Friday, October 31, 2008

'farewell sister, my dearest soul'

Birthday invitation from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina
Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present (?). Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.

Letter from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina
... greetings. Just as I had spoken with you, sister, and promised that I would ask Brocchus and would come to you, I asked him and he gave me the following reply, that it was always readily (?) permitted to me, together with .... to come to you in whatever way I can. For there are certain essential things which .... you will receive my letters by which you will know what I am going to do .... I was ... and will remain at Briga. Greet your Cerialis from me. (Back, 2nd hand) Farewell my sister, my dearest and most longed-for soul. (1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa, wife of Brocchus (?).
These are fragments from letters by the wife of a British officer who was serving on Hadrian's wall during the Roman occupation of Britain in the early centuries of the Christian era. They were found in excavations of a fort called Vindolanda. The British Museum has a web page about the archeological collection from which they come and there's a well-designed site at Oxford University which reproduces the contents of the collection and provides transcriptions such as the ones I've given above. Here's the logo:
Vindolanda Tablets Online

The site says, in part:
The Vindolanda writing tablets, written in ink on post-card sized sheets of wood, have been excavated at the fort of Vindolanda, immediately south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Dating to the the late first and early second centuries AD, the formative period of Roman Britain’s northern frontier, they were written by and for soldiers, merchants, women and slaves. Through their contents, life in one community on the edge of the Roman world can be reconstructed in detail. This exhibition introduces the tablets, drawing on information from the documents themselves and archaeological evidence from Vindolanda and elsewhere.
Here are some links to sub-pages of the site:
- Vindolanda and its setting – the excavations and a site tour
- History of Vindolanda
- Forts and military life – the fort and the lives of soldiers

- People – officers, men, families and civilians at Vindolanda
- Documents – writing and learning Latin

- Reading the tablets – alphabets, scripts and reading the texts

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I have an artistic cousin who has artistic friends and together they carved some artful pumpkins this year. Here are three:


You can find lots of pumpkin facts and factoids here.

More illuminated Cucurbita maxima:





Monday, October 27, 2008

urban transit in the early 1900s

This image, from Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division, shows Brooklyn's Atlantic Ave. station on a summer day. Taken in 1910 or a little after, it shows New Yorkers in Sunday dress, many of them headed to the boardwalk on Coney Island.

{Source: Library of Congress; click image to view full size}

This detail shows a Culver Line train pulling into the station on a return trip from Coney Island. The open siding on the cars is unusual. As you can see passengers could raise or lower the fabric screens, something like window shades.

{Source: Library of Congress; click image to view full size}

Still closer up, you can see young men riding between the cars and a modern young lady in shirt sleeves and tie, without hat.

{Source: Library of Congress; click image to view full size}

This second close up shows the driver in shirt sleeves, a lady with a big Sunday hat, and most everyone giving the scene below their full attention.

{Source: Library of Congress; click image to view full size}

Down below are pedestrians, the women in full Edwardian skirts and more Sunday headgear.

{Source: Library of Congress; click image to view full size}

It interests me that the women are in pairs, without male escorts. All the men are hatted, many in summer boaters and the police under regulation helmets. It's nice to see that not everyone wears dark clothing, though that's pretty much the norm. There are trolley tracks set into the street. This station serves the public with trolleys, a grade-level railway (the LIRR), the elevated trains of the Culver and other rapid transit lines.

This map from 1939 shows the route of the Culver Line. Part of it is labeled "South Brooklyn Line" because that line had taken over the Culver in 1912.

{Source:; click image to view full size}

For a pleasant outing on a summer's day, you could board a Culver Line train at Park Row in Manhattan, cross the Brooklyn Bridge to Atlantic Ave and proceed onward to the west end of Coney Island. The Atlantic Ave. station is not marked on this map; it's a little below the Fulton St. crossing. Here's the Culver Line (Original Route). Here's a link to a pdf of a map made in 1912. In it you can see the Atlantic Ave. station (with black rectangle marking the LIRR terminal). The Culver Line is shown from its northern end at Park Row down to its southern one at Coney Island.

This old postcard shows the Coney Island terminal.

{Source:; click to view full size}

This photo shows a destination -- Dreamland -- in Coney Island about 1904.

{Source:; click image to view full size}

This link takes you to a description of the Culver Line in its early days. Here are some
Culver Line Memories. And from the NYC subway site: BMT Culver Line.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

you said it

There's a new book of quotations out. A teaser in the Telegraph (UK) gives a somewhat satisfactory excuse for yet another book in this genre. The author says: "It's all I can do to peruse the side of a packet of breakfast cereal without distraction from radio, television or phone. I have no doubt you are in the same case. You would dearly like to suck intellectual and metaphysical juice from the fruity flesh of the world's best thinkers and writers but the treetops are all out of reach and it would be too much of a fag to go and fetch a ladder. If only someone would pick, pulp and squeeze that fruit for you." The book is Advanced Banter, compiled, it appears from a Telegraph column called Quote Interesting. I've selected from the teaser's selections below. Culling them, I couldn't help feeling that pithy quotes can make you queasy when ingested in any quantity. I generally get the same feeling on reading bunches of literary anecdotes.

As for example, doing some searching on Samuel Beckett's country cottage and Paris apartments I found a page of reminiscences by one of the man's publishers. He explains how he came to meet Beckett for the first time, how they hit it off pretty well, and how they'd generally have a meal together when the publisher's business brought him to Paris. They developed a routine: "We nearly always had dinner alone together and went on to cafes, continuing to talk, but also playing chess, ping-pong and sometimes billiards. Sam was a better player than myself at nearly everything, but occasionally when be had had more to drink than I had, I might win a game." This statement leads to an anecdote that came back to me on reading the extracts from the quote book: "One evening in 1961 when we met, the newspapers were full of Hemingway’s suicide and we never got off the topic. We agreed that suicide was the best way to die, but Sam’s problem was how not to leave a mess for others to clean up, while mine was how to do it quickly and painlessly." This one little insight proved to be enough and I've not read the rest of the brief memoir in which it appears.*
{Image source:, click to view full size}

Here are a few quotes from the book:

There is no generally accepted definition of life.

Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.
LEWIS GRIZZARD (1946-94) The original "grumpy old man" and one of the South's most popular columnists and comedians. His personal life was messy: four wives, a congenital heart defect and a battle with alcoholism. He was once voted "the Author from Hell" by a publishers' conference because of his bad behaviour on tour.

We are born. We eat sweet potatoes. Then we die.


It's hard for me to get used to these changing times. I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty.

Parents & Children

If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them as you think you should and half the amount of money.

Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.
JOHN WILMOT, EARL OF ROCHESTER There are only records of Rochester having five children: Anne, Charles, Elizabeth and Mallet by his wife Anne; and a girl by his mistress Elizabeth Barry. Despite succumbing to pox and alcoholism at 33, he seems to have been a popular and attentive father.

Cats & Dogs

Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.

Food & Drink

Ever wonder about those people who spend $2 apiece on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backward.

Actually, it only takes one drink to get me loaded. Trouble is, I can't remember if it's the 13th or 14th.

He was a bold man who first swallowed an oyster

House & Garden

Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing.

To the makying of bookes of gardenyng there is noe ende.
THOMAS HYLL From 'The Profitable Arte of Gardening' in 1563, the first gardening book published in English.


I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared that the sense of being well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow.

Once you can accept the universe as being something expanding into an infinite nothing which is something, wearing stripes with plaid is easy.

*Though I did locate the reference to Beckett's country cottage: "Henri and Josette Hayden had shared Sam Beckett’s wartime experiences, hiding with him and Suzanne, his resistance partner, who only married him in the sixties, and later they were living not very far from him his little house in the ‘Marne mud’, as he liked to put it, near Ussy-sur-Marne where he did most of his writing during the sixties and later."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

a doffer

These photos show doffer boys, the first three were taken at the Daniel mill in Lincolnton, N.C. and the fourth at the Globe Mill, Augusta, Ga. They were taken to show the need for child labor laws in the early 20th c. In the photo that shows four boys, the one on the left in knee pants told the investigato that 'he had worked in mills for 7 years and some nights. At nights they work 12 hours, without any hour off for lunch. Eat when they can. Some of the[m] "eat a-workin'."'

My grandfather on my mother's side was one of these boys. He arrived at Ellis Island as a baby, the family having emigrated from Snek in Friesland. They came after his father had gone bankrupt running a store and had so little money that they were forced to pawn jewelry to pay for passage. The father made a start as a landscape gardener in Passaic, NJ, but died during a blizzard when my grandfather was only five. His mother heroically supported him and his six siblings by cleaning houses.

Against the wishes of his three older sisters, my grandfather left school at about age nine to help support the family. He worked first tending cows and then got jobs in the local mills. By the time he got his job as a doffer he would have been about ten or eleven.

A few years later his older brother Harry taught him the carpenter trade. Somewhat in the Horatio Alger tradition, he went on to become a prosperous house builder, borrowing money to buy land and building homes on spec. In 1929, when banks failed, he insisted on paying off his debts. Though he had to revert to carpentry to earn a living, he was still able to support his wife and six children, and saw that his three sons all received college educations. Two of the three daughters got through nursing school. The youngest, my mom, was both proud and regretful that her education ended with a high school diploma. Proud because she had done well in high school and learned much; regretful because she knew she would have done well in college too.

This photo, also from LC, was taken after my grandfather had left the mills. As you can see, it shows strikers leaving a mill in Passaic. The history of child labor legislation in the US is not a proud one. At bottom, I've put some links on the struggles of reformers to achieve lasting protection against this abuse of children.

LC: photo taken between 1910 and 1915

- The Story of My Cotton Dress
- Photographs of Lewis Hine: Documentation of Child Labor
- Child Labor: A Historical Perspective (2007)
- Child Labor in U.S. History
- Child labor laws in the United States
- National Child Labor Committee
- Timeline of young people's rights in the United States


Commenter Joe Manning provided a link to his excellent site on child laborers and the photos of Lewis Hine. It's MORNINGS ON MAPLE STREET and it has an about page explaining his work. Last year Charlene Scott did an NPR piece on him and his work. A blog by Todd Wemmer gives a photo of the man and there's another in an article published in the Springfield Republican. Joe says: "For the past two years, I have been conducting a nationally known research project to track down the descendants of the child laborers that Hine photographed. So far, I have been successful for over 100 photos, interviewed the descendants, and answered, many times over, the question: What ever happened to that kid?"

Sarah and Tina, Sarah and the belugas

There's some buzz this morning about Sarah Palin's appearance on Saturday Night Live. She has an attractive TV presence; possesses nerve, poise, and charm; and has learned the politician's trick of self-deprecating humor. The shot on the right (from NYT) shows her with the show's producer watching Tina Fey perform. It's easy to find video clips of the event, as, for example, this one on Youtube.

Less news play is being given to the plight of beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet. The two topics are connected because Palin has joined other Alaska politicians in criticising a decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare the whales endangered. You can read the NOAA press release for details. Most news accounts lay stress on Palin's opposition to the decision. Examples:

1. NYT: Whale Protection Is Bolstered as Palin Objects, by William Yardley.
The federal government on Friday placed beluga whales that live in Cook Inlet in Alaska on the endangered species list, rejecting efforts by Gov. Sarah Palin and others against increased protection.

The relatively small, whitish whales, sometimes visible from downtown Anchorage, declined by almost 50 percent in the late 1990s, and federal scientists say they have not rebounded despite a series of protections, including a halt to subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives. About 375 whales have been counted in Cook Inlet each of the last two years, according to scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
2. AP: Government declares beluga whale endangered, by Dan Joling.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska—The beluga whales of Alaska's Cook Inlet are endangered and require additional protection to survive, the government declared Friday, contradicting Gov. Sarah Palin who has questioned whether the distinctive white whales are actually declining.

It was the Republican vice presidential candidate's second environmental slap from Washington this year. She has asked federal courts to overturn an Interior Department decision declaring polar bears threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The government on Friday put a portion of the whales on the endangered list, rejecting Palin's argument that it lacked scientific evidence to do so. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that a decade-long recovery program had failed to ensure the whales' survival.
3. The online-only paper efluxmedia: Palin Loses Again: Cook Inlet Beluga Whales Listed As Endangered.
As much as NOAA highlighted the importance of protecting the endangered whales, Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a strong opponent of enlisting them as endangered. Gov. Palin has also opposed the polar bear decision earlier this year, suing the federal government for adopting it, which clearly interfered with her administration’s plans of offshore oil drilling.
Understandably, the Alaska press brings out some of the potential negative impacts from the decision. See, for example, Feds list Cook Inlet belugas as endangered species, By George Bryson And Don Hunter, Anchorage Daily News, or Cook Inlet belugas listed as endangered, by Leyla Santiago and Rebecca Palsha, KTUU TV.

Myself, I think it's inconcievable that an agency of the Bush Administration would declare an animal endangered unless the evidence were overwhelming and unavoidable.

Also, I have a great liking for the animals. During our family vacation last summer I was pleasantly mesmerized by the grace and beauty of the belugas in the giant oceanarium at Chicago's magnificent Shedd Aquarium.

Some images:

Cook Inlet beluga whales joined a long list of endangered species Friday. (KTUU-TV)
Cook Inlet beluga whales joined a long list of endangered species Friday. (KTUU-TV)

Historically, the Cook Inlet beluga population was around 1,300. But the latest reports show their numbers at 375. (KTUU-TV)
Historically, the Cook Inlet beluga population was around 1,300. But the latest reports show their numbers at 375. (KTUU-TV)

One of the few remaining Cook Inlet beluga whales (Photo courtesy NOAA)

Qannik, a 6-year-old beluga whale, swims in a tank at his new home at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., Monday, June 11, 2007. Beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet are endangered and require additional protection to survive, the government declares, contradicting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has questioned whether the striking white whales are declining. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

more on shirt waving

I'm sure I should just let this go. When I started on this topic, my main point was that McCain and Palin failed to confront people who shout out crazy things like "kill him" during campaign rallies. To his credit, in the past week or so McCain has been contradicting these zealots and has endured their jeering for his pains. You may may also have seen news reports about a prompt response when a visitor noticed an outrageous sign in McCain's Pompano Beach, FL, campaign office. The poster, which compared Obama to Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro, was immediately taken down and the Republican county chairman told the press he was disgusted that it had been displayed.

Still, excesses of this type persist. It's been said they persist in both camps, but there's little evidence that Democrats have tolerated negative campaigning at this extreme level and certainly haven't openly stoked overheated crowds into what are reported as frenzies of vicious chanting. Yesterday's Washington Post has a pretty well balanced piece on the subject. It's called A Rage No One Should Be Stoking and it says in part that Palin has been telling crowds Obama is "palling around with terrorists" and has been using language that implies he's friends with people out to destroy America. The author tells how at a campaign appearance in Clearwater Florida one of Palin's supporters shouted a racial epithet at a network soundman and told him, "Sit down, boy." And he quotes from interviews at a rally where people told a news reporter* such things as "keep the nigger out of office" and "I'm afraid if he wins, the black [sic] will take over. He's not a Christian. This is a Christian nation! What is our country gonna end up like?"

I mentioned email smear campaigns in my first post on this topic. These too persist, leading Obama, who had been playing them down, to mount a web site devoted to fighting them.

It's sobering to carry out simple Google searches for blog posts, Youtube links, and affinity-group discussions containing the smears. Some of the hits go back a few months, but others, like this one and this one, are current. A columnist for a Birmingham, AL, paper complains about a cousin who, she says, "has been regaling me with smear mails about Senator Obama and his wife." Our household has received only one such smear mail attacking Obama and none attacking McCain or Palin.

Before I leave the topic, here's one more item. It's an oped piece from a right-of-center paper, the Chicago Tribune and it's entitled McCain and civility. The author, Clarence Page, says, in part:
It is a great paradox of American democracy that our president might well be chosen, after all these months, by simple state-by-state majorities of the least-informed voters. It is as if a large number of Americans suddenly woke up one morning to a shocking discovery: A guy who did not share their politics or physical appearance or European name might be elected president. Leading the charge as McCain's attack puppy, Palin has answered McCain's question, "Who is Barack Obama?" as though Obama were a subversive and threatening force. "This is not a man," Palin said of Obama at a Denver fundraiser, "who sees America as you see it and how I see America."
He goes on to say he doesn't believe most Republicans think this way and adds he doesn't believe the loathsome "Abort Sarah Palin" bumper stickers are approved by most Democrats.

He says that the polls showing McCain to trail Obama bring out fear in people and causes them to become uncharacteristically extreme in their speech and actions. And he criticizes Palin for her extremism. Although she "usually has treated reporters as if they were carrying the Ebola virus," he says "Her supporters say they know her well enough after only a month in the national spotlight to be comfortable with her sitting only a heartbeat away from the presidency. She's 'one of us,' they say. That 'Hussein' guy? Who's he?" Here's the close:
McCain, to his everlasting credit, has not turned a blind eye to the politics of raw ignorance and xenophobia. Maybe he's remembering the way gutter tactics were used against him in 2000. That was when a whisper campaign claimed falsely that he had fathered a black baby. The lie led to his losing the South Carolina Republican primary to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Politics ain't for sissies, but campaigns are a good test of character. It's hard to believe candidates' promises to unify the country after they win if they turn a blind eye to divisions while they're campaigning.

Addendum: The Atlantic has a piece about a Palin photograph that's worth reading: The Politics of the Retouched Headshot. The author says "Humans seem hard-wired to assume that good-looking means good and, conversely, to equate physical flaws with character flaws." It makes me wonder how much Sarah Palin's appearance contributes to her popularity.

*Note: The Washington Post columnist explains that the reporter was from an Arab newspaper out to find the most negative quotes possible but says the quotes are nonetheless accurate (they were caught on video).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Women, whether proper to be learned

In my daily grind I turned up a book by a prolific author John Dunton. He was an eccentric Londoner of Defoe's time and was fortunate to have been taken on by a capable wife. She ran his publishing business enabling him to spend his days scribbling. In the 1690s he scribbled up a periodical called Athenian Gazette which morphed into the Athenian Mercury both of which were popular magazines, the first of their kind. The Mercury had short news items and answered lots of questions sent in by readers. The book I found, Young Student's Library, gave lists of these questions in index format. Unfortunately, it didn't include the answers, but the questions themselves have interest. Here are a few from among the W's:

- Weapons, which most serviceable, Gun or Bow?
- Weed call'd Cats-tail, why does it come but once in three years?
- Weeping and Laughing, whence proceeds?
- Weeping on the Wedding night, from what it proceeds?
- Welch-light, before Persons die,
- What will make Persons wakeful?
- Whores common ones seldom have Children
- Widows more forward to marry than Maids
- Wife abus'd, how to demean her self?
- Wife doubly married, whose is she?
- Wife whither she may beat her Husband?
- Wife, taking for the Maid
- Wife, that forsakes her Husband
- Wife, whether oblig'd to discover her Husband, who has murther'd?
- Wife, whether she may dispose of her Husbands Goods?
- Wind in our Body, from whence it proceeds?
- Wind, its causes, and whether they go?
- Wind, whence it has its force?
- Wise, or the Fools, which most Happy·
- Witchcrafts, and other Possessions, whither Credited?
- Witches, whither there be any?
- Wits, why generally the greatest Sots?
- Wives, a form of Prayer for 'em
- Woman at Maryland, when she is with Child
- Woman believ'd when she says she will not marry
- Woman cloth'd with the Sun, what the meaning of it?
- Woman impoverish'd, by relieving her Relations
- Woman plagued with an ill Husband
- Woman proper to yield at first to a Man we love
- Woman taken in Adultery
- Woman with Childs longing, the Reason of marking, &c.
- Woman, how soon Marry after the death of a Husband?
- Womans Condition in Marriage, worse than Mans
- Women an Army of 'em, do more then Men
- Women supposed to have no Souls
- Women when bad, why worse than Men?
- Women, if meer Machines?
- Women, whether not Banter'd into a belief of being Angels?
- Women, whether proper to be learned?
- Women, whether they have Souls?
- Women, whether Wiser than Men?
- Women, why commonly fonder and falser than Men?
- Women, why fonder of those Men that slight 'em?
- Womens Voice shriller than Mens
- World hath it any kindness in it, besides Interest?
- World, does it hang upon nothing?
- World, what quarter of the Year it began?
- World, what was it made of?
- Worlds, are there more than one?

Here's the man's wikipedia entry and his very own home page. This is what the Cambridge History of English and American Literature has to say about him.

An engraving on the Dunton home page:

A page from the book, found on's library page:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I saw the word "stoush" for the first time today. It showed up in an article about plans for Lance Armstrong to return to professional bike racing in Europe. He plans to participate in the Italian national race, the Giro d'Italia, but may sit out the Tour de France. There's been plenty of reaction in the cycling press. The piece in which my word appears discusses Armstrong's relationship with the current Italian champion Filippo Simeoni, one of many in Europe who believe Armstrong used drugs to win his seven TdeF titles though never caught doing it. Here's an extract:
When asked whether there would be any uneasiness riding alongside Armstrong Simeoni replied, "Well, I certainly wouldn't ride with a spirit of revenge; I personally do not feel bitterness, hatred or revenge." At the time of their stoush in France four years ago, long-time Armstrong associate Michele Ferrari was on trial after being accused of sporting fraud and improper exercise of the profession of pharmacy. Simeoni was one of the main witnesses in the case and the emotions of the case spilled out onto proceedings on the road. Initially sentenced to one year of imprisonment, Ferrari was later acquitted in the second degree by the Court of Appeals of Bologna.
Here's a definition:
There was a time when “stoush” (meaning “fight”) was a very common piece of Aussie slang.

But does anyone still say "stoush"?
Stoush was both a noun and a verb: to stoush someone was to bash them or fight them, while a fight was called a stoush. It probably had its highest currency in the late 19th early 20th centuries. In typical Aussie fashion the Great War of 1914-18 was called “the big stoush”. The earliest citation is from a report in the Bulletin in 1893. The source of the word remains a mystery, but the English Dialect Dictionary records a somewhat similar word “stashie” meaning “uproar” or “quarrel”. So stoush may have started life as an English dialect word that immigrated, changed, and then lived on here while it died out back in the British Isles.
I thought of my new word in connection with the stoush that McCain and Palin have been laying on (subject of my last two posts). Their street-fight approach to the campaign came back to mind on reading an article about word scientist James W. Pennebaker. He participates in a group blog where the language used by the candidates for president and VP is analyzed and has just done a brief summary of findings so far. As you'd expect, the analysis shows McCain to be more impulsive and aggressive, Obama more reflective and rational. (As an aside, it's worth noting that the blog has an analysis of Sarah Palin's speeches and interviews which suggests she's a liar.)

And I thought of it again on reading Steven Pearlstein's current column. In it, he attacks the financial managers whose actions precipitated the economic meltdown. He complains about their failure to own up to their responsibility for these actions and says there's a way in which they broadcast their guilt to the world: "Court reporters will tell you they can always tell the innocent from the guilty on these kinds of perp walks, and the Wall Street crowd yesterday looked particularly guilty, unable even to conjure up a soothing word to a nation fretting over its shrunken 401(k)s, or a simple thank you to taxpayers for having saved their bacon. Their silence and invisibility throughout this crisis attests to the moral and political bankruptcy of a financial elite that is the perfect match for the financial bankruptcy they have now visited upon their investors, their creditors and their customers."

It's Pearlstein who's making a stoush in this case but that's not his word for the day. The piece closes with this: "There's a word that captures the instinct to take bold moves in the midst of a national crisis -- it's called leadership. We've seen quite a bit of it these past few weeks from public officials like Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, Sheila Bair, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, John Boehner -- even George Bush. Wall Street, by contrast, has served up a nothing sandwich, a lack of leadership that's been stunning."

Monday, October 13, 2008

bloody shirt update

This is a brief update to yesterday's post.

(Source: NYT}

(1) The Sunday Times (UK) has a longish article on McCain's belated effort to tone down his campaign's viciousness: McCain tussles with Palin over whipping up a mob mentality. Here's the lede:
With his electoral prospects fading by the day, Senator John McCain has fallen out with his vice-presidential running mate about the direction of his White House campaign. McCain has become alarmed about the fury unleashed by Sarah Palin, the moose-hunting “pitbull in lipstick”, against Senator Barack Obama. Cries of “terrorist” and “kill him” have accompanied the tirades by the governor of Alaska against the Democratic nominee at Republican rallies. Mark Salter, McCain’s long-serving chief of staff, is understood to have told campaign insiders that he would prefer his boss, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, to suffer an “honourable defeat” rather than conduct a campaign that would be out of character – and likely to lose him the election.
The article suggests that Palin doesn't care about the damage she's doing to McCain since she's positioning herself for the future. It quotes a former McCain campain advisor as saying the attacks do not do anything to persuade undecided voters: "please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive."

(2) In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Frank Rich rips into Palin not just for outrageous attacks but for failure to distance herself from inflammatory threats made by her supporters (The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama).

(3) Henry Farrell has updated the blog post I cited on rumors the RNC will be redirecting some of its advertising from the presidential contest to senatorial races: Horserace addendum. He gives some additional evidence why, as he puts it, "the Republican money people are trying to figure out who to chuck out of the lifeboat before it breaches."

(4) Not surprisingly, the polls are showing growing strength for the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. One report of the Washington Post-ABC News poll -- released today -- says "Registered voters, by 59 to 35 percent, now say McCain is more focused on attacking his opponent rather than addressing the issues. That's grown from a 48 to 45 percent split on this question in late August. Voters, by 68 to 26 percent, say Obama is mainly addressing the issues."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

waving the bloody shirt

I'm shocked by the degree of viciousness that the McCain campaign is belatedly trying to control. The Washington Post reports a campaign rally in Waukesha, WI, in which "there were shouts of "Nobama" and "Socialist" at the mention of the Democratic presidential nominee. There were boos, middle fingers turned up and thumbs turned down as a media caravan moved through the crowd."

Articles in the current press say people have shouted "off with his head." They have chanted "terrorist" and "kill him." An article in the BBC says a town hall audience recently called Obama "an Arab" and a "traitor" and said they were afraid of him. An article in the Washington Post says twice last week speakers stressed Obama's middle name in referring to him and one called him to a "man of the street." The Washintgon Times says
Mr. McCain reportedly ousted the Buchanan County, Va., chairman of his campaign for a newspaper column in which he said that if Mr. Obama was elected, he would have the White House painted black and would replace the stars on the U.S. flag "with a star and crescent logo."
One reporter writes of McCain supporters "drunk on rage and anger." Outrageous accusations in pro-McCain blogs are being spread by email campaigns, including this one: Barack the Black Hitler. Newspapers are reporting that an audience booed McCain when, in an effort to restrain the vitriol, he said Obama was a decent family man and voters should not be afraid of him. They're also giving heavy coverage to remarks by congressman John Lewis about the dangers of fomenting an "atmosphere of hate" (see for example this piece in the New York Times). Lewis, who McCain had previously praised as one of three people on whom he depends for sage advice, warned that "toxic language can lead to destructive behavior." In Salon, Glenn Greenwald says this is unprecedented nastiness:
TNR’s Michael Crowley: McCain lynch mobs are no different than Bush critics

The mass accusations of “terrorist” and “Arab traitor” against Obama didn’t just get randomly blurted out by a few hard-core, isolated ideologues.  Rather, that is exactly the message being spewed systematically from McCain and Palin themselves (“pallin’ around with terrorists”), their parade of ads, and the coordinated efforts of opinion-leaders on the Right.  Even veteran campaign reporters for whom Balance is a religion have been acknowledging that the McCain/Palin rallies are unique in their mass-crowd vitriol and intense rage.
An article in the Baltimore Sun agrees. It quotes the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn who says the vitriol has been encouraged by inflammatory words from the stage. She says "Red-meat rhetoric elicits emotional responses in those already disposed by ads using words such as 'dangerous' 'dishonorable' and 'risky' to believe that the country would be endangered by election of the opposing candidate." I'm happy to see the McCain campaign is now trying to tone down the rhetoric, although, as Lewis suggested, it may be a little late. Stirring up fury among voters who are already committed to a candidate makes little sense. Raising the irrational fear level of people who are uncommitted would seem to be a good tactic, though amoral. As McCain seems belatedly to have realized a country that is stunned by the onslaught of a recession (one that may yet prove to be a first class global depression) does not need to its fear-level jacked up. It needs reassurance. It needs a way to calm panic, not exacerbate it. His new restraint now seems to indicate a kind of desperation, however. And, among Republicans, the sense of foreboding may be growing, as this blog post suggests: A bit of horserace commentary (the lede: "So I hear (via a prominent member of the sane Republican faction) that the word on the right side of the street is that the Republican National Committee is about to pull the plug on its joint ads with the McCain campaign, and devote its resources instead to trying to save a couple of the senators who are at serious risk of losing their seats.") For the good of the country, we all have to hope that the polarization of the electorate can be mended whatever the outcome of the election.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Margaret Atwood and me

Margaret Atwood was born a few years earlier than me and somewhat northward. She's also of the other sex and is one of the best writers in the world. These differences between the two of us suggest we have little in common. All the same some of her memories tally fairly closely with mine. They're in excerpts from her new book: Payback in FT: Forgive us our debts. Her topics are things that are on my mind these days: debt and debtors; banks and interest; revenge and forgiveness; and what can happen when you let your reptilian brain control the somewhat more rational one upstairs. But she leads with the reminiscences and they are what resonated sympathetically this bright Sunday morning.

She remembers the allowance she got (a nickel for her, a quarter for me) and how its spending -- in those primitive days -- led to much tooth decay. She remembers the tactics we used for accumulating wealth in comic books, glass marbles, and cards. (She recalls cigarette cards while mine mostly came from bubble gum packs.) She remembers the bank where she deposited money earned on her first paying job -- the fear of the tellers behind their high counters and the mystery of money "earning" more money in interest that showed up in the little savings book with its dark blue cover and light blue pages. About bank interest she asks "How could a fiction generate real objects? I knew from Peter Pan that if you ceased to believe in fairies they would drop dead: if I stopped believing in banks, would they too expire? The adult view was that fairies were unreal and banks were real. But was that true?" I never asked myself that question. But -- although I couldn't slake my addiction to candy or discipline myself to frequent and thorough tooth brushing, my first experience of banking did lead me to understand that you could save and, much later, buy things much more expensive than a ten-cent ice cream cone.

My first real job was a paper route. It was 1956 and I was 14-15. The route was long: out-and-back, about 4 mi. each way. It took me over the biggest hills our village possessed and it passed through none of the new housing "developments" with their closely-set newspaper customers. It must have been one of the least desirable I think now, but then it just was what it was. I was proud to learn the ways of shouldering the loaded bag on my Rudge Whitworth and was mostly conscientious -- in my own shy way -- in making my weekday afternoon round. I plagued my mom to drive me (in snow, ice, or pouring rain) as little as might be.

{A Rudge Whitworth, courtesy flickr}

{The red line shows the route; I left from and returned to our home, just about where the "e" is on Dalmeny Rd. -- upper right; Kemey's Cove (mentioned below) is left of the square by Revolutionary Rd.}

I earned money and remembered who paid up on time and who didn't, who tipped in coins and who in candy bars. I banked much of my take. And I observed.

I knew the mom's, some of the kids, and all of the dogs. And, because it was in the blood of boys my age at the time, I knew every car in every driveway.

Those were the years when performance and efficiency mattered little, style much. Cars were V8 powered, chromed, finned, and huge. I appreciated the cars of that time though never thought to own one. (My first car, bought 3 years later for $50, was a '50 Chev, all black with rusted out floorboards.)

Observing the newer models on my paper route, I noticed the three-tone jobs and in particular the three-tone Desoto. It's now hard to find images of this car. Here's one:

{Desoto three-tone 1955 on}

Here is a shot of the much-finned 1956 Fireflite, two-tone:

{1956 Desoto from a geocities page}

(If you care, there's a A Full History of DeSoto.)

Though I didn't really aspire to own a Desoto, I did have plans for my paper route savings. For $110 I bought a kit to make a 10-foot racing pram much like this.
{This comes from; I have a photo of mine somewhere or other which I'll post if ever found*}

Typically, I researched the purchase, carefully made the boat, and then didn't find much use for it. The river wasn't all that close to home and I couldn't drive myself there. I had no local friends with boats. So it sat down on Kemey's Cove while I found other things to do with my adolescent life and later became an embarrassment to my parents while I stored it in our next door neighbor's garage.

You'd think there was a lesson for me in this -- one about spending as wisely as you save, but I think I got all I really wished for in saving for, purchasing, and building the kit into a seaworthy racer.

* I found it:

Thursday, October 02, 2008


The Boston Globe appears to be in a small class of city papers that isn't afraid to face the future. Case in point the excellent photojournalism blog by its website developer Alan Taylor. This comes from a current post:

Here's a direct link: The sapphire mines of Madagascar
The blog itself:

The blog says: "The Big Picture is a photo blog for the Boston Globe/, compiled semi-regularly by Alan Taylor. Inspired by publications like Life Magazine (of old), National Geographic, and online experiences like's Picture Stories galleries and Brian Storm's MediaStorm, The Big Picture is intended to highlight high-quality, amazing imagery - with a focus on current events, lesser-known stories and, well, just about anything that comes across the wire that looks really interesting."
Photo by Buster McLeod

The blog's FAQ is here. I think it's significant that the BG hasn't walled off its web developers. I think it's pretty common for papers to treat the web as another piece of equipment (like their presses) and the developers as cerebral mechanics. It might be a better model for the news rooms and the tech rooms to merge, as seems to be the BG model.

There's more here: Interview with Alan Taylor, Creator of Boston Globe's The Big Picture


Representative government -- so awfully frustrating. It's as Churchill said
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Citizens complained about the cost of the financial rescue bill, its failure to punish wrongdoers, and the new powers it gave the Treasury Secretary. In consequence the House of Representatives voted it down. The Senate took it up and passed much more expensive package.

Here are some links:Who knows what our Representatives will do now? When the bill is taken up in the House there surely will be lots of hold-outs. For some, the legislation is simply unthinkable. During House debate, Jeb Hensarling of Texas said it was "the slippery slope to socialism." Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan said "It was no mistake that, during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the slogan was, 'Peace, land, and bread.' Today, you are being asked to choose between bread and freedom." Paul Broun of Georgia said "Madam Speaker, this is a huge cow patty with a piece of marshmallow stuck in the middle of it, and I'm not going to eat that cow patty." And John Boehner, the Republican minority leader himself, referred to the bill as a "crap sandwich."

Read this opinion piece in the Guardian. It's good.
The US democratic-capitalist model is on trial. No schadenfreude, please, This week the demands of American democracy clashed with those of American capitalism. And China's premier smiled, by Timothy Garton Ash, October 2 2008

Excerpts: A quarter-century ago, near the beginning of what came to be known as the Reagan revolution, the American Catholic social theorist Michael Novak published an influential book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. It argued that capitalism is "compatible only with democracy". "While bastard forms of capitalism do seem able for a time to endure without democracy," wrote Novak, "the natural logic of capitalism leads to democracy." And true capitalism requires moral virtues such as "temperance and prudence, fortitude and justice".

To adapt Churchill, democratic capitalism is the worst possible system, apart from all the others that have been tried from time to time.

The challenge to American democracy today is nothing less than to prove it can reform its whole model of democratic capitalism, and make it better.

Pray that it can.