"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Review: Mary Oiver: A Poetry Handbook

Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection American Primitive, has died at 83. Somehow, I've managed to not read her poetry, although I did read this one, once upon a time. Another from the late, great Epinions.

Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook is one of those books on writing that I think will become a workbook for anyone interested in poetry.

Oliver is quite clear in her introduction that, like most people, she firmly believes that making poetry is not something that can be taught in school; like painting, music, and other forms of art, one can learn the craft, but the vision can’t be taught. This book is about the craft of poetry, pure and simple: types of verse, rhyme schemes, the line, meter. She also makes a point, very early in the book, about the value of reading poetry for those who would write it, and about imitating the masters (fine as a learning tool – don’t let it become a trap). Oliver builds the discussion as an organic whole, beginning with sound, which, after all, is one of the things that makes poetry poetry: the music of the spoken word. From there, it is a logical and natural progression to rhyming, the structure of the line, various forms (with a very intelligent and sensitive discussion of free verse, which is much more difficult than most people think), and a lot of common sense on diction and imagery.

The various sections are beautifully illustrated by examples by a wide range of poets, from Bashō, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, William Butler Yeats, and more, both household words and treasures known to few outside those who make poetry part of their regular diet. The illustrations are, for the most part, subject to incisive and intelligent analysis in the text that relates them firmly to the topic at hand – aside from being a joy to read in and of themselves.

Oliver also takes on those two bêtes noires of any writer, discipline and revision, with, again, remarks based firmly on common sense. (Make appointments with your Muse – and keep them.). She has words to say as well about the relative merits of writing groups, workshops, and solitude. (As one who values his solitude but thinks that enough is enough and is looking for a local writing group to join, I am taking her words to heart – they make a lot of sense: you need to be alone to write, but without input, you have nothing to write about that’s going to be worth reading.)

This is also a book that will be inestimably valuable to readers of poetry, simply because knowing what tools the poet has available, which ones he chose to use, and how she used them, can’t help but increase your understanding and enjoyment. In fact, Oliver stresses that, until the early years of this century, poetry was strongly metrical and rhymed; we are now unused to that, since free verse and blank verse have become the norm, and rhyme is for greeting cards. Consequently, many contemporary readers find the great poets of the English language difficult or incomprehensible, simply because of unfamiliarity, which is sad and unnecessary. (To be perfectly honest, rhymed verse makes me crazy, unless it’s Sir Thomas Wyatt or John Donne. OK – I suppose I can handle Yeats, too.)

Although I can’t claim to have perused every handbook on the craft of poetry, of those that I’ve looked at, Oliver’s stands out as a gem: clear, concise, intelligent, and sensible. What more can you ask? A definite must for any writer’s – or reader’s – library.

(A note: This one appears to undergo revision and expansion periodically – I’ve found copies in my local used bookstores, and, while there seem to be more examples in my edition, the meat of the text seems to be substantially intact. Happy browsing.)

(Mariner Books, 1994)

What's New at Green Man Review

We look at Ellen Kushner's Riverside novels (and there are recipes!), plus out usual eclectic mix of music, film, and whatever.

Riverside, Spain, and other interesting things

Spain? Well, scoot on over and see what that's about.

The News

I haven't been commenting on the news much the last few days, mostly because I'm fed up with Trump and his wall. Pelosi is tougher than he is, and with her prodding him, Schumer may even show some spine. And we all know that Trump is not going to negotiate in good faith, especially with President Coulter calling the shots.

I can't believe we're going through this over a campaign slogan.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Today In Real Christianity

The news is so full of grifters and con men masquerading as "Christians" that it's easy to forget that there are people out there who actually follow the teachings of Christ.

Every Christmas, the congregation of the Royse City First United Methodist Church donates its Christmas Eve offerings to charity. Last year, half of the donations went to a nonprofit and the other half to an elementary school down the street, to help cover the cost of school lunches for families thrat had fallen behind in payments.

That was Christmas 2017.

The following year, Pastor Chris Everson went to the church board to ask about taking the tradition a step further.

"The question came up: What would it look like if we did this for the entire ISD?" Everson said.

Last fall, he asked the congregation to think about what they would spend on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and then set aside that amount to help other families in the community.

By Christmas, the 200-member congregation donated more than $10,000.

They didn't make a big fuss about it either -- they just very quietly handed over a check to cover school lunch debts.

Of course, these are Methodists and not evangelical Baptists. There's obviously a difference.

Via The Friendly Atheist.

Saturday Science: Life Is Inevitable

One of the big questions in evolution (well, more like, that sets the stage for evolution) is the origin of life. Scientists have been pretty much stumped on this one, although there have been some interesting experiments in the past that have given us some possible answers, but now someone seems to have developed a theoretical framework for the beginnings:

Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place — which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined. But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.

The article points out that creationists are fond of citing the Second Law of Thermodynamics as a refutation of non-divine theories of the origin of life, but they misrepresent the Second Law:

Creationists thus misinterpret the 2nd law to say that things invariably progress from order to disorder.

However, they neglect the fact that life is not a closed system. The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things. If a mature tomato plant can have more usable energy than the seed it grew from, why should anyone expect that the next generation of tomatoes can’t have more usable energy still?

That's the key point, and one that creationists try very hard to ignore: the Earth is not a closed system -- it gets energy from an outside source -- the sun -- and there are, and have been, injections of matter from outside --meteors and a more or less constant rain of interstellar dust.

It's an interesting article, and worth reading.

By the way, if you're interested in what the first living organisms were like, here's an interesting article.

Remains of microorganisms at least 3,770 million years old have been discovered by an international team led by UCL scientists, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth.

Tiny filaments and tubes formed by bacteria that lived on iron were found encased in quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB), Quebec, Canada.

The NSB contains some of the oldest sedimentary rocks known on Earth which likely formed part of an iron-rich deep-sea hydrothermal vent system that provided a habitat for Earth's first life forms between 3,770 and 4,300 million years ago. "Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed. This speedy appearance of life on Earth fits with other evidence of recently discovered 3,700 million year old sedimentary mounds that were shaped by microorganisms," explained first author, PhD student Matthew Dodd (UCL Earth Sciences and the London Centre for Nanotechnology).

Haematite tubes from the NSB hydrothermal vent deposits that represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. Credit: Matthew Dodd

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Culture Break: Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto in D minor, Rondo

The Brahms D minor Piano Concerto is what got me started on classical music. I was about eight or nine and my father brought home a 78 rpm recording that was being discarded by the music department at the local junior high (which is what we called a "middle school" in those days). I went nuts.

From the description at YouTube:

Leon Fleisher plays the Brahms' Piano Concerto n.1
3rd movement: Rondo. Allegro non troppo
Lawrence Foster conducts the OSN Rai
Ettore Bongiovanni, horn - Andrea Corsi, bassoon - Carlo Romano, oboe
Turin, 1998

I've reviewed this one as part of a collection of Brahms piano works with Emanual Ax as soloist; I've also reviewed several albums by Leon Fleisher, here, here and here. (There may be more that haven't surfaced at the new GMR yet -- I did review a six-volume commemorative set it bits and snatches.)

At any rate, if this doesn't get your blood pumping, you'd better see your doctor.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Commercial du Jour

Maybe of the year. I don't watch regular TV, so I seldom have any take on ads unless they start generating news on their own. This one is:

In the context of the accusations of harassment and sexual abuse over the past few years, I guess better late than never. I will point out, though, that it took a national movement to penetrate the boardroom, which, in the case of abuse of women I find instructive: corporations have been very quick to respond to the gay community. Maybe this is why we can't have a woman president.*

The incels and right-wing nutjobs at YouTube are losing it over this one. I wonder why.

Via Joe.My.God.

* Stray thought: So many other countries have had female heads of state or heads of government -- the UK, Germany, Iceland, India, Sri Lanka, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Liberia, just off the top of my head (and I'm sure I'm missing some) -- and yet America elected a black man as president and still hasn't elected a woman. We haven't even elected a ticket that included a woman as VP. That says something.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Guess What's In the News Today?

And yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. . . .

I couldn't resist:

Here's an interesting take on the rationale behind the wall impasse:

(And if you thought it was the "breaking news" about Trump being a Russian asset -- we knew that.)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

What's New at Green Man Review

It's Sunday again, and a cold snowy one here, but there's new reviews at Green Man Review:

Americana flavoured Jazz, The Three Musketeers, a ‘dorable Thirteenth Doctor, Black-eyed peas and ham hocks, The World’s Most Famous Dinosaur, live music from Altan and other Winter treats

;You know the drill. Enjoy.

Review: Tanya Huff: A Confederation of Valor

Tanya Huff, who is one of the better (and wittier) writers of dark fantasy, also demonstrates that she is equally at home in military sf in A Confederation of Valor an omnibus edition of her first two Confederation novels, Valor’s Choice and The Better Part of Valor.

Both stories center on Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr, a Marine in the Confederation forces. In the first book, Torin is tapped to put together a platoon as escort and honor guard for a diplomatic mission to the Silsviss, an aggressive species who will be a valuable addition to the Confederation in its ongoing war against the Others. The Confederation, composed originally of species that had “evolved beyond” war, has accepted Humans, Taykan, and Krai as members because of their desperate need for species that hadn’t evolved quite as far as they had. The wrinkle here is that the commander of the Marines is a brand-new second lieutenant, a diTayken who just happens to be the other participant in Torin’s all-night encounter on the last night of her liberty. Torin wonders why a combat platoon is needed as an honor guard, but, as things turn out, as the mission is on its way to the final round of meetings, its airship is shot down over a reserve that is home to what can best be describe as several bands of hormonally hopped-up teenagers whose repertoire of social skills is pretty much limited to dares, challenges, and gang wars.

Needless to say, Kerr survives this and finds herself next tapped to lead a group of Marines to guard a scientific expedition to investigate a ship from an unknown alien species. To add to the pain, the troop is commanded by a Krai captain who is being fast-tracked for promotion for political reasons and whose ability at self-promotion is his major strength. As it turns out, the ship has also been discovered by the Others. And just to make things interesting, the ship seems to have its own agenda.

OK – these are good reads, witty, engaging, fast-paced adventures in which, just as everything gets under control, someone – or some thing – throws a monkey wrench into the works. Huff is playing to her strengths here: deft characterizations, sharp, prickly dialogue, clear story lines. Yes, there are clichés and stereotypes, but another of Huff’s strengths is that she can use things like that and make them fresh. Her use of the various species plays into this: the diTaykan are what Huff terms “enthusiastically indiscriminate” and the Krai can and will eat almost anything. The appetites of the diTaykan and the Krai provide ample opportunity for some snappy comments and faintly scandalous humor. And let’s not forget Huff’s rendering of commissioned officers, one of the favorite targets of any enlisted person (figuratively, of course). General Morris, who is the one who gets Torin into these situations, is the prototype of the politician in uniform, as much as Torin is the prototypical sergeant. Captain Carvag, the Krai captain of the Berganitan, the ship that winds up transporting Torin and her troop to both assignments, is the other side of command: the hard-bitten, no-nonsense ship’s captain who knows her people and how to handle them, including when to leave them alone and let them do their jobs.

There is another layer under this, if you care to look for it: Huff has set up a situation that has built into it some commentary on tolerance, acceptance, and knowing when it’s not your business. It’s not blatant, but it’s there.

(Penguin/Random House, 2015)

Today's Must-Read: "This Challenges Benedict Arnold"

I'm sure you've seen the reports on the story in NYT about the FBI opening a counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump after he fired James Comey. This is major:

On Saturday, former Naval intelligence offer Malcolm Nance explained the potential gravity of the situation to MSNBC’s Richard Lui.

“This is the single greatest scandal in the history of the United States,” he said. “I personally think that this challenges Benedict Arnold’s treason in the American revolution. If this is true, if Donald Trump was working for either money, influence, his own personal ego or being co-opted by Vladimir Putin, the ex-former director of Russian intelligence, and he went in there and he was doing this and that his favor is toward Russia and not the United States, well, it should take years.”

“This is a serious — as serious as it gets,” Nance said.

And it would be entirely in character for Trump, given that he has the moral foundation of a scavenger and no loyalty to anyone or anything but himself. Nance goes on to make an important point about how deep the rot has gone:

What will make the situation bad, Nance said, is that “one-third of this nation will not believe a word we say” about Trump’s possible treason, “because Donald Trump said so and because Russian information operations have corrupted them so that the FBI is considered the enemy.”

This is, in my estimation, the result of years of "dumbing down" in America. Television and radio are pervasive, and the programming, at least for the mainstream sources, is geared to reach the broadest possible audience, which is not necessarily the best-educated or most thoughtful audience. (It's worth noting that PBS was envisioned as a means to bring "quality" programming to a broad audience; the Republicans have been trying to kill it for years.) And the special interest groups can target their audiences, even to the point of having their own networks -- take CBN as an example, the "Christian Broadcasting Network", which bills itself as a "ministry" and brings us such serious thinkers as Pat Robertson, whose specialty is preaching to the choir. Add in the Internet, which is completely censorship free, except for a few sites that do keep an eye on their content: it's the world's best source for disinformation and outright lies. (Yes, I support letting the Internet remain uncensored, but given the fact that most Americans, and probably most people in general, lack critical thinking skills and the impulse to verify information -- well, we're seeing the downside. Another gift from the Republicans, who once again are trying to torpedo public education and secular school curricula.)

But back to Trump and the Russians. The Russians just took advantage of the intellectual laxity in American public discourse and installed their own tool in the White House as part of what is obviously a larger program of destabilizing the West. Don't tell me the newly energized far-right parties in Germany, France, Austria don't have Russian backing. It starts to look more and more that Putin is trying to set up a set of tame dictatorships in Europe, a la Hungary, and maybe even the Middle East -- he's very cozy with Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, especially now that Trump has pulled us out of Syria. (Although I have to confess, I can't understand why anyone wants to get involved in the Middle East. Oil? Russia has huge reserves of oil and natural gas. Maybe at this point it's just habit.)

At any rate, read the article -- it's not that long -- and more important, watch the video (which I can't embed because the "share" link is wonky).

Thanks to commenter HZ81 at Joe.My.God.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saturday Science: It Moves!

And it seems the earth's north magnetic pole is moving faster than anyone can account for:

(Note that the image is looking straight down at the Arctic.)

Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

(Note: That update has been delayed because of the government shut down.)

We tend to forget that the planet we live on is a dynamic entity -- aside from the magnetic poles shifting, the continents are moving, islands are being formed in the oceans from volcanic activity, mountains are rising (and falling), and weather patterns are shifting.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio. . . ."

Via Joe.My.God.