Sunday, November 30, 2008


I joined when it was first introduced last year. Haven't used my account, but keep finding others who are doing good stuff with theirs. The ambiance is refreshingly Mitteleuropa and iconoclastic.

Hair in my soup has a been a favorite for a while now. I just added pogus'ka to my Bloglines aggregation.

These come from its current posts:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

what to read

I collect book recommendations from friends, blogs, and reviews. They end up in my librarything catalog marked toberead. I add another tag for the ones I can borrow locally and mark ones that I can mooch on Bookmooch. Naturally, quite a few have no interest when I finally get around to them, or turn out to have been misrepresented to me.

And then there are the books that catch my eye in the best-of-the-year lists. I've learned to restrain myself with them. Too often I feel I ought to read rather than want to read them and, when brought to hand, disappoint. That said, Ralph Luker writes that history books dominate both the NY Times nonfiction list and the TLS list this year, so maybe, for a change, I'll find fewer ought-to's and more want-to's.

Here are the best-of lists I've found so far.

- Guardian: Season's readings
- Times (UK): The Times Books Christmas Special
- TLS: TLS Books of the Year 2008
- ALA YA:Best Books for Young Adults 2008
- NY Times: 100 Notable Books of 2008
- NY Times: Notable Children’s Books of 2008
- Telegraph (UK):Chistmas books
- Telegraph (UK):Christmas books: history
- NY Times blog post: Picking the Notable Books of the Year

{Source: Guardian. Caption: Detail from the Madonna Della Rondine by Carlo Crivelli. Image: The Art Archive}

{Source: Telegraph. Caption: Christmas past: Anothy Fletcher's 'Growing up in England' is highly recommended}

Friday, November 28, 2008


I watch the tube while I do my thirty-minute jog each day. Months past it would be bike races on dvd or video, occasionally a cricket test match, sometimes golf. It's not all sports. I ran through all the first series of Zatôichi at one point and have made an eBay purchase of the whole Pallisers series. Mostly I buy second hand, but I've bought some dvds on sale new and sometimes rent.

My current exercise distraction is the full series of Planet Earth dvds. I bought a used set of the BBC version narrated by Richard Attenborough at a ridiculous price on eBay. As others have observed, there's lots of icky insectile stuff, lots of dominance competition and territory protecting, parched deserts, frozen tundra, and the like which can be off-putting when absorbed just before dinner, my usual time on the treadmill. But not off-putting enough to detract from the magnificent whole of this amazing adventure.

I recently viewed the program on grass plains which featured a segment on the Kiang, Tibet's wild asses. This you can view for yourself on Youtube (2 min, 35 sec):

One of the more unsettling segments is one about two large communities of chimpanzees which occupy neighboring territory. Quite recently I read a book about the behavior of human hunter-gathering societies. The chimps and humans behave with startlingly similar tactics: not just defending territory by warning off potential invaders -- as do many species -- but sending out warrior patrols for organized attacks within the territory controlled by a competing group.

The segment shows a chimp patrol moving silently up to the border and then stealthily into the territory of their neighbors. They initiate a surprise attack on the community, cooperate in killing one member of it, and then -- unpleasantly -- cannibalize him. Having done this they return home. It can't be known exactly what they achieve by this. They don't attempt to rule their neighbors as a conquered people and the attack is likely to fit into a complicated pattern by which they demonstrate their power, hone their ability to cooperate with each other, develop specialized roles for carrying out responsibilities, and keep up their hunting and fighting skills.

I couldn't find a Youtube of this segment, but there's one showing a wildlife cameraman discussing a similar attack by chimps on a group of monkeys (4 min). There are some shots from the same segment in this Discovery Channel video, but not ones of the patrol in action.

More on Kiang:

More on Chimps:

Chimp Warfare and Predators

Planet Earth part two - press pack

In the Ngogo forest in Uganda Planet Earth captures a natural history first when the largest chimpanzee group in the world – 150 strong – defends its territory from neighbouring chimp groups. On one patrol a youngster from a rival group is killed and eaten.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

being grateful

From Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, On Friendship (1841):
I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new. Shall I not call God the Beautiful, who daily showeth himself so to me in his gifts? I chide society, I embrace solitude, and yet I am not so ungrateful as not to see the wise, the lovely and the noble-minded, as from time to time they pass my gate. Who hears me, who understands me, becomes mine, — a possession for all time. Nor is Nature so poor but she gives me this joy several times, and thus we weave social threads of our own, a new web of relations ; and, as many thoughts in succession substantiate themselves, we shall by and by stand in a new world of our own creation, and no longer strangers and pilgrims in a traditionary globe. My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me. By oldest right, by the divine affinity of virtue with itself, I find them, or rather not I, but the Deity in me and in them derides and cancels the thick walls of individual character, relation, age, sex, circumstance, at which he usually connives, and now makes many one. High thanks I owe you, excellent lovers, who carry out the world for me to new and noble depths, and enlarge the meaning of all my thoughts.

Images from the Library of Congress; click to view full size.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

dumb cits?

The newspapers are giving coverage to a civics survey that purports to show, as one commentator says, that most Americans are too ignorant to vote. The research is by a group called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which (surprise!) has an agenda. The organization celebrates free markets, civil society, the American Experience, and the achievement of national security. It aims to "further in successive generations of college youth a better understanding of the values and institutions that sustain a free and humane society." And in "educating for liberty" it hopes
to identify the best and the brightest college students and to nurture in these future leaders the American ideal of ordered liberty. To accomplish this goal, ISI seeks to enhance the rising generation's knowledge of our nation's founding principles — limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, market economy, and moral norms.
It's also no surprise that news coverage focuses on the ISI's press release (pdf) and gives little or no context. I didn't find any articles that gave useful background info on ISI or its aims. This is discouraging. Biased research is unavoidable, of course, but (I believe) reporters should help readers understand how it might have entered into survey summary that comes their way via eye-catching press release. Unlike (admittedly harassed and dead-line besieged) reporters, Bloggers do often give background about and criticize what they consider to be biased surveys, and (often-enough) their own argument-skewing biases are both obvious and discountable. (A recent example: New EDF poll statistically invalid due to biased questions, posted on Scholars and Rogues, November 14, 2008, by Brian Angliss.)

Given the time constraints on reporters, wouldn't it be nice to have an online database of research reports like the consumer databases of organizations such as Consumers Checkbook or the myth-busting of the Urban Legends Reference Pages? I searched, but couldn't locate anything of that nature. (Again, I'm not trying to maintain that such organizations are themselves free of bias, but accounting for bias in them is not difficult and, since they are numerous, comparisons are possible.)

At the very least, it would be nice if some reporters, anyway, would give urls for the organizations that carry out studies they report, for the survey methodologies, and for the survey questionnaires themselves.

It's not too hard to find the ISI home page. Go there and you'll find the release of course (pdf, as I said) and a full page on the survey itself, along with the questionnaire, which you can take on the spot.

You'll see the bias without difficulty. The questions focus on the organization's agenda and carry a strong flavor of Adam Smith and the US Founding Fathers. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, so long as it's obvious (as it is). Although it needs to be taken into account, I wouldn't say the bias invalidates conclusions that are being drawn from the published results, although it's a bit excessive to say that Americans are too ignorant to vote.

You probably realize there's nothing new in complaints about the low level of civic knowledge in democracies. Still, the results of this survey seem to suggest things are worse than they were. The student reporters for a collegiate paper give some reasons: academic curricula have broadened. There's much less emphasis on what used to be core subjects, like American History, Political Economy, and civics in general. And, you have to ask yourself, (a) is this wrong, (b) is the survey respondents' ignorance a real danger to the US, and (c) are things truly worse than they used to be? In giving my answers to these questions I acknowledge that as a student of history and enthusiast of the Enlightenment & 18th c. history, I'm myself biased.

If you put your quiz score in the comments and I'll tell you mine. OK? (If you're not in the target audience for the survey -- US cits -- you're off the hook of course, but responses welcome all the same.)


I've been particularly concerned about the shortcomings of news reports on survey results since the first appearance of the NEA wolf-crying on the decline in recreational reading in America.

Here are some links on this topic.

Literary Reading in Dramatic Decline, According to National Endowment for the Arts Survey

A brilliant critique of the NEA Reading report

More Responses to NEA Reading Report

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Joost off-season, Lance in training

I haven't done a Joost post for a while. You'll recall that he won this year's Three Days of De Panne and the Tour of Luxembourg last spring. Since then he's been injured a couple of times. He recovered after the first crash and, at the end of August, took a good second place in the Dutch time trial championship race. Since the second crash, in October at the Tour of Poland, he has mainly devoted himself to helping other team members achieve their best. Rabobank itself hasn't done all that well. Óscar Freire, Denis Menchov, and Juan Antonio Flecha have come close but haven't achieved podium finishes in major races lately. He ended his season a bit earlier than usual to work on recovering from the second crash. Since then he has renewed his contract with the team for a couple more years and has moved from his home in Belgium back to a city in eastern Netherlands close to his birthplace. He says he's happy to be back in his home country in the Tukkerland province.

Joost came to mind when I read yet one more piece on Lance's comeback in Pez this morning. Pez was able to place a reporter in a support vehicle that followed LA on a training ride in the countryside near Austin. The article helped me remember why I'm not fond of the man. He lives in a gated estate, trains with only one fellow cyclist, has the support vehicle with him all the time, and, in general, seems to use his wealth to make things as close to perfect for himself as he can. It's the celebrity culture I dislike. That and the aloofness that he used to keep from other professional cyclists. I can't imagine him palling with Joost at any time in his career. All the same, his devotion to cancer projects and healthy living is wholly admirable. One shot of him reminds me of another reason I temper my dislike: he looks a lot like my friend Joel.

Here's a video (to which the Pez article points) on Lance and one of his cars:

Here's a little Joost gallery. Click images to view full size.

In the recent Tour of Mexico:

At Three Days of De Panne

Map showing Hengelo near Enschede.

Tukkerland seems to be a relatively rural area in which there's an annual youth festival:

Monday, November 24, 2008

quest for meaning

Saw this Banksy this morning and searched til I came up with the companion that follows.

The artist has a web site - or at least one that seems to be authentic. And a manifesto.

Quite a few bloggers proliferate Banksy as I've just done. Some collect other interesting images.

Such as this.

And this.

Monday, November 17, 2008

the way one buys one's horses—and one's husbands

Are the novels of Anthony Trollope an acquired taste? I suppose he seems wordy and I suppose it can seem tedious that he so often explains what he's telling you while he tells it. But his command of language, his power of description, and his feeling for human interaction are so wonderful. The apparent (and I think real) ease with which he writes; the fluidity of his line, his paragraph, his chapter; all these are masterful. It may be eccentric to appreciate his restraint, but I am truly fond of authors such as he who bend over backwards to avoid sensationalism. He's particularly fine when read late evenings, before bedtime, or during periods of sleeplessness -- a calming influence, full of gentle humor and possessing a pleasant way of letting his characters reveal themselves while conversing - actually holding extended conversations in which they listen, react, interrogate, persuade; pretty much always in full sentences; pretty much always with a transparent clarity.

Over lunch I read two chapters of Phineas Finn that stand on their own and that could be a good introduction to the author's skill and freedom of expression.

They are CHAPTER X, Violet Effingham and CHAPTER XI, Lord Chiltern.

I recommend them.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

learning and doing

When I was young it was easy to find out how use hand tools. During World War II the military produced basic guides for servicemen that explained all. Right after the war they were available at little cost. The ones that came into our house had been published by the Navy. I still remember using one of these manuals to learn exactly how to splice electrical wires together. It helped that I liked to learn about things from books. There were quite a few skills that had greater fascination for me on paper than in real life. Fly fishing for example. I learned the subject from books and even acquired the equipment, but never got into the sport at all. Archery too.

And cartooning. I devoured comic books and was interested in drawing cartoons, but not interested enough to get beyond reading about how it's done.

Here is one old military how-to pamphlet which didn't come my way back then. It showed up in a blog post I read this morning.

It was scanned and posted online by the Animation Archive of the International Animated Film Society: ASIFA-Hollywood, which has the nice logo at right. About themselves, they say: "The Animation Archive is a project of International Animated Film Society: ASIFA-Hollywood, a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization. We are building a museum, library and digital archive for the benefit of animation professionals, cartoonists, designers, students and the general public. Our database of images, biographic info and films contains thousands of entries- animated cartoons, artwork, and filmographies. Contributions and volunteers are needed to make the dream a reality."

If you do a bit of searching on the topic, you'll come up with this near relative from the same time period:
And now for something completely different- Pocket Cartoon Course!

nothing but the links

Saturday morning gleanings

1. From hair in my soup:

{Click image to view full size}

“ I don’t know the key to success but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. ” — Bill Cosby

2. From BigPicture at
Peering into the micro world
A team of University of Michigan researchers has recently created a set of electron microscope images of carbon nanotube structures depicting images of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. John Hart, leader of the research team says it wasn't a political statement, but an attempt to draw attention to what is possible these days with nanotechnology, and imaging at the very small scale. I'll take him up on this invitation and share with you some other images of very tiny things in our world. For visualizing the scale, most measurements below are in microns - one micron is a millionth of a meter - human hair is approximately 100 microns thick. (32 photos total)
the Big Picture

Squid Suckers, winner of Honorable Mention in the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Awards. Loligo pealei squids have eight arms and two tentacles, all of which are coated with suction-cups, lined with fangs composed of chitin. These tiny suckers, whose diameters are around 400 microns, ultimately allow the half-meter-long squid to get a solid grip on its environment. (Courtesy of Jessica D. Schiffman and Caroline L. Schauer; Drexel University).Click image to view full size

Winner of an Honorable Mention in Illustration in the 2008 International Science and Engineering Visualization Awards, this is a rendered 3D image of a melanoma cell using data obtained using ion abrasion scanning electron microscopy, a novel approach for imaging mammalian cells at nanometer resolution. (Donald Bliss and Sriram Subramaniam; National Library of Medicine, NIH). Click image to view full size

3. Community Grid. Emily Chang says: Donate the time your computer is turned on, but is idle, to projects that benefit humanity with this secure software that does it all for free. Once you install the software, you will be participating in World Community Grid. No other action must be taken. World Community Grid's mission is to create the largest public computing grid benefiting humanity. Their work is built on the belief that technological innovation combined with visionary scientific research and large-scale volunteerism can change our world for the better.
World Community Grid's mission is to create the largest public computing grid benefiting humanity. Our work is built on the belief that technological innovation combined with visionary scientific research and large-scale volunteerism can change our world for the better. Our success depends on individuals - like you - collectively contributing their unused computer time to this not-for-profit endeavor.

Donate the time your computer is turned on, but is idle, to projects that benefit humanity! We provide the secure software that does it all for free, and you become part of a community that is helping to change the world. Once you install the software, you will be participating in World Community Grid. No other action must be taken; it's that simple!
About Us
Active Research
World Community Grid Overview
4. From the New York Times. Children’s Books Fall Special Issue:

5. From Pexdaus and entitled "Real Bambi and Thumper."

6. From our favorite local puppet theater:

A Presidential Bloodbath

Friday, November 14, 2008

another fine mess - and what to do about it

I haven't linked to articles by Steven Pearlstein in a while. That's certainly not because they aren't worth reading. Here's a compilation of excerpts from the last four of them.

Toward a New International Capitalism, by Steven Pearlstein, Friday, November 14, 2008; Page D01
There is also no denying that American-style capitalism has been undermined by its own success. In its present incarnation, it rewards manipulation over innovation and speculation over genuine value creation, resulting in massive misallocations of capital and the accumulation of unheard-of wealth in the hands of money managers and top corporate executives who are more lucky than they are skilled. No longer is it the entrepreneurial capitalism of Google and Amazon and Nucor Steel that animates the American imagination -- it is the financial capitalism of Enron and Drexel Burnham Lambert, of Goldman Sachs and the Blackstone Group, of publicly traded real estate investment trusts and multibillion-dollar hedge funds. Here in the United States, they have sucked up a disproportionate share of talent and capital, distorted compensation systems, and helped to perpetuate the false notion that companies exist solely to enrich their investors and investment bankers. And now, through the marvels of global financial markets, they have spread their toxic culture and products to economies across the globe.

As they arrive in Washington, the challenge for global leaders is to find a way to tame a financial system that has not only corrupted American-style capitalism but also brought unwelcome instability to the global economy. The flaw in the old "Washington consensus" is that an unfettered flow of investment capital, particularly among countries with different currencies, is not the idea. While product and labor markets work remarkably well when they are left open and lightly-regulated, experience has now demonstrated that a different approach needs to be taken toward financial markets, which suffer from imperfect information, an abundance of moral hazard, and a tendency toward herd behavior and speculative excess.

Creating a new architecture and regulatory framework for the global financial system is complicated and wonky and won't win anyone the next election. After the Asian financial crisis in 1998, there was a lot of brave talk about updating the old Bretton Woods institutions, but petty politics and an improving economy got in the way, and nothing was ever done. Perhaps this time, the prospect of another global depression will focus the minds of world leaders and lead them to create a new model of capitalism that everyone can live with.
Pressure Is on for Obama, but This Rescue Relies on All of Us, November 12, 2008
There is extraordinary pressure on Barack Obama -- from the public, the news media, Congress and even from other world leaders -- to move quickly and decisively "fix" the U.S. economy.

Most economists agree that government now has an urgent role to play in managing that adjustment, preventing markets from spinning out of control and turning what is a necessary recession into a prolonged depression. And most Americans want government to take steps to see that the pain of that adjustment is shared somewhat fairly and equitably, and ensure that the poor and vulnerable are protected.

But as Obama is quickly discovering, there is little consensus on what a fair and equitable adjustment looks like.

There is little in Obama's campaign platform, and his oft-stated promise to "restore the middle class," to suggest how he will answer these questions or where he will draw the lines. But it won't be long before he is forced to acknowledge that even the federal government, with its unmatched capacity to borrow and spend huge sums, cannot rescue every important industry, save or replace every job, prevent every foreclosure and restore every budget cut. The sooner he levels with us about those limits and the extent of shared sacrifice that will be necessary, the sooner the new president will be able to establish confidence in his leadership and restore faith in our economic future.
Obama's Hurdles Down the Track, November 7, 2008
Obama needs to avoid the instinct to try to undo the past or refight the same pitched battles among interest groups and ideologues that have stymied action for much of the past decade. The current crisis offers a rare opportunity to reframe the questions, challenge old assumptions and bring a new vocabulary to the economic conversation.

Obama now has a golden opportunity to reframe the stale debate over taxes and spending. Offering another round of tax rebates would only be an invitation to compound past mistakes. It was overspending by households that largely got us into this mess, and the only way we are going to get out of it is by having households live within their means.

Much better to take the same borrowed money and invest it in public goods -- not just roads and bridges, but things like public transit, basic scientific research, a modern air-traffic-control system, expansion of state college and university systems and a big push on early childhood education.

Any careful review of what went wrong in financial markets would quickly reveal that the problem wasn't primarily that regulators had too little authority but rather that they had neither the resources nor the political backing to use it. The goal needs to be better regulation, not more.
Hank Paulson's $125 Billion Mistake, October 31, 2008
It was only a few weeks ago that most right-thinking economists and left-leaning bloggers were jumping on Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for his plan to jump-start the markets in asset-backed securities by having the government buy them up at auction. Much better, they argued, to use the $700 billion to "recapitalize" the banking system, just as Gordon Brown was doing in Britain. Even the Federal Reserve thought that a better idea. So Paulson changed course, called in the nine biggest banks and "forced" them as a group to accept $125 billon in new capital. The critics patted themselves on the back for having been right all along.

Now, many of the same people are shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that the banks aren't using the money to make new loans to households and businesses, as they had assumed, but are using it to maintain dividend payments to shareholders, pay this year's bonuses to executives and traders, or squirrel it away for future acquisitions.

Perhaps the worst part of this misguided effort to recapitalize the banking system is that it has prompted other industries to line up for similar sweetheart deals. Automakers, insurers, auto finance companies and local governments are already besieging the Treasury, and you can be sure that others are refining their pitch. One can only hope that the terms of future deals will be sufficiently onerous that going to the Treasury will be become a last resort, not a first instinct, for industries in trouble.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

the power of language

Making fun of other people's colloquialisms is mean. Does anyone ever intend cliché, malaprop, or useless filler-word? Our conversation is rarely reasoned discourse. We give, we take, rapidly, with little forethought, making our contributions to the collective task of conversation.

Writers risk offending potential readers when they call attention to verbal gaffes. Some stigmatize, making fun at the expense of supposed transgressors; think of those who denigrate Palin's "nucular." Other, better ones know about the unselfconscious tuning of expression to occasion (as Steven Pinker with nucular).

A book called Damp Squid receives attention for its top ten most annoying phrases. It's compiled from an Oxford database on language use and thus quite possibly an example of the empty elitist ironic wit that seems to be a chronic disability of highly educated English skeptics. But the database is the scholarly tool used by the Oxford dictionary folks, so the book is unlikely to be snide and maybe not even unconsciously contemptuous. Still, as the title lets on, it's quite British. The top ten list itself, which is being picked up by news sites and blogs, contains few personal irritants. I'd like to see a list that contains the indeed habit of some British academics or all those upside-down posh adverbs, now blessedly fallen from favor: frightfully foremost among them. (The phrase "a Jew, of course, but a frightfully decent one" appeared only once in an early printing of an Agatha Christie novel of 1932, excised in later editions.)

So maybe Damp Squid is worth a read.

I can more definitely recommend a brief exploration of explanations contrived to support mangled clichés that came up when I searched damp squid. A couple of years ago a Times (UK) columnist told readers ‘For years I really believed there was such a thing as a “damp squid” ’ and went on to celebrate some creative etymologies. Some excerpts:
THE OTHER DAY MY ELDERLY country neighbour asked for a bit of help to get his new washing machine into the kitchen. That generation never use “it”, always, “he” or “she”, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the washing machine called “he”, but I was surprised by what followed: “My old washing machine, he’s given up the goat,” he said, in a broad Gloucestershire accent.

“The goat?” I replied. “Are you sure?” “Oh, yes,” said my neighbour, “ain’t you never heard that expression before, given up the goat?” “Well, not exactly . . . where does it come from?” “Ah well,” said my neighbour, “in the old days, when folks didn’t have much, and mainly worked the land, a man would set store by his animals, especially his goat, and when he come to die, he would bequeath that goat to his heirs, and that is why we say, ‘he’s given up the goat’.”

I am thrilled with this and from now on there will be no more ghosts, only goats. I began to think of other examples of fake etymology, all with their entirely persuasive explanations, a tribute to the exuberance and flexibility of language.

An Italian friend of mine, who learnt her English in America, calls her mobile her “self-phone”. Presumably she has heard it called a cell phone, but never seen the words written down — and it is a phone you use yourself . . .

I laboured long into adult life really believing that there was such a thing as a “damp squid”, which of course there is, and when things go wrong they do feel very like a damp squid to me, sort of squidgy and suckery and slippery and misshapen. Is a faulty firework really a better description of disappointment?

My father was in Ypres (pronounced Wipers) during the First World War, and like many of his generation, came back with bits of French. Ça ne fait rien turned into San Fairy Ann, meaning Stuff You, and then a new character emerged in Lancashire-speak, known as Fairy Ann; a got-up creature, no better than she should be, who couldn’t give a damn. “San Fairy Ann to you” morphed into: “Who does she think she is? Fairy Ann?”
In closing the brief piece the author invited readers to send in examples of other ways in which "English has been good at borrowings and refits, and ways of making sense; even of its mistakes."

The gave some of the response in a follow-up: ‘Communicating with the dead is risky, especially on constipated ground’ which says:
Communicating with the dead is obviously a risky business, especially as they might be buried in constipated ground or, as the Countess of Harewood kindly suggested, have too hastily signed over their Power of Eternity.

One husband told me that his wife likes to say: “'If my mother were alive now, she’d turn in her grave.” I know that’s not quite a fake etymology, but I include it, along with “my words fell on stony ears”. This must be close to bear-faced cheek, which might be a relative of the moveable beast, as in “Easter is a moveable beast — it all depends on when the hens start laying”.

I feel very sorry for the child who nearly choked on his biblical cord, and for the gentleman who feels “out on a limbo”. I think we have all felt out on a limbo sometimes, perhaps especially the lady who “has a milestone round her neck”.

Of Bibliophilia and Biblioclasm, by Theodore Dalyrmple, contains this insight:
The internet is both wonderful and terrible. For instance, it enables patients to learn a lot about their own diseases, and if they are discriminating, sometimes even to save their own lives. But medical information, or opinion, on the internet has probably already killed far more people than it has saved: the fact that Thabo Mbeki, the recently deposed President of South Africa, found a site on the internet while browsing that convinced him that AIDS was not caused by a virus, and that therefore treatment of HIV with drugs was harmful, resulted in untold premature loss of life that it will take many years for the internet to balance by lives it has saved.

Friday, November 07, 2008

a footnote

I've done lots of research on a thesis I'm writing, so much that it surprises me when I find something new and unexpected. This sentence fragment appears in a letter from the 17th-century mathematician who's the subject of the research: "Afterwards the warrs here breaking out I went 7 years to sea, most of it in the Venetian service against the Turk, wherein my hazard was almost as various as those of Dr Johnson sett out in his Sermon in print..." Curious about the sermon, I searched the printed publications of the mid-seventeenth century to see whether I couldn't locate this Dr. Johnson. Happily, this afternoon I found a book of 1664 by a William Johnson, Dr. of Divinity, called Deus nobiscum a sermon preached upon a great deliverance at sea: with the narrative of the dangers and deliverances, which seems to be the right one. Its text is in the Early English Books database and that's behind a paywall. Luckily, it has also been excerpted in a free and public source: A history of shipwrecks, and disasters at sea, from the most authentic sources (1833). This book, digitized by the University of Toronto, gives a brief summary with the text:
Dr. Johnson's deliverance, 1648.

THE narrator of the following shipwreck, as well as the sufferer, was Dr. William Johnson, a chaplain to Charles II. He embarked at Harwich, in the ship William and John, under the command of Daniel Morgan, on the twenty-ninth of September, 1648. The ship belonged to merchants of Ipswich. The writer does not say whither the William and John was bound, but it seems probable it was to some part of Norway, as that was the destination of the vessel in company, which took them up from the boat.
The narrative tells how the ship went down in the North Sea having burst some planking below water level, how a passing ship effected a dangerous rescue under high winds, how that ship then struck submerged rocks and split in two against a small isle off the coast of Norway, how Norwegians rescued the survivors after many harrowing hours of exposure on the rock, and how -- on making his way back to England, divested of his money and all his writings -- he endured other mishaps. Throughout he's careful to report only what he himself experienced and could understand. While honoring the many who selflessly provided help, he's also charitable toward those behavior was ignoble, selfish, mean, and despicable.

He was never well-known and authored no other books. An old book gives some biographic details in describing Warboys, the place where he spent his final years: "William Johnson, D. D. Rector of this towne, was author of & book intituled 'Deus Nobiscum, or a Sermon preached upon a great Deliverance at Sea, 1648; with a Narrative annexed,' &c. wherein it is said, that 'he was twice shipwrackt, and that he lived four days without any sustenance, and lay two nights and two days upon a rock in the deep several times, all hope of life being taken away.' — The said Dr. Win. Johnson had been (Fellow) of Queen's College, Chaplain and Sub Almoner to King Charles the Second, and the most witty and pious man living: he died Archdeacon of Huntingdon, March, l666-7, and was buried at Westminster, aet. fifty-four."

From its subject and date of publication, Johnson's book seems likely to be the one to which my man referred. The likelihood is strengthened by his dedication of the work to "My much esteemed Friend CHARLES SCARBURGH, Doctor of Physick, at his House in Black-Friers London." This Scarburgh appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and has his own wikipedia entry. As a physician to King Charles II, he would have been an associate of Johnson in his position as chaplain. One of the founding members of the Royal Society, Scarburgh was also an associate of Seth Ward who later nominated my man to be a Fellow. It's a strong likelihood they knew one another.

There are probably some other connections to be unearthed as well. For example, both Scarburgh and my man were bibliophiles and students of mathematics. Scarburgh left a large math library which probably contained works authored by my man or shepherded by him through the press. Though there aren't any surviving letters between them, they corresponded with some of the same men. It's unlikely that I'll be able to find a direct link between my man and Johnson, but these indirect ones are suggestive.

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{Charles Scarburgh. Source:}

{Warboys Parish Church. Source:}

{A shipwreck. Source:}

{Norwegian Coast. Source:}