Saturday, December 30, 2006

facing facts: defeat by a shit-ass country

I decided not to blog the following item when I read it this morning. But here it is, hours later, and the thing is still on my mind. So, for the possible cleansing it might bring me, here's what's nagging:
David Kaiser, writing in the blog History Unfolding, has a piece today called Truth Marches On, which is about how we come to know more and more about what actually happened in the past -- if the event was important and if new information can be had.

As Kaiser points out, these conditions are fulfilled with respect to the termination of the war in Vietnam. He says:
It has been my good fortune to have begun life in a family obsessed with news, and then to have become a professional historian. One wondered, in the 1960s and 1970s, what the real story was about Vietnam, Watergate, the Kennedy Assassination, the Nixon pardon, and much more, and now, little by little, we can find out. At the same time, one must face a somewhat painful paradox: by the time the truth comes out, few people care about it, and if the topic (such as Vietnam) still has political implications, it may easily be shouted down. Today's New York Times includes two revelations about matters I have wondered about for decades.
Well I also wondered what the real story was, and I agree with Kaiser that when we finally get the facts we want, there aren't too many people who care.

When I read the paragraph this morning, I got stuck at the phrase "the truth comes out" since truth -- at least truth in the usual sense -- very rarely does finally come out. There are always further facts to emerge, further ways of looking at them, further significances to point out, and further rationales for differences of interpretation. I see the painfully slow emergence of facts as analogous to the method of exhaustion which Archimedes used to measure the circumference of a circle.

But that's not what I want to write about now. Only that the truths that Kaiser points us to are profoundly disturbing. They show Nixon's eagerness to rain death down on South Asia, killing Asians and indirectly bringing about the deaths of many of the Americans who carried out his orders. This we knew, though lacked proof back then. What's newly disturbing to me is Kissinger's toadying to Nixon, bringing the war to an end -- a necessesary end -- through deceitful "handling" of his boss.

Read the post and see if you see my point.

Image source: Guam to Nam, Operation Arclight: South Vietnam, 18 June 1965, by: Don Poss

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a frightening prosperity

Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post, my favorite economic columnist, has a good piece tying together income inequality and the global economy. He says much the same as the IMF and our own Federal Reserve tell us, but in a helpful, big-picture way, and, he avoids drawing simplistic conclusions. Here's the link and some excerpts:
Of Public Debt and Private Wealth
By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, December 27, 2006; Page D01

With Democrats about to take charge on Capitol Hill, we're going to be hearing a lot about the widening income gap between rich and poor. ... As [this great national debate] plays out, it's important to remember that there isn't one correct analysis or any silver-bullet solution.

In that spirit, I'd like to toss out an idea borrowed from a reader in Canada with no particular training in economics but an intuitive sense about the connection between trade flows and income inequality. The idea goes something like this:

In terms of the global economy, the elephant in the room for much of the last 25 years has been the large and persistent U.S. current account deficit (loosely, the trade deficit), which this year is likely to exceed $800 billion. Roughly speaking, the richest country in the world spends 106 percent of its income.
Here, Pearlstein points out that China, other Asian countries, the oil-exporters, and countries from which we buy commodities all have accumulated lots of US dollars. They know they can't sell the dolllars (convert to local currency) without causing havoc with their own economies so they repatriate the dollars by investing them in US Teasuries, stocks, real estate, etc. -- a lot of the investment being made trough hedge funds and the like. He also points out that the US stock markets are at all-time highs largely because of this foreign investment.
So what does this have to do with income inequality? Quite a bit, actually.

We've known for a long time that increased trade with low-wage countries depresses wages of workers who produce goods and services now imported. A trade deficit equal to 7 percent of economic output obviously magnifies that effect.

But as the trade deficit is depressing wages at the bottom, it is now boosting incomes at the top by significantly inflating the value of stocks, bonds and real estate -- assets whose ownership is concentrated heavily in the hands of high-income people. By buying and selling these assets, and borrowing against them, these people have been transforming their paper wealth into spendable (and measurable) income at a record pace. ...

It would be an exaggeration, of course, to argue that our large and persistent trade deficit is the major factor in rising inequality. ... But in the coming debate, we need to remember that [wealthy Americans] are the lucky beneficiaries of a runaway trade deficit and the bubble-prone economy it has created.
The following chart from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows foreign investments in the US and US investments abroad. About it, BEA says "Foreign-owned assets in the United States were $12,702.5 billion at yearend 2005, compared with $11,547.4 billion at yearend 2004. The -$333.0 billion change in the net investment position from yearend 2004 to yearend 2005 was largely due to record private net foreign purchases of U.S. securities, including U.S. Treasury securities, and to the depreciation of most major foreign currencies against the dollar, which lowered the dollar value of U.S.-owned assets abroad."
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Saturday, December 23, 2006

coins and monetary history

You can read in the news, how coins are now more expensive to produce than their face value. The penny costs about $0.023 to make and the nickel $0.0573. The cause is a rise in commodity prices for copper, zinc (both used to make coins) and other commodities. Interestingly, it means that people have a monetary incentive to melt coins -- their components are worth more than the face value. As a result, the U.S. Mint has passed some regulations making it illegal to melt coins.

The English government had to face the same problem in the late 17th-century. At that time, silver coins were in short supply and the method used to manufacture them (workers hammering them out one-by-one) made them easy to clip. Clipping involved trimming off edges, melting down, and, when you had a sizable lump, selling the silver. The hammered coins came from the mint so uneven that new coins and clipped ones looked much alike. Since the clipped coins were exchanged at face value, unclipped coins gradually came to have more than face value. Astute money handlers carefully weighed the coins they obtained, hoarded them, and, as with clippings, melted them to sell.

The government dealt harshly with the coins melters when it caught them, but caught few. It also mechanized the manufacturing process to help solve the problem, giving the new coins a milled edge to make clipping obvious, but made too few of the news coins to make much of a difference and found, anyway, that they disappeared from circulation as people hoarded them.

This monetary problem was made worse by government expenditures on war with France. As one sources on the topic says,
England suffered through a monetary crisis in the 1690s. Under an onslaught of clipping induced by the Nine Years' War with France (1689-97), the nation's hammered silver coin rapidly dwindled in size, by 1695 falling on average to about 50% of its normal weight (from about 89% in 1686). At some point during that year, the general public lost confidence in hammered silver money. One result was a sharp rise in the price of the gold guinea to 30s. This attracted large quantities of gold from the continent and made it very attractive to melt down any remaining full-weight silver coin and export it to Europe to buy more gold for import into England. Uncertainty about the future value of guineas and hammered silver coin almost paralyzed England's fiscal system, which until then had relied very heavily upon these two types of coin. After a long and very tortured public debate, it was finally decided in 1696 to melt down all the remaining hammered silver and recoin it into new, full-weight milled specie. Though many had pressed for the official value of silver coin simultaneously to be raised (perhaps to as much as 8s or 9s per ounce), the government of William III opted to retain the existing rate. The actual recoinage operation that commenced in May 1696 resulted in a severe shortage of monies of all kinds, touching off a financial crisis that played a major role in inducing England the next year to sue for peace with France. {source}

I thought about all this when I saw the news article about nickels and pennies because it brought to mind Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle novels, a favorite of mine. In these books, one of his main themes is the emergence during the 17th century of paper money and letters of credit to augment precious-metal coins. He ties this (1) to the alchemists quest to turn base metal to gold: the bankers actually achieving this by making paper as valuable as gold, (2) to the emergence of stock exchanges, as credit instruments came to be bought and sold at discount, and (3) the transition from the turmoil of the 17th- to the relative stability of the 18th-century. He explained some of this in an interview about the second book of the cycle: Confusion:
Stephenson: To fuse means to melt; "con-fuse" means a melting together. When you say "I'm all mixed up" you're saying the same thing in simpler words. At least as far back as Chaucer, "confused" was being used in its current sense of being muddle-headed. The older, technical meaning of melting things together has become obsolete, but alchemists of the 17th century would have been comfortable with it.

Confusion de Confusiones is the title of a book written in 1688 by Joseph de la Vega about the Amsterdam stock market. It takes the form of a very long letter written by a Spanish Jew living in Amsterdam to his country cousins who are thinking about moving to the city. He describes the amazingly diverse tactics and schemes used by investors playing the market there. Even though there was only one stock being traded -- the Dutch East India Company -- they had bulls, bears, panics, bubbles and most of the other features of modern bourses. (There is a de la Vega family in The Baroque Cycle, but they are not meant as historical depictions of Joseph and his cousins. I just used the family name as a way of paying homage to this author.)

In The Baroque Cycle we have got confusion of a few different sorts: Not only alchemists melting things together, but also pandemonium in the markets, a re-coinage in England (which means gathering together and melting all the old coins) and the confusion of a war between France and her enemies.

Prior to the time I'm writing about -- let's say, 1618 to 1650 -- England and the Continent were in a Hobbesian state of war, chaotic and frozen at the same time. Starting around the mid-1650s, things settled down and there was a time of astonishing creativity and flux, which I attempted to capture in the first volume of this series, Quicksilver. What I'm trying to depict in The Confusion is its aftermath: a time when so much has changed, so fast, that things are all unsettled and out of whack, and settling, in a chaotic way, toward a new equilibrium.

Addendum: Reading the Baroque Cycle led indirectly to the research I'm now doing on John Collins, 17-century mathematician. Collins died in 1783 and therefore wasn't involved in the monetary crisis at century's end. But he held a number of government posts, one of them in the Farthing Office. While he was there, the government introduced a new version of this coin (worth a quarter of a penny -- farthing means fourth). There's a Wikipedia article on the farthing which explains.
copper farthing, 1674

Another addendum:

Another major theme of the Baroque Cycle is credit, not just credit in the sense conveyed by promisory notes, debtors and creditors, and the true value of coinage, but also credit in the sense of trust, confidence that promises made will be kept, honesty and fair dealing among individuals, institutions, and governments. Here is a prominent 19th-century British intellectual on the evils resulting when credit is undermined in this broad sense, when people lose this faith in the medium of exchange used for commercial transactions.

Thomas Babington Macaulay was a British reformer, politician, author, and all-round intellectual of the 19th-century. He wrote an extremely popular History of England in which he made little effort at scholarly detachment. In fact, he glories in celebrating favorites and in denigrating those he saw as selfish, illiberal, and opposed to progress. His prose is energetic and compelling. Here are a couple of paragraphs on the monetary crisis of 1695. Macaulay has described the practice of clipping and has given reasons why the government could not prevent it. Note the vigorous rhetoric: "But when the great instrument of exchange became thoroughly deranged, all trade, all industry, were smitten as with a palsy. The evil was felt daily and hourly in almost every place and by almost every class, in the dairy and on the threshing floor, by the anvil and by the loom, on the billows of the ocean and in the depths of the mine."
Great masses were melted down; great masses exported; great masses hoarded; but scarcely one new piece was to be found in the till of a shop, or in the leathern bag which the farmer carried home from the cattle fair. ... The evil proceeded with constantly accelerating velocity. At length in the autumn of 1695 it could hardly be said that the country possessed, for practical purposes, any measure of the value of commodities. It was a mere chance whether what was called a shilling was really tenpence, sixpence or a groat. ... There were, indeed, some northern districts into which the clipped money had only begun to find its way. An honest Quaker, who lived in one of these districts, recorded, in some notes which are still extant, the amazement with which, when he travelled southward, shopkeepers and innkeepers stared at the broad and heavy halfcrowns with which he paid his way. They asked whence he came, and where such money was to be found. The guinea which he purchased for twenty-two shillings at Lancaster bore a different value at every stage of his journey. When he reached London it was worth thirty shillings, and would indeed have been worth more had not the government fixed that rate as the highest at which gold should be received in the payment of taxes.

The evils produced by this state of the currency were not such as have generally been thought worthy to occupy a prominent place in history. Yet it may well be doubted whether all the misery which had been inflicted on the English nation in a quarter of a century by bad Kings, bad Ministers, bad Parliaments and bad judges, was equal to the misery caused in a single year by bad crowns and bad shillings. Those events which furnish the best themes for pathetic or indignant eloquence are not always those which most affect the happiness of the great body of the people. The misgovernment of Charles and James, gross as it had been, had not prevented the common business of life from going steadily and prosperously on. While the honour and independence of the State were sold to a foreign power, while chartered rights were invaded, while fundamental laws were violated, hundreds of thousands of quiet, honest and industrious families laboured and traded, ate their meals and lay down to rest, in comfort and security. Whether Whigs or Tories, Protestants or Jesuits were uppermost, the grazier drove his beasts to market; the grocer weighed out his currants; the draper measured out his broadcloth; the hum of buyers and sellers was as loud as ever in the towns; the harvest home was celebrated as joyously as ever in the hamlets; the cream overflowed the pails of Cheshire; the apple juice foamed in the presses of Herefordshire; the piles of crockery glowed in the furnaces of the Trent; and the barrows of coal rolled fast along the timber railways of the Tyne. But when the great instrument of exchange became thoroughly deranged, all trade, all industry, were smitten as with a palsy. The evil was felt daily and hourly in almost every place and by almost every class, in the dairy and on the threshing floor, by the anvil and by the loom, on the billows of the ocean and in the depths of the mine. Nothing could be purchased without a dispute. Over every counter there was wrangling from morning to night. The workman and his employer had a quarrel as regularly as the Saturday came round. On a fair day or a market day the clamours, the reproaches, the taunts, the curses, were incessant; and it was well if no booth was overturned and no head broken. No merchant would contract to deliver goods without making some stipulation about the quality of the coin in which he was to be paid. Even men of business were often bewildered by the confusion into which all pecuniary transactions were thrown. The simple and the careless were pillaged without mercy by extortioners whose demands grew even more rapidly than the money shrank. The price of the necessaries of life, of shoes, of ale, of oatmeal, rose fast. The labourer found that the bit of metal which when he received it was called a shilling would hardly, when he wanted to purchase a pot of beer or a loaf of rye bread, go as far as sixpence. Where artisans of more than usual intelligence were collected together in great numbers, as in the dockyard at Chatham, they were able to make their complaints heard and to obtain some redress. But the ignorant and helpless peasant was cruelly ground between one class which would give money only by tale and another which would take it only by weight. Yet his sufferings hardly exceeded those of the unfortunate race of authors. Of the way in which obscure writers were treated we may easily form a judgment from the letters, still extant, of Dryden to his bookseller Tonson. One day Tonson sends forty brass shillings, to say nothing of clipped money. Another day he pays a debt with pieces so bad that none of them will go. The great poet sends them all back, and demands in their place guineas at twenty-nine shillings each. "I expect," he says in one letter, "good silver, not such as I have had formerly." "If you have any silver that will go," he says in another letter, "my wife will be glad of it. I lost thirty shillings or more by the last payment of fifty pounds." These complaints and demands, which have been preserved from destruction only by the eminence of the writer, are doubtless merely a fair sample of the correspondence which filled all the mail bags of England during several months.
source: The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, Volume IV, by Thomas Babington Macaulay, CHAPTER XVII.

1948 farthing

British Isles in 1686

Sunday, December 17, 2006

be still and God may dance for you

At church this morning the priest urged us to be rather than do, meaning to be meditatively quiet -- present, attentive, open, and vulnerable -- rather than active, planning and accomplishing, making things happen. He said if we contemplate, God will dance before us. Nice image. It ties to the first reading in which the prophet Zephaniah tells the people of Israel that God "will rejoice over you with happy song, he will renew you by his love, he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival."

This translation of the Hebrew comes from the Jerusalem Bible. A more usual translation gives "rejoice over you with singing" instead of "dance with shouts of joy for you" but apparently the Hebrew word that translates into "rejoice" is "Yagil" which literally means "spin round in joy" and thus "dance joyfully."

As is often the case, the King James version sounds stately and poetic: "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; ... he will joy over thee with singing." But it's not exotic since in the time of James I, "joy" could be used as a synonym for "rejoice."

The Online Parallel Bible has the verse in many versions, including 'celebrates over you,' 'make a song of joy over you,' and 'exult over thee with singing.'

I like the dancing image best, reminiscent, as it is, of the dancing god Shiva of India, the dancing Sufi dervishes of Islam, and the Christian Shakers.

Here's a modern version of the whole verse.
Zephaniah 3.14-20

Sing, O Daughter of Zion;
shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O Daughter of Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
In the passage, the prophet is speaking to the exiles in Babylon about their eventual return to Jerusalem.

Nbr />{click to view full size}
This plant is called the "Be Still" tree.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

daffodils at the end of autumn

We saw Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont on dvd last night. Excellent movie. It deserves the praise it's been given. Sure it's sentimental and predictible; none the worse for that. Joan Plowright and supporting cast are marvelous.

But that's not my topic. At an affecting moment toward the end of the film the two principals -- Mrs. Palfrey and her young friend Ludovic Meyer -- help each other remember Wordsworth's poem Daffodils. It's a dramatic moment. She loves Mr. W. He's most fond of W. Blake. Both oh so Romantic. Here's the poem:
"Daffodils" (1804)

I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).

Watercolor of daffodils at Gowbarrow, Ullswater, in Wordsworth's Lake District of England. The artist, Susan Cooper, says: "The view inspired William Wordsworth to write his poem "daffodils" 200 years ago. I was in Grasmere for the day today (a day in April) and the Daffodils were out in profusion."

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some numbers

Descension and ascension

My bike commute is more down than up in the morning; the reverse in the afternoon when I come home again. Specifically, the USGS topographic maps for the area show elevation of 350 feet at my starting point and 90 feet at my destination, which I calculate to be an overall drop of 260 feet. Of course it's not as simple as that. I descend from 350 to 60, ascend to 200, descend to 80, ascend to 90, descend to 20, and finally ascend to 90. The ride home is more dramatic since I take a hilly route through the park: 90 down to 20, up to 85, down to 80, up to 200, down to 60, up to 340, down to 323, up to 380, and finally down to 340. Here it is in diagramatic form. The scale on the left is feet above sea level and the boxes are elevation points -- the ascents and descents of this journey of my working days. (I've left out the 27.5 ft. descent/ascent between street and garage where I park the bike.)
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I park the bike in the garage of the building where I work. The garage is in the lowest level of the building. I work seven stories up, on the floor that's next to the top one. Ignoring the elevators, I climb the stairs from sub-basement to fifth floor each workday morning. Mid-day, I almost always go down to the ground floor to pick up books from the Loan Division and then up to the sixth floor cafeteria and back to my office for lunch. Most days I go up and down a few floors to meetings. At day's end, I descend to the sub-basement again to claim the bike. Floors are 14 ft. apart (except from first to second, which is about 2 ft. more), and the total distance from bottom to top is 112 ft. This diagram shows the ups and downs of my stair-climbing day, leaving out the unpredictable one-floor-down, one-floor-up activity.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

blog traffic

This blog was visited 56 times last Wednesday. I had 190 unique visitors for the week and pretty close to 1,200 over all of last month. I know this because I use a tracker to compile data from access logs. Just by numbers, you'd think I have something going here, a bit of actual popularity. Not really so. Very few of you just check in to see what I have so say. Most of you get deposited on the blog by Google searches, which lead you to specific posts. In a typical month between 40% and 50% of visits come from Google web searches and about 25% to 30% from Google image searches. Not too many of you return to read other entries since the log data show that typically only about 10% of the blog's visitors show up more than once in a given month.

The tracker shows me what people are after. Image searches for backhoes are very popular. So are ones for Picasso blue-period paintings and specifically the man with guitar. Google web searches (other than images) are frequently for aristocrats, celebrities, popular music, and seasonal topics. And many of you are looking for photos of Frisian horses. In the past week people arrived at the blog by searching these plus "boxing day," "brambles ." FREE LOAD CHELSOM LIGHTING CATALOGUE," "st. nicholas day," "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism," "cat RESCUE mickey mousers," "ball joint," "lady warwick," "ASIA BOLTON 2006," "kopite definition," and "crows."

It interests me that about 20% of my recent visits have not come from searches but rather from a link given in a Dutch website where horses are discussed: I did a blog post about Guns, Germs, Steel, and ..... Friesians back in August 2005 and included an image of a white Frisian horse (the breed is mostly all black). The Dutch discussion list has had a really lengthy discussion on white Frisians, going back a year or so and still continuing. One person cited the photo in my blog post and many others, seeing the link, have clicked to see the photo and then give their two cents as to whether it's a genuine Frisian. Here's the photo itself:

I got it from a site, that doesn't give any information about the horse so I can't contribute to the discussion on the Dutch site (and anyway they write in Dutch, not English).


Addendum: I did some more checking, this time in Google Analytics and found a stat on "bounce rate." The data show that between 80% and 90% of visitors to the blog view the one page they seek and move on to another web page. They don't stay to read more of the blog. This is, of course, what you'd expect for folks looking for images of backhoes and Friesians. They also show that people who arrive at the blog spend an average of two and a half minutes looking at it before they move on. Again, not surprising.

One final stat: In October, high point of the wave of Friesian seekers, people seeking one single photo of a white horse accounted for a quarter of traffic on the blog, and, as I said, the photo was not even one of mine, but one I'd found via my own search in Google.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

a library director struggles with death and destruction

I'm crossposting this from my blog at work:

Anne Van Camp has a sobering post on RLG's HangingTogether blog. (Although RLG has merged with OCLC, RLG staff members, as OCLC employees, still run this blog.) If you follow the links she gives, you'll find a brief diary of recent horrific events written by Saad Eskander, Director of the National Archives and Library of Iraq. One brief excerpt from November 13th: "I spent the rest of the week trying to advise a number of my employees what to do, as they got death threats. The Sunnis, who lived in Shi'i dominated district were given an ultimatum to abandon their homes and the Shi'is, who lived in a Sunni dominated district, had to leave their homes. So far, two of my employees were murdered, the first worked in the Computer Department, and the second was a guard. Three of our drivers, who worked with us by contract, were murdered and three others were injured."

Here's the blog post:
Bad News from Baghdad
December 5th, 2006 by Anne

Yesterday I learned of the news from Saad Eskander, Director of the National Archives and Library of Iraq, as reported by Patricia Sleeman on the Archivists discussion list in the UK:


For security, I have closed the National Library & Archive since 22 Nov.
I will not reopen our institution until the security situation improves.
I am truly concerned aboput the safefty of my staff.

Best Regards


To read his fuller account of the events and disaster that caused this decision, you can read his recent diary posts on the Society of Archivists website under the “take a look” section. I first learned about this account from the Archives list and then saw that Amanda Hill at the Archives Hub blog picked this up as well in her recent post called Death Again.

These first hand accounts bring home the personal dimension and significance of the death and destruction that threaten both people and their cultural patrimony in this terrible time of war. The whole genre of eyewitness accounts of war and conflict is some of the most compelling archival evidence we preserve and continues to be an important subject for research. Last week, Richard Cox put an interesting post on his blog on a book Robert E. Bonner’s The Soldier’s Pen: Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), ISBN-13:978-0-8090-8744-0 And he asks the questions about why were these witnesses so compelled to write about their experiences? And while we have saved so much of this type of correspondence from the past, how well we are doing with today’s e-mail and blogs from our contemporary soldiers?

This photo of the National Library and Archives, Baghdad, was taken in June 2003.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Spinoza's opinion concerning God

I'm starting this now, hoping to finish it later. I know I can save as draft, but I'm not good at taking up and finishing off drafts.

I'm fascinated with Benedict de Spinoza. As aleady mentioned, I've been reading his letters, concentrating mostly on those with Henry Oldenburg. Oldenburg was secretary to the Royal Society. He conducted a vast correspondence, on his own behalf and on behalf of the RS. Much of it was with natural philosophers, mathematicians, and metaphysicians (all one group actually) on the Continent.

In writing to Spinoza, Oldenburg repeatedly asks for clarification of philosophy regarding religion. Spinoza had published one book on the subject and promised more. Because of opposition he was not able to publish further in his short lifetime. When he lived, governments and state churches had joint responsibility for controlling religious observance and belief and his arguments were seen as subversive to the state as well as to moroality and religion.

Oldenburg acknoledges that Spinoza's writings could be taken as subversive and he, Oldenburg, says he will keep secret anything that Spinoza wishes. However, Oldenburg must have known he could not keep this promise. Both men used personal couriers to convey letters when they could, but both must have known that spy networks made it pretty unlikely that their letters were secure. In addition, Oldenburg was official representative of an official body: the RS was chartered by King Charles II and had members of the King's court among its members. Holland, where Spinoza resided, and Oldenburg's England were both relatively free of religious persecution, but also relatively far from the toleration that would come in later centuries.

Like many in his time, Spinoza attempted to reconcile faith and reason. Unlike most others, he in effect discarded religion; kept God. He defended himself against impiety, immorality, and atheism, but also sought a way of life that was moral but without religious strictures. I think he was personally offended by unreason, credulity, and justification of faith via wonder, the miraculous, and awe.

Here is one letter he wrote Oldenburg out of many. I read it this morning over breakfast and decided it was worth blogging since it summarizes one main aspect Spinoza's thought and is unusually concise and clear in presentation. I've linked to my source. Also see this annotated version. both are translations from Spinoza's Latin.
Spinoza to Oldenburg. Nov. or Dec.,1675

Distinguished Sir, -I received on Saturday last your very short letter dated 15th Nov. In it you merely indicate the points in the theological treatise, which have given pain to readers, whereas I had hoped to learn from it, what were the opinions which militated against the practice of religious virtue, and which you formerly mentioned. However, I will speak on the three subjects on which you desire me to disclose my sentiments, and tell you, first, that my opinion concerning God differs widely from that which is ordinarily defended by modern Christians. For I hold that God is of all things the cause immanent, as the phrase is, not transient. I say that all things are in God and move in God, thus agreeing with Paul, [N1] and, perhaps, with all the ancient philosophers, though the phraseology may be different; I will even venture to affirm that I agree with all the ancient Hebrews, in so far as one may judge from their traditions, though these are in many ways corrupted. The supposition of some, that I endeavour to prove in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus the unity of God and Nature (meaning by the latter a certain mass or corporeal matter), is wholly erroneous.

As regards miracles, I am of opinion that the revelation of God can only be established by the wisdom of the doctrine, not by miracles, or in other words by ignorance. This I have shown at sufficient length in Chapter VI [TPT06]. concerning miracles. I will here only add, that I make this chief distinction between religion and superstition, that the latter is founded on ignorance, the former on knowledge; this, I take it, is the reason why Christians are distinguished from the rest of the world, not by faith, nor by charity, nor by the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, but solely by their opinions, inasmuch as they defend their cause, like everyone else, by miracles, that is by ignorance, which is the source of all malice; thus they turn a faith, which may be true, into superstition. Lastly, in order to disclose my opinions on the third point, I will tell you that I do not think it necessary for salvation to know Christ according to the flesh: but with regard to the Eternal Son of God, that is the Eternal Wisdom of God, which has manifested itself in all things and especially in the human mind, and above all in Christ Jesus, the case is far otherwise. For without this no one can come to a state of blessedness, inasmuch as it alone teaches, what is true or false, good or evil. And, inasmuch as this wisdom was made especially manifest through Christ Jesus, as I have said, His disciples preached it, in so far as it was revealed to them through Him, and thus showed that they could rejoice in that spirit of Christ more than the rest of mankind. The doctrines added by certain churches, such as that God took upon Himself human nature, I have expressly said that I do not understand; in fact, to speak the truth, they seem to me no less absurd than would a statement, that a circle had taken upon itself the nature of a square. This I think will be sufficient explanation of my opinions concerning the three points mentioned. Whether it will be satisfactory to Christians you will know better than I. Farewell.

[Note N1]: See Acts 17:28. Cf. 1 Cor. 3:16, 12:6; Eph. 1:23.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

life is good (Saturday morning edition)

I'm fond of Saturday mornings. I rise a half hour or so later than usual. I make strong tea which I take sweetened with rich (soy) milk and toast which I drizzle with olive oil. I open Firefox and see what the week has brought in my two favorite cultural aggregators: Arts and Letters Daily and Arts Journal Daily. I like what I find.

This day for example ALD points me to articles on (a) the difference in average IQ scores of African-Americans and non-African-Americans, (b) how "macro" economics works (or doesn't), (c) what is it with Chinese culture and politics?, (d) the supposed fall of American conservatism, and (e) the question, "Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?" And AJ cites articles and reviews of Tom Stoppard's new play, Voyage, first in the “The Coast of Utopia,” trilogy, a massive undertaking.

All are interesting, generally witty, give information that's new to me, and stimulate thoughts -- I like thoughts to be stimulated.

First, from Reason Magazine, which I think is a bastion of libertarianism - a review article by Ronald Bailey on Closing the Black/White IQ Gap which outlines the work of two men: James Flynn and Charles Murray, arguing about whether Black/White differences result from nurture or nature and whether they (the differences) are declining. He concludes that neither man makes a persuasive case and gives his own opinion (libertarian I suppose) that "no matter who turns out to be right in the nature versus nature debate over why there is a gap in black/white IQ scores, the idea that we must strive to treat every person as an individual, not as a representative of some group or other, seems right to me." The piece reminds me of my experience in the 1970s "war on poverty" where it was my personal experience that main beneficiaries of this government program were middle-class members of minority groups. The poor benefitted to the extent these middle-class folk permitted -- some a great deal where they were altruistic, others not at all where they were exploitive. Some extracts:
What are the public policy implications of the black/white IQ test score gap? As a self-avowed socialist, Flynn is in favor of dramatically expanding all sorts of color-blind state interventions. For example, he wants government drop-in centers where parents of every race and class could bring their children for educational enrichment. He also said that he wanted to see more book clubs in the black community. Murray, on the other hand, does not believe that there is much evidence that government educational interventions beyond some reasonably adequate level can permanently boost IQ test scores. Murray’s preferred policy is to forget group averages and encourage private and public institutions to treat people as individuals.
Next, from InTheseTimes, an article on What We Learn When We Learn Economics, subtitled "Is a little economics a dangerous thing?" by Christopher Hayes, who makes things very simple: The objective is prosperity. Governments want it as much as individuals do. What can governments do to achieve it? The question has been kicked around for centuries. I like to think about its origins in the seventeenth century and its superbe treatment by Adam Smith in the next one, but Hayes focuses on the modern opposition of Keynseians and Chicagoists. He begins:
There’s a case to be made that the single most intellectually and politically influential neighborhood in the United States is Chicago’s Hyde Park. Integrated, affluent and quiet, the 1.6 square-mile enclave on the city’s south side is like a tiny company town, where the company happens to be the august, gothic, eminently serious University of Chicago. Students at the U. of C. sell T-shirts that read “Where Fun Goes To Die,” and the same could be said of the neighborhood, which until very recently had a bookstore-to-bar ratio of 5:2.
This doesn't have anything to do with the article, but it's a nice quote. The core of what he says:
Among elites in economics and politics the consensus was, as John Maynard Keynes had argued, that capitalism could only function with regular and robust government management. Indeed, so total was this consensus that in 1971 Richard Nixon announced a plan to impose wage and price caps in order to curb inflation, declaring, “We are all Keynesians now.” Just 25 years later, however, Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president to be re-elected since FDR, announced that the “era of big government is over.” He might as well have said, “We are all Chicagoans now.” [These Chicagoans told of] the inefficiencies associated with non-free-market solutions and the perverse incentives that made any social programs destined to fail. [And, through their agency,] arguments about the way the world should be were converted into assertions about how the world actually was. Or, to put in terms that economists favor, normative arguments became positive ones. [In sum:] a David Barry quote: “Democrats seem to be basically nicer people, but they have demonstrated the management skills of celery. Republicans would know how to fix your tire, but they wouldn’t stop.”
Third, from the New Republic, a review by Andrew J. Nathan of the book, Mao's Last Revolution, by Roderick Macfarquhar, which is about the difficulty, maybe impossiblity of understanding the Cultural Revolution which Mao inflicted on his countrymen. Best quote from this piece: "As soon as Mao was gone, his project was abandoned. China set course toward wherever one thinks it is heading: capitalism, market socialism, export-led mercantilism -- certainly toward a society obsessed with selfish wealth." With my bias toward seventeenth-century political economy, I'm interested in the idea that the current Chinese revolution is a type of export-led mercantilism. But Nathan's main point is that China can't be assumed to be Westernizing (in the Japanese or any other manner). He says: 'Hard as it is to believe after reading this masterful and sickening book, large parts of Mao's vision still live. The dominant voices among independent intellectuals in China today belong not to liberal democrats and human rights activists, but to so-called neo-conservatives and neo-leftists who believe that even though Mao's revolution failed (through a combination of his mistakes and Western cultural and economic subversion), the search for a distinctive Chinese model should continue. Some of these ideas even animate the current leadership's push for a so-called "harmonious society," which aims to use state control to repress social conflict and ease inequality. The Cultural Revolution was Mao's last revolution, but it may not have been China's.'

Fourth, from PhysicsWeb, another book review, Seeking anthropic answers by Andrew Jaffe. The book: The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? by Paul Davies. The aspect that caught my attention relates to evidence. There isn't enough of it, making discussion of this topic highly speculative. It reminds me again of the seventeenth century when men began to question premises on which were based the huge superstructure of abstruse thought that had been accumulating since (at least) the time of Aristotle.

An aside: One of my current reads is The correspondence of Spinoza by Abraham Wolf. Henry Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society, correspondended extensively with Spinoza. There's much of great interest, at least to me, in their exchanges, but, relevant here, Oldenburg takes Spinoza to task for his attempt, using algebra, to build a universal ethics -- one based on what Spinoza believed to be unshakeable, 100% self-evident propositions (or, as Spinoza had it, impregnable definitions). Oldenburg, with flowery politesse and infinite tact, says hooey. This and other aspects of the exchange show the difficulty that the new mathematicians and natural philosophers faced in attempting to introduce new patterns of thought, new procedures for testing truth, and new ways of communicating with each other (moving away from the ancient pattern of bi-polar debate -- as between lawyers in a court proceeding, which could be entertaining -- and that was often the point, but which was less likely to advance knowledge than the more collaborative model that was emerging to replace it).

So, reviewer Jaffe points out that physics hasn't provided data sufficient for answering the question that's the book's title -- or even deciding whether the question frames the subject in a way that permits answer. Jaffe concludes using an argument that I've treasured ever since I first learned of its expression by The Buddha. He, Jaffe, says: "We have circled round to something philosophers have been worrying about for longer than physicists: how can I be sure I am not just a "brain in a vat"? This strain of scepticism started with Descartes and was only quashed by Ludwig Wittgenstein and his followers in the last century. Wittgenstein famously said, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent", and perhaps, in the absence of better theories and data to support them, that is how physicists should treat anthropic questions." For a concise description of The Buddha's teaching on this see here.

The last of the ALD items that I investigated is The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism, an essay by C. Bradley Thompson. It's a polemic, opinionated and short on evidence, mostly in defense of Capitalism, with a capital C. (Thompson is the Executive Director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism.) He says the conservatives' failure is that they no longer defend capitalism as a principle. This moral argument, he says, "is now considered by conservatives to be impractical and imprudent." Along the way, he gives this individualist credo: "Americans must remember what conservatives have forgotten (or never fully understood): that the United States was founded on the idea that individuals have unalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are valid only if individuals morally own themselves and are the proper beneficiaries of their own efforts. Each man is a morally sovereign entity. This is why no person is legitimately the master or the slave of another. But this principle, the principle of man’s rights, is the morality of egoism applied to a social-political context. Those who refuse to recognize and embrace egoism refuse to recognize and embrace man’s rights." What a leap from the first two assertions to the last two! The thought-connection I make is back to a theme that's occupied me since I immersed myself in Durkheim's writings a while back: civilization, civil society, social mores, collective ethics... all are no less significant than their individual, personal, egotistic counterparts, and probably older and thus more "fundamental" in evolutionary terms and thus significance to humankind.

Finally, the items from AJ on Tom Stoppard gave me hope. To my way of thinking, Broadway -- the New York Theater -- has been dominated by entertainment vehicles for some time, a kind of Disneyfication: form over content, extravaganza over thought-provoking dialogue. And here comes a new Stoppard to (maybe) turn things around.

In TT: Broadway's big week, Terry Teachout extracts from a WSJ review:
Tom Stoppard might just be a great playwright, and “The Coast of Utopia,” the trilogy of which “Voyage” is the first installment, may well prove to be a great work of art. That remains to be seen, at least by me, for I haven’t yet been to “Shipwreck” and “Salvage,” the second and third parts of “The Coast of Utopia” (they open on Dec. 21 and Feb. 15). I can already tell you, though, that “Voyage” is that rarest of theatrical experiences, a thrilling play that makes you think—hard.

What I like isn't just the "think-hard" attribute, but knowing that one of Stoppard's principal sources is a favorite author, Isaiah Berlin. Here's an except from a NYT with Stoppard (Playing With Ideas, by Daphne Merkin):
As has been the case with many of his other plays, “The Coast of Utopia” was inspired by Stoppard’s avid reading in a field that intrigued him. His interest can be sparked by an overheard remark, a newspaper article or a biography he’s read of Byron. “My life,” he once remarked, “is sectioned off into hot flushes, pursuits of this or that.” In his acknowledgment to the texts of “Utopia,” Stoppard cites Isaiah Berlin’s “Russian Thinkers” as well as E. H. Carr’s “Romantic Exiles” as his primary influences. (“Travesties” drew on Richard Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce, “Hapgood” on Richard Feynman’s writing on quantum physics and “Arcadia” on James Gleick’s book about chaos theory.) Stoppard — whose concerns resemble those of an Oxbridge don more than those of someone who chose not to attend university in order to pursue journalism — has always approached the intellectual backdrop of his plays with the zeal of an autodidact, sedulously researching historical facts and biographical accounts.

See also the review in New York Observer: Stoppard’s History Lesson: Russian Revolutionaries 101 and the NYT weekly mag review: Young, Restless and Russian, Devouring Big Ideas.

This photo comes from a NY Mag article called ‘The Coast of Utopia’ by the Numbers

This one comes from USA Today:

And from the NY Observer:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

a woman who made the world a better place

Thanksgiving Day, Betty Comden died of heart failure, 89 years of age. There are many, many obits and appreciations. I like best the one in the New York Times (Betty Comden, Half of Lyrics Team Behind Musicals of Grace and Wit, Dies at 89, by Robert Berkvist.) He says:
During a professional partnership that lasted for more than 60 years, and which finally ended with Mr. Green’s death in 2002, the Comden-Green blend of sophisticated wit and musical know-how lit up stage shows like “On the Town,” “Wonderful Town,” “Peter Pan” and “Bells Are Ringing.” Their Hollywood credits included the screenplays for two landmark film musicals, “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Band Wagon.”

Through the years they worked with composers like Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman, Jule Styne and André Previn, creating songs like “New York, New York,” “The Party’s Over,” “It’s Love” and “Some Other Time.” They were adept at making their lyrics fit the mood, whether it was rueful (“Lonely Town”), raucous (“100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man”) or romantic (“Just in Time”).

The title of one of their own songs, from “Bells Are Ringing,” summed up their joint career: it was truly a “Perfect Relationship” in which they met daily, most often in Ms. Comden’s living room, either to work on a show, to trade ideas or even just talk about the weather.
The hospital where she died, NewYork-Presbyterian, was the one where I was born. She was then 24, newly married and already partnered with Adolf Green (in a cabaret act at the Village Vanguard called the Revuers). The publicity shot directly below, taken two years later, shows the two of them rehearsing "On the Town" with Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins.

image credit: NYT

image credit: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Broadway World has a gallery of recent photos including this one.

Friday, November 24, 2006

admirable men

Drama dislikes the constant lover. The Bhudda's Middle Way is boring. Beatrice and Benedick delight and what adjective serves for Hero and Claudio? Insipid, right? It's a commonplace that Paradise Lost presents Lucifer as hero (though in this Milton's motives are debatable).

I'm doing dissertation research on an admirable man: publicist, literary agent, and friend to Britain's 17th-century mathematical geniuses.

The new biography of Leonard Woolf makes clear he was another such: friend of the famous and self-denying spouse of the most famous of all, she who credited his steadfast care with keeping her alive decades longer than she expected to last.

The author makes plain he was a soul-companion -- as well as friend -- to Isaiah Berlin: both of them unapologetic spokesmen for civilization -- as she says, defending "the Enlightenment virtues of reason, tolerance, and decency."

Both of them Jews in the snobbish and flippantly-antisemetic ambience of the interwar OxBridge generation of selfconsciously lost children.

The book is Leonard Woolf: A Biography, By Victoria Glendinning

The New York Sun has the review that caught my eye:

The Constant Husband, by Adam Kirsch.

Kirsch shows how Leonard Woolf endured
all the ambivalence associated with being a Jew in snobbish Bloomsbury. His brilliant, privileged friends were not deeply anti-Semitic, or they would not have made him so intimate a part of their lives. But part of the Bloomsbury style was a heartless snobbery that often took the form of anti-Semitism (along with other kinds of racism). A typical instance came when Vita Sackville-West complained that Leonard could be "tiresome and wrongheaded and sometimes Jewish." Virginia Woolf herself never for an instant forgot her husband's Jewishness, and she could be disgustingly nasty about his family, from whom she effectively isolated him.
Virginia was airily dismissive of Isaiah Berlin in this same heartless manner. She'd heard that he was "Oxford's leading light; a communist, I think, a fire-eater." But though he sought her out during an Oxford banquet they both attended, she paid him no heed. To one correspondent she depicted him as "a Portuguese Jew by the look of him," and to another: "I never realised which of [the guests] Mr Berlin was, but had to piece him together from descriptions afterwards." I wrote about this non-encounter last January: Prufrock at New College, Nov 30, 1933.

Woolf, like Berlin, made himself vaguely unpopular during the interwar era of Fascism by criticising the Soviet brand of totolitarianism no less than the German one. And both were unfailingly generous and kind. Of Leonard, Kirsch says 'Angela Graham, the wife of a Virginia Woolf scholar who barely knew Leonard, kept his photograph on her desk, and confided,"I used to write to you when I felt particularly isolated and confused ... these weren't letters for mailing — just letters for healing."'

John Collins, the subject of my dissertation research was similarly attentive, patient, persevering, and content play a supporting role in the great drama of cultural advancement.

A Middle-Way indeed. Unexciting. And like Zen Bhuddism, infused with a latent drama, if examined closely enough. For Leonard Woolf lived by the motto "Nothing Matters" by which he meant not only the obvious: that we are made of matter; we are controlled by laws of nature and not by any higher being. He also meant, with Democritus, Bhudda, and Samuel Beckett, that our consciousness is supremely important to us and its opposite "nothing" -- absence of all -- can be no less so. It is our triumph that we know ourselves to exist and our tragedy that we have no spiritual destiny.

This hard knowledge can make for hedonism, abandonment of moral values. But in Leonard Woolf it made for a loving servant. Why? One wonders why.


The many reviews of Glendinning's biography succomb to the painfully obvious. So The Times (of London) gives us A life of one's own, FT has Not afraid of Virginia, a rag in Camden NJ has Who’s ever heard of Mr Virginia Woolf?, and the Telegraph (less imaginatively) Out of the shadow cast by his wife. Oddly the New Yorker contents itself with VILLAGE SCRIBE. Cheers to The New Statesman and The Guardian for Nothing matters and Nothing matters, and everything matters, respectively.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

all those gas-guzzling suv's

Detroit automakers met with President Bush this week. The execs asked for help in solving their problems. The result was meager, though they declared themselves satisfied. By one account, 'the president said he had a "constructive and meaningful dialogue" with the executives, noted their companies' role in the U.S. economy and pledged that his administration would consult with them more frequently.' (President shows Big 3 sympathy, November 15, 2006, BY JUSTIN HYDE, FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF.)

Steven Pearlstein devoted this week's WaPo column to the subject. Here's a link and extract:
Hertz Case Is Example of What Ails Big Three

By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, November 15, 2006; Page D01

The car guys finally got their White House appointment this week to plea for government help. And at some level, you've got to sympathize with their predicament. Foreign imports continue to pour into the United States from countries that manipulate their currencies or protect their domestic markets. And the Big Three are forced to carry billions of dollars in health care and legacy retiree costs that their foreign rivals never will.

But then comes another reminder that these companies are their own worst enemies, careening from one strategic blunder to another for nearly three decades. This week's concerns Ford and its decision about a year ago to sell its Hertz subsidiary to a trio of private equity firms.

[This] is a lesson about what happens to companies when they lose their focus and rely on game-playing and financial manipulation. While the Big Three were dickering around buying and selling car rental companies, or getting into and out of the defense business and consumer finance, companies like Toyota and Hyundai and Honda were eating away at their market share by delivering great cars and value to customers. And it is that, more than any other factor, that has brought the Big Three to their current crisis and the car guys to Washington.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

a letter from John Collins

I'm testing the ImageShack photo hosting service.

The image shows a page from a draft letter from John Collins to Henry Oldenburg for delivery to Gottfried Leibniz.

You can read the text of this message in Rigaud's Correspondence of scientific men of the seventeenth century. It's item LXXXV, pp. 243-8. The letter has no date and Rigaud doesn't provide one. From context, I'd guess Collins wrote it in 1676.

The image comes from the Macclesfield Collection at Cambridge University (UK)
The reference is "Draft Letter from John Collins to Henry Oldenburg for Leibnitz. Add.9597/13/5/77,r. Author: Collins, John, 1625-1683"

Saturday, October 07, 2006

hodge podge

I never do blog posts that simply list other blog posts. And also I never say never. This little round-up comes from sightings on Arts and Letters Daily, Arts Journal, and the blog alerts in my personalized Yahoo page.

Greig Watson writes up Britain's National Poetry Day on the BBC web site: Brave voices sing poetry's praise. He's predictably enthusiastic -- and simultaneously somewhat skeptical -- about bringing the occasion out of "the quiet church halls," making poetry relevant, and finding for it a mass market. He quotes Tishani Doshi (pictured right) who says poetry shouldn't be taken as an indulgence and Michael Horovitz who says poetry "can remind human beings of their original qualities, a beating heart, a speaking mind and a singing voice." {photo credit: BBC}

Brahms knew how to keep celebrity from crushing him. Jan Swafford explains in Slate: Classic Put-Downs; Was Brahms a wiseass?

The article is full of amusing, revealing anecdotes. Like this:
When a lady gushed to him, "How do you write such divine adagios?" he only shrugged, "My publisher orders 'em that way." Once a singer asked which of his songs he might recommend. With straight face, he advised her to try his posthumous ones. "And which?" she asked politely. That was too good; he had to spread it around. "Ask Kalbeck," he told her. "He knows everything." So, she did go and ask his friend and future biographer Max Kalbeck to recommend some of Brahms's posthumous lieder, inspiring Kalbeck to collapse with laughter. When the lady appeared afterward in a huff, Brahms was, for him, kindly: "Dear lady, don't ask me such things. I'll usually just make some sort of a joke—and if a good one doesn't occur to me, then a bad one."
{photo credit: Slate}

Christopher Hitchens -- him of all people -- writes up I.F. Stone in Vanity Fair: I. F. Stone’s Mighty Pen, a review of a new biography by Myra MacPherson, All Governments Lie. Not surprisingly, Htchens, who succeeded him at The Nation, tries to make a case for Izzy as a supporter of Bush's adventures in the Near East (were he around today). He says the man was a consumate internationalist who hated dictators (fair enough), attacked anti-semitism whenever he encountered it, and opposed American isolationism. But those things wouldn't be enough to put him in the Bush camp. He'd be more likely to skewer Bush for subverting the constitutional separation of powers, illegally spying on citizens, crushing the economy, escalating gross inequality among Americans, and trampling human rights. For all that, Hitchens gives a couple of good anecdotes. Here's his favorite quote, from a write up of the infamous Republican convention in Miami, 1968: "It was hard to listen to Goldwater and realize that a man could be half Jewish and yet sometimes appear to be twice as dense as the normal gentile. As for Agnew, even at a convention where every speech seemed to outdo the other in wholesome clichés and delicious anticlimaxes, his speech putting Nixon into nomination topped all the rest. If the race that produced Isaiah is down to Goldwater and the race that produced Pericles is down to Agnew, the time has come to give the country back to the WASPs."

{photo caption by Vanity Fair: I. F. Stone, photographed by Sylvia Plachy in Washington, D.C., in September 1982.

Who reads George Will? I guess I've scanned columns from time to time, but he's always seemed alien, partisan (for the other side), unstimulating. I recall his affection for Nancy Reagan and noted his distrust to this Bush regime. Still, it's probably a marker for the current state of Republicanism that Will would write so scathing a column as this one: What Goeth Before the Fall (available free at the WaPo site only a few more days). Comparing Foley to Elmer Gantry, Will says of the Republicans: "Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks. This is one awkward aspect of what is supposed to have been the happy fusion between, but which involves unresolved tensions between, two flavors of conservatism -- Western and Southern." He goes on to explain the source of these tensions in Western libertarianism and Southern piety. I like the conclusion to this piece:
After the 1936 election, in which President Franklin Roosevelt shellacked the Republican nominee in all but two states, a humorist wrote: "If the outcome of this election hasn't taught you Republicans not to meddle in politics, I don't know what will." If, after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain 13 seats, they should go into another line of work.
{photo capton:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert at a news conference Monday after Mark Foley's resignation. By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press}

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"ah my beauty past compare"

At work, I listen to the classical music channel of Sweden's national radio on the web. At home it's WBJC on analog radio (through my PC sound card). WBJC is having one of their (blessedly rare) begging weekends so I put in a CD this Saturday morning: the CD which came with the book Renata Tebaldi: The Voice of an Angel,
by Carlamaria Casanova. It's excellent.

So what? Well its first cut is the Jewel Song from Gounod's Faust. I don't find a freely available copy of this performance on the internet, but you can find one by Gabriela Benackova on YouTube.

And.... and The Jewel Song immediately brings to mind Hergé's TinTin character Bianca Castafiore whom TinTin, Snowy, and Captain Haddock treat as a major pain in the ass. The jewel of La Scala, the Milanese Nightingale, her signature tune is the Jewel Song, whose first few words -- lofted at every remote opportunity -- drive TinTin and the others mad.

Says the infofax site:
The only major recurring female character in the Adventures of Tintin, the opera diva first appeared in the album King Ottokar's Sceptre. Her name is Italian for "chaste flower". Although apparently one of the leading opera singers of her generation, the only thing that Castafiore is ever heard to sing are a few lines of the Jewel Song, l'air des bijoux, from Faust, always at ear-splitting volume: "Ah my beauty past compare, these jewels bright I wear!". Unsurprisingly, opera was one of Hergé's pet hates. She is said to have been modeled on the real-life opera singer Maria Callas. She has a crush on Haddock, for whom she has a strong mothering instinct. She always pronounces his name incorrectly ("Capitaine Karbock"), and whenever she showers him with tokens of affection the results are disastrous. She later gets involved in rumours surrounding an affair with Haddock — much to the Captain's chagrin.

{image sources:,,, and}

Saturday, September 30, 2006

love and violence, the violence of love

Here's a piece from The Valve on the resurrection of an ancient tactic to curb violence:
Lysistrata live

Posted by Bill Benzon on 09/25/06 at 05:37 AM

As Satchmo used to say, it's one of those old time good ones.
Colombian sex strike forces gangsters to sheathe weapons

Sarah Baxter

A SEX strike organised by the girlfriends of gang members in one of Colombia's most violent cities to protest against a wave of murders has been hailed as a success by the local security chief.

The action became known in the Colombian media as the "crossed-leg strike" because of the women's refusal to have sex with their men until they promised to give up violence.

After 10 days of abstinence the women of Pereira were said by the security chief to have proved that they could win their battle with "very noble weapons".
For updates, search a news site for "cross legged strike." Here's a recent account from Ekklesia

I thought of this when I saw this image on The Wooster Collective. It suggests to me that the crossed-legged strike provides some comic relief but as a tactic for curbing violence it hasn't much promise.

The artist is Humeux and the wall art appears somewhere in the Netherlands.

This thought in turn brings to mind this book of homilies by Archbishop Romero. In it he spoke of opposition to violence by love of a different sort and his story is a heart-rending one. He lost his life condemning inequality, poverty, social injustice, and violent death in San Salvador. Reading about the period just before his assassination, it's painful to learn that Jimmy Carter, champion of human rights, ignored the archbishop's call for an end to US aid to the oppressive régime which had illegally seized power. Wikipedia says: 'In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses from paramilitary right-wing groups, from left-wing guerrillas and from the government. Romero spoke out against U.S. military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights". Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become "another Nicaragua", ignored the plea.'

One more turn of thought: This unforgettable image from the streets of Baghdad comes from an article in the Guardian on the level of violence in Iraq. The article quotes Bob Woodward as saying there is now an attack every 15 minutes.

The caption reads: "Pools of blood on the streets of central Baghdad after car bombs exploded. Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty"

Friday, September 29, 2006

Wooster Collective

Found on Oishii: The Wooster Collective which, Wikipedia says, is an online street art website that is updated on a regular basis. The site displays and gives links to works by street artists and other ephemeral art to be found in cities around the world. Currently there are quite a few videos among the static photos. Some of the older posts give podcasts with music and interviews featuring street artists. Marc and Sara Schiller run the site. The name comes from a street in the Soho section of New York City, known for its concentration of artists.

The set of posts on giant puppets in London have a link to a wonderful video of a giant girl puppet who gets a morning shower from a giant elephant puppet, dresses and goes off to play in the park.

From context, I think this photo comes from a person named Alexandros in Athens. (There's no attribution.)

This photo shows a giant puppet by a group called Royal de Luxe. It appeared in a street performance last May in London. More info here.

addendum: I'm a home today supposedly catching up on important work and here I am indulging in a recreation instead.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

lucy stoners

I heard once, years and years ago, the name given to women who keep their own last names when marrying. I forgot it soon after and have since wondered what search might turn it up. Now I've stumbled onto the term quite by chance and also been given a clue about what search would do the trick.

Looking up information on Alice Stone Blackwell, a long-lived agitator for women's rights, I found her to be the daughter of Lucy Stone, who "was the first woman to earn a college degree in Massachusetts, the first woman to keep her maiden name when she married and she was also the first woman to speak full-time on woman’s rights."

So Lucy Stoner was the term I sought, and the search could have been "first woman keep maiden name." In fact this search turns up a Wikipedia page on the Lucy Stone League, a group organized to support use of maiden names by married women. Searching "Lucy Stoner" turns up a page with the title "I am a Lucy Stoner" and a bunch of other interesting sites.

Lucy Stone, from a painting by Numael Pulido; source:

addendum: An image search for lucy stoner turns up photos of a stoned Lucy or two.

The apple tree blooms white in the Land of the Living

I'm fond of the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, particularly the Roman ones which take place in ancient Britain and in which members of the Aquila family are participants. She wrote mostly for children, but there's no lack of sophistication in the writing.

The Lantern Bearers is one of the best. outlines the plot. Basically, the hero, Aquila, has had a golden youth, growing up on an inland farm and becoming an officer in the Roman army. His fortunes turn as the British legions depart the island and he suffers great losses and endures soul-destroying hardships at the hands of raiding Jutes from Denmark. He escapes bondage and, greatly embittered, joins the fight to expel the invaders. In the end he experiences success in battle and learns to soften his hard heart.

Sutcliff's books often have religious and magical motifs. In this one, there's a scene of black magic about a third of the way through, one which reverberates through the rest of the novel. Two battle chiefs have combined forces to subdue the remaining Roman adherents and thus and dominate the country. One of the two, Hengenst, skilfully undermines the other by arranging for him to fall in love with his daughter, Rowena, who, as we'll see, is skilled in witchery.

Sutcliff writes:
She looked far remote, as though she had no need to be aware of the mead-flushed faces turned toward her, for she and they were in different worlds. She began to pluck the strings more strongly, conjuring up a strange music of long silence and single, singing notes that sprang up, each separate and perfect as some infinitely small silver bird that leapt up like a lark toward the smoky rafters, and hovered a little, and was gone. Gradually the notes spun close together until the bright shadow of a melody began to emerge; and then suddenly, still looking into the fire, she was singing.

Aquila, watching her, had expected her voice to be hard and high and clear. It was clear, but with a clearness of depth, not height, a dark voice.
The apple tree blooms white in the Land of the Living:
The shadow of the blossom falls across my door stone:
A bird flutters in the branches, singing.
Green is my bird as the green earth of men, but his song is forgetfulness.
           Listen and forget the earth.
.... the great firelit hall, the warriors leaning forward on their benches, even the two men in the High Seat were no more than background for the woman harping beside the fire.
The pedals fall from my apple tree, drifing,
Drifting down the wind like snow: but the snow is warm:
And a bird flutters in the branches, singing.
Blue is my bird as the blue summer sky, over the world of men.
           But here is another sky.
... Aquila thought, She is a witch! Surely she is a witch! Rowena had risen, and moved, drifting as though on the slow, haunting notes of her song, to the foot of the High Seat; and sank down again, still looking up at the thin, red-haired man.
The apples are silver on the boughs, low bending;
A tree of chiming, of singing as the wind blows by:
But the bird flutters through the branches silent.
Red is my bird, crimson red as the life of my heart is.
           Will you not come to me?
... the singer rose without another word ... and went, sweeping her crimson skirts after her through the rushes, to set the little harp back in the hands that her father's gleeman held out for it. Hengenst sent one glance after her; it might have been in triumph, quickly hidden under his down-drawn golden brows. (pp 96-97)
Throughout The Lantern Bearers, as in her other books, Sutcliff employs nature images for symbolic weight to reinforce and enrich the plot and its underlying meanings. Here, for example, is a first echo of the witch song, turned bucolic:
He saw the hearth-smoke rising blue against the tawny flank of the mountain beyond, and a few people moving about the kale plots and the cattle-byres. The track swung right hand, towards the village, skirting a small village, an orchard cradled in the loop of the river, the apples ripe on the dripping branches of the little half-wild trees; and the bright shadow of a song came to his mind.
The apples are silver on the boughs, low bending;
A tree of chiming, of singling as the wind blows by...
But these apples were homely russet, not silver, and no wind stirred the branches; on the still, autumn sunlight slanted through the orchard, casting each tree's shadow to the foot of the next. But there was a movement among the trees, a girl's laugh, and the flicker of colours under the leaves, dark red and saffron and tawny, and a deep, living blue like a kingfisher's mantle, and he realized that a group of girls were at the apple-picking. (pp 151-52)
In the examples that follow Sutcliff shows her skill in using light to set mood, usually in contrasting peaceful natural landscapes with the violence of enslavement, intrigue, and battle.
The hut was full of sunlight that slanted in through the doorway and quivered like golden water on the lime-washed wall beside him. (p 108)

He lay still a few moments, blinking at the living golden water on the wall (p 109)

the still-wet forest was full of a crystal-green light. The beans were just coming into flower, black and white among the grey-green leaves, and the scent of them was like honey and almonds, strong and sweet after the rain. (p 110)

It was a wild sunset, beyond the low, wooded hills, touching woods and marshes and mudflats with its singing gold and kindling the water to flame. (p. 170)

There was a cuckoo calling somewhere among the trees, a rich and sleepy sound, the very voice of summer. ... The cuckoo was still calling in a distance that was blue as wood-smoke, and in the marshy ground beside the track the dense mat of iris leaves still showed a few yellow flowers, proudly upheld like lamps among the cool green sword-blades of the leaves. (p 206)

Aquila saw that the moon was down, but the dark had paled to grey and the grey was glowing luminous. The eastern sky was a awash with silver light, and somewhere down by the stream a willow wren was singing, and the whole world seemed poised on the edge of revelation, about to spread its wings... (p 268)

where is he who is to save the present moment?

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This entry comes from the last days of September, 1848

I go twice a week over Concord with Ellery, and, as we sit on the steep park at Conantum, we still have the same regret as oft before. Is all this beauty to perish? Shall none remake this sun and wind, the sky-blue river, the river-blue sky; the yellow meadow spotted with sacks and sheets of cranberry-pickers; the red bushes; the iron-gray house with just the color of the granite rock; the paths of the thicket, in which the only engineers are the cattle grazing on yonder hill; the wide, straggling wild orchard in which Nature has deposited every possible flavor in the apples of different trees? Whole zones and climates she has concentrated into apples, We think of the old benefactors who have conquered these fields; of the old man Moore, who is just dying in these days, who has absorbed such volumes of sunshine like a huge melon or pumpkin in the sun, -- who has owned in every part of Condord a woodlot, until he could not find the boundaries of these, and never saw their interiors. But we say, where is he who is to save the present moment, and cause that this beauty not be lost? Shakespeare saw no better heaven or earth, but had the power and need to sing, and seized the dull ugly England, ugly to this, and made it amicable and enviable to all reading men, and now we are fooled into likening this to that; wilst if one of us had the chanting constitution, that land would no more be heard of.

source: "The Cranberry Pickers"
by Joseph Holodook

Monday, September 11, 2006

dreams of childhood fading: Emerson's Journals, September, 1823

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1820-1824, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes (1909).

Emerson wrote this undated entry following his return home from his walk to Western Massachusetts. At 20, he was still living with his mother, in a new place Canterbury Lane, Roxbury, and still teaching young ladies.

I have often found cause to complain that my thoughts have an ebb and flow. Whether any laws fix them, and what the laws are, I cannot ascertain. I have quoted a thousand times the memory of Milton and tried to bind my thinking season to one part of the year, or to one sort of weather; to the sweet influence of the Pleiades, or to the summer reign of Lyra. The worst is, that the ebb is certain, long and frequent, while the flow comes transiently and seldom. [See note 1 at bottom]

Once when Vanity was full fed, it sufficed to keep me at work and to produce some creditable scraps; but alas! it has long been dying of a galloping starvation, and the Muse, I fear me, will die too. The dreams of my childhood are all fading away and giving place to some very sober and very disgusting views of a quiet mediocrity of talents and condition - nor does it appear to me that any application of which I am capable, any efforts, any sacrifices, could at this moment restore any reasonableness to the familiar expectations of my earlier youth. But who is he that repines? Let him read the song about the linter-goose.

Melons and plums and peaches, eating and drinking, and the bugle, all the day long. These are the glorious occupations which engross a proud and thinking being, running his race of preparation for the eternal world. Man is a foolish slave who is busy in forging his own fetters. Sometimes he lifts up his eyes for a moment, admires freedom, and then hammers the rivets of his chain. Who does not believe life to be an illusion when he sees the daily, yearly, livelong, inconsistency that men indulge, in thinking so well and doing so ill?
. . . [editor's elipsis]


. . God's works are fruits of his character; copies (as ancient philosophy expressed it) of his mind and wishes. One could not venerate him if he were only good. Who could bow down before a god who had infinite instincts of benevolenee, and no thought; in whom the eye of knowledge was shut; who was kind and good because he knew no better; who was infinitely gentle as brutes are gentle? The poor Egyptian plebeian layman might do so, who worshipped a divine Oxy for his gracious tameness; but an enlightened Man with the spirit of a man, would bid them bring the stake and the fire and make him Martyr, ere he surrendered his mind and body to such a prostration. Man reveres the Providence of God as the benign and natural result of his omniscience; and expects in the imperfect image of God an imperfect copy of the same eternal order. [Note 2]


Note 1: So in "The Poet"; Poems (appendix) p. 319
Is there warrant that the waves
Of thought, in their mysterious caves, Will heap in me their highest tide,
In me, therewith beatified?
Unsure the ebb and now of thought,
The moon comes back, - the spirit not.
Also in "The Preacher," Lectures and Biographical Sketches, p.219 [editor's note]

Note 2: Mr. Cabot, in his Memoir (p. 103), gives two letters on God and Providence, written at this period by Emerson to his Aunt Mary, who, as he used to say, "wished everyone to be a Calvinist but herself." [editor's note]

Sunday, September 10, 2006

what's affordable?

Michelle Singletary's column in the Washington Post has some useful advice on personal budgets from a non-profit service organization called Money Management International. The piece is It Pays to Do the Math In the Budget Game. Here are some excerpts:
Your rent or mortgage (including insurance and taxes) should be about 27 percent of your income, minus taxes. If yours doesn't fall at exactly 27 percent, don't worry. The range typically is 20 to 35 percent.

What about your transportation costs (gas, insurance, maintenance)? They should be about 8 percent, Money Management tells its clients.

Here is a list of budget allocations MMI recommends, including comfortable or affordable ranges:

· Personal debt (credit cards, personal loans), 14 percent, with a range of 10 to 20 percent.

· Plan to spend about 3 percent for health care, including dental visits, prescriptions and eye care.

· Housing , 27 percent. Range: 20 to 35 percent

· Food , 21 percent. Range: 15 to 30 percent.

· Transportation (including car loan, insurance, gas, etc.), 8 percent. Range: 6 to 20 percent.

· Utilities , 6 percent. Range: 4 to 7 percent.

· Clothing , 4 percent. Range: 3 to 10 percent.

· Miscellaneous (travel, child care, entertainment, gifts), 1 percent. Range: 1 to 4 percent.

· Savings , 7 percent. Range: 5 to 9 percent.

· Insurance (health, life, disability), 6 percent. Range: 4 to 6 percent.

· Personal care , 3 percent. Range: 2 to 4 percent.

· Health (prescriptions, eye care, dental), 3 percent. Range: 2 to 8 percent.

Keep in mind that these percentages and line items are just guidelines. The ranges and categories will depend on a lot of factors, including whether you're married, have children or live in a high-cost area. If 60 percent of your income is spent on housing, transportation and food, you've got to make the remaining 40 percent work by refiguring the percentages.

Using a percentage method to budget helps you remember how much you can spend in any one-expense category and overall. If you budget this way, you will have financial freedom and peace of mind.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

London awash and the King returning to power

I've been reading letters of John Wallis, an English mathematician of the seventeenth century who had some insights which led to the revolutionary development of the calculus. He did not confine his interest to math, having administrative responsibilities as keeper of archives at Oxford University and the varied interests typical of members of the Royal Society in his time. One of these was a study of tides, specifically the causes of the exceptionally high tides which occur near the vernal and autumnal equinoxes each year.

From his home in Oxford he wrote frequently to Henry Oldenburg, the Royal Society's secretary on the probable causes of these tides. Kepler and Gallileo had also studied this phenomenon and Newton would later take it up. Galileo thought the main cause to be variations in the speed of the earth's rotation at different points on its surface. Wallis suggested that the main cause was the combined pull of gravitation exerted by sun and moon. He visualized a common center of gravity which changed position as the earth and moon moved in their orbits. The explanation given today largely reaffirms this hypothesis.

All this came to mind on reading an account in the Guardian about the yearly highest of high tides that are expected in England today and Monday and then again on October 7 and 10. These dates are conjunctions of two major astronomical events, one set occuring about every two weeks (the new and full moons, when the moon, earth, and sun are aligned with one another) and the other occuring twice a year when the sun crosses the equator (the equinoxes). On these times tide-producing gravitational forces are at their greatest. The tides are highest in years when the equinox and a new or full moon are timed as they are now. Click image to enlarge. Its caption, from BBC News, reads: "Shading shows likely extent of flooding from overflowing rivers and exceptionally high seas if there were no flood defences (Environment Agency). Spring tides expected in September and October may be highest for next 20 years in some areas. But Environment Agency says most flood defences should be able to cope unless they coincide with particularly severe weather."

There are quite a few factors that affect the actual tide height (mostly weather conditions, curvature of the shorline, the shape of the ocean floor, atmospheric pressure, and some special conditions affecting tidal rivers and inlets) so the semi-yearly high tides are not entirely predictable. The caption on this image from BBC News reads: "Prevailing SW winds carry depression to NW Scotland. Mean current forces surge to right of wind direction. If low also moves east, surge is forced southwards.
Shallower seabed means surge elevations higher in southern parts of North Sea."

Wallis didn't have the benefit of our full understanding of all the forces and conditions that affect tides. Newton's insight into the law of gravity was, in fact, still in the future. So his intuition and inductive reasoning are, I think, pretty admirable. And it's therefore surprising that his evidence did not support what we now know as fact concerning the conjunction of equinox, on the one hand, and alignment of sun, earth, and moon, on the other. In fact, though he understood that the matter was complicated, he didn't have enough evidence to grasp how many and varied were the causes of exceptional high tides.

Here is his account of the observations that caused him to develop the common-center-of-gravity hypothesis.

This comes from an article he wrote for Philosophical Transactions, the periodical (first of its kind) published by Oldenburg for the Royal Society. It is An essay of Dr. John Wallis, exhibiting his hypothesis about the flux and reflux of the sea (Issue no. 16, Monday, August 6, 1666, London, John Martin). The full title is "An Essay of Dr. John Wallis, exhibiting his Hypothesis about the Flux and Reflux of the Sea, taken from the Consideration of the Common Center of Gravity of the Earth and Moon."

Here are his observations. I like particularly his memory of the high water of November 1660 in London.
It having been observed (grosly) that those high Tides have used to happen about the Spring and Autumn; it hath been generally taken for granted (without any more nice observation) that the two quinoxes are the proper times, to which these Annual high Tides are to be referred; And such causes sought for, as might best sute with such a Supposition.

But it is now, the best part of twenty years, since I have had frequent occasions to converse with some Inhabitants of Rumney-marsh in Kent; where the Sea being kept out with great Earthen walls, that it do not at high water overflow the Levell; and the Inhabitants livelyhood depending most on grazing, or feeding Sheep; they are (as you may believe they have reason to be) very vigilant and observant, at what times they are most in danger of having their Lands drowned. And I find them generally agreed, by their constant Observations, (and Experience dearly bought) that their times of danger are about the beginning of February and of November : that is, at those Spring Tides which happen near those times; to which they give the names of Candlemass-stream and Allhallond-stream : And if they scape those Spring-tides, they apprehend themselves out of Danger for the rest of the year. And as for March and September (the two quinoxes ) they are as little solicitous of them, as of any other part of the year.

This, I confess, I much wondred at, when I first heard it; and suspected it to be but a mistake of him, that first told me, though he were indeed a person not likely so to be mistaken, in a thing wherein he was so much concerned: But I soon found, that it was not onely his, but a general observation of others too; both there, and elsewhere along the Sea coast. And though they did not pretend to know any reason of it, (nor so much as to enquire after it;) Yet none made doubt of it; but would rather laugh at any that should talk of March and September , as being the dangerous times. And since that time, I have my self very frequently observed (both at London and elsewhere, as I have had occasion) that in those months of February and November , (especially November ) the Tides have run much higher, than at other times: Though I confess, I have not been so diligent to set down those Observations, as I should have done. Yet this I do particularly very well remember, that in November 1660. (the same year that his Majesty returned) having occasion to go by Coach from the Strand to Westminster , I found the Water so high in the middle of King-street , that it came up, not onely to the Boots, but into the Body of the Coach; and the Pallace-yard (all save a little place near the West-End ) overflow'd; as likewise the Market-place; and many other places; and their Cellars generally filled up with Water. And in November last, 1665. it may yet be very well remembred, what very high Tides there were, not onely on the Coasts of England , (where much hurt was done by it) but much more in Holland , where by reason of those Inundations, many Villages and Towns were overflow'd. And though I cannot so particularly name other years, yet I can very safely say, that I very often observed Tides strangely high about those times of the year. This Observation did for divers years cause me much to wonder, not only because it is so contrary to the received opinion of the two quinoxes ; but because I could not think of any thing signal at those times of the year: as being neither the two quinoxes, nor the two Solstices , nor the Sun's Apogeum and Perigeum ; (or Earths Aphelium and Perihelium ;) nor indeed, at contrary times of the year, which at least, would seem to be expected. From Alhollandtide to Candlemass being but three months; and from thence to Alhollandtide again nine months.

spring tide at Victoria Warf
Flickr image by bignoseduglyguy: Spring Tide at Victoria Wharf, click to enlarge