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This is the centenary year of the enactment of the third Home Rule Bill, as well (of course) as the year of the Scottish referendum on independence. Yet the centenary conversation in Ireland and the somewhat more vigorous debate upon Scots independence, have been conducted — for the most part — quite separately.
While it would be wrong to push the analogies too far, there are some striking similarities – and some differences – between the debate on Home Rule in 1912-14, and the current debate upon Scottish independence. These similarities (and indeed distinctions) might well give food for thought to the protagonists within the Scottish ‘Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ camps — and indeed there is evidence that both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond have ruminated accordingly.
One critical difference between Ireland in 1914 and Scotland in 2014 is that of militancy — Ireland on the eve of the First World War being an armed camp comprising the Ulster and Irish Volunteer movements, opponents and proponents of Home Rule, as well as the British Army. The Scottish political debate has not been militarised, and there is no evidence that it will become so (the Scottish National Liberation Army, for example, has never posed a significant threat). Modern Scottish nationalism has developed as a wholly constitutional and pacific phenomenon.
Of course mainstream Scottish nationalism has only recently, through successive Holyrood elections, emerged as a majority phenomenon. But it has never had to encounter the challenge (faced by Irish nationalism a century ago) of returning a majority of elected representatives, while being lengthily resisted in London.
One aspect of the Irish experience in 1914 was that a fraught constitutional debate, heightened political expectations, and the delaying or disappointment of those expectations (with Unionist resistance and the onset of War), combined to make a highly volatile political chemistry. The hardening expectations of change across Scotland in 2014 mean that national (as well as social and economic) aspirations may need to be quickly and sensitively addressed, whatever the result of the referendum.
One critical dimension of this militancy in 1914 was the trenchant support given to Ulster Unionist paramilitarism by the British Conservative leadership — this in part a symptom of the profound divisions in British and Irish politics and society precipitated by the debate over Home Rule. It is striking that both the Home Rule issue in 1914 and the referendum in 2014 have each attracted an unusually broad range of declarations of allegiance from a complex array of interest groups and individuals. In 1914 there was a high level of ‘celebrity’ endorsement and intervention over Home Rule: taking literary figures alone, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came out as a Home Ruler, while Rudyard Kipling was a strong Unionist. In 2014 Irvine Welsh has declared in favour of independence, while J.K. Rowling is against. Ian Rankin provides a case-study in the complexity (and profundity) of division: he is an agnostic on the issue, but is clear that his characters would have strong opinions. So, Inspector Rebus joins the unionists of 2014 (though the actor Ken Stott, most recent of the TV Rebuses, is reportedly in the ‘yes’ camp).
The analogies between Home Rule and the debate on Scottish independence extend much further than the ‘A’ list, however. The substantial strength and challenge of Home Rule sentiment produced striking intellectual movement before and in 1914 — just as the strength of the movement for Scots independence has produced similar movement a century later.
In 1912-14 the constitutional impasse over Home Rule in fact helped to stimulate support for (what was then called) ‘federalism’ among some of the Unionist elite, including even Edward Carson. In terms of the (nearly) equally weighted forces fighting over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has now moved to embrace the idea of a federal United Kingdom; and he has been joined or preceded by others, including (for example) the Scottish Conservative journalist, David Torrance. Discussion of a possible English parliament was broached prominently in 1911-1914 and again in 2014. Both in 1914 and in 2014 it appears that the constitutional shape of the ever-malleable United Kingdom is once again in transition — but because unionists are now shifting no less then nationalists.
And indeed some Scots Nationalists have moved towards embracing at least some of the symbols of the British connection. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader, emphasised monarchy and empire in his vision of Irish autonomy during the Home Rule era, partly through personal conviction, and partly in terms of subverting unionist arguments. In similar vein, Alex Salmond (despite a strong tradition of republican sentiment within the SNP), has embraced the ‘union of the crowns’ as SNP strategy, and has in recent years referred deferentially to the Queen (‘of Scots’), and her central place in an independent nation.
Here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s century-old debate on Home Rule speaks to the current condition of Scotland. Indeed here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s wider experience of Union chimes with that of the Scots.
René Descartes wrote his third book, Principles of Philosophy, as something of a rival to scholastic textbooks. He prided himself in ‘that those who have not yet learned the philosophy of the schools will learn it more easily from this book than from their teachers, because by the same means they will learn to scorn it, and even the most mediocre teachers will be capable of teaching my philosophy by means of this book alone’ (Descartes to Marin Mersenne, December 1640).
Still, what Descartes produced was inadequate for the task. The topics of scholastic textbooks ranged much more broadly than those of Descartes’ Principles; they usually had four-part arrangements mirroring the structure of the collegiate curriculum, divided as they typically were into logic, ethics, physics, and metaphysics.
But Descartes produced at best only what could be called a general metaphysics and a partial physics.
Knowing what a scholastic course in physics would look like, Descartes understood that he needed to write at least two further parts to his Principles of Philosophy: a fifth part on living things, i.e., animals and plants, and a sixth part on man. And he did not issue what would be called a particular metaphysics.
Descartes, of course, saw himself as presenting Cartesian metaphysics as well as physics, both the roots and trunk of his tree of philosophy.
But from the point of view of school texts, the metaphysical elements of physics (general metaphysics) that Descartes discussed—such as the principles of bodies: matter, form, and privation; causation; motion: generation and corruption, growth and diminution; place, void, infinity, and time—were usually taught at the beginning of the course on physics.
The scholastic course on metaphysics—particular metaphysics—dealt with other topics, not discussed directly in the Principles, such as: being, existence, and essence; unity, quantity, and individuation; truth and falsity; good and evil.
Such courses usually ended up with questions about knowledge of God, names or attributes of God, God’s will and power, and God’s goodness.
Thus the Principles of Philosophy by itself was not sufficient as a text for the standard course in metaphysics. And Descartes also did not produce texts in ethics or logic for his followers to use or to teach from.
These must have been perceived as glaring deficiencies in the Cartesian program and in the aspiration to replace Aristotelian philosophy in the schools.
So the Cartesians rushed in to fill the voids. One could mention their attempts to complete the physics—Louis de la Forge’s additions to the Treatise on Man, for example—or to produce more conventional-looking metaphysics—such as Johann Clauberg’s later editions of his Ontosophia or Baruch Spinoza’s Metaphysical Thoughts.
Cartesians in the 17th century began to supplement the Principles and to produce the kinds of texts not normally associated with their intellectual movement, that is treatises on ethics and logic, the most prominent of the latter being the Port-Royal Logic (Paris, 1662).
By the end of the 17th century, the Cartesians, having lost many battles, ultimately won the war against the Scholastics.
The attempt to publish a Cartesian textbook that would mirror what was taught in the schools culminated in the famous multi-volume works of Pierre-Sylvain Régis and of Antoine Le Grand.
The Franciscan friar Le Grand initially published a popular version of Descartes’ philosophy in the form of a scholastic textbook, expanding it in the 1670s and 1680s; the work, Institution of Philosophy, was then translated into English together with other texts of Le Grand and published as An Entire Body of Philosophy according to the Principles of the famous Renate Descartes (London, 1694).
On the Continent, Régis issued his General System According to the Principles of Descartes at about the same time (Amsterdam, 1691), having had difficulties receiving permission to publish. Ultimately, Régis’ oddly unsystematic (and very often un-Cartesian) System set the standard for Cartesian textbooks.
By the end of the 17th century, the Cartesians, having lost many battles, ultimately won the war against the Scholastics. The changes in the contents of textbooks from the scholastic Summa at beginning of the 17th century to the Cartesian System at the end can enable one to demonstrate the full range of the attempted Cartesian revolution whose scope was not limited to physics (narrowly conceived) and its epistemology, but included logic, ethics, physics (more broadly conceived), and metaphysics.
Headline image credit: Dispute of Queen Cristina Vasa and René Descartes, by Nils Forsberg (1842-1934) after Pierre-Louis Dumesnil the Younger (1698-1781). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Saxo, who lived in the latter part of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, was probably a canon of Lund Cathedral (then Danish). He was secretary to Archbishop Abslon, who encouraged his gifted protégé to write a history of his own country to emulate those of other nations, such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Absalon was able to supply him with a large amount of material for the last few of the 16 books, since, as a warrior archbishop, he had taken a leading part in the Danish campaigns against the Wends of North Germany.
The work is a prosimetrum: in the prose text of six of the first nine books he inserts poems, some quite substantial. The poetry, he tells us, are meant to put into metrical Latin verse some of the narratives he had found in old Danish (and probably Icelandic) heroic poetry, such as the courageous last stand of Biarki and Hialti defending their lord after a Swedish ambush on the royal palace. He begins his work with the ancient myths and legends. Only in Book Nine does he start to introduce recognizable historical figures, after which he proceeds through the lives and activities of Viking kings, like Cnut the Great, ending in 1185 with the earlier exploits of Cnut Valdemarson.
As the first major Danish historiographer, Saxo’s work is a valuable fund of material, even though, like many other medieval historians, his accuracy can be variable, sometimes to the extent of invented episodes. Nevertheless, he is the only source available for the period in places. Needless to say, he favours the Danes against neighbouring nations like the Swedes and Germans (we read a great deal about the treachery of the Holy Roman emperors), and he is keen to trace the rise and spread of Christianity in Scandinavia.
The Gesta Danorum is also the first outstanding work of Danish literature. Although his general style is elegant and complex, he is a consummate story-teller, and when he gets his teeth into a good yarn, he can relate it in a swift and lively manner. These narratives range from heroic tales like those told of the tough old warrior Starkath (who loathes German sausages), to the tender love stories in Book Seven, and the early books are full of dragons, witches, wizards, and tales of the supernatural, including one about a vampire. He often displays a wry sense of humour, as in the story about a drunkard who persistently defies the king’s edict forbidding the brewing and consumption of beer. One of Saxo’s claims to literary importance is his inclusion of the first-known version of the Hamlet story. The fortunes of his Amleth foreshadow those of Shakespeare’s hero in surprising detail.
Whatever his merits as a historian, and they are many, Saxo always provides a good read, and generations of Danish children have been entertained by his tales at their mother’s knee.
The UK Government will no doubt be shocked if the referendum on 18 September results in a Yes vote. However, it has agreed to respect the outcome of the referendum and so we must assume that David Cameron will accept the Scottish Government’s invitation to open negotiations towards independence.
The first step will be the formation of two negotiating teams — Team Scotland and Team UK, as it were. These will be led by the governments of both Scotland and the UK, although the Scottish Government has indicated that it wants other political parties in Scotland to join with it in negotiating Scotland’s position. We would expect high level points to be set out by the governments, the detail to be negotiated by civil servants.
What then would an independent Scotland look like?
The Scottish Government plan is for an interim constitution to be in place after March 2016 with a permanent constitution to be drafted by a constitutional convention composed of representatives of civil society after Scottish elections in May 2016.
The Scottish Government intends that the Queen will remain head of state. But this and other issues would presumably be up to the constitutional convention to determine in 2016.
Similarly the Scottish Parliament will continue to be a one chamber legislature, elected by proportional representation, a model rejected by UK voters for Westminster of course in a referendum in 2011.
The Scottish Government seeks to keep the pound sterling as the currency of an independent Scotland. The UK Government’s position is that Scotland can use the pound but that there will be no formal currency union. After a Yes vote this position could change but the unionist parties are united in denying any such possibility.
The UK has heavily integrated tax, pension, and welfare systems. It will certainly be possible to disentangle these but it may take longer than 19 months. In the course of such negotiations both sides may find that it makes sense to retain elements of close cooperation in the social security area, at least in the short to medium term.
The Scottish Government has put forward a vision of Scotland as a social democracy. It will be interesting if it follows through on plans to enshrine social rights in the constitution, such as entitlements to public services, healthcare, free higher education, and a minimum standard of living. The big question is: can Scotland afford this? It would seem that a new tax model would be needed to fund a significantly higher commitment to public spending.
A third area of great interest is Scotland’s position in the world. One issue is defense. The SNP promises a Scotland free of nuclear weapons, including the removal of Trident submarines from the Clyde. This could create difficulties, both for Scotland in seeking to join NATO, but also for the remainder UK, which would need to find another base for Trident. The Scottish Government rejects firmly that it will be open to a deal on Trident’s location in turn for a currency union with London, but this may not be out of the question.
Another issue is that the Scottish Government takes a much more positive approach to the European Convention on Human Rights, than does the current UK government. In fact, the proposal is that the European Convention will become supreme law in Scotland, which even the Scottish Parliament could not legislate against. This contrasts with the current approach of the Conservative Party, and to some extent the Labour Party, in London which are both proposing to rebalance powers towards the UK Parliament and away from the European Court in Strasbourg.
Turning to the European Union, it seems clear to me that Scotland will be admitted to the EU but that the EU could drive a hard bargain on the terms of membership. Compromises are possible. Scotland does not, at present, qualify for, and in any case there is no appetite to join, the Eurozone, so a general commitment to work towards adopting the Euro may satisfy the EU. The Scottish Government also does not intend to apply for membership of the Schengen Area but will seek to remain a part the Common Travel Area, which would mean no borders and a free right to travel across the British and Irish isles.
The EU issue is also complicated because the UK’s own position in Europe is uncertain. Will the UK stay in the EU? The prospect of an in/out referendum after the next UK general election is very real. Another issue is whether an independent Scotland would gradually develop a much more pro-European mentality than we see in London. Would Scotland become positive rather than reluctant Europeans, and would Scotland seek to adopt the Euro in the medium to longer term? We don’t know for now. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, then this may well be the only option open to an independent Scotland in Europe.
To conclude, a written constitution, a stronger commitment to European human rights standards, a more pro-European Union attitude, and an attempt to build a more social welfarist state could bring about an independent Scotland that looks very different from the current UK. However, the bonds of union run deep, and if Scotland does achieve a currency union with the UK it will be tied closely to London’s tax structure. In such a scenario the economies, and therefore the constitutions, of the two countries, will surely continue to bear very many similarities. Much also depends upon relationships with the European Union. If the UK stays in the EU then Scotland and the UK could co-exist with a sterling currency union and a free travel area. If the UK votes to leave then Scotland will need to choose whether to do likewise or whether to align much more closely with Europe.
September is Pain Awareness Month. In order to raise awareness of the issues surrounding pain and pain management in the world today, we’ve taken a look back at pain throughout history and compiled a list of the eight most interesting things we learned about pain from The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers by Joanna Bourke.
In the past, pain was most often described as an independent entity. In this way, pain was described as something separate from the physical body that might be able to be fought off while keeping the self intact.
In India and Asia some descriptions of varying degrees of pain involved animals. Some examples include “bear headaches,” that resemble the heavy steps of a bear, “musk deer headaches” like the galloping of a running dear, and “woodpecker headaches” as if pounding into the bark of a tree.
In the late twentieth century, children’s sensitivity to pain was debated. There were major differences in the beliefs of how children experienced pain. 91 % of pediatricians believing that by the age of two a child experienced pain similarly to adults, compared with 77% of family practitioners, and only 59% of surgeons.
It had long been observed that, in the heat of battle, even severe wounds may not be felt. In the words of the principal surgeon to the Royal Naval Hospital at Deal, writing in 1816, seamen and soldiers whose limbs he had to amputate because of gunshot wounds “uniformly acknowledged at the time of their being wounded, they were scarcely sensible of the circumstance, till informed of the extent of their misfortune by the inability of moving their limb.”
Prior to 1846, surgeons conducted their work without the help of effective anesthetics such as ether or chloroform. They were required to be “men of iron … and indomitable nerve” who would not be “disturbed by the cries and contortions of the sufferer.”
Concerns about medical cruelty reached almost hysterical levels in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, largely as a consequence of public concern about the practice of vivisection (which was, in itself, a response to shifts in the discourse of pain more widely). It seemed self-evident to many critics of the medical profession that scientists trained in vivisection would develop a callous attitude towards other vulnerable life forms.
In the 19th century it was believed that pain was a necessary process in curing an ailment. In the case of teething infants, lancing their gums or bleeding them with leeches were painful treatments used to reduce inflammation and purge the infant-body of its toxins.
John Bonica, an anesthetist and chronic pain suffer himself established the first international symposium on pain research and therapy in 1973, which resulted in the founding of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).
Featured image credit: The Physiognamy of Pain, from Angelo Mosso, Fear (1896), trans. E. Lough and F. Kiesow (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), 202, in the Wellcome Collection, L0072188. Used with permission.
On 18 September 2014 Scots will vote on the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’
Campaigners for independence and campaigners for the union agree that this is an historic referendum. The question suggests a simple choice between different states. This grossly over-simplifies a complex set of issues and fails to take account of a range of other debates that are taking place in Scotland’s ‘constitutional moment’.
Four cross-cutting issues lie behind this referendum. National identity is but one. If it was simply a matter of identity then supporters of independence would be well ahead. But identities do not translate into constitutional preferences (or party political preferences) in straightforward ways. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections more people who said they were ‘British and not Scottish’ voted for the Scottish National Party than voted Tory. Scottish identity has survived without a Scottish state and no doubt Britishness will survive without a British state. Nonetheless, the existence of a sense of a Scottish political entity is important in this referendum.
Party politics, and especially the party systems, also play a part in the referendum. Conservative Party weakness – and latterly the weakness of UKIP in Scotland – north of the border has played into the sense that Scotland is politically divergent. This trend was highlighted by William Miller in a book, entitled The End of British Politics?, written more than thirty years ago. It has not been the geographic distance of London from the rest of the UK so much as the perceived ideological distance that has fuelled demands for Scottish autonomy. Polls continue to suggest that more people would be inclined to vote for independence if they thought Mr Cameron and his party were likely to win next year’s general election and elections into the future than if Labour was to win. It is little wonder that Mr Cameron refuses to debate with Mr Salmond.
The dynamics of party politics differ north and south of the border. Each side in the referendum campaign works on the assumption that membership of the EU is in Scotland’s interest, suggesting that Scotland will find itself outside the EU if the other wins while a very different dynamic operates south of the border. Debates in immigration and welfare differ on each side of the border. While there is polling evidence that public attitudes on a range of matters differ only marginally north and south of the border, the much harder evidence from election results, evident in the recent uneven rise of UKIP, suggests something very different.
It is not only that different parties might govern in London and Edinburgh but that the policies pursued differ, the directions of travel are different. In this respect, policy initiatives pursued in the early years of devolution, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats controlled the Scottish Parliament, have fed the sense of divergence. The SNP Government has only added – and then only marginally – to this divergence. The big items that signalled that Holyrood and Westminster were heading in different policy directions were tuition fees and care for the elderly. These were policies supported by all parties in Holyrood, including the then governing Labour Party and Liberal Democrats. There is fear in parts of Scotland that UK Governments will dismantle the welfare state while Scots want to protect it.
The constitutional status of Scotland is now the focus of debate. This is not new nor will the referendum resolve this matter for all time, regardless of the result of the referendum. Each generation has to consider the relationship Scotland has with London, the rest of the UK, and beyond. This is currently a debate about relationships, articulated in terms of whether Scotland should be an independent country. Relationships change as circumstances change. The backdrop to these changing relationships has been the party system, public policy preferences and identities. The role and remit of the state and the nature of Scotland’s economy and society have changed and these changes have an impact on the constitutional debate.
Adding to the complexity has been a development few had anticipated. Both sides to the debate report large turnouts at public meetings, engagement we have not witnessed in a long time with a far wider range of issues arising during Scotland’s constitutional moment than might have been suggested by that simple question to be asked on September 18th. Prospectuses on the kind of Scotland people want are being produced. This revival of political engagement may leave a legacy that reverses a trend that has seen decline in turnout, membership of political parties and civic engagement. That would make this referendum historic.
Playing Man (Homo Ludens), the trail-blazing work by Johan Huizinga, took sport seriously and showed how it was essential in the formation of civilizations. Adult playtime for many pre-industrial cultures served as the crucible in which conventions and boundaries were written for a culture. Actions were censured for being “beyond the pale”, a sports metaphor for being “out of bounds”.
A quasi-sacred time and space set apart for games were a microcosm for the lives of all who played and for the spectators. Sport was a place in which individual merit was the rule and performance was regulated by the terms of the event.
The Ancient Olympic Games, an invention of the 700s BCE, preceded Athenian Democracy by about 200 years, and yet those earliest Games allowed any free citizen to participate and win the supreme Panhellenic crown. Yes, probably most of the first contenders were wealthy by token of having more leisure time to train and travel to the festival.
Yet in the pre-democratic centuries, the sporting model showed that what counted was individual ability and acquired skill, not status by birth. So the era of rule by tyrants and elite families was balanced by models of egalitarian display in the stadium in footraces, wrestling, boxing, and other track and field events.
Chariot racing was of course still the exclusive domain of the wealthy, a vestige of heroic tradition, but the athletes contending mano a mano ushered in more meritocratic ways. The Greek custom of requiring athletes in track and field and combat events to participate in the nude underscored this democratic ethos, perhaps popularized among the communally oriented Spartans by 600 BCE, but soon adopted universally by all Greeks.
The double entendre in my title “playing man” is intentional, with allusion to the sense that sport has been for most of history and globally a performance by and for males. For the Greeks, athletics were for men only, with a few interesting exceptions, notably girls’ ritual races at Olympia to ask Hera for a happy marriage.
In the modern Olympics, there was no women’s marathon race until 1984, almost 90 years into the games. Even then, in 1984, only 25% of all Olympic participants were female; today it is still at less than half (45% in 2012). The first women boxing events came in 2012.
Women’s participation in sports at all venues and events has slowly improved over the last 30 years, thanks to gender equity movements as a whole. Still, males have been the participants in and the most avid audiences for competitive sports globally throughout history.
Is it tradition and culture or nature (testosterone and men’s greater muscle bulk) that has driven this trend? Scholarly disagreement continues, but the answer must include nature and culture, with nature perhaps playing a heavier role. The attempts to bring women’s sports to the fore have largely not succeeded: world viewers, broadcasters, and corporate sponsors overwhelmingly prefer male contests.
Overt displays of machismo characterized the ancient Greek contest, or agôn, whence our term agony, the pain of struggle. Combat sports of boxing and wrestling topped the popularity charts and the rewards at the festivals that gave valuable prizes.
At the Olympics, there were no second or third place prizes; only first counted, and one boxer said “give me the wreath of give me death”. Many were brutalized or killed, as is shown on vases in which blood streams from the contestants.
The Greeks were overly familiar with violence meted out by men in war on a daily basis, and so violent sport here did not inspire violence. But the association of athletes with Homeric heroes maintained the display as acceptable and even superhuman (see the funeral games of Iliad 23).
Greek sport, then, is worthy of our attention as the model in many ways for our own very different contests. Yes, the modern Olympics appropriated the Greek ones for its own very different aims. But arguably the ‘deeper’ social inheritances from the Greek men who “played” are, on the one hand, a greater egalitarianism, and on the other a heroized violence and machismo with which we all still wrestle.
I want an independent Scotland that is true to the ideals of egalitarianism articulated in some of the best poetry of Robert Burns. I want a pluralist, cosmopolitan Scotland accountable to its own parliament and allied to the European Union. My vote goes to Borgen, not to Braveheart. I want change.
Britain belongs to a past that is sometimes magnificent, but is a relic of empire. Scotland played its sometimes bloody part in that, but now should get out, and have the courage of its own distinctive convictions. It is ready to face up to being a small nation, and to get over its nostalgia for being part of some supposed ‘world power’. No better, no worse than many other nations, it is regaining its self-respect.
Yet the grip of the past is strong. Almost absurdly emblematic of the complicated state of 2014 Scottish politics is Bannockburn: seven hundred years ago Bannockburn, near Stirling in central Scotland, was the site of the greatest medieval Scottish victory against an English army. Today Bannockburn is part of a local government zone controlled by a Labour-Conservative political alliance eager to defeat any aspirations for Scottish independence. In the summer of 2014 Bannockburn was the site of a civilian celebration of that 1314 Scottish victory, and of a large-scale contemporary British military rally. The way the Labour and Conservative parties in Scotland are allied, sometimes uneasily, in the ‘Better Together’ or ‘No’ campaign to preserve the British Union makes Scotland a very different political arena from England where Labour is the opposition party fighting a Conservative Westminster government. England has no parliament of its own. As a result, the so-called ‘British’ Parliament, awash with its Lords, with its cabinet of privately educated millionaires, and with all its braying of privilege, spends much of its time on matters that relate to England, not Britain. This is a manifest abuse of power. The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood looks – and is – very different.
Like many contemporary Scottish writers and artists, I am nourished by traditions, yet I like the idea of change and dislike the status quo, especially the political status quo. National identity is dynamic, not fixed. Democracy is about vigorous debate, about rocking the boat. Operating in an atmosphere of productive uncertainty is often good for artistic work. Writers enjoy rocking the boat, and can see that as a way of achieving a more egalitarian society. That’s why most writers and artists who have spoken out are on the ‘Yes’ side. If there is a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September 2014, it will be a clear vote for change. If there is a ‘No’ vote, it will be because of a strong innate conservatism in Scottish society – a sense of wanting to play it safe and not rock the boat. Whether Scotland’s Labour voters remain conservative in their allegiances and vote ‘No’, or can be swayed to vote ‘Yes’ because they see the possibility of a more egalitarian future — is a key question.
As we get nearer and nearer to the date of the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September, I expect there will be an audible closing of ranks on the part of the British establishment. Already in July we have had interventions from the First Sea Lord (who gave a Better Togetherish speech at the naming ceremony for an aircraft carrier), and a lot of money from major landowners and bankers has been swelling the coffers of those opposed to independence. In Glasgow it was good to read at an event with Liz Lochhead, Kathleen Jamie, Alasdair Gray, and other poets and novelists in support of independence. This is a very exciting time for Scotland, a time when relationships with all kinds of institutions are coming under intense scrutiny. Whatever happens, the country is likely to emerge stronger, and with an intensified sense of itself as a democratic place.
Wondering what this is all about? Click on the link up there in that first sentence, and you'll be caught up nicely. Then come back here to continue the festivities.
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Back now? Great! Let's get to it, shall we?
You'll recall (if you've been here before) or you now know (if you're new but clicked that link up there) that for our Fifth Anniversary of the Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, we've focused our weird-detecting magnifying glass on picture books and poetry anthologies.
Last week's post had all picture books, with the Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme of Weirdly True.
Well, fans of verse, rejoice! Because today is the day we're:
That's right! Today is all about the rhymes. The weirder and the funnier, the better – and one collection is even set to music:
Readers of this collection of Shel Silverstein's poems and drawings will have lots to ponder, lots to smile about, and lots to laugh through.
With poems about stars needing a polish, and a bee who may want to consider a career in tattoo artistry, and a camel wearing a quite unusual piece of clothing, kids will have lots to giggle over.
With poems about a bridge that will only take you halfway there, and a difference in perspective between two friends: a tree and a rose, and someone who shoots an arrow into the sky, kids will have plenty to think about.
And with illustrations like the boy with the hot dog for a pet, and the anteater (or rather, aunt-eater), and the polar bear in the refrigerator, kids will have that little bit of extra fun to go with the poems they're enjoying.
It is a collection not to be missed.
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
Rhymes by Jack Pretutsky
Pictures by Petra Mathers
Ages 4 - 8
Here is a beautifully illustrated collection of children's verse by Jack Prelutsky. Readers will chortle through poems about a disastrous shopping trip, and a partying group of farm animals in Tuscaloosa, and pigs and frogs performing onstage for a swooning audience of chickens and ducks. They'll smile through rhymes about a gardener's unconventional crops, and a little brown toad's chronicle of his carefree life, and a description of a smiley, giggly baby. They'll take time to let their eyes and hearts exploew the rich, full-page illustrations.
An afternoon spent with the verse and pictures in this book is an afternoon well-spent.
A Bad Case of the Giggles: Kids' Favorite Funny Poems
Selected by Bruce Lansky
Illustrated by Stephen Carpenter
Ages 6 - 12
This is a collection of funny poems written for kids, and chosen for inclusion by editor Bruce Lansky – with the help of a panel of 800 elementary school kids!
Readers will laugh over poems about the joy (or not) of having a baby sibling, the indignities of being a boy who must wear hand-me-downs...from his family full of sisters, a girl with questionable hygiene habits, the olfactory downside of living in a shoe, the classic about the old man from Peru, and many, many more.
Written by an ecclectic mix of poets both well-known (like Judith Viorst) and well-known-but-kind-of-not (like Anonymous), the poems in this collection are the laugh-out-loud type that kids just love to read, and read, and read. Often out loud. Expect guffaws.
Frog Trouble and Eleven Other Pretty Serious Songs
Songs and Illustrations by Sandra Boynton
For Ages One to Older Than Dirt
Fans of Ms Boynton's previous musical collaborations (Philadelphia Chickens, Blue Moo, Dog Train, Rhinoceros Tap, and GRUNT Pigorian Chant) will revel in this newest venture. Frog Trouble is a CD and songbook full of country songs written by Ms Boynton, produced by Ms Boynton and Michael Ford, and sung by some of the biggest names in country music today.
Listeners will enjoy reading along in Part One as they enjoy songs with lines like, "It's a beautiful thing – When Pigs Fly," and "I really don't like it when you Copycat," and "...I don't need shoes 'cause I've got alligator feet," and of course, "I've got two words to say: Frog Trouble."
Part Two is a Sing and Play Along complete with melodies and lyrics for each song from Part One. Part Three introduces readers to the performers, and there's even a cut-and-fold activity sheet at the end to make a puppet. (But we won't tell you what the puppet is. You'll have to guess...)
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And that's that for this time. Be sure to come back next Friday, September 19th, for Installment #18. It should be a monstrously good time.
Until then, we'll leave you with this:
"Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that's easy. What's hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."
One hundred years ago, World War I began — the “Great War,” the war “to end all wars.” A war that arose from a series of miscalculations after the assassination of two people. A war that eventually killed 8 million people, wounded 21 million, and disabled millions more — both physically and mentally.
That war sowed the seeds for an even greater war starting two decades later, a war that killed at least 60 million people (45 million of them civilians), wounded 25 million in battle, and disabled many more — a war that led to the development, use, large-scale production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.
Since then, there have been dozens more wars and the continuing threat of thermonuclear war. Statistics reflect the millions of people killed and injured. These statistics are too staggering for us to comprehend, ever more staggering when we realize that these statistics are people with the tears washed off.
It would be nice to think that we, as a global society, had learned the lessons of war and other forms of “collective violence” over the past century. However, although there is evidence that there are fewer major wars today, armed conflict and other forms of collective violence do not seem be abated. The international trade and widespread availability of “conventional weapons,” generations-long ethnic conflict, competition for control of scarce mineral resources, and socioeconomic inequalities and other forms of social injustice fuel this violence.
All too often violence seems to be the default mode of settling disputes between nations. All too often violence, in one form or another, seems to be the way that the powerful maintain power, and the way that the powerless seek it. All too often violence or the threat of violence seems to be the way that national governments — and even law enforcement officers — attempt to maintain security — and the way that “non-state actors” attempt to undermine it.
As we have witnessed over the past several decades, national and international security cannot be maintained over the long term by violence or the threat of violence. National and international security is more likely to be sustained by promoting socioeconomic equalities, social justice, and public participation in government; ensuring educational and employment opportunities for all; protecting human rights and ensuring that the basic needs of everyone are met; and addressing the true enemies of humankind: poverty, hunger, and disease.
Enemy #1: Poverty. More than 46 million people in the United States live below the poverty line, the largest number in the 54 years that the Census has measured poverty. More than 21 million children live in poverty in this country. Globally, about half of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. Poverty is an insidious enemy that robs people of opportunity and worsens their health.
Enemy #2: Hunger. About one out of seven US households are considered “food insecure.” Globally, more than 800 million — one-fourth of people in sub-Saharan Africa — do not have enough to eat. Hunger is a widespread enemy that saps children and adults of their physical and mental capabilities and predisposes them to disease.
Enemy #3: Disease. In the United States, preventable physical and mental illnesses account for much morbidity and mortality. Globally, this is even more true. For example, each year about four million people die of acute respiratory infections, and 1.5 million children die from diarrheal diseases due to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. New types of infectious agents and micro-organisms resistant to antibiotics continue to emerge. And the Ebola virus is rapidly spreading across several West African countries.
These are the true enemies of humankind.
One hundred years from now, what will people, in 2114, say when they look back on these times? Will they say that we failed to learn the lessons of the previous one hundred years and continued to wage war and other forms of violence? Or will they say that we, as a global society, created a culture of peace in which we resolved disputes non-violently and in which we addressed the true enemies of humankind?
Reading opens the doors that take the child beyond all borders.
From castles and great forests,
To ocean storms, island kingdoms,
Talking animals and magic stones.
From fear and darkness,
To light and peace.
For a child who has found the stories,
There are no borders to the imagination
. The illustration, The Defense of the Sampo, from the Finnish Kallevala, is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela ................................
Reimagining Mythology, Tolkien's Heritage and Movies
Peter Jackson has become the primary reinventor of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth Sagas. He has brought his vision of Tolkien to millions of people, young and old. His medium is film, and on December 17, 2014, the latest of his epicHobbitmovies, The Battle of the Five Armies, will thunder its way to movie theaters around the globe.
Tolkien, in turn, was inspired by and borrowed from mythology including Beowulff, the Norse Fables,and the Finnish Kalevala.
In the National Geographic News, Brian Handwerk, in an article entitled Lord Of The Rings Inspired by an Ancient Epic, wrote: "While the author's imagination was vast, Tolkien's world and its cast of characters do have roots in real-world history and geography, from the world wars that dominated Tolkien's lifetime to the ancient language and legends of Finland."
Tolkien, in his letters, said: "The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala."
"After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear."
Tolkien also wrote that he was, in many ways, a Hobbit.
"Fairy tales since the beginning of recorded time, and perhaps earlier, have been a means to conquer the terrors of mankind through metaphor.”-- Jake Zipes, professor emeritus, University of Minnesota, translator, author of many books, including The Irresisitable Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. The illustration of Kullervo is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Adults Are Crossing the Borders of Imagination Into Teenland
In September, 2012,Bowker published the results of a survey that revealed that adults were buying YA (young adult) books in startling numbers. The article said that 55% of YA book purchases were by adults and 78% of those adults acknowledged that the books were for their own reading. The turning point was said to be the Hunger Games movie and the popular Hunger Games book trilogy.
Controversy has followed the article: should so many adults be reading books written for 12-17 year olds?
My interest is primarily in younger readers; however, it seems the age lines today are blurred for all. Movies seem to have precipitated the situation, and the children's market today also crosses into Teenland. How many kids today, who went to see films like E.T., Harry Potter, and the Lion King, are now going to the Hunger Games, Divergence and the Lord of the Rings Saga? I don't know the answer, but I do know their is a huge degree of difference in the violence quotient.
In defense of adults reading YA, there is respected YA Author (Cut, Purple Heart, Sold) Patricia McCormick:"Why are so many adults reading young adult books? No need to page Dr. Freud. This isn’t about the guilty pleasures of communing with one’s inner child...It’s because adults are discovering one of publishing’s best-kept secrets: that young adult authors are doing some of the most daring work out there. Authors who write for young adults are taking creative risks -- with narrative structure, voice and social commentary -- that you just don’t see as often in the more rarefied world of adult fiction."
Also defending YA books and encouaging adults to read them is popular YA author( Deviant, Orgins, Sleeping Beauty, Vampire Slayer) Maureen McGowan. She concluded her Kindle post with this thought: "I could list more reasons why I love YA but, bottom line, I’ve found most books in this category to be engaging, entertaining, thoughtful and well written."
On the other side of the controversy, journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Grahamcreated a firestorm when she wrote an article in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Here are excerpts from Ms. Graham's article..."I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader... But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something...
But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called 'YA for Grownups,' put it in an essay last year, 'At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.'"
Pioneers In An Untrodden Forest
Seth Lerer points out that the comment, "We are pioneers in an untrodden forest" made in 1884 to his staff by James A.H. Murray, as presiding editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, also describes how the Grimms felt about their work in publishing their "nursery and household tales".
Lerer goes on to quote Wilhelm Grimm, who, in referring to these tales, wrote, "that these were the 'last echoes of pagan myths...A world of magic is opened up before us, one which still exists among us in secret forests, in underground caves, and in the deepest sea, and it is still visible to children...(Fairy tales) have existed among the people for several centuries.' And what we find inside those secret forests, caves and seas...(are) fairy tales full of families, full of parents who bequeath a sense of self to children, full of ancestors and heirs whose lives play out, in little, the life of a nation from its childhood to maturity."
The forest plays a very prominent part in the 1812 edition of the Grimm's tales as it did in the lives and imagination of people. Two thirds of the 210 tales take place in the forest. It is also worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books. The quote, above, is from Seth Lerer's book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The top illustration is by Julius Diez for Sleeping Beauty; the other illustration is by Hermann Vogel for the Three Little Gnomes in the Forest. Both tales are from the brothers Grimm 1812 edition of fairy tales.
“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” - Antoine de Saint-Exuprey
The True Magic of the Imagination
This was the headline on BREEZES FROM WONDERLAND, Maria Tatar's Internet forum for storytelling, folklore , and children's literature.
Ms Tatar wrote about a New York Times report, Harry Potter Casts a Spell for Tolerance. Written by Annie Murphy Paul, the article reports on a study that describes the "Potter Effect", citing it as an example of how reading can positively influence young minds regarding bigotry and intolerence...
"...The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concludes by noting that the Harry Potter novels may be especially effective at increasing the tolerance of their readers precisely because they concern themselves with made-up categories like Muggles and Mudbloods. More overt attempts to change readers’ views about real-life groups, Mr. Vezzali and his co-authors note, could prompt defensive or resistant reactions. By identifying with the fictional character of Harry Potter, and by drawing connections, conscious or not, between his treatment of people different from him and their own attitudes toward stigmatized groups, readers of these novels work their own kind of wizardry: the magic of the literary imagination."
Ms Tatar comments:"Is anyone surprised that children’s books, which often feature outsiders, quirky kids, adventurous orphans, and nomadic heroes turn us into more empathetic people in real life?"...she continues her comment with a related personal anecdote from her own childhood.
A long-time therapy dog owner, advocate, coordinator, and volunteer Nancy George-Michalson, sent us news of the latest Angel On A Leashevent to benefit the Ronald McDonald house in New York where children from around the world with cancer -- and their families -- come to stay when receiving hospital care..."Here a child with cancer plays and grows, surrounded by other children and families sharing similar experiences, supported each day by volunteer therapy dog teams waiting to meet and greet them as they return from a grueling day at the hospital. "
Ronald McDonald House New York - Angel On A Leash
3rd Annual “Family Fun Dog Walk”...a day to support therapy dogs and the courageous children who love them.
This fun-filled event is a 2k walk open to the public, with proceeds from funds raised going to support children battling cancer, and the therapy dog teams that bring smiles to their faces on a daily basis. There will be raffle baskets and prizes for the best dressed big dog and the best dressed little dog. Participants must be registered walkers and in attendance to win. David Frei and Cat Greenleaf will serve as the judges.
Date: Saturday September 20, 2014, Rain or Shine. Time: 10 AM-12PM. Location: Carl Shurz Park, East End Avenue, 84th St promenade entrance
"You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
"Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Penguin U.K. will issue this month a fiftieth-anniversary edition of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” under its Modern Classics imprint. I find the cover design disturbing, inappropriate, and misleading.
In a very insightful New Yorkerarticle entitled, Meant For Kids, Margaret Talbotwrote about this cover, and the cross over book market. Here are excerpts:
"Why did the cover of a novel about five kids and a wonderful—if admittedly bizarre—candy-maker look like a scene from ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’? Commenters on Penguin’s Facebook page called it ‘creepy,’ ‘sexualized’ and ‘inappropriate garbage'... It seems likely that the Modern Classics cover of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is an example of a new trend: enticing older readers to buy books intended for children and young adults by publishing them with covers that look sophisticated. Read it on the subway, read it in a bar—no need to feel sheepish..."
How do you explain loyalty to children? Does loyalty have a place in the world outside? Is it a virtue? Does loyalty bring trouble and problems? Or is it rewarding?
Does loyalty have a beginning and an end? Where can a child find examples of loyalty that they can experience and understand? In stories? In daily life? In computer games?
Dogs offer a wonderful way for a child to understand loyalty. Dogs are the embodiment of loyalty and a story with dogs can illustrate loyalty...
Suppose it is long, long ago...A sister and brother, are on a journey that will take them home. They have stopped for the night and are sleeping at a campsite in the woods. They have been riding on horseback, accompanied by two soldiers who are believed to be loyal to their father, and by their two dogs.
Betrayal...But the men are not loyal. They are traitors and the children find that they have been kidnapped. The children's dogs appear to be dead.
Thus begins a hard journey for the children, through the mountains to the land of the Forest people. There the children are imprisoned in an old castle. Their father cannot rescue them, because he does not know where his children have been taken. The children are dismayed and frightened.
Loyal Dogs...Until one cold foggy night, with the forest and the castle enveloped in mist, the sound of howling dogs is heard by the imprisoned children. Their dogs, their loyal dogs, have found them. Hope returns. And thus unfolds the story of the Castle In The Mist .
The illustrations above , from the book Castle In The Mist, are by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself Any direction you choose."
Borders Of The Imagination
The Boxtrolls are coming...
Alan Snow, author, designer, and illustratorcreated a 501 page illustrated fantasy story book, Here Be Monsters.I haven't seen the book, except on the Internet, but it looks rather amazing. This month , on the 26th of September, Laika Studios, creators of the excellentCoraline movie, will bringBoxtrolls, their reimagined film version of Here Be Monsters, to movie theaters. The trailer (link below) is very enticing. The stop-motion annimation looks to be riding the borders of imagination.
Five Canine Heroes Receive Recognition and Rewards
I belatedly learned about these meaningful Awards. Here is an excerpt from the article by Cheslie Pickett in the Canine Chronicle that tells the story...:
"The AKC® Humane Fund announced today the winners of the 15th annual AKCHumane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). These awards honor five inspirational dogs that have made significant contributions to their communities and truly exemplify the power of the human-canine bond. One award is presented in each of the following five categories: Exemplary Companion, Uniformed Service K-9, Search and Rescue, Service and Therapy dog. This year’s winners include a faithful companion that saved her owner from a bear, a heroic K-9 (Bruno) that took a bullet in the line of duty, an international search and rescue traveler, a blind therapy dog bringing comfort to abused children and ACE’s first mixed breed winner, a service dog to a U.S. veteran raising awareness of the profound impact service dogs can have on trauma survivors." I found the summaries of each award winner to be rather awesome; each is shown in a photo, including the blind recued therapy dog.
The photo is of Bruno ("who took a bullet in the line of duty") and officer R.J. Young
Books to Have and to Hold
Author, journalst and Yale Professor, Verlyn Klinkenborg, wrote about the difference in reading an ebook as opposed to a physical book Here are excepts...
"I finish reading a book on my iPad — one by Ed McBain, for instance — and I shelve it in the cloud. It vanishes from my “device” and from my consciousness too. It’s very odd.
When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book — its shape, jacket, heft and typography. When I read an e-book, I remember the text alone. The bookness of the book simply disappears, or rather it never really existed. Amazon reminds me that I’ve already bought the e-book I’m about to order. In bookstores, I find myself discovering, as if for the first time, books I’ve already read on my iPad.
All of this makes me think differently about the books in my physical library. They used to be simply there, arranged on the shelves, a gathering of books I’d already read. But now, when I look up from my e-reading, I realize that the physical books are serving a new purpose — as constant reminders of what I’ve read. They say, “We’re still here,” or “Remember us?” These are the very things that e-books cannot say, hidden under layers of software, tucked away in the cloud, utterly absent when the iPad goes dark.
This may seem like a trivial difference, but that’s not how it feels"...
Planet Of The Dogs Is In China The publishers, Chongxianguan Books of Beijing, have created new illustrations and covers. The stories remain the same.
Complimentary copies of the English version of the award-winniong Planet Of The DogsSeries are available for therapy reading dogowners and organizations. Write us at email@example.com.
Simple Ways to Test Dog Intelligence
Here's an excerpt from Nancy Houser's outstanding blog for dog owners (and dog lovers).
As well as being ‘man’s best friend’, dogs with excellent dog intelligence are capable of performing some pretty amazing feats. We’ve all heard stories about our canine companions alerting their masters to fires. Or, protecting their owner from an attacker or intruder. And then there are those who are visually impaired who rely on ‘seeing eye dogs’ in order to go about their daily lives. A dog’s intelligence is measured by its ability to think and problem solve...Here is a link to read it all: Dog Intelligence The illustration by Stella Mustanoja McCarty is from Snow Valley Heroes, Vol 3 in the Planet Of The Dogs Series
Sponsors of Banned Book Weekinclude the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Association of College Stores, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN American Center and Project Censored.
Thoughts on the Borders of the Imagination
"We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”
"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
“There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”
Phillip Pullman, Author of His Dark Materials (trilogy), Fairy Tales from the BrothersGrimm and many more.
Empowerment Through Rescue
by CA Wulff
There’s a saying in rescue that saving one dog won’t change the world, but it will surely change the world for that one dog. Except that just isn’t true. The truth is that saving one dog most certainly changes the world. It changes everything.
First, it changes YOU, because once you save an animal it awakens an empowerment in you. You come to realize that you can affect change wherever you apply yourself. Secondly, it changes the world for that animal, who has been given a second chance at life…and there is nothing more joyous and grateful than an animal who has been saved. They become loving and faithful companions. They protect and comfort their families.
They teach the children in the family to love and respect animals. They bring hours of joy and laughter to their people keeping them healthier in body, mind and spirit.
And there is always the possibility that a dog you save will become a service dog, or a therapy dog or a search and rescue dog. There’s no way to measure the impact you can have by advocating for just one animal.
"I wonder if I've been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, "Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle."
-Lewis Carrol, Alice In Wonderland
A Rescue Story from the Rescue People at Sunbear Squad
Meet "Muddy Puppy," named because he was found in a muddy ditch in the pouring rain. Hit by a car and with two painfully broken back legs, someone did care enough to try to protect him from the driving rain with an old jacket. But not enough to offer him relief from his painful suffering and overwhelming fear. Instead they just drove off leaving this 4-month-old puppy to slowly and painfully die all alone. All hope gone...Visit Sunbear Squad and read the upbeat ending to this story from Oklahoma Beagle Rescue
What should you do, what can you do, if you see an injured dog or one in distress? You can be prepared...Sunbear Squad offers guidelines, wallet cards, and information.
"A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before sitting down -- Robert Benchley
Rated by the British Medical Journal as one of the top 15 breakthroughs in medicine over the last 150 years evidence-based medicine (EBM) is an idea that has become highly influential in both clinical practice and health policy-making. EBM promotes a seemingly irrefutable principle: that decision-making in medical practice should be based, as much as possible, on the most up-to-date research findings. Nowhere has this idea been more welcome than in psychiatry, a field that continues to be dogged by a legacy of controversial clinical interventions. Many mental health experts believe that following the rules of EBM is the best way of safeguarding patients from unproven fads or dangerous interventions. If something is effective or ineffective, EBM will tell us.
But it turns out that ensuring medical practice is based on solid evidence is not as straightforward as it sounds. After all, evidence does not emerge from thin air. There are finite resources for research, which means that there is always someone deciding what topics should be researched, whose studies merit funding, and which results will be published. These kinds of decisions are not neutral. They reflect the beliefs and values of policymakers, funders, researchers, and journal editors about what is important. And determining what is important depends on one’s goals: improving clinical practice to be sure, but also reaping profits, promoting one’s preferred hypotheses, and advancing one’s career. In other words, what counts as evidence is partly determined by values and interests.
Let’s take a concrete example from psychiatry. The two most common types of psychiatric interventions are medications and psychotherapy. As in all areas of medicine, manufacturers of psychiatric drugs play a very significant role in the funding of clinical research, more significant in dollar amount than government funding bodies. Pharmaceutical companies develop drugs in order to sell them and make profits and they want to do so in such a manner that maximizes revenue. Research into drug treatments has a natural sponsor — the companies who stand to profit from their sales. Meanwhile, psychotherapy has no such natural sponsor. There are researchers who are interested in psychotherapy and do obtain funding in order to study it. However, the body of research data supporting the use of pharmaceuticals is simply much larger and continues to grow faster than the body of data concerning psychotherapy. If one were to prioritize treatments that were evidence-based, one would have no choice but to privilege medications. In this way the values of the marketplace become incorporated into research, into evidence, and eventually into clinical practice.
The idea that values effect what counts as evidence is a particularly challenging problem for psychiatry because it has always suffered from the criticism that it is not sufficiently scientific. A broken leg is a fact, but whether someone is normal or abnormal is seen as a value judgement. There is a hope amongst proponents of evidence-based psychiatry that EBM can take this subjective component out of psychiatry but it cannot. Showing that a drug, like an antidepressant, can make a person feel less sad does not take away the judgement that there is something wrong with being sad in the first place. The thorniest ethical problems in psychiatry surround clinical cases in which psychiatrists and/or families want to impose treatment on mentally ill persons in hopes of achieving a certain mental state that the patient himself does not want. At the heart of this dispute is whose version of a good life ought to prevail. Evidence doesn’t resolve this debate. Even worse, it might end up hiding it. After all, evidence that a treatment works for certain symptoms — like hallucinations — focuses our attention on getting rid of those symptoms rather than helping people in other ways such as finding ways to learn to live with them.
The original authors of EBM worried that clinicians’ values and their exercise of judgment in clinical decision-making actually led to bad decisions and harmed patients. They wanted to get rid of judgment and values as much as possible and let scientific data guide practice instead. But this is not possible. No research is done without values, no data becomes evidence without judgments. The challenge for psychiatry is to be as open as possible about how values are intertwined with evidence. Frank discussion of the many ethical, cultural, and economic factors that inform psychiatry enriches rather than diminishes the field.
Here’s a new game I’ve just thought of: close your eyes and grab a book from your shelves, any book, and then write a brief commentary about it. Or a long one, if you like. I’ve got so many books in my review stack, and so many others (the backlist and midlist titles I love to champion) waiting in my mental queue for some loving attention from me—books I mean to discuss or celebrate or simply wax nostalgic over. (Sarah and Katie, you guys. FOR FOUR YEARS I’ve been planning a Sarah and Katie post. The cover’s been sitting there in drafts staring mournfully at me all this time.)
All those plans create pressure, and pressure, I have found, is the enemy of blogging. So I’m thinking about making a game of it, a game with a challenge built in. I do like a dare. Will I find a few words to say about any book I pluck off the shelf? I suppose I’ll have to allow the caveat that if it’s one of Scott’s books and I know nothing at all about it, I can choose another. And I might need to impose some mild rules upon myself about mixing up the shelves, since our books are sorted into a rough order and I could easily stack the deck by reaching for the favorites on the bookcase next to my desk.
Want to play along? Feel free to chime in below, or on your own blog (and share the link, if the latter). If there’s enough interest I could make a Mr. Linky for it, but I wouldn’t promise to host a linkup on any kind of regular schedule, because promises are pressure and see above. Unless maybe a Mary Poppins kind of promise…when the wind changes…
All right, here I go, getting up and squeezing shut my eyes. A bedroom bookcase, since that’s where I am now, but not the one by my desk.
Okay, that was harder than I expected. It’s tricky to get close enough to make a grab without either walking into the bookcase or peeking at the lineup on the shelf you’re reaching for. I might have to enlist a child to help with future random selections. But I did nab a title, and here it is:
The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Marie Child. Now, this little book may have had an unfair advantage over all the others because I happen to own two copies of it. They live side by side on a shelf, alongside my Blue-Back Speller. Both books were indispensable to me during the writing of the Charlotte books. A lot of the meals Martha cooks come right about of Frugal Housewife (“Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy”). Originally published in 1833, this was THE go-to book for housewives, covering everything from recipes to housecleaning to general life advice such as the essay on “How to Endure Poverty.” Mrs. Child was the home management guru of her day, sort of a Tightwad Gazette meets Flylady meets Ina Garten. She’s perhaps best-remembered today for her poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” But I think her real genius shines in her foodie writing. For example:
If your husband brings home company when you are unprepared, rennet pudding may be made at five minutes’ notice; provided you keep a piece of calf’s rennet ready prepared soaking in a bottle of wine. [Blogger's interjection: I MEAN, OBVIOUSLY.] One glass of this wine to a quart of milk will make a sort of cold custard. Sweetened with white sugar, and spiced with nutmeg, it is very good. It should be eaten immediately; in a few hours, it begins to curdle.
That is but THE TINIEST SAMPLE of Mrs. Child’s wisdom, and I could write for hours about this book and its sweeping influence—oh what a doozy of a selection I wound up with for this first go! Actually, I have written a lot about it already, ages ago, when for a time I was doing a recurring “Mrs. Child’s Wise Advice” series here, entirely for my own amusement. Those quotes are a hoot. (“EGGS.—To prove whether they are good or bad, hold the large end of the egg to your tongue; if it feels warm, it is new; but if cold, it is bad.”)
Scott’s waiting for me to finish, so I’ll leave it at that!
Today’s guest blogger, Sarah Kilway, wrote to us after receiving hundreds of new books for her students. We couldn’t resist sharing her story with you.
I teach 187 kids at Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center in Indianapolis, IN. The majority of my students live in poverty. Most have only one parent at home.
Not many of my kids own books, nor were they read to as children. Even as 9th graders, they lack basic common knowledge of fairy tales, fables and iconic book characters.
Our school has many great resources, but when something is lacking, my colleagues and I step in. This often means spending my own money on books and other items for my students, but it’s totally worth it. I also have First Book.
Thanks to First Book, I was recently able to give a new book to every single one of my students – all 187! A few told me it was the first book they’d ever owned. Some said it was the first book they have ever finished. Such a proud moment for me and them – one that I wanted to share with you.
My students now ask me to go to the library on a daily basis.
I'm giving a shout-out for a client/friend, Pete Barber, who has a new book out--I didn't have anything to do with this one, but I guarantee he's a very good writer and storyteller. Here's a blurb, cover, and a link:
Lab assistant and avid climber Amber Wilson is no stranger to risk. But she feels invisible around her handsome boss, Mark, until she accidentally doses him with an irresistible aphrodisiac that leaves him with a suicidal hangover. Abruptly fired, Amber and Mark partner up to research the source of the drug—a rare New Zealand mushroom—in hopes of refining it for safe use.
On their way to New Zealand to collect fungi samples, Amber is blindsided by a deep and intense romantic connection with Mark. Their new business plan is endangered by ruthless Maori mobsters who control a mushroom scheme they’re killing to protect. As the body count rises, Amber struggles to salvage her and Mark’s dreams, but when she risks her heart and acts alone, both of them could end up paying the ultimate price.
I'd love to see you at one of the events! PLUS if you are in the Andover area there is a contest you can enter for a chance to win a signed copy of REX and an original illustration. Drop off the completed entry at the Andover Bookstore.
Yes, this is Post 450. The present blog was launched on March 1, 2006 and has appeared every Wednesday ever since, rain or shine. Another short year, and the jubilant world will celebrate the great number 500.
In summer, when there are no classes, I put in my bag one thick book in German or Icelandic and one thick book in English (those in Russian are taken for granted). This past August, the German book I picked up (as a matter of fact, I read two) was particularly depressing, in consequence of which I decided to return to The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. So I checked out the original edition and plodded joyfully through all 609 pages of it. Like most linguists, I usually pay attention not only to the plot but also to the writer’s language. Although I read the Pickwick Papers when I was sixteen years old, I remembered fairly well what happened there, but I have learned a good deal about Dickens since I was a schoolboy and therefore noticed a few things that escaped me then. For example, I was amazed to discover the amount of spirits everybody consumed, not excluding Mr. Pickwick. The characters of Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway look rather sober in comparison. It was also curious to observe how true Dickens remained to some of his favorite types and situations (winsome widows entrapping silly men, swooning and weeping ladies, arch maids, henpecked husbands, misfits sent to the colonies to make good, and so forth) and to the mannerisms of his younger days, but I don’t think he ever produced an equal of Sam Weller’s touching oration in which he refused to leave his master.
A few notes on Dickens’s usage may not be wholly uninteresting to our readers, though I realize that 177 years after the appearance of that novel nothing I can say about it will be new.
A few morsels of grammar.
It will be remembered that Peggotty, David Copperfield’s nurse, pronounced the name of her nephew Ham “as a morsel of English grammar” (that is, without an ‘h). Some other morsels are also “worthy of remark,” as Dickens might say.
“…and there was a dinner which would have been cheap at half-a-crown a mouth, if any moderate number of mouths could have eat it in that time” (p. 375), and “Here Mr. Sam Weller, who had silently eat his oysters with tranquil smiles, cried ‘Hear!’ in a very loud voice” (590);
“…Sam having ladled out, and drank two full glasses of punch in honor of himself, returned thanks in a neat speech” (p. 400).
One of the footmen says: “In fact, that’s the only thing between youand I, that makes service worth entering into” (p. 398).
Indefatigable assiduity. Not too long ago, in connection with the phrase indefatigableassiduity that occurs in the opening paragraph of the Pickwick Papers, it was pointed out in our discussion that similar phrases were common in Dickens’s days. So they were, but Dickens used their components with rare assiduity indeed.
“…she… would have gone off, had it not been for the indefatigable efforts of the assiduous Goodwin” (p. 183);
“…three or four fortunate individuals, who… were staring through it [a grating] with the same indefatigable perseverance with which…” (p. 255);
“‘It looks a nice warm exercise that, doesn’t it?’” he inquired of Wardle, when that gentleman was thoroughly out of breath, by reason of the indefatigable manner in which…” (p. 312);
“Mr. Weller communicated this secret with great glee, and winked so indefatigably after doing so, that…” (p. 346).
“It must not be supposed that any of these people have the least shadow of business in, or the remotest connexion with, the place they so indefatigably attend” (p. 456);
“‘No, I don’t, Sir’, replied Mr. Weller, beginning to button with extraordinary assiduity” (p. 474);
“…which the fat boy… expressed his perfect understanding of, by smirking, grinning and winking, with redoubled assiduity” (582).
Another favorite word is peremptory, which turns up even more often than indefatigable. Dickens’s characters occasionally “sally forth,” “fall into a violent perspiration,” and have cadaverous faces. Villains, when attacked, already then were in the habit of saying: “You will smart for this” (here Dodson and Fogg, and later Uriah Heep). However, none of those phrases became clichés with him.
Ajar. Mrs. Cluppins testifies: “‘I was there, …when I see Mrs. Bardell’s street on the jar’.” ‘On the what?” exclaimed the little Judge. “‘Partly open, my lord’,” said Sergeant Snubbin. “‘She said on the jar’,” said the little Judge, with a cunning look. “‘It’s all the same, my lord’,” said Sergeant Snubbin. The little Judge looked doubtful, and said he’d make a note of it” (p. 361).
Odds and ends. “The cloth was laid by an occasional chairwoman.…” (p. 408). Chairwoman for charwoman is supposed to have died out by the nineteenth century. Apparently, it did not. Skates is regularly spelled skaits, and visitor appears once as visiter (perhaps a misprint). Badinage, which also occurs only once, was in 1837 still printed in italics, and the most common synonym for exclaim was ejaculate (in grammar books, as late as the end of the nineteenth century, the usual term for interjection was ejaculation). Obviously, no dirty mind objected, for in the preface Dickens expressed his conviction that “throughout the book, no incident or expression occurs which could call a blush into the most delicate cheek.” The attributive use of slang “impertinent, etc.” was not too rare, but Dickens picked it up and ran away with it: “…a man… was performing the most popular steps of a hornpipe with a slang and burlesque caricature of grace and lightness…” (p. 441). Sam Weller’s father was sure that only an alibi could save Mr. Pickwick in the trial, and he, like most of us, had ideas about word origins: “…if your governor don’t prove a alleybi, he’ll be what the Italians call reg’larly flummoxed, and that’s all about it” (p. 345).
Here is what that gentleman (I mean Mr. Weller) thought of America. He proposed a plan to smuggle Mr. Pickwick out of prison and send him overseas: “The ‘Merrikin’ gov’ment will never give him up, ven vunce they finds as he’s got money, to spend, Sammy. …and then let him come back and write a book about ’Merrikins as’ll pay all his expenses and more, if he blows ’em up enough” (p. 485). Did Dickens remember this advice while writing Martin Chuzzlewit?
Finally, now that our election season is coming to a head, we should not ignore the experience of our predecessors. The scene is set in Eatanswill, in which two parties, the Blues and the Buffs, fight. The honorable Mr. Slunkey, a Blue candidate, seems to have greater support, but at the moment the future of the seat is undecided. He is ready to greet the populace and is advised that “nothing has been left undone… there are twenty washed men at the street door for you to shake hands with; and six children in arms that you’re to pat on the head, and inquire the age of; be particular about the children, my dear Sir,—it has always a great effect, that sort of thing.” “…and perhaps, my dear Sir—if you could… manage to kiss one of ’em, it would produce a very great impression on the crowd.” “‘Would it have as good an effect if the proposer or seconder did that?’”… “‘Why, I am afraid it wouldn’t’,” replied the agent” (pp. 128-129). The candidate kissed them all and won. Both crowds were terribly excited, and Mr. Snodgrass did not know with which to shout. “‘Shout with the largest’, replied Mr. Pickwick. “Volumes could not have said more” (p. 122).
This is what I have scribbled for myself while reading the Pickwick Papers. Even if I happened to pursue my subject “with a perseverance worthy of a better cause,” I hope you have read my notes with “unruffled composure” and “unimpaired cheerfulness,” because they were “calculated to afford [you] the highest gratification.” And now that I have divested myself of all I know, I am empty and will have to go hungry, as the Big Bad Wolf said after Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother jumped out of him undigested.
Did any of you catch the article at the Guardian recently about the Future Library Project? Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, one thousand trees will be planted near Oslo. Every year until 2114 a writer will be asked to contribute a text to the library collection. The writer can do anything they like, a short story, a novel, poetry, and it can be in any language. The work has only to be on the theme of imagination and time.
Time? Why time you ask? Well, these works will not be read or published until 2114 when those 1,000 trees are cut down to print all the contributions to the project. I guess it will be a sort of cumulative literary time capsule. The contributing authors are sworn to secrecy on what they write. Kind of cool. Kind of weird.
Can you guess who the first author is? Margaret Atwood!
I have been planning on living a very long time, I have a huge TBR pile to get through. Now I have to add to it Atwood’s piece, which won’t be published until 2114. If that’s not a reason to keep going I don’t know what is! I will be 146 which makes me feel so young right now! I’m just a baby! I don’t want to rush through those 100 years, but I am looking forward to reading Atwood’s piece in 2114.
On a non-bookish side note, I know a number of you will be really interested in 10Q. I found out about it at Boing Boing today. It is an annual project that takes place over the Jewish High Holidays, a traditional time for personal reflection. You do not have to be Jewish to participate. The project is hoping to inspire people to stop and think, something we don’t do so very much in our busy always connected lives. So, over the course of 10 days, you get a “big question” in your email inbox every day. You are to answer the question. The project saves it and the following year, you get the question and your previous year’s answer emailed to you at which point you answer the question again. Your answers are private unless you choose to share them. Some people have. I have signed up and I am looking forward to it!
In August 2014, OxfordDictionaries.com added numerous new words and definitions to their database, and we invited a few experts to comment on the new entries. Below, Reid Vanderburgh, retired marriage and family therapist and contributor to Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, discusses misgender. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford Dictionaries or Oxford University Press.
The list goes on and on. A two-second search turned up a long list of words beginning with the prefix ‘mis.’ None seem very positive. Now we have a new word to add to the lexicon: misgender.
Officially appearing on Oxford Dictionaries’ list of new words, the definition is:
misgender /mɪsˈjendər/ ▶v. [with obj.] refer to (someone, especially a transgender person) using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify
EXAMPLE: “various media outlets have continued to misgender her.”
Though not a positive word, its appearance in the dictionary is a positive step. Gandhi once said, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Depending on geographical location and the demographics of who you’re talking to, transgender people live in all three of the first stages of Gandhi’s process – ignored in some places (through invisibility of identity, not through complete acceptance), ridiculed in many, embattled in others. Though some transgender people live in areas where civil rights are theirs, I doubt any would say “Yay, we’ve won!”
The appearance of misgender in a dictionary is a sign of (a) not being ignored, and (b) not being ridiculed. To be misgendered deliberately is to be fought against. To have someone sincerely apologize and then move on from the mistake without a second thought, is to win.
In recent years, words have begun appearing in the lexicon that have moved our culture further toward the “we win” state for transgender people. For instance, the word cisgender entered the lexicon in the mid-2000s, creating a word for non-transgender people. Now, in etymological terms, we have equally-balanced words: transgender and cisgender, co-existing as do straight and gay/lesbian. Though there is still an imbalance in terms of cultural power, the first stage (being ignored) is surmounted through appearing in dictionaries.
Though many transgender people still wish to live private lives, not proclaiming their transgender identity publicly, the power of the Internet and post-9/11 security laws make such privacy increasingly difficult to maintain. Transgender identities of various kinds have become increasingly visible as a result; like it or not, the “being ignored” stage is passing quickly. This will probably create the tension of being ridiculed, and the pain/suffering of being fought. However, continuing to create a non-pathologizing, non-judgmental lexicon with which to discuss transgender identity moves our culture ever further from the “ignore you” stage, into the realm of “this is normal.” Then we win.
Headline image: Gender neutral toilets at department of sociology, Gotenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden. Public doman via Wikimedia Commons.
On 12 August 2014 at precisely 2:58 a.m., a 5.1 earthquake struck, centered at the hilltop lightning huaca San Catequilla de Pichincha. Since this initial earthquake, there have been 57 aftershocks, all centered at or close to this hill. Cerro Catequilla is situated where the Río Monjas empties into the Río Guayllabamba, approximately 15 kilometers north of Quito in the Pomasqui Valley directly east of the town of San Antonio. This is the only known Inca huaca located directly under the equator at 0°0’02″ S by 78°25’43″ W at 2,683 meters above sea level, making this the paradigmatic place of the astral positioning. The southern terminus of the summit is situated directly on the Mitad del Mundo at the equator, 0º0’00” S, beside a series of natural springs. The mountains surrounding Cerro Cetquilla range from 3,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level and the Cerro Pululagua volcano is located due west.
Volcanoes have symbolic associations to lightning and the importance of this valley is evidenced by the two branches of the Inca road, or Camino Real, one to the east and the other to the west side of the hill. Numerous Inca sites are in the surrounding landscape, including Pucara de Rumicucho, an Inca fortress and administrative center. The lightning huaca is made up of two superimposed earthen platforms; a buried rectangular platform measuring about 100 meters N/S and about 80 meters E/W, below a large circular earthen platform measuring 60 meters in diameter. The locations of these superimposed platforms on the southwestern slopes of Cerro Catequilla are the only places on the 200-meter long hilltop where the equator is directly overhead. This is one of three Inca huacas with Catequilla toponyms between the equator and 3° N. Catequilla de Pichincha was the most highly venerated because of its location under the equator.
In 1609, the chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega stated that the pillars and columns on many platforms around Quito and to the north in Cayambe and Ibarra were “broken to pieces” by the Conquistador Sebastián de Benalcázar, who tore them all down because the Andeans worshiped them idolatrously. There is very little information in the Spanish chronicles or from the Audiencia de Quito on how temporal cycles were recorded in and around Quito during the Contact Period. Most scholars have found astronomical calculation regarding the solar calendar was achieved through shadow casting. The most highly venerated gnome was Catequilla de Pichincha, primarily because when the sun was overhead during certain parts of the annual cycle there was increasingly diminished shadow around the pillar or gnome at this lightning huaca.
The Inca constructed over a hundred ceremonial platforms and shrines (villcas), some on mountain passes (apachitas), others on the summits of the highest mountains in their empire, between 1438 and the Spanish Conquest in 1532. Lightning was the major theophany of weather in Inca religion, known as Ilapa, now Illapa, the Hispanic spelling. Huacas with “Catequil” or “Catequilla” toponyms were associated with the spread of Catequil, a religious cult to lightning throughout their empire. Lightning veneration extended from Quito to Cuzco during the early Colonial Period. The principal huaca associated with lightning, was another hilltop huaca in northern highland Peru, Catequil de Huamacucho, a huaca said to make other huacas “speak,” and therefore believed to have the ability to predict earthquakes. Spirits associated with lightning are malevolent, have ancient origins in Andean cosmology and religion, and are symbolically depicted in various cultural traditions.
Many lightning huacas around the equator and regions to the north have circular stone enclosures or platforms which local Andean informants have said to me are places where lightning struck and are therefore sanctified. Such features have also been identified archaeologically in and around the nearby Inca fortress at Pucara de Rumicucho. Circular stone enclosures or platform features generally measure between three to four meters in diameter and are dispersed throughout this region. However, these were not destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores because they were not venerated in an “idolatrous” manner. Some are located in indigenous towns in the surrounding valley and those in the nearby towns are clearly visible from the summit of Cerro Catequilla. My preliminary research at this site indicates that such features also had astronomical function in association with sight lines to the surrounding horizon, solar cycles, and constellations in the night sky. In the Andes, thunder and lightning have symbolic associations with rain, hail, earthquakes, and the metallurgical arts, particularly gold and silver, agricultural fertility, and fire and damaging hail storms.
Featured image: Andean landscape, north of Quito. This photo is looking north across Cerro Catequilla and was taken from the lightning huaca at 0°.00 latitude. This valley has historically been of critical importance to cultivation, transport, and the movement people and food crops into northern Ecuador and Colombia. Photo by John E. Staller.
Not every scholar of medieval English has the privilege of translating a major poetic text, and fewer still have the chance to do it all over again, eighteen years later. My first edition of the Poetic Edda was published in 1996 and about two years ago, I was invited to think about a second edition, one which would expand the number of poems and which could be brought up to date in other ways. But what could have changed as far as this classic work was concerned in the meantime?
Well, unlike a single poem, such as Beowulf or Piers Plowman, the Poetic Edda is a collection of poems. Most of these are to be found in a single manuscript, known as the Codex Regius, kept in the Árnar Magnússonar Manuscript Institute in Reykjavík, Iceland. But, preserved in other Icelandic manuscripts, are a good number of further poems in the same kind of metre, which relate more stories of Norse gods and heroes. Four or five of these poems have always been considered part of the Poetic Edda and I translated them in the first edition. But now there was room for some more.
I’ve added three more eddic poems which I think are interesting in different ways. The first of them is traditionally known as “The Waking of Angantyr.” It tells the story of a warrior-maiden Hervör, who dares to go alone to an eerie island, haunted by her undead father and his eleven brothers. Hervör wants her father’s magical sword Tyrfing, but Angantyr is determined not to give it to her. He’s quite surprised that a girl should dare to come to the uncanny place:
Young girl, I declare you are not like most men,
hanging around by mounds at night
with an engraved spear and in metal of the Goths [armour],
a helmet and corslet before the hall-doors.
At first Angantyr pretends that he doesn’t have the sword, next, he warns (truthfully) that the sword bears a curse, but finally he hands it over to the triumphant Hervör. A bold and determined heroine and an undead corpse — this seemed like a good addition to the new translation. The other additions are “Groa’s Chant” and the “Sayings of Fiolsvinn,” two related poems. A young man called Svipdag has been cursed by his stepmother to go on a quest to find and woo the lovely Menglod, a task fraught with danger: “she has ordered me to go where she knows there’s no going,” Svipdag laments. Wisely, he first visits the grave of his dead mother for advice. Groa is indeed anxious to help and she sings a number of spells over Svipdag. If he crosses rivers or sea, if he’s chained up or assailed by frost, “may no corpse-cold come to ravage your flesh / nor bind your body in its joints.”
Groa’s last spell will help Svipdag if he must “bandy words with the spear-magnificent giant,” and this is exactly what happens. When the hero finally reaches Menglod’s hall, the watchman Fiolsvinn won’t let him in. Entrance is only permitted to the man who can fulfill a whole series of impossible tasks, set up in a circular fashion. Svipdag is about to despair, but wait! No man can come in unless he has carried out this task — or unless his name is Svipdag! And so when Svipdag reveals his name, he gains entry to the hall and is rapturously embraced by Menglod, who chides him lovingly, “A long time I’ve sat on Healing-rock / waiting day after day for you!”
What constitutes a medieval poem? One of the most important poems in the Poetic Edda, “The Seeress’s Prophecy” exists in three different versions in medieval Icelandic manuscripts. Very often editors have combined the texts of all three versions to try to recover what they think might have been the “original” form of the poem. But nowadays scholars tend to think that this is a pointless endeavor. After all, this poem probably existed in oral tradition for a hundred or more years before it was first written down and there was likely never a definitive version. Newer critical thinking argues that it is better to reproduce what actually appears in the medieval manuscripts than to try to find the lost original. And so I’ve provided two versions of this poem, one written down in 1270, and one which was written down about forty years later. In the earlier version, the death of Baldr the Beautiful ushers in the beginning of the end of the world: Ragnarök. Baldr’s mother Frigg had made everything on earth promise not to hurt him, but she did not bother with the mistletoe, for it was so little and frail. Wicked Loki shaped it into a dart and put it in the hands of Baldr’s blind brother Hod when all the gods were amusing themselves by throwing things at Baldr and watching them bounce harmlessly from him. Here Baldr lounges against a wall, while Loki guides the fumbling and hooded Hod:
In the later version, preserved in the Hauksbók manuscript, which was compiled in the first decade of the fourteenth century, Baldr isn’t even mentioned; that seems to be a difference worth recording, and it suggests that the death of Baldr wasn’t necessarily connected to Ragnarök.
And perhaps most importantly, eighteen years ago talking about the reception of the Poetic Edda meant talking about Wagner, William Morris, and Tolkien. Nowadays the influence of these wonderful poems is felt much more widely, in popular culture as well as in the opera house. Hollywood has its Thor films; novelists such as Neil Gaiman in American Gods (2001), young adult authors such as Melvin Burgess and Joanne Harris, even Game of Thrones, with its dragons, ravens, shield-maidens, its endless winter, wolves and giants, have seized on eddic themes and motifs to capture the imaginations of new generations. I hope that this new version of the Poetic Edda, with its additions, updates, and revisions will also find new readers to thrill to these poems, which speak to us in comic, tragic, grandiose, crude, witty, profound, and commonsense tones.
As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a significant aspect of the struggle for racial equality often gets ignored: racial activism in performance. Actors, singers, and dancers mobilized over the decades, pushing back against racial restrictions that shifted over time, and On the Town of 1944 marked an auspicious but little-recognized moment in that history.
On the Town opened on Broadway in December of 1944 towards the end of World War II, and marked the debut of a dazzling group of creative artists: the composer Leonard Bernstein, the lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the choreographer Jerome Robbins. All were the children of Jewish immigrants. Balancing left-leaning personal politics with the pressure of launching their first show, this team of twenty-somethings made a number of hiring decisions that boldly challenged racial performance practices of the day. Exploring those progressive choices opens a perspective on the racial climate for performers of the day.
One daring step was to feature the Japanese-American dancer Sono Osato in the starring role of Ivy Smith, a character shaped as an “All-American Girl,” while the United States was at war with Japan, internment camps established on the West Coast and Southwest, and government propaganda aggressively targeting the Japanese. Like thousands of Japanese nationals, the US government detained Osato’s father, Shoji, immediately after Pearl Harbor, and he remained on parole in Chicago for most of the war. As a result, he could not attend his daughter’s opening night on Broadway. Declassified FBI files tell the story of Shoji’s imprisonment and persecution, revealing no justification for the treatment he received.
As a result, On the Town—a show about three American sailors on a one-day leave in New York City—flirted with what was then called miscegenation. The pursuit of Ivy by one of those sailors — Gabey (played by Cris Alexander, an actor of Caucasian heritage) — was the central premise of the show. A promotional photo, now housed in clipping files at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, shows Osato standing seductively over Alexander, giving a sense of how brazenly their relationship was portrayed.
Equally audacious were staging decisions related to African Americans in the cast. On opening night, there were 6 blacks out of a cast of 56. By today’s standards, that number appears as tokenism. Yet these black performers directly challenged racial stereotypes of the day. On the Town eschewed blackface, steering clear of bandanas, maids, and butlers. It did not segregate the black performers on stage, as was often the case, but rather it modeled an integrated citizenry. Black dancers in sailor costumes stood comfortably alongside their white comrades, and there was mixed-race dancing, some of which required training in ballet. These staging decisions modeled a vision of urban interracial fellowship. They imagined an alternative to the segregated US military of World War II, and they offered an early case of what has become known as color-blind casting. The Times Square Ballet, which closed Act I (pictured here), was one of the principal showcases for these progressive racial statements.
In yet another gesture towards civil rights, Everett Lee took over the podium of On the Town, becoming one of the first African Americans to conduct an all-white orchestra in a mainstream Broadway production. Lee had been concertmaster of the show since opening night, and he became conductor nine months into the run.
The racial desegregation of performance on New York’s stages gained traction as the Civil Rights Movement grew more effective in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet the advances were never completely game-changing, as has been the case in the culture at large. To its credit, however, the first production of On the Town yielded a site of opportunity, and many of its performers of color went on to distinguished careers in the theater and concert hall.
In a week’s time, the residents of Scotland (not the Scottish people: Scots resident south of the border are ineligible to vote) will decide whether or not to destroy the UK as currently constituted. The polls are on a knife edge; and Alex Salmond, the leader of the separatists, has a track record as a strong finisher. If he gets his way, the UK will lose 8% of its citizens and a third of its land mass; and Scotland, cut off, at least initially, from every international body (the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU) and every UK institution (the Bank of England, the pound sterling, the BBC, the security services), will face a bleak and uncertain future.
In the first century BC, the Roman republic was collapsing as a result of its systemic inability to curb the ambitions of powerful politicians. Everyone could see that the end was nigh; no one could predict what would follow. The conditions were ideal for the development of political oratory, and Cicero emerged as Rome’s greatest orator, determined to save his country even at the cost of his own life. During his consulship, he suppressed the conspiracy of Catiline, denouncing that man and his deluded supporters in his four Catilinarian Speeches. He pulled no punches: he did not hold back, like the supporters of the Union today, for fear of appearing too “negative”. So he informed the senate:
“A plot has been formed to ensure that, following a universal massacre, there should not be a single person left even to mourn the name of the Roman people or to lament the destruction of so great an empire.”
For Catiline’s supporters, he had nothing but contempt, telling the people:
“Reclining at their banquets, embracing their whores, heavy with wine, stuffed with food, wreathed with flowers, drenched with perfume, and worn out by promiscuous sex, they belch out their plans for the massacre of decent citizens and the burning of Rome.”
Cicero went straight for the jugular. Two decades later he denounced a more powerful adversary, Mark Antony, who was attempting with much greater forces to seize control of the state. Cicero attacked him in a series of speeches, the Philippics; but Antony did a deal with Octavian, got what he wanted, and had Cicero killed. Cicero’s words at the end of the Second Philippic were prophetic:
“I defended this country when I was a young man: I shall not desert it now that I am old. I faced down the swords of Catiline: I shall not flinch before yours. Yes, and I would willingly offer my body, if the freedom of this country could at once be secured by my death. Two things alone I long for: first, that when I die I may leave the Roman people free; and second, that each person’s fate may reflect the way he has behaved towards his country.”
Where is Cicero today when we need him? The debate on the future of Scotland, and hence of the UK, has been conducted in newspapers, in TV interviews and debates, and in social media. Anonymous internet trolls hurl abuse at celebrities who dare to express their affection for Britain. The Westminster Parliament stays silent. One MP, however, is free of the party whips, and has been touring Scotland delivering passionate, hard-hitting and unapologetically negative speeches in defence of the Union. This is George Galloway, and the speech he gave in Edinburgh on 24 June can be read and listened to here.
Like Cicero, Galloway pulls no punches. He compares the current crisis with 1940, the last time the UK faced an existential threat:
“And not one person asked in that summer and autumn of 1940 and into 1941 if the pilots who were spinning above us defending us from invasion from the barbaric horde were from Suffolk or Sutherland. We were people together on a small piece of rock with 300 years of common history.”
Referring to his political differences with the other supporters of the Union, he says, “We have come together but temporarily at a moment of national peril”, declaring:
“There will be havoc if you vote Yes in September. Havoc in Edinburgh and throughout the land and you will break the hearts of many others too.”
This preference for extreme, unambiguous statements, delivered with the greatest possible emotional force, and this recognition of the significance of the historical moment, is pure Cicero. But what is most Ciceronian in Galloway’s speech is the moral dimension. Galloway is not concerned with whether the new Scottish state would have to concentrate its spending on benefits or foreign embassies. Instead, he harks back repeatedly to the Second World War, that conflict of good against evil, contrasting it with Bannockburn, “a battle 700 years ago between two French-speaking kings with Scottish people on both sides”. And, as Cicero would, he judges an issue by the moral character of the people concerned: on the one side, Brian Souter, “the gay-baiting billionaire” and major donor of the SNP, and on the other, the children’s author J. K. Rowling, “one of our highest achieving women in the history of our entire country”, whose moderate and reasoned support for the Union has earned her hate mail from fanatical separatists. Morality runs like a thread all the way through Galloway’s speech.
How come so few women are in favour of independence? Why are Scotland’s women the most resistant of all the demographics in this contest? The reason is that women simply don’t like gambling. And everything in their project is about gambling — for your future, your pension, your children and their children’s future.
“Let it be inscribed on the forehead of every citizen what he thinks about his country”, Cicero told the senate. Next week, the future of the UK will be decided by a secret ballot. If Britain survives in a political and not merely in a geographical sense, part of the credit will be due to the Ciceronian eloquence of Mr Galloway.