BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Feb 2018, 12:20

Trying to do business without advertising is like winking at a pretty girl through a pair of green goggles. You may know what you are doing, but no one else does. Cyrus H. McCormick.

If in 1884, you’d divided the entire wealth of the USA into 1000 equal shares, one share was Cyrus McCormick’s. And he let you know about it, too, not least in his philanthropy (not all of which went to his beloved Presbyterian Church and its institutions). So it’s unsurprising that undergraduates today, asked to recount the impact of the industrial revolution on American farming, will talk about McCormick’s mechanical reaper. They’ll occasionally give John Deere’s steel plow a look-in, but the reapers seem more ‘industrial,’ and in his lifetime McCormick was a great promoter of himself as well as of his products. In fact McCormick’s was a family enterprise. Cyrus Hall McCormick was born on February 15, 1809, on a large Shenandoah farm and learned (from his father and one of the family slaves, Jo Anderson) how to tinker in the smithy. Indeed his father applied for a patent for a mechanical reaper in the 1820s. But it was Cyrus’s patents (the first in 1834) that went ahead, and in 1847 he moved to Chicago to manufacture the thing closer to his market. Jo Anderson was of course left behind, but in the new environment McCormick remained a pro-slavery Democrat, an ardent Old School Presbyterian, a supreme litigator, and something of an egomaniac. It was not until the 1870s that the company was renamed the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company (dropping the “Cyrus H.”, to recognize the contributions of his father, his brothers Leander and William, and even his wife Nettie, who played a central role in refloating the company after Chicago’s Great Fire). By then in failing health (he died in 1884), Cyrus let it all happen, but as far as I am aware, the contributions of the family slave Jo Anderson went unsung. And we know little of the competing reapers, e.g. the “Hussey” and the “Manny,” some of which may have worked better than the “McCormick.” But no one could advertise like Cyrus, and thereby hangs his tale. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Feb 2018, 12:22

Always an ass; always a bully; always a time-serving, lick-spittle booby and blockhead. Frederic Madden, writing about his boss, Sir Henry Ellis, circa 1850.

The habit of collecting old manuscripts is itself ancient, testament to the magic inherent in our ability to record our thoughts. It reached fever pitch the 17th century, when the record was plundered to provide ammunition (for both sides) in the ongoing battles between crown (the ‘Norman yoke’) and parliament (the repository of ‘Saxon liberties’). One of the great collectors was Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631), and today the Cotton Mss. are among the British Library’s greatest possessions. But systematic preservation, repair (for old documents may escape fire and flood but not decay), and cataloguing lagged behind collecting until a small army of 19th-century antiquarians got down to work. Perhaps the greatest of them all was Frederic Madden, who was appointed Keeper in the British Museum’s Department of Manuscripts in 1837 and held the post until he resigned in 1866. Madden (born on February 16, 1801), attended Oxford but couldn’t afford to graduate. It’s better to regard him as self-taught, and his early fascination with ancient records motivated him to learn Hebrew, Syriac, Anglo-Saxon and Norman French (not to mention Greek, Latin, and several modern languages). He worked in private collections and at the Tower of London until starting in the British Museum (in 1828) as deputy keeper. His obsessions and frustrated ambitions made him a difficult cuss for his employers, and his mastery of languages make his combative journals and letters (which are, of course, preserved and calendared) a treasure trove of insults and slanders. But to his subordinates at work (and to patrons outside of work, including Queen Victoria, and to his children) Sir Frederic was a pleasant, caring, and witty sort of fellow. And at work he was a monster librarian, rescuing, repairing, and making useful to scholars a mountain of manuscripts, including those Cotton Manuscripts (which include, by the way, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Magna Carta, a unique “Beowulf” script, and thousands of other treasures). ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Feb 2018, 10:08

Fame lulls the fever of the soul. Joaquin Miller.

In May 1893, from California, Mattie Brokaw wrote to her former teacher Mary Kerr (my great-grandfather’s spinster sister, in Edwardsville, IL). Mattie had gone out west to work at an Indian school, had done well at the qualifying exams, and while she waited for news of an appointment she toured around San Francisco. In Oakland, she visited “The Hights,” the very odd home of the even odder Joaquin Miller, who couldn’t spell and (according to Ambrose Bierce), couldn’t tell the truth, either. “He lives in primitive style,” Mattie reported, “no carpets on the floors only bear skins etc and pictures without any frames . . . and a profusion of books lying around.” It was, Mattie went on, a large place but built like a “tent with apartments . . . a very queer architecture, a patch of a king.” Joaquin Miller—who would die on February 17, 1914—was indeed an eccentric. Mattie’s letter doesn’t say whether in 1893 Miller had yet built his own funeral pyre, a massive bonfire-in-waiting that itself became a Bay area attraction. That would be another invention of one of the greatest of America’s invented selves. The self-proclaimed “Poet of the Sierras,” Miller (whose ‘real’ name was Cincinnatus and was originally from Indiana) was notoriously “not sure” of his birth-date or of his past, but he may have been (inter alia) a mining camp cook, a Pony Express rider, a horse thief, and an artist (those ‘pictures without frames’ were his) before he settled down in Oakland (with his white-haired mother) to be a poet and a teller of tall tales, some of them sold as short stories, others mere self-promotion. Who knows but in another era he might have become president? Miller’s mother gave Mattie and her friend a bunch of Martha Washington geraniums and wild poppies, and the Illinois girls resumed their tour around the Bay where, Mattie went on to report, the climate was nicer, the flowers prettier, but “as a rule” the people poorer than back home in Edwardsville. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Feb 2018, 14:07

I am proud to confess my indebtedness to scores of friends, with hard hands and black faces, who toil at laborious tasks in mills and forges. Harry Brearley, on receiving an award for his discovery.

Back in the day, the phrase “Sheffield Steel” had a ring to it, so when young Henry Shaw arrived in St. Louis to hawk his dad’s steel, he found a ready market. Steel making then was still a craft, workforces small, and back in Shaw’s native town one John Brearley rose from apprentice to “steel melter.” By the time his son Harry Brearley (born February 18, 1871) came of age, it was a different industry, and the firm a larger business, but even so young Harry left school at 12 to start out as a common laborer, learning about steel the hot way. Partly because he’d taken an interest in the science of it all, partly because he was thought to be a frail lad, he moved from foundry floor to “general assistant” in the works’ chemistry lab (with salary enough, at £2/week, to afford marriage in 1895), and found there a need to learn more, so he studied at home and in technical school to discover more about what made steel tick, the exact chemistry of the processes that made iron into a tough, tensile material that could hold an edge or carry a skyscraper. He also, as he later put it, learned that Shakespeare was an Englishman and was bowled over by John Ruskin. Armed with science and fueled by ambition, he solved a number of processing problems, wrote a number of books and manuals, and so when two large Sheffield firms decided to found a joint science lab, they picked Brearley to head it. And it was there, in 1912, in the usual combination of accident and design, that Harry Brearly figured out how to make steel stainless. He was actually working on gun barrels and their propensity to deterioration, but he (and his employers) decided that their “rustless steel” (as they first called it) would be better employed in kitchens and at table. The very first production run took place in August 1913. Harry Brearley used his financial rewards to establish Sheffield’s Freshgate Trust, funds from which give ordinary folk a better start in life through education and a better finish (like his steel?) in music, theatre, arts, and travel. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Feb 2018, 11:47

Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to be themselves? Betty Friedan, 1963.

The Winter Olympic Games are now on, and for those who have watched the women athletes competing right across the widening range of winter sports it’s a good time to remember Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, published on February 19, 1963. Friedan wasn’t particularly interested in women’s sporting activities, but her conceptual frame put under the spotlight quite a number of now ridiculous exclusions or rules that were meant to insure that no sporting activity could possibly interfere with a woman’s destiny and purpose. Since her destiny was motherhood and her purpose childbirth, her physical activity couldn’t be too strenuous. Endurance sports (cross-country skiing, long distance running) were out of the question, and serious limitations had to be imposed even on women’s basketball, lest the fragile things had to run the full length of the court. Elsewhere, women could do figure skating but not hockey, and in American colleges women’s sports were truncated in number and limited in anything approaching violent activity. It seems to me that for anyone who’d ever attended a childbirth, these restrictions roosted somewhere between the insane, the comic, and the self-satirizing, but in a way that was yet another concealment of “the feminine mystique,” a femininity that, Friedan wrote, had been manufactured by men. In that, she was righter than she knew, but her insight that things had gotten worse, rather than better, after WWII highlighted the ideological basis of the unequal pay, unequal opportunities, and, yes, even the unequal sports that awaited all little girls when they grew up only to become wives and mothers. She also usefully reminded us all that “rights” do not guarantee liberation. Friedan was not alone (as she quickly found out, for her sisters soon spilled out of the woodwork), nor was she the first, but February 19, 1963 still seems like a good starting date for the new feminism in America. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Feb 2018, 12:11

My name is George F. Smoot III, and I am smarter than a 5th grader. George F. Smoot III.

The tendency in physics to give odd things odder names (“quark,” “charm,” etc.) is now so well established that it produces self-satirizing websites. And there have been outright spoofs (I don’t think that is a physics word!!). For instance as part of a fraternity prank, MIT students invented the “smoot,” a unit of measurement exactly the height, or length, of Oliver R. Smoot, then a freshman pledge, who ‘volunteered’ to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge (over the Charles) with his very own body (which, at the time, was 5’7” and, as physicists say, “a bit.” Cambridge MA is tolerant of smoots and spoofs, and so the bridge is still marked off in smoots, 364.4 of them. Oliver Smoot became a lawyer, which is another story, but his younger cousin, George F. Smoot III, also attended MIT, learned about smoots and other ways to measure things, and would eventually (in 2006) turn it all into a Nobel Prize. George Smoot was born on February 20, 1945, and after getting his degrees at MIT moved to the Lawrence National Laboratory where, instead of doing what he was supposed to do, he became interested in the universe’s “cosmic microwave background radiation” (that’s the sort of phrase which happens when physicists forget to coin a quark-like alias). In measuring this natural phenomenon, Smoot found that it varied through space and time, as it were in gravitational ripples, and thus confirmed one of Albert Einstein’s predictions. Those “ripples” (isn’t physics charming?) are, it is thought, a kind of background signature of the Big Bang. The 2006 Nobel was awarded for what seems to me an obscure “string” (that’s a physics pun) in all this, and Smoot shared it with his colleague John C. Mather. George Smoot, quite a science media personality, gave his Nobel money to charity, but then he won the $1 million prize in the network quiz game, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? His final question was, “in which state will you find Acadia National Park?” I wish they’d asked me. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Feb 2018, 15:04

The bourgeoisie . . . has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms has set up that single, unconscionable freedom of Free Trade. Marx and Engels, 1848.

1848 was a year of revolutions on the European continent (with stirrings in Britain and Ireland). All of them were failures, and brought reaction in their train (in France, Napoleon III, elsewhere, yet more repression). For the USA, where people were generally sympathetic, they brought a smattering of places named after revolutionary heroes or martyrs (in Iowa, e.g., Kossuth County, named in 1851 for a Hungarian hero of 1848). In general, we see them now as liberal or “bourgeois” revolutions, partly because they were but also because they were labeled as such, almost before they occurred, by a firebrand pamphlet that proved prescient. For it was on February 21, 1848 that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published (in London and, originally, in their native German) The Communist Manifesto. It was at once a call to arms and a brilliant piece of social and historical analysis. Its famous slogans still resonate today, sometimes edited for effect (“Working men of all countries, unite!” has become “Workers of the world, unite”), and to say the least they have had their effect (if rarely as Marx or Engels would have intended). Perhaps more importantly the Manifesto popularized and legitimized “class” not only as a descriptive concept but as a vital element in analyzing and explaining economic, social, and political change. And while the Manifesto did not coin the word “ideology,” it and subsequent writings by both Marx and Engels gave us a much clearer understanding of how a mere potpourri of ideas, habits, desires, and preferences can be manufactured into a normative tool for making sense (or for making nonsense) of the world in which one lives. There were alternatives to this view, of course. While Marx and Engels wrote, a ‘great man’ theory of history was under construction (e.g. by Carlyle in Britain, Emerson in the USA). That is one battle that the Communist Manifesto has surely won, with a little conceptual help from Charles Darwin. In that sense, we are all Marxists. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Feb 2018, 13:08

My heart is warm with the friends I make,// And better friends I'll not be knowing,// Yet their isn't a train I wouldn't take,// No matter where it's going. Edna St. Vincent Millay.

In my memory, my American literature survey, with Penn Provost E. Sculley Bradley, was all about a bunch of guys plus Emily Dickinson. A brief look at Bradley’s then-standard anthology (our textbook, of course, in 1962) suggests that that memory is skewed. Among its female stars was the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, once the angry but liberated girl whose “candle burns at both ends” but by the time of her early death (in 1950) an acknowledged mistress of American letters. She was memorialized by the New York Times as “one of the greatest American poets of her time,” no small compliment for her time was one of great writing, poetry included. Edna St. Vincent Millay was born on the Maine coast on February 22, 1892, “between the mountains and the sea.” She grew up in genteel poverty, and in a house without men (her mother had divorced) she played a boy’s role and was called “Vincent” by her sisters—but not at school for her teachers were not amused. So it was as “Edna” that she won a schools poetry badge, published verse in the local newspaper, discovered that she was sexually ambidextrous, and went off to Vassar at a fairly advanced age (and in a fairly advanced frame of mind). There she continued to write and form (and break) relationships, e.g. with the critic and poet Floyd Dell, and so she was quite ready to keep on writing and enjoying life in post-war New York City. The writing counted for more, and Millay won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923, for a volume containing “The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver,” a short, sad, beautiful poem in which a poor mother weaves and cobbles a suit of clothes for her little boy, clothes fit for a prince. One feels that it must have been autobiographical. In 1923 also, Edna St. Vincent Millay married an older man, a widower and a writer, Eugen Boissevain, and they lived happily ever after—with their writing and their lovers and themselves—in a big farmhouse on the Hudson and a summer home on the Maine coast, between the mountains and the sea. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Feb 2018, 13:59

You may live in a tenement yard but you are not part of a tenement yard." Hectorine Carroll to her children, often. Recalled by Jessica Carroll Huntley.

Colonial economies produce raw materials for export, but although they are thus utterly dependent on natural resources, they produce large urban slums, and it was in one of these that Jessica Elleisse Carroll (Huntley) was born, in (then) British Guiana, on February 23, 1927. Her father died when she was two, and her mother, Hectorine, relocated to an even bigger slum (in Georgetown, the capital) to find what work she could and bring up Jessica and her four older siblings. Hectorine had ambitions for her children, made sure they got an education, and Jessica took to it like a duck to water. Finding work in a garment factory, she turned down a promotion (to office staff) to continue organizing a union, and thus met and married a radical postal worker, Eric Huntley. Their children were named after revolutionary heroes (e.g. son Karl after Marx and daughter Accebre after a rebel slave). Meanwhile they organized strikes, joined the independence movement, went to prison, and decided that they would strike to the heart of the matter by moving to London (a not unusual route for colonial radicals). There they worked like beavers, continued to raise their family, and became associated with radical colonial intellectuals, mainly West Indian, and it was to publish the works of the historian Walter Rodney (banned from his post in the West Indies) that Jessica Huntley started a publishing house, L'Ouverture Press (another of her ‘babies’ named after a revolutionary) which published fiction but mainly radical works (memoirs, polemics, scholarship) like Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. The Huntleys never moved back to Guyana, and caused enough heartburn in London to be attacked by the National Front, several times, but their printshop and bookshop (basically the front rooms of their Ealing house) survived, and so did they. Jessica died in 2013 and was buried in Southall after a funeral, attended by hundreds, in Christ the Redeemer Church. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Feb 2018, 13:47

The Tough 'Un. Title of a 1935 natural history film directed and produced by Mary Field, 1896-1968.

British leadership in nature films was crowned by the achievements of David Attenborough and his legion of (mainly) BBC camerafolk. Indeed, aged only 92, he’s still at it, and modestly mindful of continuing rather than inventing a tradition. Among that tradition’s founders was Mary Field, born in the leafy splendors of Wimbledon on February 24, 1896. She had a yen for history, and after her First Class Honours and MA with distinction at Bedford College, set herself on that path until she was asked to check (for accuracy) some early documentary films on the Commonwealth. She was converted, and worked first on feature films. But education was in her blood and soon she was producing nature films in partnership with other pioneers of the genre, Bruce Woolf and Percy Smith. By 1935 she had produced and/or directed several early masterpieces in the series “The Secrets of Nature” and then “The Secrets of Life,” including microscopic works (e.g. The World in a Wine Glass and small-scale international prize winners on tortoiseshell butterflies and even dandelions (the dandelion documentary was entitled The Tough ‘Un, for Mary Field liked gardening and whimsy both). Those were intended for adult audiences, but she now moved to making educational films (mainly in natural history) for children. After 1944, this was encouraged by her new husband, a schools inspector, and required by her job as executive producer in the children’s unit of the Rank Organization. After leaving Rank Mary Field devoted herself mainly to charity and foundation work, for instance as chair and then president emerita of UNESCO’s International Centre of Films for Children. For a woman, in those years, hers was an astonishing eminence, but it’s sad to note that in its website on the history of nature films, the British Film Institute gives Mary Field only passing mention, focusing instead on her male partners. I wonder if Attenborough is aware of his distaff debt. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Feb 2018, 14:02

The day of the combination is here to stay. Individualism is gone, never to return. John D. Rockefeller. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. J. P. Morgan.

America’s industrial and financial revolutions created vast fortunes, and startling inequalities, too. These latter were most visible in the gross architectures favored by the new plutocracy, conspicuously displayed not only in their 5th Avenue homes but in their vacation places, whether country estates in Westchester and Long Island, the so-called “cottages” of Newport, or Andrew Carnegie’s castle back in the Scottish highlands. This great wealth (and the right to use it as one wished) rested on another inequality, the great corporation, which in the late 19th century seemed to develop a will of its own, and that will bent it towards consolidation and monopoly. Thus it took on the zoological caricature (and character) bestowed on it by the era’s cartoonists, the wolf, the octopus, the shark, the pig, but also the great human colossus, bestriding whichever great river of commerce he controlled and peering down on tinier mortals (or on tinier institutions, as in the cartoon showing a giant J. D. Rockefeller examining the national capitol and exclaiming “What a Funny Little Government!”) Perhaps the most famous of all consolidations was United States Steel, legally and financially born (‘medical’ charges were $1.5 billion, cash) on February 24, 1901. Its parent, perhaps, was Andrew Carnegie, but its midwives were J. P. Morgan & Company and Charles Schwab, then the CEO of Carnegie Steel, but their birthing book had already been written, especially during the great depression of the 1890s, in Morgan-directed or Morgan-financed mergers involving railroads, shipping lines, electricity, newspapers, oil and coal, communication, and of course banks. Carnegie, who believed it a sin to die rich, devoted the rest of his days to a failed effort to give it all away. Morgan disagreed, and his “House” morphed itself into several financial corporations (including, far afield, Deutsche Bank, now Trump’s creditor). And we all know that our money is safe with Charles Schwab, because “Chuck” tells us so. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tripps » 25 Feb 2018, 16:17

Stanley wrote:
25 Feb 2018, 14:02
Carnegie, who believed it a sin to die rich, devoted the rest of his days to a failed effort to give it all away.
Can't see words like that without thinking of the Carnegie libraries. Here's one which played some part in my childhood, and I suppose, with both my parents too. I've just acquired a set of decorated plates - one of which has a good picture of the local donation from Mr Carnegie.

failsworthlibrary.jpg
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Born to be mild. . .

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Feb 2018, 11:42

I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill. Antoine 'Fats' Domino.

St. Louis has its very own “Blueberry Hill,” a large, congenial bar-restaurant-entertainment venue at the heart of the University City ‘Loop,’ and should therefore know all about Fats Domino, but our Blueberry Hill became so identified with Chuck Berry as to make us lose sight of ‘The Fat Man’ (not only an accurate description of Domino in his prime but also the title of his first “gold” recording, in 1951). Fats was born Antoine Domino, in New Orleans, on February 26, 1928. As his given name suggests, he was of Creole stock, and Creole was his first language. His second was music, picked up from his father and other family members, and by age 14 he was performing for pay, first as a pick-up artist and then as the regular pianist at the Hideaway Club. There he also picked up the “Fats” (for his appetite, not his girth). After “The Fat Man” came a whole series of hit singles and albums, of which I remember “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, “Ain’t That a Shame”, and above all “Blueberry Hill” which thrilled us no end in Des Moines, in 1955. There were others, and they made Fats (though young) into an elder statesman of Rock ‘n Roll, a black artist who made it big. Of course, white Johnnies-come-lately recorded his stuff, and some made more money at it (notably Elvis and the Beatles), but Fats did well for himself, on tour and in the record shops, and it’s worth noting that he was widely acknowledged as a pioneer of the genre, famously when, in 1969, Presley saw him in Vegas (at an Elvis concert) and told the crowd that no, it was Fats Domino who was the real “King” of Rock ‘n Roll. Fats Domino was an easy man to thank, shy and unassuming, therefore almost out of character in his recordings. He married a local girl, Rosemary Hall, in 1947, and was always at home in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, where he stayed on long enough to become a hero in New Orleans’s Katrina moment. Domino mourned Rosemary in 2008 and died himself in 2017, aged 89, a thinner man by then but still and always “the Fats.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Feb 2018, 14:25

How Henry would have loved it. Ellen Terry, on Henry Irving's burial at Westminster Abbey, 1905

In the English theatre, acting often runs in families. It’s partly a question of entrée (it helps to know somebody), but back when acting wasn’t thought too far above brigandage and bank fraud it was also a kind of self-defense. And Ellen Terry (born in Coventry on February 27, 1847) did begin acting at age 9, put on stage by her acting parents. And she would become by far the most famed of her acting siblings. But first she left the stage to run through two liaisons (one a marriage, one not) that were odder than they were unhappy. The first was her (very) short marriage with the painter George Watts, the second a nine-year arrangement with the architect, designer, and essayist Edward William Godwin. From these relationships Terry picked up two children (both Godwin’s), a wide circle of eminent acquaintances, and perhaps her unerring taste in stage costumes and design. Ellen Terry broke with Godwin and resumed acting in 1876, and was a sensation. And thus it was that the impresario-actor Henry Irving took the innovative step of making Ellen Terry his ‘permanent’ leading lady at his newly purchased and refurbished Lyceum Theatre. Knowing a good thing when he saw her, Irving paid her very well (she started at 40 guineas per week, more when on tour) and added an annual benefit performance to that. For 24 years, Ellen Terry flourished under what has been called Irving’s benevolent dictatorship. She played every lead that Shakespeare provided (she was best in the comedies and histories), but also more than dabbled in contemporary theatre. Terry and Irving developed a very close and caring relationship that may have been sexual, but if anyone knew the truth then, no one knows now. Her mastery on stage has been said to be without equal, then or since, beauty and grace allied to perfect knowledge of the part and of the play. Ellen Terry’s last stage appearance was in 1925. She died, respectable in her own right as a Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire, in 1928. John Gielgud was Terry’s great-nephew, and he knew the great lady and saw her perform. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Feb 2018, 12:06

People have become educated, but have yet to become human. Abdul Sattar Edhi.

On this day last year a Faithful Reader told me that Google had ‘doodled’ Abdul Sattar Edhi. The inevitable “Abdul Who?” question raised up a remarkable character, born in Gujarat on February 28, 1928, and one of the millions resettled after the partition of India. His family were poor already, and so Edhi began his life in the new Pakistan as a Karachi street beggar, but with a difference. To be sure he begged for himself (and thus got started in the cloth trade) but he begged for others, too: the poor, the lame, the sick. There was the flu, he later explained, and poor people needed care, so he got it for them. He also married (Bilquis Edhi), worked at the cloth trade, and as he prospered he kept on begging for the poor, and added way, way more than his mite to create a charitable foundation (which he named after Bilquis). Before he died, aged 88, in 2016, this “Richest Poor Man” and his foundation had built up the largest health care service in Pakistan and one of the largest in the world, running 1500 ambulances, emergency health care centers throughout Pakistan, and expanding its good works throughout the world. In 2005, in Katrina’s wake, the Edhi group furnished $100,000 in 2005 for emergency care in New Orleans. As it were for thanks, in 2009 Abdul Edhi was detained for over 8 hours’ interrogation at Kennedy Airport, where he was in transit to receive an award from UNESCO, probably because he looked different from “us.” That raises an interesting question about pronouns, but Edhi the Samaritan survived the experience intact and continued his work, here and there in the world but always in Pakistan where Abdul Edhi’s beneficiaries number in the tens of thousands (orphans and trained nurses) and in greater numbers at his health care centers, food kitchens, and asylums. At the end, Edhi willed his body for organ transplants, but life (and kidney failure) had taken such a toll that only his corneas could be used. One imagines that they were. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Mar 2018, 14:46

Mirabile dictu. [it is wondrous to tell], Virgil, from the Aeneid, circa 20 BCE.

March 1, 752 BCE was a big day in ancient Rome because it was the traditional birthday of Romulus, Rome’s founder. As every Roosevelt High student who took Latin from Sophie Larson knew, Romulus was a twin, one of a pair descended from Miss Larson’s beloved Aeneas, the whole story best told by her even more beloved Virgil (70BCE-19BCE). Romulus’s other half was Remus, but in a dispute over which hill (of seven) to build on to start the city of Rome, Romulus killed his twin. So although it’s sometimes said that the founders of Rome were Romulus and Remus, it’s the murderer who should get the credit. Anyway, their birth was shrouded in mystery and the tale improved through the ages of telling it. Indeed, there emerged some confusion over whether their father was the god Mars or the demi-god Hercules. Later, that old cynic Livy (59BCE-17CE) dared to suggest that it was rape by an unknown mortal. Whatever. It’s a wise man who knows his father, of course, and there was no similar confusion over their mother, who was Rhea, daughter of King Numitor, himself descended from Aeneas the Wandering Trojan. Anyway, Rhea was immediately sent off (by her brother or brother-in-law) to become a Vestal Virgin, and the boys’ uncle left them to die, not wanting to clutter up the succession to the throne of Alba Longa, which he had usurped. Got it so far? Then the babies were found and suckled by a she-wolf, then raised by a shepherd. You learn something of the ethos of old Rome when you learn that wolf’s milk was thought to be the trick that brought the twins’ truly noble qualities to the surface. So of course they became alpha males, and when they got old enough to do it they killed their (bad) uncle and restored (good) Grandpa Numitor to his throne. Then they went off into the sunset to kill each other over a silly dispute over where to build their lair. And the rest is history. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Mar 2018, 14:59

Your memory is a monster. You forget, it doesn't. . . You think you have a memory, but it has you. John Irving, 1989.

My parents belonged to a church reading group (Presbyterian), and used to recommend books to me. Twice they touted novels by John Irving, The World According to Garp (1978) and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989). Both novels are somewhat autobiographical, and each has something of a religious whiff (reflections, Irving once told a Yale seminar, of his “accumulated history of church-going”). I do like ‘churchy’ novels (my current favorites are by Marilynne Robinson), but I have yet to follow my parents’ Irving recommendations. The copy of Owen Meany that they gave me as a birthday present was lost, or lent, before I read it. I should make amends, for I much liked the film Cider House Rules, based on an Irving novel (1985), and now the Modern Library has given Irving the accolade of publishing four of his novels (including all of the above). John Irving was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr., on March 2, 1942, but his mother had already separated from Blunt, Sr., and married an Irving who taught at Phillips Exeter Academy. John Irving studied at Exeter, then at the University of New Hampshire, and published his first novel in 1968. His writing was then much improved by a spell at the Iowa Writers Workshop, where I don’t think he met Marilynne Robinson but did later relate a good story about how he and John Cheever took the mickey out of J. P. Donleavy, a visiting prof who thought Iowa City was beyond the back of beyond, and who thus clearly needed a mickeyectomy. Irving’s best writing followed, much of it still autobiographical, not only deriving from his “real” life (so to speak) but also from his imagined one. Or so the critics say. Irving is certainly a self-publicist who reports his own writer’s progress, or pilgrim’s progress, on Facebook. His new novel, we find there, is a comedy, even though it’s called Darkness of a Bride. The title comes from Measure for Measure, itself a rather odd comedy. Perhaps I will read it (the novel, that is), when it comes out. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Mar 2018, 14:47

Who would a Zenobia be? 'Queen Sarah,' countess of Jersey, 1785-1867.

The first Zenobia was queen of Palmyra, intellectual, tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities, and until deposed by Rome in 274 CE her court a remarkably vibrant place. That’s no doubt why the name was chosen for the female protagonists of two 19th-century novels: Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (1852: whose ‘Zenobia’ is known to have been an alias for Margaret Fuller) and Disraeli’s last novel, Endymion (1880: where a ‘Zenobia’ is said to stand in for Sarah Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey. Today we’ll go with the countess, for she was born (as Lady Sarah Sophia Fane) on March 4, 1785. Disraeli’s Zenobia-Sarah was (like Fuller) a force of nature, but unlike Fuller, Sarah Child-Villiers was during her long life a pillar of two political establishments (whig and then tory), a lioness of “society” (whether at home or in London), a progressive manager of her country estates, and—oddly enough—a banker. Her grandfather was Robert Child the banker, who settled his whole fortune (and his landed estate) on her at his death. That made her worth about £60,000 annually (millions today), and thus quite a catch on the marriage market, but her husband (the fifth earl of Jersey) may have got a bit more than he bargained for. She did bear him eight children (one of whom she married off to the Esterhazy family of Austria-Hungary), but after that she let him ride to the hounds and manage his (and Queen Victoria’s) stables while she actively managed the Child Bank, looked after her extensive landed estates, and made her homes (there were three main ones) and her favorite clubs into glittering political (and literary) salons. Unlike Margaret Fuller (and Queen Zenobia), the Countess of Jersey kept her intelligence under wraps (for her bank and her estates) and exercised her political influence, instead, as a charming, attentive, and energetic hostess. Some thought her shallow, and thus she lent herself to caricature, but it’s worth noting that Benjamin Disraeli waited until she was dead to perform that service. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Mar 2018, 14:26

Mathematics is the language of nature, which is most plaine and easie, and free from anfractuous ambiguities, in all her workes. William Oughtred, 1631.

Mathematics came into its own in the 17th century, moving from being a black-arts game for savants to become the language—a common denominator—of science, trade, and even statecraft. Some of it was just counting (by which, young John Collins told Charles II, even the greatest gent in the land could master trade’s mysteries). Some involved the higher maths, algebra, geometry, and the invention of the calculus. The progenitors of such abstract yet real notions are well known (Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, etc.), but today let’s think of a man famous in his time, responsible for significant mathematical inventions of his own, and a gifted teacher of important pupils. He was William Oughtred, born in Windsor (where his father taught at Eton College) on March 5, 1575. He learned some math at Eton, but became a real convert at Cambridge where he evangelized “many in the love and study of those Arts.” But he needed a career, and so took holy orders and was settled in the church at Alford, Surrey. There he married (he and his wife produced 13 children, 12 surviving to adulthood), but there also his zeal for mathematics, and his ease in it, brought him profitable connections (tutorial and otherwise) with the local gentry and with more prominent folk further afield, in London. He also published a lot, partly to preserve his right to be known as a pioneer in the field. And that he was. Among other things, historians credit Oughtred with the invention (or standardization) of symbols and shorthands in algebra (not least the “X”) and in trig (sin, cos, and tan). He also perceived the usefulness (to the less gifted) of the ratios of trig and thus gave us (first through his “circles of proportion”) the lateral slide rule. A staunch royalist but one with many Puritan friends, Oughtred survived the Interregnum but, according to Aubrey, was so overcome with joy at the Restoration that it killed him. In 1660, the Rev’d William Oughtred was buried in the church where he had preached for 50 years. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Mar 2018, 11:49

The flies have conquered the flypaper. John Steinbeck, "The Moon Is Down," March 6, 1942.

In Act II, Scene 1 of Macbeth, it is night, and with the darkness the fates begin to close in. Asked the time, Banquo’s son Fleance doesn’t know: he hasn’t heard the clocks and “the moon is down.” A few moments later, Macbeth’s “heat-oppressed brain” perceives a dagger hanging before him, dripping blood, and now we know that justice will, in the end, be served on him. Just so, John Steinbeck, working in Europe as a war correspondent, believed that justice would come to Hitler and when he churned out a novel to tell the world how it would begin to happen, he entitled it The Moon Is Down. The novel was published, first in Britain, on March 6, 1942. It’s set in a small town in an unknown country, occupied by an unnamed invader. The people are first fearful and passive, but when one of them is executed for an act of rebellion (ironically killing the only decent soldier among the invaders) the townspeople band together and begin—against all odds—a resistance. Astonished by its futility, the enemy commander asks the mayor “why”, and the mayor responds that it is impossible “to break man’s spirit permanently.” To stop resistance activity, the mayor is taken hostage, but the mayor (quoting Socrates) urges the people to continue the struggle, and they do. The novel is now far down the Steinbeck list, but Churchill loved it so well that he recommended some of its tactics to his intelligence chiefs, who called their resulting operation “The Moon Project.” It involved, among other things, parachuting incendiaries to resistance units. Over 3 million small explosive packages were produced, but never delivered. Perhaps more explosively, there occurred a publishing miracle, as across the Nazis’ ‘Fortress Europe,’ clandestinely and at great risk, the novel was published in translation. A Russian edition was said to be required reading in the Red Army, and the French Resistance published it as one of their “Editions de Minuit.” Indeed, the moon was down, and the fates were closing in. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tizer » 07 Mar 2018, 09:27

A fascinating account, thank you Bob. :good:

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Mar 2018, 13:54

Wild Chieftain of a savage Clan!// Hadst this to boast of;// thou didst love The liberty of man. William Wordsworth, Memorials of a Tour in Scotland, 1803.

Occasionally history throws up an outlaw folk hero, a legend if not in his own time then later, like England’s Robin Hood. He and his merry men made fools of the rich and (better) robbed them to give to the poor, and (best) carried off their girl (Maid Marian) to live happily ever after. With Robin it may have been “all hat and no cattle,” but later Scotland threw up a real cattle thief who made his own legend. His story was improved on by William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott, but it’s one that swirls about on a factual basis. There was a Rob Roy (Scott’s title, 1817), and he really was a cattle thief, a folk hero in his own lifetime, and he was born as Robert MacGregor. His parents (a MacGregor Lt. Colonel and a fair maid of the Campbell ilk), took him to be baptized at Inchcailloch on March 7, 1671, and it was not much later that fact and legend began their swirling dance. Not yet “Rob Roy” in 1689, young Robert joined the Highland’s Jacobite Rebellion not out of loyalty to the Stuarts but for his fealty to clan Campbell and his hatred for the Murrays. That clannish flavor clung to him when, later, he gave up cattle trading (over a bankruptcy) and took up cattle thieving, looting, and hostage taking (under the cover of clan Campbell loyalties). It was when he dabbled in arms trading that the British government went after “Rob Roy” with the enthusiastic support of his noble victims, notably the Earl of Montrose and the Duke of Atholl (a Murray). In 1715 the whole business got tied up with yet another Jacobite rising, and Rob Roy began his most spectacular period of raids, ransoms, rustling, and retreats (none of which could have happened without popular support). It ended, more or less, with Rob Roy’s “loyal submission” in 1725, which so relieved his enemies that they allowed the “jolly rogue” to live out his remaining years in peace (as a lessee on Atholl’s estate!!). After his death, Rob Roy belonged entirely to our imaginations, and we have made the best of him. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Mar 2018, 13:53

One of the very few who stood upright and did the best he could in these years of evil. Albert Einstein, on Otto Hahn, 1949.

In July, 1938, in Berlin, Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, colleagues for over 25 years, discussed the situation in Germany and decided that it was time for Meitner to flee. Meitner was Jewish and had been allowed to continue work because of Hahn’s protection and her genius, but the dangers were now too great. They agreed she would flee across the Dutch border, incognito, and Hahn gave Meitner his grandmother’s fine diamond ring, as “godspeed” but also in case she needed to sweeten a border guard. Meitner kept the ring, fetching up in Sweden where she continued her work, kept in touch with Hahn while it was possible, and indeed had a lgendary meeting (in Copenhagen) with Hahn, Niels Bohr, and Otto Frisch to discuss their work in nuclear science. In 1945, their theories explosively vindicated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Otto Hahn was nominated for the (1944) Nobel Prize (Chemistry) in recognition of his theoretical proof (in 1938) of the possibilities and potentials of nuclear fission. Hahn won the award but could not attend, for he was in detention (with other German scientists) in Britain. Otto Hahn, born on March 8, 1879, in Frankfurt, deserved the Nobel, but controversy arose and continued as to whether his colleague Lise Meitner should also have been recognized. The debate is not just about gender, but also about history, political morality, and (not least) science. Hahn the person comes out of the debate well, smelling very much more rose-like than many German scientists of the Nazi era, both for his protection of dissidents and his disdain for his Nazi masters, and after the war he proved that his reluctance to speed nuclear research under the Nazis owed not only to his views on Hitler & Co. but also his horror at the thought of what nuclear fission might mean for the whole human race. Meitner herself warmly applauded (and defended on scientific grounds) Hahn’s Nobel award, but it remains reasonable to think that she might also have been honored. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Mar 2018, 14:48

..concerning my return from those new regions which we found and explored ... we may rightly call a new world. Amerigo Vespucci to Lorenzo di Medici, 1501.

Scholars have—for nearly a century—quarreled about the importance (or otherwise) of Amerigo Vespucci. There’s no doubt about his existence or his connections with Spain’s Atlantic explorations. Amerigo Vespucci was born into a merchant’s family in Florence, on March 9, 1454, and did grow up in the family trade, though on the supply rather than the sailing side. Engaging in the provisioning business in Seville in the 1480s and 1490s, Vespucci did learn of the Columbus voyages and wangle for himself places on ships westward bound, and his letters home (some to Lorenzo d’Medici) did circulate throughout Europe and did lead a German cartographer-priest, Martin Waldseemüller, to insert into the European mind that in the Western Ocean was a great land mass, a veritable “New World” (not a collection of islands blocking the way to Asia). It was Waldseemüller’s 1507 map that called the new land “Americus.” That much is agreed. However, in 1924 an Italian scholar, Alberto Magnaghi, raised serious questions as to whether all those Vespucci letters were really written by Vespucci and indeed whether he did actually sail on all the four voyages described in the letters. Those questions have not yet been fully answered. Suffice it to say, now, that Vespucci did sail west at least twice, and that he did write some letters that were actually his about the second and third voyages. Moreover, Vespucci did sail far enough south (somewhere below present-day Buenos Aires) to speculate about the existence of a continental mass. Better yet (in my view) he did calculate the circumference of earth to within 80 kilometers. And certainly Fr. Waldseemüller did bestow Vespucci’s name on the lands that blocked the way to Asia. Today’s other tidbit is that “Americus” (the Latin form that Waldseemüller used) is also the root for the English “Henry.” It has a nice ring to it, I think, in this year of Donald Trump and #NeverAgain: “The United States of Henrietta.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Mar 2018, 14:41

If you hear the dogs, keep going, If you see the torches, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. Harriet Tubman.

Harriet and Ben were Maryland slave aristocrats, she the cook, he a skilled sawyer. And their marriage was a stable one that produced nine children. We don’t know their birth dates, for they were slaves, but for one of them (“Minty”), we know when and where she died, an old lady in an old folks’ home that she had founded. That is because Minty became Harriet Tubman, who died on March 10, 1913, some ways into her 90s. As everyone knows, or should know, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849, traveling the Underground Railway up the Choptank River and into freedom. “There was such a glory,” she recalled, “I felt like I was in heaven.” And yet Harriet chose to return to hell, many times, usually in the winter months, and traveling by night, to help others escape. She had to stay incognito. The few who actually knew about her (e.g. William Lloyd Garrison) called her “Moses,” and the song she sang to signal to her “passengers” was her own version of “Go Down, Moses.” Sometimes she conducted quite large parties to freedom, either in the northern USA or, when northern states enforced the fugitive slave law, all the way to Ontario. She met John Brown, and helped him some, but it wasn’t until war broke out that “Moses” could come out of the woodwork and “be” Harriet Tubman, in public. She served the Union Army first as cook and nurse, but old habits die hard and in 1863, Harriet Tubman, acting as an armed scout of the Union Army, led the Combahee River Raid, liberating in one operation over 700 slaves. It was a good record, but she didn’t stop. After the war, Tubman continued to press for equal rights for black folk, and in the suffrage movement for all women. Today Harriet Tubman is memorialized in several states, in the province of Ontario, and in three national monuments. This Saturday, the Harriet Tubman Grove will be dedicated. The trees stand in a Baltimore park where once were statues of Confederate generals, whose names I do not know. ©
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