July 25, 2003

Startled by The Economist

They agree with Kevin Phillips? And nearly say so?

This blog entry is late. The June 28th, 2003 issue, on page 8 of its insert "A survey of capitalism and democracy", remarks:

...there has also been a concentration of big gains in income and wealth for the top 1%, and within that for the top 0.1% or even 0.01%."
"The really damaging perception now is that many of these mega-incomes have been gained through the abuse of power - and that, in some cases, they are also being preserved by the use of that moneyed power in politics. Worse still, the perception is largely correct."

!!! I had been getting used to the Economist praising Kerala's success while failing to mention its communism; or outlining the social problems unique to the Anglo-Saxon economies, among similarly industrialized nations, and valiantly saying that the suffering they cause is not a misapplication or even a price of freedom, but rather one of the freedoms unique to the US/UK, and therefore - desirable? (It was an odd article, and if you don't believe me, I'll try sifitng through their online service for a link.)

This Survey has a lot of topics that are already common belief among the anti-corporatists who get miscalled anti-globalists: others are "Shareholder capitalism suffers from a vacuum of ownership", "press governments to double - no, treble - the sums they are giving to help fight the diseases that are plaguing so much of Africa and undermining its political and social institutions."

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Blue Avenger and the Theory of Everything, Norma Howe

Wierd writing style. YA, kind of sweet characters; hardly anything happens in the plot. The writing is self-conscious and self-referential like..
like.. Like a lot of things. Starts by micro-describing moments both quirky and bland: early Douglas Coupland. Soon refers, explicitly and in style, to William Makepeace Thackaray. Two pages later, a pseudo-advertisement for "KwikyRead©", which is both a response to the Thackaray pawn-gambit and frame-breaking, as the company being advertised appears in the book; very like Jasper Fforde.

I assume that much of this game about what writing style is usable in a YA book is the point of the book. Needs more non-self-referential stuff (characterization, event, dialogue, imagery... anything) to hang the virtuosity on, though.

ISBN: 0-8126-2654-0

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July 22, 2003

Girl Genius, issue 9, Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio, Laurie E. Smith

Finally, issue 9! Studio Foglio has a little trouble hitting its publishing dates; but they do send pretty little postcards apologizing.

I don't know whether to say this ish has no cliffhangers or is all cliffhangers. It's a B-movie, Robots of Ruritania story: lots happens.

Character development is beginning to happen to our heroine Agatha; she has told off two ambiguously bad guys, and one foresees an eventual blowup at some of the good guys, when she realizes what was done to her for her own good... It seems very nicely modern that the GG characters are always conscious of the depths of poverty and fear they could fall to, Outside the Cities. A medieval difference between the stations, with a nineteeth-century fluidity of state. But, considering the gilded 19th-c. costumes from Eastern Europe that I read about recently, maybe the centuries were blurrier than I'm thinking.

I can even forgive the cheesecake women and hardly-beefcake men - I'd like more balance, though. I remain annoyed that one of the marks of womanhood seems to be feet so boot-bent as to seem bound.

ISBN: 1-890856-26-6

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July 09, 2003

Schools of magic

I think it wise, and only honest, to warn you that my goal is immodest. It is not my purpose to "transfer knowledge" to you that, subsequently, you can forget again. My purpose is no less than to effectuate in each of you a noticeable, irreversable change . I want you to gain, for the rest of your lives, the insight that beautiful proofs are not "found" by trial and error but are the result of a consciously applied design discipline.


Your obligation is that of active participation. You should not act as knowledge-absorbing sponges, but as whetstones on which we can all sharpen our wits.

Edsger W. Dijkstra, Introducing a course on calculi, EWD1213-0

I fear that the force of this as a "school of magic" will be lost on anyone who hasn't learned the difference between a proof and a heuristic, or rule-of-thumb, or hopeful dependence on the sun's having risen every day so far. Indeed, I am told that most people think of mathematics as the exact opposite of magic; although, looking at the wild-haired oddities represented doing both, there must still be an undercurrent on my side.

They even share the tragedy that we don't really live in that world; we probably live in a world of best guesses and rules-of-thumb. (Philosophy and applied science attack me from opposite sides; I duck.)

I don't know how much a capacity for joy in proof is inborn. I hope math (and philosophy and science) try harder than the Ministry of Magic to share the wealth. I know I judge modern representations of magic by whether they are at least as numinous as my (not impressive) experience of science; really, I think that's fair. Doesn't have to be the same, but has to be as gripping. And that's the thing that disappoints me most in the Harry Potter novels and the widest reactions to them; they are claimed to be fascinating because they are magical, and people are being palmed off with tinsel.

A. S. Byatt and some summaries of her essay think the magic fails psychologically, by not being attached to the development of the character's sexuality; I have my doubts about it politically, since the wizarding world seems pretty much parasitical on the mundane one. These might be ensubtletied in later books; anyhow, there are plenty of arguments about what art and power should be used for. Sex and freedom are only two of the favorites. The Potter novels are doomed to being library books in my household because the magic is neither art nor science; power at worst and marketing at best. Anyone reading this, as I write it, in summer, could see a larger world in a bean-seed in a cup of dirt. (You could even live bounded in a nutshell and think yourself master of infinite space, if it were not for the negative curvature.)

Dijkstra archives, URL: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/

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July 07, 2003


Three-dimensional objects such as models, sculptures, and puzzles.

(From School District of Philadelphia: School Library Handbook.)

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The Journals of George Sturt, 1890-1927, George Sturt

Sturt inherited a wheelwrights' (wagonmakers) in a medium-small town in England; wanted to be a literary man, knew some leading lights.

His journals have some waffly Mauve Decade aestheticizing. He wanted to publish more of this. Fortunately, what he could get published was descriptions of hte 'vanishing rural life', which seem to have been taken down from a particular garden laborer who didn't get much credit or any money for it.

In one of the New York prisons, criminals are treated in on this principle, by massage and Turkish baths, and the soul's sensitiveness grows with that of the skin. May not one reform the criminal in himself, by like means?(29 November 1890 )
It would be an impertinence to criticize Brown. As someone was fond of saying, 'John Brown himself was right': and then, so too was Emerson right, in his attitude of non-resistance to slavery. ... He may have precipitated the Secession War; probably he did so. But slavery could not have lasted much longer. There were others who hated it, besides Brown...Rather I believe, that a man's weight can only tell once: that his force was narrowed to gain that intensity: and that America is now suffering and will have to suffer, for the narrowness of the issue decided by the Civil War. ... It may be, that had the emancipation been deferred, moral force would have been much more powerful to affect it, and much of the war-misery might have been avoided: though of course this would have been balanced by the prolonged sufferings of the slaves. (28 Dec. 1890)
(In because relevant to an argument I was in recently. Not much more in Sturt than what I've quoted. To look up: Emerson's attitude & actions.)
Again, the philosophy I have seemed so much my own, a thing fought for with hard thinking; carved out of experience with my own powers of reason. But in reading a book of Sir Henry Maine's, where Roman Law was dealt with, in its influence on European thought, I begin to have doubts of the value of my philosophy. The form of it (so far as it has form) is gathered from this or that author, distilled by him from who knows what philosopher? It has no more connection with life, than decorative work on bronze, traditional from prehistoric times. And this intellectual repouseé, thought-hammered, bears tool-marks of ways of thinking that are also traditional. Very eclectic too it is; or so I suspect; so that, not knowing what school I belong to, I cannot tell in what direction fresh hints are to be found.(21 Nov. 1891)
...many things which science now undertakes with certainty of success, were are one time only possible to genius, working blindly. Art precedes science, teaching us first to take an interest in a thing, and then to discover its laws.(4 June 1892 )
For the exigencies of the soil are so peculiar, varying so much from day to day and from one crop to another, and demanding so much judgement and experience to meet them, that we recur again and again to the subject, discussing it as eagerly as a game of skill. That is, indeed, its character: with the added excitement of a large element of chance, afforded by the vagaries of the weather. ... (Grover) is effectual not as a talker, but as a cottage-gardener. His toil this year will produce enough to support perhaps half a dozen people for twelve months.(6 & 7 June 1896 )

Description of a hop fair in the 1850s, with ribbons for the horses of the first wagons, a horned headdress for newcomers, lots of beer, songs for the purpose; 19 June 1896. Generosity and forbearance of very poor families, 25 December 1897; "Knowing this sort of thing, it makes me savage to hear talk of the 'improvidence' of the poor."

Does their wealth spring from others' poverty? At least in return they (the well-trained women amongst them) are exhibiting to us types, and in their own persons putting before the English race specimens of the clean-bodied creatures that it will by and by expect all its womenkind to be.(18 May 1899 )

(Actually, the Mrs. Stovold he compares to the well-trained wealthy - Mrs. Stovold was competent and benevolent enough to kill a neighbor's pig when they needed it done - has moved up in the Feminine Valor stakes; especially if she can now afford a bath and dentistry.)

Louise Michel mentioned, 9 August 1899; I must look her up.

LCCCN: 67-10779
Cambridge University Press, 1967

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July 02, 2003

I forget

A week of frivolous reading in between furniture-moving, and only one book has stuck to my memory at all - Earl Emerson's Into the Inferno. Intrigue romance industrial poisoning glow-in-the-dark fires cultists seven days to live! And a main character who really is a cad, although he gets better under duress.

ISBN: 0345445910

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Dress in Detail, Rosemary Crill, Verity Wilson, Anna Jackson, Charlotte Horlyck, R

Close details of amazing clothes from the Victoria & Albert Museum's amazing collection. Corners and closures and embellishment in color photos large enough to show the dimples of blindstitching; and the whole garments are shown only in smallish, lightweight, almost schematic line drawings. This is graphically nice and perhaps an efficient use of color photos; better yet, it is like my memory of some beautiful things: I can know, by reconstruction, that such-a-building was large, symmetrical, etc.; I do know by sensuous memory what the molding on the mantel looked like.

The material in the V&A is not a even sample: as the introduction says,

Historically, the arbitrary division of artefacts into either ethnography or art means, for example, that there are not many garments in the V&A from the continent of Africa and none at all from Oceania. (p. 8)

There are more gold-encrusted coats from Serbia/Bosnia/Greece than seem at all likely - the materials alone are ruinously expensive; I didn't realize that even the aristocracy there was really that rich. I probably underestimate both how much London centralized wealth as the nineteenth century drew on, and how much wealth can be forced out of poor peasants.

What's most impressive - and maybe invisible to most people in a T-shirt and jeans life - is the amount of work that went into, alternately, making tough rigid materials into garments people could move in; or into making garments even more rigid so they could fill space and control the wearer for impressive display. Smocking and narrow, narrow godets - both, incidentally, more stitch-intensive than anything we now do for work clothes - let people move. Technically impressive, without elastic or much knit fabric or mechanical sewing. Also, most clothes lasted long enough to be modified for size or fashion or repair, or needed to be wholly or partially unsewn and resewn for basic washing. Even a low-tech society clearly put a lot of thought into some of these problems; there are gussets in the gussets, in their armholes, and they aren't on the same grain of the cloth.

Heavily couched gold braid seems to have been the universal favorite for making clothes grander - no, I lie, aristocratic Japan was too perfectly refined; some examples of beige-on-beige gauze here are ungilded lilies (how does that drawcord move? The threads of the gauze don't seem to be broken; p. 76). Padding and quilting and dense embroidery stiffen up the commoners, for weddings or against freezing wind, or both. (Siberian marriage coat made of sixty tanned salmon skins; p. 128.)

Some items illustrate books I've blogged. A gauze-and-sequins bodice on p. 98 was called the "Queen of Oudh's costume", but probaby belonged to "a young dancer". Sold by models for the Warreners of In Times of Peril, I expect. P. 166 has an ornate, special-occasions labourer's smock from southern England, illustrating at least one 'traditional craft' from George Sturt's journals; maybe illustrating the traditional delights of the agricultural fairs he describes, which were rare enough for dress clothes but too indigenous for citified suits. (It's between a denim dress and a drover's coat, for anyone else who's been wondering.) The jacket of the Yellow-Hat abbot (p. 116) ought to remind me of history, but actually reminds me of Talbot Mundy.

Back to T-shirts: why don't ours fit? We don't plan to keep them through our seven ages; we can mail-order them; and yet, only a few of us get ones that pretty well match our neck, chest, and waist measurements; let alone having shoulder-seams the right length. I'm pretty sure we'd look better, and it seems doable. Maybe the point of the ubiquitous baggy garments is actually to disguise the body; everything not Lycra is swaddling.

ISBN: 0810965550

See also Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries, by Avril Hart, Susan North, Richard Davis (Photographer); ISBN: 0810966085.

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