stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I'm currently reading Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel. (I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg when I was on an adventure-novels kick; The Prisoner of Zenda, Captain Blood, and one or two others were also part of that haul.) Three thoughts come to mind.

1) Spoilers. Going into the novel knowing the identity of the Pimpernel probably diminishes its effect. (I would quite possibly have guessed - the trick Orczy played has become common since her day.) Fortunately, apart from the broad context, I know nothing more. I can foresee some of what will come - I just finished the scene where Marguerite is blackmailed by the French agent - but no more than in outline.

2) Reigns of Terror. Orczy, of course, makes an effort to get the reader to sympathize with the poor persecuted aristocrats, and I try to let that happen; but I keep remembering the bit by Twain, comparing the several-months-long and bloody Reign of Terror with the slow-motion, thousand-year Reign of Terror, in the opposite direction, which begat it. Lavoisier was certainly not the only unjustly condemned victim, but the whirlwind doesn't really care who sowed the wind. (I also find myself remembering the next-to-last paragraph of Lincoln's Second Inaugural; but that's another issue altogether.)

3) Typography. There are, naturally enough, numerous French or French-derived words and phrases in the text: entr'acte, coup, and the like. I would prefer to believe that Orczy wrote them, in the original, as I just did, and some blunderer, transcribing it for the Project, interpreted the italics as indicating emphasis and thus replaced them with ALL CAPS. If the Baroness herself is responsible, all I can say is QUEL DOMMAGE!
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
One of the phenomena that so excited Charles Fort is that of the vitrified forts, crude stone buildings which at some point were subjected to intense heat.

I'm currently reading Sir Walter Scott's journal, and just ran across the following paragraph: "Will Clerk says he has a theory on the vitrified forts. I wonder if he and I agree. I think accidental conflagration is the cause." (Dec. 11, 1825)

Just an odd coincidence...

Low Bar

Jul. 11th, 2017 08:56 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I'm just going to leave this passage from Polybius, about King Ptolemy Philometor, here.
If any king before him ever was, he was mild and benevolent; a very strong proof of which is that he never put any of his own friends to death on any charge whatever.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Still reading Wilson on the English Reformation. We're into the reign of Elizabeth, and I just hit the following:
In July matters took a dramatic turn for the worse. Henry II of France was killed in a jousting accident. His son became king as Francis II and the fact that he was married to Mary Stuart meant that the crowns of England's closest potential enemies were united. It was part of their diplomatic stance that Mary was the rightful queen of England by virtue of her descent from Henry VIII's sister, Margaret, and they blatantly quartered the royal English arms with their own.

"Blatantly"? That's a bit rich, considering that the French fleur-de-lys was part of the English arms, and continued to be so until 1801. Not to mention the longstanding fraughtness of the relation between the English and Scottish crowns....

stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
After a bit of a hiatus, I'm back to reading Derek Wilson's A Brief History of the English Reformation. It's an interesting book and I'm learning a good deal, but once again I've stumbled over a careless assertion by Wilson.

He's just described the death of Mary I, and is clearly about to mention the epithet she has borne ever since. But he prefaces it with this comment:
Unlike some of their continental counterparts, the English are not much given to providing their monarchs with nicknames. Aethelred the Unready, Alfred the Great and John Lackland seem to be the only kings whose sobriquets have stuck[.]
Um. The Confessor? The Conqueror? The Lion-hearted? Longshanks? Crookback, even? If "Lackland" is in play, most or all of those should be.

I'm not going to criticize Wilson as a historian. He clearly knows far more about his subject than I ever will; but this sort of carelessness annoys me.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
In my task of cataloging and subcataloging my library, the next book up is a Library of America volume, The Mark Twain Anthology. After the introduction, it gives a sampler of brief comments on Twain by various American figures, from Louisa May Alcott to Barack Obama.

Both Presidents Roosevelt are quoted; both comment on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Theodore despised it:
"There is nothing cheaper than to sneer at and belittle the great men and great deeds and great thoughts of a bygone time."
Franklin admitted appropriating the phrase "New Deal" from it:
"I felt the same way about conditions in America as the Yankee did about those in ancient Britain... I freely acknowledge my debt to Mark Twain."


May. 30th, 2017 01:39 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
The following passage from Polybius somehow strikes me funny. "He" is King Philip of Macedonia.

"[H]e came before daybreak to Meliteia, and placing scaling ladders against the walls, attempted to take the town by escalade. The suddenness and unexpectedness of the attack so dismayed the people of Meliteia, that he would easily have taken the town; but he was baffled by the fact of the ladders proving to be far too short."

(Polybius spends the next section pointing out how stupid this was.)
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Every so often, while reading one of the classics of antiquity, I get suddenly clubbed by the radical differences in attitude between now and then. In Arrian's book on Alexander, it was the repetition of "We came to a village, and asked them to give us all their gold. They refused, so we killed them all and took the gold anyway." (Not that that attitude isn't present today, but most people wouldn't say it so bluntly.)

I'm reading Polybius' history - just getting to the point where the various ongoing wars more or less coalesced - and ran across a reference to "the first necessaries of existence, cattle and slaves"....

33 to 45

May. 18th, 2017 09:45 am
stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
My father hated Harry Truman - absolutely despised him for his handling of the MacArthur affair during the Korean War. (I once heard him refer to HST as "Hairy Ass Truman".) He and I had more than one loud argument over the matter, but no minds were ever changed.

I've been thinking about Truman a fair bit lately, and especially about two of his most famous aphorisms (the first of which my father occasionally used, despite his opinion of the man):

"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

"The buck stops here."

Can't imagine why those keep coming to mind.
stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
Pierce was one of the greatest thinkers the United States has yet produced. Logician, mathematician, philosopher - many pies have the marks of his fingers. Here is his account of his life up to age twenty, written when he was twenty. It's rather amusing, I think; I find his notation for the two Miss W's entertainingly indicative of his future.


Apr. 22nd, 2017 12:39 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
The talk went reasonably well; in fact, it was a bit short (only 50 minutes). I don't think I could have added more details without adding too many more, so that's all right. Attendance was smallish - four or five faculty, eight to ten students - but that's what you get when you schedule something on a Friday afternoon. (Of course, any other time, most people would have other obligations....)

Today is Earth Day, but it looks more like Air-and-Water Day here. I was hoping to do some grocery shopping today, but between the chill and the threat of rain, I'm putting it off till tomorrow, which is supposed to be sunny and 15-20 degrees F warmer. Good thought for today's marchers, especially those in weather like this!

The rabbits who visit my back yard are increasingly bold. A couple of evenings ago, I let the dogs out for a romp. As I stood on the porch to watch, I could plainly see a large rabbit off in the northwest corner of the yard, but the wind was out of the east and the dogs couldn't smell it. I watched as Buster quartered the eastern half of the yard and then slowly moved west to the fence, where he turned north. He was just about due west of the rabbit when he picked up the scent. The rabbit, judging from its ears, had been tracking his progress, and as soon as he raised his head it shot for the north fence, escaping several seconds before Buster could get there.

I finished The Obelisk Gate a few days ago, and am eager to read the third-volume finale. I'm close to the end of Death's End, and may comment on the trilogy when I'm done. I'm also reading de Mandeville's Travels and Polybius's History, both of which should take me a while. (I started reading Sumner's Folkways, but found his cultural arrogance offputting and put it back in the pile.) As for dead-tree books, my current project is a re/read of the Ring of Fire books. I'm currently on 1635: The Papal Stakes, after which I'll have to order a couple of the 1635 volumes that I don't yet have. (I have most of the 1636 volumes, but somehow missed these two.)

Blah. Dreary, lethargic day. I'm looking forward to semester's end, two weeks from now.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Yesterday, the song "Easy Come, Easy Go" came into my head, and I decided to look it up. (There are several songs by that title; this is the one with the lines "She wasn't kind / I wasn't smart".) It seemed to me to have a 50s-ish feel to it; I figured it was sung by someone like Frank Sinatra, or maybe Der Bingle. (Not Perry Como, certainly.) Nope; it was first recorded by Bobby Sherman in the late 1960s. Surprise!

Today, I was being earwormed by, um, "Today". (This is the one with the chorus beginning "Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine".) Thematically, it's pretty much the same song as "Gaudeamus Igitur", so I thought it was a fairly old folk song - "fairly old" meaning 16th century, maybe? Wrong again: it was written by one of the New Christy Minstrels, and first recorded by, of all people, Bobby Goldsboro, in 1974.

Arnold Zwicky writes of the Illusion of Recency, in which some linguistic phenomenon is taken to be a novelty (and, usually, reviled). There's evidently an Illusion of Antiquity as well.... (I suppose that would cover things like Scottish tartans and other pseudo-traditions.)

Fallen Hero

Dec. 8th, 2016 03:31 pm
stoutfellow: (Winter)
And this terrible year continues to reap its swath. John Glenn has died.

In my childhood, he was the epitome of the USAn space program. In my young adulthood, he was a Senator and a presidential candidate, though he fell short in the latter race. Now, he's a memory.

Rest in peace, Senator.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
For your consideration, a compilation of the Orange One's twitter feed from election night 2012.


Nov. 12th, 2016 07:31 am
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I'm currently reading Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age, on a recommendation from [profile] desert_vixen. I haven't gotten very far yet, but it's been interesting so far. However, I just ran into the following passage.
"Every man should have a lord", proclaimed the Treaty of Verdun in 843. Only the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor in Constantinople were exempt from this stricture, and they were vassals of the Lord.
Um, the Holy Roman Emperor did not sit in Constantinople; that was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire...

Ah, well, I'm not reading the book for political history, but for climatological history.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I finally finished Fustel de Coulanges' La Cité Antique a few days ago. I'm not sure it belongs in the Treasures class, but it was certainly very interesting.

FdC begins with a hypothesis concerning the fundamental social unit of the Indo-Europeans. (Indo-Europeanism was in full flower in his day; attempts to treat IE as a sociological unit, not merely a linguistic one, were common - some of which had deadly consequences in the following century.) This, he says, was the family, as a political/religious unit, with its deities (deified ancestors), its priesthood (the father, with his sons as acolytes), and its law. He buttresses this with documents from ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and ancient India. (It is worth noting that he doesn't consider other IE peoples, most notably the Persians; surely there is data of similar antiquity for them? He also includes some data from the Etruscans, who were not IE.) He traces Greek and Roman history as the evolution and extension of this structure to the clan, the town, and the city, and then its breakdown as various disenfranchised (the word is not strong enough) subgroups demanded a share in city life and power, culminating in the displacement of the ancient and tattered religious structures by universalizing religions such as Christianity.

Key to his argument is the claim that law was religious in nature throughout this period: law within the family (vehemently excluding those not of the family), within the clan (excluding those from outside the clan, but also those who were mere servants or collateral relatives), within the city (as before, but with the clan leaders forming an aristocracy and with a large proletariat of servants, clients, and foreigners). Such revolutionary periods as the age of tyrants are presented as an attempt by the lower classes to be admitted to the religious (and thence the legal and political) life of the city. It is, of course, a complicated story, but it seems to hold together reasonably well. I'll have to look for more recent discussions of these issues to see how well FdC's work holds up today.

There are a few obvious problems. To cite only one: Roman legend (cf. the Aeneid) claimed that refugee Trojans formed part of Rome's ancestry. FdC accepts this without much criticism, but I don't believe it's accepted today. I believe there is supposed to be some linguistic connection between Etruscan and some of the languages of ancient Anatolia, but actual direct migration doesn't seem to figure in.

Flawed though it is, I found the book fascinating, if very long.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Still plowing my way through Lyell. The last section was a discussion of the origin of the energy involved in earthquakes and volcanoes. Lyell presents, and then dismisses, the idea that the interior of the planet is molten, and the heat works its way up from below. (His objection is that temperature ought to equalize throughout the planet, given enough time. I'm not sure what the answer to that is. I have a textbook on physical geology around here somewhere, which I should maybe read after finishing with Lyell.) He seems a bit more receptive to chemical or electrical origins, especially given the then-new discoveries about the relation between magnetism and charges in motion.

The section I'm reading now is on the biosphere; Lyell here tentatively accepts Lamarckian evolution, although he doesn't believe in monogenesis - plants are clearly, he thinks, a separate creation from animals, for example. Evidently this edition predated his acquaintance with Darwin's work. Should be interesting to see what lines of inquiry he follows in this area.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Slacktivist has a post up entitled That time when a terrorist attack struck the Olympic Games. I immediately thought of 1972; he's talking about 1996. Guess I'm getting old....

:sits back in rocking chair, sighs:


Aug. 7th, 2016 08:21 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
In the section of Lyell that I'm currently reading, he goes into much detail concerning the effects of volcanic eruptions, starting with Vesuvius and Etna, proceeding to Iceland and Chile, and ending with the great Tambora eruption in 1815. (He's restricted, somewhat, by the need to have details recorded by observers of a scientific bent.) He does not, however, mention the meteorological consequences of that last - the legendary Year Without a Summer, when harvests all across the Northern Hemisphere failed because of the reduction in sunlight induced by the debris of the eruption. I can see two possible explanations.

1) He wasn't interested in the meteorology; his concern was establishing that known geological phenomena, given enough time, could account for all the changes in the geological record, without recourse to global catastrophes.

2) He didn't make the connection between the two. After all, it's not obvious that a volcanic eruption in the East Indies could cause crop failures in Europe.

The question that occurs to me, then, is this: when did someone make the connection? I have a vague memory that modern meteorology, with its fronts and jet streams and whatnot, didn't arise until the early twentieth century, but would that knowledge have been necessary? (There was a book I read forty-some years ago, a treasury of snippets of scientific history; it included some stuff about the life of Louis Agassiz, about the emergence of the Paricutin volcano, and, if I remember correctly, about the introduction of the idea of fronts. I don't remember the title or the editor; the book vanished from my hands long ago. I wish I still had it, for nostalgia's sake if no other.)

By Jingo!

Jul. 23rd, 2016 04:13 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Terry Pratchett's novel Jingo involves the appearance of the island of Leshp midway between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch, which triggers a war over sovereignty between the two powers. After Sam Vimes arrests the two armies for disturbing the peace, the war is aborted by the re-submergence of the island.

Lyell's Principles of Geology mentions a volcano called Graham Island, which appeared above sea level in 1831 and led to severe diplomatic tensions between the UK, Sicily, and France. The dispute was still ongoing when the island was eroded below sea level again early in 1832. Apparently it has poked its head above water several times through the years, the 1831 incident being the most recent.

Aha! Wikipedia says that Graham Island was, indeed, the inspiration for Leshp. Learn something every day....


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