Quotulatiousness

June 25, 2017

QotD: The Two Minute Hate

Filed under: Books, Politics, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within 30 seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949.

June 23, 2017

Patrick MacNee of The Avengers on alcoholism and his life

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Apr 30, 2017

Patrick talks about his mother began to identify as a lesbian. His father moved to India, and his mother began to live with her wealthy partner, Evelyn Spottswood, whose money came from the Dewar’s whisky business. He called her Uncle Evelyn and he despised her.

He talks about his battle with Alcohol, being a Grandfather, working with Diana Rigg and his book Blind In One Ear. He has a delicious sense of humor and such a fun interview.

He was best known for his role as the secret agent John Steed in the British television series The Avengers. Patrick died in June of 2015 at age 93.

June 13, 2017

Dave Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock now available

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Several years back, Dave Weigel wrote a series of articles chronicling the rise and fall of Prog Rock. Today, his new book is being published:

The fact that I linked to all five parts of his 2012 series is probably enough of a clue that I’m a fan of the genre and will be purchasing my own copy of the book. Here’s some of the blurb from the Amazon.ca page (Click on the image above to go to the Amazon.ca site):

The Show That Never Ends is the definitive story of the extraordinary rise and fall of progressive (“prog”) rock. Epitomized by such classic, chart-topping bands as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Emerson Lake & Palmer, along with such successors as Rush, Marillion, Asia, Styx, and Porcupine Tree, prog sold hundreds of millions of records. It brought into the mainstream concept albums, spaced-out cover art, crazy time signatures, multitrack recording, and stagecraft so bombastic it was spoofed in the classic movie This Is Spinal Tap.

With a vast knowledge of what Rolling Stone has called “the deliciously decadent genre that the punks failed to kill,” access to key people who made the music, and the passion of a true enthusiast, Washington Post national reporter David Weigel tells the story of prog in all its pomp, creativity, and excess.

Weigel explains exactly what was “progressive” about prog rock and how its complexity and experimentalism arose from such precursors as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. He traces prog’s popularity from the massive success of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” and the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” in 1967. He reveals how prog’s best-selling, epochal albums were made, including The Dark Side of the Moon, Thick as a Brick, and Tubular Bells. And he explores the rise of new instruments into the prog mix, such as the synthesizer, flute, mellotron, and—famously—the double-neck guitar.

If this clip of Yes performing “Roundabout” doesn’t immediately suggest Spinal Tap, I can only assume you’ve never seen the movie:

But not everyone of my generation was a fan of prog: here’s James Lileks summing up what he thought of the age of musical excess:

It’s obvious from Note One that everyone involved in the effort had so much THC in their system you could dry-cure their phlegm and get a buzz off the resin, but instead of having the loose happy ho-di-hi-dee-ho cheer of a Cab Calloway reefer number, the songs are soaked with Art and Importance and Meaning. You can imagine the band members sitting down to hash out (sorry) the overarching themes of the album, how it should like start with Total Chaos man because those are the times in which we live with like war from the sky, okay, and then we’ll have flutes because flutes are peaceful like doves and my old lady can play that part because she like studied flute, man, in high school. The lyrics are all the same: AND THE KING OF QUEENS SAID TO THE EARTH THE HEIROPHANT SHALL NOW GIVE BIRTH / THE HOODED PRIESTS IN CHAMBERED LAIRS LEERED DOWN UPON THE LADIES FAIR / NEWWWW DAAAAY DAWNNNING!

How to defeat Islamist terrorism

Filed under: Books, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith suggests a different approach to fighting Islamist terror:

Somebody once wisely observed that you can’t fight an idea with guns and bombs, but only with a better idea. One reason we are still having problems with communism — in North Korea, China, Venezuela, and our college campuses — is that we have been trying to fight it, since 1917, with guns and bombs. There are many better ideas than communism, but its strongest advocates, the American mass media, won’t permit them to be discussed.

Much the same is true of Islam, only more so. It is a belief-system almost entirely rooted in fear and ignorance, and has many vulnerabilities. A full, open, and public discussion of it would destroy it utterly, but its advocates are afraid to permit that, turning instead to Molotov cocktails, submachine guns, and large knives. Failing that full, open, and public discussion, a book should be produced that could change the course of history.

When I was a young man, classified ads in Reason magazine and elsewhere offered a publication called 100 Biblical Contradictions. The book I have in mind for Islam would be similar to that, short, plain paragraphs mostly asking dangerous questions. It would be small enough to fit into a jacket or jeans pocket, and durable, like a Langenscheidt’s foreign language dictionary. It could be air-dropped by the hundreds of thousands where it would do the most good — Syria, Iran, Michigan — and audio recordings could be made available to the many — especially Muslim women — who can’t read.

I would borrow a leaf from Heinlein and call it by the Arabic word for Doubt. It would be more powerful than the Father of the “Mother Of All Bombs”.

The trouble with it, and the reason such a book will likely never be produced, is that it would be fully as destructive to other mystical and irrational belief systems, to Christianity and Judaism, among others — all of which are based on faith (which Mark Twain or someone once said means “believing in something you know damn well ain’t so”) as it would be to Islam. Joseph Farah and Glenn Beck and Franklin Graham would all freak out. Of course, there are individuals I’ve known — Christians, Jews, Muslims, and quite a few Buddhists — whose belief is gentle and strong enough to withstand what should be in Doubt, but not a majority.

It would appear that most human beings believe, without examination, whatever their parents and leaders and Hollywood balloon-heads want them to believe. So much for advancing the human condition.

June 9, 2017

Charles Stross provides a crib sheet for his latest Laundry novel

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As he’s done for several of his books, Charles Stross gives some interesting background on The Delirium Brief, the latest book in the Laundry series of spies-meet-H.P. Lovecraft stories:

It should be fairly obvious by now that, although initially the stories were set in the same year as publication, the Laundry universe has now dropped behind the real world calendar and diverged drastically from our own history. The Annihilation Score was set during the summer of 2013, in a UK suffering from a surplus of superheroes (or at least extradimensional brain-eater afflicted humans experiencing outbreaks of eldritch powers before their heads exploded: some of whom assumed that donning skin tight lycra and committing vigilante crimes was a sensible reaction to being parasitized). It reached a conclusive and grisly climax in the massacre at the Last Night of the Proms, an annual British cultural event; a horrible event the true nature of which was, nevertheless, suppressed and presented to the public as a terrorist incident not unlike the Moscow theater hostage crisis of 2002. At the end of The Annihilation Score the Laundry’s cordon of secrecy was in tatters but plausible deniability had been maintained—barely.

The Nightmare Stacks takes place in March-May 2014, and is the story of how the continually escalating threats faced by the Laundry finally overcame the agency’s ability to suppress and contain incursions without public notice, and is the first half of a two-book pivot point in the series (the ongoing consequences of the disaster in Leeds continue to the inevitable conclusion in The Delirium Brief); it’s the beginning of the tumble over the cliff-edge leading down to the Lovecraftian Singularity.

And we have a new narrative viewpoint, and sundry new protagonists showing up.

Many readers commented on the absence of Bob from The Annihilation Score and The Nightmare Stacks. Bob is back as the primary (but not the only) viewpoint in The Delirium Brief, but we’ve reached a point in the series where he has to be deployed with extreme parsimony. After fourteen years in the Laundry Bob is, despite his ongoing self-deception, not entirely human: watch what he does, not what he says. In The Rhesus Chart he walked into a nest of vampires and came out with his hair mussed but basically intact. You can’t use a guy like that routinely in an ongoing series without either sacrificing the sense of jeopardy (will our hero survive?) or escalating the threats he faces drastically. So Bob took a break for The Nightmare Stacks and was replaced by a plausible Bob 2.0 — a young PHANG called Alex Schwartz, introduced as a minor character in The Rhesus Chart.

[…]

Spoiler (for the record): The Laundryverse and the Merchant Princes multiverse do not coexist in the same fictional universe. (Who do you think I am, the elderly Robert A. Heinlein?)

June 5, 2017

Camille Paglia on Angela Merkel as “the best model for aspiring women politicians”

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

An interview with Camille Paglia about her latest book, , Angela Merkel as a role model for female politicians, and other topics:

DW: In one of your essays for Time magazine, you described Angela Merkel as “the best model for aspiring women politicians.” What did you mean by that?

Camille Paglia: What I have always admired about Angela Merkel is her ability to project confident leadership while also maintaining her naturalness and spontaneity as a real person with a rich personal life. She gardens, she cooks, she loves both sports and opera!

The contrast to Hillary Clinton as a public figure is immense. Hillary lives like a darkly brooding Marie Antoinette, barricaded behind her wealth and security guards. She seems to have no hobbies and few interests, aside from her pursuit of money and power.

Every public appearance is carefully scripted in advance for maximum publicity. She is stiff and guarded, incapable of improvisation, which is why she held virtually no press conferences at all during her presidential campaign.

Everything she does or says is researched and poll-tested by an army of hired sycophants. A recent book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, has revealed that even the top managers of Hillary’s own presidential campaign were often unable to speak to her directly. Everyone had to go through her chic courtier and major-domo, Huma Abedin.

I love the way that Angela Merkel is completely content to look exactly her age. She has a relaxation, a comfort within her own skin, without all the glamorous, artificial interventions of Hillary’s fancy cosmetics, luxury hair styling, and expensive designer clothing. I regard Merkel as an important role model not simply as a politician but as a mature woman of the world.

It must be emphasized that I am not in any way evaluating Angela Merkel’s policy decisions, where there is reason for controversy, notably about immigration. However, in my view, Merkel has achieved the most successful persona yet for a modern woman politician: She is steely and pugnacious in conflict, yet she exudes warmth and humor, an ease with ordinary human life.

[…]

Where do your viewpoints come from?

As an adolescent in the early 1960s, I was directly inspired by first-wave feminism, the 19th-century protest movement that led to American women winning the right to vote in 1920.

I learned about feminism through my obsession with the aviatrix Amelia Earhart, whom I read about in a 1961 newspaper article. For the next three years, I obsessively pursued a research project into Earhart and her era. No one was talking about feminism at the time, but I was drawn to the subject because of my own aggressive, outspoken personality, which did not conform to standard definitions of femininity during that period.

By the time second-wave feminism was born in the late 1960s, I came into fierce conflict with the new feminists over many issues – above all their neurotic hatred of men and their puritanical hostility to sexual images in art history and Hollywood movies.

I was 16 years old and had just read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut, had just become the first woman launched into space. Newsweek published my letter to the editor, along with a photo of Amelia Earhart: I invoked Earhart’s precedent in protesting the exclusion of women from the American space program. I explicitly demanded “equal opportunity” for American women – and that remains my ultimate principle.

June 3, 2017

The tedious tropes of modern Young Adult science fiction novels

Filed under: Books, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Guest-posting at According to Hoyt, Christopher M. Chupik describes the typical YA novel:

… I never read much YA when I was a young adult. Early on, I vaulted past my contemporaries. Most of the books aimed at kids my age were depressing “problem novels”. I didn’t want to spend time with depressingly realistic kids with depressingly realistic problems. I had school for that. Escape was what I wanted.

Working at a library now, I handle a great deal of the new YA books that come our way. The success of The Hunger Games has unleashed a flood of copycat dystopian fiction. I read the jackets and feel a depressing sameness creeping in:

    “In the dystopian near future, climate change has wrecked everything. The EvilCorp/EvilGov has taken power, crushing freedom and reorganizing society into an unfair class system designed to make teens angsty. Actiongirl Unlikelyname is completely ordinary and totally special. She must join the Resistance and make a choice that will change her world forever: which generically hunky guy will she be with at the end of the trilogy?”

This Twitter feed does a great job of mocking the cliches:

Tweets by DystopianYA

There’s a few YA novels set on other planets, but they almost invariably involve evil corporations or “the one-percenters”, who of course have colonized space on the backs of everybody else. What a great way to get the kids interested in space exploration, than to turn it into tedious left-wing class warfare propaganda, right?

And most of these came out back in the Obama years, when left-wingers, and by extension their fiefdoms in the publishing industry were optimistic about the future. But now that they lost the election one can only imagine the outpouring of over-the-top dystrumpias which is about to flood bookshelves in the months and years to come.

Now, let it be known that I’m not entirely against the dystopian trend. I did grow up reading John Christopher’s Tripod and Prince in Waiting trilogies, after all. I certainly see the value in showing the younger generation that leaders should not be blindly trusted, that “progress” is not a guarantee and that freedom is not something that you inherit, but something that must be constantly renewed, lest it be lost forever. All are important points.

But I’m worried that all our kids are seeing of the future is doom and gloom. There was some of that when I was growing up. The media of the ’80s played up the threat of impending nuclear war for what I’m sure were completely non-partisan reasons. And then there was the steady drumbeat of ozone hole/acid rain agitprop. But I had Star Trek to show me something better. And even though I look at Trek‘s worldview with some skepticism now, I still appreciate that it’s a fundamentally optimistic view of humanity’s future. YA science-fiction readers aren’t getting that. What they’re being told, over and over, is that the future sucks and that science-fiction is the genre about how much its its going to suck.

May 30, 2017

The Belisarius fixation in SF&F

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jo Walton wonders why an otherwise obscure general of an otherwise obscure empire appears so often in fantasy and science fiction:

I once wrote jokingly here that there are only three plots, and they are Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and Belisarius, because those are the ones everyone keeps on reusing.

There is a conference in Uppsala in Sweden the weekend before the Helsinki Worldcon called “Reception Histories of the Future” which is about the use of Byzantium in science fiction. The moment I heard of it, I immediately started thinking about our obsessive reuse of the story of Belisarius. (I’m going. Lots of other writers are going. If you’re heading to Helsinki, it’s on your way, and you should come too!)

It’s strange that science fiction and fantasy are obsessed with retelling the story of Belisarius, when the mainstream world isn’t particularly interested. Robert Graves wrote a historical novel about him in 1938, Count Belisarius, and there’s Gillian Bradshaw’s The Bearkeeper’s Daughter (1987), but not much else. Whereas in genre, we’ve had the story of Belisarius retold by Guy Gavriel Kay, David Drake (twice) and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and used by L. Sprague de Camp, John M. Ford, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Silverberg, and Isaac Asimov. So what is it about this bit of history that makes everyone from Asimov to Yarbro use it? And how is it that the only place you’re likely to have come across it is SF?

First, let’s briefly review the story. First Rome was a huge unstoppable powerful indivisible empire. Then Rome divided into East and West, with the Eastern capital at Constantinople. Then the Western half fell to barbarians, while the Eastern half limped on for another millennium before falling to the Ottoman conqueror Mehmed II in 1453. We call the eastern half Byzantium, but they went right on calling themselves the Roman Empire, right up to the last minute. But long before that, in the sixth century, at the exact same time as the historical Arthur (if there was an Arthur) was trying to save something from the shreds of Roman civilization in Britain, Justinian (482-565) became emperor in Constantinople and tried to reunite the Roman Empire. He put his uncle on the throne, then followed him. He married an actress, the daughter of an animal trainer, some say a prostitute, called Theodora. He has a loyal general called Belisarius. He built the great church of Hagia Sophia. He withstood a giant city riot in the hippodrome, the great chariot-racing stadium, by having Belisarius’s soldiers massacre a huge number of people. He wrote a law code that remained the standard law code everywhere in Europe until Napoleon. And Belisarius reconquered really quite large chunks of the Roman Empire for him, including Rome itself. At the height of his success he was recalled to Rome and fired because Justinian was jealous. Belisarius had a huge army and could have taken the throne for himself, which was typical of both the Roman and the Byzantine empires, but he was loyal and let Justinian fire him. This is all happening at a time of Christian schism and squabbling about heresy between different sects.

While I’d quibble about her thumbnail sketch a bit, there’s more than enough there to fuel dozens of alt-history, fantasy, or science fiction novels … the fiction couldn’t be much more difficult to swallow than the reality. My first contact with the story of Belisarius was indeed the Robert Graves novel (which I still heartily recommend). I imagine that was true for most of the authors listed above.

QotD: The uses of IQ

Filed under: Books, Health, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Suppose that the question at issue regards individuals: “Given two 11 year olds, one with an IQ of 110 and one with an IQ of 90, what can you tell us about the differences between those two children?” The answer must be phrased very tentatively. On many important topics, the answer must be, “We can tell you nothing with any confidence.” It is well worth a guidance counselor’s time to know what these individual scores are, but only in combination with a variety of other information about the child’s personality, talents, and background. The individual’s IQ score all by itself is a useful tool but a limited one.

Suppose instead that the question at issue is: “Given two sixth-grade classes, one for which the average IQ is 110 and the other for which it is 90, what can you tell us about the difference between those two classes and their average prospects for the future?” Now there is a great deal to be said, and it can be said with considerable confidence — not about any one person in either class but about average outcomes that are important to the school, educational policy in general, and society writ large. The data accumulated under the classical tradition are extremely rich in this regard, as will become evident in subsequent chapters.

[…]

We agree emphatically with Howard Gardner, however, that the concept of intelligence has taken on a much higher place in the pantheon of human virtues than it deserves. One of the most insidious but also widespread errors regarding IQ, especially among people who have high IQs, is the assumption that another person’s intelligence can be inferred from casual interactions. Many people conclude that if they see someone who is sensitive, humorous, and talks fluently, the person must surely have an above-average IQ.

This identification of IQ with attractive human qualities in general is unfortunate and wrong. Statistically, there is often a modest correlation with such qualities. But modest correlations are of little use in sizing up other individuals one by one. For example, a person can have a terrific sense of humor without giving you a clue about where he is within thirty points on the IQ scale. Or a plumber with a measured IQ of 100 — only an average IQ — can know a great deal about the functioning of plumbing systems. He may be able to diagnose problems, discuss them articulately, make shrewd decisions about how to fix them, and, while he is working, make some pithy remarks about the president’s recent speech.

At the same time, high intelligence has earmarks that correspond to a first approximation to the commonly understood meaning of smart. In our experience, people do not use smart to mean (necessarily) that a person is prudent or knowledgeable but rather to refer to qualities of mental quickness and complexity that do in fact show up in high test scores. To return to our examples: Many witty people do not have unusually high test scores, but someone who regularly tosses off impromptu complex puns probably does (which does not necessarily mean that such puns are very funny, we hasten to add). If the plumber runs into a problem he has never seen before and diagnoses its source through inferences from what he does know, he probably has an IQ of more than 100 after all. In this, language tends to reflect real differences: In everyday language, people who are called very smart tend to have high IQs.

All of this is another way of making a point so important that we will italicize it now and repeat elsewhere: Measures of intelligence have reliable statistical relationships with important social phenomena, but they are a limited tool for deciding what to make of any given individual. Repeat it we must, for one of the problems of writing about intelligence is how to remind readers often enough how little an IQ score tells about whether the human being next to you is someone whom you will admire or cherish. This thing we know as IQ is important but not a synonym for human excellence.

Charles Murray, “The Bell Curve Explained”, American Enterprise Institute, 2017-05-20.

May 28, 2017

The Handmaid’s Tale, is indeed timely, but not the way they mean

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, Charlotte Allen discusses the “timeliness” of Hulu’s TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale:

I’ve lost count of the articles I’ve read about Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale that used the word “timely.” Timely, that is, in the sense of the presidency of Donald Trump. Here’s just a short list of print and online outlets where the T-word appears in connection with the re-creation of Atwood’s fictional America turned into a grim theocracy called Gilead that treats women like breeding cattle: the Hollywood Reporter, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Mother Jones, Harper’s Bazaar, the Daily Beast, Bustle, NPR, and CNN. The 77-year-old Atwood herself chimed in, telling the Los Angeles Times’ Patt Morrison: “We’re no longer making fiction — we’re making a documentary.”

The idea, in these mostly liberal media outlets, seems to be that under President Trump, America has become — or will become terrifyingly soon — a militant Bible-based patriarchy (hello Texas, hello Mike Pence) in which women have no rights, especially no reproductive rights, and are divided into rigidly stratified social classes whose very names give their status away: privileged, churchy Wives at the top, Econowives in the lower social orders, and cook-and-bottle-washer Marthas who do the housework for the Wives and their powerful husbands, the Commanders.

At the very bottom are Handmaids, political pariahs (wrong ideas, such as feminism) who become the literal property of the top-dog men and are forced to bear their children. (The Wives suffer from environmental pollution-related fertility problems.) As the New Republic’s Sarah Jones, one of the “timely” crowd, explains, “Of course, we don’t divide women into classes of Marthas, Handmaids, Econowives, and Wives; we call them ‘the help,’ ‘surrogates,’ the working class, and the one percent.”

At first I scoffed. There couldn’t be any more unlikely a theocrat than Trump, what with his misquotes from the Bible and speculation that he hasn’t been in a church more than twice since the inauguration. But then I realized that the liberal paranoiacs were right. Except not in the way they think. Instead of seeing Atwood’s fictional Gilead as a near-future militant fundamentalist Christian elite dystopia, we should see it as the mostly secularist elite dystopia we live in right now.

May 27, 2017

Currently reading

Filed under: Books, History, Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

You could say that I don’t follow a particularly chronological pattern to my reading list.

Pax Romana, Adrian Goldsworthy
AD69: Emperors, Armies & Anarchy, Nic Fields
All Propaganda is Lies: 1941-1942, George Orwell
The New Cambridge Modern History: II The Reformation 1520-1559 (no longer a library book despite the spine markings)

May 26, 2017

A noteworthy historical “Oh, shit!” moment

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Catallaxy Files, a guest post on a most butt-puckering “Oh, shit!” from long ago:

My favourite Oh Shit moment of all time occurred a while ago. On the 4th of September 401 BC to be exact. At dawn.

Cyrus the brother of the Persian Emperor wanted to knock him off and take the throne. He had plenty of local soldiers, but to add some oomph he hired about 13,000 Greek mercenaries. Many of these were Athenians down on their luck after their city lost the Peloponnesian Wars. The Greek hoplites were the Abrams tanks of the day. Unstoppable.

The Battle of Cunaxa saw Cyrus and his brother face off. It was going reasonably well for Cyrus’s guys – the Greeks routed their Persian opponents. But then Cyrus spotted the Emperor and his guard. According to Xenophon he then took his bodyguard of 600 heavy cavalry off and attacked the Emperor’s 6,000. Cyrus went all in – he personally attacked his brother and wounded him. But in doing so he received a javelin just under one eye and expired.

Which brings us to dawn next morning. The Greeks had no idea that their paymaster had suffered a quite unsuccessful death or glory moment, until the news arrived just then.

The Persians, having sorted out their differences, were now united into a huge army under Artaxerxes the Emperor. Which left the small matter of the Greek mercenary force deep inside the Persian Empire and surrounded by a vast horde of very unhappy Persians.

Oh shit.

The story of their escape back to Greece is awe inspiring and amazing. Well worth reading. Xenophon’s Anabasis is available free from Project Gutenberg at the link.

May 22, 2017

Who’s afraid of Mrs. Grundy?

Filed under: Books, Britain, Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

In my family, the name “Mrs. Grundy” was used to describe someone of rigidly conformative taste and judgement (and keenly censorious bent). I’d always assumed it was just a family notion or perhaps a Yorkshire-ism, but the Wikipedia entry makes it clear that Mrs. Grundy has been the bane of many a would-be adventurous or daring spirit for centuries:

Mrs Grundy is a figurative name for an extremely conventional or priggish person, a personification of the tyranny of conventional propriety. A tendency to be overly fearful of what the respectable might think is also referred to as grundyism.

Although she began life as a minor character in Thomas Morton’s play Speed the Plough (1798), Mrs Grundy was eventually so well established in the public imagination that Samuel Butler, in his novel Erewhon, could refer to her in the form of an anagram (as the goddess Ydgrun). As a figure of speech she can be found throughout European literature.

It also discusses a real-life Mrs. Grundy from the early nineteenth century:

During the reign of William IV (reigned 1830-1837) a Mrs Sarah Hannah Grundy (1 January 1804 – 30 December 1863) was employed as Deputy Housekeeper at Hampton Court Palace one of Henry VIII of England’s most famous residences. Her husband, John Grundy (1798/1799 – August 1861), was keeper of the State apartments. Mrs Grundy became Head Housekeeper on 22 April 1838, a year after Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, and she served in that position until 1863 when she retired. Her duties included the care of the chapel at Hampton Court.

Royal families stopped using Hampton Court as a residence in 1737, and from the 1760s onward, it was divided up for “grace-and-favour” residents who were granted rent-free accommodation in return for great service to the Crown or country. These private rooms numbered in the hundreds. Much is revealed about the Victorian ladies living at Hampton Court Palace through their letters, particularly their correspondence to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office as the Ladies attempted to get around the regulations — to exchange their apartments for better ones, to sub-let their apartments for profit, to keep dogs, or other matters of convenience. Equally revealing are the letters from the Housekeepers to the Lord Chamberlain, complaining about the Ladies’ behaviour.

However, a bit of Canadian history indicates that the use of the term “Mrs. Grundy” as I’m familiar with it long predated the lady who policed morals at Hampton Court:

… in a book published in 1836, The Backwoods of Canada Being Letters From The Wife Of An Emigrant Officer, Illustrative Of The Domestic Economy Of British America, by Catharine Parr Traill, she writes: “Now, we bush-settlers are more independent: we do what we like; we dress as we find most suitable and most convenient; we are totally without the fear of any Mr. or Mrs. Grundy; and having shaken off the trammels of Grundyism, we laugh at the absurdity of those who voluntarily forge afresh and hug their chains.” This appears to show that the modern concept of “Mrs. Grundy” was current before the Mrs. Grundy of Hampton Court began her reign.

May 11, 2017

QotD: Stereotypes

Filed under: Books, Europe, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Stereotypes are of course a tool of the trade for writers. We have to know what the stereotypes are in people’s minds, and therefore use them to suggest things we can’t thoroughly describe. (No one can thoroughly describe everything, even in a long book. Nor would you want them to. It would get truly tedious.)

Sometimes I fail at this, the same way I have trouble picking fonts for covers, because the stereotypes in my head are not the same as in most of my readers’. Take Irishmen for instance. I actually know something about the stereotype here, because it’s all over the books everywhere. However, if I’d tried to write an Irishman (or woman) when I came here, and assumed that my readers knew to round out the character with extreme politeness, drive and organization, it would backfire, and at best people would think I was being creative. At worst it would be a “wait, what?”

I suspect the Portuguese stereotype for Irish tells you rather more than you want to know about Portugal, but also about the sort of Irish we got in Portugal. Here you go people looking to make a new living, perhaps not drawn from the higher echelons of society. There you got either rich people, or people who came over as upper servants to British residents. In either case, the unruly Irishman stereotype doesn’t apply, even if both agree on song and poetry.

In the same way I often disappoint on the Portuguese stereotype, because my family runs to relatively tall, I haven’t been in the sun much the last few years, and oh, yes, I fail to be outwardly and loudly pious.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Dealing in Stereotypes”, According to Hoyt, 2015-07-28.

May 8, 2017

“… it’s inconceivable that a book called Fascism for Kids would ever be printed by a reputable publisher”

Filed under: Books, Education, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jarrett Stepman reviews a new MIT translation of Communism for Kids:

In order to make the deadliest ideology of the 20th century palatable to young Americans, Communism for Kids is coming to a bookstore near you.

This newly released book from MIT Press “proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism.”

The death toll from communist regimes in the 20th century is well-documented. One study found that more people were killed under communism than homicide and genocide combined, and only 9 million more people were killed in World War I and World War II combined than under governments of this ideology.

Another study showed how the mass killings of civilians by their own governments took an immediate nosedive after the collapse of the Soviet Union and international communism.

According to the Amazon synopsis, the book weaves a fairy tale of “jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses, and tired workers.”

It is bewildering why MIT Press would publish a book that cutesies up the political creed that gave the world Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and many more of the world’s most prolific mass murderers. None of these brutal dictators are mentioned in the book, according to The Washington Free Beacon.

Communism seemingly gets a pass to be reimagined as a sweet fable while it’s inconceivable that a book called Fascism for Kids would ever be printed by a reputable publisher.

[…]

This odd attempt to get kids into communism is unlikely to spawn a new generation of true believers on its own, but it does highlight the growing problem for younger Americans who are generally clueless about even recent history.

As The Daily Signal previously reported, a study from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that millennials in particular are stunningly ignorant about what occurred under the Soviet Union and other communist regimes just a generation ago.

One-third of millennials surveyed actually believe that more people were killed under former President George W. Bush than under Soviet dictator Stalin.

As suggested, a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm would be a far more accurate and informative gift than this piece of whitewash.

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