John Masefield, John Ireland, and James Tiberius Kirk–but not Walter de la Mare

This is a short  note of correction to my previous post, “The Old Canvas Is Almost Gone”: Walter de la Mare might need to “go down to the sea again,” but he was  reading John Masefield’s poem, or perhaps singing John Ireland’s setting of it.  Russell Malcolm performs it on youtube: .  “de la Mare” reminds me of “La Mer,” hence the confusion.

masefield SaltWaterPoemsAndBallads

The poem is so perfect that several parodies have been written, and it’s been quoted by everyone from Vin Scully to Capt. Kirk.  In Spike Mulligan’s lampoon, the writer has left his clothes at the beach and (to rhyme with “sky”) wonders if they’re dry.

The Old Canvas is Almost Gone

A state university (attended by my niece and nephew) has just announced its decision to convert its library holdings from books to digital files and databases. This has brought home to me the current future of education, the creation of knowledge, and its preservation. Librarians are raising their cool-factor, even appearing at the ultracool SXSW, the South by Southwest culture and computer festival in Austin, Texas. (But I wonder  how public librarians afford the $825 entry pass for SXSW Interactive). Their slogan is “not the same old shhh.” Clever, no? From storytellers and instant reference on the streets to the now fashionable maker-spaces, librarians in the twenty-first century are actively embracing electronic multimedia as well as the old-fashioned personal interactions at information desks.

In 1890 William John Gordon wrote that “Now all the old canvas has gone, with its snowy wings from the watersails to the moonrakers” (Foundry, Forge, and Factory, p. 37). The Industrial Revolution and the progress of material technology used steam, then oil, and now atoms as fuel. Wind and horsepower were left to historical fiction, ecological dreamers, and the poetry of the past. Walter de la Mare might need to “go down to the sea again,” but finding a “tall ship” is increasingly difficult. Writers from Nicholson Baker to Neil Gaiman to myself are lamenting the passing of the book in its paper form, as the codex of recorded knowledge is being replaced by glowing electronic screens of hypermedia. Yet it’s too early for an obituary for print. Some educators are warning the enthusiastic early-adopters about their effects on learning. And the dire state of education in the United States is well-publicized.

So. I don’t know, but we live in interesting times. I’ve been on a wooden ship, even hauled on a sheet. Now I’m dusting my bookshelves again and reorganizing the proud paper books, just as though they were a library.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

–from Edna  St. Vincent Millay, “Dirge Without Music.” Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1958), via

On Oil, Complicity, and the Impossibility of Moral Virtue

It seems to me that the major oil spills of my time–first the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, most recently the BP in the Gulf of Mexico–are an indicator of the moral confusion of our post-industrial society.  Even worse than hurricane damage on the Gulf coast, oil damage is in some sense deliberate in that the spillers value profit more than safety, environmental responsibility, beauty, or life itself.

oiled pelican gpeace
      [photo from]

Yesterday in federal court, Judge Carl J. Barbier found BP “grossly negligent” and responsible for 67% of its 2010 catastrophe. 

The New York Times story focuses on the judicial impact of the spill, but the featured comment gets to the center of the dilemma:

Of course BP is primarily liable. However, as in nearly all such cases, we the people self-righteously ignore our collective culpability. We buy their fuel. We drive with it. We heat with it. We buy tons of the plastic made with it. We dump down tons of the fertilizers made with it. We bemoan all the impacts of fossil fuel use yet, when it comes down to sacrifice, we are partners with global corporate powers.
Carl, Portland

Carl was overgeneralizing, as some replies to his post indicated: “we” use organic, locally produced, fuel-efficient, recycled etc., when we can. Yet I think he’s right about complicity. Remember the 1960s Pogo slogan: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It’s about time for a new grass-roots movement (while there’s still grass left on the planet). Bienville House, may we come home again?


Irresistible for a Leo

This post is a jumble (a new genre, looser than an essai).

I wanted to share a word new to me, “merlion” from the Oxford English Dictionary, but after typing and pasting below, I saw this warning:

“Oxford University Press (UK) Disclaimer

This message is confidential. You should not copy it or disclose its contents to anyone. You may use and apply the information for the intended purpose only. OUP does not accept legal responsibility for the contents of this message. Any views or opinions presented are those of the author only and not of OUP. If this email has come to you in error, please delete it, along with any attachments. Please note that OUP may intercept incoming and outgoing email communications.”

      Why is the venerable Oxford University so paranoid? The dictionary is in print, online, in most libraries, and therefore even more public than the university itself. Yet this free, anonymous WOTD e-mail is anchored with a warning of confidentiality, legal irresponsibility, surveillance potential, and caution excessive even for Brits. Hmmm… Well,here goes. Below is an excerpt, in quotation marks, properly documented. I post this not to breach confidentiality, steal intellectual property, nor to bring legal charges, but to spread the literal word, to celebrate the OED, and to encourage its proper use. I trust this does not violate any of the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics (CEI).10 commandments of computer_Ethics1 For a more restrictive viewpoint, see the Government of Guam’s Internet Code of Ethics. [Guam is a Pacific island outpost of the United States, where my father was stationed while I was in elementary school.]

[You wouldn't know that my zodiac sign is Leo, since I'm neither golden, resplendent, nor outgoing. But the king of beasts is also regal and reserved, and the version below loves the sea. Hence, he's me.]

“OED Online Word of the Day [for August 11, 2014]

 merlion, n.3

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈməːˌlʌɪən/,  U.S. /ˈmərˌlaɪən/

Etymology: <  mer- comb. form1 + lion n.

A mythical creature with the head and trunk of a lion and the tail of a fish, regarded as the protector of Singapore.

The merlion is represented on a celebrated monument installed in Merlion Park, Singapore, on 15 Sept. 1972.”

Via the  © Oxford University Press 2014.

Bibliosaurus: A Rant

Trying to find the good in the trend toward the business model/Googlization of education, I am taking a MOOC about how to teach online. Which aspects of a course are better when conducted online and which face to face? Take a class discussion, for example. Introverts might feel more comfortable typing on a keyboard; make sure the activity is explicitly related to the course;  students are used to computers anyway, and isn’t multimedia more fun than musty old books?

Here is a random screen shot from YouTube of comments on a video, made by a writing class in the UK, about digital literacy in the age of Google. 

utb comments

Is it too small to read? Try again, knowing that some names are nicknames, several words are mistyped, a few are misspelled, one comment repeats a previous comment, and one seems irrelevant to the subject. (And the page isn’t much worse than the discussion board posts I’ve read in the MOOC.)  Why is this sort of thing preferable, in 21st-century pedagogy, to typed papers written well and proofread carefully? 

Thoughts of a restless brain in a wet season

Restlessness, despite–or because of–the unusual weather in south Louisiana this year: freezing temperatures on a Mardi Gras day, ice and snow and closed schools, a cool rainy spring, a week in July so temperate I kept the cottage’s windows open.  I’m looking at my Maine Atlas and Gazetteer again. A photo on the official site of the City of Belfast, ME, shows a snowplowed street lit with Christmas lights on an overcast day. Wow…and Maine’s Republican senators were Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Hope?

Restlessness, because my interesting friends and relatives keep busy in social media. Several pictures of dogs have appeared on my facebook page, but there’s also a cat video. The video, in which the cat is playing piano, is projected in a concert hall over the orchestra. No credit for orchestra or composer, alas. The cat and I could have played my “Ivory and Ebony” piece as a duet. It’s a aleatory work, influenced by Schoenberg, of course, and not publishable.

Joan Didion is a restless author. Here’s a quote which I mean to be encouraging. It’s from Didion’s “Comrade Laski, C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.),”  in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (NY, 1968).

“You see what the world of Michael Laski is: a minor but perilous triumph of being over nothingness.”

Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” An Irish Jesuit changed the pronouns to make God restless without his people. A restful thought?

One Nation under God, with Liberty and Justice for All?

Not at the border crossings, evidently.  Today’s New York Times has President Obama, in response to the thousands of children who have fled north, asking for lots of money “to set up new detention facilities, conduct more aerial surveillance and hire immigration judges and Border Patrol agents to respond to the flood of 52,000 children.”  Mr. President, how will detention facilities, aerial surveillance, and law enforcement help homeless, disoriented children? Ask for health clinics, temporary schools, and day care instead. If 52,000 is the correct number, this is a big refugee problem. 

Also a great opportunity for a “faith-based” response.

And a jobs program.

Think positive.