one will speak English.

But they’ll be fine.  In Montreal and in other destinations, geographic and spiritual, in the young couple’s lives, “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” (St. Julian of Norwich), for Frankie and Sarah will make them so.



Honor the Dead - Buy Alamo Chewing Gum

Mack Hall, HSG

Honor the Dead – Buy Alamo Chewing Gum

Al, Harold, and Jim on KLVI Radio built an interesting conversation one morning last week on the selling of history.  The immediate topic was a legal dispute over some notes Martin Luther King made for a speech, and which were saved by his late secretary.  The question before a court is this – who owns those notes?

Who owns history?

And who owns the Alamo?

San Antonio de Valero was one of five Catholic missions along the San Antonio River, and what is left of it is best known for the 1836 battle which was a disaster for all concerned.  General-President Santa Anna betrayed the honor and bravery of the Mexican Army by ordering the murder of prisoners his soldiers risked their lives to save.  

The State of Texas, the General Land Office, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas honor the dead of that terrible night by featuring a gift shop ( at the Alamo, which is as tasteless as a gift shop at Bergen-Belsen or among the graves at Normandy. 

Pictures of the Alamo are used to sell motorcars and hamburgers so that a real Texan can drive his as-advertised-in-front-of-the-Alamo pickup truck to the as-advertised-in-front-of-the-Alamo cinder-block fast-foodery for an as-advertised-in-front-of-the-Alamo hamburger and french fries (which aren’t really from France or the Alamo).

Would ya like a refillable Anne Frank coffee mug with your order?

Many of us have known a beautiful image, in a hospital named for her, of kind and gentle Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, also known as Saint Elizabeth of Thuringen, to be blocked by display tables and exhibits.  Who has the authority to say yes or no to that?

Who owns history?

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Marine and by repute a good man and a stand-tall Texan, spoke quite reasonably at a gun-rights rally within the Alamo last Saturday.

Commissioner Patterson, a sturdy advocate of freedom, also has a problem – should he have been there at all?  As Texas’ current defender of the Alamo, what will he do to maintain the integrity of a historical site whose ground is blessed with the blood of heroes?  The Alamo itself, although sometimes used for tellyvision commercials, has always been free from political demonstrations

A worse problem for Commissioner Patterson is that Alex Jones, haunted by Masonic-Jewish-Illuminati-NWO-Bildergerg-Weather Weapons conspiracies, also spoke – or, rather, emitted words at the same event.  If the Commissioner was ambushed (metaphorically, of course) in the matter, no blame can attach to him.  If, however, he knew he would be sharing the occasion with a man who embarrasses even Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, then he needs to withdraw his tinfoil hat from the political ring and himself to his Bunker of Solitude.

Lee Spencer White, president of the Alamo Defenders’ Descendants’ Association didn’t want this parody there.  She is against politics on site, maintaining, quite properly, that her group regards the Alamo as a family cemetery.

And, you know, there’s nothing that says family cemetery like a gift shop. 

Victoria Montgomery, spokeswoman for Open Carry Texas, argues that the history of the Alamo is predicated on politics, and that makes it a perfect place for a rally advocating personal freedom.

Both Ms. White and Ms. Montgomery make excellent points, but perhaps now the people of Texas should draw that line in the sand just like the one Colonel Travis may or may not have drawn:

The Alamo is sacred to the First Nations, to Spain, to Mexico, and to Texas.  The Alamo should be swept clean of made-in-China coonskin caps and of demonstrators; let the commerce and the look-at-me moments and filming for hamburger advertisements take place across the street, next to the Ghosts of the Alamo movin’ picture shows and fruit juice bars.

The Alamo began as a Christian church under the spiritual patronage of St. Anthony of Padua.  Unlike the other four San Antonio missions it will probably never be consecrated again as a church, but the theme remains – sacrifice and redemption.  As St. Thomas More might or might not have said, we have no windows to look into men’s souls, and so we must not presume to judge anyone who died on the walls of the Alamo; instead, we must remember our Christian obligation to respect them, “the dead with charity enclosed in clay,” as King Henry V might or might not have said. 

San Antonio is now a very large city, and for miles and miles in every direction people may buy, sell, and argue; what remains of the Alamo is such a tiny space that setting it aside as sacred ground where people will remove their made-in-China ball caps and be silent for a few minutes in the presence of a shared memory will do no harm to the State of Texas, the First Amendment to the American Constitution, or to cash registers.

Who owns history?  You do.  And so do the dead.