Archive for October, 2008

October 28th 2008

Middle English Comics

Middle English Comics

Finally, a comic blog that combines my love of comics with my love of the special tongue that was Middle English!  Japes for Owre Tymes takes modern comic strips and translates them:

Newspaper comic strips tend to be stuck in the past. We rail against this fact…but why fight it? This blog translates one newspaper strip per day into Middle English. Why? Because it can…

Allow me to back up just a bit.  Perhaps the greatest poet of all time (imho) in English was the mysterious Pearl Poet (or Gawain-poet), author of one obscure manuscript (Cotton Nero A.x.) from the 14th Century written in Middle English.  The manuscript contains 4 poetic works, copied by the same scribe, which have certain internal voice and stylistic consistencies and are thus attributed to one, albeit unknown, author.  The poems are Pearl, Patience, Cleanness, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight–the author gets his title from the first (or last) poems in the group.

Easily the most recognized, translated and studied of these verses is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for good reason.  It is a complex, alliterative poem of 101 stanzas that adds a new (so to speak) twist to the Arthurian mythos–and much more.  When I first read the poem in a modern translation, I was hooked and have been all the more so since I’ve read it (or rather, stumbled through it) in it’s original beauty.

Thus I fell in love with Middle English–not Chaucer’s English, but that 14th Century momentary revitalization of the English of Beowulf and the Exeter Manuscript.

It is important to remember that the bardic poets were an aspect the popular culture of their time.  The best of their verses wove complex heroic tales, riddles and laments from a stock of stressed alliterative terms that could be rewoven and turned upon themselves to delight a king, his court, and crowds of followers in any venue.  They could produce love poems, acidic social commentary, and simple heroic romance all from a relatively small cache of poetic tropes.

For me, the newspaper comic strip is one aspect of a modern popular culture that does something similar.  Comic strips rework cultural idiosyncracies and ideologies through a series of dialogic/scribed tropes. The worst merely recycle cultural and personal cliches, the best take these same scenes and produce social and/or political commentary.  I have become a comics junkie to such an extent that I frequent a comics blog (the Comics Curmudgeon) and several other comics-related sites that further parse, comment on and interact with comic strips and their authors.

Thus, Japes for Owre Tymes.  It’s perfect!

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October 28th 2008

I Did It

I admit to it.

Obama’s loss traced to David Hurst

See the full impact here.

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October 22nd 2008

Caribou Barbie

Caribou Barbie

Sarah Palin is another example of the Peter Principle in action.  Interestingly, though she may have already reached her level of incompetence, it is possible she can still move up the ladder.  It is hard to imagine even the American public, notoriously gullible, seeing anything but fluff and blather in Palin.  Her recent shopping trips really shatter any notion that she’s “one of us.”  Still, one never knows.

“She was never a hockey mom, she was always the prom queen sitting in the back of the convertible waving to the hockey moms” said Simon Doonan, creative director at the high-end clothing store Barney’s New York.

In these last few weeks before the election, let’s just sit back and contemplate the special world of politics.  Actually, I wish there was a Caribou Barbie.  My daughter loves moose, and that’s close enough.

Comes with everything you see here:

– Dead Caribou

– M-16

– Snowmobile

– Sexy Librarian Glasses

She even talks with such fun phrases like:

– “I’m a pitbull with lipstick!”

– “My family is off-limits!”

– “What is it the Vice President actually does?”

Coming soon: Bristol Palin with inflatable baby bump and John McCain with portable green screen background!

[photo and quote from CollegeOTR]

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October 13th 2008

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Well, not Mozart, I’m afraid.  I have many musical interests, most of which include some form of cognitive dissonance and/or inductive resonance.  Or the lineup includes Robert Fripp.  (I’m also obsessed with Neil Young, but there’s no direct connection there.  Iconoclasm, perhaps.)

In any case, I’m fascinated by technically interesting music that pushes conceptual boundaries, such as was popular in the pso-called psychedlic rock era when King Crimson, Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd were among the genre’s most commercially successful bands.  I have continued my interest in the members of these bands as they have fragmented and soloed, but I have lamented that the sound of experimental excellence was on the wane in the music biz.

And then, quite by accident, I stumbled on the song Fripp For Girls by Sleeping People.  Suddenly, I had found that sound again.  I’m a member of emusic and my subscription plan allows me a certain number of DRM-free downloads each month for less than $.25 a song–and a couple of the band’s albums were there.  If King Crimson and Pink Floyd were two of your childhood influences, this band will excite you.

But more than that, with a little research I traced the efforts of bassist Kenseth Thibideau through a few of his other bands, Rumah Sakit and Tarentel, and discovered another world of technically thrilling avant-garde rock music.  I invite you to listen to a couple tracks and then track down these bands–their sites all have several full-length songs you can demo.  Buy these albums; support good music.

Or join emusic and download the tracks DRM-free.  It’s the least expensive, best alternative to CDs, CD wrappers, and music industry idiocy.  Note:  I earn a small commission from the following link, but I would recommend eMusic without it–I have been a member since 2005 after I saw a link at the J-Walk Blog.
Get 50 FREE MP3s from eMusic


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October 6th 2008

The Complexity of Suffrage–Obama and My Vote

The Complexity of Suffrage--Obama and My Vote

One of my greatest heroes from the past is Emma Goldman, whose life story so enthralled me in high school that I collected her every biography and pored through used book stores for tracts she authored.  Most of my political philosophy was shaped first by her words, then by other voices from the labor movement of the early 1900s and marxist or leftist writings from the 1950s.

Ms Goldman, feminist and activist that she was, was squarely against the notion of women’s suffrage–so much so that she denotes an entire tract to the subject (published in 1917 in Anarchism and Other Essays).  Her argument, in “Woman Suffrage,” is not complex:  she essentially targeted the methods used by upper-middle class and rich (white) women to try to gain the right to vote as well as (in her view) the inability of the vote to effect real change for women’s rights.  As allied as the suffrage movement was to freedom for blacks, it still was an elite movement, run by women who had time and could afford to.  It did not matter to Goldman whether that path to suffrage was necessary (who else was going to fight for it?)–it only mattered that in the process, women turned their backs on other women, that working women were disenfranchised or worse.

In the concluding paragraph of “Woman Suffrage,” she writes

She can give suffrage or the ballot no new quality, nor can she receive anything from it that will enhance her own quality.  Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity.  Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.; by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer.  That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation.  Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life giving; a creator of free men and women.

Her reasoning seems, to me, quite rational and I struggled for years each election with whether I should vote or not, wondering how, in the broken system Emma described–which is all the more entrenched today, perhaps–any vote could contribute to real change.

I have voted, every time.  I vote my conscience, so of late I’ve voted Green mostly; when I was younger I was a Democrat, which didn’t stop me from voting Independent for John Anderson in ’80.  But I am disenchanted.  What does voting Green mean, after all?  Have I wasted those votes?  Many argue that Ralph Nader’s presence in recent elections has “stolen” votes from Democrats–but I wonder if his presence isn’t necessary:  he speaks of the “tyranny” of the two-party system and I hear Goldman’s words floating in the air.  The problems of our country are not Republican, nor Democrat, they seem to me to be systemic.  Voting won’t reform the system–or at least, I can say with certainty, it has not reformed the system to date.

And now, a historic election.  My colleague at Brave Gnu Whirled linked to the New Yorker endorsement of Barack Obama and it is indeed an extraordinarily well-reasoned, well-written piece.  It moved me the way Obama speeches themselves move me.  The rhetoric is beautiful and inspired.

But change?  Forgive me, but I do not think there will be real change in America.  I believe our lives will be improved under the administration Obama envisions–things can hardly get worse (the New Yorker calls George Bush’s Presidency “the worst since Reconstruction”).  But the Religious Right is not going to go away, Rush Limbaugh will not disappear, conservatives will still hold seats in Congress…  The business of politics is not significantly going to change.

And so, what does suffrage do for us?  I want to hope it is more than just a national catharsis.  Is it?

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October 5th 2008

Speaking of Politics…

Speaking of Politics...

These days, as in every election season, I am reminded of this poem by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton:  Exquisite Politics

The perfect voter has a smile but no eyes,
maybe not even a nose or hair on his or her toes,
maybe not even a single sperm cell, ovum, little paramecium.
Politics is a slug copulating in a Poughkeepsie garden.
Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth
of a king. I voted for a clump of cells,
anything to believe in, true as rain, sure as red wheat.
I carried my ballots around like smokes, pondered big questions,
resources and need, stars and planets, prehistoric
languages. I sat on Alice’s mushroom in Central Park,
smoked longingly in the direction of the mayor’s mansion.
Someday I won’t politic anymore, my big heart will stop
loving America and I’ll leave her as easy as a marriage,
splitting our assets, hoping to get the advantage
before the other side yells: Wow! America,
Vespucci’s first name and home of free and brave, Te amo.

And if you like that, check out Exquisite Candidate

(image source)

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