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|Saturday, August 16th, 2014|
|Brief pause in Project Project Gutenberg
My Nook e-reader is failing to hold a charge for more than three days, even when I'm not using it. It used to last more than a month. So I'll be shopping for a replacement, and taking a vacation from Project Project Gutenberg. When I return to it, the next thing I'll read is etext #208, Henry James's Daisy Miller
Project Gutenberg etext #207: The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses
Robert W. Service was born in England in 1874; around 1895 he went to Western Canada to seek his fortune, and remained there for the better part of two decades, before moving back to Europe, where he settled in Paris and married a Frenchwoman. (In another of those literary timewarps that I am so fond of: Germaine Service was thirteen years younger than her husband, and she lived to be 103, dying in 1989.)
While living in Canada, Service started writing popular wilderness-themed poetry for newspapers and magazines. When I was in high school my exposure to Service was limited to the lame joke The Cremation of Sam McGee.
The Spell of the Yukon was his first anthology, appearing in 1907. The poems are of a limited range of topics and styles, but his audience really loved them, and he seemed able to produce an arbitrary supply. I should warn that his writing career was long, and I have now only read his very earliest output.
He doesn't try for much metric regularity, haphazardly using feet of either two or three syllables within the same line. Even the foot count sometimes suffers; in many poems, lines of seven feet are intermingled with lines of six, where the elision produces a "rest" in the middle of the line. One gets the impression that he understood the issue, but just couldn't be bothered, considering it less important than getting the words down.
The thematic style is purple and overwrought, though sometimes touching. Read two or three to get the idea, and then spend the rest of the time you have allocated to light romantic narrative verse on Kipling.
|Thursday, August 7th, 2014|
|Project Gutenberg etext #206: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 1995, Memorial Issue.
For MLK Day in 1995, Project Gutenberg's Judith Boss and John Hamm assembled an anthology of about thirty pieces unified by provenance. It was all written between 1863 and 1910, in the first half-century after the Civil War, mostly by African-American authors, and mostly on African-American topics.
It's hard to give a summary or a coherent account of such a disparate collection, but the pieces were very well-chosen, and together give a glimpse into this period of history that just left me wanting to know more.
There are quite a few short stories by Charles W. Chesnutt, an intriguing guy who identified as black although he was at least seven-eighths white, who apparently never availed himself of the opportunity to "pass". Chesnutt passed through a period of eclipse in the twentieth century, because he seemed too conciliatory, and some of his southern black characters speak a dialect that made activists cringe. But the stories are fascinating, and those characters are clever, canny, and wise. One recurring character, the old raconteur Uncle Julius, is quite a bit smarter than the fictional white narrator, who is somewhat blinded by his own racial prejudice. The whole idea is very deftly executed.
There are several essays each by the conciliatory, "eventualist" educator Booker T. Washington, and the more radical, impatient W. E. B. du Bois. I had never read anything by either, and only had a vague impression of the political debate within the African-American community whose factions were typified by these two men. It is astonishing how mild and conservative both are by the standards of, say, 1968. The "Overton window" of racial politics has moved dramatically.
The very beginnings of the Black Exodus from the south are documented in an article by a white journalist, who thinks it's going to be a mere blip. An article about how blacks ought to meekly settle into their eternal subservient role, by the rather vile Jerome Dowd, is provided as an example of typical late-19th-century racism.
The massive migration to the northern cities is not even hinted at; apparently nobody has a clue that that is going to happen. All the writers imagine that American blacks are going to continue to be a largely agrarian, rural population.
This anthology was fascinating and enlightening.
Now I'm going to read about 40 pages of the Yukon poetry of Robert W. Service. So far, about a quarter of the way through, my impression is that if you've read one, you've read them all.
|Sunday, August 3rd, 2014|
|Thirteenth run of 2014
It's been a long time. I've been out at the track once or twice since I last posted, but I never finished my full traditional seven miles. Today I managed to talk myself into keeping going, and finished 28 laps in 86:20
. I don't understand why it has gotten so much more difficult psychologically, recently. Maybe I need to look for a different kind of exercise, if I'm not going to enjoy this kind.
|Sunday, July 20th, 2014|
|Twelfth run of 2014
It's been three weeks since I recorded my last run. I haven't been able to force myself out in midweek, and I absolutely must fix that, and get back on a schedule where I can go running in the morning before work.
Two weekends ago, I went out to the track, and managed only a little more than a mile in very hot weather when something in my brain went NOPE NOPE NOPE, and I just stopped and went home.
Last weekend, I managed to run six out of my seven miles. I didn't post about either of those runs, I guess because I thought they didn't "qualify".
Finally, yesterday morning, I managed to go the whole seven-mile distance, in 88:35
, which is better than three weeks ago but still crummy. In order to see any improvement at all, I have to get out more than once a week. I have resolved that if I haven't gone by Thursday night, I will set my alarm for 6 am Friday and force myself out.
|Saturday, July 19th, 2014|
|Project Gutenberg etext #205: Walden
I finished reading Walden
, Henry David Thoreau's 1854 autobiographicophilosophical manifesto, a few days ago, I think on Wednesday. I have an interesting kettle of feelings about it.
I was all set up to find it unbearably preachy and hypocritical, as well as poorly-reasoned, from my unfavorable impression
of Civil Disobedience
. But I have to confess that I was pleasantly surprised. It was not as bombastic as I expected. He has his bombastic, preachy moments, and he occasionally gets into an "erudite", speculative, philosophizing mood in which his prose is almost incomprehensible. I suspect
this is because his philosophy is backed up by religious or supernatural beliefs which he is reluctant to express outright; instead he drops coy hints. Mostly these amount to, "People worry too much about this or that worldly concern, to the neglect of what our real
concerns in life ought to be," but he never comes out and says what the latter are.
But this is leavened with wry sarcastic social commentary. Before I started this project, I would have said that his tone is sometimes reminiscent of Twain, but having encountered the same sly sarcasm in Howells, in Wilkie Collins, in Henry James, and others, I'm realizing it's a facet of 19th-century comedic style in general -- a facet that was Twain's forte, but one that isn't missing from other writers.
It's also lightened by very nice nature writing. Thoreau had a pretty good scientific turn of mind, and his descriptions of life and topography around the pond were interesting. He occasionally stumbles into credulousness of certain kinds of weirdness that mark him as not being a fully-modern scientific mind. The best example I can think of is his speculation about what laws of nature might underly apparent regularities in landforms; modern geology mostly would call all these speculations warrantless nonsense.
With some reluctance I would like to defend Thoreau a little against the charge of hypocrisy. The strict definition of hypocrisy is urging others to virtues one does not oneself possess. It is true that Thoreau was not really living a remarkably reclusive life. He was in Concord village once or twice weekly. He lectured in Lincoln every couple of weeks. He had plenty of visitors in the woods, both friends seeking his company, and strangers who stumbled on his cabin by accident, or sought it out from curiosity. This would certainly be hypocrisy if he were, in fact, urging others to separate themselves from humanity, to live in total isolation and complete self-reliance. But while he does extol increased
self-reliance, he doesn't seem to be absolutist about it; and he doesn't seem to consider reclusiveness a real virtue at all. He lived in the woods because he suspected that contemporary life was just too danged complicated for our souls, and he wanted to try the effects of simplifying it in various ways that occurred to him. I think that modern readers are taught by high-school English teachers to read more militancy into Thoreau's stance than was actually there, and this is where the sense of hypocrisy creeps in.
Here is a great quote, from the middle of a philosophical passage, which is only good out of context. I am not going to provide the context, because that would just ruin it.
We are a race of tit-men ...
I also think Thoreau was not a very good linguist. His etymology, upon which he hangs a certain amount of philosophical speculation, is pretty hopeless.
The ear of wheat (in Latin spica, obsoletely speca, from spe, hope) should not be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or grain (granum from gerendo, bearing) is not all that it bears.
This is wrong in all the important particulars. Spica
("ear, spike of wheat") and spērō
("I hope") are not from the same origin; neither are gerō
("I bear") and grānum
. I wouldn't care about the bad etymology except that Thoreau is trying to draw a conclusion from it -- a deep connection between the respective concepts, which he would have us believe that the ancients recognized. (In this case, his argument is that we take agriculture way too seriously, and allow ourselves to become enslaved to the land, rather than having it serve us in a rational fashion. There may be something to this, though the support from Latin word-roots is flawed.)
Now I am going on to etext #206, an anthology of essays and articles on African-American history, in honor of Martin Luther King Day of 1995. I think the curating was all done by Project Gutenberg volunteers; I've glanced over the table of contents and it looks varied and fascinating, but long.
|Saturday, June 28th, 2014|
|Project Gutenberg etext #204: The Innocence of Father Brown
More than a year ago, I read and reported
on G. K. Chesterton's 1908 spiritual manifesto, Orthodoxy
. I expressed my ambivalence about the work; Chesterton is charming but I completely disagree with him -- and he's opinionated enough that I can feel him disapproving of me from beyond the grave.
I thought that his first collection of Father Brown stories, The Innocence of Father Brown
, would be a better experience, because I anticipated the charm without the didacticism, but I was disappointed in that.
The premise of the Father Brown stories is that Brown has heard so much of human evil through listening to confession, that he has a deep insight into human behavior, especially criminal behavior. This allows him to solve crimes where professional crime-solvers fail. But there's an additional premise. Brown is looking at the available information, and his experience of humanity, through the lens of his Christianity, and this enables him to come to correct conclusions because Christianity is the true lens
. It's not ham-handed, usually, but Chesterton never lets you forget it. His villains and foils are often either atheists or Protestants of a puritanical strain.
I was intrigued to find an arrested suspect being Mirandized in almost exactly the same words we use, "[T]he police ... put their hands on the victorious duellist, ritually reminding him that anything he said might be used against him." (The Sins of Prince Saradine
). This was in 1911; the right to silence was codified in England in 1912, but it's clear that it was a traditional assumption before that. Miranda v. Arizona
was decided by the Supreme Court in 1966.
Now I have a project ahead of me that I am not exactly looking forward to, another book I'm pretty sure I was supposed to have read in high school: Thoreau's Walden
. I was thoroughly unimpressed with Thoreau's thinking (described here
) in Civil Disobedience
; my reader gk7
warned me that Thoreau in Walden was similarly glib and smug, so I'm already cringing a little as I get started.
|Eleventh run of 2014
It was pretty hot out, and my seven mile run was a real trudge, taking 91:06
. It was psychologically challenging; I had to keep encouraging myself and suppressing the urge to just stop. Not that I was in any particular pain or discomfort; I didn't even feel terribly hot. I just felt tired. Anyway now I have gotten back, had a shower and lunch, and I feel much better.
|Sunday, June 22nd, 2014|
Project Gutenberg etext #203: Uncle Tom's Cabin
The American classic, Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe, had already fallen off high-school reading lists when I was young, so I wasn't expected to read it for school. Perhaps my older sister was assigned it: at any rate it was on her bookshelf, but I don't think I ever tried it.
Although it's an impassioned and moving indictment of slavery, it can't be read today from a modern egalitarian viewpoint -- the author just didn't hold that view. Besides the casual use of now-tabooed racial epithets, the story is marred by an uncritical credulity about racial stereotypes. The really black blacks in Mrs. Stowe's story are heroic mostly by piety and loyalty. More conventionally heroic figures are always 3/4 white.
Stowe also seemed to feel that, when liberated, the natural thing a freed slave would want to do is get away from America -- and settle in Africa. She's very big on Liberia. Eliza, who crosses the ice to escape slavery in the book's most iconic scene, eventually settles in Liberia with her husband and children.
One of Stowe's characters is a staunch abolitionist from moral conviction, but has a repugnance for actual black people that she has to overcome in the course of the story; and I wonder whether this plot element was autobiographical. I don't know if I'm imagining it, but I think she might have hoped that if slavery was ended, she wouldn't have to live so close to black people any more.
The book's whole anti-slavery message is tangled throughout with explicit Christian preaching. I don't think Stowe would have been able to comprehend the idea that human rights and Christianity were two separate things.
Close to the end, the story's loose ends are tied up by revealing that almost all the slave characters are related to each other. Everybody except Tom himself is everybody's else's long-lost something-or-other.
I'm glad I read it, but not particularly sorry I never read it before. Now I will go on to etext #204, which will be the second work I've read by G. K. Chesterton, the 1911 short-story anthology, The Innocence of Father Brown.
|Saturday, June 21st, 2014|
|Tenth run of 2014
This morning, six days after my previous run, I did seven miles in 79:10
. My first five miles were virtually identical to last weekend, in that I finished the fifth mile with an average of 11 minutes per mile. So I anticipated that I would finish up at around 80 minutes, like last week. But then I did my last two miles more than a minute faster than on the previous occasion.
The main reason for that was that halfway through the sixth mile I was joined by an impromptu running buddy, who struck up a pleasant conversation which lasted through the last mile and a half and through two walked cool-down laps. (This, by the way, almost never happens.) Because we were chatting, I didn't check my heart rate assiduously, and the few times I looked, it was high. That means I was running faster than my personal workout rules allow, so I don't even know if including this run in my records is good science.
|Sunday, June 15th, 2014|
|Ninth run of 2014
Seven miles in 80:21
, considerably worse than last time. I dropped through the 11-minutes-per-mile threshold after only five miles. I guess I can't expect improvement to be steady.
|Wednesday, June 11th, 2014|
|Eighth run of 2014
This was my best run so far this season: 28 laps in 77:40
. 77 minutes is the mark for an average of 11-minute miles, which works out to 2:45 per lap. As I'm running I watch to see when my average drops below notable levels like that, and it was nice to fall below 2:45 only at the very end. Now comes the much longer phase of trying to stay below 2:30 for longer and longer (for an average pace of a mile in 10 minutes).
|Saturday, June 7th, 2014|
|Project Gutenberg etext #202: My Bondage and My Freedom
Frederick Douglass was born around 1818, and liberated himself from slavery in 1838, escaping from Maryland and settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After supporting himself in various trades (mostly relating to shipbuilding) for about three years, he was recruited by the abolitionist movement and thereafter made his living lecturing and writing.
He wrote his autobiography three and a half times (counting a revised edition of the third autobiography as half). As part of Project Project Gutenberg, I've already read his first autobiography (described here
), which was written in 1845, but I find that I didn't actually describe it at all.
This version was published ten years after the first, and despite having ten more years of his life to describe, the content is very similar. The mood
is different, however: people in the abolitionist movement were starting to actually believe the movement might succeed, despite setbacks like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
One interesting thing I learned about the abolitionist movement is that they were split by a disagreement about the legal status of slavery. One very influential faction, exemplified by William Lloyd Garrison, felt that slavery was in fact warranted by the United States Constitution; that slavery, though evil, was built into the foundational law of the nation. According to Garrison, the only moral option was for the northern states to secede from the union and form a new nation, in which human rights were not restricted to whites. If Garrison's vision had played out, the southern states would now be the United States of America, and the northern states would be some other country.
At some point Douglass's opinions on the subject changed, and he diverged from his mentor Garrison, believing that the Constitution did not
in fact justify slavery; that slavery was, in fact, unconstitutional. In the event, after the Civil War, the Constitution was amended to remove the ambiguity.
Douglass lived a couple of years in Ireland and Great Britain, after 1845, and his description of his time there is the main difference from the earlier autobiography, which was written before his time abroad. In addition, this edition contains, as an appendix, excerpts from several of Douglass's speeches and letters.
Etext #203 is Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 classic, Uncle Tom's Cabin
. Although I recall seeing it on my older sister's bookshelf while growing up, I don't think I've ever read it before.
|Seventh run of 2014
Well, that was interesting. It was considerably warmer for my run today than it was for previous runs this spring, probably in the low 70's (F). It really slowed me down, and I finished my seven miles in 92:25
|Saturday, May 31st, 2014|
|Sixth run of 2014
But, if I really go every weekend, I do improve, at least for a while. 28 laps in 80:27
|Monday, May 26th, 2014|
|Fifth run of 2014
weeks of slacking really does make a difference. I finally hauled my sorry butt out to the track and plodded out 28 laps in 86:14
|Thursday, May 22nd, 2014|
|End of Project Gutenberg year 1994
Project Gutenberg etext #180 is the 1994 CIA World Factbook. Since these were already being published in digital form, and were placed in the public domain by virtue of being government publications, it was an easy call for Project Gutenberg to archive them.
The CIA factbooks also serve as nice year markers; they were published near the end of the named year. They are frequently followed by a cluster of etexts concerning African-American culture, because January is Black History Month.
Etext #181 was a "test text" of some kind, but at some point it was removed from the archive. At the moment, all the etext numbers from #181 to #199 inclusive are not in use; apparently they were being reserved for some project that never came to fruition; I have a sort of a guess about what it was.
Etext #200 is the first "volume" of a planned "Gutenberg Encyclopedia". It contains articles from A to AN; I don't know where they were taken from. Perhaps they were edited by Gutenberg volunteers. I suspect that the twenty unused etext numbers were to host the entire thing, and I also suspect that the editors had a dim vision that has since been realized by Wikipedia.
Etext #201 was another digital edition of Abbott's Flatland
; I already read that for Project Project Gutenberg, and if I weren't a lazy bastard I'd link to my earlier report.
I'm skipping all of those, and going on to Etext #202, Frederick Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom
, and that starts the texts of Project Gutenberg Year 1995. I haven't read this before, but I enjoyed the other works by Douglass that I read earlier in Project Project Gutenberg.
Project Gutenberg etext #179: The Europeans
Today I finished Henry James's short 1878 novel, The Europeans. At least it isn't grim; there is a fairly happy ending. James is continuing his almost didactic treatment of the contrast between Old World and New World personalities, but the setting is reversed: two Europeans travel to America to meet and live with their relatives for a time.
The novel is striking for its contracted geographical compass. Almost all of it takes place in the two houses on a single property in the suburbs of Boston.
There isn't much else to say about it; even James himself agreed that it was "slight".
More about my next reading in a separate post.
|Friday, May 16th, 2014|
Project Gutenberg etext #178: Confidence
Henry James's Confidence, from 1879, is much more lighthearted than the first two James novels I read, and I quite enjoyed it. It is even funny in places, but I can't think of much to say about it, especially since I am about to leave for the weekend to attend my daughter's college graduation. I am really only posting now because I have a rule that I have to post about each etext before I permit myself to begin reading the next one, which in this case is yet a fourth James novel, The Europeans.
|Thursday, May 15th, 2014|
|ASL by phone
On a couple of occasions in the past I have posted here about encountering unusual languages on the subway: Hebrew and Hungarian here
and Georgian here
. On another occasion I talked
about how the Web is catalyzing a renaissance of Deaf culture. This morning the two topics converged for me.
I found myself standing on the subway car next to a woman who was having a relaxed but animated conversation with a friend in American Sign Language ... over the phone. I knew about Skype and things like that, so I don't know why this should have caught me by surprise. These days, if you're Deaf, you can just phone a friend, any time. The days of having to type at them via clumsy special purpose hardware are gone. I assume Deaf people everywhere are ecstatic about this: it's a huge game-changer for them.
(It is a typographical convention, favored by the Deaf community, to capitalize the word "deaf" when it refers to deaf people as a people, united by cultural norms and often a common language
. Uncapitalized, "deaf" refers to a mere physiological condition.)
Oh, one more thing. The lady on the subway was holding the phone with one hand and signing one-handed. I'm told that this is similar to talking with a pencil between your teeth: slightly slurred, but completely comprehensible to a native Signer. Her friend had both hands free, and was presumably at home in front of a webcam, or just with her phone propped up on a table in front of her. And don't criticise me for eavesdropping: I couldn't understand a word except "yes" and "bye".