Dec. 9, 2005

The Ministry of Propaganda…

by David Ray

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Poem: "The Ministry of Propaganda..." by David Ray from The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of the Iraq Wars. © Howling Dog Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Ministry of Propaganda...

Retired generals in various cities
are interviewed nightly about the war.

The maps are shown and strategies
discussed with great enthusiasm.

Our troops are grabbing the bulls
by their horns. Resistance is soon

to be overcome. But resistance
to what is never quite defined.

The news anchors gaze upon
these guests with the admiration

until now shown only to movie stars.
There are no views represented

other than this gung-ho enthusiasm
for war. From every military base

intelligence and publicity personnel
fan out to offer their services to media

as part-time advisers and experts.
They explain and make palatable

all the President's policies, e.g.,
allowing no photos of flag-draped

coffins bound for Arlington or home
town cemeteries, though it would be

hard to find one that has not added
a few from overseas to its holdings.

Every technique described by Orwell
or practiced by Goebbels is in place,

but so far few have dared say so.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the people who helped invent the modern computer: Grace Hopper, born in New York City (1906). She began tinkering around with machines when she was seven years old, dismantling several alarm clocks around the house to see how they worked. She was especially good at math in school.

She studied math and physics in college, and eventually got a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale. Then World War II broke out, and Hopper wanted to serve her country. Her father had been an admiral in the Navy, so she applied to a division of the Navy called WAVES, which stood for Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service. She was assigned to work on a machine that might help calculate the trajectory of bombs and rockets.

She learned how to program that early computing machine, and wrote the first instruction manual for its use. She went on to work on several more versions of the same machine. In 1952, Hopper noticed that most computer errors were the result of humans making mistakes in writing programs. So she attempted to solve that problem by writing a new computer language that used ordinary words instead of just numbers. It was one of the first computer languages, and the first designed to help ordinary people write computer programs, and she went on to help develop it into the computer language known as COBOL, or "Common Business-Oriented Language."

It's the birthday of the man who wrote the Uncle Remus stories, Joel Chandler Harris, born in Eatonton, Georgia (1848). He went to work as a printer's assistant at a newspaper published at a local plantation. While he was working for the newspaper, he met some of the slaves on the plantation. He loved listening to the stories they told about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and other animals in the Briar Patch. When the Civil War began, Chandler left the plantation to work for newspapers in cities all across the South.

He was working for the Atlanta Constitution when he began to publish the tales he had heard years earlier, under the title Uncle Remus, His Songs and Sayings (1880). He wrote the tales in a southern, African-American dialect that he claimed was an exact reproduction of the speech he heard as a young man.

It's the birthday of the great English poet John Milton, born in London (1608). He's best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). But he spent twenty years of his life writing almost nothing but essays on political and religious topics.

He married a woman named Mary Powell in 1642, but she quickly grew tired of him and left him almost immediately after their honeymoon. Milton was furious, but it was against the law to get a divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. The next year, he wrote The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he argued that couples should be able to divorce if the marriage turns out to be unhappy. He tried to prove that marriage was created to remedy the loneliness of men, and that if a wife failed to perform this function, her husband should have the right to divorce her. He also said that those who had lived freely in their youth were more likely to find happiness in marriage than those who were chaste and inexperienced. Milton addressed his tract to the British Parliament, but it didn't go over well. He remained married to Powell until her death in 1652.

Milton was also one of the early crusaders against the government's censorship of books and pamphlets. He argued that no one group should control the number of available opinions from which an individual can choose. He wrote, "Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself."

But his great masterpiece was Paradise Lost, from which many readers come away feeling that Satan is the most interesting and sympathetic character in the poem.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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