Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Remembering the 'Old Country'

Richard May headshot by Richard May

The Laputans found composing plays to be far too practical and randomness, itself, excessively ordered. Yet they accomplished the most complex tasks by seemingly random actions, which depended upon a perfect utilization of the butterfly effect. Before the concept of order or the measurement of time, it was not uncommon for Laputans to inhabit mirages, in order to better appreciate the more substantial world of illusion and shadow. Some dwelled invisibly in ancient cities which had long since vanished from the Earth.

Among the Laputans it was not considered true that a house built of metaphors was not as strong as a house built of straw. It had been said since time immemorial that a house built of metaphors was stronger than a house built of bricks and mortar. It's not known if they meant this metaphorically or literally.

But it has been noted that the Laputans left no relics or artifacts of their past glory and were said to have had no shadows. This absence of evidence for the existence of the Laputans is, in fact, the most enduring monument to the greatness of their achievements. The Laputan space program attempted to determine the location of their ancestral planet, Earth. There was no consensus among even the most pragmatic on how to determine which direction was "down", in order to reach the Earth. But, as an expression of unity, their plan was to launch exploratory spacecraft at more or less random times from the island of Laputa in all possible directions. At some later time the astronauts planed to regroup somewhere and then construct a complete model of the cosmos on a larger scale than the cosmos, itself, in order to gain precision.

Among the Laputans endurance breathing was considered a lifetime sport and one that they were truly motivated to play, usually on highly competitive endurance breathing teams, but sometimes in solitude among the clouds. The games were, of course, televised 24 x 7. But often the uninitiated had difficulty differentiating sportsmen from spectators. The games continued until everyone within range of camera deceased either of old age or from the intense excitement of the sports competition, itself.

Viruses and bacteria were honored as homeless beings seeking food and shelter and as great spiritual teachers. Laputans abhorred any use of force by the government or by Nature, herself, and spent their days from time immemorial attempting to abolish the forces of gravitation and electromagnetism, seeking to substitute a susurration of tautologies.

May-Tzu

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crossword Puzzle

Maria Claudia Faverio headshot by Maria Claudia Faverio

Across

9 Astronomical object consisting of a glowing shell of gas and plasma (9,6)

10 Bashed (7)

12 Region in central Italy (7)

13 Fruitful, profitable (9)

14 Pertaining to or containing sulphur

15 Variation of Tunica (7)

18 Tortoise deceased in Australia in 1996, the oldest known living creature at the time of her death. (7)

21 First name of the lady who was the editor of the New York Herald Tribune book review for 37 years, and who died in 1966. (5)

23 Informing, advising (9)

25 To receive after someone's death or departure or by natural descent (7)

26 Diffusion of molecules through a semipermeable membrane, the tendency of liquids to become equally diffused (7)

29 Corrupt or incompetent practitioner (particularly in law and medicine) (15)

Down

1 Multiple Purpose Operator Workstation (4)

2 Exhibiting senile behaviour or decay (4)

3 Fallen to a very low place or level (4-4)

4 Indian political leader and social revolutionary (6)

5 Teeth located between the incisors and the premolars (8)

6 Los Angeles (California, USA) band (3,3)

7 Small tree native of New Zealand (8)

8 Badge of the Lacys' (4,4)

11 Japanese first name (5)

15 Situation similar to a dilemma, but with three alternatives instead of two (8)

16 Hole caused by the removal or the loss of a nail or deliberately made for a nail (4,4)

17 Allowing for the easy removal of food particles (8)

19 Antibacterial drug (8)

20 Boredom (5)

22 Frames for airing or drying clothes (6)

24 ... for one's breeches (3-3)

27 Rocket or balloon sent into the upper atmosphere to measure phenomena beyond the reach of normal aircrafts (4)

28 Reproductive structures (4)


The solution will be appended here at a later time.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Should God Grow Up?

Richard May headshot by Richard May

God and gods are clearly at least in part mythical. But the question remains does the word "God" also refer to something real, but probably not a physical phenomenon, in addition to its mythical meanings. I'm not certain that the word "God" has an agreed upon definition in the sense of Western scientific concepts, but this does not necessarily mean that it is meaningless. Perhaps the concept of "God" needs to be further refined and developed, as the concepts of matter and energy have not remained unchanged in the past several thousand years.

Astrophysics and astronomy no longer claim that the Earth is supported by a stack of tortoises. But one is supposed to think that if a god exists, then it must possess the anthropomorphically projected personality of Zeus or some tribal god of ancient desert nomads named Yahveh, who kindly ordered the genocide of every man, woman and child of the Canaanites and in Deuteronomy 22 allegedly said that it was just fine to stone your bride to death with a bunch of the guys, if she was not found to be a virgin on your wedding night. Though hardly modern the Yoga sutras of Patanjali and Buddhism did rather better than this primitive tribal anthropomorphic stupidity of proclaiming a god more violent than even men. Most religionists apparently think they have a complete understanding of the "word of God", when we don't even have an complete understanding of the word of men.

May-Tzu

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Friday, February 23, 2007

RnR: Blog Traffic Data and Analysis

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

Here are some traffic statistics to give you an idea of how we're growing. We're using Google Analytics to collect and display this information.

Visitors per day

RnR visits per day

This graph shows the number of vistors per day we've gotten since the beginning of this year. We have had a small but steady growth curve to where we are now averaging about 50 visitors per day.

The spikes are largely caused by articles being popular in the social bookmarking sites or coincide with blog carnivals linking to our articles. The largest spike we've experienced was 140 visitors and occured in the Fall when Bob Seitz's Global Warming article was reviewed and linked to by (an evidently popular) stumbleupon.com user [this is not pictured in this graph].

Pageviews per visit

RnR: pageviews per visit

Our pageviews per visit are holding pretty steady at about 1.5. This means that, on average, one out of every 2 visitors checks out 2 articles before leaving the site.

Top Referrals

RnR: Top Referrers

As you can see here, the vast majority of our visitors come from google searches. Next most are viewers coming directly. We've only shared the "ReasonAndRhyme.com" url to friends and acquaintences so those visitors basically count as "word-of-mouth". The "gabbly.com" referrer is the from the "Chat" feature which basically only I use (I think!) so that's probably only me. "Reddit.com", "stumbleupon.com", "del.icio.us", and "digg.com" are social news and social bookmarking sites (more about these in a later article). They refer many readers but only reddit shows up in our top 10 this year. "drsanity.blogspot.com" is a host of a very popular humor blog carnival where Richard May's "NASA Plans To Construct Earth Base" article was included. The rest of the top 10 referral sources are basically search related. I'll talk more about how we work to increase our position in search results in a later article.

Most Viewed Articles of 2007

Article Unique Views Pageviews Avg Time % Exit
The Sonnet 250 293 00:04:48 83.62%
Epic Poetry 128 158 00:03:52 77.85%
Valentine's Day Card 88 116 00:02:31 66.38%
NASA Plans to Construct Earth Base 96 104 00:01:00 89.42%
label: poetry 78 96 00:01:18 70.83%
The Statistics of Stereotyping 72 82 00:07:39 84.15%
label: Maria Claudia Faverio 64 82 00:01:45 50.00%
Must We Grow Old? 71 80 00:01:22 85.00%
label: Richard May 56 75 00:03:06 52.00%
Atheism Defined 61 73 00:04:06 69.86%
Mnemonics and Blindfold Chess 54 72 00:04:46 68.06%
Number Series Puzzle 42 66 00:02:30 51.52%
Winter Poem 54 60 00:01:10 85.00%
label: Brian Schwartz 39 54 00:01:57 51.85%
label: Dan Barker 35 51 00:02:41 45.10%

I've dropped the direct homepage hits from this list but there were 584 uniq views and 799 pageviews directly to the homepage. In a later article I'll describe what seem to be the primary causes for articles to get views. For now, I'll list briefly how I think the top 15 became the top 15:

  1. The Sonnet
  2. Epic Poetry: These are very complete and authoritative articles on the title subjects. People find it in google searches and read it once they click on the article. Epic Poetry was included in "Ringing of the Bards", a poetry blogging carnival.
  3. Valentine's Day Card: The simple article title along with our blog title "Reason and Rhyme" caused google to put this article on the front page of searches for terms like "Valentine's Day rhyme".
  4. NASA Plans to Construct Earth Base: This article was included in the very popular drsanity.blogspot.com humor blog carnival.
  5. label: poetry: It seems that our blog title, "Reason and Rhyme", combined with the number of high quality poems and poetry related articles we post cause google to put us fairly high in poetry and rhyming related searches. Especially this label page which contains all of our poetry related articles.
  6. The Statistics of Stereotyping: This article is a very simple and strong discussion of the topic which followed onto Albert Frank's article on the related statistics. It was submitted to digg and reddit. And, because of its simple and appropriate title, it shows up near the top of a search for "the statistics of stereotyping" which is a hot topic this decade.
  7. label: Maria Claudia Faverio: Maria's articles on different forms of poetry are popular. This causes her label page which contains all of those articles and her poetry also to be popular.
  8. Must We Grow Old?: This article has been included in several health related blog carnivals and has been submitted to digg and reddit.
  9. label: Richard May: Richard has written a lot of articles and, again, his NASA humor piece was included in the humor blog carnival.
  10. Atheism Defined: This piece shared by Dan Barker was included in the popular Carnival of The Godless and has been linked from several atheism related blogs.
  11. Mnemonics and Blindfold Chess: This topic is commonly searched for and this is a very strong article about it.
  12. Number Series Puzzle: Commonly searched for.
  13. Winter Poem: This was included in the "Ringing of The Bards" poetry blogging carnival and is searched for regularly. Again, having "rhyme" in our blog title seems to help our poetry articles show up higher in search results.
  14. label: Brian Schwartz: Brian has written many articles and they are searched for and found. His Winter Poem above, Club Kids, and Crawpappy's bar articles are commonly read. Also, recently, people have been google searching on a teenager named Brian Schwartz who was killed in an avalanche in Utah :( .
  15. label: Dan Barker: Several of Dan's articles have been shared in The Carnival of The Godless and Dan has high visibility as co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Tragedy in Death of a Salesman

"…how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
and how shall they hear without a preacher?"
— Romans 10:14

Fred Vaughan headshot by Fred Vaughan

In "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller there is an illusion nurtured by Willy that a man can be "worth more dead than alive."1 Obsessions with destiny can play such tricks on a person. In the end, however — but before Willy's suicide — there is a summing up: "Pop!" his son says, "I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you!" Repudiating him with, "I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman," does nothing to substantiate an imagined reality in which the salesman Willy Loman has profound significance. But the Willy Lomans of the world, and perhaps even Arthur Millers, cast short shadows in comparison to men for whom the appellation "tragedy" applies. There is neither singular tragic flaw to precipitate demise nor great ideas hanging in the balance with their life or death. So the terms "tragedy," "death," and "salesman" to which I refer in the title pertain very little to the play of the similar name. Miller argued that although Willy is indeed a "little man" he is worthy of the pathos we usually reserve for tragic heroes such as Oedipus Rex. His argument was that any character willing to sacrifice his life to secure a sense of personal dignity invokes the sense of tragedy. So who knows, it could be, although I tend to doubt it. Nonetheless, I had something else in mind.

There must certainly be many cases throughout history in which ideas of extreme import have been lost for no other reason than the death of a chief proponent although a full accounting of the overwhelming loss due to such events is well beyond any conceivable effort at historical reconstruction. Certainly the most complete instantiations of such carnage have by their very effectiveness destroyed all evidence of the ideas that were lost. We only occasionally get glimpses that such situations may actually occur because a meme has managed by some accident of fate to frustrate the procedure and escape into the world at large before the death of its initial advocate. We find even in such cases in which complete premature annihilation of an idea was unsuccessful, sad commentary with regard to the surviving culture unilaterally pardoning past sins whereby counter culture has been illegitimately destroyed. Furthermore, desecrated ideas do not reoccur in the interim as they are purported to be capable of doing in cultural fairy tales that promote the concept of "inevitability" of all great ideas. They are gone — it is possible that most truly great ideas have vanished forever! The context of history changes such that an unformulated idea would never occur to anyone else after its time had passed. Even "immortal" gods, perceived rationally by many as simply the products of human intellectual exercise, are vulnerable to extinction with their adherents. St. Paul knew this. And H. L. Mencken named one hundred seventy one "immortal" gods that have long since succumbed to the nether world, in conclusion quipping: "All were theoretically omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. And all are dead."2 Preemptive violence employed against their human hosts in preventing unwanted meme epidemics one must conclude to have been spectacularly successful in every area of intellectual endeavor including philosophy, science, mathematics, music, religion, and, of course, politics. The effectiveness of accidental death or ruthless intrigue on all sides of every issue has been truly appalling and there is little reason to doubt that nascent ideas will be vicariously assassinated well into the future. It's happening right now. Machiavellian techniques apply not just to politics, but sadly, to every area of human intellectual endeavor.

Proponents of tired paradigms inaugurated before the eldest living human was old enough to propound the previous paradigm, still melodramatically cite Thomas Kuhn's popularized notion that a paradigm can only become universally accepted when death finally takes all those who upheld the previous paradigm to illegitimately criticize opponents.3 It's a dumb argument. Establishmentarian ideas debated into the ground have not died on account of the deaths of their proponents! There was full knowledge of their inner workings as a part of the debate that accompanied their demise. And long after the last proponent has been ushered to the nether region, stories survive of the victory of the new paradigm that will be extolled until it is in turn replaced, and in extolling its success, the defeated ideas survive as leitmotif against which it can be praised. Only fragile newborn ideas, unheard outside an inner circle, are truly vulnerable to death whether by natural disease, accident, or inquisition of one or few of their intellectual hosts. It is in this defenseless phase of private discovery and investigation prior to joining the public debate where destiny balances precariously on a fragile human fulcrum.

In his American classic, Robert Pirsig suggested that philosophical ideas propounded by the sophists in pre-Parmenidean Greece may have been systematically destroyed by antagonists and that what must once have been a heated debate turned into a unilateral attack on "sophistry" as mere rhetoric.4 With no sophist alive to set the record straight these accusations held for millennia, so sophists' alternative philosophical structure disappeared from the face of the earth, the minds of mankind. That is, of course, unless Pirsig actually did recapture from extracted roots of words and innuendos in accusations some of the original intent in his revitalized concept of Quality as preeminent over subsequent Westernized Aristotelian classifications.

In an earlier attempt at imitating the style of Jorge Luis Borges5I intimated that science perfunctorily expunges concepts from its registry as a part of a normal retroactive redaction, such that records of the life work of the hapless characters Woran von Geht and Friedrich Spielen had already been expurgated from journals: "The considerable volume of their contributions… more recent translations…have mercifully omitted…" However, beyond the facetious novelty in that account, a real danger exists of very similar expurgation processes. Nearly a century ago two of the most brilliant prospects for salvaging physics from the doldrums of academia vied with their alternative fixes to then current dilemmas. As protege of Poincaré, Walter Ritz had developed alternatives to the already gilded dogmas surrounding Maxwell's wave equations of electricity and magnetism. He was able to avoid the problems of having to throw away legitimate solutions to theoretically justified equations just because they ignobly refused to apply to the "real" world. Ritz's theory also competed honorably with Einstein's relativity for a time, accounting for many of the experiments because of the accepted factuality of what he pointed out with regard to the phenomenon of extinction of light by lenses, mirrors, and indeed by any material medium. Some years later Wilhelm de Sitter promoted Einstein's special relativity in preference to Ritz's using illegitimate arguments with regard to the non-existence of ghost images of binary stars.6 I sometimes wondered why so brilliant a physicist as Walter Ritz would not have rebutted such feeble arguments and thus have kept the debate alive. I finally realized why that was. Walter Ritz had long since been dispatched to the nether world! Earlier he and Albert Einstein had also argued at length about the origin of irreversibility in physics, an argument that had gone on for some time. At length the editor of the journal Physikalische Zeitschrift seems to have suggested that the two formulate their respective positions, sign an agreement to differ and get on with it.7 So they did that in 1909 and the debate ended. But of course, as too few know, the primary reason that the debate had ended was because Walter Ritz died two months after the agreement to disagree was published. Hence also, of course, de Sitter's subsequent claim in 1913 with regard to relativity would go unchallenged. Later in life Einstein recapitulated the arguments with regard to irreversibility to Wheeler and Feynman as stimulation to their development of absorption theory8and seemed to have somewhat altered his own position on issues including the debate with Ritz.9 But Einstein is dead too and most physicists have accepted his previously formulated position that complexity with the associated need for probabilistic solutions must, in itself, produce irreversibility without a microscopic counterpart. Cramer alone, who also challenged the "Copenhagen Interpretation" with his "Transaction Interpretation" of quantum mechanics, seems to maintain the standard propounded by Ritz.10 But sadly, although "a formula, a phrase remains, — …the best is lost" as Edna St. Vincent Millay sadly bemoaned.11 To my knowledge, no one has been able to reconstruct Ritz's electromagnetic theory.

In mathematics there is Evariste Galois, without whose willingness to write down the ideas of group theory the night before his duel over the dignity of a whore, we would not now have one of the major branches of mathematics. But, of course, if he had gotten a good night's sleep, practiced with his pistols, or better yet, just capitulated with regard to his lust, all of mathematics might be much more sophisticated than it is. In music there was Mozart, perhaps murdered or at least driven to deadly abstraction by an opponent of his abilities.

If salesmanship and religion don't seem to fit in the same sentence, read Roger Rueff's play "Hospitality Suite,"12or see the movie based on it, "The Big Kahuna" with Kevin Spacey and Danny De Vito. With regard to religious ideas it should be noted that although Judaism, Christianity (for a time), and Islam (during the odd crusade) were repeatedly under attack, these were always after their associated memes had leaked out into society at large and were, therefore, ineffective beyond the associated slaughter of humans. Zoroastrianism, on the other hand, like so many religious ideas before and after it in cultures throughout the world including previously cited immortal gods, did not fare so well. It was destroyed most effectively by the more or less total destruction of Persians who held to the doctrine of good versus evil to the bloody end. Perhaps current administrative decisions by the U. S. may in some way revitalize this notion that lacks so much in subtlety by its vain attempt to destroy all those infected by the offending idea of the Western world being evil. Ethnic groups everywhere and always have seemed to annihilate without compunction anyone holding opposing religious ideas for the greater glory of their own gods, their own culture, their own ideas.

In the political arena, character and literal assassination has been the norm that seems to have picked up momentum over the last quarter century. The tragic deaths and subsequent annihilation of character of key liberals by the resurgent American conservative movement has been motivated in large part by an agenda that cared primarily for the destruction of liberal political ideas to which cause these people's lives had no moral standing. In contrast, by elevating the stature of a chief proponent of terrorism and attempting to destroy his person but failing, his ideas may be emboldened like flames in a wind that has just failed to extinguish a fire. Creating public martyrs has the opposite effect of secret assassinations. So, although it is not surprising that bin Laden should find himself under attack by the most powerful nation ever to rule the world, it is indeed surprising that there would be so little awareness by Americans of the phase of this particular epidemic of anti-American sentiment. It seems well past the stage at which the incineration of any affected person or even of a small group of people could be effective in the eradication of the viral meme. The idea that the Western world is consumed by its own power and glory is out there! That notion and the associated hatred of Americans have been out there for some time with only the most naïve caught unaware on September 11, 2001. Now the idea is being reinforced by ill-conceived attempts to destroy it. It would seem that it should have been, and should still be, obvious that that idea must be debated openly to portray the proper perspective. Having resorted to prehistoric methods of idea extinction, too late in any case, the approach can only confirm by its success or failure what we desperately want to believe to be an invalid idea. How do we now convince anyone of its illegitimacy? Certainly Afghanis nor Iraqis (nor any other of the billions of Muslims) will buy the idea that we do not, and will not, continue flaunting military and economic might throughout the middle East and entire world until we have utterly destroyed all cultures but our own. That is an idea worthy of our consideration -- something to think about.

The death of a "salesman" of any idea by any method whatsoever is akin to killing the messenger. Certainly terrorists instrumental in massive killing are not merely killing salesmen. They must be brought to a justice that may involve their own deaths no less or more so than other perpetrators of heinous crimes. But let it be known that even in such cases capital punishment is constitutionally administered in consequence of those plans or actions involving the killing of human beings and not for nurturing ideas. For one thing (and it is, in fact, a major thing) to act otherwise is immoral by virtually any standard in any society. Those who treat human life as subsidiary to, or as mere attributes of, material symbols of an idea (or of an idea itself) are grossly immoral. Ideas must warrant victory and arguments should be won or lost based on relative merits of the competing ideas, not by "kill ratios" reminiscent of Viet Nam. Pursuing ideological arguments with human slaughter, however effective, by definition disqualifies participants from victory in any war alleged to pit good versus evil. Once both sides have reverted to such tactics, what is left is a bloody crusade of "us" versus "them!"


1 Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, Penguin, USA (1998)

2 H. L. Mencken, "Memorial Service," Prejudices (a selection), Vintage, New York, 143-147 (1958)

3 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1962)

4 Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,

5 See for example, Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths, New Directions Pub Corp., New York (1964)

6 R. Fred Vaughan, "Special Relativity: An Experimental Error," Gift of Fire, 31, 6-15 (July 1988).

7 Walter Ritz and Albert Einstein , "On the Current State of the Radiation Problem," Physikalische Zeitschrift, 10, 323-324 (1909).

8 John Wheeler and Richard Feynman, "Interaction with the Absorber as the Mechanism of Radiation," Review of Modern Physics, 17, 157 (1945).

9 Abraham Pais, Subtle is the Lord — The Science and Life of Albert Einstein, Oxford, 467 & 484 (1982).

10 John Cramer, "Velocity Reversal and the Arrows of Time," Foundations of Physics, 18, 1205 (1988).

11 Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Dirge Without Music," Collected lyrics, Washington Square, New York, 172 (1959).

12 Roger Rueff's play "Hospitality Suite" does not seem to be available in print.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dramatic Monologue

Maria Claudia Faverio headshot by Maria Claudia Faverio

The dramatic monologue, usually associated with Robert Browning1, was particularly popular between 1830 and 1930 and is often defined as a poetry form in which there are a first-person speaker (persona) who is not the poet 2 and who arouses some sympathy because of his complex personal history; a silent or at least unheard listener (auditor)3 who cannot help but hear (someway in the role of a secret witness); a situation characterized by a specific time and place (occasion); and an argumentative, rhetorical language which distinguishes the dramatic monologue from the soliloquy. Besides, one will notice a marked and often ironical discrepancy between the speaker's view of himself and the poet's implied judgement at the revelation of the persona's character between the lines, a discrepancy that the reader is usually supposed to adopt. The reader's job is to pick up on the cues offered between the lines and appropriately imagine the larger frame within which the speaker's talk is unfolding.

This definition, however, is far too restrictive and can only be applied to a handful of representative poems by Browning and Tennyson.

There are poems, for example, in which the speaker is used as a mouthpiece for the poet's view, as is the case with Lippo Lippi in Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi", whose view of art, the physical world and the soul, as we know, had Browning's approval. Sometimes the poet's opinions are represented by making them arise in the speaker in an incidental or unintentional way.

On the other hand, there are also satirical monologues that make the reader react against the speaker, as is often the case with religious matters, like Browning's "Johannes Agricola in Meditation" or Tennyson's "St. Simeon Stylites", which will be examined later in this paper.

Such a restrictive definition as seen at the beginning of this paper also implies a decline of the dramatic monologue since Browning's time, while in reality there have been excellent dramatic monologues written by twentieth-century poets like Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Frost, Maters, Robinson, both Lowells, Amy and Robert, as well as contemporary poets.

Robert Langbaum, one of the most important authorities in this field, sees the form as a continuation of an essentially Romantic "poetry of experience" in which the reader experiences a gap between sympathy and judgment. For him, the dramatic monologue originates when Victorian poets write a Romantic lyric of experience in which the voice of the characters is separate from their own. Contemporary readers of Browning's poems, however, found them very different from Langbaum's Romantic model, as Glenn Everett has argued.

There have been and still are many discussions as to how the dramatic monologue should be and many books have been written on this subject, but if we really want to understand what dramatic monologue is, we have to go beyond any form of restrictive criteria and understand what the dramatic monologue is essentially doing (giving facts "from within"), as M. W. MacCallum explained in a Warton Lecture in 1925:

"But in every instance… the object [of the dramatic monologue] is to give facts from within. A certain dramatic understanding of the person speaking, which implies a certain dramatic sympathy with him, is not only the essential condition, but the final cause of the whole species."4

As has been the case with confessional poetry in the 50s and 60s, sometimes the dramatic monologue has been criticized for revealing too personal experiences of the author. Browning's first published work, "Pauline", for example, has been accused of being too autobiographical. John Stuart Mill wrote: "The writer seems to be possessed with a more intense and morbid self-consciousness than I ever knew in any sane human being" — a criticism that deeply disturbed Browning and made him add a disclaimer to the second edition, emphasizing the imaginary character of much of his poetry. However, Browning's innovations were just part of a general change of sensibility, not an imposition.

One of the most famous and successful dramatic monologues is certainly Browning's "My Last Duchess", whose relevance consists in arousing in the reader that feeling of sympathy that the dramatic monologue is supposed to convey: the duke's blatant wickedness provokes the split between moral judgement and sympathy that is the basis of the dramatic monologue:

Ferrara
That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)                           10
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my Lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough                 20
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart — how shall I say? — too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace — all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,          30
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, — good! but thanked
Somehow — I know not how — as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech — (which I have not) — to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark" — and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set                              40
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E'en then would be some stooping, and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence                             50
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Tennyson goes even farther than Browning. In his dramatic monologues, the personae display an emotional perversity that verges on the pathological. Such is the case, for example, with "St Simeon Stylites", in which the saint's asceticism is regarded as essentially demonic and diseased. Browning, as already briefly mentioned, has written a similar dramatic monologue, "Johannes Agricola in Meditation", but his work lacks the pathological distortion and the unsuspected, morbid motives of Tennyson's.

In Browning, we always perceive a motive, for example also in "Porphyria's Lover", in which the speaker strangles Porphyria with her own hair, which might appear as a completely irrational act, but is indeed the extraordinary complication of a perfectly understandable motive, as we come to understand in reading the monologue.

In Tennyson, we also perceive a certain life-weariness and a longing for rest through oblivion, notable in his best dramatic monologue, "Ulysses". Ulysses is an old man whose appetite for life exceeds his real abilities. His last journey is undertaken with a sense of resignation. He has to undertake it, but he doesn't expect too much from it, it is rather a journey to death:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are.

Oscar Wilde then introduced a new concept in the dramatic monologue. While the Victorians traditionally based their dramatic monologues on the tension between poet and speaker, he focuses his attention on the connection between them (although this had occasionally happened also among the Victorians). He was namely convinced that what we call insincerity is a device by which we can multiply our personalities, thus anticipating Modernism, as Carol Christ remarks. In particular Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were fascinated by the dramatic monologue.

Pound's dramatic monologues in "Personae" specifically follow Wilde's theory of the multiple masks, as he confessed to Gaudier-Breska:

"In the "search for oneself", in the search for sincere "self-expression", one gropes, one finds some seeming verity. One says "I am" this, that, or the other thing, and with the words scarcely uttered one ceases to be that thing. I began this search for the real in a book called Personae, casting off, as it were, complete masks of the self in each poem. I continued in long series of translations, which were but more elaborate masks."5

The best modernist works in which this fragmentation of the self is exemplified, however, remain Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" (1920) and Eliot's "The Waste Land" (1922), as well as his "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917) with its highly evocative images (what Sinfield calls "moments of "~intense apprehension'"), which is partly also the result of the Modernists' tendency to experiment with poetic voice. In "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley", for example, the fragmentation of the self is the result of Pound's experimentation with quotations, translations and first- and second-person speech, something that had never been attempted before in the dramatic monologue. In the end, the multiple fragmented voices or masks become one composite voice though, the voice of the poet who finds his true self in them.

The dramatic monologue didn't end with the modernists. Although it was not as popular as during the modernist movement, in the 40s and 50s, it was still used by some poets, like Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, in particular as an instrument of social critique, until in the 60s it experienced a growing revival mainly through the work of Richard Howard in America and Edwin Morgan in Scotland, who both use it to focus on the issues of communication and representation, although in different ways, Morgan being much more experimental than Howard, whose monologues are still strongly influenced by Browning and primarily deal with history.

Throughout "Untitled Subjects", Howard implies that in history, the past is invariably misrepresented and important parts of it left out. History is make-belief, as Jane concludes in "A Pre-Raphaelite Ending".

Morgan, on the other hand, as already briefly stated, is highly experimental and creates unfamiliar situations often emphasizing the problem of communication. In some of Morgan's monologues, we don't even sense the presence of the auditor. Morgan's most striking poem is probably "Message Clear" (1968), a combination of dramatic monologue and concrete poetry in which the speaker is Christ on the cross and the whole poem is shaped as an I in fifty-five lines arranged as a column.

In spite of today's commercialization of personality, the dramatic monologue is experiencing a remarkable revival, although not in its traditional form, be it in theatrical monologues like Anna Deavere Smith's "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" (1992), song lyrics or even country music.

Springsteen's lyrics are particularly worthy of mention in this context because of the social critique he exercises through them, a feature we have already seen in the dramatic monologues of the 40s and 50s. In particular in "The Rising" (2002), which was written in response to the dramatic events of September 11th 2001, he adopts different personae, achieving a very interesting effect.

He is not the only one who makes social critique the focus of his work. It will here suffice to mention such poems as Duncan Bush's "Pneumoconiosis" (1985), in which the speaker is a miner speaking of his illness, or Paula Meehan's "The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks" (1991), in which the speaker is a fifteen-year-old Irish girl who dies giving birth to her baby, along with the baby himself.

A particular category of contemporary dramatic monologues are the revisionist dramatic monologues, which use characters from literature, history or myth in order to prove the fixation and formalization of cultural beliefs and tradition. It is a form particularly popular among women, like Rita Ann Higgins's "Donna Laura" (1996), in which Petrarch is exposed as a swaggerer.


As we can see, the dramatic monologue is far from defunct, and I think we are lucky it isn't, as it is one of the most beautiful and deepest poetry forms.


References:

Byron, Glennis, Dramatic Monologue, Routledge, London 2003

Hamilton, E. and Livingston J., Form and Feeling, Longman, Melbourne 1981

Langbaum, Robert, The Poetry of Experience — The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition, Penguin Books, Ontario, Canada 1974

Sinfield, Alan, Dramatic Monologue, Methuen & Co. Ltd, London 1977


1 Although Robert Browning did not invent this form, which was present in poetry preceding him, he is believed to have vastly contributed to its development.

2 This is what Browning meant when he called many of his poems "dramatic": the story is not told by the poet, but by some actor in it ("The Athenaeum", January 1890)

3 As Glenn Everett points out, the listener must remain silent until the work is known as a whole.

4 "The Dramatic Monologue in the Victorian Period", Proceedings of the British Academy 1924-25, p.276 Unfortunately, MacCallum failed to extend his principles beyond the Victorian period, that is to say he fails to understand the implications of his own insight.

5 Pound, E. Gaudier-Brezka, New Directions, New York, 1970

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

RnR: New Site Layout, New Features

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

We've updated our look to be more unique and contemporary and in order to support new features. We've added "help" for providing information about certain sidebars. You can get "help" by hovering your mouse over a sidebar (or the "Share It" post section) for a second. We've also added two new sidebar modules: Shared Links and Freethought Radio.

The Shared Links sidebar displays the most recent del.icio.us bookmarks tagged with "RnRLink". If you come across something on the web you'd like to share on our blog, simply tag it in del.icio.us with the "RnRLink" tag and it will show up in the sidebar. (You will need to have or obtain a free del.icio.us account in order to submit Links).

The Freethought Radio sidebar displays the most recent podcasts of Freethought Radio which features Reason and Rhyme contributor Dan Barker.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Leprechaun Love

Charmaine Frost headshot by Charmaine Frost

When Frank O'Reilly came to town, he wondered what to do with the rest of his life. The ads and the people he left behind told him that this was "the Land of Opportunity, with a pot of gold on every porch and a rainbow arching down to every lawn" and urged him to "Reach for your dreams". Frank hung out his shingle; the dark green sign read "Leprechaun Love" in gilded italic. He advertised his matchmaking service in local papers, posted flyers, and waited for customers in his thoroughly American green vinyl office chair that swiveled, reclined and massaged his back at the press of a magic button.

The first client, a white whiskered walrus with buck teeth and sour breath suggesting old whiskey and an abscessed tooth, waddled to the desk, carefully filled out the questionnaires, and ranted.

"After three of them, I figured I'd better see a pro." The walrus flapped his fraying jacket to aerate his round perspiring chest. "Jerko Jackie, the first, walked out with my house in her pocketbook. Bitchy Barbie didn't have a house to steal, so she scoured the bank accounts clean. Loco Linda with the flame spikes for hair and five tongue piercings smirked through all the lawyer talks, then broke into my flat and kidnapped my cats; she could set any bed on fire, was built like a brick shithouse, but as hard as one in the end."

"I'll try to help you." Frank nodded as he entered the questionaire data into his computer and wondered what a brick shithouse looked like; such a place probably stank in winter, when people couldn't open the windows.

"You don't know what it's like coming home to a catless house. No cat doing a snakedance around and between my legs. No cat butting its head against me until it gets brain damage. No cat on the table, lapping up my noodle soup when I'm not looking. Cleaned out. A cat house without cats is a lonely place."

Frank typed.

"I still have the fire down there, my manhood isn't quivering with palsy yet," the walrus barked. "But maybe it's time to stop going for the wild ones who'll just bleed me dry as a corpse. Time for a pooped-out Missus who cooks Thanksgiving turkey on autopilot and plops down in front of the soap opera, too winded to think of fleecing me"

"That's a smart move," Frank agreed. "In this business, we've found that shared interests and values hold a couple together. So, lets talk about your religious beliefs, what qualities you treasure most in a friend —"

"Yes, values," the walrus huffed. "I'll go for a wife with my values. And if I get bored, I can always scout the bars for a mistress."

Frank sighed, cringed behind the computer monitor and pushed the "instant masseuse" button on his shiny, acrobatic chair.


The next day, the women clients started coming.

Susan, a 34 year old divorced realtor with two kids, strode towards Frank's desk, flattened the creases out of her professionally navy skirt, and listed her reasons for needing a mate. Item One, companionship; item two, a male role model for the son; item three, financial security for the kids; she could have been reading from the Matchmaker's Manual. As Frank pushed forms towards her and urged her to fill out the questionnaires, she gazed at his large emerald eyes, the tiny lines rippling away from their corners, the sandy shock of hair bouncing over his forehead in an untamable wave; her voice mellowed from business staccato to bedroom cello.

"I bet you sing," she cooed.

"Huh?"

"Aren't all you guys tenors? Sweet strains of 'Danny Boy' rising and falling over the green?" Susan heard vowels humming, stretching and dipping into consonants that tapped the beat of a lover's nostalgic longing.

"Um, I don't think of myself as a singer," Frank muttered. If he was a tenor, then he sang like a rusty saw, screeching as he pushed against the melody and chasing away the birds with the racket.

"Could I take these forms home? Bring them back and talk with you more?"

"Sure." Frank shrugged.


Melissa, a plump 28 year old bookkeeper with a china doll face, asked him to repeat everything and stared raptly. Ruth, a wiry dog groomer with bifocals, squirmed when the matchmaker spoke. Over decaf coffee and Slimfast bars, Ruth, Melissa and Susan described Frank to their friends. Friends talked to other friends, embellishing Frank with muscles, an unfading tan, and a past as a ballad singer before he'd had to flee the home country as an IRA dissident. A hundred women visited Leprechaun Lovers in two weeks. Frank wondered how a small town could breed so many desperate unmarried ladies, and why none of them signed his retainer contract or paid the fee. He called his buddy Shaun Hailey, aka Mr. Logic, who'd come to the States ten years ago and might understand the ways of the land; they met in the corner coffee house.

"It's not a problem getting customers, it's what the customers do," he explained as he sampled a bagel with lox and an herbally enhanced hazelnut cappuccino with low fat whipped cream. "The only one who's paid anything is an old geezer working on his fourth wife. The rest are women, a hundred of them. Most of them don't even glance at the forms. When I ask them questions, like whether they'd prefer a childless mate, they stare, tell me that my Irish eyes are smiling or ask me to say that word 'childless' again. I thought I knew people, but that was back home; these Americans are a strange breed."

"'Tis true," Shaun stared into the black mirror of his coffee. "I was lucky to find a sensible gal. But at work? These fifty-year old ladies, some of them with fancy degrees, act like 15 year old Dubliners, get gooey eyed and limp jawed when I ask them a scientific question about the software. Maybe the pollution's melted their brains."

Gail, the stocky graying waitress in a pink uniform, sauntered towards their table.

"I wasn't trying to eavesdrop but I couldn't help overhearing, it being so quiet in here right now," she began apologetically. "But I think you have lovesick customers."

"What?"

"They're smitten by the leprechaun. You, Mr. O'Reilly."

"No," Frank shook his head and chortled. "I'm not bad looking but I'm not Joe Movie Star. Back home, I had girlfriends, but not a retinue. I wasn't any Pied Piper, with all the lassies panting after me."

"Yes, Mr. O'Reilly, they're in love," Gail asserted. "I hear things in this place; you'd have to be a dwarf or a circus fat man for them not to be smitten. It's your accent, Mr. O'Reilly; around here, any British accent's an aphrodisiac. Like —" She paused, then moved closer to the table. "Last week, some college kids were in here; one of them was from London. In the middle of pie and Coke, one of the local boys says to the Londoner 'Charlie, you don't know how lucky you are. With that accent, you'll never have to be a nerd; having an English accent is an instant Cool Factor, raises your Cool Quotient 50 points. Man, if you know what's good for you, don't ever lose that accent'. And when Charlie leaves the table, one of the other guys mutters 'Yeah, that guy could get laid whenever he wants, doesn't have to struggle like the rest of us. All the girls in class drool when he speaks, but he's too spacey to know it. Or maybe too chicken shit to act'. So, what do you think the older ladies say about you, Mr. O'Reilly of the lucky leprechaun lilt? They're not into chicken shit, but the drool drips into their coffee and the tales drool from their lips. Mr. O'Reilly, the Irish tenor. Mr O'Reilly, ex-spy for the IRA. Mr. O'Reilly, mystery man with the music man voice, and they've got their nets out for the catch. Gotta admit to peeking at you a few times myself, Mr. O'Reilly, and I'm a lady with restraint."

"So, what am I going to do?" Frank asked. "I don't know how to fake a Brooklyn accent. I'd have to take lessons, but it would be years before I could play a New Yorker; I don't have a good ear."

"I'm not a businessman but —" Gail shuffled her feet. "If I were you, I'd hire someone to talk to the customers and manage the place from the side."

"But, what about salary? None of these women has paid me a penny. I don't know if I'll have money for next month's rent"

Shaun cleared his throat. "Maybe my brother-in-law can help. He's been out of work for almost a year, has been staying with us the last six months. He's been in a funk lately, more and more hopeless about the job market. Getting out and doing something useful would lift his spirits; when customers start paying, you can put him on salary. The experience can't hurt him. Betty and I'll work on him; he listens to his sister"

"But what's he like?" Frank frowned at the lox left on his plate and imagined an employee who stank like the whorf, oozed salty sweat, and sloughed scaly skin.

"Ned's not a bad guy, just timid, needs practice gabbing with people. That's one of his problems in job hunting. He's afraid his own shadow's going to stand up and strangle him, and gets tongue-tied.....I know, I know. How's he going to deal with a hundred clients? There are ways around his shyness. You can listen from the other room, feed him his lines over the computer or into a little electronic receiver in his ear. We'll put him through practice runs before shoving him onto center stage. If he pauses before answering, the clients'll think he's carefully considering their case. He fits the thinker look. Thick glasses, bal ding, thin face, looks like an accountant. And he sounds like he's from south Jersey"

"Perfect!" Gail cackled. "Who's going to fall in love with an accountant with a Camden accent!"


"He'll be here in a few minutes, "Shaun whispered as he collapsed into a client armchair. Frank strolled towards the gauzy drapes separating the main office from the small dark room where he'd sit. He could watch Ned and the customers moving in the incandescent brightness; if they glanced towards the curtains, they wouldn't spot him crouching in the blackness. The powerful tiny receiver would pick up his softest whisper. Back there, he'd miss his swiveling chair, the well lit spaciousness where eyes could roam, the window drawing him towards the horizon and unexplored hopes. Darkness could suffocate a man, crush him under walls of blackness.

"He's been through trial runs with the family and knows the routine," Shaun continued. "He's even used the earpiece."

Both men turned towards tentative knocking at the door. Ned minced forward, stooped, a human hanger from which his suit drooped in folds.

"Ned Sampson…Frank O'Reilly"

Ned gazed at the floor, glanced at his watch, then stared at his shoes. "I'm really grateful for the opportunity, Mr. O'Reilly," he stammered. "But I'm not sure I can do this; I'm not used to talking with people."

"Ned! What did Betty and I tell you about self fulfilling prophecies?" Shaun barked. "Remember our pep talks? Just repeat them to yourself, over and over at night, and whenever you doubt yourself. Besides, Frank'll feed you the lines; you just have to repeat what you hear through the earpiece. Not so hard, is it?" Shaun turned towards Frank. "And it's not like O'Reilly's just going to disappear. Frank, the best strategy is for you to appear once during each client session — walk into the room, ask Ned how he's faring. The women'll see you and hear your voice just enough to feel excited about matchmaking; when you're gone and their heart beats have slowed, they can settle down to the business of filling out questionnaires, signing retainer contracts and checks. You're not just offering a service, Frank; you're selling them hope, and selling means performing. Think of each client session as a choreographed act."

"I don't know about this." Ned shuffled his feet.

"Do you have anything else lined up?" Shaun snapped. Ned shook his head. "Then, you'd better give this a try."

Frank studied the shiny pink scalp, the fringe of dull brown hairs dangling limply above the nape of the neck, the craggy beak, the thick tortoiseshell frames surrounding grimy lenses through which the eyes looked like black slits; add a patch of masking tape at one corner of the frames, mismatched socks, and a sharpened pencil stub balanced behind one ear, and Ned would qualify for a leading role in Defeat of the Nerds. Dark fissures arced between the bottom of his nose and the corners of his tight mouth, as thin as a paper cut. Ned's restless fingers tightened and straightened his tie, then checked each shirt button, then fumbled in his jacket pockets; something seemed to writhe under the thin navy material.

"I don't know about this guy," Frank whispered as he walked Shaun to the door.

Do you have a better plan?" Shaun growled. "Money pouring in?"

Frank shook his head.


Frank had almost fallen asleep in the dark airless back room when the first customer knocked. He jerked awake.

"Ned!" he whispered into the transmitter as the stiletto heels clacked across the floor, "Sit up straight. Look relaxed. Offer her a seat. And try to smile."

"Have a seat," Ned muttered, staring at the desk.

"Look at her," Frank sighed. "Welcome her to Leprechaun Lovers."

Ned glanced upward and stared at the woman's nostrils. "Welcome to Leprechaun Lovers," he droned.

The woman stared back at Ned when he didn't elaborate. She crossed her arms and frowned; as she cocked her head sideways, her coppery brillo-pad hair bounced. "Is something wrong, Mr. O'Reilly? You seem, uh, maybe worried. A little stiff."

"Uh, I'm not Mr. O'Reilly. Um, I'm Mr. Sampson, his new employee." The words marched forth slowly and tunelessly.

"Damn you, can't you improvise?" Frank hissed into the mouthpiece. He considered spiking the guy's coffee with Valium to loosen him up, and wished he knew more about titrating dosages. "Now, tell her that Leprechaun Lovers offers thoroughly modern matchmaking services, using 21st century technology to help pair people with maximum compatibility. Be sure to mention the company name, Leprechaun Lovers. Then ask her to fill out the questionnaires."

Ned nodded, gazing fixedly upward as he memorized the words; the client thought he looked like a TV character receiving messages from outer space.

"Leprechaun Lovers offers modern matchmaking services." Ned stumbled over each word, like a first grader reading out loud from his primer. "We use 21st century technology to pair people for maximum compatibility. Be sure to mention." He stopped abruptly, then groped for the forms with his twitching fingers.

Frank sighed, parted the gauze drapes and stepped into the office.

"Hello Ned," he sang out, "How are you doing with your first client?" He smiled apologetically at the customer who sat stiffly erect and statue-still while squinting at the hands that hovered, trembling, above a stack of papers. "I'm sorry to intrude, but Ned's new. I'm Mr. O'Reilly."

"Sandra Dorset," she smiled. She leaned against the arm rest and draped her left hand over the chair's back as she stared into Frank's ocean green eyes.

"Ned'll just have you fill out some questionnaires about your interests, likes and dislikes. Then he'll feed all that into our computer database; the computer helps us find a man whose profile matches what you're looking for. We're also linked with several other matchmaking databases; you wouldn't want to miss an opportunity, just because the guy lives thirty miles away and happens to walk into a different office. We just ask for a small retainer fee up front, to cover the cost of processing the information; then a second payment when we bring you together with the man from heaven."

"So, Ned's just a paper pusher?" Sandra asked, averting her gaze from the sweaty bald head and steamed thick lenses. "He doesn't actually do the matchmaking?"

"No," Frank drawled reassuringly, "He doesn't do the matchmaking. I run the business."

Sandra exhaled loudly, then leaned towards the desk to fill out the forms.

"Well, I shouldn't distract you from those questionnaires. I know we can bring you luck, Sandra," Frank called out, as he parted the gauze drapes and disappeared into the darkness.

"That Mr. O'Reilly, I'm glad I met him," Sandra purred.

"Tell her 'Let's concentrate on the paperwork now, Ms. Dorset, so we can find the best match for you'. Then shut up and look like you're processing data on the computer," Frank whispered into the mouthpiece.

"Let us concentrate on paperwork now, Mrs. Dorset, so we can find you the best match," Ned plodded through the words, then swiveled to face the monitor.

"It's 'Ms', " Sandra quipped. "A Mrs. would be in marital counseling"

"Uh, yes," Ned stammered, then turned back to the screen. "I apologize. Let us concentrate on the paperwork now, Ms Dorset."

Sandra pursed her lips at the man's dry raspy coughs, his throat clearing grunts, his fingers tapping against the side of the monitor as his shiny damp head rocked in time to an inaudible machine rhythm. Then she leaned over the questionnaires and began filling in circles with her #2 pencil.

Tell Mr. O'Reilly I'll be thinking of him," she chirped, as she handed Ned the sheaf of papers and a $50 retainer fee. The stiletto heels clicked towards the door. Ned dried his face with another paper towel; by the end of the day, he thought, he'd use up a roll of the super-absorbant, quicker-picker-upper and prove that Bounty was as effective against scalp sweat as against spilled champagne.


"Maybe things'll work out," Frank thought, as he tried to stretch his legs in the claustrophobic darkness. "Despite the guy's limitations. Maybe because of his limitations."

Ned's finger tapping slowed from a rat-tat-tat allegro drum roll to the hypnotic speed of water dripping from a faucet. His face remained paper-white, instead of flushing to magic marker pink, when he greeted new clients. His vocal range expanded from one to three notes and, after he'd memorized the script and learned how to interpret advice transmitted to him from the back room, he slid over three words before stammering in midsentence in uncertainty. Mr. O'Reilly appeared apologetically on scene just after Ned mentioned 21st century technology, reassured the client with his melodious brogue, then retreated with an actor's timing. By the end of the day, he'd pocketed $500 in retainer fees.

By the end of the week, he'd pocketed $2500. He, Shaun and Ned celebrated at the coffee house.

So things are going well for you, eh?" Gail teased. "Nothing like a Camden twang to put business on track? To rescue Irish rogues with Irish brogues from a wee bit too much fatal attraction?"

Frank chuckled as Ned stared, blushing, into his Coke.

"Time for a toast," Shaun announced, and lifted his cup of steaming, manly black and sugarless coffee. Frank lifted his cup of amaretto-flavored, vitamin enriched, cafe latte.

"Don't we need beer for a toast?" Ned mumbled.

"Naw, anything'll do," Frank sang out. "It's the spirit of the thing. Besides, we leprechauns can play let' s pretend. This is Irish coffee, with imaginary liquor in it; can't you taste the alcohol warming and calming your throat?"

"Sure can," Shaun added. "And that fizzer there, that's not a Coke; that's dark champagne, a specially colored vintage unique to a single acre of France. Special brew for a special toast."

Ned stared blankly.

"Here's to..."Shaun paused. "Success! To great expectations!"

"To great expectations disappointed, and revived," Frank mused. "To dim expectations proven wrong. To dim expectations saving great expectations from death".

"To leprechaun luck and lovers," Shaun bellowed over the clank of two cups and one glass.

Ned gaped at the others, wondering what chemicals had been added to their coffee. Then he sipped his Diet Coke slowly, watching the bubbles rise tentatively before lingering and popping at the surface, deaf to the prattle of the Blarney Stone boys.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Forever

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

This is my friend Jon Bolton's cover of the song "Forever" that he did for his girlfriend for Valentine's day today! Jon played all the instruments and did all the vocals.

(Download the mp3 file.)

Jon Bolton plays in "The Beatniks" and "The Herding Cats" bands. The picture of Jon above is from when "The Herding Cats" played the main stage at The Chicago House of Blues.

"Forever" is originally by John Stamos, perhaps still best known for playing Jesse Katsopolis on the TV sitcom "Full House" but is also on ER and has toured playing drums for the Beach Boys. You can clearly hear the Beach Boys influence in this song. You can see the music video on YouTube.

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Valentine's Moment

Richard May headshot by Richard May

I've never met anyone like you before, the Prince said to himself. The Princess was in complete agreement, saying that she also had never met anyone like herself either.

After a chronon or two in each other's presence the Princess and the Prince unfortunately came to what passed for their senses. Sadly they finally stopped doing drugs, both recreational and psychotropic pharmaceuticals, and even worse stopped consuming endless amounts of sucrose; experienced an immediate and disturbing reduction in their reality deficit disorders; awaked from the delusional dreams of Western culture, only to discover that neither was a Princess nor a Prince at all, nor even a person.

The "Princess" was actually an empty mirror attached to the wall of a room. Immediately opposite this mirror was another mirror, which had dreamed it was a "Prince". When the room was filled with people, the mirrors reflected what passed before them, causing them to identify with the passing drama of those others who also thought that they were actual people. But when the room was empty, the two opposing mirrors each reflected, and even mirrored, each other with perfect, but depthless, fidelity; Empty mirrors looking into each other eternally or at least until someone turned off the lights.

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Happy Valentine's Day: Part 2!!

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

Another story:

Here's the beginning of a story I wrote for Valentine's day…

A few years ago, I drove north through the rolling cornfields that stretch unbroken to the state line. Most of the farmhouses are quite modern, with big satellite dishes and pickups parked outside, but on a side road I'd never been on before I saw a classic white wood house, obviously built a hundred years ago and apparently unchanged. I stopped to ask the owner if I could photograph it, but it seemed abandoned. I went inside. I don't know what led me to that little back room upstairs, with a big window over the green green fields, but something did, and it was there, stuck in a crack over the mantel, that I found this letter. Judging from the paper and penmanship, it dates from the last years of the 19th century:


July 6

I never thought I'd run naked through the moonlight. I'm not that kind. But I must be because last night that is just what I did. Night after night, when Lord knows I should have been fast asleep, I've been watching the moon through the windows. It's another world out there, that moonlight world, white and harsh and a little scary and seeing the white ghost-corn wave in the wind just gave me chills over my body. A good kind of chill, though. I felt wild, alive as I sat in the silent night and watched the moon.

It was hot last night, and there was a warm whistling wind that came out of nowhere. So hot, I took off my nightgown, and that wicked wind came through the window and ran fingers up and down my body like it was a man in one of those novels. How is the wind so strong through the window? I thought, and then I realized I was outside, in the corn, and my hair streamed and tossed behind me in that wild wind. I should have been scared, to think that that robber moon had lured me outside, naked, unawares, as if in a dream. But I wasn't. I felt tingles all over my naked body. I felt safe. Something great was coming. The corn brushed my sides as I walked farther and farther.

I don't think I had seen him yet, but at some point I knew I was no longer alone.

Now I must tell you that, though I am seventeen and pretty smart, at least I think so, I just don't know much about men. How could I? I'd grown up on the farm, alone except for my mom and my sisters, so I was pretty strong and independent, we did all the work on the farm and I could milk a cow when I was seven. My mom taught me so I knew a lot of stuff, I could add multiply and even keep the books. And of course I could read. Oh how I read! I never knew my dad, but he must have loved to read and there were a lot of books around the house and I read them all. I loved the history the best. I used to pretend that I lived back in the days of knights and castles and a shining knight with long gold hair would come riding up and take me with him and we'd have great adventures. And we'd ride and ride and be together forever, forever. And he'd know every thought I had before I even thought it. Well sometimes I'd be thinking about this knight and his long hair and strong hard body, like mine but so unlike somehow, I didn't even know how, just harder. And I'd get the strangest rushing feeling running all over my body. But it was strongest between my legs, I don't know why and I wanted to touch it there so much but of course I am a lady, or so my mom told me, so I didn't. And it HURT not touching it, but when I got that feeling I never wanted it to stop. I didn't understand what a man had to do with that feeling. But there was no one I could ask and I didn't think about it too much.

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Happy Valentine's Day!!

"Written for a Lady"

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

This story just popped into my head this morning and I share it with you only because it is the first piece of fiction — if that lofty word can be applied to so humble a ditty — I've ever written. It is poorly done, sappy and hopelessly romantic. Blame it on Valentine's Day. Share it with the one you love.

In a kingdom that time forgot, lives a princess. She is the most beautiful woman in the world. She is you. (You look just like you do now, of course.) You have had a fairytale childhood with a loving family, happy, utterly perfect. Unfortunately, the fame of your beauty has spread. A few kingdoms to the west is an evil monarch, and to make a long story short he presents your king with an ultimatum. Either you marry his eldest son or his armies will invade your happy kingdom and lay it waste. Your family is distraught but what can they do? You must marry that prince.

The groom's family is paying, and a perfect wedding is planned. Sadly, fearfully, you plan it. Whatever happens, you think, at least I will have the perfect wedding. When my subjects see me for the last time, they will see me happy.

It is the night before the wedding. Alone in your room, you are terrified. All your life, you have dreamed of this day. Of being united to your soulmate, the One who can satisfy your deepest, unspoken, even unacknowledged desires. But you have never laid eyes on your husband-to-be, know nothing about him, nothing. He might be coarse, ugly, bestial. He may not care about your feelings, and they will wither under his neglect. Or he might be a passionate man who is already in love with someone else, but he is forced to marry you and you will forever be denied the love which he bestows upon another.

And so you shiver in anguish. Tears touch your eyes. Because he might be good and kind and loving. Maybe...the One? But what are the chances of that? And so, ecstasy or torment, Heaven or Hell…in a few hours you will know.


The night of anguish is over and a day of waiting has passed. Now it is night again. The time has come. Carefully, you put on makeup. Whatever may come, you are determined to appear your finest. Then, your gown, the gown you have seen for years, in your fantasies. White silk, thick, soft, caresses your body. And you realize with a shiver that when next you take that gown off — or it is ripped from you — your life will have changed forever.

The walk is all too short. Trembling, your heart thudding, you enter the cathedral. Proudly, you walk, head held high...determined that though your fear is so strong that it has engulfed you like a tidal wave, none shall see it. A long aisle, high vaulted ceilings, a night of a million candles, you've been there a thousand times in your dreams...but you barely see it now, all your being is focused on the one thing that will determine your fate forever.

By the altar he stands, proudly, and yet even from afar you detect a certain trembling. His fate too, it seems, is to be decided forever in the next few minutes. Something is drawing you toward that man. Closer you walk, closer, and the air has become a liquid you glide through, glide, as if drawn by a force as strong as gravity, as subtle, invisible. And you meet his eyes, and suddenly your whole being melts. Burning, filled with passion and kindness, strength and love. Yes, that's what fills his eyes, and that's what fills you too. Closer, closer, and suddenly the wedding protocol is totally forgotten. You've thought of it and nothing else since you were a small child, and suddenly it is of no more importance than the lemurs of Madagascar. There is nothing in the world but this man, these eyes, and suddenly, without knowing it - against your will? not exactly, but your will has ceased to exist, somehow, without warning — you are in his arms. Drowning in his eyes. And then…drowning in his kiss…

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Monday, February 12, 2007

The Birth of an Intellectual Blog

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

Reason and Rhyme is in it's second quarter of life. We've posted over 100 articles, submitted about 50 times to 10-20 different blog carnivals, submitted articles to social bookmarking and article popularity sites and more. We have learned a lot about creating and managing a new blog and I'll try to share all of the major lessons with you, our authors and readers in this post and several future posts. There is a lot to cover! Therefore, I will cover various aspects including our traffic statistics and attributes, what articles get read the most, tips for finding readers, blog carnivals, our site features for connecting with readers, and more.

The Blog Ecosystem

The most popular and successful blogs are blogs about blogs. That seems both sad and understandable; with over 50 million blogs out there, somebody needs to tell us what blogging is, where to find them, and how to do it. More generally, the most successful blogs are about the Internet and technology. Anything about Google; Search Engine Optimization; web advertising; personal technology including cell phones, personal computers, digital cameras, etc.; Web 2.0; social bookmarking; all are blogged about ad infinitum it seems. And that's all well and good. But boring.

And, that's not us. I'm very pleased with where we live in the blog ecosystem. The uniqueness of our authors and their contributions gives Reason and Rhyme it's distinct identity which is as it should be. There are certainly still many other similar blogs but I'm proud of how Reason and Rhyme compares and our growth shows that there is a place for our creations in the blogosphere.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Trashlands

Charmaine Frost headshot by Charmaine Frost

What's the world made of? Of dust and ash,
Rocks or rubble, to its boiling core?
Paper mountains, cities of procedure?
No! Let's be honest — the brash
Exclaim “The world is made of trash!”

trash land head

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Are God and passion then at strife?

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

I grew up in a household that believed that, apart for certain liberal decisions of the United States Supreme Court, nothing worth happening had happened after 1900. I grew up with books. I grew up in another world. A world of dreams and fossils, a world long dead when I was born.

And in that world, love reigned supreme. People fought for love. Duels with sword and sabre. Just look at great Mycenae, ruined for love. People died for love. People pined away, wasted away into nothing, for want of love's desire. Love moves the sun and other stars, sang Dante. Love inspired him to greatness. That wasn't thought unusual.

And of course by love, I don't mean love of country, or love of friends, or love of Mom and cherry pie. No, I mean romantic love. It was considered the grandest of passions, and what a passion it was. People in love were capable of anything, totally possessed, in the grip of folly — and anything they did was excused, as you would excuse the silly, hapless actions of a prophet, or a fool. Love was painful, inconvenient, and as rational as a raging fire. But not only was it tolerated, it was sought after, treasured, worshipped. Poets sang it, artists sought its inspiration. It was the highest goal to which a man could aspire. Man at his finest — man transported to Heaven and allowed to drink from the cup of the gods.

We live in more rational times. Love like that is considered abusive, irrational, insane, or at best a personality disorder. Something to be treated if not cured. Its course is charted like a disease. It's a ball you juggle along with work and the kids, and though there's a holiday for it, Valentines Day, the modern man springs for a store-bought card with prefabricated sentiment and maybe a cheap box of chocolate.

In the fastness of the deep Sahara, the blue-robed Tuareg still hold courts of love, and lovers still count those blazing stars. Somewhere amidst those stars might perhaps be found beings of intelligence vastly greater than ours. But can their passion equal ours? And can our passion equal that of those desert nomads, who fight and dream and die for love?

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Valentine's Day Card

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

death embrace valentine

From this Yahoo! News article: "Eternal embrace? Couple still hugging 5,000 years on".

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