Poem of the Week

While watching The Crown, I heard part of this poem and had to track it down.

In Westminster Abbey

by John Betjeman
Let me take this other glove off
As the vox humana swells,
And the beauteous fields of Eden
Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
Here, where England’s statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady’s cry.Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots’ and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.
Lord, put beneath Thy special care
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I’ll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down.

I will labour for Thy Kingdom,
Help our lads to win the war,
Send white feathers to the cowards
Join the Women’s Army Corps,
Then wash the steps around Thy Throne
In the Eternal Safety Zone.

Now I feel a little better,
What a treat to hear Thy Word,
Where the bones of leading statesmen
Have so often been interr’d.
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
Because I have a luncheon date.

Speed the Plow


Another David Mamet play seemed a fitting read as I’m currently taking his MasterClass online.

I’d seen the play at the Remains Theater in 1987.

The play is a satire of show business. Charlie Fox brings a movie deal consisting of a hot star and a blockbuster-type script to his long time buddy, Bobby Gould, who’s career is on fire since he’s gotten a promotion. He’s got till 10 am the next morning to get a producer to agree to make it. So he trusts his pal to make the deal, which will earn them boat-loads of money.

They talk about the business and their careers.  They dream of what they’ll do after this life-changing film is released. In the background a temp secretary bungles along with the phone system. Eventually, she comes into the office and winds up having to read a far-fetched novel as a “courtesy read” meaning she’s to write a summary of a book that’s not going to be adapted to film.

 
After she leaves the office, the men make a bet, a bet that Bobby Gould, whom Karen is working for, will succeed in seducing her. Karen’s not in on this but she agrees to go to Gould’s house to discuss the book she’s to summarize.

Karen finds the book about the end of the world life-changing. Like many 20-something’s She’s swept up by its message. What’s worse, when she goes to Gould’s house she convinces him to make the crazy book into a film and to leave his pal in the dust. The book and play are brisk and, as you’d expect, contain rapid-fire dialog. I enjoyed this book, but can see how some would find problems with Mamet’s portrayal of women. I think he portrays Hollywood quite realistically.

The Minutes

Written by Tracie Letts, The Minutes stars Billy Peterson as the mayor of a middle American town called Big Cherry. The play focuses on a town council meeting where the newest member of the council can’t stop wondering why no one will answer his questions about Mr. Carp, a councilman who’s no longer on the council or why last week’s meeting minutes are delayed. No one is willing to explain this.

As the meeting on this stormy night proceeds, the audience is treated to jibes about small towns and their small minds. The Steppenwolf Ensemble members Francis Guinan plays the oldest council member who goes on and on, annoying many with his suggestion on what to do with the freed up parking space. This issue hints at the problem, the elephant in the room, which is the absence of councilman Mr. Carp. Whenever Carp’s name comes up, the council members get silent. What are they hiding?

Like a dark version of Parks and Recreation, Letts satirizes the trivial aspects of small town government. Should a Lincoln Smackdown be part of the town’s festival? Should the town pay for a new fountain commemorating their history and enabling people with disabilities to see clear to the bottom be funded? (Trivial to those on the council who aren’t the least bit PC.) Should Mrs. Innes be allowed to ramble on and on?

You know there’s more to Mr. Carp’s absence and, of course, the title clues you into the significance that last week’s meeting minutes have not been presented. But I highly doubt you’ll guess the disturbing end to the play, which finishes at the Steppenwolf January 7 and then will open on Broadway.

The performances, as is the case 99% of the time at Steppenwolf, were great. Both Billy Peterson and Cliff Chamberlain, who plays the town newcomer who wants to be active in town politics so he can make a difference, were excellent.

El Candidato

From a wealthy family, Martin decides to enter politics. We’re never told which office he’s running. El Candidato, an Argentinian film, begins with a strategy meeting as his team tries to figure out how to present Martin and incorporate the trendy environmental themes and present a winning political message although Martin himself isn’t clear where he stands. When asked if he’s left or right, center left or center right, Martin asks the new graphic artist.

The graphic artist is probably in his twenties and isn’t sure of his own political leanings. He’s not working for Martin because of a shared philosophy. He’s there to make money and during the first meeting, Martin, who can lip read, calls him out when he whispers a comment to his neighbor implying that Martin’s probably a rich simpleton.

Far from simple, Martin is a sympathetic character. He’s no Latin Donald Trump. He doesn’t exactly know why he’s running for office and part of the reason is no doubt his father issues, but his unwillingness to choose a spot on the political spectrum has to do with how crazy and ineffective politics is.

We soon learn that Laura, a senior team member and the man she hired to do sound work for the ads, are in cahoots and are collecting dirt and hacking Martin’s social media to insure he loses. Thus the story is about trust and betrayal rather than politics.

The film takes place during a few days of intensive planning in seclusion at Martin’s vast ranch.

The unpredictable end blew me away and reminded me a bit of The Rules of the Game.

Here’s the film, but there are no English subtitles. Sorry.

El Candidato from Delfin on Vimeo.

Oliver on Standardized Testing

I learned about this segment on John Oliver’s HBO program. Oliver goes to town on every facet of standardized testing: the silly ways schools try to psych students to take the tests, how confusing some questions are, how Pearson education pulls in big bucks while paying test graders they find on Craig’s List peanuts to score high stakes tests and how opaque the whole game is. He didn’t address how corruption can creep into the process as seen in Atlanta, but he hit all the major problems with testing.

Though I sort of liked standardized tests, which I realize is a bit bizarre, I see their limits and believe the current system is too expensive and nets few benefits.

Kudos to the kids who refuse to take them. As the Grumpy Old Teachers wonder: Why don’t more students opt out?

A tweet about Grumpy Old Teachers led me to the Oliver report cum lambast. I am sort of hooked on this podcast. Basically, it’s what it says two veteran teachers skewering and whinging about the more ridiculous aspects of teaching. They digress a lot, but sometimes they’ll edit out (and tell listeners when they have) discussions of basketball games or of Costco hauls. Grumpy Old Teachers have got me thinking of joining the tech-oriented teaching organization ISTE. They’ve got global and student rates, which fall within my budget.

Watching the video and listening to the blog made me thankful that I’m not teaching in the US K-12 world. Now I’m not happy about the social promotion we have here in China, but from what I’ve seen there’s little anxiety about testing here. Heck, if the kids don’t pass the CET-4 (College English Test, band 4), they take it or a watered down version till they do. No pep rallies for a test, just an assembly and cash prizes — for teachers and students.

À Nous la Liberté

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Directed by René Clair, À Nous la Liberté (1931) follows the attempt of two convicts to escape. One man succeeds, but his friend is captured. The man who escapes starts a new life selling phonographs on the street. Soon he’s prospered and owns a store. Not much later he owns a huge factory making thousands of phonographs. One memorable scene shows his workers marching in to work, punching in, taking their seats on an assembly line and working like machines, just as the factory owner had when he was in prison. The striking similarity is not accidental.

Later the factory owner’s friend is freed and by chance meets his rich pal. The film is full of such coincidences but they made me smile rather than roll my eyes. At first the prosperous man is leery. Does his old chum want to black mail him?

No. His old friend Emile is far more sincere, more innocent. Despite the soul-killing monotony, Emile wants to continue working at the factory so he can woo a woman he’s infatuated with. As the rich men’s high society friends talk about him behind his back and are stuffy bores, the factory owner opens his life and his wallet to his old pal to help him win this woman’s heart. Then the wheel of fortune turns against this pair of friends.

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The film does use sound, though sparingly. For much of the beginning I thought it was a silent film. Michael Atkinson applauds Clair for experimenting with should when directors like Chaplin where “too timid to.” It’s a fun, clever film that has an uplifting feel to it. I agree with critic Atkinson who describes as “bouncy with melody, soaked in spring light, wistful about the conflicted relationship between serendipity and love.”

Clair was the first to film a scene where all hell breaks loose when workers can’t keep up with the assembly line. His studio and some critics believe that Chaplin plagiarized À Nous la Liberté when he made Modern Times. Clair didn’t get involved and said since he appreciates so much of what Chaplin’s done, if he did borrow from this film, that’s fine. His studio disagreed and took legal action which dragged on for 10 years. They lost.

À Nous la Liberté has a surprising, positive (or perhaps naive) ending. I can see why the film was on a list of “Most Influential Films” I received at Act One. So glad my library had it.