Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Book Notes: Jude the Obscure

I've started Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, which was a classic of 19th Century realism. The novel appears to be tragic going by the descriptions on the cover, but the beginning is rather similar to Dickens's Great Expectations, involving young boys in the English countryside (Jude in this case and Pip in Dickens's novel) yearning for a better opportunity. However, most fortunately, there is little of Dickens's forced humour in this book and instead opens promisingly with a melancholic departure of a beloved schoolmaster from Jude's village.  In addition I am especially eager to read this because as a work of realism, it will provide a vivid portrait of English life during Queen Victoria's reign. I hope for the best from Mr. Hardy's pen.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Modest Proposal

As most readers will realize, this blog was set up as part of an assignment in my English class although I've always intended to get into blogging. Also as part of my English class, I have to do an innovation project which as seen in last week's post starts with asking the question "What If?'. So I intend to pose my "what-if" question to-day and elaborate on it further to encourage others to do something similar.

The "what if" question I posed for my innovation project was "what if students could obtain free used books for their classes or for general knowledge and enlightenment?". As a result I have come up with the idea of a book exchange at my school. The basic premise of such an exchange would be that used books would be donated by an individual or a library and then people could pick up the books they wish to possess either for free or for a small fee (most used library book stores I've seen charge books at no more than one or two dollars and sometimes far less). Many of the books that would be donated would be books assigned by a class or on a reading list so that students would have a copy of their own that they could write in and so forth without having to purchase it at a relatively high price at a bookstore or waiting for weeks for a shipment to arrive. But, just like the library, there'd be other books to educate or entertain students independently of a teacher's direction.

I hope others will be inspired to follow this area and set up book exchanges at their own school libraries with it being extended to textbooks in colleges. This can even be implemented in workplaces and places of worship to promote life-long learning. Perhaps this may indeed do the same for books what the health insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act is doing.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Two Men Who Asked "What If?"

Asking the question "what if?" is part of what makes us human as it shows us imagining something that does exist not yet  and then use our creative powers to answer it ourselves. To-day I'd like to show two men who asked this question and thus show how fruitful the answers to this question can be.

The first of these men is Rod Serling who created the television show Twilight Zone. It asks "What if...?" and then dramatically depicts Mr. Serling's often clever answer to that question. I've begun watching the series lately (having already seen many episodes in school classes), and my favourite of the ones I've seen so far asks the question "What if one could delay death?" in the episode "One For the Angels":

The second man who asked "What if?" is Japanese anime and manga artist Leiji Matsumoto. One of his most famous series, Galaxy Express 999 about an orphaned boy named Tetsuro who travels across the Galaxy with a mysterious woman named Maetel in order to fulfill his mother's dying wish then he gain a cyborg body, asks two major "What if" questions: "What if there was a an express train that travelled through the stars of space?" and "What if humans could gain cyborg bodies that greatly lengthened their lives?". In each individual episode of the series, Matsumoto asks a "What if?" question such as "What if there was a planet where some people glowed in the dark like fireflies?" and explores its potential consequences. Incidentally the entire series can be legally watched with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.com.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

President Othello?

There are certain occasions when eerie parallels arise between literature and real life which are obvious to all. Such a similarity may be observed  between Shakespeare's Othello and the current situation in American politics. Much as the Venetians in the play had a man of African descent as a general (while clearly from some area of North Africa, it is unclear whether Othello was intended to be black or simply a darker-skinned Arab), the United States now has for the first time in its history a man of African descent as its President. In addition, much as there was a malignant man determined to bring down the noble Othello in the story, so there is an entire faction of men and women in this country determined to do the same with President Obama.  This faction in question, of course, is the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party especially in the House of Representatives, which in its latest act of fanaticism to stop or at least retard a modest and conservative healthcare reform plan has shut down countless government functions including among other things the virtual entirety of NASA and various government databases that provide all sorts of useful information. Meanwhile these Congressmen have blocked a "clean funding" bill that would resume funding for the government from coming to a vote without having to accept extortion due to the spinelessness of Speaker Boehner and the fear most House Republicans have of being primaried. On top of that, the Tea Party members of the House may even prevent a debt ceiling increase in the middle of this month in order to extort defunding of or delays in the implementation of Affordable Care Act despite the massive potential economic disaster such as an action would entail. 

Similarly to how Iago incited Brabantio and Roderigo through references to the "Barbary horse", the Tea
Party has in many (though to their credit, not most) cases appealed to racial and religious xenophobia to discredit the President in the eyes of the citizenry by stating he was born in Kenya or even a secret Muslim acting as a Manchurian candidate to subvert the country. Of course there are differences, such as the fact that while the motives behind Iago's actions are unclear and disputed by literary scholars, the motive of the Tea Party is clear: to enact the dogma of a reactionary ideology that aims to restore a laissez-faire capitalist paradise that never existed in the United States and as a result to dismantle the legislation of the New Deal and the Great Society such as Social Security and Medicare. Another difference is that while Iago's scheming was subtle and secretive, the Tea Party's actions are out in the open and obvious to the eyes of the world. Let us hope this clarity on the part of the Tea Party leads to popular backlash that will force Speaker Boehner to let democracy take its course by allowing a vote in the House for the clean funding bill and averting catastrophe by passing a debt ceiling increase (or better yet abolishing it completely). Furthermore, let us hope even beyond these immediate problems, the Tea Party members in the House along with their comrades in the Senate and state governments will be voted out in 2014 to completely remove this malign force that has poisoned political rhetoric and caused tremendous suffering to a struggling nation attempting to move out of an economic crisis. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Featured Music-Blue Danube Waltz (Vocal Version)

The "Blue Danube Waltz" by Johann Strauss the Younger is quite a popular musical piece, but many people don't know there are actually lyrics to it. I intend to remedy this with this wonderful vocal version by the Wiener S√§ngerknaben: