06 July 2015

Waterloo and French literature

Many years ago I had a Classics Illustrated Comic called "Waterloo" based on a novel by someone I'd never heard of nor could ever remember. I copied the pictures of the soldiers a lot and for a long time it was all I knew about the battle of Waterloo.

Now I am all grown up. Erckmann-Chatrian were a pair of writers who wrote historical novels about French history. When I checked what they had written I found that Waterloo was actually a sequel to The Conscript: The Story of the French War of 1813. Naturally I went to gutenberg.org to find a copy and began to read, expecting the usual late nineteenth century pro-Emperor, pro-gloire rhetoric. I was quite taken aback by the following quote:

If those who are now masters, and who tell us that God placed them here on earth to make us happy, would foresee at the beginning of a campaign the poor old men, the hapless mothers, whose very hearts they have torn away to satisfy their pride—if they could see the tears and hear the groans of these poor people when they are coldly told 'Your son is dead; you will see him no more; he perished, crushed by horses' hoofs, or torn to pieces by a cannon-ball, or died mayhap afar off in a hospital, after having his arm or leg cut off,—burning with fever, without one kind word to console him, but calling for his parents as when he was an infant,'—if, I say, these haughty ones of earth could thus see the tears of those mothers, I do not believe that one among them would be barbarous enough to continue the war. But they think nothing of this; they think other folks do not love their children as they love theirs; they think people are no more than beasts. They are wrong; all their great genius, their lofty notions of glory, are as nothing, for there is only one thing for which a people should fly to arms—men, women, children—old and young. It is when their liberty is assailed as ours was in '92—then all should die or conquer together; he who remains behind is a coward, who would have others fight for him;—the victory then is not for a few, but for all;—then sons and fathers are defending their families; if they are killed, it is a misfortune, to be sure, but they die for their rights. Such a man, Joseph, is the only just one, the one of which no one can complain; all others are shameful, and the glory they bring is not glory fit for a man, but only for a wild beast."'

14 June 2015

Interesting Paperie on SoHo in the Pestilential Swamp Hole

Down in that state dangling down from the belly of the South, an interesting store.

The Paper Seahorse, offering stationary, PENS!!!, and much more.

I'll have to visit it the next time I am down there, if it doesn't go out of business first.

It's on Howard, between Platt and Cleveland, my old stamping grounds. And only a few blocks from the Four Green Fields!

08 May 2015

The Historian

"There is an authenticity to lived experience on which historians must insist if they wish to remain historians."

John Laurence Tone, War and Genocide in Cuba: 1895-1898.

(an excellent book, btw, well worth reading for any number of reasons)

29 December 2014

Handwriting, need of

After Katrina hit New Orleans most places were without electricity. Think about one small result of that simple fact. No computers. No word processors. No way to write anything except by hand. It was a mini-disaster inside the great disaster.

Local hospitals, in addition to lighting operating rooms with flashlights, had to resort to actual pens and paper for keeping records - records that ended up being largely unreadable. She also told me an amusing (sort of) story about checking into a hotel in an area suffering under a prolonged power outage. The staff suddenly had to hand-write the names of guests, addresses, credit card numbers - and the only employee with handwriting anyone could read was a man on the verge of retirement.
as told to Kitty Burns Florey in Script and Scribble
Thank God this only happens when we have hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. I mean, how often does that happen. After all, it's not like some foreign power has the skill to mess with our computer systems or anything. 

On second thought, I'm buying stock in the last company to manufacture manual typewriters.

28 November 2014

Clemens' Notebook: The Uses of Philosophy

Peter Green, The Hellenistic Age (p.118) speaks of the intellectual changes in the Hellenistic Age, a time of troubles, defeat, and social change.

"... to a remarkable degree all Hellenistic creeds, from Stoicism to the counterculture of the Cynics, were agreed that, as Xenocrates (head of the Academy 339-315) put it, in the immediate aftermath of Chaeronea and the collapse of the Achaemenid empire, '[the] reason for discovering philosophy is to allay that which causes disturbance in life.' The full implications of this attitude are not always appreciated. What such statements - and they came to be a commonplace - imply is a kind of intellectual tsunami, a universal disaster from which philosophy must attempt to salvage what it can, and for the survivors of which it sets out to provide some kind of makeshift comfort."

It was certainly needed, as new creeds would be needed in the Late Antique, but could this not also be seen as a fellow traveler to the Buddhist goal of overcoming 'suffering', dukkha? Or is it speaking on a scale larger than an individual's suffering?

09 November 2014

Clemen's bookshelf

Too often my bookshelf includes every flat surface in the house, including desks, tables, and floor. Too much that I want to read.

I have read a great many books as part of my job in the last few months. Probably the best was Robin Fleming's Britain After Rome. It tells us what it can soley from material remains about the disappearance of the urban lifestyle, the coming of the Anglo Saxons, the Vikings, and the Normans. Excellent, though I missed a discussion of DNA and language.

Then there ere several books for my History of Spain til 1492 class. Right now I am reading The Poem of the Cid for the seventh or eighth time. It's still fun, especially trying to puzzle out the medieval Castilian text. It is always better than The Song of Roland which is proof that even in the twelfth century the French were already French.

Best new book I have, and am almost finished with, is The Race for Paradise by Paul Cobb , the Islamic view of the Crusades, a concept they did not have btw. For them the First Crusade was just part of a broader counter attack by the Christians that had started in Spain and Sicily.

Halfway through The Oxford Handbook of Iranian History, and nearly done with Europe Before Rome by T. Douglas Price. Both excellent and worth reading.

On my Kindle I am finishing up Prescott's classic on Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. It is still hard to believe that a half blind Bostonian who had to learn Spanish and never went to Spain could have written this in the 1830s. As dated as it is, I am not sure it has been totally replaced, at least in English. And I keep chipping away at the Bible - after what seems like months if not years, I have reached the 50% marker. As far as I can tell, despite many difficulties, it has never been replaced either.

As for what I have been listening to, I can't even remember, though right now I am working on Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fisher. It is a fascinating look at where "American" culture came from and why it is so varied region by region.  Just finished Furies: War in Europe 1450-1700. It is one depressing read. Apparently war in those years was as destructive of the civil population as World War II, they just did it the old fashioned way, helped out by plague, starvation, and general all around human beastliness.

So you might say I have a few things to keep me occupied.

Morning conversation

Carmen: Your brother is turning into a real movie star.

Me (struggling to wake up): What's he in now?

Carmen: Something called "Purgatory."

Me: That figures.

03 November 2014

Mindfulness practice

With me, I think it will always be just that, practice, hoping to gain the skill to start the journey. I am the type who wants a road map, but I am getting over that. Each time it is something worth doing only for its own sake, that time. The future never gets here.

Saturday I was physically ill, it was an exceptionally dreary day, and both factors were depressing me. For no particular reason I decided to search out Bohdipaksa videos on You Tube. Found one that looked good and decided to try formal meditation, since all I have been doing little snippets of informal mindfulness here and there during the day.

And it all worked. For nearly a half hour I sat cross legged on the floor and listened and focused. When it was done, I felt fine. All the nausea was gone, all the aches and pains, even the lassitude. I did not even need a nap that afternoon.

So why did it work so well that time, when my meditation practice before, as useful and even necessary as it was, had never even come close to being this remarkable? Possibly all those little informal practices cleared the ground and prepared to way. More likely, I simply like Bohdipaksa voice and his take on meditation. Most likely, I believe, is that he talked about joy and instructed his class to smile.

Perhaps that is all it takes.

(the next day Critter came in to help me and Bohdipaksa in our practice - not sure if it was a help)

Headlines you don't want to read first thing in the morning...

... especially if you are a college professor.


from the AOL newsfeed.