BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Dec 2019, 12:29

"When I entered college . . . my ambition was to be a scientific man of the Audubon type." Clinton Hart Merriam.

The agencies of the American government that deal with ‘nature’ (lands, forests, animals, etc.) have forever been governed by a tension between the exploiters and the preservers. Clinton Hart Merriam, regarded as the founder of the Fish and Wildlife Service, reflected these tensions within himself. He was born in New York City on December 5, 1855, not out of the same stable as Theodore Roosevelt (who would later be Merriam’s friend and boss) but out of a similar line of prominent, wealthy New York families some of whose children would become enthusiasts for American nature, not least Merriam’s sister, the ornithologist Florence Merriam Bailey (1863-1948). Clinton Merriam had his first contact with the American ‘wilds’ when, at 16 (!!!), he was appointed naturalist to the famous Hayden Survey (of the Wasatch mountains, the Tetons, Yellowstone, etc.). Merriam enjoyed this so much that throughout his life he found it impossible to establish himself in a profitable, professional career. He did become a medical doctor, but even his medical studies were interrupted by forays into natural history and nature itself. He practiced for 6 years and then abandoned medicine for a life of nature study, and the exploration, exploitation, and preservation of America’s wild things and wild places. He was (inter alia) the founder or co-founder of New York’s Linnaean Society, the American Ornithologists’ Union, the National Geographic Society, and the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy, better-known today as the Fish and Wildlife Service. But notice the ‘Economic’ in that title. In that battle, Merriam generally fell in with the preservationists, and his resignation from government service (in 1911) may have been caused by his conservationist loyalties. In the last decades of his life, Merriam became an ethnologist, expert in (and preserver of) the languages and cultures of California’s inland Indians. In this he was aided by his younger daughter Zenaida. That’s a traditional woman’s name in many cultures; it’s also the name of a particular genus of mourning dove. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Dec 2019, 13:26

"Up to a certain age, every prisoner may be regarded potentially as a good citizen." Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise, 1921.

A lifetime of observation (casual, from the outside) tells me that our prison system is a failure. We imprison far too many persons, who in turn demonstrate far too high rates of recidivism, and then our niggardliness with public money makes things worse (and, ironically, more expensive). The root cause of all this—our continued insistence on punishment as prisons’ essential function—has been a central target of reform efforts, which have, typically, centered on rehabilitation. In this we’ve often taken our inspiration from British—specifically English—models, but by the later 19th century, English reform itself had failed, and the prison system was in the hands of the brutalists, led by the ironically named Sir Edmund du Cane. Enter Evelyn John Ruggles-Brise, born on December 6, 1857, and in 1892 appointed (over du Cane’s objections) as commissioner of prisons in England and Wales. A neglected younger son of a baronet, his brutalist upbringing (at home but more particularly at Eton) colored his life. Surprisingly young for such a post, he brought to it an upper-class radicalism, a personal skepticism (he was, he said, a “pagan” in religion) and an antipathy to punishment that kept him going in a long career that lasted until his death in 1935. In this he was aided by an 1898 Prisons Act that enabled the prison commissioner to alter regimes without reference to parliament, and so Ruggles-Brise eliminated various scourges (e.g. the treadwheel and the crank) on his own bat. For more substantial reforms recourse to parliament was necessary, and in this area Ruggles-Brise’s main contribution was the Borstal, named after its first incarnation at Borstal, in Kent: prisons for young offenders which the commissioner intended as experiments in care and rehabilitation. The need to mollify parliamentary Neanderthals and avoid charges of mollycoddling forced Ruggles-Brise to institute, in his Borstals, more disciplinary training than he’d have wished. That, today, has made the “Borstal” itself an object of criticism by later reformers (and indeed a byword for ‘prison as punishment’), but he meant well, and in the context of his time he must be ranked among the more successful reformers. It’s worth noting that the Borstal model derived from the New York state prison reforms of Zebulon Brockway, but that’s a story for another anniversary note. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Dec 2019, 12:44

"He came… he saw… he conga'd!" From the lyrics of Edmundo Ros's first hit single, 'Los Hijos e Buda' ('Sons' of Buddha'), 1941.

‘Round about 1990, when ‘fusion jazz’ was in fashion and Manchester’s clubs were fusion’s ground zero, I invited a friend of Paulette’s to bring his fusion combo to Grizedale College, twice I think, and both times a big hit. I then thought fusion a new musical style, but it was not. A pioneer of fusion was himself a fusion of cultures, Edmundo Ros, real name Edmund William Ross, born in Port-of-Spain Trinidad on December 7, 1910. He was the son of a Scots-Canadian father and a school teacher of Scots-African-Carib parentage. Edmundo issued from an interesting childhood with considerable musical talent. He studied classical music in Caracas and then (from 1937) in London at the Royal Academy of Music. To make friends (and to make ends meet) Ros began playing in Soho clubs where he caught the ear of a touring American and thus recorded (playing the bongos) “A Tisket, A Tasket” with Fats Waller. Soon Ros established his own combo with African, Caribbean, and British musicians. Suddenly, Edmundo Ros was fashionable, although he did take time off during the Blitz to drive ambulances and to learn to speak very proper English with a very proper accent. Soon he played at the best venues and for the best people, including the young Princess Elizabeth and her first beau (who danced to his music at the Bagatelle Club) but also (on occasion) General Eisenhower and his high-ranking chums. In 1951 Ros bought the Coconut Grove Club and renamed it after himself. At the Edmundo Ros Dinner and Social Club he was all the rage. He altered his rhythmic style to help the British learn how to dance, but his music remained a distinctive mix, a fusion: Afro- and Hispano-Caribbean, American jazz and big band, African, anything he could make fit, even Japanese and Yiddish. His academy training helped him to make it all fit, and although his styles were generically “popular” he’s remembered as a serious musical innovator. In 1975 he closed up his English shop and moved to Spain, but returned to have a huge South Bank ‘revival,’ to produce more music, and to be made OBE (in 2000) by the queen, who doubtless remembered cutting the rug to Ros’s rhythms at the Bagatelle. Ros died in 2011, just before he turned 101. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Dec 2019, 04:52

"She wished she had not heard it; yet she wished / That heaven had made her such a man…". Othello, remarking on Desdemona, Act I, scene 3.

It’s ladies night at the theater tonight, as today is the 259th anniversary of the first known appearance of a woman (as an actor) in a Shakespeare play, a Mrs. Norris, as Desdemona (in Othello) on 8th December 1660. Mrs. Norris was not the very first pioneer. That honor goes to Mrs. Edward Coleman, as Iolanthe in a play by Charles D’Avenant in 1656, but Mrs. Coleman’s was a recitation part only, not acting as such. England was, as usual, behind the times, women having acted in classical times and then again in Renaissance Italy and France, but it was a sensitive matter even there and in Italy especially female roles were as often taken by eunuchs. Mrs. Norris having taken the plunge, no deluge followed, and women appeared in acting roles only now and then at first, Mrs. Hughs (as Desdemona, again) in 1663, and Mrs. Saunderson (as Desdemona yet again) a couple of years later. So unusual was it still that the theater owner, Charles D’Avenant, thought it wise to announce Mrs. Saunderson with a poetic prologue, spoken by a male actor:

I come, unknown to any of the rest,
To tell you news; I saw the lady drest:
The woman plays today, mistake me not,
No man in gown, or page in petticoat,
A woman to my knowledge . . . .

who went on to advise the audience to “have modest thoughts of her.” And so say all of us. But what was it about Desdemona, anyway? But it was the reign of the Merry Monarch, Charles II, and soon he, his playwrights, his court jesters and his court rakes (like John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester) would make women, and women actors, much more common at court and on stage, too. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Dec 2019, 04:50

"A map is the greatest of all epic poems." Gilbert Grosvenor.

Scholars who believe that there was a ‘scientific revolution’ in early modern Europe generally agree that it was centered in the 17th century, and was particularly intense in England where the creation of the Royal Society (1663) gave science per se an institutional home. There is less agreement about beginnings (when, where, and whom). A reasonable candidate might be Reiner Gemma Frisius, born Jemme Reinderszoon in Friesland (the Netherlands) on December 8, 1508. I’m not sure that he can be credited with any great scientific discoveries, and (for instance) he remained content with the Ptolemaic model of an earth-centered universe. But Frisius was a learner, and an observer, and he showed others better ways to make measurements, all of which would be of vital importance to the ‘scientific revolution.’ Though born of poor parents, Frisius acquired a fine schooling and began his higher studies at Louvain, Belgium, in 1525. He qualified M.D. in 1536 and served on Louvain’s medical faculty until his death in 1555. He’d also followed the path of many Renaissance individuals by becoming expert in many things, including the making of ‘scientific’ instruments. In the process Frisius became interested in making accurate maps, not only of the great earth itself but of the lay of the locality, too. His proposed method of measurement—triangulation from a baseline of two known points—is said to have marked the invention of modern surveying and thus of accurage mapmaking. That was 1533. In the next year he announced the invention of the astronomical rings, often called “Gemma’s Rings,” a simple kind of astrolabe by which one can tell sun time and latitude. And Frisius is the one who told the world that the far more difficult problem of mapping longitude could be solved as soon as someone created a dependable enough clock. That one (and others) took quite a long time to solve. Frisius was also a notable teacher. Among his students were the anatomist Andreas Vesalius and the mapmaker Gerardus Mercator. Another was John Dee, the astrologer, alchemist, and occultist; and we are thus reminded that in Frisius’ lifetime the boundaries between ‘science’ and ‘art’ were as yet unmapped. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Dec 2019, 13:59

Viverium Naturae; Or, the Naturalist's Miscllany. Title of an 1813 publication by George Shaw, keeper of the Natural History Section, British Museum.

The ‘Age of Discovery’ excited more than the cupidity of Europeans. Many were also or instead consumed by curiosity, for ‘new’ worlds brought with them new species requiring new explanations (and some revisions upward of the size of Noah’s ark). And new possibilities, too: the philosopher John Locke was in the 1670s entranced by tales of a Barbadian plant said, on good authority, to revive the sexual prowess of superannuated bulls. Late on in the Age of Discovery came Australia, home of some really new animals that called out for classification under Carl Linnaeus’s new system. And who better to do that than George Shaw, the cofounder of London’s Linnaean Society? He was born a vicar’s son on December 10, 1751, educated at home and then sent on to Oxford. Via study in Edinburgh, he qualified M.D. in 1787 but his curiosities soon got the better of him and in 1791 he joined the infant British Museum’s natural history section. We might know him only as the man who took charge of cleaning up and classifying (or reclassifying) Sir Hans Sloane’s decaying specimens, a worthwhile task in itself (though some had to be burned), but these were years when British pioneers were settling Australia and sending home its oddities. And there, in the greatest of oddity repositories, was Dr. George Shaw, devoted Linnaean and deputy keeper (later, head keeper) of the natural history section. So Shaw took on the task of naming Australia’s strange bounty, inter alia the platypus, the wombat, various kangaroos, the budgerigar, and the echidna. His misnaming of the platypus (“flatfoot” in Greek) has survived in popular terminology, but “platypus” already belonged to a beetle and, by Linnaean rules the animal was soon renamed Ornithorhynchus paradoxus. Paradox indeed!! Shaw thought it might be a fake, but he couldn’t find the stitches that bound its duck’s bill to its beaver’s body and so gave it species status. Shaw got the echidna wrong, too, not its name but its egg-laying peculiarity. He might have asked the aborigines, who knew it was an egg-layer, but it was Europe’s Age of Discovery, and besides expropriating the territory Europe also bought the naming rights. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Dec 2019, 14:00

"The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord." James L. Kraft.

Many Christmases, when I was a kid, we drove to Ames to buy my dad an assortment of Iowa State cheeses, ‘real’ cheeses, made at the Ag School dairy, and including a really really ripe Limburger. Dad loved cheese, and blamed James L. Kraft for ruining American cheeses. Since Kraft himself always credited God for his successes, I guess my dad was blaming God, too. However that might be sorted out, James L. Kraft was born in Ontario, Canada, on December 11, 1874. The Krafts were dairy farmers, and James’s first job was to haul raw milk (by horse-drawn wagon) to Stevensville and Fort Erie. But the boy soon decided that “value added” was the place to be in the food chain, not producer of raw product, and in 1902 he moved into cheese-making and across the border too, to Buffalo. From there (where he was a partner in the Shefford Cheese Co.) he went on to Chicago to establish the Kraft company, into which he took his brothers John, Fred, Norman, and Charles (and God) as partners. Working together, they ruined cheese in 1916 (the year of my dad’s birth, in Ames, Iowa) with a patented process that made cheese last almost forever and gave it a rubbery, bouncy, tasteless character that could be sent hundreds of miles without “spoiling.” Whether it was really cheese was, perhaps, another question, but it sold well and made Kraft into an empire. James Kraft was a pioneer in other ways, too, notably in advertising, where he helped to translate food into a fashion. Among his marketing triumphs were Miracle Whip (1933), a boxed Macaroni & Cheese dinner (1936), Parkay margarine (1937), and Bing Crosby, who starred in radio’s Kraft Music Hall. He bought Philadelphia Cream Cheese in 1928. Withal, James Kraft remained an active (and an eminently generous) Baptist, of the northern variety, established an idyllic family farm in Wisconsin’s dairy country (and preserved the old Kraft family farm in Ontario), and built himself a Tudor revival mansion in Wilmette, on the lake, which was, given his wealth, a surprisingly modest place. But my dad never forgave him for Velveeta. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Dec 2019, 12:44

"At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen." Flaubert, Madame Bovary, 1856.

Over the years my book-buying habits have included, now and again, ‘classics’ of world literature, and the idea was that in retirement I would have time to read them. So you’d find on my shelves (for instance) Dante’s Inferno, Montaigne’s Essays, a longish travelogue by Homer, and a smattering of modern works like Melville’s Moby-Dick and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. My cousin Lyn wants me to read Patrick White, the Australian Nobelist, and so he’s there, too. And I have read some of these—but not very many. Among the many more that I haven’t yet even bought is Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856). I’ve seen a filmic rendering of it, or two; it has been greatly admired by several of my literary heroes, including Mark Twain; and recently I saw it ranked third (among ten) of the greatest novels of all time or any language. Its author is also an interesting study. Gustav Flaubert was born in Rouen, a surgeon’s son, on December 12, 1821. He was conventionally well educated and trained as a lawyer but, inspired by his reading of Spinoza and discouraged by his occasional epilepsy, he decided, instead, to become a free spirit, a “libéral enragé,” or more prosaically a “romantic and liberal old dunce.” He managed these things by traveling a good deal, having sex of several sorts, usually with female prostitutes, contracting a couple of STDs and a legion of really interesting friends, and of course by writing. Madame Bovary was not his first novel, nor his last, but its writing seems to have taken more sweat, and more time, than any of the others. Critics also admire its unsparing realism and its literary precision. The former came with Flaubert’s attitudes, values, and life experiences; the latter was sweated labor. Gustav Flaubert is said to have worked at writing, drafting and redrafting, perfection being his (unattainable) goal. So I should read Bovary in French. But I think I will have to depend on a fairly magical translation. Some of the most embarrassing moments in my life have been in French, and I wouldn’t want to get Flaubert wrong. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 Dec 2019, 12:12

"One must have the music in his heart before he can play it on the strings." Carlos Montoya.

Acculturation can be a painful process whomever it happens to. For Carlos Montoya it was especially so. He was one of the world’s great Flamenco guitarists, and when in the 1940s he branched out into other genres, Flamenco traditionalists espied impurities at best, treachery at worst. Carlos Montoya began life as an outsider, anyway, born in Madrid into a Gypsy family on December 13, 1903. He learned to play not from his uncle—a famed guitarist—but from his mother and ‘Pepe el Barbero’, who may have been a barber. Carlos learned quickly, and by age 14 was performing professionally. Soon he was performing all over the world, Europe and South America; but the outbreak of WWII found him in New York City. There he stayed, and there he would acculturate, helped along by his new wife (they married in 1940), the dancer Sally MacLean. As Montoya moved into jazz, blues, and classical guitar, purists accused him of being out of the groove, fuera de compás, but the great public loved it all—including his flamenco. There are local connections, too. Not only was Montoya’s rendition of “St. Louis Blues” one of his most popular early recordings, but in 1966 the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra commissioned, and premiered, his Suite Flamenco—Montoya performing. Even before that, in 1964, in a greasy spoon café in the Ozarks, I and my parents heard an impromptu guitar concert, given by the café owner’s son, in several styles. He—a scholarship student at the Julliard School in New York—had purchased his classical guitar from Carlos Montoya and had learned his Flamenco from Carlos’s brother Ramon. To hear a Bach partita on a Montoya guitar (and then Flamenco, and then Country & Western, each on a different instrument), and to hear it all played by a Julliard student in Blue Eye, AR, in a main street café owned by the last socialist in Arkansas and while drinking ‘white lightning’ from a local still: now that’s a low-pain sort of acculturation. The same evening, in the same place, I learned that Gene Autry got his start singing for the Oklahoma socialist party—but that is another story. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 Dec 2019, 13:15

"Every apple . . . is sour in its youth." Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929.

In Britain there seemed a minor-key tradition that gardeners should have gardening names: so the BBC’s long-running “Gardeners’ Question Time” engaged the attention of (inter alia) Bill Sowerbutts, Fred Loads, Bob Flowerdew, and Pippa Greenwood. And before the BBC got hold of the notion, there was the Bunyard family, notably paterfamilias George (1841-1919) and his eldest son Edward Ashdown Bunyard, born on December 14, 1878. The Bunyards had been County Kent nurserymen since time out of mind. George and then Edward made their firm into a national one. George nursed it through the 1890s depression (and his own bankruptcy) to become, himself, a leading figure in both the Royal Horticultural Society and the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. He was an author, too, one of his co-authors (on The Fruit Garden, 1904) was Queen Victoria’s head gardener. Edward carried on where his father left off. Under his leadership (1919-1939) the firm prospered, and Edward also wrote, usually in a more scientific vein than his father, concentrating much attention on what we would call today the genetics of fruit trees. Soon the home garden of Bunyard & Co. contained over 800 fruit tree breeds “true to name” and many cultivars, and Edward Bunyard continued to breed and graft new varieties on old stock, and write about it too. But he wrote in a lighter vein, too, including charming books on The Anatomy of Dessert (1929) and The Epicure’s Companion (1937). Now enter another man, an American, and one with a sort of a gardener’s name, Michael Pollan, who perhaps took some inspiration from Edward Bunyard’s career. His The Botany of Desire and The Ominvore’s Dilemma both ring a bit of Bunyard’s style, and as if to make my point Pollan has recently reissued (and written a foreword for) Bunyard’s The Anatomy of Dessert—as Pollan says, in a nice gardening metaphor, “a cornucopia of wisdom that’s never out of season.” What’s in a name? A good question to ask the gardening tribe. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Dec 2019, 13:55

“Indians will attach themselvs to and serve them best who supply their necessitys.” Alexander McGillivray to the Governor of Spanish Florida, 1784.

Once the war of independence was over, the question of citizenship arose. The ‘American’ might be this “new man,” in Crevecoeur’s famous formulation, but who was he, really? Could he be a loyalist, one who’d fought for king and country? And what if he had been a loyalist who was also a chieftain of the Creek nation? Such a one was Alexander McGillivray, born (on December 15, 1750) in a Creek village on the Coosa River. He was the son of Lachlan McGillivray, a Scots trader, planter, and Indian agent for the royal governors of Georgia and South Carolina, and his lawful wife Sehoy, a daughter of a French trader and (more importantly) of the Wind Clan of the Creek nation. So in terms of my America, young Alexander was perfect citizen material, a mongrel mix of clans and bloods just like the rest of us. He’d been well educated, in Charles Town’s ‘Free School,’ brought up as a prominent planter’s son—and on a slave-labor plantation called Vale Royal—and bought into a valuable apprenticeship in a leading Charles Town trading firm. But he would be called a “renegade.” In 1776, as father Lachlan cast his lot with King George III, and fled, son Alexander McGillivray cast his with the Wind Clan, returned to the Coosa, and fought to maintain the identity and independence of his Creek nation. Soon a minor chieftain, Alexander allied the Creeks first with the British cause and then, when American independence was established, with the Spanish in Florida. Then, in 1790, as chief of an apparently united Creek nation, Alexander McGillivray accepted an invitation from President Washington, traveled to New York City, and signed a treaty ceding some Creek lands to the newer nation, the USA, He retired to the banks of the Coosa and on ‘treaty’ lands built himself a new plantation house. He sent his eldest son, Aleck, to Scotland to be educated under Lachlan’s grandfatherly care and to return one day as chief; and along with Aleck he sent a history of the Creek nation. But both McGillivrays are now ranked among the might-have-beens in American history; pneumonia took Alexander in 1793 and Aleck in 1802, and—somewhere in Scotland—the manuscript history was lost. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Dec 2019, 13:30

"The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, . . . whether we like it or not . . ." Harold Macmillan, 1960. Speaking to the South African parliament.

In retrospect, the rise of black African nationalisms was inevitable. Once the European powers had carved up the sub-Saharan areas in the 19th century, their ungainly combination of rapacious exploitation and imperial pride gave rise to generations of native-born leaders who pushed for autonomy, then independence, and always ‘modernization.’ But the “wind of change” blew in other directions, too, as in the life of Reuben Ssedimbu Mukasa, born in British East Africa (Buganda) on December 16, 1899. As befit the son of a village headman, he was educated in Anglican mission schools, acquired the nickname “Sparta” in recognition of his sporting prowess, as soon as he was old enough joined the King’s African Rifles towards the end of WWI, and then was appointed to head a mission school himself. But all of this was under white (British, Anglican) supervision, and he wearied of being called “Boy,” even more of being treated like one. In his reading he discovered a religious tradition older than and independent of the English church, and he set about to create an Eastern Orthodox Church in British East Africa. In this he was remarkably successful, eventually gaining recognition from the Patriarchate of Alexandria (and translating the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom into Luganda, the language of his region). He also established an independent school system on Orthodox lines, which exists to this day. Finding that his old nickname, Sparta, should have a masculine ending, he headed the new church as Bishop Reuben Ssedimbu Spartas. Nor was his church intended as a religious refuge from the indignities of imperialism. Bishop Spartas put his church and his life on the line by leading nationalist and populist movements. As Bishop, he helped to organize trade and production boycotts in the 1930s and was a leader in the violent riots of 1949-1951 in the ‘Great Lakes” region of Africa, contemporaneous with the Mau Mau in Kenya. That won him a long penal sentence in exile. He returned as “Uganda” prepared for nationhood, hoping to lead his church and his region into real independence. But the Alexandrian Patriarchate had had enough of this stormy prelate, and made a safer man—also an African—the new bishop. Spartas led a breakaway movement but before his death in 1988 he’d become reconciled to the new order of things in Uganda and in African Orthodoxy. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Dec 2019, 13:09

"Mary, Queen of Maths." Title of a BBC radio documentary on Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright, broadcast in 2013.

I’ve never seen a good explanation of Cambridge University’s prolonged resistance to recognizing females as full members. The votes against (in 1897 and 1921) were nearly unanimous, but then the vote for (in 1948) was perfectly unanimous which only deepens the curiosity (sheepishness has been suggested as an explanation for the third vote). Women had studied at (or under license from) Cambridge since 1879, and for 69 years received (by mail) certificates of completion in lieu of actual degrees. So in 1998 (on July 4), Cambridge made honest women (or, rather, Bachelors of Arts) of all those who were still alive and had before 1948 received “certificates”: there were over 900 of them. One who would almost certainly have been invited to the ceremony was Mary Lucy Cartwright, not to receive a ‘delayed’ degree (her Oxford BA, First Class, had come in 1923, just three years after Oxford started giving women the degrees they’d earned) but for the pure satisfaction, for she had been (1949-1968) Mistress of Girton College and before that (at Girton) a tutorial fellow and then director of mathematical studies. So, doubtless, some of her ‘old girls’ were there in 1998 to get their just deserts. Mary Lucy Cartwright, born a clergyman’s daughter on December 17, 1900) was a rarity of her time, a distinguished research mathematician, who (after she moved to Cambridge in 1930) greatly advanced several areas of mathematics. Working sometimes with her Oxford tutor, G. H. Hardy (whom she’d followed to Cambridge), sometimes with Cambridge’s own J. E. Littlewood, and sometimes on her own, Carthwright worked largely in pure mathematics and is (inter alia) regarded as among the founders of chaos theory. When she was elected Mistress of Girton, Cambridge conferred on her the ScD, perhaps to make it perfectly clear that, though a female, she did belong to the university as a real integer. Later, the Queen made her a Dame, to underline the point. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Dec 2019, 13:17

"I won't write my autobiography because I never had an affair with Frank Sinatra, and if I had had, I wouldn't tell anyone." Celia Johnson.

In 1936, at St. James’s Theatre, London, a stage version of Pride and Prejudice cast a young but established actress, Celia Johnson, as Lizzie Bennet. Elizabeth still stands for me as the heroine to end all heroines, and Johnson was a sensation. Legend has it that Johnson was not pleased when, four years later, the film role (playing opposite Laurence Olivier’s Darcy) went to Greer Garson. I’ve seen that version several times, and while Garson was OK I’d have preferred Johnson, just see her in the garden confrontation with the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Johnson would have been a natural for that scene, which dramatized how strong a young woman can be—not in love (Lizzie’s not yet sure of that) but in her moral autonomy. Celia Elizabeth Johnson was born in Richmond, Surrey, on December 18, 1908. Reared in suburban comfort, she appeared as a child in a local wartime play but then learned her craft at the Royal Academy, where she excelled. Professionally, she became a headliner with her role in Shaw’s Major Barbara (1928). In the early 30s she toured the USA in Shakespeare, notably as Ophelia, and returned to marry Peter Fleming, Ian’s brother, in 1935. They lived in rural comfort, even splendor, in a lovely 18th-century house in Oxfordshire: and on two incomes, for we all can be grateful that besides becoming wife and mother Celia Johnson continued to act. Most especially there was Brief Encounter (1945), in which the promise of real romance jars a respectable middle-class woman (Johnson, as Laura) into an almost-adultery with Trevor Howard’s Eric, an idealistic young doctor. It’s a great film, made greater (we thought) by having its railway scenes filmed in Carnforth Station, our local window on the wider world. But Johnson went on, in memorable roles too (e.g. as Miss Mackay, the stern headmistress, Maggie Smith’s foil, in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1969). Dame Celia Johnson died in 1982 while playing bridge with friends, at home in Nettlebed. She was preparing for yet another stage role, and in it she would have been magnificent. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Dec 2019, 13:14

"Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła..." ("Poland Is Not Yet Lost,") Opening words of the Polish National Anthem composed in 1797.

In Smiley’s People, the final volume of John le Carré’s ‘Karla’ trilogy, one of the more memorable characters has the briefest of roles, before he’s murdered (by Soviet agents) on Hampstead Heath. He was “General Vladimir,” an ancient Estonian hero, implacably anti-communist and a beacon of hope and futile intrigue for a scattered (and aging) army of exiles. If le Carré had a model in mind for the old general, it might have been Count Edward Raczyński who, even as Smiley’s People was published (in 1979) had assumed the presidency of the PGIE (the Polish Government in Exile) and held court in an upper-story flat, up a rickety old staircase, in Knightsbridge, London. He was born (December 19, 1891) Edward Bernard Andrzej Maria Raczyński in Galicia, at that time the sector of Poland that had been partitioned to the Hapsburgs. He inherited his title (as Count) in 1926, and had in 1919 volunteered his talents as a diplomat for the newly independent but ancient nation. In London as legation secretary (1922-1926) and then as ambassador (1933-39), he struggled to keep Poland independent. Of course it all came crashing down with Hitler’s invasion in September, 1939, but Count Raczyński was not the sort to surrender. He played a prominent role (as ersatz foreign secretary) in organizing the PGIE and fighting to insure that any ultimate peace would bring it ‘back’ to power, in Warsaw. Symbolically, in Who’s Who, he always gave his address as 5 Krakowskie Przedmieście, Warsaw. It was not to be; the peace of 1945 put Poland in the Soviet sphere. Raczyński lived on in Knightsbridge, a constant reproach (like old General Vladimir) and a focus for PGIE activities, public and clandestine. But he was never murdered; he survived to see the collapse of the Polish communist government, to announce, at the ripe old age of 99, the dissolution of the PGIE, and then to receive an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth as a 100th birthday present. Too frail to return to Poland, he died in 1993. His body made the trip, though, and in August it was buried, with full military honors, in the family chapel on the estate where he’d been born in 1891. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Dec 2019, 13:41

"The idol of the poor". From a newspaper obituary about Mother Mathilda Beasley, 1903.

According to the census, there were, in 1860, 705 free persons of color in Savannah, GA. One of them, Mathilde Taylor, later changed from the French spelling to “Mathilda,” and then in 1869 became Mathilda Beasley, by marrying Abraham Beasley of Savannah. We don’t know a lot more about Mathilda, but we do know that she died as “Mother Beasley,” while at prayer on December 20, 1903, in a chapel and at a convent of her own founding, and today she is called (by the local and state historical societies) ‘the first black Roman Catholic nun in Georgia.’ She was born in New Orleans, probably in 1832, to a mother who was James Taylor’s slave. Mysteriously, Mathilde was freed at an early age, which leads me to think she was James Taylor’s daughter, but in any case Mathilde, as a freedwoman, showed up in Savannah in the mid-1850s where she found paid work as a seamstress to the white master class and as a school teacher to African-Americans, mainly freedmen’s children but also slaves. Teaching slaves to read made Mathilda a lawbreaker and was, therefore, a very risky trade for a freedwoman of color. After freedom came to all, she continued to sew and teach, and then married Beasley, converting to the Roman Catholic communion a month before her marriage. Mr. Beasley died in 1877, leaving his very considerable estate to Mathilda, and she set about, for the rest of her life, to use Beasley’s wealth and her talents to benefit Savannah’s African-American population. It is thought that part of her motivation arose from guilt, or anger, at one source of Mr. Beasley’s wealth, for he had been a trader in slaves. In the process, Mathilda Beasley became a nun (in 1885, at a convent in York, England), and returned to Savannah to establish an orphanage, a school, a convent, and the chapel wherein she died, aged about 71, a woman eulogized as saintly by the community, white and black, Catholic and Protestant. Her grave lies in the Catholic cemetery, not too far from Mother Mathilda Beasley Park and her parish church, St. Benedict the Moor. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Dec 2019, 13:29

Seasons greetings to all, and best wishes for a happy new year!!!!! Bob Bliss, December 2019.

The Christmas card has a long history, stretching back goodness knows how long, although (by definition) not forever. Apparently King James I sent his son one in 1611, but the card as a mass mailing, tens or scores sent out from one household to family, friends, mere acquaintances and innocent strangers, awaited the invention of pre-paid postal service. So a good claimant to the first ‘real’ Christmas card is the man who may be said also to have invented the Victorian penny post, Henry Cole. If it was the first, it landed with a bang, for Cole had it lithographed and hand-colored, and it cost way more than the penny stamp that sent it on its way. At one shilling, Christmastime in 1843, it would cost over £6 in today’s pound (app. $8 USA). No doubt some people send out $8 cards today, and some—including Henry Cole—did in 1843. Cole himself is an interesting story, later Sir Henry Cole. He was born in July 1808, the son of an army captain, and well educated for his day. He took his first real job as a pioneer civil servant (in 1823, apprentice clerk to the record commissioners), and as he ascended the civil service ladder he became friendly with a host of budding Utilitarians, including John Stuart Mill, and a convert to their peculiar view that, if we just thought about it, we could ensure the greatest good to the greatest number of our fellow citizens. Thinking about that, Henry Cole went on to play a leading role in organizing the Great Exhibition of 1851, and is credited with other before-the-scenes maneuvering that brought us the Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and other South Kensington artifacts of a busily utilitarian life. And that card? Well, there’s a lovely coincidence. It came out on the same Christmas—1843—that Charles Dickens first loosed upon the world his A Christmas Carol, in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Were we poetically licensed, we would say that the card itself (you can find it in the Smithsonian Magazine, Dec. 2015) shows in its colorful center panel Ebenezer Scrooge (reformed and chastened and happy), whooping it up with the Cratchits and their neighbors, while the side panels—rather ghostly, in grey tints—show the acts of charity (or good sense) that should be part of the holiday season. Seasons’ greetings to all, and best wishes for a properly utilitarian new year. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Dec 2019, 13:08

"When I am working for children, I aim more for clarity with a direct correlation between text and art, than in my drawings for older audiences." Jerry Pinkney.

For about 50 years now, Christmases have been partly spent looking for children’s books, to give to children of course but also to read—and to look at the illustrations. Not every child can read, but every sighted child can follow good pictures right through a story, sometimes learning to read through that ‘back door.’ This holiday season I was looking for books for our granddaughter and ran across a neat book (a little too ‘old’ for her, so we’ll wait) centered on M. L. King’s famous “Dream” speech. The illustrator is Jerry Pinkney, and I’d never heard of him: my loss, it turns out. Jerry Pinkney was born on December 22, 1939, in Germantown, PA. He was one of those kids who didn’t read well (turned out to be dyslexia), but he could draw. Outside of school, his talents were first noticed by an established cartoonist, a customer at Jerry’s newsstand. When business slowed Jerry drew. Thus encouraged, he went to an “arts” high school in North Philly, then (1957) on a scholarship at the Philadelphia College of Arts. Pinkney left to marry his high-school girl friend, Gloria, and after a time designing greeting cards he set up as a book illustrator, mainly for children. In 1970, two fans, Americo and Gabriel Adona, set Pinkney up in a studio on a wooded estate overlooking the Hudson, and there he’s stayed. In the process he’s won many awards for his illustrations, mainly in children’s books (five Caldecott Medals) but also in ‘adult’ literature, including the challenging Gulliver’s Travels and the even more challenging The Education of Henry Adams. He and Gloria Jean Pinkney have collaborated, too (she writes, he draws). As Pinkney became ‘established,’ he turned more towards illustrating books with African-American themes, or about kids of color, including (latterly) his award-winning Sam and the Tigers: A New Telling of Little Black Sambo (2016 and about time, too!!). But, basically, Pinkney’s pictures and his awards reflect the diversities of our stories, of our heroes (John Henry) and our heroines (Harriet Tubman), and our children. Happy 80th birthday, then, to Jerry Pinkney, artist, of Croton-on-Hudson. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Dec 2019, 12:58

"I want to make a profound and continuous study of this antique nation." Jean-Francois Champollion to his brother, 1806.

Egyptology became a fashion, almost a fever, in 19th-century Europe, not caused but intensified by Napoléon Bonaparte’s invasion (1798-1801) of Egypt. Militarily a failure, its drama and its ideological wrapping in the toga of the Enlightenment nevertheless helped make Napoléon Emperor (1804, but before that he’d taken a leaf out of Caesar’s book to build a memorial pyramid at Saint-Raphaël while on his way to Paris). And its archaeological treasures made a very young lad into a very famous scholar. This was Jean-François Champollion, born in Figeac on December 23, 1790. His was a dysfunctional family, a drunken bookseller father and a mother of loose habits, but Jean-François had an older brother, Jacques-Joseph, who shepherded him through school and then bankrolled his research. A prodigy, by age 13 he’d mastered many ancient tongues, not only Greek and Latin but several Semitic languages, including Arabic, Chaldean, and Hebrew. Before that, aged only 11, he’d been brought to the attention of the authorities as a gifted person who might have come along just in time to translate all the hieroglyphs they’d brought back from the Nile. That became Jean-François’ life’s work, with great advances made and honors won while he was still in his teens, including election to the Academy of Grenoble when he was just 16. There were setbacks. He (and Jacques-Joseph) suffered after 1815 for their Bonapartism) but in the early 1820s, first in a letter to the Royal Academy, Jean-François Champollion published his decipherments of the treasure of treasures, the Rosetta Stone. There were some further triumphs (of scholarship and exploration), and a dispute or two, and then death, in 1832, just months after his appointment to a professorial chair at the Collège de France. Despite his early death J-F is known today as ‘The Father of Egyptology.” Brother Jacques-Joseph, a scholar in his own right, continued to safeguard Jean-François’s reputation, and lived long enough to be appointed (in 1850) chief librarian at the Palace of Fontainebleau by Louis Napoléon, then “Prince-President” but soon to be proclaimed Emperor as Napoléon III. Finally, the Bonapartism of the brothers Champollion had paid a dividend. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Dec 2019, 13:59

"Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;// I would my true love did so chance // To see the legend of my play, // To call my true love to my dance." Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, 1833.

Today at 3PM Greenwich time King’s College, Cambridge, will again (as it has since 1918) host its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I haven’t checked the program but if it holds true to form it will include both traditional carols and traditional hymns and will thus reflect a battle which took place two and three centuries ago as Anglophone Christianity tried to make Christmas a more orthodox celebration. English Protestant “dissenters” disapproved of Christmas as a Catholic invention (Christmas celebrations were illegal in 17th-century Massachusetts, and old Ebenezer Scrooge was, I am sure, a rock-ribbed Presbyterian), and meanwhile church leaders were also working hard to make Christmas more doctrinal. That meant replacing traditional ‘carols’ with new hymns, more carefully orthodox and evangelical in their message. It’s possible that traditional carols might have died out, but for the labors of late 18th- and 19th-century musicologists, traveling the byways of the British isles to note down what ordinary folk sang at yuletide. One of these devotees was William Sandys (1792-1874) an upper middle-class lawyer who developed a considerable musical talent (cello) and a yen for folkish things. He preferred traditional carols to the new hymns and so toured, especially in Cornwall and the West Country, to “record” (that is, to note and notate) what he heard. I am not sure you’ll hear any of what Sandys collected today, from King’s College, but among many others he’s credited today with the rescue of “God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen,” “The First Noel,” “I Saw Three Ships,” and “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.” His great but not only work was published in 1833, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern. You can piece through it on-line, this modern age, but if you’re near a television take in today’s “Festival” live, and not just for the music, but also for that most beautiful of English churches, King’s College Chapel, and (no doubt) a couple of traditional carols. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Dec 2019, 16:22

"Drink the Health of the Christmas Child." The McKee-Minton Saga.

Henry McKee Minton was born on Christmas Day, 1870, in Columbia, South Carolina, and into an African-American family that had known freedom for at least three generations, and on both his father’s and mother’s side. His father built on that asset a career as a lawyer, wealthy enough by the 1880s to send Henry to Phillips Exeter Academy, where he excelled in student journalism, debate, athletics, and academics (and was chosen class orator at his graduation in 1891). Then it was on to Philadelphia (perhaps chosen because his exceedingly rich grandfather, Colonel John McKee, lived there), legal studies at Penn, then pharmacy. He got his pharmacy degree in 1895 and thereupon became the first black pharmacy owner in Philadelphia (and very possibly in the country). Colonel McKee died in 1902, leaving his substantial ($2 million) estate to the Catholic Church. The will was quickly contested by McKee’s daughter (Henry’s cousin) and by Henry. The daughter eventually got $110,000 for herself and additional sums for her children; Henry was happy to walk right away, right now, with $25,000, and to enter medical school, coming out Dr. Henry McKee Minton in 1906. He married well, too, his African-American wife, Edith, being the heiress of the Wormley hotelier clan in Washington, D. C. Necessarily, given American racism, Dr. Minton started out in one of Philadelphia’s two black hospitals. Later, he masterminded a merger between them. He continued to study medicine as well as practice it, and was soon recognized as a pioneer in the clinical treatment of tuberculosis. That brought him on to the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania medical school, very possibly the first African-American to break that barrier. Henry and Edith both died in 1946. As for Grandpa McKee’s fortune, it was contested for so long that it was never put to the use he’d intended (a college for poor youths, black and white). In 1952 the courts decided to put the remainder of it (by then, $1 million) into a university scholarship fund for orphans. There, it continues to work. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Dec 2019, 13:07

"Underground, overground, Wombling free // The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we." Wombles' theme song, BBC TV, 1973.

This holiday season is a time when adults—if they’ve been pretty good and really lucky—can give a book to a small child and then read it to her, too. Typically it will be a book with pictures, interesting and sometimes eccentric characters, a bit of an adventure (how big a bit depends on the age of the child), and then a resolution that will almost always be satisfactory. The child may then ask the adult reader a couple of exasperatingly difficult questions about how it all happened or, worse, why. This year, or next, as for the last 50 or so, a good book choice would be one of the “Wombles” adventures, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common to give them their full name and usual location. I think they are all still in print, but back when they were new-minted so were our children new, and they received Wombles books as gifts and then as stories read at bedtime or any other hour that they could run down a compliant adult. The creator of the Wombles was Elizabeth Beresford, born not at Christmas time but in mid-summer, 1926, and in Paris, where her father, the somewhat eccentric John Davys Beresford, was making his way as a writer (of adult fiction, generally of a scientific or medical bent). His work was much admired (e.g. by George Orwell) but has been forgotten. Not so Elizabeth’s. She began writing after an exciting time as an ambulance driver during the war; but then she really took off after marrying and having (2) children. It was one of them, Kate, who on Boxing Day (December 26) 1967 mispronounced Wimbledon Common as “Wombledon” and kicked off the whole Wombles thing. Soon as if by magic the Common was filled with Wombles, somewhat resembling overgrown hedgehogs (without the spines, I think) and overflowing with a spirit of civic anarchism, expressed much of the time by picking up people’s messes, literally and figuratively. Wombles live a long time (Uncle Bulgaria has celebrated his 300th birthday) and their good deeds never tire them out. Nor do they tire their readers—or listeners. When Elizabeth Beresford received the MBE from Queen Elizabeth in 1998, HM could talk of nothing but the Wombles, and she was already, then, in her late 70s. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by PanBiker » 26 Dec 2019, 13:30

We have a 4ft high Womble in our attic, might have two if we have a rummage. :extrawink: :smile:
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Dec 2019, 02:50

Received this morning from Uncle Bob....
The crime of lèse majesté is less serious than once it was, but even so I hasten to apologize for adding a few years on to Queen Elizabeth’s tally. In fact she and Elizabeth Beresford were near contemporaries, born in (respectively) April and August, 1926. So when the former accorded the latter the MBE both were in their early 70s—and chatting about Wombles.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Dec 2019, 12:46

"Don't cry for me after I'm gone. Cry for me now." Marlene Dietrich.

Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born in a posh Berlin suburb on December 27, 1901. As everyone knows, she changed her name to Marlene, but she retained an affection for her baptismal moniker. That may be why she said that La Madeleine in Paris was her favorite church, for the church’s full name is Saint Marie Madeleine. In the Spring of 1992, at her wish, her funeral took place at La Madeleine, her coffin draped in the French tricolour (as befit a recipient of the Legion d’Honneur). The simple bouquet came from President Mitterand, and in attendance were the ambassadors of several nations, including the USA, for Marlene Dietrich had become an American citizen in 1939. Still, she was a Berliner at heart, and that’s where she was buried. There her epitaph ends, “I am, thank God, a Berliner.” That she was, although a Berliner of the heady Weimar decade, the 1920s, in which she moved from being a not-very-good violinist into a not-much-better chorine and then became an international star of the cinema as Lola Lola, vamping schoolmaster Emil Jannings to his disgrace and ultimate death in The Blue Angel (1929). A moral tale, some might say; but in it Lola Lola was a very scantily clad moralist. On the strength of it, whatever “it” was, Marlene Dietrich moved to Hollywood and further success. But her lasting fame came from her defiance of Hitler, expressed early in her public campaigning and generous support for refugees, both in the 1930s, and then in her tireless appearances, often very near the battle lines, for allied troops. When asked—at a venue close to the front—why she would risk it, her reply echoes down the years (Otto Schindler would live up to it, too, in Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List): “aus Anstad.” “Out of decency.” It’s a modest nobility to which many can aspire. Thus it has been that despite her multiple, and bisexual, affairs, despite her professed atheism, and indeed despite her rather ordinary good looks, we remember Marlene Dietrich for transcending her material. So said the officiating priest at La Madeleine, in 1992, so said Peter Bogdanovich, and so say her fans. ©
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