Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Needle in the Right Hand of God


That's the title of a book I've been reading about the Bayeux Tapestry, but my reason for posting about it today is, of course, to commemorate a different invasion, the one that went the other way - from England to France - roughly nine hundred years after the one that inspired the original tapestry. One of the interesting tidbits in the book was this New Yorker cover, illustrating D-Day in the style of the tapestry.

Incidentally, the name "Bayeux Tapestry" has always seemed a bit strange to me, because I think of a tapestry as a piece of fabric whose pattern and images are intrinsic to the structure -- usually created by changing colors of the weft threads against a fully covered warp -- and the Bayeux Tapestry is actually a monumental undertaking of embroidery in colored wool on an already-woven linen background. However, I suppose the meaning of "tapestry" changes over time, and in any case, "The Bayeux Really Long Collection of Embroidered Panels," doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Little Ships: The Other Memorial


In this country it's overshadowed, and rightly so, by our memorials to American heroes. But it's an inspiring story in its own right. I discovered this poem by Robert Nathan in, of all places, my ninth-grade English textbook, and I still remember thinking, "Okay, this year won't have been a total waste.") It may not be accurate in all historical details - for instance, we now know that the main use the British made of the little ships was to ferry soldiers from the coast to the much larger Navy ships that made the crossing (arguably more dangerous than repeated Channel crossings) but even the First Reader, the consummate nit-picker on World War II, was so moved by it that he forgot to complain about this.

And even after all these years, reading it makes me tear up.

Dunkirk by Robert Nathan

Will came back from school that day,
And he had little to say.
But he stood a long time looking down
To where the gray-green Channel water
Slapped at the foot of the little town,
And to where his boat, the Sarah P,
Bobbed at the tide on an even keel,
With her one old sail, patched at the leech,
Furled like a slattern down at heel.

He stood for a while above the beach,
He saw how the wind and current caught her;
He looked a long time out to sea.
There was steady wind, and the sky was pale,
And a haze in the east that looked like smoke.

Will went back to the house to dress.
He was half way through, when his sister Bess
Who was near fourteen, and younger than he
By just two years, came home from play.
She asked him, "Where are you going, Will?"
He said, "For a good long sail."
"Can I come along?"
"No, Bess," he spoke.
"I may be gone for a night and a day."
Bess looked at him. She kept very still.
She had heard the news of the Flanders rout,
How the English were trapped above Dunkirk,
And the fleet had gone to get them out
But everyone thought that it wouldn't work.
There was too much fear, there was too much doubt.

She looked at him, and he looked at her.
They were English children, born and bred.
He frowned her down, but she wouldn't stir.
She shook her proud young head.
“You'll need a crew” ,she said.
They raised the sail on the Sarah P,
Like a penoncel on a young knight's lance,
And headed the Sarah out to sea,
To bring their soldiers home from France.

There was no command, there was no set plan,
But six hundred boats went out with them
On the gray-green waters, sailing fast,
River excursion and fisherman,
Tug and schooner and racing M,
And the little boats came following last.
From every harbor and town they went
Who had sailed their craft in the sun and rain,
From the South Downs, from the cliffs of Kent,
From the village street, from the country lane.

There are twenty miles of rolling sea
From coast to coast, by the seagull's flight,
But the tides were fair and the wind was free,
And they raised Dunkirk by fall of night.

They raised Dunkirk with its harbor torn
By the blasted stern and the sunken prow;
They had reached for fun on an English tide,
They were English children bred and born,
And whether they lived, or whether they died,
They raced for England now.

Bess was as white as the Sarah's sail,
She set her teeth and smiled at Will.
He held his course for the smoky veil
Where the harbor narrowed thin and long.
The British ships were firing strong.

He took the Sarah into his hands,
He drove her in through fire and death
To the wet men waiting on the sands.
He got his load and he got his breath,
And she came about, and the wind fought her.

He shut his eyes and he tried to pray.
He saw his England were she lay,
The wind's green home, the sea's proud daughter,
Still in the moonlight, dreaming deep,
The English cliffs and the English loam
He had fourteen men to get away,
And the moon was clear, and the night like day
For planes to see where the white sails creep
Over the black water.

He closed his eyes and prayed for her;
He prayed to the men who had made her great,
Who had built her land of forest and park,
Who had made the seas an English lake;
He prayed for a fog to bring the dark;
He prayed to get home for England's sake.
And the fog came down on the rolling sea,
And covered the ships with English mist.
The diving planes were baffled and blind.

For Nelson was there in the Victory,
With his one good eye, and his sullen twist,
And guns were out on The Golden Hind,
Their shot flashed over the Sarah P.
He could hear them cheer as he came about.

By burning wharves, by battered slips,
Galleon, frigate, and brigantine,
The old dead Captains fought their ships,
And the great dead Admirals led the line.
it was England's night, it was England's sea.

The fog rolled over the harbor key.
Bess held to the stays, and conned him out.

And all through the dark, while the Sarah's wake
Hissed behind him, and vanished in foam,
There at his side sat Francis Drake,
And held him true, and steered him home.

Incidentally, the first time I crossed the Channel it was on a boat that the owner swore had been one of the little ships at Dunkirk. It may even have been true; at that time it had only been 19 years since Operation Dynamo. I will say that the boat was remarkably well preserved. But at eleven I totally believed him.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)




Thursday, May 16, 2019

Everything's a learning experience


One thing the First Reader and I have in common is that, as introverted readers from childhood, each of us has a large vocabulary of words that we know from reading but have never heard or used in conversation. This leads to frequent exchanges like:
"Have you ever heard of X-x-x?"
"Oh, is that how you pronounce it? I always thought it was x-X-x."
"Well... it's how I pronounce it; I haven't a clue what is correct."
Of recent years, it's likely that at least one of us will have a smartphone within reach and we'll figure out the approved pronunciation on the spot. But there's no telling how many Debatable Words remain.
I hadn't expected that knee-surgery-complicated-by-pneumonia would affect this phenomenon, but it's become one of the less boring side effects of the whole thing. For about ten days I felt like a limp dishrag, too tired even to hold a book or a Kindle, and for the first time in my life I've been listening to audiobooks. When in normal health I find them too slow, but for the last week and a half "slow" has matched my comprehension perfectly.
Naturally, I haven't been taking notes and can't tell you which words I've heard out loud for the first time ever. The only ones I remember are the mysteries.
When I read Jane Austen, I see "shew" and hear "show," assuming that spelling but not pronunciation has changed. But whoever read my audiobook of Persuasion consistently read it as "sh-you". Which jarred, but may be correct; I'm too tired to do the research now.
The other surprise came while I was listening to Connie Willis' Blackout. Her characters, stumbling around in the Blitz, frequently encountered "arp wardens" and every time that jarred too. Without thinking about it, I'd always mentally heard "ARP" in this context as "Ay-ar-pee," spelling out the letters instead of pronouncing them as an acronym. Now I wonder which pronunciation the contemps used. That should be discoverable if I dig out enough contemporary radio broadcasts, but I'm not going to do it today. A native speaker of English-English rather than America-English might know; Ashley, if you read this, what's your pronunciation of ARP?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Promises, promises

\
Knee surgery is so much easier now than it was 20 years ago, they said.
Think how much you'll enjoy being able to take a walk in the park, they said.
You'll be so much happier and healthier afterward, they said.

Yeah, well, maybe. Eventually. I wanted to believe all that, and I don't think I did enough research before plunging into this project. I certainly hadn't counted on living at my daughter's house for two and a half weeks after surgery! As for pain... I really don't like pain.

Let's just say it hasn't exactly been a walk in the park.

However. As of today I'm back in my own house, with a laptop and Internet access, and maybe in a couple of days I'll get back to regular posting. (Along with paying for the final cover of Salt Magic, entering all the edits on Language of the Dragon so that I'll be ready to shove that book through formatting and KDP when Cedar finalizes that cover, doing a sort-of-last edit on A Child of Magic so that I can inflict it on beta readers... things pile up when you lose a couple of weeks, don't they?)

Now that pain pills are no longer fogging my brain, I hope that I'll be able to get back to plotting Tangled Magic, which is languishing as a collection of disconnected notes made just before surgery. I miss writing. I want to get back to work.

For today, though, I think I'm going to be a wimp, lie down and listen to an audiobook. The new knee is complaining loudly about what I've put it through already, and I don't seem to be very good at concentrating through pain. Yeah. Total wimp. Definitely flunking Stoicism 101. And I don't even want to think about the prospect of going through this all over again with the other knee!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Incommunicado

The first knee surgery is scheduled for tomorrow morning, after which I'll be at the hospital for a couple of days. Once I get sprung, I expect to be stuck in the one part of our house which has a bedroom and a bathroom at the same level, at least until I can manage stairs again -- no idea how long that's going to take, but I hope it won't be more than another couple of days. The thing is that this part of the house is the part where Internet access is patchy at best and mostly nonexistent.

Given my relaxed "schedule" of blog postings, this gap should hardly be noticeable. But if anybody wonders why I'm not responding to comments or emails this week, now you know.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

FINISHED!


Not that it's of great importance or immediate relevance, but the First Reader is out and the kids could care less, and I have to gloat to somebody. I've just typed the last words of the seventh book in the Applied Topology series - the one I thought I wasn't going to write, but Thalia ambushed me. And as usual, I'm inordinately pleased. Not to mention being grateful to Real Life, for letting me finish it thirty-six hours before I have to present myself to the hospital for the first knee surgery. I figure I can lounge in bed or on a couch and edit the thing, even in the hospital and then at home, but I'm not so sure about placing a laptop on my knees or concentrating well enough to write new words in that first week.

For chronological reasons this book will have to be published after the first two books in the upcoming Dragon Speech series, because the first one has to take place less than a year after A Revolution of Rubies. Furthermore, Thalia makes cameo appearances in both Dragon Speech books; in the first one she's pregnant, in the second she's nursing a newborn, and in this book the baby is 10 months and she is just, with some reluctance, agreeing to go back to work part-time. I could edit the cameo appearances, but I don't see any way around the Revolution of Rubies connection. Ah, the joys of writing two series in the same universe! And when I think that I did this to myself... oh, well. It does not materially diminish the joy of completing this one.

The working title, which I rather like, is A Child of Magic. As always, reactions and suggestions are always welcome, but bear in mind that I'd like to keep to the format of the first six Applied Topology books: A [NOUN] of [NOUN].

Thursday, April 4, 2019

It's not #MeToo, it's just plain creepy.

I’ve been watching in stunned disbelief as a parade of women accuse Joe Biden of embarrassing them with inappropriate touching… and a parade of opinion writers, many of them conservative, rush to assure us that there is nothing to see here, nothing at all.

A popular line of argument is, “We didn’t believe Kavanaugh’s accuser because she had no evidence, therefore we should not believe Lucy Flores (or the other six-and-still-counting women who have complained.)” Huh? If there’d been a string of publicly available videos showing Kavanaugh throwing girls onto beds and jumping on them, you bet your sweet patootie we’d have believed his accuser. In Biden’s case there is just such a string of videos showing him behaving precisely as Lucy Flores describes, except in most cases his victims are not grown women but young girls. (More on that later.) Why wouldn’t I believe that at an event which wasn’t videotaped he behaved exactly as badly as he did when the cameras were on him?

Cue the defenders.

He didn’t actually rape anyone, so what’s the big deal?
Tucker Carlson: “Hugging is not sexual assault. Eskimo kisses are not rape. That used to be obvious. It's not obvious anymore. And so we are sorry for helping to blur the distinction between human affection and coercive immoral behavior.” https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/tucker-carlson-we-are-offering-an-apology-and-it-has-to-do-with-joe-biden-and-anti-human-hysteria
Excuse me? Nobody has accused Biden of rape. They’ve accused him of behaving inappropriately, in a way that caused them discomfort, and – this is important, y’all – in a public setting where they were part of the display. Where they felt inhibited against pulling away, telling him to back off, slapping his face, or whatever else women are supposed to do when a man puts his hands where they are not wanted. Being grabby isn’t rape. But it’s also not okay. And when you choose to do it where the woman concerned feels that to object might be a breech of decorum that would harm the political party you both belong to, it actually is “coercive immoral behavior,” Tucker.

He's just a victim of changing standards.
Andrea Peyser: “Weird Joe, who’s been showing keen affection to members of the fairer sex since before he became a big Democratic macher, has done the unforgivable in this humorless age. He’s shown genuine human warmth of the male variety to females in the scary era of #MeToo…. Once, a man who gave a lady a friendly pat, a shoulder rub or an encouraging peck on the noggin was either thanked profusely, ignored or simply asked to stop.
Women, it was presumed, weren’t so powerless as to be unable to avoid unasked-for contact.”
https://nypost.com/2019/04/03/the-bonkers-assault-on-joe-biden/
What world did you grow up in, Andrea? Yes, women are usually able to avoid unasked-for contact, though it helps if they are (a) grown women and not young girls, and (b) not standing in front of cameras at a public event meant to honor their fathers. But why should they have to fight off such contact from men who ought to know better?
When I was growing up, in the fifties and sixties, I attended plenty of adult gatherings, most of them male-dominated; that was the reality of academic life in mathematics at that time, and having a father who was chairman of the department meant I had less freedom than my peers to duck out of such gatherings. Some of them were arranged to honor distinguished visitors to whom I was supposed to be very, very polite.
Not one of those men ever put his hands on me, sniffed my hair, or whispered sweet nothings into my ear. They knew better. It had nothing to do with “the scary era of #MeToo” and everything to do with the standards governing male behavior. Is Joe Biden a victim of changing standards? Hell, no. He’s somebody who never learned the rules in the first place, or more likely, somebody who decided the standards for common decency didn’t apply to him.
The people who are coming forward to complain about Biden’s behavior are mostly adult women, and I might be inclined to say, “You made your choice to let a senior member of your party grope you rather than make a scene that would be politically embarrassing.” But what do we say to the young girls who’ve suffered from Biden’s handsiness? Take a look at the video compilations – there’s a short one here, if Youtube hasn’t taken it down yet – and tell me those little girls should have been able to evade Biden’s hands, or that they deserve this treatment for trying to stand still and not embarrass their parents by making a scene. But don’t worry, Biden’s apologists have that covered too.

He didn’t drag them backstage and rape them, did he?
Heather MacDonald on the widely publicized pictures of Biden with young girls: “In almost every one, the girls’ parents are standing next to them in an even larger crowd. There is no possibility that Biden is going to abduct the children for sexual favors.” https://spectator.us/joe-biden-policing-personal-space/
Oh well, that’s all right, then. I totally don’t mind you rubbing your hands all over my daughter and snuffling her hair, Uncle Joe, even if it makes her miserable, because it’s not rape-rape.

Should this behavior disqualify Biden for the presidency? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s creepy and that he should have been called out on it years ago.

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