Dumfounded

Is This a face for the Ages?

Is This a Face for the Ages?

When I saw this picture on the MSNBC website (along with a bunch of other keepers), I knew I had to build a blog post around it. My temptation is to tie it to something political, but then I thought that, actually, another face might be more appropriate:

My Usual Response to American Politics

My Usual Response to American Politics

Or, when things get particularly bad:

This Is for When Things Get Really Alarming

This Is for When Things Get Really Alarming

 

 

Three from Robin Tanner

Three Interesting Quotes on How Life has Changed

Three Interesting Quotes on How Life has Changed

We mourned for a lost Eden. Farming was becoming a noisy, mechanised, stinking business. Wagons, ploughs, and the horses that drew them were all disappearing. Wood and stone were giving place to asbestos and corrugated iron. Care and grace, and the old slow pace and the old thoroughness and craft were all abandoned. The farm tractor was now king, and speed was all-important. Thatched ricks, cut-and-laid hedges, shocks of corn and cocks of hay, handmade wooden gates and stiles, were rare sights now. The stone-breaker was no longer needed since the white limestone lanes were tarred. Flowers that were once common had become rare, and only a few of the old mixed pastures escaped the zeal of farmers keen to sow ‘leys’ without a ‘weed’. Those who never saw Edwardian England can have no idea of its beauty. Old photographs show this with great poignancy. True, the children in them often looked cowed and ill-clad, and the men and women are bowed with labour, but that need not have been the heavy price paid for beauty and naturalness: the brash angularity of today, its harsh shapes and unsympathetic textures, its litter of poles and wires, its makeshift, temporary appearance lie like an ugly palimpsest upon the old countryside.

* * * * *

In the sleepy England of my childhood it was an event to see a motor car, or watch a biplane for the first time until it became a speck in the distance and vanished. Nothing ever changed. Sugar was twopence a pound, and a letter required a penny stamp. Yet the ugly and stupid technological revolution was imminent. Over the years I have watched the change from age-old agriculture to a mechanised ‘agro-business’. Horses and men have gone, and traditional farming craftsmanship such as rick-building and thatching, coppicing and hedge-laying has been extinguished in the process. A hedge has become an obstacle to be removed, and wild flowers troublesome weeds to be exterminated.

* * * * *

Year by year we lose more and more of the things we have loved: ancient woodlands, flowery meadows, handsome old farm buildings, stiles and gates of oak and ash; things made of wool, linen or silk; cloth-bound books of lissom paper, their sections properly stitched so they open easily; and a multitude of domestic things that were good to handle – all made before the fatal invasion of synthetic substances and shoddy methods.—Robin Tanner, Double Harness (1987)

Keeping My Resolution

If It Were Only That Simple!

If It Were Only That Simple!

On February 6, I made a kind of belated New Years’ resolution that I would not get so vitriolic about what Republicans are doing to this country. Well, so far, I’ve held to it, but as the sequestration looms. (First it was the Fiscal Cliff. What’s next, the Budget Apocalypse?)

Then I started looking at a website called Laudator Temporis Acti, which has some really interesting quotes, among which I found this one by Owen Felltham (1602?-1668) on the subject of being too censorious:

No man can write six lines, but there may be something one may carp at, if he be disposed to cavil. Opinions are as various, as false. Judgement is from every tongue, a several. Men think by censuring to be accounted wise; but, in my conceit, there is nothing layes forth more of the Fool….Frequent dispraises are, at best, but the faults of uncharitable wit. Any Clown may see the Furrow is but crooked, but where is the man that can plow me a streight one? The best works are but a kind of Miscellany; the cleanest Corn, will not be without some soil: No not after often winnowing. There is a tincture of corruption, that dies even all mortality. I would wish men in works of others, to examine two things before they judge. Whether it be more good, then ill: And whether they themselves could at first have perform’d it better.

Felltham has a point. I think I found here a website from which I’ll be drawing some interesting quotes in the future.

A Terrible Mistake

The Temptation to Kill the Wrong Person Can Be Overwhelming

The Temptation to Kill the Wrong Person Can Be Overwhelming

Right off the bat, I don’t know whether Oscar Pistorius is guilty of deliberately murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (shown above) South African cities are in fact dangerous, and the rates for murder, assault, robbery, rape, and other crimes are so high that many who leave the country do so for that reason. In the weeks to come, we shall see if the runner can convince the courts that a terrible mistake occurred.

A terrible mistake … that is an expression that frequently occurs in gun death cases. One of my former co-workers had a son in high school who found one of his father’s guns and accidentally shot himself to death. I knew the boy and thought it highly unlikely that he entertained any thoughts of suicide. His mother and father are now divorced, and the mother left California to be as far as possible from her ex.

A terrible mistake … It could well be that Oscar Pistorius thought the person in the bathroom was an intruder. In South Africa, the chances of that are fairly high. But, I’m sorry, if I had a gun, I would squirrel it away in an all but inaccessible place and use it only for target shooting. Spur-of-the-moment judgment is too chancy a faculty to use for deciding whether or not to take a life—any life. I think I would rather be killed by an intruder than, for example, to shoot Martine accidentally—an act which would forever darken my life.

A terrible mistake … No, I don’t think one out of a thousand shootings, especially within the home, are anything but a terrible mistake.

Perhaps the biggest cost of having guns ready at hand is the loss of the people we love. I think Reeva Steenkamp was a rare beauty. It’s a pity she won’t be around any more.

“Dipped Into Oblivion”

A Poem by D. H. Lawrence

A Poem by D. H. Lawrence

I have always had a kind of love/hate relationship with D. H. Lawrence. On the minus side, he has said stupid things about writers I particularly admire, such as this excerpt from a letter mentioning Anton Chekhov: “a second-rate writer and a willy wet-leg.” On the plus side hew has written some great novels (Sons and Lovers), essays, and poetry. Here is a particularly nice poem entitled “The Phoenix”:

  Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled,
  made nothing?
  Are you willing to be made nothing?
  dipped into oblivion?
  If not, you will never really change.
  The phoenix renews her youth
  only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down
  to hot and flocculent ash.
  Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest
  with strands of down like floating ash
  shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle,
  immortal bird.

What Day Is It Today?

This Is a Trick Question ... So Beware!

This Is a Trick Question … So Beware!

If your answer was “Presidents’ Day,” you are only partially correct. Unofficially, that’s what the holiday is called, but according to the National Archives, it’s Washington’s Birthday. There is even an explanatory footnote:

This holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday.” Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is Federal policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.

If your answer was, “Monday, February 18,” you are an unspeakable literalist. But you are also correct.

Of course, my answer is, “Another damned working day in tax season.” For people in the accounting profession, there are no holidays between New Years and the end of tax season.

 

“The Divinity of the Groves”

Tree Cutting

Tree Cutting

Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a strange emotion.

It was as if someone were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not threatening, but pleading—something too fine for the sensual ear, but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and distant that I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It seemed a woman’s voice, some lost lady who had brought nothing but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me was that I was destroying her last shelter.

That was the pathos of it—the voice was homeless. As the axes flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long sad wanderings, of hardly won shelter, and a peace which was the little all she sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it. No thought of wrong-doing. The spell which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil, was to me, of the Northern race, only delicate and rare and beautiful. Jobson and the rest did not feel it, I with my finer senses caught nothing but the hopeless sadness of it. That which had stirred the passion in Lawson was only wringing my heart. It was almost too pitiful to bear. As the trees crashed down and the men wiped the sweat from their brows, I seemed to myself like the murderer of fair women and innocent children. I remember that the tears were running over my cheeks. More than once I opened my mouth to countermand the work, but the face of Jobson, that grim Tishbite, held me back.—John Buchan, “The Grove of Ashtaroth,” The Moon Endureth: Tales and Fancies