BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Aug 2019, 11:02

“All sorts of things can happen when you’re open to new ideas and playing around with things.” Stephanie Kwolek, explaining her discovery of Kevlar.

In the early 2000s there was a great uproar from people who believed that the HPV vaccine was part of a plot to frustrate God’s just punishment for promiscuity, a role thought to be played by cervical cancer. It was a belief without scientific foundation, for the human papilloma virus causes several kinds of cancer, among both males and females, and electron microscopy has failed to find in it any moral (or amoral) agent. Their feverish anxiety was also historically amiss, for the vaccine is a long-term result of fundamental research that, against the odds and contrary to decades of received wisdom, proved that some viruses do cause some cancers. The heroine of that history was a Mexican-American scientist, Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Stewart, born in Tecalitlán, Jalisco, on August 16, 1905. Her father George was a mining engineer, her mother was Maria Andrade of Tecalitlán. George, Maria, Sarah, and her two siblings had to flee Mexico in 1911, and Sarah began her education in the USA. Her interest in science was not encouraged by her schools, or her teachers, so her first degree (1927, University of New Mexico) was in Home Economics. As a woman she scored several firsts or near firsts in her progress towards her PhD (at Chicago, 1939) and her MD (Georgetown, 1949). Somewhere along the way, she’d got hold of the unorthodox, very nearly heretical view that some cancers might have their origins in viruses. This was another reason (along with her gender) that it took her so long to get her degrees and even longer to get significant research funding. But eventually Elizabeth Stewart and her research colleague Dr. Bernice Eddy proved their point: a revolutionary one, although as befitted a scientific paper their conclusion (in Virology, April 1957) was suitably modest: “the most reasonable hypothesis is that it is a virus.” Their particular virus caused 21 kinds of tumors, and the virus now bears their name. More importantly, the knowledge that viruses might cause cancers meant that the search was on for vaccines and so today we have HPV vaccine. If you have an 11 or 12 year-old child in your family (a girl or a boy) you should seriously consider it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Aug 2019, 12:07

"I hardly knew how I loved her, or how my whole existence seems bound up with her." Queen Victoria, writing about her mother, 1859.

The British (ITV) docudrama, Victoria, now airing on PBS, gives the great queen’s “Ma” a bad press. She may well have deserved it, but in history the matter was not so clear. Once Victoria came into her own, as queen, and married (she married Ma’s nephew, Prince Albert), mother-daughter relations settled down. “Ma” was also a Victoria, in her case the Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saafeld, and she was born on August 17, 1786. Her second marriage (to the Duke of Kent, a younger son of George III) made her Duchess of Kent and produced a daughter, the future queen, and the daughter’s place in the royal succession was one root of the Duchess’s troubles. Another source of trouble was her civil list funding, always insufficient after the duke’s death. And the third fly in her ointment was Sir John Ponsonby Conroy, who managed her household, and who seems to have deserved all the bad press he gets in the PBS series. He it was who kept the young Victoria in close quarters, isolated from the court and bereft of possible allies or even friends. Victoria blamed them both (they were “Ma and JC” in her diary). “JC” hoped King William would die before Victoria was of age, setting “Ma” up as regent-in-fact and himself as the power behind the throne. But the king lived until June 1837 and Victoria succeeded as an adult. Three years on Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, and sent JC packing, his schemes in ruins and his reputation in tatters. Ma lived on in the household, settled down as a dutiful and affectionate grandparent to the rapidly growing royal brood, and became “Mama,” a kind of rhetorical promotion. After Mama’s death in early 1861, Victoria read her diaries, discovered a new narrative of her own childhood and broke down in grief and guilt. Mama, it seemed, had not been so bad after all. And then, only a few months later, Albert himself died, and Victoria mourned for the rest of her long life. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Aug 2019, 11:43

"If I can hit it, it's not a bad ball." Roberto Clemente.

If you want to get a direct, nearly visceral, sense of American history, visit the online “American Memory” section of the Library of Congress. There I’ve used documents and pictures, mainly in teaching, but the collection holds artifacts, too, and in 2012 the Smithsonian Museum put on a special “American Memory” exhibition. Among its 100+ objects were the original Kermit (a frog, of course), Judy Garland’s red slippers from Oz, and a black baseball helmet with a gothic “P” on it. It was scarred from use and years, for it belonged to Roberto Clemente, the black Puerto Rican immigrant who took Pittsburgh to his heart, and in return—at length—was taken in. Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker was born on August 18, 1934. Branch Rickey brought him to the Pirates in 1955, just 8 years after Rickey brought in Jackie Robinson (at Brooklyn) to break baseball’s color line. At the Pirates, Clemente was the man of the .300+ batting average (for all but one of his 18 seasons) and the clothesline throw (from right field to 3rd base was his trademark). He hit plenty of homers but fundamentally he was a hitter, peppering all sorts of pitches into all parts, an immaculate fielder, and a fierce but fair team player. MLB’s annual Clemente Award is for the player who best exemplifies that sort of partisan sportsmanship. I like, too, the fact that he was only hit by pitches 35 times in his 18 seasons with the Pirates. The man knew how to duck. Off the field he served the community (in Pittsburgh, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere) in many guises, not least as a long-time Marine Corps reservist, but he became best known for his charity work. It killed him, for on December 31, 1972, his rented DC-7 (rickety and too heavily laden with food, medicine, and clothing destined for earthquake victims in Nicaragua) crashed just off his home island. All they ever found of Roberto Clemente was his battered suitcase and a sock. That memorial baseball helmet he’d left back in Pittsburgh, ready for the ’73 season when, probably, he’d have batted .300+, won a Golden Glove, and caught that runner at 3rd with a steaming throw all the way in from deep right. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Aug 2019, 11:51

Playing at bowls and "transcendental numbers." Alan Baker, mathematician, 1939-2018.

I very rarely celebrate mathematicians in these daily notes, mainly because I find the mind games they play incomprehensible. But here’s one whose mind games broke into idiomatic English. I still don’t understand it, but at least I have a foothold. Alan Baker was born in London on August 19, 1939; bad timing, you might say, but his dad, Barney Baker, was good enough at maths to understand that the boy had a talent in that direction and to encourage Alan to pursue it. The pursuit took him to University College, London, where he won first class honours in mathematics, and then to a Cambridge PhD (1965). There he stayed the rest of his life, first a fellow at Trinity, becoming Professor of Pure Mathematics in 1974 (a very early chair) and then emeritus in 2006. He lived frugally in Trinity, occupying the college’s best flat, leaving it to tutor, to lecture, and to join friends at bowling on the green in the Fellows’ Garden. At an international conference (in Zurich) called to honor Professor Baker on his 60th birthday, he gave a little speech regretting the fact that he’d never married, but he seems to have been happy enough traveling and spending visiting time at other institutions, notably the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. And he was famous, at least among mathematicians, for several reasons, in 1970 winning the Fields Medal (the Nobel of maths) for his formulaic proof of the Gauss Conjecture, in which he used “Diophantine” equations. Don’t ask me what that means, but Baker used similar methods to “square the circle,” an old problem in maths and an insoluble one in English metaphor. Indeed, squaring the circle was among several “unsolvables” given me by Mr. Walker, my 10th-grade geometry teacher, in the spring of 1959 as he bade me farewell into Miss Cain’s intermediate algebra class. Mr. Walker expressed considerable confidence that I would never solve it, and he was right. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Aug 2019, 11:12

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." H P Lovecraft,

The older I get, the more I realize that some of my great lacunae will never be filled, and that among those are several that I don’t even want to fill: “voluntary vacuums,” perhaps. One such is horror, a genre in literature and film. I know enough about it, from friends, from my own brief encounters, to know that I am missing something, but thanks all the same. So while I have been vaguely aware of the works of H. P. Lovecraft and his unkind fates (poverty, obscurity, early death) the former has never excited my curiosity nor the latter my sympathy. But for those who do care, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, RI, on August 20, 1890, in circumstances that were straitened and unhappy. When Howard was 3, his father was committed to an asylum, where he stayed until his death in 1898, probably from complications of syphilis. Howard was then brought up by his doting but dotty mother, her father, and a gaggle of aunts, out of which he distilled an obsession with science (particularly astronomy), a timid, retiring personality, and a tendency to severe depression. Still a child, he made up (and wrote for) his own astronomy journal, and he also started in as a poet and, fatefully, as a reader of pulp fiction of the weirder sort. As he moved away from astronomy and electricity, he embraced a darker vision, a vision threatened by materialism, modernity, democracy, and by lesser breeds than his own, notably immigrants from eastern and southern Europe and blacks migrating up from the American south. Out of these influences, Lovecraft fashioned whole imaginative worlds, fantastic and horrific, both in one-off fictions and in serial form, which never sold enough to lighten his life but after his death (in 1937) have attracted much attention from many and cultish devotion from some. Today the Lovecraft industry includes the suggestively-named Necronomicon Press, where you can find out more about him than (I think) you need to know. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Aug 2019, 11:25

"May not our posters claim kinship with the galleries . . . (and, recollect, no gate money, no catalogue)?" Aubrey Beardsley, in The Art of the Hoarding, 1894.

Artistic modes, like so much else, go in and out of fashion. In the 1960s, when I first came under the fine arts tutelage of my wife, ‘art nouveau’ was all the rage, its practitioners heroes (with a few heroines), its works the subject of museum exhibits, t-shirts, and posters. Among them all, Aubrey Beardsley stood out, fitted for the hero’s (or martyr’s) role by his ethereal appearance and early death (aged only 25), as well as by the fertile fury of his creativity. Aubrey Vincent Beardsley was born in Brighton on August 21, 1872, into a mixed marriage (a tradesman father and a wealthier mother). Aubrey contracted tuberculosis at an early age, which contributed to his wan, rather spiritual appearance, and perhaps also to his private endeavors in drawing, poetry and music. At school, in Brighton, he wrote and drew for the school magazine, and although his talents were noticed by established artists, we may call him self-taught. He broke into London’s artistic scene partly because of his friendships (notably with the outrageous Oscar Wilde) but mostly because he was chosen to illustrate a new, and ‘arty,’ edition of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. His work there (and in the famous Yellow Book, of which he was co-founder) was not universally popular. Nor did he suffer fools gladly. When one journalist judged him “unclean and sexless,” Beardsley publicly invited the critic to watch him at his morning bath and thus to settle both charges. Just as Beardsley was influenced by art nouveau, so he shaped the style himself. His black & white drawings, their organically flowing lines, their attention to theme and purpose (when they were book illustrations), and their eroticism made his art into a virtual trademark. In today’s climate, Beardsley’s eroticism is judged as subtle. But in 1896, desperately ill, Beardsley retired to France, converted to Roman Catholicism and, famously, directed that all his “obscene” drawings be destroyed. Luckily, his wishes were not followed, and Beardsley himself became a figure for the ages. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Aug 2019, 10:37

"Salary is no object: I want only enough to keep body and soul apart." Dorothy Parker, 1928.

Today we celebrate good writing and thus the anniversary of Dorothy Parker’s birthdate, which was August 22, 1893. Ms. Parker, as I am sure she would have liked to have been known, was born as Dorothy Rothschild. Her childhood was conflicted, at least in the sense that Parker said it was unhappy while several of her biographers disagree. Whatever the truth of that, Parker is today best remembered as a creative, witty, occasionally savage critic (of books, plays, movies, and mores), who wrote for Vanity Fair (her first paid contribution appeared when she was 14), McColl’s, and the New Republic, and then latterly, in Hollywood, for the cinema. But she’s most enduringly noted for her association with The New Yorker, whose editorial board she joined even before the first issue was printed in 1925. She wrote short stories, including the prize-winning “Big Blonde” (1929). She was also a poet, mainly of light, comic verse but there were some darker, serious poems. She was closely associated (personally and/or professionally) with several male writers and critics, notably Franklin Pierce Adams, Alexander Woolcott, and P. G. Wodehouse, but especially with the comic writer Robert Benchley. Together, they and others formed the “Algonquin Circle”, which met weekly (or sometimes nightly) in the bar of the Algonquin Hotel and was famed for its witty, erudite, bantering conversation. Unhappy in love, except now and again during her affair with Benchley, Parker was a militant crusader for human rights. In the 1950s she was named as a communist fellow traveler by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and put on the infamous Hollywood “blacklist.” Times change, though, and in 1992, on the 99th anniversary of her birth, the US Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in her honor. Parker, who died in 1967, left her entire estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Foundation and the NAACP. Her witticisms abound; many can be traced by Googling “Dorothy Parker quotations,” and much of Parker’s more substantial work survives in anthologies. I’ve traced her story in published reminiscences about the early years of The New Yorker. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Aug 2019, 13:34

"Israel is a country of elections, but no choice." Ephraim Kishon.

Stories abound about how, at Ellis Island or after, immigrants’ names were changed to fit them better for American life. My wife’s great-grandfather, a Swede named Carlsen, became an American named Brown at a Rock Island Railroad labor camp. The name game happened to “Franz Kishunt” when in 1949 he presented himself to immigration officers in Israel. He came out as Ephraim Kishon. But for him, name changes were nothing new. He’d been born, in Budapest, on August 23, 1924 as Ferenc Hoffman. With the Nazi takeover, that surname proved dangerous, and to aid his escape (he was being transported to Sobibor) he became Stanko Andras, a Slovakian. After the war, gingerly about being Jewish in the new communist Hungary, he changed to Franz Kishunt (the surname itself was a Hungarian pun), and then emigrated to a new life and a new name in the new Israel. As Ephraim Kishon, he became perhaps Israel’s most successful satirist, especially after he learned Yiddish and Hebrew (his assimilationist family hadn’t used either language in Budapest). Indeed part of his charm—or the cutting edge of his wit—was his ability to make words themselves funny, through deliberate mistranslation or using them in a strange context or making a word the butt of the joke, as in the title of his 1960 book, Look Back, Mrs. Lot. Kishon was much else, though; not so much in stages as in recurring episodes he was journalist, script writer, movie maker, actor, and chess champion. (One of his efforts was a humorous running commentary for a chess computer program, a stupendous linguistic challenge). An ardent Zionist of a markedly conservative bent, Kishon had difficulty breaking into the country’s liberal intellectual establishment, but at length the awards and prizes (literary and cinematic) started piling up at his door. Even so, he self-exiled to Switzerland in 1980, where he continued to write, now to and for an expanding audience, in several languages. He rejected any notion of collective or inherited guilt for the Holocaust and took great pleasure in his popularity among German readers. And he remained “Ephraim Kishon”; for the name fit him like a glove. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Aug 2019, 12:22

"simply stir… the ingredients… to which a few drops of liquid air has been added by the servant." Agnes Marshall's 1901 recipe for making ice cream at table with 'liquid air.'

We lived in England for 28 years and learned a few things about English cuisine; one of the earliest was that it can be exquisite, and we still remember a ‘game pie’ dinner served us in a Lake District inn, circa 1972. In the north, every pork butcher had his own recipe for Cumberland Sausage; most were fine and one or two memorable. But a truth we came quickly to accept was that ‘ice cream’ was a foreign term, and that if you wanted a decent ‘ice’ you looked for an Italian shop, or an Italian brand. Alas!! We were wrong. Of course ice cream was not an English invention, but it was an Englishwoman who made it common, made it best, and, it seems, invented the ice cream cone (in 1888. She called them ‘cornets’ and may have invented them as a public health measure to rid shops of the ‘penny lick’ glass containers that, she thought, spread diseases.) She was the redoubtable Agnes Bertha Marshall, born Agnes Smith in what is now a part of London on August 24, 1855. Little is known about Agnes’s early life but she burst on the London scene in the late 1870s claiming to have learned her cookery in Paris and Vienna, and perhaps she did. She married a builder, Alfred Marshall, in 1878, and they set up in business, including a cookery school, but also a technical invention or two (devised by Agnes but patented by Alfred), including a kitchen-sized machine for making ice cream with liquefied CO2. There was also a weekly paper, The Table, and a bevy of cookbooks full of recipes that were Agnes’s own. Most of her books covered the whole gamut of cooking (and eating), but there were three on deserts and similar amusements, including Fancy Ices (1894). The Marshalls prospered mightily. Agnes died in a riding accident at their rural lair in 1905. Alfred promptly remarried (suspiciously, a secretary that Agnes had fired) and sold Agnes’s copyrights to the publisher of the Mrs. Beeton line of cookbooks. So Agnes Bertha Marshall slipped out of our line of sight, to be rescued by Elizabeth David’s posthumous The Harvest of the Cold Months: the Social History of Ice and Ices (1994). Today, enjoy an ice cream cornet, and remember Mrs. Marshall, your benefactor.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Aug 2019, 11:10

"I felt now I should do it and I did it." Captain Matthew Webb, reflecting on his cross-channel swim, 1875.

In Book V of The Odyssey, Ulysses and his men do a bit of swimming, in difficult surf, and win the admiration and assistance of at least some of the gods. And for medieval knights swimming—presumably without their armor—was one of the seven classic “points of agility.” So people have been swimming for quite a long while. But the art went into a decline in the early modern period (for various reasons, including fears that cleanliness might be bad for one’s health or immodesty harmful to one’s soul) only to reappear as an increasingly popular pastime—and sport—in the Victorian era (and a part of the first modern Olympic Games, in 1896). So it was that young Matthew Webb (born in 1848) learned to swim by the age of 7 and then, as a merchant seaman, won considerable acclaim for a long swim in the North Atlantic (in a failed attempt to save a sailor swept overboard). In due course Webb became a ship’s captain, and it was as Captain Matthew Webb that he gained immortality as the first human being to swim the English Channel (at least in modern times, for the channel has not always been so wide). After 22 hours at sea, buffeted by currents and waves, kept warm by dolphin grease, beef tea, and several pints of ale, Webb staggered ashore at Calais on August 25, 1875. He also strode into history, something of a folk hero, and I think his name and visage still appear on boxes of smokers’ matches. It all went to his head, unfortunately, and Webb became the Evel Knievel of his era, touring, lecturing, and undertaking various feats of endurance and daring (in Webb’s case, usually having to do with water). While on a North American tour, on July 24, 1883, aiming for a cash prize and with much fanfare, Webb took on the Niagara River below the falls. He disappeared at the Whirlpool, and his body was found downstream five days later. His memorial (in England) reads “Nothing Great Is Easy;” but it is silent on the question of what is great. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Aug 2019, 11:20

"Jazz is a musical language . . . a dialect that actually embodies the spirit of America." Branford Marsalis.

Everyone knows about Wynton Marsalis, the virtuoso trumpeter and musical director at Lincoln Center who began in small jazz bands and then has prospered mightily as a classical soloist; but what about his older brother Branford Marsalis, born on August 26, 1960, whose career followed a similar trajectory, only with saxophones? The fact that Branford has mastered nearly all the saxophone family (alto, baritone, soprano, and tenor) raises the business of the whole Marsalis clan, the parents Dolores (piano) and Ellis (saxophone and piano), and the brothers Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (percussionist). (Another brother, Ellis Jr., is only a computer engineer and poet). Taking them all together, as performers, composers, teachers, and ambassadors of music they’ve played with (or taught, or directed) just about all the giants of contemporary jazz. In Branford’s case, that included (after his studies at home and the Berklee College of Music) small-combo work with Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, but also stints with the big bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. And that was before he branched out into the classics, popular music (with Police and The Grateful Dead), and several spells as a film actor, notably with Spike Lee. Latterly Branford has returned to teaching, the core of his parents’ musical lives, starting with an appointment at Michigan State. He’s also a composer, mainly jazz and classical but also award-winning theatre and film music. And I haven’t mentioned his work as a builder. After Hurricane Katrina’s destructive visit to his home town, New Orleans, Branford Marsalis led urban renewal efforts with homes for Habitat for Humanity and in projects with an emphasis on education and music. And he’s actually gotten a few members of his family together to record (albeit on separate albums) for his own music label, “Marsalis Music.” What else could he call it? ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tripps » 26 Aug 2019, 13:35

Uncle Bob asked for suggestions a while ago - a long while :smile:

I suggested this lady as she seemed to tick all his boxes. Althea Gibson

Nothing came of it (yet?) . Now I read this on the BBC website, and I'm even surer that she should be 'memorialised'. I doubt though if even Uncle Bob could add very much of significance to what is a very good article.
Born to be mild. . .

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Aug 2019, 10:19

He says he will look at it in August next year, her next birthday.

"A quiet intellect, a joyous heart, and an informed voice." From one among the many tributes to Lee Russell, July 2019.

When I was a kid, a visit to the ‘Buster Brown’ shoe shop ordinarily involved the excitement of peering down to see my own feet (or rather their bones) encased in the hazier outlines of a shoe. Clearly the x-ray had become downright popular. So when Dr. Lee Russell and her husband William published a paper warning of the effect of x-rays on pregnant women, they attracted a storm of abuse from radiologists in particular and the medical industry in general. The X-ray had been tamed since its early days when it burned experimenters; it was now perfectly safe and, anyway, the Russells had based their findings on research done in their “mouse house” at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories. Mice, we were assured, were not people. But the Russells were, so to speak, dead right. That was not the only discovery made by Liane Russell, born Liane Brauch in Vienna, on August 27, 1923. Her family fled the Nazis in 1937, survived the London Blitz, and eventually fetched up in New York. Liane—by then “Lee”—graduated from Hunter College in 1945. A summer job in a science lab brought her in contact with scientific research and with Dr. William Russell, already studying mouse genetics. They married in 1947 and Lee got her PhD, at Chicago, in 1949. The couple moved to the Oak Ridge lab and continued their research, publishing their now-famous ‘pregnant mouse’ paper in 1952. Besides saving my feet, and of course preserving whole my wife, our children, and countless others, Dr. Russell is even more widely known for her discovery of how and why, in utero, we become male or female; she made the X-chromosome a part of our common folklore. Lee Russell died only last month, just short of her 96th birthday. She continued to research and to teach at Oak Ridge well after her retirement, offering particular encouragement to women scientists, and with her husband she was also well known for tireless support of environmental causes. The Russells’ monuments include two wilderness areas in the Tennessee mountains, Big South Fork and the Obed River valley. So, one thing and another, we owe them quite a bit. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Aug 2019, 14:03

"I ought to warn you that my verse is of no interest to people who can think." John Betjeman, 1949.

I ‘did’ John Betjeman only two years ago but repeat him today, for I just learned something startling about him, the unlikely source a biographical sketch by Kingsley Amis. And that is that while Betjeman was in Dublin, on the staff of the British Embassy during WWII, the IRA planned to assassinate him. But the commanding officer of the IRA’s intelligence unit liked Betjeman’s poetry, and the operation was called off. So in honor of Kingsley Amis I here repeat my Betjeman note, although I never thought I’d mention both Amis and Betjeman in a single sentence. And I am grateful that the IRA spared John Betjeman.



Among London’s Victorian treasures, King’s Cross Station is the most famous, thanks to the addition of Platform 9¾, from which (randomly) chugs forth the Hogwarts Express. But Ms. Rowlings might better have chosen St. Pancras for her wizards’ departure point. Insofar as “Victorian” has degrees, St. Pancras is Victorian to the nth, and in it there is a magical statue, larger than life, of a portly gent who might be your kindly grandpapa, or more likely your generous but forgetful godparent, windblown, holding on to his trilby, and looking up to admire the station’s higgledy-piggledy excesses of Victorian brick- and ironwork. The statue draws admiring children (perhaps looking for sweets) and adults who want to be pictured with John Betjeman’s joyful monument as if it were the man himself. John Betjeman, poet laureate (1972-84) and the lion of London preservation, was born on August 28, 1906, into Edwardian comfort, educated at Highgate School, then Marlborough, then Magdalen College Oxford by (inter alia) T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis (neither of whom much liked him, an attitude he returned with interest) and befriended by fellow student (and, later, living legend) Maurice Bowra. Betjeman failed to win an Oxford degree but he learned to craft verse that, whatever else you might say about it, is more accessible than Eliot’s and funnier than Lewis’s: gentler than both, more musical, indeed more like what the Victorians thought poetry should be. Betjeman also acquired a robust affection for London, its people, its “leafy suburbs,” and especially its buildings. This is why Betjeman stands yet in St. Pancras, for as founding president of the Victorian Society he led the fight for the station’s preservation (and restoration). It’s good to think, though, that he would have embraced the notion of adding a new platform, 9¾, for the Hogwarts train. As it is St. Pancras must rest content with the more modern but still magical Eurostar. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Aug 2019, 11:49

"Let us love nobly, and live, and add again// Years and years unto years, till we attain// To write threescore: this is the second of our reign." From John Donne, “The Anniversary. ”

For perspective on this day, 60 years ago, let’s visit the New York Times, city edition, for August 29, 1959. On p. 3 there’s an ad for Second Empire furniture at the House of Paris (gaudy and pricey) and an outrageously expensive man’s suit is offered on p. 5 (by Bloomingdale’s), but a p. 6 ad brings us into the common realm of everyday folk with a 51¢ tube—the large economy size—of Ipana toothpaste and, I suppose, Bucky Beaver, the Ipana logo-mascot. Musicals head the ‘Theatre Directory’ with The Flower Drum Song and Gypsy (still starring Ethel Merman). For heavier drama, there was Raisin in the Sun (a young Poitier) and Macleish’s Pulitzer-winning JB (with Basil Rathbone, of course, as Mr. Zuss, the play’s thinly-disguised God character). The front page was not taken up with Secretary of State’s Christian Herter’s visit to Paris where he encouraged General De Gaulle to find a “liberal” solution to the Algerian war, but rather with President Eisenhower’s swan-song visit to Britain where, in an atmosphere of friendly informality at Balmoral he dined with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Princess Margaret. Ike was to leave Balmoral for more serious talks on August 29, in London, and a private dinner with Field Marshall Lord Montgomery, where the two old comrades-in-arms hoped to bury a dispute over battlefield tactics and then dance on the remains. I imagine that way back in St. Louis, MO, two youngish people—Blanche Van Dillen and Joseph Touhill—did NOT read the newspapers on that Saturday morning, for they were on their way to get married, jump the broomstick, plight their troths, hitch up, and perhaps to dance the night away, not like Ike and Monty to bury the past but to look to the future. How they danced!! It’s been a long, successful flight for both of them, so let’s wish them a happy 60th anniversary, and as many returns of the day as can possibly be arranged. Happy Anniversary, Blanche and Joe!! ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 30 Aug 2019, 11:31

"A truce to philosophy! — Life is before me and I rush into possession." From The Last Man, a novel by Mary Shelley, 1828.

Mary Shelley was born on August 30, 1797, the offspring of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died soon after, and more than occasionally the little girl could be found tending her mother’s grave, and reading her father’s books. Mary revered them both, and several of her later publications did much to confirm or revive their reputations as pioneers of philosophy and social thought. Social action, too: her parents’ unconventional liaison was one factor in Mary’s falling deeply, madly in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. That affair began when Mary was 17 and was not legally consummated until 1818, after Shelley’s wife committed suicide. It was before then, in 1816, when Mary (holidaying in the Alps with Shelley, Lord Byron, and others) told her companions the story that would become the novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. It’s a brilliant reworking that has informed so many of our fantasies, in film and literature, that it has become easy, too easy, to forget the ways in which Mary Shelley carried forward—and modified—the radical notions of her parents, and also (after Percy’s death) gave her husband’s poems the air and light she thought they deserved. Percy Shelley drowned off the Italian coast in 1822. His aristocratic parents—who had never approved of the affair or the marriage—tried to take custody of the children, but Mary fought them off and devoted the rest of her life to supporting herself, her surviving child Percy Florence Shelley, and (until 1836) her aged father. She also gained some notoriety (as she saw it) from her support of women’s causes and of individual women whose unconventional lives had landed them in trouble. Young Percy went to Harrow and then Cambridge, and although he seems not to have reflected the genius of either of his parents, he remained devoted to his mother until her death in 1851, indeed after, for he saw to it that her parents’ bodies were exhumed and then reinterred, beside Mary’s, in Bournemouth. And there they rest. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 31 Aug 2019, 11:59

"Or is it only those who have the money who can enter the land of milk and honey?" From The Threepenny Opera, Brecht and Weill.

One popular culture doesn’t always translate well or quickly into another, and that was certainly true of Kurt Weill’s and Bertholt Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera), which opened in Berlin’s Theater am Schiffbauerdamm on August 31, 1928. In the fevered culture of Weimar Germany it was hugely popular, but it flopped in New York and Paris, was dismissed in Moscow as “petit-bourgeois bad taste” (perhaps the unkindest cut), and didn’t break through in London until 1956. But Weill liked it, had high hopes (eventually realized) for his lively music, and Brecht dared to hope it would contribute to capitalism’s demise. It’s a more vivid and more accessible rendition of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), and adopted most of Gay’s characters, Newgate prisoners and London confidence sharks like Macheath (“Mackie Messer”), Herr und Frau Peachum, and Spelunken (a great name for “low-life” Jenny). Weill and Brecht set it in Victorian London (possibly in tribute to Friedrich Engels), which might have made its translation easier but at first did not. However, their “play with music” did launch the unforgettable Lotte Lenya (as Jenny) and, three decades on, had much to do with the rocketing rise of Bobby Darin whose “Mack the Knife” proved popular with American teens (but was banned in New York for fear of its impact on gang culture). WWII and Nazi atrocities may have made revivals inevitable, and indeed since the mid-1950s New York, London, and many other venues have seen popular versions, more or less faithful to the original, notably in London’s National (“Olivier”) Theatre, where it ran for a long summer in 2016 (May through October) and streamed worldwide, live (the September 22 performance). Perhaps best of all, Lotte Lenya lived long enough to enjoy again her Threepenny fame; her off-Broadway Spelunken Jenny earned her a Tony Award in 1956. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Sep 2019, 11:57

"A woman's place is in the boardroom." Eleanor Catherine Macdonald.

We can’t call Eleanor Macdonald a feminist in the modern, ‘second wave’ sense. That would center her in the realms of art, culture, and/or politics, and she was a businesswoman, extraordinarily successful. But she was a leader in bringing women into businesses, and as bosses. Eleanor Catherine Macdonald was born on September 1, 1910, at Wanstead, east London, where her father had worked his way up the shop floor hierarchy to become the foreman in a cigarette factory. The family thought of itself as rising, and put Catherine in a private school, but she had to leave it when dad lost his job. So, still in her teens, the only qualification Macdonald carried into the world of work was a diploma in fencing. Partnering with her brother, she made much out of that, setting up a fencing school, translating it into a club, and becoming the first woman to qualify (in Paris) as maître d’armes. In 1939 they closed the school and Catherine volunteered for war duty, went to work for the Ministry of Information, and there so clearly proved her mettle that at war’s end she was head of section and reporting directly to the minister. She topped that off with second-class honours at the London School of Economics (1947, in sociology), and joined the old perfumery business, Atkinsons, where by 1951 she was on the board. From there she branched out in several ways including geographically. Working for Unilever in equatorial Africa, Macdonald sidelined to teach local women how to make money for themselves, wrote a book about it (The Successful Woman at Home and in Society, 1962), and imported that whole idea back into Britain, then reexported it to the United States and to the World Health Organization in Geneva. She founded the firm Women in Management in 1969 and led it until 1990. Macdonald went on from there, too, armed now with a couple of honorary doctorates. She didn’t stop remaking her world until 2004, when pneumonia finally stopped her. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Sep 2019, 11:45

"This idea of equality embraces the Indian and the European, the Savage and the Saint, the Peruvian and the Laplander, the white Man and the African." James Forten, Letters from a Man of Color, 1813.

In the 18th century, Pennsylvania Quakers embraced their witness against slavery: slowly, for slavery and the slave trade were economically important, and Quaker slaveowners thought themselves ‘good masters.’ Then came the American Revolution. The new state of Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1780, and along with that lessened the disabilities imposed on free black people. It was into this ‘liberation climate’ that James Forten was born, of free parents, on September 2, 1766. His father died soon after, and in 1773 young James went to work as a chimney sweep, but his mother and a Quaker sailmaker, Robert Bridges, saw to it also that James was educated in Anthony Benezet’s school for African-Americans. Come the War for Independence, James volunteered aboard the American privateer Royal Louis, Captain Stephen Decatur. He was captured, but at war’s end was one of the few who had survived a stinking prison ship moored at New York. From there James Forten moved to an apprenticeship at Bridges’ sailyard, worked his way up to foreman, and then bought the business when Bridges retired in 1798. Upon becoming economically secure, Forten married Charlotte Vandine (he was 40, she was 20; she lived to be 100 and has been treated in these notes), and together they built a shipbuilding fortune and an abolitionist dynasty. Forten, who became one of Philadelphia’s wealthiest men, worked all his life to secure the great promise of the Declaration of Independence. He worked for equality at home, in Pennsylvania, and for freedom elsewhere, whether in the slave South or in colonizing ventures in Sierra Leone and Haiti. Among other things, Forten was one of the main financial backers of Garrison’s The Liberator. Nor was his charity confined to African-Americans or their causes. When Forten died in 1842, and perhaps in spite of the racism inherent in Jacksonian Democracy, thousands—black and white—followed his cortège to his resting place in Eden Cemetery. His wife and their nine children continued his work, and their granddaughter Charlotte (also previously treated in these notes) would marry into another great abolitionist family, the Grimkés, and teach in black schools in the liberated but still segregated South. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Sep 2019, 11:45

Though I shall not live to see Independence, I will die content in the realization that Ireland has advanced far towards the goal of her heart's desire. John Devoy, last page of Recollections of an Irish Rebel, written circa 1916.

In September 1978, on our way back to England, we visited friends in Somerville, MA,and there we saw, on a school football ground, a sporting match. It was Gaelic football, and it was being played between supporters of the Official and the Provisional IRA. All proceeds were to go to a welfare organization supporting the families of jailed IRA activists. For one who had been (and would be) frightened by IRA bombs in and around London it was and remains an odd experience, but it reminded me of the historic strength of Irish republicanism in the USA, and how it had generally reflected the ups and downs, and the inner tensions, of the movement in Eire itself. One of the early heroes of the American branch was John Devoy, born in County Kildare on September 3, 1842. His father was associated with the O’Connellite movement, and when the family moved to Dublin John moved into more dangerous political territory by joining the Fenians. There he distinguished himself enough to be imprisoned by the British, and after four years in English prisons he exiled himself to the USA, arriving in 1871. There the Fenians had already distinguished themselves (spectacularly, with major raids into British Canada in 1866 and 1867), but in 1871 the movement was in disarray, and Devoy set himself to put things in order, joining Clan na Gael and making it the premier nationalist organization in the USA. There followed almost six decades of work for Irish independence, some of it dangerous and not all of it in America. It included a lot of friendraising and fundraising, and I regard it as a poetic coincidence that Devoy became one of the principal figures in the Gaelic Athletic Association, very likely the organizer of the match I saw being played in Somerville, on that sunny, crisp, autumn afternoon. By the time of his death (1928, in Atlantic City) John Devoy was a senior member of Republican councils and a noted historian of the movement. After the creation of the Free State, he was publicly honored in Ireland in 1924, and then again at his burial in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, in 1928. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Sep 2019, 11:52

"Arabel is the ego, the perfectly sensible good side and Mortimer is the id, unrepressed passion, and they kind of balance each other." Joan Aiken, 1993.

Whether we are constructed by nature or nurture remains a difficult question. In the case of Joan Delano Aiken, it would seem to be both. Born in Sussex on September 4, 1924, she was the daughter of the American poet and novelist (and Pulitzer-prize winner) Conrad Aiken and the Canadian Jesse McDonald Aiken, also a writer. But if writing was her genetic fate, then life also took a hand. Her parents divorced in 1929 and with some promptitude her mother married Martin Armstrong, a prolific producer of short-stories. They turned their household into a school, where Joan (and her elder siblings Jane and John) were brought up on languages and literatures. The children wrote stories for each other; Joan started at age 5, doubtless because of peer pressure. Writing continued after she was sent away to school, and at 17 she published her first fiction, a short story for adults, but from then on she focused mainly on her childhood habits of writing stories for the young. A ten-year marriage produced two children of her own; then her husband’s death cast her on her own resource of writing, and books and stories came with some regularity. Her most famous young readers’ novel was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962) wherein the child-heroes triumph over the evil designs of their governess (Miss Slighcarp), their teacher (Mrs. Brisket), and their landlady (Mrs. Bloodvessel). Their sort of struggle became a recurring theme of Aiken’s long fiction, but our children (born and raised in England) were completely taken up by a series concerning a little girl, Arabel, and her raven, Mortimer. Mortimer, larger, stronger and even smarter than your average raven, was ungovernable (he once ate a staircase); Arabel, all brightness and energy, learned to live with him, protect him from the adult world, and love him. So did our children. The saga begins with Arabel’s Raven (1972), and if your gift list includes any small ones, it would be a nurturing start to whatever life has in store for them. The stories are still in print, illustrated by the brilliant Quentin Blake. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Sep 2019, 13:00

I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well. J. C. Bach.

In early modern Europe, music was a trade, and the people who composed and performed it were often treated as tradesmen and tradeswomen. But there were privileges and there was pay, and often the music trade ran in families rather like carpentering or leather tanning. Perhaps the most musical of all families were the Bachs, not only Johann Sebastian (1685-1750), the king of them all, but his father, several of his uncles, and even a few in-laws, were tradesmen-musicians of note (pardon the pun). So what could his son, Johann Christian Bach (born on September 5, 1735) do but make music? That’s what all but one of his brothers did, and so did he, from his early childhood in Leipzig, but he traveled more than most Bachs, and is today sometimes known as the “London Bach,” because that’s where he spent the last 20 years of his short life, at first a very successful court musician (at first as tutor to George III’s Queen Charlotte, soon for the whole royal family) and in the composition and production of opera. There he finally fell on hard times, mostly severe cash flow shortages rather than ‘poverty’. That was mainly because he had overextended himself as a music impresario. Opera was not his father’s métier, but Johann Christian traveled in more ways than geographically and in more directions than towards London. As the century wore on, Italianate opera became more and more the thing, something that Johann Christian (also an immaculate harpsichordist) learned under his brother’s tutelage in Berlin, and then in Rome, where he’d traveled, perhaps in the company of an Italian soprano, and where he’d switched to opera as his main musical ‘thing,’ to Roman Catholicism as his soul’s solace, and to the new pianoforte as his favored instrument. In the mid 1770s he married a different Italian soprano, Cecilia Grassi, and if they’d both been younger, better situated, or more so inclined they might have sent the Bach family tradition into yet another generation. However, both died, childless and severely indebted, in 1782. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Sep 2019, 12:22

"By getting married and having babies." Freddie Oversteegen, circa 2014, answering a question about how she coped with her wartime trauma.

One of the heroes of the Dutch Resistance died last year, on September 5, one day short of her 93rd birthday. She was Freddie Oversteegen, born near Haarlem on September 6, 1925. She was thus only 14 when the Germans invaded; but she and her elder sister, Truus, were predisposed to do something about that. Their mother, a communist, had worked for the Spanish Republican cause and then, as Hitler tightened his grasp on Germany, the family had sheltered Jewish refugees. So when a leader of a local resistance unit asked them to join, they did, little knowing (Freddie said later) what it would involve, but eager. Within their resistance cell, the Oversteegen girls formed a trio with Hannie Schaft, a university drop-out (and the original “Girl with the Red Hair”), and conducted their own unique brand of resistance activity. With their colleagues, they shepherded refugees to safe houses, Jews, gays, socialists; they participated in sabotage, usually with explosives but also arson, all the usual stuff; in addition they became assassins. Freddie Oversteegen carried her weapons in her bicycle basket, a very suitable tactic for a 15-year old girl. Their favored tactic was—usually working alone, sometimes together—to meet German occupiers (their targets were SS officers) or Dutch collaborators in bars and on the street, lure one or another of them into an alley or a dark wood, and pull the trigger. They also did drive-by shootings—from bicycles!! It worked pretty well, if you like that sort of thing, and the evidence is that the girls did not enjoy it. But they carried on. Hannie Schaft was executed by the Germans a few days before the liberation. Neither sister did much about their exploits after the war, but latterly Truus wrote a memoir (defiantly entitled Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever), and in 1996 they formed the National Hannie Schaft Organization, which also brought them out of the shadow of forgetfulness. Contrary to the expectations they must have had, then, in 1940, the Oversteegen girls lived long enough not only to marry and raise families but also to receive (in 2014!!) the Dutch nation’s highest civilian award, the War Cross. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Sep 2019, 11:54

"The legal profession will have to admit us in their own defense. . . " Ivy Williams, 1904.

In England, in 1904, a 26-year old woman, having just finished her law courses, declared her intention to become a barrister; and, she said, if ‘they’ (male barristers) don’t admit ‘us’ (women) to their professional castle, then “we shall form a third branch of the profession” and practice anyway. The Law Journal called this a “threat” and responded with its own version of ‘over our dead bodies.’ In my naively progressive notion of history, this sort of response always deserves to be mistaken, and in this case it was. At the Inner Temple, on January 26, 1920 (when, presumably, at least some of the Law Review editors were still above ground), Miss Ivy Williams began her apprenticeship. She was then only 42 years old, born on September 7, 1877. She’d had a good start. Her family was well-connected. Her father was a solicitor. And her elder brother (Winter, who became a barrister), indulged Ivy’s taste for learning things by home tutoring her to fluency in the classics, modern French and German, and (later) competency in Italian and Russian. Thus encouraged, or emboldened, Ivy Williams took London degrees in jurisprudence (1900) and civil law (1902) and would have had one from Oxford, too, although that university didn’t yet allow women to walk away with degrees. She kept at it, perhaps with redoubled vigor because of the suffrage movement and because her beloved Winter had been killed in the trenches, and on May 10, 1922, upon her final admission to the bar as England’s very first woman barrister (and with first-class honours in her examinations), that very same Law Review declared it to be “one of the most memorable days in the long annals of the legal profession.” After endowing two law scholarships (in Winter’s name) in 1923, Ivy Williams went on to a distinguished career at the bar, where she specialized in representing poor clients, and in scholarship too in international law and legal history. She taught law many years at Oxford, where she couldn’t take a degree in 1902, and incidentally as she became blind (in the 1940s), Ivy Williams learned braille, taught braille, and campaigned for wider educational opportunities for the unsighted. She died in 1966, widely mourned. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tripps » 07 Sep 2019, 12:35

He keeps finding these remarkable people doesn't he? The attitude to women is still surprising even such a relatively short time ago. Keep on educating us Uncle Bob. :smile:

In the interests of pedantry however I was forced to look up

Defence and defense are different spellings of the same word; yet belong to different forms of the English language. Defense is used in American English, and defence is used in British English, which spans Australian and Canadian English. It is important to maintain spelling consistency within a piece of writing.

Sorry. . .
Born to be mild. . .

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