She plays o' the viol-de-gamboys, speaks three or four languages word for word without book, hath all the good gifts of nature, knows a hawk from a handsaw, and can see a church by daylight. The rest is subject to fancy.

Elsewhere for January 15, 2017

You should read this for 1/15/2017: Just five books, please, ones that the Suck Fairy hasn’t visited, whales in their crone phase, horses know how to train humans, humans feeding other humans, humans removing health care from other humans, and everything you need to know about cooking beans.

Five Books: The Best Books On Everything An interesting premise, and a great way to find books to read: “We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview.”

Jo Walton on The Suck Fairy “The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading—well, it sucks.” Jo Walton is one of my favorite writers, of fiction or essays. Walton is smart, she’s funny, and writes true things.

A New Type Of Food Pantry Is Sprouting In Yards Across America I think this is a super idea; “Tiny pantries” are a spin-off from the Little Free Library concept, also a great idea. I’d like to do both, if I can figure out where and how.

Why do Orcas go Through menopause? “Almost all animals reproduce until they die, even very long-lived ones like elephants and blue whales. As far as we know, just three species buck the trend: killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, and humans.”

Via NPR: How Smart Are Horses? Pretty smart; they train humans to feed ’em.

The Anti-Obamacare FAQ Everything you need to know about why conservatives want to repeal the president’s health care law.

From The New York Times and Melissa Clark: How to Cook Beans What beans, what prep, what seasonings, and what to do with all those dried beans.

Elsewhere for January 8, 2017

You should read this for 1/08/2017:Acknowledging community history in Australia; poorly conceived test questions, 💩🔥💰’s avalanche of cleansing, and Baked beans from Maine

What Does It Mean to Acknowledge the Past? “Gathering together to listen to speeches and watch performances is one way civilizations share values. These events can foster community as well as breed animus, as we saw Donald J. Trump so successfully accomplish in his campaign rallies. Since the election, white supremacists and perpetuators of hate speech appear to be emboldened. In this political climate, the words we use and the traditions we champion matter more than ever.”

And so it begins: 💩🔥💰’s Purge Of Non-Loyalists Takes Shape Using an obscure 1876 rule that allows them to cut any federal employee’s pay to $1, the GOP Congress begins to set up for the purge of non-loyal-to-Trump federal employees that Donald Trump’s team has been talking about.

Poet Sara Holbrook can’t answer questions on Texas standardized tests about her own poems, and doesn’t understand why they would be used as source material in any case.

Maine Baked Beans (with salt pork!)

Elsewhere for January 1, 2017

You should read this for 1/01/2017: Chrismakkah, practical rebellion against evil, food and politics, and it’s ok to omit records if you’re Jeff.

Medievalist David M. Perry on The GOP Theocracy: Xmas vs Hanukkah Statements “The King isn’t Trump to my reading. It’s still a dangerous statement.”

Via Matthew d’Ancona in The Guardian How do liberals halt the march of the right? Stand our ground and toughen up These are specific, practical suggestions that anyone can implement.

Helen Rosner of interviews Anthony Bourdain Anthony Bourdain: The Post-Election Interview “But the threshold of acceptable rhetoric right now, the threshold of hate and animus that’s being shown at this point — this really naked hatred of every flavor, racists, sexists, pure misogyny, class hatred, hatred of the educated — this is something I’ve never seen before. And it’s now acceptable! It’s more acceptable in public at political rallies than it is at universities, which is where people should be saying offensive shit.”

A professor called 💩🔥💰’s election an ‘act of terrorism.’ Then she became the victim of terror. “For as long as she has taught, Cox, a professor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., has prided herself on speaking freely. Then a clip of her calling Donald 💩🔥💰’s election “an act of terrorism” went viral earlier this month, unleashing a wave of violent threats that forced her to end her semester early and flee her home in suburban Orange County.”

Jeff Sessions, Donald 💩🔥💰’s nominee for Attorney General of the U.S has omitted decades of records (including email) for his confirmation hearing. He previously argued that omissions should be a felony.

Via Southern Living: Pimento Cheese. It’s apparently a Southern Thing. Who knew?

Elsewhere for December 25, 2016

You should read this for 12/25/2016: Encouraging kindness in social networks, a Trumpish short story, finding the lost kingdoms, and Spirograph is even better than you remembered.

Kevin Barrett of Postlight on Building Kind Social Networks“In reality, addressing abuse is not a scale, but a switch.”

A five year project to investigate the “lost” kingdoms of Northern Europe.

Via Ars Technia: The Greatest Spirograph in the World. Really. Watch the videos.

NORAD’s Santa Tracker Began With A Typo And A Good Sport

A Trump Christmas Carol by Roz Kaveney, Laurie Penny, John Scalzi, & J0 Walton. Nicely done.

And the complete A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, annotated.

Elsewhere for December 18, 2016

You should read this for 12/18/2016:

Via The New York Post The chilling stories behind Japan’s ‘evaporating people’“Of the many oddities that are culturally specific to Japan — from cat cafés to graveyard eviction notices to the infamous Suicide Forest, where an estimated 100 people per year take their own lives — perhaps none is as little known, and curious, as “the evaporated people.”

Jesus was not born in a stable. On the meaning of NT Greek Kataluma.

Via Amy Rawe An Open Apology To Dolly Parton There’s a lot more to Dolly Parton than just a fabulous singer, songwriter and musician.

And here’s how it looks from Canada; Scott Gilmore writing for Maclean’s on Russia’s American coup “But it happened, moment by moment, until we woke up in a cold day in December and realized that Moscow had effectively installed the next president of the United States.

That sounds hyperbolic, doesn’t it? Even writing it I have to pause and stare at that sentence. But these are the facts: The CIA and over a dozen other U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia hacked into both the Republican and Democratic party computers. Senior Russian officials have admitted that they leaked the Democratic data to WikiLeaks. Those emails were then strategically published over the course of the presidential campaign. Why? A member of the House Intelligence Committee states there is ‘overwhelming evidence’ Russia’s goal was to elect Donald Trump.”

Now you can Fact-Check Donald Trump’s tweets.

Italian Fresh Cream Lemon Cake A light cake, often served in the morning with coffee; perfect for Christmas.

Donne’s A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day

Saint Lucy’s day is December 13. This was, in the Julian calendar, the Winter solstice and consequently the shortest day of the year (and thus the darkest). It is also the point at which, astrologically speaking, the Sun entered the sign of the Goat (in the modern calendar, Capricorn operates between December 22, the day after the modern Winter solstice, and January 19). Saint Lucy is, more specifically, Lucia of Syracuse or Saint Lucia, She was a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletian Persecution c. 304 C.E. after a spurned suitor denounced Lucy as a Christian. Lucy (via the Latin form of her name Lucia) is cognate with Latin lux, or  light. In terms of both her various legends, one of which includes her eye being gouged out in an effort to force her to renounce Christianity. Saint Lucy is iconographically  associated with light and vision (and often, with a cup or platter on which she displays her gouged-out eyes).

Donne’s  “A Nocturne upon St. Lucy’s Day” describes the darkest part of the darkest day, hence the poem deals with the absence of light. It is also about transformation, in the sense of an alchemist trying to create something out of nothing, or something noble out of chaos, though here the transformation is in the opposite direction; the transformation of light to darkness.

In this poem Donne speaks in the persona of a lover. This is both a convention of his era, and a frequent practice of Donne’s who is sometimes clearly referring to his spouse, Ann More Donne, and other times his subject is not specific—and may not have been even for Donne himself. Critics have argued that the Lucy referred to in the title is both the saint, and an homage to his patron, Lucy the Countess of Bedford, for him he named a daughter and to whom he dedicated several poems. Others are equally certain that the “she” referenced as his beloved is Donne’s wife. Neither are mutually exclusive, and it might well be that both women were in his thoughts. We do not know the year Donne wrote the poem, which further complicates efforts towards biographic criticism.

I freely confess that the last stanza in particular makes me think Donne was writing about Ann More, and using St. Lucy Day (and night) as a vehicle for his mourning. Ann died August 15, 1617, in childbirth, delivering what would have been their twelfth child had the baby lived. She was thirty-three, and was survived by her spouse and seven of their children.

There are several motifs present that are familiar from Donne’s other Songs and Sonnets, including Donne as the model lover, one who has been transformed by his passion for his beloved, and metaphors drawn from the study of alchemy, the attempt, at its highest level, to transform a base metal like lead to gold.

I have modernized the spelling.

In this YouTube video you can hear Sir Richard Burton, probably the best reader of Donne I’ve every hard, read A Nocturne Upon St. Lucy’s Day.

John Donne – A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day by poetictouch

John Donne A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day

1)The Catholic church’s traditional order of prayers in the early church included prayers at midnight called nocturnes or vigils, the night office, today is often called Matins
’Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,2)The Winter solstice is the midpoint of the year, the turning of the tide from the darkest night of the year towards the renewal of light with Spring. Donne is also writing at midnight.
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks,
The Sun is spent, and now his flasks3)The stars are flasks; they were thought to store energy and light from the Sun
Send forth light squibs,4)Squibs were both small firecrackers and malfunctioning firecrackers, whose explosive force was less than expected no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk:
The general balm th’ hydroptique earth hath drunk,5)Current medical theory postulated that all life contained and generated a “general balm,” a life-giving and preserving essence, which, in wintertime, like sap in a tree, sinks. Hydroptic here means excessively thirsty, as people with dropsy were thought to be.
Whither,6)Typical of Donne, whither is serving multiple purposes. It can be read as both whither meaning where, to what place, and wither, to shrink or dry up. The balm has retreated to the Earth as sap does in winter. as to the beds-feet, life is shrunk,7)With to the beds-feet, Donne shifts his metaphors from sap and balm to an image of a person in bed; the beds-feet is the foot of the bed; this may mean both that the person who is in a bed, presumably dying, has his or her world shrunk to their bed. It may also be a reference to the way a corpse shrinks and withers, given the subsequent explicit reference to death.  
Dead and enterr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their Epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;8)The Winter solstice marks the “death” of the world.
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,9)A quintessence is literally the “fifth essence, derived from Medieval Latin quīnta essentia. In terms of alchemy, the fifth essence is the highest element, more pure than earth, air, fire and water, the other four, and the essence of life itself and of the heavenly bodies. Yes Luke, it’s very like the Force in Star Wars.
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.10)Donne is himself thus the quintessence even from nothingness referred to in line 6.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec,11)A limbec (a shortened form of alembic) is a type of still used by alchemists; it is essnetially two vessels joined by a tube. Love is the alchemist who transformed Donne am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so12)With we two Donne shifts from examining himself to his relationship with is beloved.
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow13)The reference to the two lovers having Drown’d the whole world sounds remarkably like ll. 14–20 of Donne’s “A Valediction: Of Weeping: So doth each tear
Which thee doth wear,
A globe, yea world, by that impression grow,
Till thy tears mix’d with mine do overflow
This world; by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so.
O more than moon,
Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere,

To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences14)Absences here also echoes Donne’s “A Valediction: Of Weeping”
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death15)I read this as a reference to Ann Donne’s death. (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;16)Contemporary science of the day suggested that even rocks and plants experienced attraction and repulsion.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.17)I read this as my sun referring to Ann Donne, as well as a comment on Donne’s own dark emotional state.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run18)The lesser sun is the solar body; now entering the sign of Capricorn, the goat.
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,19)The she here is a problem for my reading, since it clearly refers to Lucy, and consequently both the saint, and Lucy Countess of Bedford.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.20)And Donne ends much as he began, cycling back as the does the Sun.

References   [ + ]

Elsewhere for December 11, 2016

You should read this for 12/11/2016:
The social functions of humor, why Donald Trump isn’t funny, maybe you were wrong about the MacBook Pro, we’re all Muslim here, now, how are you, dinosaur feathers and ginger cookies.

Jason P. Sneed via Twitter 8/9/2026 on the social functions of humor, reposted here.

Ben Lovejoy from 9to5 Mac MacBook Pro Diary: I’m one week in, and it turns out my first impressions were wrong I think a lot of people’s first impressions of Apple’s new MacBook Pro are going to prove wrong. Kinda like when Apple released the iPod and people said “Who would buy this?” Or the iMac. Or the iPhone.

We’re All Muslim Now Change your Facebook religious descriptor to Muslim to make it harder to use Facebook to target Muslims—something some people are already doing by scanning FB profiles and then sending abusive posts.

Dinosaur tail trapped in amber sheds light on evolution of feathers Scroll down to see the photo of the actual piece of amber; really amazing. Also it explains so much about feral chickens.

This is what happens when Donald Trump attacks a private citizen on Twitter Now imagine what he’ll do with the full force of the Oval Office, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the Secret Service to do his bullying.

The right has its own version of political correctness. It’s just as stifling. “Political correctness has become a major bugaboo of the right in the past decade, a rallying cry against all that has gone wrong with liberalism and America. Conservative writers fill volumes complaining how political correctness stifles free expression and promotes bunk social theories about ‘power structures’ based on patriarchy, race and mass victimhood.”

Why haven’t we seen Donald Trump’s tax returns? Why hasn’t he divested? Maybe the Answer Is That He Can’t Divest Because he owes too much money to too many people—including millions to China.

The Best Music for Productivity? Silence What I’m taking away from this piece is the suggestion near the end to take a fifteen minute break wherein you just listen to music, really listen.

via Bon AppetitTriple-Ginger Cookies

Jason P. Sneed on the Social Function of Humor

Jason P. Sneed on Twitter on 8/9/2016:

1. I wrote my PhD dissertation on the social function of humor (in literature & film) and here’s the thing about “just joking.”
2. You’re never “just joking.” Nobody is ever “just joking.” Humor is a social act that performs a social function (always).
3. To say humor is social act is to say it is always in social context; we don’t joke alone. Humor is a way we relate/interact with others.
4. Which is to say, humor is a way we construct identity – who we are in relation to others. We use humor to form groups…
5. …and to find our individual place in or out of those groups. In short, joking/humor is one tool by which we assimilate or alienate.
6. IOW, we use humor to bring people into – or keep them out of – our social groups. This is what humor *does.* What it’s for.
7. Consequently, how we use humor is tied up with ethics – who do we embrace, who do we shun, and how/why?
8. And the assimilating/alienating function of humor works not only only people but also on *ideas.* This is important.
9. This is why, e.g., racist “jokes” are bad. Not just because they serve to alienate certain people, but also because…
10. …they serve to assimilate the idea of racism (the idea of alienating people based on their race). And so we come to Trump
11. A racist joke sends a message to the in-group that racism is acceptable. (If you don’t find it acceptable, you’re in the out-group.)
12. The racist joke teller might say “just joking” — but this is a *defense* to the out-group. He doesn’t have to say this to the in-group.
13. This is why we’re never “just joking.” To the in-group, no defense of the joke is needed; the idea conveyed is accepted/acceptable.
14. So, when Trump jokes about assassination or armed revolt, he’s asking the in-group to assimilate/accept that idea. That’s what jokes do.
15. And when he says “just joking,” that’s a defense offered to the out-group who was never meant to assimilate the idea in the first place.
16. Indeed, circling back to the start, the joke *itself* is a way to define in-group and out-group, through assimilation & alienation.
17. If you’re willing to accept “just joking” as defense, you’re willing to enter in-group where idea conveyed by the joke is acceptable.
18. IOW, if “just joking” excuses racist jokes, then in-group has accepted idea of racism as part of being in-group.
19. Same goes for “jokes” about armed revolt or assassinating Hillary Clinton. They cannot be accepted as “just joking.”
20. Now, a big caveat: humor (like all language) is complicated and always a matter of interpretation. For example, we might have…
21. …racist humor that is, in fact, designed to alienate (rather than assimilate) the idea of racism. (Think satire or parody.)
22. But I think it’s pretty clear Trump was not engaging in some complex satirical form of humor. He was “just joking.” In the worst sense.
23. Bottom line: don’t accept “just joking” as excuse for what Trump said today. The in-group for that joke should be tiny. Like his hands.

Mr. Steed is an attorney (an appellate lawyer in Dallas, TX) and a reformed English Ph.D.

Elsewhere for December 4, 2016

You should read this for 12/4/2016: Water not war, Pepper nuts, scraps of poetry and authenticity (or the lack thereof) online

Secretary of State contender Petraeus knowingly leaked secrets to his biographer and lied to FBI “Retired Army general David Petraeus, who stepped down as CIA chief amid the scandal of an extramarital affair and pleaded guilty to divulging classified information, has emerged as a top contender as secretary of State in the incoming Trump administration.”

Ursula Le Guin on the 2016 Election “In the atmosphere of fear, anger, and hatred, opposition too easily becomes division, fixed enmity. I’m looking for a place to stand, or a way to go, where the behavior of those I oppose will not control my behavior.”

Mark Peters muses in The Boston Globe about Slang — language at our most human And the online arrival of Green’s Dictionary of Slang.

Via The New Yorker, Dan Chiasson on Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry “On letters, envelopes, and chocolate wrappers, the poet wrote lines that transcend the printed page.” Thanks to Amherst College, you can see digital images of Dickinson’s “scraps” as she wrote them at the Emily Dickinson Archive.

President Obama’s final Rolling Stone interview, the day after election 2016.

From Reddit Is Tearing Itself Apart “For the past 11 years, an eternity in internet time, Reddit has touted itself—repeatedly, and loudly — as the place to have “authentic conversations” online. For a variety of reasons, that sentiment has always rang hollow. Now, Reddit, in its goal to be a laissez-faire haven of (relatively) free expression, has been overrun by nationalist trolls. Its staff of volunteer moderators is losing hope in the site’s future.”

NPR on Unlocking Dyslexia: A Special Series This is some of the best and most thoughtful coverage of dyslexia, its possible causes, coping mechanisms, and what it’s like to move through a sea of text with dyslexia as a pilot.

Via The Joy of Cooking, German pfefferneuse, “pepper nuts,” a traditional spiced cookie that many of us strongly associate with Christmas.

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol Serialized

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was first published on December 19, 1843. He had written it at a feverish pace for six weeks beginning it in October of that year and determined that it should be published in time for Christmas. The Morgan Library has the original manuscirpt.

The publication of A Christmas Carol was a pet project for Dickens, and it was popular immediately, if not lucrative. He soon took to the road to stage one-man shows; The New York Public Library still has the script he used as his prompt copy in his performances, complete with Dickens’ own annotations. In December of 2015 Neil Gaiman used that script for a live performance at NYPL, still available as a podcast.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is very much a Christmas tradition for me, ever since the first time I saw Patrick Stewart’s one-man version of it at UCLA. Stewart’s version was soon published on CD, and he subsequently starred in a video production.

While I am fond of Patrick Stewart’s version, especially the audio only one-man show, my all time favorite version of A Christmas Carol is the one starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. We discovered the George C. Scott version some Christmases ago, when it was featured on Hulu. We loved it, and watched it repeatedly, even long after Christmas was over and Hulu had removed it from the current streaming offerings; I located the video stram in the cache and we were able to watch it for another month or so. This version also includes memorable roles from David Warner as Bob Cratchit, and Roger Rees as the narrator and Scrooge’s nephew Fred Hollywell and Edward Woodward in an absolutely spot-on Ghost of Christmas Present.

There’s an excellent  annotated editon The Annotated A Christmas Carol edited and annotated by Michael Patrick Hearn and published by W. W. Norton. I can’t possibly equal it, but for a Christmas project this year, I’m annotating and published each of the five “staves,” complete with the illustrations that Dickens commissioned from artists and engraver John Leech. The annotations are the kinds of things I might mention or use in teaching Christmas Carol, and range from explaining occasional Victorian idioms, to recipes and historical notes.

Mostly, this light-hearted annotated version is meant to be fun, and to help more people discover a lovely story that, while rich with political commentary, is equally rich with hope and humor.

I’ll update this post in the successive weeks as I publish the next stave. I’m planning to publish the last one on Christmas Eve.

Stave I

Stave II

Stave III

Stave IV

Stave V