Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Politics on the Banks of the Wabash

Indiana is not good Democratic country. The physical sweep of the state, from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River and the borders of Kentucky, incorporates most of the basic elements of American political life. In the north, around the steel town of Gary, racial tension smolders miserably in some of the nation’s grimmest industrial deserts. The central belt, with the exception of Indianapolis, is small-town America, and the south is the beginning of the South. But the over-all mixture--which includes a splash of fierce local chauvinism--is significantly more conservative than the national whole. Since 1936, no one but Barry Goldwater has been enough to make Indiana go Democratic in a Presidential race.

Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson, and Bruce Page, An American Melodrama, 1969

I’ve done my civic duty and voted in the Indiana primary. Because I work in Illinois and won’t be home May 6, I voted early at the Superior Court Building last Thursday. My vote for Barack Obama may really count for something: if Obama can beat Hillary Clinton in the Hoosier State, he can show he’s competitive in the nation as a whole. According to NPR commentator Cokie Roberts, a win for Obama in Indiana will give him the nomination.

What the three British journalists wrote about Indiana in 1969 is still true. Gary is even grimmer than it was in 1968, the last time the Indiana Democratic primary mattered. That year, Robert Kennedy defeated Eugene McCarthy (the candidate I stumped for when I was a high school student in Iowa) and Governor Roger Branigan, a stand-in for Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

What’s changed is that the divide between northern Indiana and the rest of the state has widened. Republican Governor Mitch Daniels leased the Indiana Toll Road to a Spanish-Australian consortium, and shifted much of that money from north to south. My own hometown of Elkhart, once home to Miles Laboratories (Alka-Seltzer, One-A-Day Vitamins, etc), Whitehall Laboratories (Advil), Selmer Musical Instruments, and other high-paying industries, has lost virtually all of it. Miles became Bayer, and Bayer eventually moved out. Selmer closed a few years ago. What’s left is mainly recreational vehicle manufacturers, which are nonunion and pay relatively low wages.

Southern Indiana is more prosperous, as Japanese auto manufacturers have built factories there, lured by the lack of unions. Indianapolis is also a success story, at least for now. Its lack of good public transportation (just buses, no rail), could seriously hurt it with the rising price of gasoline.

Once upon a Indiana was a swing state. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when Republincans could count on New England and the upper Midwest, and Democrats had the Solid South, any candidate who took the two swing states of New York and Indiana could win the White House. Because New York had a lot more people, it ususlly provided the presidential candidate, while Indiana became what Vice President Thomas Marshall called "The Mother of Vice Presidents." Actually, only five Hoosiers have made it to the vice presidency--Schuyler Colfax (Grant), Thomas Hendricks (Cleveland), Charles W. Fairbanks (Theodore Roosevelt), Marshall (Wilson), and J. Danforth Quayle (Bush I). Quayle was picked not because of his state, but for his youth and conservatism. Since 1936, politicians have taken Indiana for granted.

But Hoosiers are enjoying the attention we're receiving. It's been a long time since Democrats paid attention to a state that's not gone Democratic in a presidential election since 1964. So far, the contest hasn't been devastatingly negative, though that could change.

My son, who will be voting for the first time, supports Obama. My wife is for Clinton. She usually has better political sense than I do, and may very well be right that Hillary has a better chance of defeating John McCain in November than Barack--especially after the Reverend Jeremiah Wright went out of his way to sabotage the Obama campaign. I'll be watching for the results Tuesday night.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Weather Forecast in Anglican Chant

Even the most mundane information can be made beautiful when sung in Anglican chant. The Master Singers showed this in 1966 when they recorded the weather forecast (well, not a real one) in Anglican chant. I first heard it on a program called "Weekend Radio." My daughter Anne heard it and began shreiking with laughter. I'm not sure whether I could ever take her to a sung Mass at an Episcopal church. She'd probably start laughing uncontrollably when she heard the Anglican chant. Thanks to Lisa at Eudaemonia for instructions on how to embed the YouTube video. And thanks to Tubeyou18a of the Netherlands for creating the video.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Uriel--The Archangel Nobody Knows

Bill, of Greenwich Gossip, suggested that the exorcism in Chapter 16 of my Dickens Challenge novel, Things Done and Left Undone, might have been quick and easy if Father Sam had invoked the name of Uriel, the fourth, and least-known of the four principal archangels. All archangels have names ending in "el," meaning God, or "of God." (It's a variation of the Hebrew Elohim and cousin to the Arabic Allah.) Michael means "Who is Like unto God, Gabriel is translated "Man of God," and Raphael means "God's Healing." Uriel means "Fire of God" or "Light of God."

I used the Litany of Saints from the 1957 edition of St. Augustine's Prayer Book for my exorcism rite, with some additions and a lot of subtractions and glosses. I simply listed St. Michael as the first archangel, and went on to other saints. But when I checked back with the book, I found that the good monks of St. Augustine's listed only Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

Michael is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Daniel, (10:13, 21, 12:1) and in the New Testament Letter of Jude, verse 9, and in Revelation, 12:7-8. Gabriel also shows up in the both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles: in Daniel 8:15-17, and in Luke 1:5-20 and 1:26-38.

The only Biblical reference to Raphael is in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit--one of the Old Testament books originally written in Greek rather than Hebrew, and accepted by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches as canonical, but not by most Protestants. We Anglicans, known for taking the "middle way," put these books at the back of the Old Testament. The Articles of Religion say this of the deuterocanonical books: "And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine..." (Hierome is better known as St. Jerome.)

So Raphael if fine with us Anglicans--he's not establishing any doctrine. But Uriel is in the Third Book of Esdras, which isn't in the Western canon.. He was struck off the list of archangels by Pope Zachary in the year 745:

"At the Council of Rome of 745, Pope St. Zachary, intending to clarify the Church's teaching on the subject of angels and curb a tendency toward angel worship, condemned obsession with angelic intervention and angelolatry, but reaffirmed the approval of the practice of the reverence of angels. This synod struck many angels' names from the list of those eligible for veneration in the Church of Rome, including Uriel. Only the reverence of the archangels mentioned in the recognized Catholic canon of scriptures, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, remained licit."

-Wikipedia article, Uriel

And the monks of St. Augustine's, being in the high Anglo-Catholic tradition, would certainly follow the dictates of a church council from before the break with Rome.

Maybe Bill is right. But I have some doubts. Here's another Wikipedia quote from the article on archangels: "Uriel means "Fire of God", or "Light of God" (III Esdras 3:1, 5:20). He is depicted holding a sword against the Persians in his right hand, and a fiery flame in his left." In my novel, Helena is half-Scottish-American and half-Parsi. She's descended from the Zoroastrian Persians who fled to India after the Arab conquest of Persia. She treasures her Persian heritage and has been known to offer prayers to Ahura Mazda. (She believes the Judeao-Christian God and Ahura Mazda to be one and the same--why else would the Magi have come to worship Jesus?) So I'm not sure how eager Uriel would be to save this half-Persian woman.

But even if Uriel overlooked Helena's Persian ancestry, I needed the exorcism to take some time. Someone once asked John Ford, director of the film "Stagecoach," why the Indians didn't just shoot the horses of the stagecoach (as they certainly would have done in reality). Ford was indignant. It would have destroyed the whole chase scene. Uriel would have gotten the demon out of Helena before it could reveal some unhappy secrets about the characters. Worse than that, I'd have to redo Chapter 17 completely.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Three Years on the Slow Train, or How a Vampire became a Woman

Three years ago I was working at the Amtrak call center in Philadelphia and living in a studio apartment in a Northeast Philly high-rise. The plan had been for the family to move to Philly once our house in Elkhart was sold, but money and an attachment to the Midwest changed that. About once a month I arranged a long weekend and took
the train back to Elkhart, most often using Amtrak's Capitol Limited, which winds its way through the Alleghenies along the river valleys. When I rode it, I thought of Bob Dylan's poem on the liner notes of his album, "Highway 61 Revisited," and the Flanders and Swann song, "On the Slow Train," bemoaning the elimination of branchline passenger trains in 1950s Britain.
Meanwhile, my son Jim, who was and is very much into role-playing games, let me know about a novel writing contest sponsored by White Wolf Publishing. The novel could be set in the vampire world of Chicago or with the werewolves in Denver. I had lived in the Chicago area for eight years, so my choice was easy. My proposed novel featured a beautiful vampire known as Cassandra, because she told some unpleasant truths that the Chicago vampire hierarchy refused to accept. I wasn't sure exactly what the original story of Cassandra was, so I Googled the name. I found a blog called the Cassandra Pages, written by Beth Adams. It inspired me to start my own blog.
My synopsis of the novel didn't make it past the first round, but I had an idea for a novel that would focus on the idealism of my generation and would involve the 1968 Democratic Convention. Cassandra became Helena, lost her bloodsucking ways, and the story morphed into Things Done and Left Undone. (The next chapter should be ready soon.) When I'm really optimistic, I have fantasies of a movie version of the story, with Navi Rawat playing Helena. One can always dream.
I began writing On the Slow Train three years ago. Since then I have met many wonderful people online. You've been a great help to me in my writing, and in my life. Thank you all. 
Photo credit Jim Frazier

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Twa Corbies and the Three Ravens

Lisa, of Eudaemonia, recently urged us to celebrate National Poetry Month, so I thought I'd write about the poems--really ballads--that got me hoooked on poetry. The poems can be gruesome and sometimes chilling, but then I was a pereadolescent boy when I discovered them. The first uses a more archaic language--corbies for ravens, fail for turf, wot and ken for know, and hause for neck. But I suspect the second is older--pre Christian despite the Christian time references. In both poems, ravens are discussing a potential meal--a slain knight. In "The Twa Corbies," the knight's hounds, hawk, and lady abandon him, while in "The Three Ravens," they are loyal--in the lady's case, chillingly loyal.

I suspect the archaic language as well as the subject matter attracted me. But they are also fine poems:

The Twa Corbies

AS I was walking all alane
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t'other say,
"Where sall we gang and dine to-day?"

"—In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.

"His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady's ta'en another mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.

"Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I'll pike out his bonnie blue een;
Wi' ae lock o' his gowden hair
We'll theek our nest when it grows bare

"Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken where he is gane;
O'er his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair."

The Three Ravens

THERE were three ra'ens sat on a tree,
Downe a downe, hay down, hay downe
There were three ra'ens sat on a tree,
With a downe

There were three ra'ens sat on a tree,
They were as blacke as they might be.
With a downe derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe.

Said one of them unto his mate,
“Where shall we our breakefast take?”

“Downe in yonder greene field,
There lies a knight slain under his shield.

“His hounds they lie downe at his feete,
So well do they their master keepe.

“His haukes they flie so eagerly,
There’s no fowle that dare come nie.”

Downe there comes a fallow doe,
As great with yong as she might goe.

She lifted up his bloudy hed,
And kist his wounds that were so red.

She got him up him upon her backe,
And carried him to earthen lake.

She buried him before the prime,
She was dead herselfe ere even-song time.

God grant to every gentleman,
Such haukes, such hounds, and such a leman.

Leman means lover or sweetheart. Several versions of these ballads can be heard on YouTube.
Check out The Twa Corbies by An Drasda, and The Three Ravens by Andreas Scholl.

Major ballads such as these inspire parodies, such as this American version:

There were three crows sat on a tree.
Billy McGee, McGaw!
There were three crows sat on a tree,
Billy McGee, McGaw!
There were three crows sat on a tree,
And they were black as a crow could be.
And they all flapped their wings and cried,
Caw! Caw! Caw!
And they all flapped their wings and cried,
Billy McGee McGaw!

Their meal is a dead horse, rather than a knight. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the song on YouTube. There's also the Scottish "Three Craws Sat Upon a Wa'," which can be found on YouTube, but only as sung by small children.

Friday, April 04, 2008

In they came jorking

Back in the 1960s, when Establishment types were denouncing the Beatles as trash, a number of people from more traditional musical genres defended the new muscians. One defense was to play the Fab Four's tunes in classical styles. My favorite is Joshua Rifkin's "The Baroque Beatles Book. Rifkin, with the "Merseyside Kammermusickgessellschaft," released it as a novelty record, but with it he made the point that the Beatles were serious musicians. It's now available on CD. My daughter Anne recently discovered that the Baroque "Help" was on YouTube. It's done in the form of a cantata. The recititive is taken from John Lennon's poetry:

"In they came jorking and labbing shoubing 'Haddy Grimmble" ("Randolf's Party," In His Own Write) 'JACK THE NIPPLE STRIKE AGAIN.' ("The Singularge Experience of Miss Anne Duffield," A Spaniard in the Works) Puffing and globbering they drugged theyselves rampling or dancing with wild abdomen, stubbing in wild postumes amongst themselves. (? IHOW) There is a lot to do in Liddypool ("Liddypool," IHOW) She went cold all over ("Singularge Experience," ASITW) Then lifting her face upwarts, she said with a voice full of emulsion... " ("A Spaniard in the Works," ASITW).

Listen to Rifkin's "HELP" here.