BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Oct 2018, 16:38

The point is, my friends, there's no use being theatrical. None whatever. Anton Chekhov to the cast of The Seagull, in rehearsal, 1896.

In brilliant studies published four decades apart, H. Stuart Hughes and William Everdell argued that European intellectual culture was transformed before the ‘Great War’ of 1914-1918 struck the coup de grace to an old order which had lost the ability to make sense of things. And it was thorough, in religion and science, mathematics and poetry, in drawing rooms and newsrooms. In the theatre, the chief agents were Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov. Neither one operated in an engine room of European culture, but their time had come and their dramas became notorious for their sober, “untheatrical” probing of the subtexts of ordinary lives and common sadnesses. Ibsen, the older, was first (e.g. The Doll’s House, 1879, Hedda Gabler, 1890). Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull opened in St Petersburg on October 18, 1896. Chekhov, aware of what he had wrought, dreaded the opening of The Seagull, and it seemed he was right. By the end of Act I, the audience was booing (when they stopped hissing) and the playwright left his seat to hide backstage. Ah, we think: backwards Tsarist Russia!! Had The Seagull only opened in Paris!! But then we remember what happened in 1913 to Stravinsky’s revolutionary ballet, Rites of Spring, where the Parisian audience actually threw things at the dancers. Closer inspection of Chekhov’s audience, that October night, tells us that they had paid their money for a comedy: the lead actress was noted for her comedic talents and it was her benefit night. And whatever else The Seagull is, it isn’t a comedy. Most of them wanted their money back. Several nights on, still in St. Petersburg, a different audience responded much differently, and Chekhov withdrew his opening night pledge: “Not if I live to be seven hundred will I write another play.” The Seagull was the first of four famous plays that poured out of the man before his death (from TB) in 1904. He was aged only 44. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Oct 2018, 12:45

Once upon a time in the fair city of Oxford, there lived Princess Frideswide who was as good as she was beautiful . . . Opening text of a BBC radio documentary, circa 2009.

Many tourists will have visited Oxford’s “university church,” St. Mary’s the Virgin, in the High Street. It was for centuries also the site of the university’s library, the venue for its convocations, and it witnessed the trials (though not the burnings) of Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer. That happened during the reign of a secular Mary, the “bloody” one. That grim thought aside, St. Mary’s is a beautiful place. But the university’s patron saint is not St. Mary the Virgin but St. Frithuswide. St. Mary’s was her home church, but it was the old St. Mary’s, itself incinerated during one of the bloodier days of English history, the “massacre of the Danes,” in 1002. The life of St. Frithuswide herself is less bloody, but cloudier. She may have been the daughter of a 7th-century “king of Oxford,” and the abbess of a nearby royal minster (at Binsey, just a mile NW of St. Mary’s). She probably was a virgin, by dint of fleeing from a lecherous royal suitor, and she is credited in with several miracles (beginning with her escape from lechery, literally “spirited away” by some nuns, themselves fairly miraculous). St. Frithuswide almost certainly died on October 19, 727, and was buried in the old St. Mary’s. Why she became the university’s patron saint is another mystery. She was local, and she was still celebrated as a saint in the 12th and 13th centuries, as the university took shape. I like the notion that she was made patroness because of the tradition, honored at least until 1300, that no English king could enter Oxford without first paying her “great devotion.” Academics are suckers for such symbolic honors. Even later, Henry VIII’s Queen Catherine sought St. Frithuswide’s aid in conceiving a male heir. Alas for Catherine, that was not to be; but later, in 1562, remains thought to be those of St. Frithuswide were mixed with the mortal dust of a godly Protestant woman and buried in Christ Church Cathedral, a few hundred yards south of St. Mary’s, where (I presume) they still lie. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Oct 2018, 12:36

People ask what I am really trying to do with humor. The answer is, "I'm getting even." Art Buchwald.

When contemporary politics puts me in somber mood—these days it’s continuous—I cry out for a gifted satirist, one who might survey our leading absurdities (or absurd leaders) and weaponize anger and humor. I prefer the elegant strokes that puncture ballooning egos and, in the outrush of overheated air, demonstrate their limp, flaccid character. But a bit of blood on the carpet wouldn’t hurt. In history, candidates abound for this task. One thinks of Mencken, the ultra-conservative bad boy of Baltimore, or of Mark Twain’s fury—flavored by belly laughs—at the imperialists of his era, or of the master of all, Jonathan Swift, and his grotesquely funny “Modest Proposal.” Another where-is-he-when-we-really-need-him was Arthur “Art” Buchwald, born on October 20, 1925 into an Austrian-Hungarian immigrant family. His mother, Helen, supplied just the right dose (for satire) of insanity, and young Buchwald proved he had it in him when—too young to be a legitimate marine—he bribed a local drunkard to sign as his guardian and spent WWII in the Pacific theatre. There he learned that the USMC “hadn’t much use for humorists.” So, come the peace, Sergeant Buchwald became a free-lance Paris correspondent, and got his first big break writing off-beat stuff about Parisians for us, and about us for Parisians. Accused (by Eisenhower’s press secretary) of writing “unadulterated rot,” Buchwald stoutly maintained that he dealt only in “adulterated rot,” but by then he’d become mildly famous, and the barb drew blood. Syndicated in over 500 papers, but based at the Washington Post, Buchwald reached his high point when, in his words, Richard Nixon made the world itself into a satire, and all Buchwald had to do was to report it. And, true to form as a satirist, he understood how badly he needed Nixon: “I worship the quicksand he walks on.” If our politics were seemly and sensible, we wouldn’t need satire. As it is . . . . ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Oct 2018, 12:12

It sort of crept up on us. Margaret Kivelson, commenting on her most recent collaborative publication (May 2018), on Jupiter's moon Europa

Margaret Galland surprised no one when she went away to Radcliffe to major in physics, even though it was then (1946) scarcely a woman’s field. She’d excelled in school, and her mother had been a physics major. Even so, the family joked that the degree she really sought was that of MRS. Born on October 21, 1928, she was enough a child of her times to go along with the joke, find a husband, and by 1957 birth two children. But in that same year Margaret G. Kivelson also crossed the stage in Cambridge to snag what she’d really come for, a Harvard PhD in physics. I think it was a Radcliffe PhD, for fair Harvard was still tying itself in knots over women, but there were so few of them studying physics that Margaret attended co-ed classes (in her major) from her sophomore year. Then she was the only woman in her PhD seminar (indeed she was the only female ever to enter Julian Schwinger’s seminar). Then, as Dr. Margaret Kivelson, she had trouble finding a university post, and when she finally did (1967) she was hired as a research associate. To the best of my knowledge, Professor Margaret Kivelson is still at work, emerita of course (at both Michigan and UCLA), and still unlocking secrets of our universe and of our own little neighborhood, the solar system. She has also, by the way, served on Harvard College’s Board of Overseers, oddly enough (1977-1983) during the first years of Harvard’s life as a truly coeducational institution. Her eminence in physics owes mainly to her NASA work on our giant planet, Jupiter, and its circling moons. Kivelson’s discoveries, her undoubted triumphs as a pioneering woman scientist, and her really rather glorious old age earned her, earlier this month, a rave “bio” in the New York Times’s “Science Tuesday,” and today, let’s hope, she will have a very pleasant birthday party with her daughter Valerie, a history professor, and her son Steven, a physicist—and with her colleagues too, for she is, withal, a rather popular person. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Oct 2018, 11:55

I glory in all that which my sex has done great and commendable , , , all those acts of courage, of constancy and patriotism. Esther de Berdt Reed, 1780

Any who still doubt that women played an important role in the American Revolution can begin to make amends by reading Kerber’s Women of the Republic and Norton’s Liberty’s Daughters (both 1980). Among other heroines, they will introduce you (briefly) to Esther de Berdt Reed, a leader of the women’s resistance in Pennsylvania and the author of The Sentiments of an American Woman, a ‘broadside’ publication of January 1780. Esther de Berdt was born in London on October 22, 1746, where the slim chances of her playing a revolutionary role were enhanced by her family’s Huguenot roots (they had fled Spanish persecution during the long Dutch revolution) and its devotion to dissenting, Calvinist Protestantism. Her family education, in the home and at church, mixed with a youthful devotion to the theatre, an admiration for David Garrick’s acting, and a romantic disposition, led her to fall in love with an impecunious young colonial, Joseph Reed (in London studying law and agitating against the Stamp Act) and, initially against her father’s wishes marry him in 1770 and sail off to an American crisis. Once in Philadelphia Reed’s practice flourished, and both Elizabeth and her husband vaulted to leadership roles in the independence movement. Joseph became “President” of Pennsylvania’s revolutionary state government, while Esther helped to organize “every heart and every hand” in the cause, first to boycott British trade goods and then, once independence was declared and the infant republic was at war, to raise money for George Washington’s continentals. Esther wanted to pay the soldiers in gold; Washington wanted supplies. There was a ‘democratic’ compromise, so the ladies sent both pay and gunpowder. Along the way, in increasingly difficult times, Esther birthed six children. Truly a “daughter of liberty,” she named the last of them “George Washington.” Sadly, his 1780 birth weakened Esther enough that she succumbed to a diptheria epidemic in the same summer. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Oct 2018, 14:43

The scientist does not seek the ultimate but the proximate . . . does not speak of the last analysis but rather of the next approximation. Gilbert Lewis.

Among my favorite courses at Penn were Chemistry I and II, for which the professor, a youthful New Zealander named Alan McDiarmid, nobly accorded me two B+ grades. If I deserved them it was because he made chemistry easy, and one way he did that was to use the theory of valency to make sense (for me) of a whole lot of stuff, not least the periodic table. Indeed McDiarmid’s crystal-clear renditions led me to assume that the theory of valency must have sprung fully formed from Mendeleev’s table—or even preceded it. However, it took five decades for Mendeleev’s brilliant chart to produce a coherent valence theory. What seems almost poetic about it was that it was the product, initially, of a young instructor trying to make a bunch of freshman boneheads (at Harvard College) understand why different compounds were made of differing proportions of atomic elements (KCl, KMnO4, K2Cr2O7, et cetera ad infinitum). That teaching fellow was Gilbert N. Lewis, born in Weymouth, MA, on October 23, 1875, but educated first at home (by fairly eccentric parents) and then in Nebraska (high school and university) before moving back East to get his Harvard PhD in 1899. He financed his graduate studies through teaching school—more chemistry-resistant boneheads, one imagines. Gilbert Lewis went on to become one of our leading researchers and to build the chemistry department at the University of California into a world-class operation, but his off-beat writings suggest he maintained that helpful, humorous classroom manner that brought us valence theory. He could, however, be abrasive to eminent colleagues, one reason (it is thought) he never got the Nobel, though nominated 41 times. Alan McDiarmid, equally good with boneheads but perhaps more emollient with colleagues, got his Nobel in 1997. Still grateful for those B+ grades, I wrote him a letter of congratulation beginning “You won’t remember me, but . . .” He didn’t. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Oct 2018, 12:47

We must clothe dry facts with real meaning and love the truths they tell if we wish to enjoy science. Arabella Burton Buckley.

Following less from Charles Darwin than from Ebenezer Scrooge (before his visit from Marley’s ghost), philosopher Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” and told us that humanitarian effort (e.g. poor relief) was not only futile but potentially fatal to “the race” (by which he meant middle-class Caucasians). Spencer’s was less a popularization than a bastardization of Darwin, but Darwin had a real popularizer who addressed Darwin’s puzzlement over the evolutionary functions of ‘altruism’ and pointed the way towards a solution, not only that altruism exists but that it has positive ‘survival’ functions. Her name was Arabella Burton Buckley, born a vicar’s daughter on October 24, 1840. Arabella married an elderly widower, Thomas Fisher MD, in 1884, but her work had already begun and for it she retained her birth surname. It’s not entirely clear how she came by her scientific knowledge, or her enthusiasm for it, but she had enough of it to become Sir Charles Lyell’s secretary (in 1864) and, in that role, added geology to her interests and expertise. But she never did share Lyell’s doubts about his student, Charles Darwin, and when after Lyell’s death (1875) Arabella set out on her own as a science writer, one of her central concerns was to address what she thought of as “the moral qualities” of animals (including humans). Darwin had called them “social instincts,” but we all know what they meant: parents’ care for their offspring, group survival in the pack, bees in the hive, the fellow feelings we experience when engaged with others—even strangers—in common purpose. There were of course “real” scientists on the same trail (most famously, Peter Kropotkin), but Arabella Buckley’s popularizations for adults and for children also helped to establish the Darwinian notion that nature selects altruistic as well as competitive instincts or, to paraphrase Kropotkin, that mutual aid is a factor in evolution. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Oct 2018, 12:43

That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute. Abigail Adams to John Adams, 1776.

When Abigail Smith was wed on October 25, 1764, Massachusetts weddings were still largely civil ceremonies, but there was a sermon and she— daughter of Weymouth’s pastor and granddaughter of the formidable Quincy clan—chose Luke 7:33 for the text: as the Geneva Bible has it, “For John Baptist came neither eating bread, nor drinking wine: and ye say, He hath the devil.” Read on in Luke 7 and you’ll see that the text is by no means dismissive of John, quite the contrary, but even so there is in it a smidgeon (at least) of independent wit from this young woman, not yet 20 years of age. After all, her husband-to-be was named John, too, John Adams, aged 29 and not yet a substantial citizen (although he was already becoming more rotund than most). Abigail had already let him know, by letter, that he was unlikely to rule her roost, certainly not without her consent. The marriage would last 54 years, until Abigail’s death parted them, and as a couple they would see much trouble and triumph. John—an aspiring lawyer in 1764—became a hero of the Revolution, a firebrand for independence, then a leader of an intellectual persuasion that would give us the Constitution of 1787, and then the new nation’s second president. But to say that Abigail “followed along” would be to discount Adams family legends about her formidable parenting, and then to ignore the couple’s private correspondence. Many letters between them survive, 1,160 of them to be precise, and in them both Abigail and John show a sharp awareness of the equalities between them. And if John seemed occasionally likely to forget those equalities, Abigail was never reluctant to tell him that in all his concerns with independence, with war, and with politics he must “remember the ladies.” He never forgot her. But Abigail’s finest epitaph was penned by her son, John Quincy Adams, soon himself to be president, who could think of no human virtue that she did not possess. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Oct 2018, 11:23

The way to find a needle in a haystack is to sit down. Beryl Markham, West with the Night, 1942.

Given his record, any woman called by Ernest Hemingway “a high-grade bitch” must get a second look. When they met, she was Beryl Markham, after her second husband, but she was born Beryl Clutterbuck, in England, on October 26, 1902. Her father, a free spirit who’d been cashiered from the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, took her to Kenya in 1904 where he trained race horses. Her parents separated in 1906 and the little girl stayed with dad (her brother went to England with her mother). Beryl grew up wild. She was expelled from school twice (the first time at age 9), got married at 16, and got along famously in the hothouse environment known, notoriously, as Happy Valley. Among her conquests were Karen Blixen’s lover, Denys Finch-Hatton, and the Duke of Gloucester, who took her back to England and then (to quieten a scandal) was convinced by his mother, Queen Mary, to settle a royal pension on Beryl. All this by the time Beryl was 30. A wasted life of a wastrel girl, you might say, but by that standard Hemingway was a wastrel boy, and when you come to Beryl you have to admire her. First, people really did love her, including her exes (husbands and lovers both), and then, somewhere along the line Beryl Markham learned to fly and learned to write. She became the first person (of any gender) to fly solo across the Atlantic east to west. She did that on a bet, and only made it by 100 yards, out of fuel in a Nova Scotia swamp. And then she wrote, and wrote very well. Her autobiography, West with the Night (1942), was twice a best seller, the second time in the 1980s after she had returned to an independent Kenya—as a horse trainer—and settled down in a racetrack bungalow built for her by friends who thought much better of her than had Ernest Hemingway. Markham died in Kenya in 1986. Her memorial service was held in St. Clement Danes, London, on the 50th anniversary of her transatlantic flight. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Oct 2018, 13:28

The moment our stories end// Perhaps out of our footprints// our children will nurse wiser lullabies. Albert Wendt, The Adventures of Vela, 2009.

Western imperialism has recently acquired a knot of scholarly defenders. Some concede that it had distressing aspects (greed, racism, violence) but argue that ‘on balance’ imperialism has been a good thing even for those colonial peoples it oppressed. It’s an uphill argument, bearing odd similarities to the 19th-century apologists who praised slavery for bringing Christianity to those in chains. A more balanced treatment can be found in the literatures produced by “ex-colonials,” several of whom have been celebrated in these notes. Today it’s the turn of Albert Wendt, born in Western Samoa on October 27, 1939. His surname suggests a German heritage (a great-grandfather), but he regards that as not as a stain but an ironic twist of his “totally Samoan” background. Just so, while Wendt’s fiction and poetry are ‘western’ in form, and I suppose gifts of imperialism, he has made them his own, borrowed genres, exploring in practice (as a writer) and in theory (as a scholar) the ways in which local story-telling and songster traditions and themes can enrich and even dominate ‘western’ literary forms. His life story reflects this ironic mix. Educated at home in Samoan lore, Wendt also ran the gamut of western learning from school to college to university, and finished out his career as Professor of New Zealand Literature at the University of Auckland (and the recipient of every cultural honor that New Zealand can grant). His best works are said to rival Vidiadhar Naipaul’s early masterpiece (A House for Mr. Biswas, 1971) in their ironic engagement with several truths about imperialism and the ways it has affected the lives and the values of the peoples it colonized. I am told to begin with Wendt’s Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree (1974), a novel delivered as intertwined Samoan tales, and then graduate to Leaves of the Banyan Tree (1979), which chronicles the Biswas-like experience of three generations of island folk and has been called “a capitalist’s tragedy.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Oct 2018, 10:46

Because I am a woman I could not serve my country as a soldier. I took the only course open to me. Martha McKenna, I Was a Spy, 1932.

An important part of the German plan for the invasion of Britain was the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B., the “Special Search List, Great Britain.” We know it more economically as the ‘Black Book.’ It named 2,820 persons to be rounded up and “dealt with” after the German victory. It included some who were dead, others who were gone (including, interestingly, the American Paul Robeson), and a Belgian woman who had married a British army officer and lived in Manchester. She was Marthe McKenna, born Marthe Matilda Cnockaert in West Flanders on October 27, 1892. When the Germans invaded neutral Belgium in August 1914, beginning the bloodbath now called World War I, Marthe was a medical student at the University of Ghent. Her studies were suspended, but she’d learned enough to be employed by the Germans as a hospital nurse. What the Germans didn’t know was that Marthe soon became a British spy, recruited into that dangerous trade by her aunt (codenamed Lucelle). Fluent in several languages, she was perfect for the job, and after learning valuable information from her German patients, she passed it to Auntie Lucelle or “Number 63,” a courier agent, thence to British intelligence. How much Marthe accomplished is disputed. She had a colorful imagination, and besides her popular memoir I Was a Spy (1932), she used it to pen over a dozen spy novels. But she was not complimentary to the Germans, and much was made of her memoir by Winston Churchill, already (1932) seeking to awaken the nation to the German threat and by 1940 a real thorn in Hitler’s girdle. So Marthe deserved inclusion in ‘The Black Book.’ After all, when she had been discovered in 1916, the Germans sentenced her to death, commuting it to life imprisonment because they had, before, awarded her the Iron Cross. Clearly in 1916 they thought her a dangerous woman. And their Nazi successors were right to do so in 1940. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Oct 2018, 11:21

I was born a troublemaker and might as well make a living out of it. Bill Mauldin.

One of our more gifted cartoonists, political and otherwise, was born on this date, 29th October, in 1921, in Mountain Park, New Mexico. He was Bill Mauldin, born into a military family and educated at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Not liking Adolf Hitler very much, Mauldin joined the army in 1940, and while in training volunteered to work for the 45th Infantry’s newspaper. There he created “Willie” and “Joe”, two grizzled enlisted men who sarcastically, or ironically depending on their mood and situation, commented on the bad lot that war was, especially for the ordinary soldier. Their attitudes (and their stubble, and their general scruffiness) offended General George S. Patton, who threatened a court martial until General Dwight D. Eisenhower told Patton to lay off. Ever the realist, Ike thought Willie and Joe were good for morale, rainy-day patriots of the very best sort, doing their job but enjoying the liberty to comment about how awful it was. Mauldin’s wartime cartoons won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, making him perhaps the youngest-ever Pulitzer. After the war, Mauldin’s cartoons proved too liberal for many (he did quite a few of them for the ACLU) and so Mauldin rolled around Hollywood, snagged a bit part in Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage, ran for congress (in a rural district of New York), and occasionally did special issues (as for the funerals of Omar Bradley and George Marshall, thought by Mauldin to be “soldiers’ generals” with real empathy for Willie and Joe). If this was obscurity, he was rescued from it by the. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which he joined in 1958 (and immediately won another Pulitzer). In 1963 he moved to the Chicago Sun-Times, where he memorialized John F. Kennedy’s assassination by depicting Lincoln’s statue weeping, head in hands. Bill Mauldin died in 2003. He is remembered by a “Willie and Joe” postage stamp, a plaque in the St. Louis Walk of Fame, and by the honorary rank of 1st Sgt., US Army, retired. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Nov 2018, 05:29

In a couple of decades from now, India will not have to look abroad for its experts but will find them ready at hand. Homi Bhabha, 1944.

One of India’s best art collections is at the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai. It seems an odd placing until we learn that TIFR’s founding director, Homi Bhabha, was a Renaissance man whose model was Leonardo da Vinci, no slouch in science or art. TIFR houses many Homi Bhabha paintings, but its original buildings bear his signature, too, for among his interests was architecture. The art collection, TIFR itself, and Bhabha’s life story offer a parable of Indian history as the subcontinent modernized and moved from colony to independent nation. Homi Bhabha was born October 30, 1909 into a wealthy Parsi family, well (or perfectly) integrated into the British Raj. His father was a product of Oxford and Lincoln’s Inn, his maternal grandfather was India’s first baronet, and his uncle Sir Dorab Tata was close behind. All three were noted philanthropists; Sir Dorab’s trust fund would later found and name the Tata Institute. Homi Bhabha went to Sir Dorab’s Cambridge college (Gonville and Caius) where he proved a brilliant physicist (a First in 1930 and a PhD in 1934). In his Cambridge research he discovered “Bhabha scattering” and made other noted advances in electron theory, including the discovery (and naming) of “mesons,” the heavy particles that produce the strong force holding atoms together. WWII trapped Bhabha in India (he was on a family visit in 1939), where he made the best of it, becoming an advocate of independence. And by Bhabha’s definition, independence was not only political but cultural and intellectual. Thus came TIFR and Bhabha’s art collection, both of them self-consciously Indian and modern, fusing western and traditional expression. Homi Bhabha’s most famous painting, an abstract representation of Mozart’s aria Dove sono i bei momenti, hangs in Cambridge. But Homi Bhabha’s “good times” were in India, where he helped his nation achieve and define its independence. ©

I never was a child. Ethel Waters.

Ethel Waters was born in Chester, PA, on October 31, 1896, in unpropitious circumstances. Her mother was only 13 at the time, a rape victim, and Ethel was raised in poverty by her mom and grandmother. She did not improve her chances by marrying too early (at 13) and badly. As that relationship dissolved, she became a hotel cleaner (at $4.75 a week) when she discovered that her talents (perfect pitch, a voice to deliver it, and a physical stature perfectly framing both) could bring her not only much more money but also fame. Her vocal range, which included a “damn-it-to-hell base,” attracted audiences in Baltimore, then Harlem, and by the 1920s Ethel Waters was a well-paid club performer and (with Black Swan Records) an even better-paid recording artiste. When she started with Columbia Records in 1925, her stylistic range gave Columbia the idea of marketing her as both a “race” (jazz and blues) and a “popular” (ballads) singer, and so it was that Waters became one of the highest-paid performers of the era. So it was, also, that she moved south from Harlem to integrate Broadway as its first black female headliner. Waters further expanded her resumé with film roles, her very own television show, and serious stage performances, notably in Mamba’s Daughters, staged by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward (the creators of the “Porgy and Bess” story). Then came success in Hollywood, where she drove John Ford to distraction (and resignation), but Elia Kazan brought her out by—he said—understanding her “odd combination of old-time religion and free-flowing hatred.” Her religiosity is also apparent in both title and content of her 1951 autobiography, His Eye is on the Sparrow . As Ethel Waters’ performing career faded, she modulated her hatred to tour with Billy Graham’s Crusade for Christ. Her voice, whether in “popular” or “race” mode, remains, and it is worth listening to. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Nov 2018, 14:50

We have to be prepared always for the possibility that each new discovery, no matter what science furnishes it, may modify the conclusions we draw. Alfred Wegener.

In 1905 the Wegener brothers began work at the Lindenberg Observatory in central Germany, near Frankfurt. Clergyman’s sons, they both held PhDs in Astronomy, but both were interested in meteorology and thought that weather (is it going to rain tomorrow?) could be predicted by tracking air masses, a possibility opened by the development of high-altitude balloons and radio technology. They turned out to be right. They were also intrigued by Arctic exploration, then a fad among both scientists and adventurers, and they both became rather good at that, too. But the younger one, Alfred Wegener, born on November 1, 1880, became expert in climatology, long-term changes in the weather. Back in Germany, and now a meteorology professor at Marburg, Alfred pondered the growing mass of evidence (some of which he and Kurt had collected) that arctic areas had once been warm-weather regions. In seeking to explain this, Wegener rejected the simple notion that those areas had once just been hot. They were indeed polar, too far north to be warmed (enough) by the sun to house amphibians and giant ferns. He developed the hypothesis that these areas must have been further south. Wegener first published on this track in 1915, Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane, and continued to revise it as he had new thoughts and conducted new research. His The Origins of Continents and Oceans was not well received. Indeed it was ridiculed. It seemed a daft notion to most (how could a continent “float”?) and anyway after the ‘Great War’ things German were in bad odor. Alfred Wegener died, bravely, while leading an Arctic expedition in 1930. His ideas have survived, and now “continental drift” is a leading hypothesis, nearly an orthodoxy, linking climatology, paleontology, and geology. Among other things, it instructs us on the difficult subject of how science moves towards truth through experiment, evidence, and argument. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tizer » 01 Nov 2018, 15:25

Is this coincidence or does Bob know that Stanley has turned his mind to geology? Whichever, it's good to read Alfred Wegener being celebrated for his ideas on continental drift. Thanks to him and to our later understanding of plate tectonics we can see how north-east Scotland and Newfoundland were once adjoining areas of the same continent.

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Nov 2018, 14:03

"In Kentucky, peace crowns the sylvan shade". Daniel Boone as quoted in Filson's Present State of Kentucky, 1784.

The USA has produced truly heroic figures, but—like most cultures—has a tendency to mythologize them. It becomes difficult to distinguish between myth and reality. Sometimes the myth outweighs the man, and that has been the case with Daniel Boone. Boone’s birthdate is now often given in “New Style,” and so we’ll go with November 2, 1734, in Boonecroft, Pennsylvania. His was an extended family of Quaker immigrants, and Daniel’s first cousin married an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln, but that’s only relevant to the Boone story (myth and fact) because of its rags-to-riches elements. Boone became famous, a leader of the migration that filtered down the Appalachian valleys and spilled out into Kentucky, and he died in Missouri, still moving west. He was buried there in 1820 but—already a legend—his remains may have been filched and removed to Kentucky in 1845. We’ll let the two states’ tourist boards fight that one out. The myth business took off earlier with John Filson’s Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke (1784), a real estate promotion that became widely read (by, for instance, James Fenimore Cooper, with momentous results) in America. What Cooper made of Boone is well known, but the Boone story inspired foreigners, too. That a rough-hewn product of a wilderness could (as Filson had it) speak philosophically about his experiences and wax poetic about nature’s bounty appealed to a generation of “Romantics” who liked to think that savages could be noble (if they would just keep clear of civilization). As we all know, Boone did keep clear, and so as the “happiest amongst mortals anywhere”) he figured largely in Lord Byron’s Don Juan, and his story (or his myth) inspired Samuel Coleridge and his friends to invest in American real estate where they would, one day, establish their wilderness “pantisocracy” and live happily ever after. However, unlike Boone, they bought but never went. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Nov 2018, 13:37

Banish bans and conquer caste// then we'll win our own at last. Oodjeroo Noonuccal//Kath Walker

In 1673, stopping at a river confluence, the explorers Marquette and Joliet asked the locals “where are we?” Or perhaps it was “who are you?” However the question was understood, the answer sounded like “Iowa,” which is what the local tribe became known as, and their land, too, for in their language it might mean “this is the place” or “we are the people,” both of them excellent, enigmatic, answers to whatever question they heard. The Australian Kath Walker dealt with such questions all her life. She was born into the Noonuccal band on November 3, 1920, 132 years into the troubled history of western-Aboriginal relations in Australia, and on an island called by the invaders North Stradbroke but by the locals “Minjerribah.” Kath’s parents each had two names, too, Aboriginal and English, but they called her Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska. She changed Ruska to Walker when (1942) she married a boxer, and it wasn’t until 1988 that Kath Walker acquired her Aboriginal name Oodgeroo Noonuccal. This was in protest at the bicentenary “celebration” of James Cook’s “discovery” of Australia. At the same time, she returned her MBE to Queen Elizabeth, thus eloquently and symbolically protesting “200 years of humiliation and brutality to the aboriginal people.” In her life, starting perhaps with her western name, Oodgeroo had experienced both, and after being barred from what she wanted to be (a nurse) because of her race, she started to write about race, in poetry and prose, and paint, too, for both children and adults. Most was too polemical to qualify as high art (an Aboriginal friend called it “poetemics”), but it made her a popular figure and it fully justifies the Aboriginal name she chose for herself, for Oodjeroo means “paperbark.” That’s not “paperback,” of course, but it’s close enough to remind us of the translation difficulties encountered when cultures meet and of a woman who spent her life trying to solve those problems. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Nov 2018, 03:37

If i am asked 'what is good'? my answer is that good is good, and that is the end of the matter. G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, 1904.

Despite Elizabeth Flower’s and William Fontaine’s efforts to knock some of their sense into my head I have always had difficulty with philosophy. Even so, some of what they said has stuck, and I have read a few philosophers with pleasure, even understanding. Among them was Bertrand Russell (not his mathematics), and it’s always seemed to me that I should tackle G. E. Moore, Russell’s friend and muse. George Edward Moore was born into middle-class comfort on November 4, 1873. Educated at Dulwich, he went up to Cambridge in 1892 where he met Russell. Both joined a society called the ‘Conversazione’ but more famously known as the Apostles and began a dialog that would issue in Moore’s Principia Ethica (1904) and Russell’s Principia Mathematica (1912, with A. N. Whitehead), founding documents in modern analytical philosophy. It’s better for you to read about it in Russell’s magnificent History of Western Philosophy (1945) than for me to attempt an explanation. Moore himself went on to influence Ludwig Wittgenstein (and vice versa) and other leading philosophers. He also amused and inspired generations of students and friends with his odd combination of informality and intensity, whether in conversations (few of them, apparently, casual), in lecture halls, or in small tutorial groups. His classic lecture on ‘common sense’ involved him in passionate argument, his face reddening, his brow sweating, his gown flying, and then climaxed with Moore holding up his hands and daring his students to deny their reality. G. E. did not like his given names, indeed detested them, so his friends were obliged to call him “Moore,” although I reckon his students called him Professor Moore. But one of them, his wife Dorothy, called him “Bill.” His elder son Nicholas (who became a gardener) wrote his epitaph in 1958. In it, Moore was “. . . Forever not quite satisfied// That he was not a silly, though// His wise friends never thought him so.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Nov 2018, 04:00

You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you allow it to turn into scare tactics, it's no longer a democracy, is it? Sam Shepard.

Although I’m part of no one’s ‘fandom,’ I tend to identify with actor-folk of my own vintage, for instance Jane Fonda and Sam Shepard. We’ll take Sam today because he was born on November 5, in 1943. Sam’s father, deeply troubled by his experiences in World War II and the strains of returning to civilian life, eventually faded into alcoholism and mental illness. This may have been one reason that Shepard went to New York to try his hand at acting (he’d started in the Midwest as part of a religious theater group), and to write, too. As a playwright, he tended towards troubling works now labeled “experimental” and gained theatrical fame (rather amazingly) working entirely “off Broadway” (sometimes way off: his comic True West was staged in Chicago, west enough, one might say, while his take on Oedipus, A Particle of Dread, premiered in Northern Ireland). Shepard’s first major Broadway success waited until 1996, and that was a revival of his 1979 Pulitzer-winning Buried Child, which had premiered in San Francisco. His plays attracted good actors, and he did, too, not least Jessica Lange, his longest-term partner (about 25 years, most of them living quietly on a Virginia farm) who also starred in a Shepard movie (Far North, 1988). And it is as an actor that Shepard himself was most famous, and distinctive too for taking parts that agreed with him. One of his most notable roles, and indeed the only one I ever saw him in, was Country (1984), in which he and Ms. Lange appeared as a struggling farm couple during the Reagan depression of the 1980s. Reagan called it “blatant propaganda,” so of course had to go see it. Sam Shepard’s relationship with Lange ended in 2009, so quietly that no one knew about it until 2011. Shepard himself went on acting, writing, and practicing the art of “épater le bourgeois” until his death, from Lou Gehrig’s disease, just last year. He was, all in all, one of my generation’s finer products. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Nov 2018, 11:25

Confidence is a plant of slow growth. Anna Leonowens.

The various adaptations (e.g. The King and I, 1951, 1956) of Margaret Landon’s Anna and the King of Siam (1944) fail to do justice to the book. For that matter the book failed to do justice to its main subject, Anna Leonowens. Anna was born on November 6, 1831, in India. Her father’s death left her Eurasian mother widowed and penniless, an estate she improved upon somewhat by marrying another non-commissioned officer in the Indian army. He was transferred to Aden, where Anna met an Anglican chaplain and his wife who whisked her—still in her teens—away on several tours of the Middle East, and introduced her to the pleasures of knowing about local history and culture, but also languages. Anna would eventually master eight of them, including of course Siamese. But before she fetched up at the court of King Rama IV (or “Mongkut”), she’d returned to India, married yet another Indian army non-com, established a school in Perth, Western Australia, and then moved to Penang, where her husband ran a hotel. She’d continued to self-educate, and when her husband died King Rama hired her “to do her best endeavor for knowledge of the English language, science, and literature and not for conversion to Christianity.” She took her son Louis with her and stayed for six years (1861-1867), teaching the king’s children and, latterly, serving as his secretary. In both guises she played an ambiguous role, helping the king maintain Siam’s independence, yet criticizing him for (inter alia) his culture’s treatment of women, educating herself in things Siamese as well as his progeny in things English. When she left, the king said that Anna “ought to know you are a difficult woman and more difficult than generality.” Quite. In 1867 Anna of Siam left Louis behind to become a prosperous merchant, while she became a successful author, teacher, and world traveler. Her peripatetic life ended in Montreal, in 1915, and I think she needs a new “treatment.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Nov 2018, 14:24

The cry of the oppressed has entered . . . into my soul, so that while I live I cannot hold my peace. Elijah Parish Lovejoy.

In 1851, Mary Kerr wrote from Monticello Female Seminary (near Alton, Illinois) to tell her brother that her essay topic was on whether the “Indians or the Negroes” had been treated worse in the USA. “I have chosen,” she wrote, “to take the part of the Negro.” The seminary had been founded by local Presbyterians in 1835, and perhaps Mary Kerr's essay subject of 1851 testified to the example of Alton’s Presbyterian martyr, Elisha Parish Lovejoy. In Alton, on November 7, 1837, Elijah Parish Lovejoy was killed by a mob while defending his anti-slavery newspaper’s printing press. Lovejoy was born in Maine and walked to St. Louis. It was not an unusual feat, those days, but Lovejoy marked himself out when (in 1834, as a recently-ordained minister) he set up an abolitionist newspaper. When Senator Thomas Hart Benton declared that in Missouri “free speech” did not include the right to speak against slavery, Lovejoy moved his press to Alton, in the free state of Illinois. There he would enjoy the liberty to publish and speak against the moral monstrosity of human slavery. Alas, he was wrong. He and his newspaper were threatened with violence, and when Lovejoy ordered a new printing press, the Alton mob determined to throw it into the river. Lovejoy was shot dead trying to save his press. But the war against slavery was not lost. At Vandalia, a then-obscure state representative, Abraham Lincoln, spoke about Lovejoy in memoriam. When Mary Kerr’s family moved from Scotland to Illinois, in 1841, they settled at “Liberty Prairie” and called their farm “Bunker Hill.” And of course they were Presbyterians. It seems unsurprising, then, that Mary Kerr chose to take the slaves’ part in her seminary essay. He brother Daniel would join the Union Army where he advocated abolition and full civil rights for the freedmen. For good measure, home on leave in 1864, Daniel married Clara Estabrook whose father had also walked to St. Louis (from Concord, Massachusetts) and whose maternal grandfather, on his Liberty Prairie farm, kept a station on the Underground Railway where he kept smoked hams to sustain the refugees on their way to freedom. Thus Lovejoy’s cause lived on. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Nov 2018, 11:17

"I cannot be passive, when my virtue is at stake." Pamela, 1740. "It was only an average little conscience." Sister Carrie, 1900.

History, conceived of as the ‘whole past,’ throws up what might well be an infinity of coincidences, and those who write about history need to be dismissive of almost all of them. But here’s a coincidence that is hard to ignore. For it was on November 8 (1740 and 1900, respectively) that the novels Pamela and Sister Carrie were published. There was a great deal of literary history between them, and great distances, too, in terms of authorial intention, so this can hardly be called a “coming full circle” coincidence. The first, Pamela, by Samuel Richardson, announced its intentions in the subtitle (“or, Virtue Rewarded’) and the title-page blurb promising that, though a fiction, the book would inspire “the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the minds of the YOUTH of BOTH SEXES.” But if Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser, had a moral message it was that whether one’s virtue brought reward or punishment depended pretty much on circumstance. Carrie loses hers, but by hard scrabble and luck gains fame and fortune as an actress. If the novel has a virtuous character, it is George Hurstwood, but he only stumbles on his virtue, discovering it almost by accident, and in the end he commits suicide. Richardson’s Pamela, in contrast, is tempted, sorely tempted, but she triumphs over all temptations. Not only that but her piety and innocence actually work reformations on other characters, not least her would-be seducer, “Mr. B.”, who, suitably chastened, marries her and thus transforms her into the lady of his manor, of course lady beautiful, but also lady bountiful. The November 8 coincidence seems to point towards a revolution of tastes and sensibilities in readerships, but before leaping to that conclusion remember the caution to “beware all coincidences.” Pamela immediately called forth satires, not least Henry Fielding’s Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1742), while Sister Carrie called forth outrage. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Nov 2018, 10:22

I want to be a millionaire. Richard Burton, 1956, responding to the question 'what Shakespearian role do you want to play next?'

Men spend much of their lives, at least early on, in trying to figure out what magic might make them attractive to women. Then along comes young Richard Walter Jenkins, a shortish chap with shorter legs, suffering from acne compounded by boils (and a face to prove it), looking more like a well-used rugby half-back than any sort of Hollywood hero. In his teen-age diary, Jenkins was “sure that wherever I go, I will not be wanted.” But by the time he’d reached his early 30s, women (and nearly everyone else) were swooning over him as potentially the greatest actor of all time and, let’s face it, as a sex object. Richard Burton, né Jenkins, was born on November 10, 1925, at Pont-rhyd-y-fen, in the Afan, the 12th child of 13 born to a coal miner and a barmaid. Aiming to escape that life, he found release, legal guardianship, and (in 1943) his new name in his Port Talbot school teacher, Philip Burton. As guardian and tutor, Philip arranged an audition for Richard with the actor-playwright Emlyn Williams, and as Richard Burton our battered, pockmarked rugby half was off to the races. He had to wait a bit (he was in the army, like almost everyone else), but when he played Prince Hal at Stratford (1951) Kenneth Tynan pronounced him gold: “running disturbingly deep; he commands repose and can make silence garrulous.” In 1956 he alternated stage roles (on successive nights) as Othello and Iago, no mean feat, and laid London critics end to end. He would be, perhaps he already was, the greatest Shakespearian of his generation. But he’d already been bitten by the film bug, having starred (in 1953, opposite de Havilland) in My Cousin Rachel, and the rest is too well known, too complicated, and in my view too sad for summary here. But, garrulous silences, brooding presences and all, Burton did play some great roles on film, too, before he died of his excesses in 1984. But he’d never gone down the pits. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Nov 2018, 13:27

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In the late 50s cartoonist Walt Kelly brought Krushy (Khrushchev) and Bulgy (Bulganin) into Pogo’s swamp and gave its furry folk a chance to satirize the Soviets’ claim to have invented everything, including (Krushy and Bulgy claimed) “beisbul.” It was good fun, but Americans have weaknesses in this department too. Take the mass production of motor cars, via Henry Ford’s “assembly line.” Ford was not the first even in the USA. German immigrant butchers in Cincinnati were packing pork out of their disassembly-line slaughterhouses in the 1830s. But as far as the mass, assembly-line production of motor cars the honor probably belongs to Alexandre Darracq, yet another immigrant, citoyen-born of Basque refugee parents in Bordeaux on November 10, 1855. Darracq got his start as a draftsman in a French military arsenal, but soon hijacked Singer’s sewing machine and went Singer one better with an assembly-line factory (1880s). From there it was for him but a short conceptual step to bicycles (1891). He sold out for a big profit in 1896 and ploughed his takings into a manufacturing plant for electric and then gasoline-powered automobiles, soon branching out into motorcycles. And, yes, these were assembly-line production plants. By 1901 he was Monsieur le Voiture in France, and his racing cars were winning everywhere, which gave his marque a great boost in several countries. He didn’t design the first V8 engine (his 200 Hp monster came in 1904) but he was the first to mass produce it, and he’s also credited with founding Alfa Romeo in Italy. By that time, British investors had bought him out, leaving him clipping stock coupons from his seat on the board of directors. He enjoyed a long retirement in Monte Carlo and ended up, like many famous Frenchmen, at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. But there’s no voiture in the nice bas-relief on his tomb. Instead, he’s being carried off by angels, an older form of transport. But then Alexandre Darracq never did learn how to drive. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Nov 2018, 13:56

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,// Help of the helpless, O abide with me. From "Abide With Me," Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847).

On November 11, 1918, a century ago, the Great War ended. Its massive casualties are listed in war memorials across Europe. Carnforth, in Lancashire, UK, is no exception, and its memorial takes in a couple of rural parishes as well. In the 1970s, I attended a Remembrance Sunday there (we lived in Over Kellet, one of the villages). As foreigners, we’d several times watched the big one in Whitehall, the march past at the Cenotaph. The Brits do these things well, but I wondered how it would go in a very small place. It began in Carnforth’s parish church with a short prayer and a hymn. I’m sure it was “Abide with Me.” Then we walked (not marched) to the memorial, down across from the station, behind a single piper playing a dirge and a drummer marking a slow, muffled roll. Once there, a clergyman read Psalm 23, and children read off the names, alphabetically. Though these were small parishes, there were so many names. And so many repeated surnames. Towards the head of the class, so to speak, were about a half dozen Askews, a local name representing a local clan. A villager we were introduced to as “old Mr. Askew” was not on the list. But he was a Great War survivor, a retired farm laborer and skilled gardener who lived in Over Kellet’s council estate. In 1970, when we moved in, he was recommended to us as exactly the person to reduce our garden (untended for three years) to pleasing order. I, at 27, had quailed before the task. Well into his 70s and more than slightly arthritic, he told me not to think of the whole thing, jungle that it was, but instead as a work for each hour. And hour by hour, working only by hand, patiently, he finished it beautifully in less than a week. We paid him in cash for the gardening and for the lesson. On Armistice Day, I always think of old Mr. Askew, his Great War, his patient work, that slow walk to the Carnforth War Memorial, the children’s voices, and all those names. ©
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