January 30, 2004

Democracy, Henry Adams

It is notable in a novel on American Democracy to find no character who is not rich, or politically powerful, or both; and without the manners of riches, the secondary characters are figures of fun. All right, this was written in the 1870s and The Education of Henry Adams was not strong for the simple nobility of toil. He makes just as much fun of rich faineants and toadies. Another quarter of the charm is a story suitable to Henry James or Edith Wharton - widow seeks right use of powers, is nearly seduced by worldly evil. A full half of the charm is the epigrammmatic, affectionate style in which Adams lays out and lays into his characters; he is neither as theoretical as James nor as theatrical as Wharton.

The meat of the plot is corruption in the US Government, and how much that corruption is tolerable or forgivable; and of course this provides quotations reusable today:

"I do much regret that I have not yet one hundred years to live. [...]the United States will them be more corrupt than Rome under Caligula; more corrupt than the Church under Leo X.; more corrupt than France under the Regent!"

It's money that turns out to drive corruption, but the first attempt at justification is always given as party strength; the Civil War, and the faction and desperation of its beginnings, is usually in the background of appeals to the importance of party.

As he wisely said, the issue now involved was not one of principle but of power. The fate of that noble party to which they all belonged, and which had a record that could never be forgotten, depended on their letting principle alone. Their principle must be the want of principles.
"At the time this affair occurred, I was a Senator of the United States. I was also a trusted member of a great political party which I looked upon as identical with the nation."

The main character is a little like Isabel Archer but, fortunately for her sake, a lot more like Madame Max Goesler; she's looking for something good to do with her strength and money, which makes her susceptible to a clever plotter in (re Adams) a particularly feminine way:

She could not be induced to love Ratcliffe, but she might be deluded into sacrificing herself for him. [...]She had a woman's natural tendency towards asceticism, self-extinction, self-abnegation. All through life she had made painful efforts to understand and follow out her duty.

For the sake of illustrated frontispieces (none in my copy, alas), the crisis of decision begins at a tremendously fancy diplomatic ball, at which every one [...] hastened to show this august couple the respect which all republicans who have a large income derived from business, feel for English royalty. That is, a great deal of respect, signified by clothes even more costly than one would wear for the President of the U.S.

Mrs. Lee held this kind of court-service in contempt [...] her only serious complaint of the President and his wife was that they undertook to have a court and to ape monarchy.

Some of the nicest character drawing is in the heroine's kind, conventional sister, who realizes that something is wrong and badgers cleverer people until they overcome their principles, trade some facts, and straighten out. Nor is this done to browbeat the intellectual for their foolishness. I thought it was a good picture of family and friends helping one another.

URI: Gutenberg file #2815

Adams, Henry. Democracy.. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, Inc.

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January 28, 2004

Strangers in Paradise: High School!, Terry Moore

I had confused the plots of Strangers in Paradise, Love and Rockets, and A Distant Soil, probably by reading single issues late in each series. This betrays a tin eye on my part, though I still think there's one character in each pair of stories who could be transplanted.

I would have liked this even if I didn't know it turned into a longer story - the High School! tale of adolescent trauma (one funny, one very serious) and friendship is plain and good. Also, I like the drawing, which really enjoys looking at women but doesn't objectify them. By what criterion? My criterion, that non-realist emotion is a cue for subjective identification with the drawing. In this book (no page numbers), Francine after the motorcycle blows by; Katchoo not so often, but probably in the Food Mart scene.

The bonus story is a truly silly Xena hommage - I haven't seen any Xena yet, it might also be true to the letter - and Kachoo in it is more often subjectively distorted. She isn't an actual tragic heroine in this one, which must have something to do with it (or maybe the whole first story is in Francine's memory, so of course Kachoo looks impossibly perfect and brave).

For straight comedy, "Hoagies!" at the beginning of the second story made my day.

ISBN: 1-892597-07-1

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The Penelopeia, Jane Rawlings

An oddity - a domestic feminist sequel to the Odyssey, told in the first person by Penelope, who takes her daughters to visit several respectable queens around the wine-dark seas, comparing weaving and medicinal gardens with them all.

It should, alas, have had a lot more conflict in it. Everyone - including Helen - has decided that the whole aberration of the elopement is best forgiven and forgotten. Arete is a respected wife and co-ruler, the Pythia is a besieged by a city gone lawless but is not herself terrifying.

But no gods, scant enchantments, and no sorceresses! (Possibly one god, who behaves rationally - out of character, that. Mentor appears, but not as Athene.) And really, if Penelope has a bone to pick with the the wider world, or a yen for powerful women's knowledge, Circe and Calypso and Medea would have been the people to visit. Instead we get an unlikely Penthesilea (not even properly dead although the dead do speak in the originals).

It was all right as a story of motherly midlife crisis, which is a good solid subject. But the logical universe it's in is a plains-easy version of the rocky, stormy, Classical Mediterranean, and that's a pity. I would have loved a big mess of the Women's Mysteries - I adore Judy Grahn's reworkings, and the techne of women's crafts. Aga Saga of the Aegean doesn't do justice to either the wild or the domestic.

The blank verse is recognizably in the style of Lattimore. There are irruptions of modernity, especially in the interactions between characters; they're more reasonable and less emotional than Homer's characters, which leaves fewer places for rhetoric and poetry.

ISBN: 1-56792-206-6

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January 27, 2004

The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf

The common reader, as Dr. Johnson implies, differs from the critic and the scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole -- a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing. He never ceases, as he reads, to run up some rickety and ramshackle fabric which shall give him the temporary satisfaction of looking sufficiently like the read object to allow of affection, laughter and argument.


From "On Not Knowing Greek", which bothers the daughter-of-an-educated-man: The French, the Italians, the Americans, who derive physically from so different a stock, pause, as we pause in reading Homer, to make sure that they are laughing in the right place [in Wycherly], and the pause is fatal. Huh.

An essay on how nobody reads Joseph Addison, even in the Spectator, which moved me enough to look up the link.

Lots of mentions of women writers; the plain letter-writing Paston, Maria Edgeworth and her portentous bore of an energetic, inventing father; Eleanor Ormerod, a self-taught entomologist of a very practical turn; and then the increasing numbers of respected woman novelists. She dismembers a ladylike biography of Mary Russell Mitford by Miss Hill, who limited herself too much when choosing a subject:

...the stock of female characters who lend themselves to biographic treatment by their own sex is, for one reason or another, running short. For instance, little is known of Sappho, and that little is not wholly to her credit. Lady Jane Grey has merit, but is undeniably obscure. Of George Sand, the more we know the less we approve. George Eliot was led into evil ways which not all her philosophy can excuse. The Brontës, however highly we rate their genius, lacked that indefinable something which marks the lady; Harriet Martineau was an atheist; Mrs. Browning was a married woman...

That's all Woolf's supposition of how Hill eliminated possibilities.

Looks like Woolf isn't in the public domain in the U.S., although some of these essays were clearly written before 1923.

Woolf, Virginia. The Common Reader. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1925.

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Practical Skills in Bobbin Lace, Bridget M. Cook

I admit I picked this up just for the joy of the title - it's like "Careers in Birdwatching" or "in the sense popularized by Lacan". But I like knots and flowcharts, and it's full of diagrams of getting into and out of either, in a sense (p. 96):

Two complicated crossings

And, if I did take up bobbin lace, I would have at least as much fun with this book on how to work out patterns of my own devising as with a book of algorithmized patterns.

ISBN: 0-486-25561-1

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January 26, 2004

Daddy Darwin's Dovecot, Juliana Horatio Ewing

...Dovecot was the story I liked the best from the collection Jackanapes, Daddy Darwin's Dovecot and Other Stories. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Darwin of Beagle fame, although that Darwin considered pigeon-fanciers' results when describing the force of selective breeding. Pigeon-fanciers not only developed all sorts of funny-looking pigeons, but ones with characteristic peculiar flight:

some Air Tumbler pigeons were turning somersaults on their homeward way, at such short and regular intervals that they seemed to be tying knots in their lines of flight.

The story begins with the news that a young man out of the workhouse is now the owner of "Daddy Darwin's Dovecot"; readers would probably know that pigeon-breeding was an old, usually respectable amusement, complete with protective laws from the days of James I and expensive gambling in the nineteenth century. A framing character is surprised to hear that a workhouse boy (not a real local - now, how could they know that? not an acknowledged local, anyway) is the owner of such a place. And the rest of the story is a standard, pleasant tale of someone making good by hard work and virtue. I notice that one of the virtues is one thought of as modern; the unknown child and the inheritor of the dovecot are, in the end, family, by action love and choice, not by default. And the old argot can adopt the idea:

setting a wild graff on an old standard

Other good dialect words: steek, here to 'fasten tight'; I know it from Knitting in the Old Way, where it describes a dense stitch in the underarms where a round sweater-body is going to be split for the sleeves. I don't know what at t'last feather of the shuttle means - is it a pigeon term, used by the fancier character; or a weaving term, from the author, or a weaving term when it wasn't gendered quite as much as it is now (Silas Marner)? Badminton's possible, but odd when asking for the last sacrament.

First three paragraphs of the next story, very tidy:

There was once an old man whom Fortune (whose own eyes are bandaged) had deprived of his sight. She had taken his hearing also, so that he was deaf. Poor he had always been, and as Time had stolen his youth and strength from him, they had only left a light burden for Death to carry when he should come the old man's way.
But Love (who is blind also) had given the Blind Man a Dog, who led him out in the morning to a seat in the sun under the crab-tree, and held his hat for wayside alms, and brought him safely home at sunset.
The Dog was wise and faithful--as dogs often are--but the wonder of him was that he could talk. In which will be seen the difference between dogs and men, most of whom can talk; whilst it is a matter for admiration if they are wise and faithful.

You can read the first story, "Jackanapes", with the original Caldecott illustrations - that would be the Caldecott of book-award fame.

URI: Gutenberg EBook #7865

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January 22, 2004

Waxwings, Jonathan Raban

What a cheerful story - for the first few pages - and then there is Dickensian terror; and later, chapters at a time of louring doom. The resolution is none too awful, but still tentative and tender, like the day after a bad stomach-flu.

It's sort of a Seattle Tech Boom novel, and more an Academic Midlife Crisis novel. Like Seattle and the Demons of Ambition, it's rather a story of what it was like to be a confused accidental observer of the boom than an explanation from inside. Nor was boom-history, I think, at all its purpose; it's a good plain novel of characters, with intentional echoes of Victorian literature that I found apposite and graceful.

I don't think I seek out academic midlife crisis novels. They seem disproportionately common. I hear that professors of writing have been known to bridle at the suggestion that this is a genre; no solidarity, poor souls, no self-respect.

This edition is printed in a slightly odd font with capital letters peculiar enough to arrest my reading; but no colophon! I don't know what font it is.

ISBN: 0-375-41008-2

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Engineer's Mini-Notebook Sensor Projects, Forrest M. Mims III

Building a damp sensor out of two tacks in a clothespin held open by an aspirin tablet works.

In a saucer, soggy aspirin conducts excellently well, making this more rapidly sensitive than almost-but-not-quite-touching contacts. (Next toy, just because it's more elegant: instead of a storebought battery, retro stacks of copper & zinc, separated by dry paper. I wonder if atmospheric dampness will get false alarms out of that one.)

The low-contrast graph-paper background of Mim's little "Notebooks" is unhelpful, I find, though the neat handwritten layout is charming and clear.

Radio Shack Cat. No. 62-5026

(No ISBN at all! though Mims has written more conventionally catalogued books.)

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January 21, 2004

My Lady Caprice, Jeffery Farnol

I was hoping for a sillier novel, possibly involving rose-pink farthingales and masked highwaymen with slender white hands; but no. (I based this hope entirely on the title. The first bibliography of Jeffery Farnol I found suggests that he often did write that sort of thing, but I don't know if I subconsciously knew the name, or if the title was a 1907 attempt to cash in on his existing lace-and-duelling popularity.)

This one is a perfectly realistic, if unlikely, romance: Boy Persuades Girl to Marry Him Despite her Aunt. If you can imagine the courtship of someone who liked E. R. Eddison but didn't mistake him for philosophy, that would be about right; or the courtship of the Victorian young man in To Say Nothing of the Dog. It was written in the young man's voice, which was mildly interesting, as it wasn't obvious to me that it was meant to be read only by women.

The young woman doesn't get to do anything. She shows her slipper and her dimple alternately, and is silent for a while, and eventually says Yes. Her reasons are perfectly solid, as the young man shares her sense of humor and opinions on childrearing; her rich suitor is a drip.

Most of the story is actually the narrator and the maiden's nephew in a series of imaginative games; Robin Hood, pirates, knights in armor; all of romance and heroism played on a summer riverbank, and earnestly. But I kept thinking of World War One.

URI: http://www.gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR2025.HTM

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Tales and Novels, vol. II, Maria Edgeworth

I think I now see; Maria Edgeworth wrote the moral tales of the new English middle class. Certainly the morals in this volume are practical and prudent: "Out of Debt out of Danger", "To-Morrow" against procrastination (even for romantical geniuses), "The Lottery" suggesting not only that lottery-tickets were a bad bet, but that the imprudent habits that lead to lottery-buying would waste a prize anyway. "Murad the Unlucky" argues that no-one is lucky or unlucky, but habits make them so. "Lame Jervas", my favorite, is an early technocratic bildungsroman. (There can't be many earlier ones in English...)

The painful parts: her kindly slaveowner who doesn't free the slaves; complete scorn of Jews. (Who we see only solitary - no Jewish firms, let alone Jewish families or neighborhoods. One could replace every reference with "miser", I think, and lose no part of the story.)

Unexpectedly egalitarian: her defense of Irish persons, however unformed their commercial habits were; the defense of most other races - as in "Lame Jervas":

these poor creatures! who, say what we will, have as much sensibility, perhaps more, than we have ourselves.

It is not only proper but common that women work for money if they aren't occupied raising children; one spinning for her husband's manufactury, one working in an upholsterer's shop, without late-Victorian palpitations about delicate feminine spheres. One farmer's daughter is competent enough on horseback to gallop six miles.

Another contrast with late-Victorian moral tales; hardly anyone dies. Or rather, they do not die because of their moral state, as they might in Charlotte M. Yonge or even Bret Harte stories.

Gratitude is a central virtue for her, but it isn't slavish or dependent. It isn't exactly based on a lesser being praising a greater one, although there is so clear a social hierarchy that most of the occasions for gratitude go up the ladder of power. Some of its force, I think, is from the small-scale, personal nature of the society she describes: governments, mines, manufacturies are small enough for their owners to be directly known. Gratitude might be the sweet perfume of sacrifice that leaves the meat for men, or it might be a humanization that makes the arrangement more comfortable for the people at both ends. Edgeworth's good characters don't go bad, so no-one has had the problem of expressing gratitude for a virtue their benefactor has now lost.

Gutenberg etext 8720; URI: http://www.gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR8720.HTM

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January 19, 2004

Divergent Paths, Annette Bernhardt, Martina Morris, Mark S. Handcock, Marc A. Scott

Biographies of wealth or struggle are irrefutable signposts in the national economy. As particularity gives them vividness, though, it makes them less plausible as grounds for economic policy. Single measures - GDP, unemployment, 10-year Treasury returns - are vivid to few of us and anyway are each explained in contradictory fashions.

Divergent Paths has grasped two masses of employment history data and statistically compared them. They don't intersperse quoted or composite biographies. The measure they seek, of economic mobility through U.S. employment, doesn't lend itself to a single number. But the results are vivid anyway and are worse than I had feared. This book argues strongly that most (white, male) U.S. workers are worse off in absolute and relative mobility than their peers were twenty years ago; and that the changes are due to systemic habits in business practice that will not reverse without organization, and even trust, between competing firms and interests.

Fortunately they cite a few regions in which these reverses might be happening. Otherwise I would be too dispirited to summaraize the book at all.

The method is clear: they compare two nationally representative samples of white young men, starting between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one. Each cohort was interviewed annually (almost) about their education and employment for fifteen years. This should give an outline of how these men settled into their life careers, if any. One survey started in 1966, the other in 1979.

The bulk of the book is analysis of the two masses of data. As a non-statistician, I found the frequent graphs and tables effective summaries. The prose was rarely jargonful; it more often laid a path of common terms to the streambank of technicalities.¹¹ One can leap over the flood to the path on the other side.

To summarize the results even more than the authors do: Jobs, especially low-wage jobs, have become less stable; and each interruption in employment is now more damaging to future wages than it was for the first cohort. This makes a vicious circle. Education doesn't improve a worker's chances much until it's a full four-year degree, and even then a surprising proportion of graduates are stuck.¹ A few occupations - "finance, insurance, and real estate", and some "professional services" - made gains; the top decile held steady, although it's more white-collar than it used to be; the rest of the distribution is lumping towards the bottom.

Some of the usual explanations for this split and slump are described as not consonant with the data. Lack of technical skill isn't it, as the best-rewarded occupations aren't technical, and engineering wages went down by 1.5%, CS graduates' wages up by 3% (p. 183). [T]he number of contingent workers is nowhere near large enough to produce the trends that we have documented in this book... Temporary work, then, is best considered as the tip of the iceberg, just one symptom of a wide variety of restructured work and production arrangements. (p. 188) I can't find a summary reference to shifts in employment between nations; they do mention that population shift within the States led to higher rates of job instability, perhaps reflecting the lower rates of unionization in the South. (p. 86)

One obvious explanation is the increase in service sector jobs instead of mass-production jobs, partly because the latter were unionized. (In 1981, 21.8% of the top final wage decile was blue-collar; now, 8.8% is (p. 145). Some of this is expectable because the total proportion of blue-collar jobs is lower.) However, deindustrialization has not been the main force driving the stagnation and growing inequality in wages, though it has played a role... industrial shifts have played virtually no part in the doubling of workers in the bottom decile of the old wage distribution. It is not so much compositional shifts that are at work here as changes in the pay structure within industries. (p. 158)

The other explanation, obvious in hindsight, is that firms are much more segmented internally than they used to be. The worst jobs are often intentionally deskilled, and then subcontracted. Unfortunately these used to be entry-level jobs that had natural learning curves, so firm and employee benefited by stable employment, and natural meritocratic paths for advancement. But one cannot work one's way up from a call center in Kansas to a headquarters in New York the way one could work one's way up from the mailroom in a single building. Less so, when the call center is run by a separate business whose sole profit model is providing cheap generic phone service. (Does the Zuboff federation have a career path?)

This kind of deskilling and segmentation is a "low road" response to risk and complexity. Some industries - banks are mentioned - have apparently had both "low road" and "high road" approaches; the latter increases all employees' skills, opportunity, responsibility and pay and has been competitive with the low road (p. 182). This takes, I interpolate, more trust between the different parts of the company, and I suspect it requires different management skills - different philosophy, even. Another difficulty with reduced internal promotion is that employers do less training, but return to individual education is riskier, plausibly leading to less total investment in worker training than the whole economy (let alone individual workers) needs.²

What to Do about this is the eighth chapter; something I hadn't heard of, which combines many sensible-seeming approaches, is the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, which involves unions, plants and colleges to provide good employees and provide them with good jobs. The unionization of Las Vegas hotels is also promising. They point out that benefits - unemployment, health insurance, pensions - are usually tied to the old model of stable employment; if the country is going to be fluid and competitive, the benefits need to be portable.

One nagging possible partial explanation hasn't left me. The cohorts being compared are white men because the data on everyone else's work was bad or ignored, in 1966. Besides, the social changes allowing others into better jobs should be enormous, very hard to distinguish from labor-market changes in their opportunities. All right so far; but of course nonwhite men, and many women, started work in 1966, and were shunted to the jobs that were unreliable, and poorly paid, and didn't become careers. If the country actually has about the same job distribution now that it did then (maybe the service jobs are more often paid than they were, and less often allotted to women), but the competition for the good jobs is no longer reserved for white men (p. 57), then white men as a class should fairly be worse off. Their experiences will have been shuffled all the way through the deck of possibilities, not cushioned from the bottom by the unsurveyed unfortunates. The few much-better-off white men in the recent cohort might be floating on a 'glass ceiling' supported by a more meritocratic, and therefore more profitable, hiring regime lower down. --Even if true, this wouldn't be admirable: better to improve all work to the old standards of decency. And the supposition might not be tractable at all without data we never gathered, and even if it were tractable, it might be another book of as much length. I'd like a rough guess as to how big such an effect ought to be, given what we do know.

The only other complaint I have is that the index isn't very full; it doesn't have more heads than would be secondary heads in a good table of contents.

¹¹ Of which my favorite is the phrase, robust to this, and other, specifications of unobserved heterogeneity. (p. 73)

¹ And "the fraction of college graduates has declined" (p. 140), which surprises me.

²Dsquared, now at Crooked Timber, has said some interesting things about changes in money action representing shifts of risk from one group to another, but I can't find those things or his search function.

The best steel jobs of a few decades ago seem to have shoved off their risk of paying pensions to the state.

ISBN: 0-87154-150-5

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January 13, 2004

Marmion, Sir Walter Scott

It's a commodus vicus of recirculation that puts pre-1923 books on my PDA, so that I am continually reading the books that my grandparents thought of as foundational, cliché, or passé, depending on their tastes for the past. Occasionally I recognize something that I first read on vacation at my grandparent's in a turn-of-the-century prize book - that is, a collection of uplifting literature in a nicer binding than children usually got, printed expressly to be a reward for school achievement. I think these survived on the upper shelves for two reasons. One, they were probably chosen for their appeal to teachers' theoretical tastes. The children who got them didn't haul them around and read them. On the other hand, they are pretty, and they were trophies. Parent and child and grown child protected them. I recognized three or four quotations from Marmion.

As an amusement in itself, as something I would recommend to a modern reader, Marmion does well. First, it has a fine plot, in broad strokes: the manly, courageous villain; the suffering hero; two lovely maidens, one something of a Villainess, one a Damsel in Distress. Battles! visions! tournament in a fairy ring! and it has great visual scene-setting.

Second, although it is entirely in verse, it's easy to read. It bangs along in simple rhyming, with a comma or stop falling naturally at the end of each line. This is unsubtle to the ear, but no barrier to comprehension.

Third, there are those several bits good enough to be still repeated out of context. One is the little song "Lochinvar", also satisfactory in plot:

For a laggard in love and a dastard in war
Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.

Another is in the eulogy to Admiral Nelson:

To him, as to the burning levin,
  Short, bright, resistless course was given.
Where'er his country's foes were found
Was heard the fated thunder's sound,
Till burst the bolt on yonder shore,
Roll'd, blazed, destroy'd—and was no more.

And finally, there's the bit that can be used in domestic travail, and therefore made into common quotation; I'm pretty sure Anthony Trollope's characters use it. It's completely unfair to the character it seems to describe, who is shown with none of the faults but all these virtues:

O woman! in our hours of ease
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!

As a historical object, Marmion isn't bad. Scott was in the wave of popularizing romantic Scotland, just as it was safely conquered¹. He commits roll-calls of the outlandish names of picturesque Scottish places. The villain is English and virile. The costume-party medieval setting, with Gothic(k) gloom, was similarly collecting its head of steam to power Victorian sentimentality and lithography.

The political introductions and the six interspersed dedications to his friends are also modestly interesting as types of early-nineteenth-century manly ideal.

The one historical fact you might want in advance is that the battle of Flodden was tremendously damaging, maybe decisively weakening, for Scotland against England. One of the editors of the poem points out that Scott was in a cavalry troop himself, and his description of the tactical stupidity of the King of Scotland is that of someone who could imagine being in that kind of battle. (Sir Winston Churchill also fought on horseback, if I remember correctly, so Scott is not the last survival.)

URI: http://www.gutenberg.net/etext03/marmn10.txt

¹ Less of this, for instance:

On active steed, with lance and blade,
The light-arm'd pricker plied his trade,--
Let nobles fight for fame;
Let vassals follow where they lead,
Burghers, to guard their townships, bleed,
But war's the Borderer's game.
Their gain, their glory, their delight,
To sleep the day, maraud the night,
O'er mountain, moss, and moor;
Joyful to fight they took their way,
Scarce caring who might win the day,
Their booty was secure.
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January 12, 2004

Seattle and the Demons of Ambition, Fred Moody

Subtitle: A Love Story

The sweet naivete, boom, and disillusionment of "old" and "new" Seattle are the stage for the fiscal naivete, recklessness, and resignation of the author, an old Seattlite. He was poor but honest, an alternative journalist, until he was finally swept up in the dream of riches - alas, just late enough to lose almost everything. Likewise, he follows the career of one unworldly but technically adept sculptor in granite and radioactivity; and a bunch of would-be-worldly programmers, most of whom lose vast heaps of money; and Bill Gates, of course.

These are combined because, to Moody's eye, Seattle's innocence was lost to the money of the tech boom. We had innocence? Needleless seamstresses and Boeing's Star Wars money *ever* had innocence? I wonder. There's a lot of dirty Seattle history as well as the claim of a 'lost age' of consensual politics. I actually thought of the WTO protests, with which Moody opens the book, as a sign of innocence; the chamber of commerce, or whatever, thought it would be a feather in the city cap - the protesters thought protest might change things. Innocents all.

I was somewhat amused by Moody's move in the late '70s, early '80s to Bainbridge Island to get away from the uncool, gentrifying changes in Seattle. I'm amused because my family moved there at about the same time, when I was a kid, and B.I. was in my experience much more status-conscious and social-climbing than most of Seattle was a decade later.¹

I add this scrap of my personal psychological history, because Seattle... is full of Moody's. He's all about the self-defeating, polite, work-to-live ethos of Seattle, with a restrained but identifiable undertone of "But in the 60s...". I think it's very odd that he didn't notice for years (decades?) that this is an inheritance from Asian settlers, as well as Scandinavian ones. When the consensual politics is consensual, it's great, although it isn't quick. When the work-to-live principle leaves room for what people actually do - ski, build wooden boats, cook, commit more socially recognized arts - also delightful. Moody's mockery and despair at the unimaginative, expensive city efforts to be "world class" by building copies of anything big that other cities have has all my sympathy. I still live in the city itself, so am domestically affronted by the rotten-borough sports stadiums, to start with.

But he loses my sympathy, nearly my comprehension, by a fixed and inexplicable failure to see that technocracy has also been a long Seattle inheritance - mining, Boeing, aluminum - and that many technologists are as purely moved by the passion for what they're doing as more abstract artists are. His unworldly artists are victims; his unworldly programmers are comic children. How he could write this way after several immersive histories of Seattle tech endeavors, I don't know. I'll have to read them.

A friend of mine, when I expostulated on this, said it was obvious most techies are just in it for the money and hate the actual work; he adduced the career of a friend of his.² It's a sloppy argument, analagous to my dismissing all "art" because I know people who are "artists" out of a desire to be cool and shocking and free of petty social constraints of decency. ¹¹

On the other hand, I can understand being too annoyed to admit that the numerate and logical get joy in what they do and money to boot. To be fair to Moody, he sees the joy in Bill Gates and in some of the people at the HIT Lab. He just finds it hard to see in anyone (except Gates) who's practical at managing money; I think that's a bit of "But in the 60's..." leftover. He says it better than that:

... I felt it myself: an unpalatable, unendurable mix of horror, envy, disgust, and prurience.

Was that a good state of soul to look for startup work in? No. He overreached, he fell, he sat through the Slough of Despond at monster.com. And afterwards he started working for the Metro bus authority, which he describes as thoughtful, civic and determined; and observes Gates giving away money to mend market failures the rest of the country won't conceptually admit. There's still some old Seattle here.

It would be interesting to compare Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver B.C. for their reactions to wealth, bust, and social shock.

ISBN: 0-312-30421-8

¹ I asked my mother how she saw it as an adult; she said that it probably had had hippie cred until right about when we moved there - my parents weren't looking for status fights - but not necessarily more than Fremont or Ballard or South Park, even at the time. I can see Moody's belief as one in good faith, then, although I don't think it's very perceptive. Or maybe these things are particularly bad for teenagers, although I know my parents experienced them too.

²This makes me slightly ill, as I don't expect this to produce technology that's very good for people. When the coders are weirdos who love what they're doing, they can someday convert us to the same weird love; but how is someone who hates it to begin with to know that it doesn't have to hate us back?

¹¹It's an eternal battle, the attempt to substitute wealth for coolth, or v.v., or either for virtue.

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Cardano's Cosmos, Anthony Grafton

Subtitle: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer

Speaking of divination: an intellectual biography of the 16th c. astronomer-etc. Girolamo Cardano; or rather an argument about how his intellectual biography should be construed. It isn't exactly my cup of tea, lacking as it does a particular positive virtue and skirting something I consider a positive flaw. I don't think I'm its audience either.

The positive virtue I would have liked is: more of Cardano himself. He wrote incessantly, his peers and competitors likewise, they wrote about themselves and each other as well as politics, astrology, astronomy, understanding reclaimed classical documents, dice-gambling, digestion... anything, in competition or mutual praise, as they moved from court to town and one specialty to another. It was the very ferment of the Renaissance! but Grafton refers to it and rarely quotes. Fair enough, he's writing for historians who are expected to look up what they don't know already. What remains is Grafton's arguments about - I simplify, I probably traduce - how Cardano's astrology should not be regarded as unscientific or un-modern, except when those traits are thought of as positive¹.

Flattening all intellectual endeavor into one category annoys me, especially if it's done by reasoning that seems no sharper than "these two things make us [me] feel the same, so they must in some way be the same". It's a very weak condition of sameness for the things. I would entertain, easily, an argument that Cardano's astrology was in his day indistinguishable from pursuits that are now obviously reliable. I would expect evidence, though, perhaps of engineers as blandly juggling their own data. Tycho Brahe is mentioned in comparison, but not in detail.

I'm not sure Grafton is really arguing Cardano's astrology was science, though. He might even be trying to hedge that claim so as to forestall people who would make it:

Many scholars nowadays use computers to write and fax machines to submit the conference papers in which they unmask all of modern science as a social product, a game like any other. Though they hold that the laws of fluid dynamics are only one way, no more valid than many others, of describing the motion of air over wings, they take airplane trips to participate in the self-congratulatory discussions that ensue. Compared to the sterile credulity of modern arts of analysis, Cardano's arts of prediction look bright, warm and solid enough to explain their appeal to the wide range of readers they attracted and informed.

I don't know if "sterile credulity" is the thrown gauntlet it would be in my daily round of discourse, because I haven't winkled out a clear statement of what Grafton thinks we shouldn't accept about Cardano's work.

For instance, an argument in support of Cardano's rigor is that he writes about mechanical marvels as well as astrological ones, and sometimes assumes that a marvel must have a mechanical explanation (p. 164). That could, it seems to me, also have come from engineering-envy on Cardano's part. Court marvels of hydraulics competed with astrologers for patronage. But I don't know if the engineers and scientists laid claim to knowing secrets that no rules could convey, thanks to a special, divine gift, which is how the astrologers explained their failure to exactly follow what they called the rules of astrology (as well as their failures of prediction).

Grafton's book on the footnote in history describes historians as generally familiar with a collection of sources, so they can signal each other in a pattern of references and omitted references to the 'expected' texts, and given that I have little reason to believe that I know what he's really saying.

All told, I'd call it a good argument for Cardano's parity with Michel de Montaigne, unfortunately weakened by a grudging expectation of attacks on scientific primacy. Better to have flown sublimely over science, and defended Cardano's humanism on humanistic grounds.

...Cardano's art of prediction made possible one of his most remarkable, and most creative, achievements as a writer. By concentrating less on the long-term movement of his career than on the forces which recurred throughout his life, he produced an autobiography which did not make the author's life fit the teleological narrative logic of an adventure or a conversion, but set out to isolate the permanent traits of his character.

And there springs, eventually, the novel, which should be enough glory for a writer; and the arts or sciences of the psyche, to boot.

ISBN: 0-674-09555-3

...Melanchthon also suggests that horoscopes were more than dry, technical data sets produced by mathematically skilled intellectuals to satisfy their curiosity. They were politically challenging documents, directed at powerful clients who were hard to satisfy...

Well, and so were ballistic and hydroengineering projects; who's injecting the opposition between "technical" and "political", between "curiosity" and satisfaction?

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January 09, 2004


Divination by misprints.

I just made that up, but someone has to. There are three hundred years of etymological wrong to rewrite.

Charles Mackay in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds lists many forms of divination. I was particularly fond of "tyromancy", divination by cheese, because it reminded me of the strange history of The Cheese and the Worms and also because I like cheese, Gromit. Therefore I plopped it in, with some other amusing divinations, when writing my summary-review. I didn't want to retype all of this, so I was cutting extended quotes from the Project Gutenberg copy, but PG had a different spelling, "typomancy", not a headword in the OED ("tyromancy" is). So I sent a note remarking that there was a tiny error to be fixed.

Project Gutenberg is not just tidy enough to fix single-letter typos, but very careful doing so: here's the letter I got back:

From: Jim Tinsley
This is an interesting case.
It is true that the OED gives "tyromancy", but not "typomancy", and the derivation is clear. However, googling shows many sites using the word "typomancy" as a variant spelling of "tyromancy"
(cf. http://www.occultopedia.com/t/tyromancy.htm and http://beta.communities.msn.co.uk/pacificodragosden/divinationglossary.msnw among many others)
so I was not willing to say that the existing text is definitely a transcription error. Was it possible that a transcription error in this PG text has, as it were, poisoned these web pages? Yes. (Which, by the way, I find a very chilling thought. Very.) But I didn't know that for sure. I looked up the original transcriber from our clearance records, but didn't recognize the name as a regular, and there was no e-mail address. I was about to dismiss this as inconclusive, when I noticed in the clearance that this was made from a 1980 reprint, so I thought of Amazon's new system. And, looking it up, right there on the page image of page 305 in Amazon, was "Tyromancy". But that is a 1995 reprint of all volumes together, and, when you have worked in this field for a while, you learn that editors of paper editions take liberties we wouldn't even dream of. At this point, anything is possible -- that typomancy was in the original and the 1980 reprint but changed in the 1995 -- that tyromancy was in all paper editions, but wrongly transcribed for PG -- that typomancy was an actual typo in the 1980 edition.
On balance, though, I found the Amazon page image convincing, and the change cannot be wrong in the sense of damaging the content, since even in the most lenient definition, typomancy is a variant spelling of tyromancy, so I'm making the change.

But then where did "typomancy" come from? It's odd because "tyromancy" is a really obvious derivation from the Greek for cheese. It would be sad if a OCR scanning error had propagated it, but the online uses don't all seem to be conscious of the PG edition, although they might possibly all descend from Mackay. Lacking old printings of Mackay to check, I went back to the OED to see where he got it, and finally read the smallest print in the etymology and the first attribution:

Tyromancy Obs. Also tiro-. [ad. F. tyromantie (Rabelais), f. Gr. τιρος cheese; see -Mancy.] Divination by means of cheese.
1652 Gaule Magastrom. xix. 166 Tyromancy [mispr. Typomancy], [divining] by the coagulation of cheese. ...

It wasn't a computer's OCR at fault. Someone transliterating from Greek saw the ρ ('rho', sounds like 'r') and wrote the 'p' that it looks like.

How do I know that's what happened? By typomancy, of course; divination by misprints.

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January 08, 2004

Tales and Novels, vol. I, Maria Edgeworth

I don't know why I enjoyed these moralizing tales so much, although there is a Rational Toy-shop, which is a great name. She lays into a couple of specimen young persons for their Romantic twaddle, and it's newfangled twaddle to her, not a stage all young persons go through.

The greatest weakness, as stories, is that one knows on introduction who is going to be Good, once educated, and who Bad. No-one changes.

The oddity of the education is that none of the children are being principally educated by their own mothers. Most of them are motherless; two mothers have given over their children to governesses (one Good, one Bad). The lucky mother may be educated by her governess, so maybe she's an exception to the rule of fixed natures. The Good Governess has escaped from the French Terror, which may well be connected to Romantic politics, now that I think of it. Certainly Edgeworth is suspicious of the French.

My favorite tale was the last, "The Knapsack", which is actually a play about the return home of a Swedish regiment. I like it because it's a good format for uncomplicatedly good characters, like the perky-peasant operas. There are even songs:

There's the courtier, who watches the nod of the great;
Who thinks much of his pension, and nought of the state:
When for ribands and titles his honour he sells--
What is he, my friends, but a fool without bells?
There's the gamester, who stakes on the turn of a die
His house and his acres, the devil knows why:
His acres he loses, his forests he sells--
What is he, my friends, but a fool without bells?
There's the student so crabbed and wonderful wise,
With his plus and his minus, his x's and y's:
Pale at midnight he pores o'er his magical spells--
What is he, my friends, but a fool without bells?

I can imagine the home-theatricals of the virtuous performing it; there's one foolishly self-centered woman, and no villain at all.

URI: http://www.gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR8826.HTM

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January 04, 2004

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay, LL. D.

This is reprinted mostly for the first three chapters on financial manias, respectively The Mississippi Scheme, The South-Sea Bubble, and The Tulipomania. The first two are particularly reminiscent of the junk bond and dot-com crazes.

Is there no warmth in the despair of a plundered people?-- no life and animation in the picture which might be drawn of the woes of hundreds of impoverished and ruined families? of the wealthy of yesterday become the beggars of to-day? [...] Is it a dull or uninstructive picture to see a whole people shaking suddenly off the trammels of reason, and running wild after a golden vision, refusing obstinately to believe that it is not real, till, like a deluded hind running after an ignis fatuus, they are plunged into a quagmire ? [...] Nobody seemed to imagine that the nation itself was as culpable as the South Sea Company. Nobody blamed the credulity and avarice of the people,--the degrading lust of gain, which had swallowed up every nobler quality in the national character, or the infatuation which had made the multitude run their heads with such frantic eagerness into the net held out for them by scheming projectors. These things were never mentioned. The people were a simple, honest, hard-working people, ruined by a gang of robbers, who were to be hanged, drawn, and quartered without mercy.

The rest of the manias are oddly assorted between minor fads, e.g. beard-wearing or catchphrases; vicious crazes, e.g. the witch-hunts; and frenzies that caught the imagination because they were related to real or accepted interests, e.g. alchemy or the Crusades. This is a weakness of the recent reprinting; MacKay's longer original (see URI below) had a more sensible arrangement, as by PHILOSOPHICAL DELUSIONS, NATIONAL DELUSIONS, etc.

His era comes through in several shibboleths. He seems to by default distrust Catholic clergy, although the farther in the past they are the more he recognizes them as the civilization of their era, and he probably disapproves of Protestant credulity just as much. The chapter on the Crusades starts with the ones that were popular delusions, but sticks with the issue well into the period of courtly intrigue and international power-relations; I think a gentleman in his Tennysonian day might not have been able to get off the chivalric hobbyhorse, once well-seated. He often refers to popular romances, as by Sir Walter Scott, to remind his readers where they've heard of someone before.

The alchymists included not just early scientists, but early ?theosophists? or New Agers. Of the Rosicrucians:

Man was not surrounded with enemies like these [incubi and succubi], but with myriads of beautiful and beneficent beings, all anxious to do him service. The air was peopled with sylphs, the water with undines or naiads, the bowels of the earth with gnomes, and the fire with salamanders. All these beings were the friends of man, and desired nothing so much as that men should purge themselves of all uncleanness, and thus be enabled to see and converse with them. They possessed great power, and were unrestrained by the barriers of space or the obstructions of matter. But man was in one particular their superior. He had an immortal soul, and they had not. They might, however, become sharers in man's immortality, if they could inspire one of that race with the passion of love towards them.
Poetry and Romance are deeply indebted to the Rosicrucians for many a graceful creation.

From a long list of methods of fortune-telling:

Kleromancy, by lots.
Arithmancy, by numbers.
Logarithmancy, by logarithms.
Koseinomancy, by sieves.
Axinomancy, by saws.
Oinomancy, by the lees of wine.
Sycomancy, by figs.
Tyromancy, by cheese.
Alphitomancy, by meal, flour, or bran.

I particularly like "by cheese". It's spelled "Tyromancy" in the print edition and "Typomancy" in the Gutenberg etext. I have had recourse to the OED - "tyromancy" is right.¹ (And Rabelaisian.)

That makes "Typomancy" a self-describing word.

The magnetisers had plenty of wierd ideas, among them the weapon-salve reminiscent of some of Jo Walton's books; and mummy. Mummy has turned up too often in my reading; Loudon's wife Jane Webb wrote an early book on it, which I haven't gotten a copy of yet, and there's A. S. Byatt's Mummy Possest, and somewhere a reference to mummies used as fuel for trains - where in goodness did I read that? - and mummy was a painter's pigment for a while. The magnetisers even used homegrown mummy:

The fifth mummy of peculiar power was made from criminals that had been hanged; "for from such there is a gentle siccation, that expungeth the watery humour, without destroying the oil and spirituall, which is cherished by the heavenly luminaries, and strengthened continually by the affluence and impulses of the celestial spirits; whence it may be properly called by the name of constellated or celestial mummie." The sixth kind of mummy was made of corpuscles, or spiritual effluences, radiated from the living body; though we cannot get very clear ideas on this head, or respecting the manner in which they were caught.

Source? At least a recommendation of a novel?:

No young women were allowed to follow the army, to the great sorrow of many vicious and of many virtuous dames, who had not courage to elude the decree by dressing in male attire. But many high-minded and affectionate maidens and matrons, bearing the sword or the spear, followed their husbands and lovers to the war in spite of King Richard, and in defiance of danger.

A rare explanation of a mania:

After this time, prosecutions for witchcraft are continually mentioned, especially by the French historians. It was a crime imputed with so much ease, and repelled with so much difficulty, that the powerful, whenever they wanted to ruin the weak, and could fix no other imputation upon them, had only to accuse them of witchcraft to ensure their destruction. Instances, in which this crime was made the pretext for the most violent persecution, both of individuals and of communities, whose real offences were purely political or religious, must be familiar to every reader. [...] The Frieslanders, inhabiting the district from the Weser to the Zuydersee, had long been celebrated for their attachment to freedom, and their successful struggles in its defence. As early as the eleventh century, they had formed a general confederacy against the encroachments of the Normans and the Saxons, which was divided into seven seelands, holding annually a diet under a large oaktree at Aurich, near the Upstalboom. Here they managed their own affairs, without the control of the clergy and ambitious nobles who surrounded them, to the great scandal of the latter. They already had true notions of a representative government. The deputies of the people levied the necessary taxes, deliberated on the affairs of the community, and performed, in their simple and patriarchal manner; nearly all the functions of the representative assemblies of the present day. [...]The invincible courage of these poor people proving too strong for their oppressors to cope with by the ordinary means of warfare, the Archbishop of Bremen applied to Pope Gregory IX. for his spiritual aid against them. That prelate entered cordially into the cause, and launching forth his anathema against the Stedinger as heretics and witches, encouraged all true believers to assist in their extermination. A large body of thieves and fanatics broke into their country in the year 1233, killing and burning wherever they went, and not sparing either women or children, the sick or the aged, in their rage. The Stedinger, however, rallied in great force, routed their invaders, and killed in battle their leader, Count Burckhardt of Oldenburg, with many inferior chieftains.
Again the pope was applied to, and a crusade against the Stedinger was preached in all that part of Germany.

Purporting to explain a symptom of witchcraft:

Modern physicians have often had cases of a similar description under their care, where girls have swallowed needles, which have been voided on the arms, legs, and other parts of the body.

Good heavens; really?

During the height of the witch-hunts, there were still "white-witches", or astrologers, left in peace or consulted on finding black witches. That seems odd on the face of it, though consistent with the general theory that the witch frenzy was displacing social stress onto the people least able to defend themselves. Astrologers were usually well-off and scholarly and connected. The other distinction, of course, is between telling people what's likely to happen to them and trying to cause it - MacKay follows the Witch Mania with the Slow Poisoners, who needed no supernatural assistance.

He disapproves of popular representations of stylish thieves and bandits, arguing that plays can lead boys into delinquency. Nor were only boys overcome, it seems:

The fame of it [The Beggars' Opera] was not confined to the author only. The person who acted Polly, till then obscure, became all at once the favourite of the town; [Lavinia Fenton, afterwards Duchess of Bolton.]

Odd moral, given by MacKay:

Poets, too, without doing mischief, may sing of such heroes when they please, wakening our sympathies for the sad fate of Gilderoy, or Macpherson the Dauntless; or celebrating in undying verse the wrongs and the revenge of the great thief of Scotland, Rob Roy. If, by the music of their sweet rhymes, they can convince the world that such heroes are but mistaken philosophers, born a few ages too late, and having both a theoretical and practical love for
"The good old rule, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
That they should keep who can,"
the world may, perhaps, become wiser, and consent to some better distribution of its good things, by means of which thieves may become reconciled to the age, and the age to them. The probability, however, seems to be, that the charmers will charm in vain, charm they ever so wisely.

And, to finish off this commonplace of quotes with a fair summary:

The bonds of reason, though iron-strong, are easily burst through; but those of folly, though lithe and frail as the rushes by a stream, defy the stoutest heart to snap them asunder.

URIs: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/author?name=Mackay%2c%20Charles

ISBN: 0-517-88433-X

This print edition is in a different order than the original, and is abridged to boot.

¹ Project Gutenberg may have changed it by now.

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January 03, 2004

Mrs. Malory and Death in Practice, Hazel Holt

Finishing yesterday's Cozy Trifecta; Mrs. Malory has a whole small-English-village series, and solves mysteries by being a gossip in the old sense. People, including the police, tell her things because they tacitly trust her to pass on what should be told, and not, what shouldn't. This would be more interesting if her inner dialogue weren't as kind and restrained as her outer one, but not as restful as it is.

ISBN: 0-451-20920-6

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January 02, 2004

Black-Headed Pins, Constance & Gwenyth Little

This isn't a very coherent murder mystery, but it uses the "bagel, bagel, bagel!" theory of humor beautifully. (The third time something incongruous appears, it's funny.)

Reasonably witty dialogue, if you read fast and like 1930s screwball movies:

"Now that we are no longer engaged," I said with dignity, "you can't bawl me out like that. Nor can you tell me where to get off at, or to head in, and I won't accept either cards or spades from you."

ISBN: 0-915230-25-9

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Death is Academic, Amanda Mackay

A murder mystery; classic in its workings, quite 'fair' in its clues. The heroine is a bit bland and perfect: Attractive, red-haired Hannah Land is beginning a new life and a new career. Duke University in the mid-1970s also seems a bit bland and perfect; the students rebel by wearing denim and boycotting iceberg lettuce. Still, change is percolating, and the little shifts of language to adapt are another period piece.

ISBN: 0-679-50638-1

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January 01, 2004

Handmade, Drew & Louise Langsner

The cover bills the book as "old world recipes, hospitality, barns & farmhouses..." (much more); this is partly true, but it's equally striking as a slice of 1970s half-measures.

The authors left the US and toured Greece and Turkey, Yugoslavia and Switzerland, on a motorcycle in 1971 & 1972; they had no plan but to get in touch with a highly developed attunement of humankind and nature. They brought back pictures and recipes; they considered settling as mostly-subsistence farmers in Northern Europe, but didn't.

It's not as annoying a book as some of these are, largely because it's not idiotically romantic. They point out that the stone walls that charm them in Greece are horribly vulnerable to the frequent earthquakes, for instance. They notice that goat-culture around the Mediterranean is a final and destructive stage - goats browse practically anything to death, and nearly all the wood and soil is therefore gone, but because the wood and soil are gone goats are about the only way left for agriculture to support people.¹ (This is, I deduce, why Heifer International teaches people to bring their animals prunings instead of letting the animals browse - more work, but safer in the long run.) They're wonderfully full of the ineffable joy of simple pleasures, which I am hardly against, but am a little suspicious of in tourists. (They were hardy tourists, but not up to finishing an apprenticeship as a white cooper, for instance. Began it, though.)

What they liked that I admire, and am glad they photographed, is the brilliant handmade work of people who are very nearly self-sufficient. A good stercorary is a worthy thing. The canny use of light, irregular wood to brace Mediterranean roofs is a great art; so is the Lapp and Norwegian and Swiss use of enormous quantities of enormous timbers to build complex buildings that last for centuries against snowfall, avalanches, and bears.

Clever ideas from the last: a bow-tie-shaped floorboard running the length of the house to handle seasonal compression; logging only in winter, when the freeze and the snow cover protect the delicate alpine topsoil - otherwise dragging logs gives one runnels in the soil, which tend to compound themselves even in less challenging climates.

The Turkish drop-spindle is, they report, easier than the Greek for the beginner to use, and when full it slips apart and comes out of an already-wound ball of yarn.

¹Which came first?

ISBN: 0-517-514206

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