Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Too old to suck my thumb ....

I remember sucking my thumb as a child. I’m not sure when I quit. Probably at three or four. It was comforting. It made me feel better. Then it wasn’t so satisfying anymore, and I stopped. So much for that. I’m too old to suck my thumb now. I tried it again today just to verify that there is no joy or comfort in sucking on a thumb. (No rude comments, please.)
            As we mature (Okay, some of us never mature, we just grow older.) we find comfort in other things. I collect stamps and write history books. I’d like to think that writing is an intellectual pursuit worthy of my membership in MENSA. It’s not, of course, it’s a mental pacifier. So is stamp collecting.
Stamp collecting is somewhat better than eating chocolate rum balls and sipping burning-hot black coffee. The rum balls disappear, and all one remembers is that they were good. You collect stamps, and you get to save them in your album and revisit them again and again. And you can’t complete a collection of chocolate rum balls. You wouldn’t like it if you did - All that mold and fossilized chocolate ….
            Stamp collecting came into my life not long after I gave up thumb sucking. My father gave me an old Scott Modern album and a shoebox of stamps – mostly to keep me away from his stamp album. I made a mess out of it, though I still have the album and all the stamps I more or less put in the right spots (With his help.)
I inherited my grandfather’s stamp collection. It’s still in the original brown Scott International Albums. My dad added to it, and I have added to it steadily since I was in my teens. The gems are the first two albums covering 1840-1920. I started my own Austria collection. My mom and a long line of ancestors were born there. And when I was in my teens I spent forty dollars to buy three sparsely filled Germany albums. (I have German relations too and strong family ties to there.)
            I’ve worked on the Germany collection steadily for some years. The Empire and Weimar Republic issues are virtually complete. It contains almost all of the Michel listed varieties. I’ve done this on the cheap. Finding something scarce for cheap is as good as thumb sucking ever was. Many of the nicest things, the stuff I couldn’t otherwise afford, came from large lots of junk or from European dealers who, unlike their American counterparts, want to sell their stamps.
            In the past two years I’ve purchased exactly two stamps from the local stamp dealers. They continue to price stamps as if it were as decade ago, asking a high percentage of catalogue. They have the same material they have displayed over the last four years. But hungry European dealers are willing to sell for less. So … I find most of my mental pacification via that route. The ultimate reward is completing a hard to find (read expensive) set. I just completed the Wagner set from Germany. It took a very long time, years, to do this, because the top values are expensive. I’ve been outbid repeatedly, but one by one I’ve acquired the whole set. Here it is:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

From Harry

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bad Boy Songs - Sing them Loudly!

The Gorszherzogin Elisabeth

Photographed from the Graff Zeppelin

OR's Adventures Chasing Pirates in the Pool. YARRR

Editor's Note: No Pirates were harmed. In fact, no pirates appear in this story at all.

Well, here we are in the New Forest in Hampshire, UK, and most cares are temporarily melting away.  My mother is being looked after properly 150 miles away, and work is shelved. I didn’t even bring work away with me this time. Well, not that much. It’s the best van we have ever had on this site, with a huge bedroom, huge TV, proper heating, and a fridge full of goodies, as one starts on the second glass of Blossom Hill red. And we have Internet access so can remain in touch with the big wide world. Mrs O is not quite as keen as I am on that, but she’s the Instagram junkie not me.
We have stayed on this site several times before. The scenery is beautiful, the birds tweet in unison, and we have been out photographing deer and wild horses and eating and drinking. And eating and drinking some more.
But then Mrs O decided that we needed to go swimming. Unfortunately there is a sizeable swimming pool at the venue. And swimming is good. Swimming is healthy. Huh. The last time I went swimming was at a holiday village called Centerparcs. They had this great “tropical village” pool, full of fake plants and other people’s children. It had flumes and horrendous waterfalls that only the foolhardy would consider going over. My daughter yelled “You can do it” – so bad impersonation of macho Dad, I did. But I wished I hadn’t.
This time the pool was full of professional masochists doing their one mile constitutional before work, threatening to mow down any amateurs in their way. But after years of neglect, I managed to swim a length and a half. Actually, I ran out of steam at that point, but the depth of the water brought to mind the words of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changing – as one’s whole life flashed before the eyes – “and you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone...” – and I made it to the side. Just.
Now she wants us to sign on and use the gym. Use the gym? Running on a treadmill, or cycling in a fixed position? Not my idea of fun. I used to like real running. I did three marathons including the first London one, although never quite beat the three hour mark. And I loved jogging. In those pre-iPod and earphones days, you could just run and think semi-profound thoughts as your brain bounced around inside your head. The craze of jogging was “invented” by an American athlete named Jim Fixx. He was found dead on the side of the road. That’s not very funny I know, but I went through that phase and it contributed to a feeling of well-being at the time. And cycling too. Mrs O and used to ride a tandem – we were well-known locally as people came to their front doors and jeered as we thundered past. When the daughter came along we had a kiddie seat on the back, until she grew too big, and we joined the human race and got a car. I even rode tandem 250 miles from Cardiff to Fishguard and back in one night as a club ride. For some strange reason, Mrs O declined on that occasion, and a friend named M joined me. He was extremely tall, so we had to use an old gas pipe to make a longer seat post so he could see over me at the back. It was freezing cold that night, and I can still see the thick layer of hoar frost attached to his beard.
Memories, memories. But pedalling in a gym or running on a treadmill is not my idea of fun. I am trying to get out of the gym. I have a bad back coming on. Yes, I think that might do it.
This weekend we join daughter and son in law at a little folk festival we have attended annually for several years. Last year we came back from America for it, but I had been bitten by something in Manhattan that my UK immune system couldn’t cope with – so all I could do was look plaintive and croak. This year they are not going to be spared, and I may just sing Wimoweh one more time. Not all the family are convinced. Some feel I should learn to grow old gracefully. But I can dig my heels in just as well as Mrs O can. And the beauty of these events is that no matter how bad you are, there is always someone there who is considerably worse. But they usually don’t know it. For me, that is all part of the fun.

So, how to end another post on vacationeering? I rather like the poem by Oscar Wilde:

Too much work and no vacation,
Deserves at least a small libation.
So hail my friends, and raise your glasses,
Work’s the curse of the drinking classes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Chapter 10, first paragraphs in rough draft.

Chapter 10: France Ignores the Pope.

Remember that Spain and Portugal claimed all of the newly discovered lands. In 1494 the Pope divided the “lands discovered or to be discovered,” drawing an imaginary line three hundred and seventy leagues (about one thousand miles) west of the Cape Verde Islands; all lands west of this line were to belong to Spain. The lands east of it were to belong to Portugal. Brazil was the only part of the New World that Portugal could claim.
England and Holland ignored Spanish and Portuguese claims and the pope’s Line of Demarkation. Francis I, the King of France, scornfully said: “I should like you to show me, that part of Father Adam's will which divides America between you and leaves out the French.” French fishing fleets visited the Grand Banks near Newfoundland at least since John Cabot found them, and some think maybe before that. But fish were not gold. As did everyone else, the French wanted a quick route to India and China.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

            Without giving him a royal commission to do so, the French encouraged Giovanni de Verrazzano (1485–1528) to explore North America. He had experience sailing to North America. About 1508 Verrazzano, an Italian seaman and merchant, sailed with Thomas Aubert to the fishing areas near what is now Canada. Aubert returned with descriptions of the land and with Native Americans who amazed the French with their dress, weapons and canoes. In 1522 King Francis asked Verrazzano to explore the coast from Florida to Newfoundland. Portuguese merchants heard of this and informed the king of Portugal. Spies were everywhere! The next year he sailed with four ships toward the Grand Banks, but four months out a storm sank two of them and damaged the other two, and they returned to France for repairs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On Being Stuck

So … I haven’t written much in the last four or five days. I’ve been more than a little sickish; I slept away all of Monday except brief periods when I woke to pee or what ever. But I’m back to pounding the keyboard today. Not very successfully, but still …
            Knobby Knees fed me coffee and a cookie this morning. It was about all I felt like. I ate a frozen Mexican thingie for lunch. And sipped more coffee. I’m about two weeks behind in my textbook project. I should say “our project.” This is built out of my lecture notes and my writing partner’s notes, student project pages, and other things we’ve written on the subject over the last ten years or so. We don’t teach glossed-over history, but we do have to meet the needs of gifted and talented lower grades.
            We intend the vocabulary to challenge students. This is risky. Students are lazy. That goes for adult students too. So we are caught between making it simple and making it complex. I can see we will have to tone down the vocabulary in places.


            I get stuck on the matter of detail. Detail makes a good story. But the course we’re framing is eighteen weeks long, not a full year. So I puzzle over what to include. I get stuck, feeling as if I’m hanging over a nest of thorns. Pixies feel that way sometimes no matter what’s happening.

            On to other things …

            Someone told me that the original airport here was way on the north east part of town. I looked on google maps and couldn’t see any sign of it, but there are bunches of old buildings out there. Best I can tell from driving out there is that the only remaining building from the 1920 airport is now a ratty office for a trucking company. It was originally a two door fire house, but it’s been remolded enough that it’s not very recognizable. I collect mail sent through Varney Airlines, later to become United. But I’ve become interested in local email service too. I just don’t know enough to start a rational collection. I’ll keep poking at this.

Varney Airlines Contract Air Mail [C. A. M. 32] and United Airmail

            Two of my coffee mob came by yesterday bringing me two donuts and a large Starbuck’s regular coffee. It helped cure my feelings of isolation. All I’ve done for most of a week is sleep, write a little, and go to work.
            Aunt S. called this morning. She’s still not super; her memory problems persist. But she wants to come down for a day or so. If uncle B is up to it, they’re really welcome.
            Oh, one other thing: Remember my snit over a visit to this blog by via a certain Brooklyn based ISP? Occasional suggested I was dealing with a young ‘un more interested in fantasy fiction than anything else. I followed his visits to this blog, and OR is right. Has to be a kid. So I’m un-peeved.
            Most of my classes for 2016 are full. Three are not. One only has a single student registered. If more don’t register by end of July we’ll drop that class.
            I’m behind on housework of the serious kind. By summer break I’ve usually torn apart the kitchen cabinets for a thorough cleaning. I haven’t done it yet. So, how was your day?

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts is one of my heroes. And this hymn is one of my favorites:

Today from a mystified Dad

3-year-old: Why is Mom getting fat?

Dad: She's not fat. She's growing a baby in her tummy.



3: Are you growing a baby, too?

Roanoke Island - Rough Draft Only

Chapter 9: A Lost Colony

            Walter Raleigh, a landed gentleman, was as interested in treasure as much as anyone. Stories found in some history books for young people say that he was far-sighted and more interested in establishing a permanent colony than in gold. This is untrue. Raleigh knew the outcome of previous attempts to colonize the northern coasts, some of them made by a cousin. And he wanted a station in America from which he could launch privateering raids against the Spanish. The region was known for its mild climate. Raleigh saw it as a good place to plant a colony.

Walter Raleigh by Nicholas Hilliard

            Queen Elizabeth gave him rights to a vast tract of land, never mind that it was fully inhabited by native tribes. Those who sailed for him had high expectations. The climate was gentler than the far north. The land was known to be fertile, but its richness was beyond what they dreamed. The first of Raleigh’s explorers arrived in 1585. They found the land covered with grapes that grew right down to the beaches. One historian describes it all this way:

The vegetation of that southern latitude struck the beholders with admiration; the trees had not their paragons in the world; the luxuriant vines, as they clambered up the loftiest cedars, formed graceful festoons; grapes were so plenty upon every little shrub, that the surge of the ocean, as it lazily rolled in upon the shore with the quiet winds of summer, dashed its spray upon the clusters; and natural arbors formed an impervious shade, that not a ray of the suns of July could penetrate. The forests were filled with birds; and, at the discharge of an arquebuss, whole flocks would arise, uttering a cry, which the many echoes redoubled, till it seemed as if an army of men had shouted together.[1]

            They found many small tribes of “natural inhabitants,”  most no bigger than a large village. They said the natives were welcoming and peaceful, and that they were warlike, often fighting each other. They did not seem to notice the contradiction. Difficulties with the native tribes arose. The English took food and they made the natives feel threatened. Knowing that the English wanted gold, the natives invented tales about a wealthy city up the Roanoke River. There was, in fact, plentiful copper there, easily confused with gold if neither matters to you. Ralph Lane, leader of the expedition, believed the tales and led men up the river. They didn’t return until their supplies were gone and they had eaten their dogs. After nearly a year, they gave up, returning with Francis Drake who had arrived with his ships, leaving a small number of men behind. They took back with them tobacco, which some of them saw as a potential medicine.

An Arquebuss.

            Raleigh was not discouraged, but he did change his methods. Instead of sending a party of men, he sent a second colony made up of families. The new colony would be an agricultural settlement, drawing on the fertile land. John White was to be governor. White was probably familiar with the area. There is strong evidence that he was a member of the first expedition, and there is some evidence that he sailed with Martin Frobisher in 1577.  White was a talented artist and recorded many of the things he saw. He wasn’t chosen governor because of his social status. Artists were considered tradesmen. That he was not rich or noble is shown by his daughter marriage to Ananias Dare, a bricklayer. Elynore White and Ananias Dare would have been socially equal.
            The new colony started badly. They found the fort built by Lane on the north end of Roanoke Island, but it was disserted. The houses were filled with weeds; human bones were scattered among the grass, and deer grazed in the empty houses. The first settlers were killed by the natives. The captain of the small ship that brought refused to help. He wanted to engage in trade instead. So they were stuck on Roanoke Island instead of settling further north on the Chesapeake Bay as Raleigh wanted.
            As one historian says, “disasters thickened.”

[1]              This paragraph will challenge your vocabulary. Make a list of the words you do not understand and look them  up in a dictionary.

From Roberto, just to make us hungry

Monday, June 15, 2015

From O. Reader: Adventures Online

Social media

Nowadays, it seems the natural thing for people to be linked to millions of other people as internet “friends”. And if you fall out, to dramatically “un-friend” them with a simple click. “Unfriend” - now isn’t that a lovely word for our modern age! To a UK pedant it has a classic American permutation of prefix and noun about it.  I have generally resisted the temptation to join in the fun. As it happens, I personally know of a couple of marriages that were already tottering being given that final kiss of doom by someone meeting someone else whose pigtails they once pulled in junior school and thinking that if only... And of course it has still ended in tears for everybody concerned.

However, many years ago I did succumb to one of the first of these social media sites, which was Friends Reunited.

All I did was look up my old schools – especially my infants and junior school. (That’s ages 5-11 in the UK). I posted that this elderly podiatrist was once a pupil at F.E. and immediately forgot about it. But out of the blue winged a message from someone who I had not seen or heard of since she flounced off down the road when I was seven because I’d upset her. (That was probably the start of my long career of upsetting people). It comes from having a slightly uncommon name I guess – probably sort of stuck in her memory like gum on a shoe for decades thereafter. It was interesting to hear what had happened to mutual acquaintances who had been in the same class at junior school. I was put in touch for just one-email-each-way with a bubbly young person in my class who had later hit rock bottom, and then spent several decades clambering out of the morass. I guess there is nothing like a parental feud at a child’s crucial age to potentially trash their development. I subsequently discovered an autograph book which once belonged to my mother, which I had used on the last day at that school. It had been languishing in my loft for decades. All the names were there, with messages from all the other 11 year olds. One day I might resurrect my contact with Friends Reunited and post all those scans. Or maybe I’d better just let sleeping dogs lie...

I have firmly resisted Facebook. Well, actually, technically I am a member, but that was an accident with a professional colleague, and subsequently it has only been used to track down people, wearing my Sam Spade hat. It’s quite amazing what some people post, without thinking of the consequences. (That is not a reference to this blog owner by the way.) However, Mrs O has recently joined Facebook because our daughter has her own pages for work, and now she gets posts about dogs and languages and stuff. It is quite entertaining, but I think the pixie blog (plus a few other places I’ll keep quiet about here) are quite enough excitement for this elderly gentleman for the moment.

But then I made a BIG mistake with Linkedin. This is supposed to be for professionals, and several people in my profession sent me emails – or at least some automated response system pretended that they had. So last week I decided to live dangerously and click where it suggested for just one person. I repeat – for just one person. Aaaagh – the folly of not really knowing what you are doing. Immediately an email was sent – purportedly from me – to about 500 contacts – all of whom I had shared some vague email communication with since the internet was invented.

I have glumly watched the consequences. Fortunately a good number have thought – who on earth was that? – or thought – I know exactly who on earth that is – and no way do I want to be in touch again. That has whittled it down somewhat. But emails were sent to University lecturers with whom I did battle over sterilisation techniques years ago (I had better clarify that means sterilisation of podiatry instruments), and long-lost second cousins twice removed who I found and willingly lost again when doing family history, plus scores of people who I see every week and know exactly what they are up to, and don’t need my inbox clogged up with the details again thank you very much.

The information super highway. Huh. Very much overrated sometimes.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My response to this:


I read with interest an article about the abuse of a student at Wilson Middle School. A school nurse verbally abused a Jehovah's Witness student for refusing to salute the flag. She represents you. Get a lawyer. This issue was settled in the 1940s when Pennsylvania school districts were expelling Witness children over the same issue and prosecuting their parents. Apparently the spirit of religious intolerance never left your school district.

I support in spirit and I will support financially any law suit brought against your school district. If this had occurred in the district where I teach, the nurse would be fired. Not retrained. Fired. And so would have been the office staff that refused her a phone.

School districts that abuse the constitutional rights of their students and parents are not American at heart. The mind-set that keeps this nurse employed and refuses a quick and public apology derives from medieval witch hunts.

I hope her family sues you. I hope you lose more than you can afford. Good schools respect American rights. Unfortunately your district does not fall into the good school category.

I often end my emails with "best regards," but in this case

with no regard for you at all,

R. M. de Vienne, PhD

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Religion and North American Exploration

rough draft only


            Some history books will tell you that all of Europe was once Roman Catholic. This isn’t so. There were other Christian religions that believed differently, and this was so back to near Christianity’s beginning. Christianity spread into Europe early in the First Century, but other than the Franks, most tribes adopted an alternative Christian belief called Arianism. Arians believed Jesus was subordinate to God. Catholics believed Jesus was God. Charles the Great, known as Charlemagne, became ruler of the Franks in 771. He conquered many of the other tribes, forcing them to give up their beliefs. If they wouldn’t become Catholics, he had them killed. From then on non-Catholics were persecuted and sometimes murdered, women and children included.
When Europeans were exploring America, a religious revolution swept Western Europe. A German Catholic priest named Martin Luther objected to some Catholic teachings and practices. One of these was selling of an Indulgence, a paper that proclaimed forgiveness of all sins. In 1517 Luther nailed a list of ninety-five grievances to a cathedral door.  Ordered by the Pope to retract them, he refused. Those who had similar doubts about Catholic belief and teaching supported Luther.
Luther was supported by some of the German nobility. Political support protected  the new religion. Many small groups and some larger ones developed. Called Protestants, they spread everywhere, but they were not unified. Many of them were no more tolerant than the Catholics. Political support modified some beliefs. At first Luther supported the peasants who were abused by the land-owning nobility. When the nobility gave him their support, that changed.  At first Luther opposed coercing religious belief, but he later called on those rulers who supported him to burn at the stake those who opposed baptizing babies. In Switzerland, John Calvin, another Protestant leader, had Michael Servetus, burned alive for teaching things Calvin didn’t believe.
The new approach to Christianity drew many believers away from the Catholic Church. Some were honest believers and some wanted power. Entire nations declared themselves Protestant. One of these was England. King Henry VIII sought the Pope’s support for a divorce and remarriage. It was not given. Henry turned England into a Protestant country. One of his daughters, Mary, tried to reverse that, killing all who would not conform. Her half-sister Elizabeth became queen. Elizabeth was a committed Protestant and an intelligent ruler. This led to conflict with Spain. Protestant England was not more tolerant than Catholic Spain was. They hunted down dissenters too, burning some of them alive. The last English dissenters to be burned alive were two men who wrote a pamphlet opposing beliefs they felt came from ancient religion but not from Christ. They died in 1611. [fact check date]
This story is longer and more complex than this, and much more interesting in its details. You may want to explore this on your own. What we need to know now is that religious difference effected the settlement and exploration of America.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

A mere bobble from the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha

A trinket. Emeralds and Gold.

About 1450. Beats a spoon from the Mary Rose any day ...

Sent to me today

5-year-old: Dad, you look nice. 
3-year-old: And you smell good. 
Dad: Where did all this come from? 
5-year-old: We're seeing who's better at lying.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Priests and Native Americans

In rough draft only.

Historic mythology suggests that priests were the protectors of Native Americans. This is largely false. Priests often mixed a sincere desire to convert native tribes with brutality and force. One historian observed that if the tongue didn’t persuade, the sword would. Catholic priests founded Mission Churches designed to convert native tribes. The priests used the same methods as anyone else, making natives work the land to support the priests.
            There were exceptions, well-meaning men who cared for Native Americans. Their reasoning might seem strange to us today, but their beliefs and acts were meant to help native peoples. The best and worst of Spain’s approach to the native population is shown by the thoughts of

Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.

Bartolomé de las Casas was born in Seville, Spain in 1474. He and his father immigrated to Hispaniola in 1502. He became a landowner and participated in slave and military raids against native villages. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1510. In September the same year a group of priests arrived from Spain. They were horrified by the abuse of natives. They withheld the right of Confession from the colonists. Catholics believed that their sins were forgiven by confessing them to a priest. So this was an important step. In December 1511, Antonio de Montesinos, one of the priests, condemned Spanish treatment of native people. De las Casas paraphrased him in one of his books. Monstesinos asked, “Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before. Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day.”[1]
While de las Casas opposed the newly-landed priests and helped get them sent back to Spain, he continued to think about the issue. He was eventually appointed protector of the Indians and made many suggestions meant to improve their welfare. He wrote books exposing abuses.

Spanish Abuse of Natives in Cuba from one of de las Casas’ books.

            Many in Spain rejected de las Casas’ view of native rights, and some accused him of treason. In 1550, King Charles V arranged for a debate on the issues, and we remember it as the Valladolid debate, after the city where it was held. Opposing de las Casas was another priest, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.
            Sepúlveda argued that Spanish treatment of the native tribes was just because they were not Catholics. Their morals were corrupt, he said. This was hypocritical because every practice he pointed to except canibalism was common in Spain. He said that the natives were guilty of crimes against nature and that they were natural slaves, destined by God and nature to serve the Spanish always. Casas opposed these claims. Both claimed to have won this debate, but the judges who listened to it declared it unsettled. Nothing de las Casas or the few other priests who genuinely cared for Native Americas said or wrote changed anything, and abuses continued.

[1]              From the English language translation by George Sanderlin (1993).

Tuesday, June 02, 2015