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Mrs. Fanny Assingham's Observations

Multiple Choice: A. Observations literary and political from a compulsive reader. B. Bravely facing middle-age, armed with nothing but a library card and a red pen. C. One of those left-wing college professors your pastor warned you about. D. All of the above

Location: Everywhere, USA, United States

The farflung offspring of Gene and Loretta Schaechterle, their children, family and friends. We're an articulate and highly verbal family, and we've got a lot to say.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

From the inner suburbs of Howard Hughes territory

this antibacterial ballpoint pen. For writing the labels on your jars of pee, I guess.

Friday, October 21, 2005


I'm pretty sure George Orwell predicted something like this in 1984 which used to be standard reading list material for high school English. That didactic novel, along with "Politics and the English Language," used to be a standard offering in high school literature anthologies when I was in high school. "Politics' also was a standard item in freshman comp readers like the venerable LittleBrown Reader when I was a lowly M.A. teaching assistant a long, long time ago. The way I was taught both works, and subsequently taught the essay, was as a warning, as a sort of consumer reports for citizens. Back then the country was worried about the Commies. From the Soviet Union. Who might someday invade us through our Mexican back yard. And manipulate our newspapers and rewrite history. We teaching assistants were more worried about the Reagan administration, which seemed the ne plus ultra of the Orwellian, which just goes to show how limited our imaginations were.

That's what I assumed most people got from Orwell, back in the day. Turns out the guys currently in Washington were reading his stuff as a how-to manual, while the editors of America, who should have read it as a warning, must have skipped class that day.


Left of the Mississippi offers her usual humorous take this week on the intersection between a late-blooming public school gen-x'er and the private academy she now calls home. Given America's ballooning obesity problem, I think she ought to lay off the candy treats as incentives and tell her so in the Comments--my privilege as her late-but-n0t-quite-so-late-blooming-public- school-boomer sister. Plus, I remember a high school field trip to Lake's Crossing, the state mental hospital in Reno, Nevada, during which the psychiatric nurses would pop M&Ms into the mouths of severely disturbed children when they (the children) managed to behave well. Sooooo I'm a bit uncomfortable w/the whole candy treat incentive thing.

But the actual MLA activity she describes sounds interesting. I hope she'll share it, like a good little sis.

More poetry sightings

The chalker had more Ginsberg up on the exterior front wall of the liberal arts building and some Thoreau on the walk in front of the mathematics building yesterday afternoon. Rains from the margins of Hurricane Wanda mean these won't last long.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

And it's not even National Poetry Month!

Seen chalked on the sidewalk outside the campus's main library, this disembodied line from Allen Ginsberg's great 1956 poem "America":

America why are your libraries full of tears?

That was all. No advertisement for a meeting or film. No commentary. No identifying markers. Just pure abstract allusion for, I'm betting, the sheer poetic joy of it. Very clever, too, of the mystery student chalker to begin what I hope will be a long campaign of disembodied poetry with a line from one of the founders of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics of the Naropa Institute (which, coincidentally, butted up against my back door when I was a grad student in Boulder donkey's years ago).

It was a cheerer-upper for this tired prof, slogging in from the parking lot this morning after a long evening of a long week of marking some often terribly uninspiring midterms and quizzes. And a welcome change from the interminable and unvarying chalked Jesus Saveses that usually stain shoe soles and pant hems all over campus. I could feel my head lift and spine straighten, and I actually trotted up the four flights of stairs to my office.

I don't know if the M.S.C. will chalk again, or, if so, whether s/he's going to stick to Ginsberg, or is selecting from gay poets, Jewish poets, beat poets, American poets, or modern poets or whether s/he'll offer up some heady and unexpected combinations. But I'm going to keep my eyes open for other bits of disembodied poetry and maybe, just maybe, buy some sidewalk chalk of my own. There's some Edna St. Vincent Millay I'd like to float around.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Librarian Friend Saves the Day!

It's been a busy 10 days for Mrs. Assingham; what with midterm grading and university-mandated program assessment, and doing a little buck-and-wing about the possibility of multiple indictments among the White House Iraq group and related jerks, she hasn't had time to hold a thought in her pretty little head.

Fortunately, Librarian Friend steps into the breach, forwarding this site, a compendium of the best fall color web-cams

She also begs to remind us Eastern Daylight timers that it's awful dark out in Banff-Alberta when we're having our morning java.

Thanks, Librarian Friend, for this vivid reminder that it's a beautiful world we live in--and CONGRATULATIONS on your new librarian gig. Excelsior!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Prepping Owen Wister's classic The Virginian for my "Myths of the American West" course, I pause over this, in the 1911 Re-Dedication [to Theodore Roosevelt in his Bull-Moose incarnation] and Preface:

After nigh half-a-century of shirking and evasion, Americans are beginning to look at themselves and their institutions straight; to perceive that Firecrackers and Orations once a year, and selling your vote or casting it for unknown nobodies, is not enough attention to pay to the Republic. If this book be anything more than an American story, it is an expression of American faith. Our Democracy has many enemies, both in Wall Street and in the Labor Unions; but as those in Wall Street have by their excesses created those in the Unions, they are the worst; if the pillars of our house fall, it is they who will have been the cause thereof.

Imagine that: the Republican Wister decrying the half century of mainly Republican corruption and/or incompetence--basically every president between Lincoln and Roosevelt (most of them Ohioans! including our own Bob's great-grandfather (fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?)), whose post-Rooseveltian presidency led LaFolette and Teddy to form the Bull Moose Party--and the fecklessness of the American electorate who sell out their faith every four years.

Wister thought the decline of the Republic was about to end, with the election of Roosevelt to a third, non-consecutive term:

I believe the pillars will not fall, and that, with mistakes at times, but with wisdom in themain, we people will prove ourselves equal to the severest test to which political man has yeat subjected himself--the test of Democracy.

He was wrong, of course. The Democrats swept the election with Wilson who in his second term famously did not keep us out of war. But the Republic staggered on, with more or less erect pillars until recently. I wonder if Wister'd be so optimistic now.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer fella

I was in class when it happened, but I too am doing the happy dance now. But seriously, does anybody really think he'll do any time? After all, he's not some poor trailer park kid caught with a couple of joints with intent to deal, he's a loyal servant of what Gore Vidal rightly terms "the ownership" and a rallying point for the white xtian lumpenprole South.

I bet he walks, and I bet it in sorrow and anger for what this nation's become.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


This memorable bit from a student paper: "the crux of the pitfall"

Thursday, September 22, 2005

And bravo to you, too, Lonely Old Courage-Teacher

On the first day of autumn, in a season of storms, words of comfort
from Walt Whitman.*

On the Beach, at Night
By Walt Whitman
ON the beach, at night,
Stands a child, with her father,
Watching the east, the autumn sky.

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
Lower, sullen and fast, athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends, large and calm, the lord-star Jupiter;
And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate brothers, the Pleiades.

From the beach, the child, holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower, victorious, soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling,
With these kisses let me remove your tears;
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky—shall devour the stars only in apparition:
Jupiter shall emerge—be patient—watch again another night—the Pleiades
They are immortal—all those stars, both silvery and golden, shall shine out again,
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again—they endure;
The vast immortal suns, and the long-enduring pensive moons, shall again shine.

Then, dearest child, mournest thou only for Jupiter?
Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars?

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding, I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter,
Longer than sun, or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant brothers, the Pleiades.

*And no, he's not talking about Jaysus. Something far bigger
than your mere God, I think.**
**Sorry to use your punctuational trick, Left, but it's
just for this once. It's not like you've copyrighted it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Brava! Sharon Olds

This week's Nation online offers the full text of poet Sharon Olds' eloquent refusal of Laura Bush's invitation to participate in the this year's National Book Festival. The festival is timed, the editors note, to coincide/conflict with a huge anti-war action on September 24. I quote Olds' devastating close below. Count on a poet to make every word count. The whole letter, linked to above, is worth your time:

"I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting 'extraordinary rendition': flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it."

Olds acknowledges regretting, a bit, losing the opportunity to attract new readers. Any writer would. But she makes her principled stand nonetheless. It'd be nice if she sold a few books on the 24th, wouldn't it? I see that Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002 is only $11.53 at Amazon.com and $15.24 (members) at barnesandnoble.com. Nice price. Attractive cover, too.

Not a candidate for the National Book Award, I'm betting

Librarian Friend forwards the following synopsis for a book on tape she's having to catalogue:

Lily Munroe has trained for the grueling Iditarod dog
race with a single-minded determination. The person to
beat is deliciously sexy and devilishly charming
playboy Derek Wright, who is secretly an elite
antiterrorism agent. As the two race across Alaska,
their blazing passion melts paths through the ice and
snow. But Lily is being tracked by a merciless
assassin who wants to send her to a frosty grave. Only
Derek stands in the killer's way.

I've red-lettered some of the above to try and get at what seems to be a troubling subliminal message from the Bush administration's Department of Homeland Security. Apparently priapic federal agents are busy destroying the permafrost up around the arctic circle, using only their genitalia, handy women and a couple of dogs. No wonder Michael Chertoff was too preoccupied to notice the flooding in New Orleans. Floating the idea in a book on tape accustoms America to the shocking reality before the story breaks (if ever).

Monday, September 19, 2005

Not exactly a day that will go down in infamy

So the New York Times finally launched the much feared "Times Select" today, charging internet readers for access to the Op-Ed goodies and causing consternation across the left blogosphere (perhaps the right blogosphere as well--I try to stay out of those sorts of dives). I do think it's an unfortunate name: at least, whenever I see the adjective "select" following the noun it's supposed to modify, I can't help but imagine a brand of high-end cat food or the sort of bottom-end canned tuna that looks like cat food.

I'm having a hard time getting too worked up about the Times' decision, myself. All the news that's fit to print is still free, as are the letters to the editor, which are probably my favorite part--even the most knee-jerk conservative Times letter-writer has an admirable vocabulary and a way with a compound-complex sentence. I doubt the Times is going to beef up its bottom line by making the opinions pay-per-read. Times columnists, like Post columnists, are pretty widely syndicated and most of America gets them in their local papers after a day or two. If it means I'll have to wait until the Wednesday Dayton Daily News to read Krugman and Herbert, and Thursday to not read Tierney and Brooks, so be it. It's not as if opinions have a limited shelf life. I'll miss Frank Rich a bit, but even he shows up in my local rag when he's really hot, so I'll live. In fact, I suspect most of us will live--we may even thrive. Think how much time one could save, reading opinion columns only once a week instead of once online and once over breakfast two days later.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

In which I come dangerously close to discussing workplace issues

Grading the first batch of quizzes for my American lit survey (1865-1920) I'm floored, as I am with every first batch of quizzes with how little of what passes my lips or flashes up on the overhead actually makes it, whole and unadulterated, into some students' heads or onto some students' looseleaf. One gets used, of course, to having "minstrel show" come back as "menstrual show"--even though one wonders how a female student--young enough to still feel self-conscious or inconvenienced or possibly even relieved (depending on circumstances) by her monthly onset--can calmly sit thinking I'm talking about popular public displays of (presumably) menstrual blood (in the nineteeth century! in the genteel South!) and not raise her hand to ask a clarifying question, but after awhile one's amusement becomes forced and one's laughter hollow.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Happy Belated Birthday...

...James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789)! Most readers today, if they think of Cooper at all, think of the subject of Twain's Bloomian-literary-patricidal "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" and pat themselves on the back for never actually having read him. But Cooper was the first of our novelists to offer a concerted critique of Americans' "wasty ways," via one-toothed hawk-eyed septuagenarian frontiersman Natty Bumppo, possibly the last fully original male character in American literature. The four extended vignettes of waste in the 1823 hit--and never out of print since--The Pioneers vividly capture the greed and shortsightedness at bottom of our national character, and foretell the eventual extinction of the passenger pigeon, the deforestation of the North Atlantic states and upper midwest and overfishing of our bodies of water.

Sure it takes him 15 chapters to get through the story's first evening and introduce the bulk of the (mostly flat) characters, but the writing is by turns funny, acerbic and thrilling. And after that 15th chapter, in which, after a careless shooting (by the Judge), execrable driving (by the Sheriff), an attempted bribe (Judge again) and lies and half-truths all 'round, nearly the entire cast foregathers in a tavern to drink themselves insensible on Christmas Eve, with nary a pious mention of the "reason for the season," you begin to realize that all the palaver from our self-appointed, liver-lipped guardians of faith and morality (are you listening O'Riley?) about how the ACLU and other liberal running dogs are preventing Americans from celebrating the season as they used to in some former Christian America is so much unpleasant smelling gas.