Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sex--In All Its Glory

In checking the statistics provided by Site Meter, I learned recently that someone visiting my blog was looking for entries about sex. As a married person, I haven’t had much of a reason to address sex here in these entries apart from the few references to my sexual inexperience when I was young and the references to sex in my poems. Women, when married, are seemingly more open about their sex lives than men in this blogging environment. Look at the following links, for example: here and here .

One book of poetry that addresses love and lust is Robert Wallace’s Girlfriends and Wives (1984). It’s a collection of poems about the women the speaker has known intimately, including his three wives. No table of contents appears in the book. The poems are arranged chronologically and use the woman’s name as title. One of my teachers once said this book is a risky one because of the amount of disclosure. Such a statement assumes that the details are true and haven't been altered because of the passage of time. What seems confessional may still be a fiction of sorts, particularly if the event occurred ten or twenty years ago.

Back in the 1970’s, I read Henry Miller’s Sexus, an account of his sexual exploits in New York before he left for Paris. In desiring to present the whole man, that is, the sexual, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of himself, Henry Miller has gained a lot of notoriety for his willingness to embrace the full range of human experience in his writing. Although it has been years since I read Sexus, I remember it being less misogynistic than Tropic of Cancer. Miller in his own way was creating literary nonfiction long before it became fashionable.

My favorite book that contains long passages devoted to sex is D.H. Lawrence’s John Thomas and Lady Jane, an earlier version of his Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It’s the book that I read and reread when I was young and discovering sexual relations. Oliver and Constance’s lovemaking emphasizes their mutual regard for each other’s pleasure; sex is depicted as that intimate act that bonds a man and a woman. Sex isn't made ugly or a matter of plumbing; it's also not used as a means of exerting power over another person. The novel shows how sex allows a couple to grow together and to explore the depth of their feelings for each other. Call me romantic if you like.

Monday, May 21, 2007

End-of-Semester Blues and Movies

My blog has lapsed while I've been finishing up the semester and grading more essays than I care to count. Two of my five classes are now over; three will be finishing this week.

With the current rise in gas prices, I am appreciative of this online life. I had been growing tired of remaining at home and not ever getting to know my students face-to-face. This absence of personal contact has sometimes made it difficult to return my students' work in a timely fashion. Getting my essays graded this semester has been a constant struggle. There were always another set or two or three awaiting my attention when I finished slogging through the ones for a cross-listed course composed of fifty students. It was much easier grading essays in first-semester classes because of the difference in the assignment. I would much prefer grading a set of profile essays over a set of critical evaluations or proposals anyday.

Despite the amount of grading that characterizes the end of the semester, I have managed to see both Spiderman 3 and Shrek the Third. Maybe I was too tired to appreciate Shrek the Third, only having had four hours of sleep the night before, but I thought the movie was boring. The ogre isn't funny anymore. The best few minutes appear at the end when Shrek and Fiona are caring for their triplets. The movie could have easily focused on raising children, and the mishaps that accompany the raising of ogre babies, instead of the plot details regarding Shrek's succession to the throne, the Prince's efforts to gain control over the kingdom, and the journey to find the deceased king's heir. Those details were excessive, I thought. Of all the computer animated movies, I have to express my preference for Happy Feet, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Toy Story 2.

The villains in the first two Spiderman movies are too unrealistic although I prefer Doc Oct over the Green Goblin. Spiderman 2 is characterized by Peter Parker's character development as the viewer discovers that the super hero struggles with the mundane, i.e., keeping a job, paying rent, attempting to maintain a relationship with a woman. Peter Parker struggles with his identity in Spiderman 3 as he wrestles with those emotions that seem alluring--like vengeance and pride. The movie is often funny as Peter adopts this inflated image of himself. Ultimately, the prideful Spiderman hurts those people he cares about. Spiderman 3 is worth the time and money.

It occurred to me recently that I miss those movies I enjoyed as a teenager, that is, ones that draw the viewer into the lives of people in a particular time and place, such as Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, and those adaptations of Thomas Hardy novels (e.g., Far From the Madding Crowd). It takes at least two hours for a movie to take hold of the viewer. Too many movies now are simply an hour and a half of a situation comedy, which is easily forgotten afterwards, or a series of computer-generated special effects and explosions with a minimum amount of dialogue that usually only serves to add comic moments to violence, making it possible for the viewer to desensitize him/herself to the violence to which we are exposed in our lives and in our world. Spiderman 3 has redeeming qualities because of the emphasis on the characters. Probably the best movies that have come out in the last year or so have been adaptations of comic book heroes like Superman Returns (my view is in opposition to those critics who panned the movie), remakes like King Kong, or something relatively ignored at the box office like The Devil Wears Prada. My sister would disagree because she recently had good things to say about The Last King of Scotland, which, I admit, I haven't seen and find the descriptions of torture in that movie less than enticing.

Those of you reading this blog might let me know what movie you have enjoyed in the last year or so.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Nuclear Accident in Greenland Revisited

The 1968 nuclear accident in Greenland, one that I addressed in an earlier post, remains in the news. You might recall that a B-52 crashed on the sea ice while on approach to Thule AFB. The B-52 was carrying four nuclear bombs. The Danes who assisted in the cleanup of the crash site continue to ask the Danish government to monitor their health, according to the news story that appeared on the BBCNews on Friday.

This BBCNews story reports that the Americans involved in the cleanup have been “regularly examined.” It is unknown whether the Air Force personnel involved have suffered higher than normal rates of cancer.

The poet Paul Zimmer described his participation in the nuclear tests carried out on the Nevada desert in the 1950’s in his book of essays, After the Fire: A Writer Finds His Place (2002). No one to my knowledge has researched the rate of cancer among the military personnel who participated in those tests. Army troops were crouched in trenches during the blasts. The Downwinders in Utah have had their accounts of the tests and the repercussions they experienced made public. Unless the government has reclassified information regarding the nuclear tests, investigating the health effects on those troops who witnessed the nuclear testing is worthy of further research. If I were a graduate student in history and searching for a dissertation topic, I would certainly consider exploring the nuclear tests in the Nevada desert.

Receding Flood Waters

The Missouri River at Leavenworth has receded about six feet on its western side. The city, unfortunately, continues to prevent access to the Missouri.

The flood waters at Farley, Missouri have now receded as well. According to the news reports, the Platte River has been much more destructive in Tracey, flooding roads and businesses. Farley has experienced some flooding along the river, but the community itself was unharmed. It is unknown what kind of damage the farms along the river have experienced.

I cannot say that floods are exciting, and I don't think I was gawking, or a member of that "peanut-crunching crowd," by taking pictures at Farley; instead, I was recording a moment. People who searched Google for more information about the flood made their way to my blog. It's possible that someone who has since moved away from the area wanted to learn more about the events at home.

My sensory perceptions were particularly acute on Saturday for some reason. The smell of the flood waters, reminiscent of a lake, was quite strong. The bird calls overhead at Schimmel City, a fishing spot on the Platte, made the shaded and quiet location seem relaxing, causing me to be in no rush to move away from the spot. The running sound of the water over rocks and past trees also proved reminiscent of a meditation garden. Floods aren't meant to be pleasant experiences.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Flood on the Platte River

The flood waters on the Platte River have continued to increase at Farley, Missouri. Compare this picture with the last one from the previous day to see the difference. The crest won't occur in Platte City until sometime Thursday and later than that in Farley, so the water will continue to rise.

Efforts are being made to control the flood waters at Missouri 45 so that the water flows over the bridge instead of into the town of Farley.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Flooding Along the Missouri River

My heart goes out for the people of Greensburg, Kansas, which is located about thirty-five miles west of Pratt, my wife’s hometown. During one of our trips to Pratt, we met a mother and daughter from Greensburg and learned about the deepest hand dug well, a prominent feature of the town, which was created to supply the Santa Fe & Topeka locomotives in the 19th century and once served as the city’s water supply. We had hopes of visiting Greensburg during one of our upcoming trips. Greensburg can be rebuilt, but it will never fully recover from the tornado that struck on May 5. See In This Moment for detailed coverage of the Greensburg disaster.

The part of Kansas where I live has been inundated with rain. A relative of ours, who isn’t acquainted with the torrential rain of eastern Kansas, which mostly falls from March to May and September to November, was woken up on Monday morning to discover that his car was flooded and that his apartment building had water on the first floor. He lived just twenty feet from a creek that seemed fairly innocuous until it swelled with rushing storm water.

The city of Leavenworth has blocked off access to the flooding created by the Missouri River. Some areas north of Leavenworth had as much as seven inches of rain while we had almost four inches in Leavenworth. All of that water is making its way south. Monday night the flooding brought out many of the townspeople who wanted to see exactly how high the river had gotten. When I tried crossing over the police tape to get a better view, one of the firefighters turned me back.

Because access has been blocked to the Missouri River, my wife and I went a few miles away to witness the flooding of the Platte River (not the Platte River found in Nebraska), which feeds the Missouri. Some of our artifacts appear here.

The crest has not yet arrived at Farley, as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Platte River is seen on the other side of the trees in this last picture. Generally, it is possible to walk down to the River at this scenic spot.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Liz Carroll in Kansas City

Liz Carroll , the Irish fiddler, was in Kansas City last Sunday. She is known for having released three CD’s under her name, Liz Carroll (Green Linnet, 1988), Lost in the Loop (Green Linnet, 2000), and Lake Effect (Green Linnet, 2002), and one with John Doyle, In Play (Compass, 2005). Liz Carroll is also known as a song writer and many other Celtic musicians play her tunes.

The Missouri Valley Folklife Society had been working on having Liz Carroll come to Kansas City for a couple of years. The problem, I think, was coming up with the money. MVFS concerts used to be well attended in the past; lately, however, attendance has fallen off for any number of reasons, such as the collapsing economy.

When I used to live in Kansas City during the early 1990’s, I got involved with the Missouri Valley Folklife Society and volunteered once or twice at some of the concerts they had sponsored. Altan performed in Kansas City in 1991 or 1992 before the late Frankie Kennedy was diagnosed with cancer. Their concert opened with Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh singing "An t-Oilean Ur," an unaccompanied solo in Irish from the album Horse with a Heart. They later performed some of the songs from The Red Crow, including “The Wedding Jig.” It was an exciting concert. Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, formerly of Fairport Convention, were in Kansas City for a concert around that time, too.

It wasn’t as easy hearing traditional Celtic music once I moved to Stillwater. The Tannahill Weavers gave a concert at one point in the student union at Oklahoma State, but the tickets were priced much higher than the cost of tickets in Kansas City.

Since returning to Kansas City, I’ve been fortunate enough to see both Lunasa and the Celtic Fiddle Festival, with the late Johnny Cunningham, in concert. Both concerts were excellent. My son was older when Lunasa came to Kansas City and found their stirring rhythms much more to his liking than the solo performances and group settings of the Celtic Fiddle Festival. (Kevin Burke was a member of The Bothy Band; one of the songs from his Bothy Band period elicited a lot of audience excitement during the Celtic Fiddle Festival concert. Christian Lemaitre's Breton dance tunes are particularly haunting. One little girl couldn't resist dancing in front of the stage while he played.)

Liz Carroll and John Doyle gave a great concert, performing a variety of tunes, reels mostly but also a couple of polkas. My son preferred those songs in which John Doyle sang (despite playing his saxophone in the middle school jazz band, my son prefers songs with words). Between songs, Liz Carroll and John Doyle were funny and charming as they described some of their experiences when growing up. Hearing them live makes it possible to appreciate their recordings that much more. I heartily recommend hearing them perform live if the opportunity ever arises.