Tuesday, March 31, 2009

AI: Down to the nine count

You can already tell who's going to be a "star" (that is, a successful music arti$t) post-AI, and it's Adam Lambert, no matter what else happens the rest of the AI "season". Effortlessly brilliant. Paula is right.

The other, and I didn't realize it until last night, is Kris Allen. He's got it too, but still acts a bit "uncertain".

Some of the others are good-karaokes, but not star-to-bes.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The sound, shape, and "sign" of poetry

Is poetry meant to be heard, or seen?

Robert Pinsky's talk from the C-SPAN2 BookTv archive emphasizes The Sounds of Poetry.

That the art of poetry derives — primarily — from sound would indeed make sense when poetry's dissemination was primarily oral. With the printing press, poems began to be more widely read on the page, and today the visual appearance — it's shape, including the arrangement of words (even letters have shape: an 's' looks like a ssssnake, you know!) — of text on a printed (or now, electronic) page is a part of the art of poetry too. This becomes of primary emphasis in pattern (aka concrete) poetry.

So there is both "sound" (audible) and "shape" (visual) aspects of poetry. But just recently, I have been viewing the poetry of "sign".

This is "ASL poetry" (American Sign Language). Though I don't know ASL, one can get a sense of it by knowing the poem* it's signing. What this proves, I think, is that ASL poetry is an art — a medium for poetry — that can be appreciated by poetry lovers whether they are hearing-impaired or not. It stands on its own.

So here are the sound, shape** , and sign (language) of poetry. All good. All art. Does this say something, waxing philosophic, about what poetry is, that goes beyond these mediums?

* The Road Not Taken Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

** For the seeing-impaired, there is poetry in braille. So here, the "shape" is tactile instead of visual.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

That which they can do

That which they can do
not themselves,
they teach others to do
for themselves.

They make dough not through
their would-be art,
but instead by selling you
a course in art.

You pay them a nice and hefty fee
with the great hope
that you may be
the next great hope.

But, after that, if you fail,
there is a place you can fall back:
To be a seller with web and email
a course in art to the artlorn hack.

Note: art includes writing of all kinds, of course

American Idol update (C'mon, you know you want to know.)

The two truly "must-see" singers in this season's AI are ...

Allison Iraheta ("Papa Was a Rolling Stone")
[ youtube.com/watch?v=v959pZBSPGc ]
(The sixteen y.o. prodigy, she could channel a "Janis Joplin".)

Adam Lambert ("Tracks Of My Tears")
[ youtube.com/watch?v=iB_fUEe5Eh0 ]
(Always brilliant. What can't he do and make it his own song?
 Also watch:
     "I Make You Crazy" Art 4 Life Benefit 2008
     [ youtube.com/watch?v=EBlmcak7cuA ]
     "Crawl Thru Fire" The Zodiac Show 2009
     [ youtube.com/watch?v=wXvSA6QL7Ac ])

Because of these two, and especially Adam Lambert, it's the best AI in years. Ever, actually.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The first thing we do, let's kill all the poets

“We are, at all events, aware that such poetry mustn't be taken seriously as a serious thing laying hold of truth, but that the man who hears it must be careful, fearing for the regime in himself, and must hold what we have said about poetry.” — Republic, Plato.

from Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Buried in the Wall: When Poetry, Philosophy, and Faith Converge
Alan Birkelbach (Texas Poet Laureate 2005)
Dallas Philosophers' Forum, March 24, 2009 (presented @ Two Guys From Italy)

Poetry and Philosophy are viewed as opposites, that is, Poetry is generally considered an emotionally-centered discipline and Philosophy an academic-driven one. And Faith tends to keep feet firmly planted on both sides. But what are the questions that arise when all three converge? Does poetry become a philosophical tool? Can poetry become inseparable from faith? Can poetry become worth dying for? Can fervor and passion co-exist with rational thought? These, and other questions, will be examined in this high-level overview of the issues that arise when the lines between faith, philosophy, and poetry blur.

This was the first time I've attended a talk/reading by a poet laureate. I've seen U.S. poet laureates Robert Pinsky (in an extensive lecture) and Billy Collins, of course, in C-SPAN2 BookTv broadcast and video.

It was a very nice talk (by a poet whose poems I would like to read more of*) with several examples of poetry (including Chinese and Middle Eastern). I was getting the idea, getting to the subject of the talk, that the thrust of the talk was that poetry, somehow, was some sort of reconciliation of philosophy and faith — a "restoration" of faith in the otherwise faith-barren halls of philosophy. Or something like that.

I have, I think, something of a contrary view. I see philosophy (viewed historically) as a battle between idealism and materialism — between Platonism and anti-Platonism — and poets definitely being in the "anti-Platonism" camp. (Plato hated poets — for good reason! Alan Birkelbach, responding to my question "Which camp are poets in?" at the end of the talk, thought they live in both camps. But I don't know.) This battle between rhetoric (Platonism) and poetry lives on today in philosophy in the "conflict" between "the analytics" and "the postmodernists". I see, even when they are writing about God and that sort of stuff, poets as being the "bad boy" — not to be trusted — closet postmodern materialists, whether in the past or now.

The other thing Alan Birkelbach talked about was the "love" poets have always had for alcoholic indulgence (though his muse thrived on coffee). Ironically, his talk was presented under the restaurant's ceiling adorned with dozens of hanging straw-covered wine bottles.

And I learned this: In Texas, the stipend the legislature pays for the position of Texas Poet Laureate is $0. I suppose they consider that poetic justice.

* from Texas Poetry Calendar 2008

"Early in the Morning, on the Road, near Franklin, Texas"
By Alan Birkelbach

Her skirt clings to her the way fog clings to a flower.
Her legs are curled up, her sleeping face soft like a saint.
Driving for hours a man thinks about how things are measured,
about how coffee always tastes better in small towns.

Her legs are curled up, her sleeping face soft like a saint.
St. Augustine said the eye is attracted to beautiful objects.
Coffee always tastes better in small towns;
the treasures of the destination make us take the trip.

St. Augustine said the eye is attracted to beautiful objects.
The full moon makes her skin glow like a statue.
The treasures en route make us take the trip.
I start out thinking in terms of miles and hours

but the full moon makes her skin translucent like a statue.
Her breathing is as fragrant and sure as moonflowers
and I stop thinking in terms of miles and hours.
She’ll wake up in a little while and touch me with her bare toe.

But for now, her breathing is as fragrant as moonflowers.
Driving for hours a man thinks about what makes things holy.
She’ll wake up in a little while and bless me with her bare toe,
her skirt clinging to her the way fog caresses a flower.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I watched Watchmen

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto." — The Gay Science

I went to see Watchmen (IMDb) at The Magnolia. Sunday noon, alone. There was only one other person in the whole theater (theatre?) — way over to the side — who watched it.

I haven't read (yet, if I ever do — I'm not into that sort of thing) the newly released Watchmen (Paperback), nor have I read
Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test (Paperback).

One thing I try to do is, if I go to see a movie at the theater, is to see the movie, and then go to Rotten Tomatoes and see where I fit in, Tomatometer-wise. Today, it's like this: T-Meter Critics — 64%, Top Critics — 43%. Fresh, that is. Not good.

I fit into the "Fresh" batch. In fact, I would be a ★★★★ (out of 4 stars) critic. It's a great movie, and I am going back to see it again.

Why the "disconnect" with the public and practically every critic? First, like I said, I was totally ignorant of the comic ("graphic novel"), except I knew it has something to do with a 1980s world where Richard Nixon is president in a fourth term, and it has some sort of "superheroes" in it, one who is blue, massively built, and with a massive penis. (Two "tricky" dicks. I get it.) That's it.

I think it's because I think I "get it". It isn't a superhero-genre movie, like Spider-Man, Batman, or even X-Men at all. It's a deft deconstruction of the entire genre of Superheroism (proxy Gods) and its entanglement with American-wayism*. It makes all of those movies look ridiculous now. Not like a comedy spoof, like I suppose Superhero Movie was supposed to be (though Watchmen is severely, darkly comedic), but as a philosophical bulldozer razing American-hero iconography and morality. (And, as pure cinematic art, it triumphs.)

Perhaps that's why (potential) audiences have fled in droves — away from this movie. (Why destroy their well-worn myths? The American audience wants its superhero the American-way, and when this myth is undermined — there were none in the first place, and there never will be any in the future — they are baffled and confused.)

One thing was missing: One doesn't get to see the big blue dude's big blue tool erect, and see how really big it is. (Perhaps he should have popped a big blue pill.) That would have boosted its ratings, I think. But then, would that mean it would be NC-17 and not R?

"The Superhero" is dead. And we have killed him ...

* How it does this would involve getting into the story and plot, and constitutes spoilers. One spoiler: The key to the movie is watching the scene of Dr. Manhattan, the only "real superhero" in the movie, exploding the living bodies of Vietnamese, thus winning the Vietnam War — for America.

Monday, March 23, 2009

religion: a memoir

The post The First Amendment and The Ambiguity of Marriage in Philosophers' Playground prompts the questions

     What's a church? Who's a minister?

— as far as state and national governments are concerned, that is. "Touchy" issues at the "wall of separation". (Can there be "churches" and ordained ministers in "denominations" that have no "Supreme being" — legally speaking?, for example.)

These questions made me reflect on and wonder what happened to the two neighborhood churches I "grew up in" in the late-50s-through-60s Winston-Salem. North Carolina.

There, "everyone" was a Protestant, of course, of one sort or another. Southern Baptists, of course — they were the "holy-rollers" — and Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and so on. There was a Catholic church downtown (I think they might have even called it a "cathedral"), but whoever went there were pretty quiet about it, as the Catholic church was looked at a being some sort of cult, with a guy called the Pope swinging a smoking ball and doing other strange things. There was a Jewish church ("synagogue", they called it), and Thalhimers (founded by a Jewish merchant in Richmond) was Winston-Salem's Macy's [1958 photo]. (Jews — there were none I knew of in our neighborhood, but a few in my high school — were "cool" — "just watch your wallets" — since they were in the Bible, and they read the Bible — part of it anyway. Catholics, we were were told, were forbidden to read the Bible on their own, unlike Protestants.) That's just the way it was.

The church I was baptized in was Messiah Moravian Church. The Moravian denomination came from a pre-Luther Reformation history, with its founding father, John (or Jan) Hus being burned at the stake by Catholics. American Moravians, based secondarily in Winston-Salem (I'm not a descendant of these Moravian settlers, though) and primarily in — no surprise — Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, are mainline Protestants now sharing the "controversies" that beset these denominations. What I was surprised to learn is that the current pastor — of the church I was baptized in! — Rev. Truman Dunn, is perhaps the leading "radical" of the denomination: asserting that Jesus isn't the only way to salvation, for example. (See Messiah Moravian minister whose statements sparked controversy will keep his pastorate, and also The Ward letter on "welcoming homosexuals into the Moravian church".)

Who knew?

That's the early part of my upbringing. The second was when my parents then transferred me to a newly established St. Thomas United Church of Christ in 1959. The denomination was only created in 1957 from two Reformed Protestant denominations: the New England Congregationalists (a Pilgrim legacy) and another Reformed denomination. (This particular church, I think, was eventually closed and its congregation merged into the Parkway United Church of Christ. I saw its first pastor, Josh Levin, before he died at a retirement home where my father lived, fifteen years ago.) The UCC is the leader of Reformed-tradition Protestant denominations in establishing gay clergy and gay marriage rights as a national policy in the US.

Who knew?

I think that all of this — the progression (women pastors and in leadership positions, gay clergy and marriages, an "open-ended" theology) in traditionally-Reformed but now progressive denominations — is merely a logical consequence of Protestantism*.

In 1971, the fifties and sixties were over, I left Winston-Salem to go to Brown in Providence, RI, where there were lots of Catholics and Jews. And atheists — of course. And that was that.

* logical consequence of Protestantism — I remember, I think, Bertrand Russell wrote that his agnosticism was this, but I need to find the reference.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lay off of my Bluetoothed shoos

I see a guy walking
down the outside mall, talking
to no one. Then, I see the small
appliance in his ear.

I hear a guy sitting
in a café seat beside me, talking
to a computer screen — Is it me
he's talking to?
Then, I
know that on the other side
of his head there must be an
appliance in his ear.

I know the guy sitting
across the table, talking
to no one. But he's not able
to stop — He's off his meds, perhaps? —
since I know
          there is no
appliance in his ear.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A dog, a tree, and spring

I THINK that I shall never pee
On something as lovely as a tree.

A pee whose yellow stream is shoot
Against the sweet trunk's earthbound root;

A pee that praises God all day,
As I lift hind leg to pray;

A pee that may in summer cool,
A nest of fire-ants in its pool.

Upon whose remnant snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make me pee.

sit venia verbo, Joyce Kilmer (1886–1918)

posted to Totally Optional Prompts: Season Change

Springing a leaf

Spring sprung a new leaf at 11:44 ante meridiem

          in Coordinated Universal Time.

But some are still writing "Winter" on their checks!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Falling off a log

Is pie, in fact, easy? If so, which is easier, pie or falling off a log?
— Steve Gimbel

from Seemingly Trivial Unanswered Problems In Discourse: Easy Edition, Philophophers' Playground

Easy as falling off a log

A play on the word logarithm. This has to do with the shape of the graph y = log(x). If you stand on it anywhere near the origin, it is easy to fall off into the infinite abyss.

Easy as pie

A play on the word pi. The easiest shape to draw is a circle, and the length of the curve is pi times its diameter.

*      *      *

I have no clue
If false or true.
Is it a lie?
Easy as pie!
Still in a fog?
Fall off a log!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Flaming Ring

Original: Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire 1963  

    [ youtube.com/watch?v=gRlj5vjp3Ko ]

Wood-be: Dilana - Ring Of Fire  

    [ youtube.com/watch?v=whtQZJ7R3EU ]

Rekindled: Adam Lambert - [AI] Top 11 - Ring Of Fire  

    [ youtube.com/watch?v=ZCXrygv1js0 ]

Finally, AI breaks out of the box with Adam Lambert.

A soon-to-be-classic (or is it "instant"-classic?) performance.

(other comments)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Are not poets mere copywriters . . .

Are not poets mere copywriters with
     A single client to fulfil, a smith
Of clev'rly crafted phrase and form, herewith
     To please that stringent customer of myth?

re Totally Optional Prompts: Adjectives (rfps)

*      *      *


How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

— W.Shakespeare



Technical writers are copywriters without the "charisma". Poets are copywriters without the [money-paying] clients.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Culture wars, 1932-2012

Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford.

So states Frank Rich, in his Sunday NYT column.

Rich is being a bit too preachy by half: as if he's preaching to the GOP on how it can improve its brand and start winnning more elections.

I am old enough to have my *parents* tell me how it was growing up (as teenagers) in the 1930s' Depression. I think the GOP of 2009-going-forward is going to be like the post-Hoover GOP of the 1930s: attacking the "New Deal" as being "socialism" (and, in 1938, attacking it as being "fascism"), promoting a platform based on how we need to remove government involvement in the economy, and — at the same time — attacking the Democratic Party's "cultural values" as being un-American. Same old same old GOP. Nothing's really changed.

I'm an Obama Democrat (I don't mind saying, but then I'll also say, "I'm not a Democrat, I'm a deconstructionist"), like many in the 1930s were Roosevelt Democrats. At least that's how it feels to me.

(BTW, where is Maureen Dowd? Another vacation?

I get into an "argument" with someone ("RV") who thinks Frank Rich is "substantive" and Maureen Dowd is "frivolous". I find Frank Rich "banal" (that's a wee bit too strong, actually) and Maureen Dowd as being "stimulating, poetic". We have our own mini-culture-war on the left, apparently.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

To tweet or not to tweet

To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question;
Whether 'tis mobler° in the daily grind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Friends,
Or to make Blocks against a sea of troublemakers,
And by opposing them, end them.


                                    To shut down, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to network. Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of network what friends may come,
When we have left our lonely clamshell°,
Must give up pause.


Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of our iPhones' light
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And twitters of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the screen names of action.

re Totally Optional Prompts: Rewrite (rfps)

° mobler: more moble
  clamshell: MacBook, formerly iBook (archaic)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose*

Frank Rich's column this week on parallels between Thornton Wilder's 1937 play Our Town and Depression 2009, to be frank, confuses me. One loses any sense of what he is trying to say by the double-loop history "lesson". (The play is about some small fictional New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners between the years of 1901 and 1913. And the play has to do with what is going on now ... how again?)

But I think I get his point, which I would have preferred much blunter.

How is 2009 like 1933? is the punditry's prompt du jour. Is Barack Hussein Obama Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and 2009's GOP the 1930's Party ex Herbert Hoover redux (which, as some may remember from history class, went on to lose in 1936 and 1940)?

From The New York Times, Sunday, January 30, 1938:
DR. FRANK DECLARES NEW DEAL 'FASCIST'; He Calls on Republicans to Fight Program Threatening to 'Hitlerize' Nation

Dr. Glenn Frank told the nation's Republicans tonight that their party "must be more faithfully expressive of the American spirit than the fascist program of the New Deal," which, he declared, "threatens to Hitlerize what was once democratic self-government."

Glenn Frank, a former president of the University of Wisconsin, was something like the Newt Gingrich — who, like Glenn Frank, likes bittering his commentary with a twist-of-"fascist" — of his day: he was considered one of the intellectual gurus of the 1930s GOP and played a fairly significant role as the leader of the 1938 RNC "Program Committee". (Rush Limbaugh may be considered a blowhard "entertainer", even by many conservative Republicans, but Newt is somehow considered to be their professorial "theorist".)

The Hooverites remained in control of the post-1932 GOP. (And Hoover, an intellectual in his own right, who founded Stanford University's Hoover Institute — it's also the home-base of Condoleezza Rice — kept waving his not-so-magic wand from the sidelines.) Their intellectual guru called the New Deal "fascist". The 1930s GOP was the party of "economic" libertarians and "cultural" conservatives. They lost in 1936 and 1940. Today's GOP is as clueless as they were. (And they are especially clueless when they say, in essence, "Bring Hooverism back in 2009! The New Deal was a failure!")

OK. I get it, Frank!

*plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose : the more things change, the more they stay the same (more or less)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Daily chores

The only way that I can do a chore
Is not to contemplate: What is this for?

Rewards of daily chores lie in themselves:
A mindfulness like that of polar elves.

Within each chore there lies serene escape
From daily woes whose worries now lose shape.

for Totally Optional Prompts: Chores (rfps)

and inspired by the book Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks, by Gary Thorp

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dr. Seuss's Scale

I got up my doctor's scale to weigh,
      Hey Hey,
Just to have it say,
      "Dude, the day
of all-you-can-eat-lunch buffet
has got to, got to, go away!
      Hey Hey!"
And worse: It was one of those weighs,
      Hey Hey,
that makes you pay.

for Theodore Seuss Geisel  (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991)