Sunday, March 31, 2013

New Smyrna and Florida's First Boom

In 1763, according to the terms of the treaty that ended the Seven Years War, the British took over ownership of Florida. At that moment, the peninsula was nearly empty of people. Most of the native Indians had been killed by disease and war. The Spaniards all pulled out when the the land was ceded to Britain, and many mission Indians went with them. The remaining Indians, along with various Creeks, Tuscaroras, and other refugees, were forming a new Indian society that would be known as the Seminole League, but they were very few across the huge space of the peninsula. So most of the land was unoccupied, waiting for almost anyone to claim it.

Before the treaty was even signed, influential Britons began launching schemes for settlements on this new frontier, and over the next 20 years the biggest speculative boom in the history of British America played out. Hundreds of British luminaries invested millions of pounds in colonial ventures in the Florida scrubland, convinced that they were on the verge of great riches. The Earl of Egmont claimed 65,000 acres, including a plantation on Amelia Island (where I used to spend summer vacation). The Earl of Dartmouth claimed 100,000.  The list of men who filed claims with the Privy Council for Florida land includes 13 titled lords, 11 baronets, two Prime Ministers, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Attorney General, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the king's personal physician, the Secretary of the Treasury, and at least twenty other Members of Parliament. The Paymaster General of the army in Germany invested some of the £400,000 he cleared as profits during the Seven Years War, which gives you an idea of why 18th-century government found it cripplingly expensive to field even small armies. It was an extraordinary land grab. To impose some order, the government hired as their surveyor Gerhard de Brahm, a German described in biographical sketches as "an engineer, cartographer, and mystical theologian." He made the first accurate map of Florida, small pieces of which are shown above and below.

The biggest single venture within the British land rush was Scottish physician Andrew Turnbull's colony of New Smyrna. Turnbull had the not entirely silly idea that people from a warmer climate would survive better Florida's environment, and be more skilled at the semi-tropical agriculture the British wanted to practice. He also knew, from his Greek wife, that many Greeks were very unhappy with their situation in the Ottoman Empire. Shopping his scheme around among the many rich Englishmen interested in Florida, he obtained the backing of former Prime Minister George Grenville and Dr. William Duncan, physician to the king. With £9000 of his partners' money he hired a ship and sailed to Greece, bribing Turkish officials to let him take away dissatisfied peasants. A few hundred joined him. He sailed then to Livorno in Italy, where he picked up about a hundred more. He took them all to Minorca, an island now part of Spain but then under the control of the British. He had not expected to carry away Minorcans, but it turned out they were more eager to go than Greeks.

On 17 April 1768 Turnbull left Minorca with eight ships carrying 1403 colonists, 900 of them Minorcans. This was the largest immigrant voyage to American since the 1630s. With them went a Minorcan priest, Pedro Camps. Their sea voyage was rough and hot, and about 150 passengers died before they arrived in America.

The land Turnbull had selected for his colony was on Mosquito Inlet, on the Atlantic coast 75 miles south of St. Augustine, just north of Cape Canaveral. Turnbull had sent an advance party of slaves and oversees to begin the work, and they had hacked out a small clearing and built some log shelters. But Turnbull had brought three times as many colonists as anyone had planned on, so most had to sleep in brush lean-to's while they set to work building Turnbull's plantation. Bernard Bailyn imagined their arrival:
The scene at New Smyrna, as Turnbull called the settlement after his wife's birthplace, must have been strangely beautiful, and fiercely forbidding. The swampy lowlands between the small upland clearing and the ocean were covered with palmettos, salt marshes, and pine barrens. The upland clearing itself was cut out of a thickly overgrown tangle of cabbage palms, pawpaw trees, and semitropical plants. From the clearing, in the distance, the edge of an extensive orange grove could be seen, left behind by earlier Spanish and Indian settlers. The settlers' main tasks were to clear the swampy lowlands, full of snakes and swarming with mosquitoes, in order to make indigo fields -- and to tear out the palmettos where the land was dry, and plant corn, which would be their main food crop. Somehow, too, they were to make vegetable gardens on the bluff, though the soil was sandy and full of shells.
Despite their hardships, the settlers set to work, driven by fierce former soldiers Turnbull had hired as overseers. But in the miserable conditions, exposed to unfamiliar microbes, they began to sicken and die. After just a month 300 settlers tried to revolt, but word reached the governor at St. Augustine, and he sent an armed frigate and a company of troops, who quickly subdued the rebels. Three were executed, the rest put back to work.

Their lives got no easier, and in two years half were dead. The work of the plantation went on, though, and much was accomplished. Archaeological exploration has revealed a large complex of foundations, drainage ditches, roads, and landings, centered this imposing stone ruin, which most think was Turnbull's house. From written records we know that a church was built, where Father Camps held services. He also recorded baptisms and deaths in a register that survives, known in Florida as the Golden Book of the Minorcans. The colonists raised, processed and shipped more than 40,000 pounds of indigo, which seems a startling achievement for people so close to death.

Things went on in much this style for a few more years. Most of the immigrants had signed eight-year indentures, but some had signed for six. When the six year indentures came up, the Minorcans asked Turnbull to honor his agreement and grant them each 50 acres of land. He refused and kept them as laborers. Remembering the fate of the earlier rebels, they sullenly stayed on. But as the eight year indentures came due, the Minorcans began to agitate for their rights. They found an ally in East Florida's new governor, Patrick Tonyn, who offered them his protection. In 1777, the colonists demanded that Turnbull make good his promises to them and grant them their land. Turnbull again refused. But this time, Turnbull could not call in government troops, so the settlers of New Smyrna simply walked away from the colony and made their way to St. Augustine. Father Camps recorded the event in his register:
On the 9th day of November 1777, the church of San Pedro was translated from the settlement of Mosquito to the city of Saint Augustine, with the same colony of Mahonese Minorcans which was established in the said settlement, and the same parish priest and Missionary Apostolic, Dr. Dn. Pedro Camps.
Turnbull and his investors had by this point lost more than £50,000. But with no labor force and their operation in shambles, they also walked away, and New Smyrna was abandoned. So were almost all of the other British ventures in Florida. The whole affair was a colossal failure, without a single thriving new settlement to show for all blood and treasure lost. In 1783 the discouraged British gave up and transferred Florida back to Spain, leaving behind only a scatter of place names and, living at St. Augustine, 400 survivors of New Smyrna.

Researching New Smyrna online, I found lots of material on Florida genealogy sites. It seems that those 400 survivors, like most successful pioneers, have many, many descendants. It also seems that descent from  those New Smyrna settlers is about the oldest blood a Floridian can have. So from oppressed indentured laborers, they have become something like the Mayflower voyagers of Florida, their descendants thrilled to number one of those Minorcans among their forebears.

Egg Hunt 2013

With no big kids in attendance this year. But Ben and Clara had lots of fun.

Our little fashion plate not only put on a coordinated outfit but insisted on using a pretty basket instead of the traditional plastic bag.

Ben, as I told him, looked like a boy.

Clara shows why she always gets the most eggs.

It was chilly and dark, with threatening clouds, but that didn't get in the way.

Fear of Monsters

There is another book out about our fear of monsters, and our penchant for inventing riotous forms of them.

I find this completely un-mysterious. We evolved to worry about what might be lurking out there in the dark; we have powerful imaginations; we like to tell stories. That seems to me to be explanation enough.

We may, like some monkeys, have a built-in fear of snakes and big birds, and we certainly fear fire. So that may have something to do with western fear dragons, although Chinese people feel completely differently about their version.

I have, in the course of parenting five children, read out loud a good dozen short books about wolves. Every single one includes some version of "people used to hate and fear wolves for no good reason, but now that we know more about them we know they are fascinating creatures we should be happy to share the planet with." None of them ever say that we used to fear predators because they really did carry off our children in the night, and we hated wolves because they ate our sheep. Now that excessive safety and wealth are bigger problems for us than the reverse, of course we no longer fear wolves. This same basic change explains the shift in attitudes toward other monsters, from "I hope it isn't true" to "if only it were."

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today's Palace: Quinta da Regaleira

This astonishing estate was built in 1904 to 1910, in the last days of the Portuguese monarchy. The property once belonged to the Viscondessa da Regaleira, hence the name, but the house and gardens were built for António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (1848-1920).

Monteiro, known as "moneybags " (Monteiro dos Milhões), had numerous estates but was always acquiring more. The house and gardens were created by Italian set-designer and architect Luigi Manini (1848-1936) and a host of  sculptors, stonemasons, and craftsmen.

The estate is in Sintra, Portugal, on a steep hill. The gardens, grottoes, and so on are amazing.

The estate has an amazing web site, which you can read in English, with videos, virtual tours, and more. Looks well worth a visit.

Deer "Culling" in Rock Creek Park

It strikes me, as a random thought, that in a vowel-free alphabet like Hebrew or Arabic "culling" and "killing" would look exactly the same. Which would probably be a good thing, since the distinction is meaningless. The National Park Service, after decades of anguish, is finally carrying out controlled hunts on its overpopulating deer herds. Some of the neighbors of Rock Creek Park in Washington brought suit to stop them, but a judge sensibly ruled that the laws setting up the NPS give them very wide latitude to manage their lands in the nation's interest. The hunt is going ahead this week. The shooting is done by professional assassins who are not allowed to show a hint of pleasure, because for some reason deer hunting as sport is horrifying to the sort of people who protest deer hunts. The hunters have set up where they are firing down into valleys, so stray bullets won't continue into the surrounding neighborhoods. The NPS expects that 60 to 70 deer will be killed this week. Which is not a lot, considering that the estimated population density in the park is a 60 to 70 per square mile (the Post has 60 to 70 per acre, which would be rather horrifying), or more than 200 in the park. NPS biologists think an ideal density would be less than 20 per square mile, so this hunt won't even get them close.

I was just reading the introduction and summary of the Environmental Impact Statement the park prepared on this issue, and it notes that in the whole decade of the 1960s there were only four reported deer sightings in the park. Now there are probably 400 a day. The deer population has exploded across eastern North America, to levels that disturb wildlife biologists and give botanists nightmares.

The signs outside Rock Creek Park this week said "Birth Control not Bullets." I would support deer birth control if it worked, but so far nobody has been able to make it work. The only effective method is to capture and sterilize does (like we do for feral cats), but since deer populations are in the millions the cost to really control the population is too great. The Rock Creek Park EIS says that in the future they will use deer birth control when effective methods become available, but for now they will have to hold another hunt every year.

For better or worse, the world we live in is of our own making. If natural means "without human interference," there hasn't been a natural ecosystem in the world for 13,000 years. Just stepping back and letting nature take its course is not going to recreate some lost balance. If we care about the health and diversity of our forests, we have no alternative but to manage them.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Weapon of Mass Destruction?

"Weapon of Mass Destruction" is a stupid phrase invented by belligerent hacks who wanted to make chemical weapons sound as bad as nuclear bombs, giving us an excuse to attack more countries. But nothing else is anything like nuclear weapons, and they should not be lumped with anything else. We may one day have biological weapons that are as scary and dangerous as nuclear bombs, but we don't yet, and chemical weapons are not really much more dangerous than explosives.

But the US government has now stretched this past the point of absurdity by accusing Eric Haroun of conspiring to use a "weapon of mass destruction" in a foreign county. His weapon? A rocket propelled grenade. I kid you not.

And how do you conspire to use a rocket propelled grenade? Seems to me you either use one or you don't.

In the name of fighting terrorism, our government has gone insane, and this is just another sign of the madness.


Some intrepid marine biologists managed to attach National Geographic's "critter cam" to a Humboldt squid, with interesting results:
Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) — which can grow to more than 6 feet (2 meters) in length and 100 pounds (45 kilograms) in weight — have razor-sharp beaks and toothed suckers. Mass strandings of the species and reports of aggression toward humans have spooked beachgoers for decades, but the jumbo squid are not man-eaters — they usually feed on small fish and plankton that are no more than a few inches in length, though they sometimes cannibalize each other. . . .
The squid can swim at 45 mph (72 kph) for short bursts, as fast as the fastest  fish, and they hunt in well-coordinated packs. They also may talk to each by changing colors:
Jumbo squid are known to have pigmented cells, called chromatophores, which allow them to change color in response to neural impulses. The cameras allowed the researchers to watch the squid flashing like a strobe light in their natural habitat. . . the only time the squid seem to make these red-and-white color signals is when they encounter another individual of their species.
Video here.

Medieval Dice

Recently found in a dig near Strasbourg Cathedral.

How Hot Can the Earth Get?

Geologists using the bubbles in 270-million-year-old salt deposits from Kansas have estimated that they formed at temperatures of up to 74 C, or 165 F. There is some question as to how the temperature of a shallow brine pool relates to the air temperature, but the authors of this paper say they should be close. If so, wow. The earth can get really hot.

Energy Storage Using Trains and Hills

Wind and solar power are great when the wind is blowing and the sun is out. But when they aren't?

Because of this problem any electrical system relying heavily on wind and solar power needs a lot of energy storage. Energy storage has been part of our grid for decades, related more to fluctuations in demand than in supply. The most common technology has been to pump water uphill when power is plentiful, store it behind a dam, and then let it flow back downhill, through turbines, when power is in short supply. It works great, provided you have a lot of water. But much of our energy demand, and our solar power, are in places like Los Angeles and Phoenix where water is in short supply. So utility companies have been experimenting with other systems -- flywheels, compressed air, even batteries. All have problems.

Now a company called ARES -- Advanced Rail Energy Storage -- thinks that they have the solution: trains. When power is plentiful their system would use it to send heavy trains up steep hills; when power is needed, the trains would roll back down. Their trains would be based on automatic heavy hauling systems used by mining companies, so most of the technology already exists. There is no loss of power during storage, since potential energy never decays and trains don't evaporate. We have gotten very efficient at building train tracks after 170 years of experience, so initial costs are lower than for some other alternatives, such as flywheels. Of course there is some environmental impact, because you have to build a rail yard in the desert somewhere, but you could use an area already heavily disturbed by mining. Water demand, one of the biggest factors in storing power for LA or Las Vegas, would be very low.


Hard Working House Republicans

The Post is running a long article today on how efforts to cut wasteful government spending have gotten stalled, mostly because political leaders have other priorities. This is the best bit:
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) was assigned to write legislation that would cut $380 million in loan guarantees to clean-energy companies. But nothing happened with that idea, because Kelly never wrote a bill. He got distracted.

“It was a priority, and it remains an issue of interest. But Mike’s efforts shifted when he chose to focus more on holding the administration accountable with regards to [Operation] Fast and Furious. And then when the Benghazi tragedy occurred, that took the cake,” said Kelly’s spokesman, Tom Qualtere. Now that Congress is in a new session, Qualtere said, Kelly might introduce the bill at last.

Or maybe not.

“Now there are even more priorities and actions that he’s personally leading — such as the march against the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty,’’ Qualtere said. “So it’s up in the air.”
Jonathan Bernstein comments:
Couldn’t write a bill because he was distracted by Fast and Furious and Benghazi? Why not just say that his computer was down or that a dog ate his homework? At least those cliched excuses don’t imply what is really going on here: Republican politicians who believed that the job of a member of Congress is to be outraged, and once they’ve done that, they can pretty much go home.
Not that there is anything new about Congressmen who don't want to do the hard work of actually running the government. I remember a story my father told me many years ago about trying to get some legislative help from a Democratic congressman from Norfolk, who said he was too busy working to keep the military bases in his district open to do much else. Tough job, keeping the Norfolk Navy Yard open, seeing as how it is the headquarters of the Atlantic fleet and the biggest naval base in the world.

But there is a real issue here, which comes down to this: what kind of person do we want representing us? Lately Republican voters have decided that they want to be represented by angry, anti-Washington crusaders, and they have sent dozens to the Hill. These men make their constituents feel like they are doing something to fight government bloat and culture change, but most of them are not very good at the work our system requires of legislators. They can cast all the symbolic budget votes they want, but unless those resolutions actually get written into spending bills, they are meaningless. Since 2010 almost all the language in the budget bills has actually been written on the Senate side, or in the White House, rendering all those Ryan budgets pointless. Voters who want to change the system need to think harder about what kind of representative might really be able to do that, and stop opting for the guy with the angriest bullhorn.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Dark Master of Horace Mann

The Horace Mann School, an elite boarding school in New York, used to be known for its eccentric teachers. Marc Fisher, class of 76, remembers one of them in an extraordinary New Yorker essay:
One group of boys stood apart; they insisted on wearing jackets and ties and shades, and they stuck to themselves, reciting poetry and often sneering at the rest of us. A few of them shaved their heads. We called them Bermanites, after their intellectual and sartorial model, an English teacher named Robert Berman: a small, thin, unsmiling man who papered over the windows of his classroom door so that no one could peek through.

Assigned to Berman for tenth-grade English, I took a seat one September morning alongside sixteen or seventeen other boys. We waited in silence as he sat at his desk, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges cigarettes and watching us from behind dark glasses. Finally, Mr. Berman stood up, took a fresh stick of chalk, climbed onto his chair, and reached above the blackboard to draw a horizontal line on the paint. “This,” he said, after a theatrical pause, “is Milton.” He let his hand fall a few inches, drew another line, and said, “This is Shakespeare.” Another line, lower, on the blackboard: “This is Mahler.” And, just below, “Here is Browning.” Then he took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the chalk onto the floor, and, using the heel of his black leather loafer, ground it into the wooden floorboards. “And this, gentlemen,” he said, “is you.” . . .

Berman could be mercilessly critical. He called boys “fools” and “peons” and scoffed at their vulgar interests in pop culture, girls, and material things. He was a fastidious reader of students’ work and a tough, sometimes capricious grader. He noted carefully who accepted his authority and who resisted. After he overheard one boy imitating him in the hallway, he covered the boy’s next paper with lacerating comments: “You used to be better.” On the rare occasion when a student earned his praise, he would be celebrated. Now and then, Berman would ask for a copy of a particularly well-wrought paper, which the boys took as the highest compliment; they called it “hitting the wow.”
As you have probably guessed by now, this is all in the news now because several former students have accused Berman of sexually abusing them. According to a counselor involved in these cases, the boys have been very reluctant to come forward because
In each of the Berman cases, he exercised such powerful mind control over them that it took them many years to come to terms with what happened to them. To this day, they feel intimidated by him.
One wrote in his adolescent diary,
My obedience to Mr. B is absolute. If there is a God, and He descended to inform me that to follow B. were false, I would say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ and continue to pursue the path that B. had set for me.
This story fascinates me. Berman was a snob who dragged his teenage charges into high culture, getting them to read and love Milton, Shakespeare, and Dostoevsky. He took them on trips to Europe to see the greatest paintings, all the while condemning popular culture and abusing anyone who admitted to liking it. Tracking down Berman's former students, Fisher finds several ensconced in tenured chairs at top universities, crediting Berman with first awakening their interest in literature or art. His class was a cult, with him as the leader and literature as God. His students made enormous efforts to please him, trembled over whether he would approve their work, made themselves over in his image. They did not do this for a kind or loving man, but for an authoritarian creep.

The basic utilitarian model of psychology, that says we maximize pleasure and minimize pain, is wrong. No, what we value is powerful emotional experiences. To have a mentor who guides us away from the herd and toward something worth attaining is, for many young people, one of the strongest. For others a cold, distant, unloving presence will always enthrall more than one who is close and accessible. For some, even sexual abuse is worth enduring if it gets us membership in an elite club of privileged insiders.

I keep comparing the experience of Berman's students with my own high school English, taught by teachers whose names I cannot even remember, and who made on me all the impact of a mayfly. No doubt they were kind and loving, and no doubt I am actually lucky to have had them instead of an abusive creep. But the dark and twisted way, the Mirkwood path, the hard road under the eye of a stern master, still looms in a way that health and sunshine do not.

Byzantine "Greek Fire" Hand Grenade

Ceramic hand grenade for holding "Greek Fire" (naptha), 10th century. Up for auction at Antiquities Saleroom.

The $2.2 Million Bowl

This bowl was made in China during the northern Song Dynasty, probably in the late 12th century. Its style called "Ding," one of the "Five Great Wares" of Song Dynasty China. The kilns for this ware were in Hebei province. Several years ago, an American couple bought it for $3.50 at a yard sale. Eventually they realized that they might have a treasure on their hands and consulted art experts, who told them it might sell for $200,000 to $300,000. Last week at Sotheby's it sold for $2.2 million.

It is very thin and has an unusually pale color. Its diameter is 5 3/8 inches (13.4 cm). The only other known similar bowl in is the British museum.

Congress Rolls Over for the Imperial Presidency

Retiring Senator Jim Webb blasts the steady increase in the president's power over foreign policy, and the steady abdication of Congressional authority:
Congress has become largely irrelevant to the shaping, execution and future of our foreign policy. Detailed PowerPoint briefings may be given by colonels and generals in the “battle zones.” Adversarial confrontations might mark certain congressional hearings. Reports might be demanded. Passionate speeches might be made on the floor of the House and the Senate. But on the issues of who should decide when and where to use force and for how long, and what our country’s long-term relations should consist of in the aftermath, Congress is mostly tolerated and frequently ignored. The few exceptions come when certain members are adamant in their determination to stop something from happening, but even then they do not truly participate in the shaping of policy.
As examples Webb offers the "Strategic Framework Agreements" negotiated by G.W. Bush with the Iraqi government and by Obama with Afghanistan. The Iraqi agreement
addressed a broad range of issues designed to shape the future relationship between the United States and Iraq. This was not quite a treaty, which would have required debate on the Senate floor and the approval of sixty-seven senators, but neither was it a typical executive-branch negotiation designed to implement current policy and law. Included in the SFA, as summarized in a 2008 document published by the Council on Foreign Relations, were provisions outlining “the U.S. role in defending Iraq from internal and external threats; U.S. support of political reconciliation; and U.S. efforts to confront terrorist groups,” as well as measures “shaping future cooperation on cultural, energy, economic, environmental, and other issues of mutual interest.”

Despite years of combat in Iraq, the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars of national treasure and deep divisions that remained in the American body politic regarding our future role in this tumultuous region, over the period of more than a year during which the Iraqi SFA was negotiated and finalized, Congress was not consulted in any meaningful way. Once the document was finalized, Congress was not given an opportunity to debate the merits of the agreement, which was specifically designed to shape the structure of our long-term relations in Iraq. Nor, importantly, did the congressional leadership even ask to do so.
Ditto the Afghanistan agreement, which Webb had to read in a secure briefing room and was not allowed to copy, even though it was not secret; according to the log he signed, he was the only Senator actually to read this document, which binds the US to defend the Kabul regime indefinitely.

As I have said before, no president is going to willingly abdicate the powers seized by Bush and maintained by Obama. They will only let Congress have its say if Congress insists on it. But Congress seems to have no interest in doing this, and that probably won't happen until we find ourselves in the midst of another Vietnam. It's all rather discouraging for a believer in democracy.

DOMA on the Ropes

After yesterday's hearing, all the experts say it looks like the Court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, the four liberals on gay rights grounds and Justice Kennedy as an unwarranted interference in the right of individual states to regulate marriage. This would be a major victory, securing real marriage rights to gay couples in all the states that have voted to endorse gay marriage. It would also continue the trend toward real marriage equality in America.

Things have gone so far that Bill O'Reilly took time off from bashing liberals to note that the biggest opponents of same-sex marriage are Muslims, and then to say this:
The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That is where the compelling argument is. We’re Americans, we just want to be treated like everybody else. That’s a compelling argument, and to deny that you’ve got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.
And despite what liberals sometimes fear, thumping the Bible has never been, by itself, a very effective argument in American politics.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

John William Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)  is one of my favorite painters. He was not very original, not very profound, and had a limited range, yet I just love his stuff. A painting like the one above, Miranda - The Tempest (1916) touches my imagination in a way that no path-breaking work of the avant garde ever will.

Waterhouse's work looks so much like the Pre-Raphaelites that many people think he was one, but actually he came along a generation later, and he was still painting in this mid-Victorian style as World War I and Dada raged around him. Saint Eulalia (1884)

People say that his brushwork was influenced by the Impressionists, and I guess I see that in the roughness of some of his images. But mainly he was the heir of Millais and Burne-Jones. Circe Invidosa (1892)

You can already see that many of his paintings focus on a woman with magical qualities and tragic associations. In fact he painted Ophelia and the Lady of Shalott each three times, and Circe four. But who cares! I love paintings of magical, tragic women. This is his first Ophelia, done in 1889.

This is Hylas and the Nymphs (1896), which I love because those wide-eyed girls are so creepy and dangerous looking.

The Danaïdes (1904). They're the ones who murdered their husbands on their wedding night and were condemned to carry water to a vessel that could never be filled. Futility never looked so beautiful.

For variety's sake, here's one with no magical or tragic women: The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius (1883), which copies Alma-Tadema about as closely as it is possible for one artist to copy the style of another. But it's beautiful, so away with your original, creative, mold-shattering work and let me look at things I like.

And his first The Lady of Shalott, from 1888. She was the one who loved Lancelot so much that when he rejected her, she either (depending on the version) drowned herself or wasted away.

There is a place in the world for the shocking and the bold and the new, but to me it will never match that which beautifully expresses ancient tradition. The Magic Circle (1896)

The Sun Also Rises

Hemingway's first novel launched his literary fame, and it still has passionate fans. I read it partly because after I disparaged For Whom the Bell Tolls in conversation, a friend I respect said she agreed about that one but added, "You should read The Sun Also Rises -- it's a beautiful book."

So I did. I won't say I hated it, because it didn't make that strong of an impression on me. I think I just didn't get it. I wouldn't have finished it if it hadn't been for my desire to check another classic off my life list. Helped that it's short.

The basic plot is this: narrator Jake Barnes, World War I vet rendered impotent by his wounds, hangs around Paris in 1925 with a bunch of other expats who all drink so much that I can't believe they could even stand up, let alone enjoy the night life. This circle consists of four men and one woman, Brett Ashley, who has slept with all of them. They drink and have inane conversations for about a hundred pages. I gather the point of this is to depict the lifeless, spiritless, pointless, empty existence of the "lost generation," people ruined by World War I and unable to get on with their lives. It certainly worked for me -- I have never read anything so bewilderingly vacuous. Their conversations go something like this:
We went on.
"Here's a taxidermist," Bill said. "Want to buy anything? Nice stuffed dog?"
"Come on," I said. "You're pie-eyed."
"Pretty nice stuffed dogs," Bill said. "Certainly brighten up your flat."
"Come on."
"Just one stuffed dog. I can take 'em or leave 'em alone. But listen, Jake. Just one stuffed dog."
"Come on."
"Mean everything in the world to you after you bought it. Simple exchange of values. You give them money. They give you a stuffed dog."
We went on. . . .
We stopped and had a drink.
"Certainly like to drink," Bill said. "You ought to try is tome times, Jake."
"You're about a hundred and forty-four ahead of me."
"Ought not to daunt you. Never be daunted. Secret of my success. Never been daunted. Never been daunted in public."
"Where were you drinking?"
And so on. It's profoundly depressing, and it reminded me of why I hate to be around drunks.

Then the whole lot of them head down to Pamplona for the summer festival that includes the famous running of the bulls. Jake, like Hemingway, is a great lover of bull fighting. He also, like Hemingway, loves to fish. This part of the novel is better, because it includes excellent descriptions of bulls, fish, mountains, small Spanish towns, and the reverie of the festival. But most of the text still consists of inane conversations, half about drinking and half about the tension created by Brett's sleeping with everyone. According to what I have read, this is either supposed to convey that the lives of the lost can be redeemed through a reconnection with the earthy, spiritual, physical life of small town Spaniards, or just to contrast the two worlds. Hemingway certainly makes the contrast powerful; against the gaslit drunken folly of Paris he sets sun, wine, fishing in cold mountain streams, dancing, and spiritual hope, which are somehow crystallized in the deadly rituals of the bull fight.

I couldn't see any salvation taking place. Jake Barnes seems pretty ok at the end, but then he always seemed the most ok of the lot. Brett has fallen madly in love with a 19-year-old matador, seduced him, and then wired Jake to come rescue her from him. She says she won't live with Jake because she would only cheat on him, and she loves him to much to do that to him. So she follows the rest of the crew back to their drunken lives in Paris and London while Jake goes swimming. Finis.

I can see, if I try, some of the things that other people claim to have seen in the book: Jake's search for solid ground, moral and psychological, onto which he could crawl from the quicksand of his drunken expat life; the contrast between the worldly, sophisticated, rotten life of the rich expats and the simpler, more authentic world of the small-town Spaniards; the need for a physical life of sun and contact with animals, not just Paris by night.

Ok, sure. But why this book? If Jake Barnes is disgusted by characters like Brett and her admirers, why does he hang around with them? Why is he fascinated by her? Why does he help her get close enough to the matador to use her wiles on him, which causes him to lose face with all his Spanish bull-fighting friends? Why doesn't he, I don't know, move to Key West and hang out with fishermen? And why did I subject myself to 150 pages of drunken banter for 50 pages of decent writing about Pamplona, bulls, and the Spanish mountains?

Yes, the sun also rises. But why wallow around in the dark for so long? Hemingway makes a drunken life in Paris seem so awful that you can't believe (or at least I couldn't) that even the most wounded, lonely man would willingly subject himself to it. There is no dark attraction, nothing to get stuck on. It's just awful. So why bother? I guess life is like that sometimes. But I wish I had read something else.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In the Snow

Clara, yesterday.

And one picture of how lovely it was in the morning, before the rain started.

Today at the Supreme Court

JUSTICE SCALIA: I'm curious, when -­ when did -- when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Sometimes -- some time after Baker, where we said it didn't even raise a substantial Federal question? When -- when -- when did the law become this?

MR. OLSON: When -- may I answer this in the form of a rhetorical question? When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages? When did it become unconstitutional to assign children to separate schools?

JUSTICE SCALIA: It's an easy question, I think, for that one. At -- at the time that the Equal Protection Clause was adopted. That's absolutely true. But don't give me a question to my question.

And then this:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: There is an immediate legal injury or legal—what could be a legal injury, and that’s the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California . . . that live with same-sex parents. They want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of these children is important, don’t you think?

The Neolithic Goats of the British Highlands

Across the wide spaces of Northumberland's Cheviot Hills roams a creature whose existence I did not suspect until a few minutes ago: the British Primitive Goat. These are feral goats, but not recent escapees. No, they seem to be descended from Neolithic goats brought to the island by Britain's first farmers 6,000 years ago.

Now several distinct populations roam the hills, known by local names such as the Yeavering Bell goats, the Kielder goats of Kielder forest, and so on. Other populations of similar animals roam the highlands of Wales and Scotland. A note on goat society:
Goats generally live in a matriarchal society, with three or more generations of females (nannies) occupying the same home range. Outside the breeding season the sexes tend to be separated. The males, or billies, leave their mother’s home range at about 6 months old and spend most of their time in small groups of billies of a similar age, their ranges may overlap with the ranges of the nannies. During the autumn, billies converge for the rut, competing for access to females.
Since they have always been considered just runaway goats, they have been regularly hunted and are protected by no laws. As recently as 2006, the wild herds of Snowdonia were regularly culled to make room for more sheep. The animals have lately drawn the attention of scientists and park managers, and some have been given GPS collars to study where they go and how far they roam. Others biologists are studying goat DNA, to find out if the animals are closely related and how much they have interbred with domestic goats over the centuries. There is even a British Feral Goat Research Group. (Mission: To research the origin, history and present status of British feral goat herds, with the overall aim of identifying the remaining British Primitive Goats and preserving a viable gene bank of these for the future.)

According to the BFGRC, there are 45 herds of feral goats in Britain, with a total population of about 4,000.

May they long endure!

Today in Historical Revisionism

There is, I just discovered, a William Clarke Quantrill Society, aka The Missouri Partisan Rangers,
dedicated to the study of the Border War and the War of Northern Aggression on the Missouri-Kansas border with an emphasis on the lives of Quantrill, his men, his supporters, his adversaries, and the resulting historical record.
On their Facts and Questions Page, I find
Why have historians treated Quantrill's band so unkindly?

One must always remember history is written by the winner. Missouri was truly a divided state. In this instance, many of Quantrill's followers, or their families, had suffered great injustices from overzealous Union men. Many times men were accused of rebel leanings by neighbors. Though the accusations were untrue, their homes were burned or they were expelled from the county with no recourse. At this point they would became rebels if they weren't before.
Which, I don't know, may be true about somebody or even several somebodies, but was certainly not true about former cattle rustler, horse thief and slave hunter William Clarke Quantrill. Quantrill was born in Ohio and he had no family in Missouri or any other personal stake in the border region, but went there after the war broke out because he wanted to kill people. His band had no strategy for liberating the southern-leaning parts or Missouri, or for wearing down the Union, or for anything else but killing northern sympathizers. And not only soft-hearted pacifists like me think so; Robert E. Lee hated all the Confederate partisans, whom he called "savages" on several occasions, and fought throughout the war to have them incorporated into the regular Confederate Army.

Do the victors write the history? When it comes to the Civil War, this is manifestly not true. Southerners have probably written more words about the war than Yankees, and they have been successful in shaping American views of the conflict in many ways. So let me throw out this little tidbit about Quantrill to give people an idea of what he was like:
The attack on Lawrence was carefully planned. . . . Between three and four hundred riders arrived at the summit of Mount Oread, then descended on Lawrence in a fury. Over four hours, the raiders pillaged and set fire to the town and killed most of its male population. Quantrill's men burned to the ground a quarter of the buildings in Lawrence, including all but two businesses. They looted most of the banks and stores and killed between 185 and 200 men and boys. According to an 1897 account, among the dead were 18 of 23 unmustered army recruits. By 9 a.m., the raiders were on their way out of town, evading the few units that came in pursuit, and splitting up so as to avoid Union pursuit of a unified column.
Quantrill was killed in an ambush in Kentucky in 1865 -- or so the version of history written by the victors says. Wikipedia has this weird little item under the heading Claim of Post 1865 Survival:
In August, 1907, news articles appeared in Canada and the United States claiming that J.E. Duffy, a member of a Michigan cavalry troop that dealt with Quantrill's raiders during the Civil War, had met Quantrill at Quatsino Sound, on northern Vancouver Island while investigating timber rights in the area. Duffy claimed to recognize the man, living under the name of John Sharp, as Quantrill. Duffy said that Sharp admitted he was Quantrill and discussed in detail raids in Kansas and elsewhere. Sharp claimed that he had survived the ambush in Kentucky, though receiving a bayonet and bullet wound, making his way to South America where he lived some years in Chile. He returned to the United States, working as a cattleman in Fort Worth, Texas. He then moved to Oregon, acting as a cowpuncher and drover, before reaching British Columbia in the 1890s, where he worked in logging, trapping and finally as a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino.

Within some weeks after the news stories were published, two men came to British Columbia, travelling to Quatsino from Victoria, leaving Quatsino on a return voyage of a coastal steamer the next day. On that day, Sharp was found severely beaten, dying several hours later without giving information about his attackers. The police were unable to solve the murder.
Seems like if John Sharp was just joking, he picked the wrong topic to joke about.

The Lindisfarne Gospels

The British Library is putting its treasury of medieval manuscripts online, starting with the most famous. To celebrate, here are some pages and details from the Lindisfarne Gospels. This masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon art was begun, our sources say, in 698 by Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne (d. 721?). The text has Old English glosses added by Aldred, provost of Chester-le-Street (fl. c. 970). The decoration was done sometime in between by more than one person, possibly over a period of decades.