Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I found it necessary to look up a word the other day: panglossian. A writer or commenter, I forget which, described President Obama as panglossian or "a pangloss". Skipping tactfully over politics involved, and whether or not the adjective or noun was a hat that fits, I found the word comes from the satirical French novel, Candide (1759), by Voltaire.
As Dr. Pangloss, Candide's tutor and mentor explained, whatever happens, happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds (“Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles.”)
noun: One who is optimistic regardless of the circumstances.
adjective: Blindly or unreasonably optimistic.

After Dr. Pangloss, a philosopher and tutor in Voltaire's 1759 satire Candide. Pangloss believes that, in spite of what happens -- shipwreck, earthquake, hanging, flogging, and more -- "All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." The name is coined from Greek panglossia (talkativeness). Earliest documented use: 1794.

See Wordsmith.org

"Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology. He could prove to admiration that there is no effect without a cause; and, that in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron's castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and My Lady the best of all possible baronesses...

"It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best."
- Candide, Ch.1

The novel is about a series of disasters and misfortunes that befall Pangloss, Candide, and the the company that they gather, during their adventures.

The novel is a satire. It satirizes philosophy, religion, academia, the political order - basically most of the dominant institutions.
(See HERE)

It's difficult to be or to feel panglossian these days, maybe that's why the word isn't oft encountered.

A couple of other adjectives originating from literature's characters, not used much in speech, but occasionally in writings are:

Stentorian from Homer's The Iliad. Stentor was a herald in the Greek army during the Trojan Wars, and had a loud, thundering voice. His name has been bequeathed to the adjective stentorian = loud and thundering voice.

Gargantuan from Rabelais' The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, a bawdy 16th century work with scatological references. Gargantua, in Rabelais' novel, is born calling for ale, and with an erection a yard long.

Hmmm. I shall be careful how I use the latter word - if I ever do use it!

On a different note there's Pickwickian
1. Marked by generosity, naivete, or innocence.
2. Not intended to be taken in a literal sense.

After Samuel Pickwick, a character in the novel Pickwick Papers (serialized 1836-1837) by Charles Dickens. Mr Pickwick is known for his simplicity and kindness. In the novel Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Blotton call each other names and it appears later that they were using the offensive words only in a Pickwickian sense and had the highest regard for each other.

Another term that arose from the book is Pickwickian syndrome, which refers to a combination of interlinked symptoms such as extreme obesity, shallow breathing, tiredness, sleepiness, etc. The character with these symptoms was not Mr. Pickwick, but Fat Joe, so the term is really coined after the book's title. The medical term for the condition is obesity-hypoventilation syndrome.

From wordsmith.org again

Lots more examples of the same type of word, obscure and otherwise, at Wiki
List of eponymous adjectives in English

Monday, July 21, 2014

Music Monday ~ Tales of Tunnels, Fables of Fiddles

Tunnels, connecting the earth to the 'underworld' or 'Hades', can be found in Greek, Roman, and earlier myths. Passing through a cave or tunnel and arriving in a different land exist in German and Eastern European folktales. In modern times, in science fiction, we read of holes in space - space tunnels which lead to other dimensions or other galaxies, other universes.

In Britain, myths about a musician's tunnel survive in various locations around the country. In these stories a musician enters an underground passage and is followed, above ground, by people listening to his music, which suddenly stops. The musician usually has a dog with him. The man is never seen again, the dog leaves the tunnel seeming frightened. Such myths are sometimes connected to a 'barrow' (underground burial place). One such a story is linked to Binham, a working Benedictine Priory between 1091 and 1539 in Norfolk.

Information from Myths and Legends.
The Fiddler, the Alchemist and the Black Monk

Secret places hold a special fascination. History, and legend, have stories involving secret tunnels connecting different places in this world, and in other worlds.

Binham Priory was built in the 12th century in North Norfolk, it has a mysterious past, with rumours of a secret underground passage from the Priory to Little Walsingham. The tunnel is said to be the place of a haunting and a strange disappearance.

At Binham, some of the monks sold off the Priory's silver. William de Somerton, who lived in the 13th century, was one of the worst offenders. He was an alchemist , alchemy was an early form of chemistry, then considered as sorcery or magic . In his efforts to find the secret of turning base metal into gold William needed money to fund experiment. He sold off much of the Priory's gold and silver artifacts, leaving the Priory with what was, back then, a huge debt.
Concurrent to William's misdeeds and experiments, another monk, Alexander de Langley lost his mind - went mad through too much study. He was flogged, chained and imprisoned alone in a cell until he died, then buried in his chains. Shortly after this, rumours circulated describing a black monk, said to walk over ground, following the route of an underground tunnel on moonless nights. It was thought the ghost might be that of the mad prior or the alchemist sorcerer.

The tale continues:
"One day a fiddler and his dog came to the village of Walsingham and offered to explore the tunnel, solve the mystery and put to rest once and for all tales of ghostly happenings. He was a smart fellow and explained that, as he moved along the tunnel, he would play his fiddle so that the gathered crowd could hear him as he made his way along.

The fiddler entered the tunnel and for a while the villagers were able to hear the distant strains of his music and followed happily above ground. However, when the fiddler reached the site of an ancient bronze-age barrow, suddenly the music stopped. The villagers stood around, puzzled. What had happened to him? Had he fallen foul of the alchemist's evil magic? Or had he, perhaps, met the unhappy ghost of the black monk, still wrapped in his chains?

The villagers were far too scared to enter the tunnel but waited at the entrance for his return. Some hours later, out of the tunnel came the fiddler's little dog shivering, whining and clearly terrified with its tail firmly between its legs. The fiddler never reappeared.

That night, a violent storm broke out and the following morning the villagers woke to find the passage entrance had been destroyed. The little dog had vanished. Nobody knew if it had returned to the tunnel to look for its master before the storm took hold or simply run away. The brave fiddler was never heard of again. Exactly what had caused his disappearance remains a mystery, for no one ventured that way again."

The fiddle music would have sounded something like this...

Ancient dance tunes played by Barry Hall on the vielle. The vielle is a medieval fiddle, an ancestor of the modern violin. Vielles are more primitive in design than violins - they use plain gut strings and have a flat soundboard and back, rather than the arched top and back used on more modern instruments. When these instruments were popular, there was very little standardization of size, shape, number of strings, or tuning. This particular instrument has five strings, is similar in size to a viola, and was made by Ethan James (RIP) the renowned hurdy-gurdy player. More of Barry's music here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Apish Ramblings

Ever wondered why our zodiac doesn't include an ape as avatar for one of the 12 signs? We have a ram, a bull, a crab, a lion, a centaur, a scorpion, a sea goat and fishes - stayed well away from our nearest ancestors didn't we? Maybe the twins, the virgin and the water-bearer were really apes. The scales? Oddly the only non-living non-breathing avatar, the one without Earth's malignantly infested  astrology and DNA to worry about ?

Apocalyptic and dystopian tales keep on coming. We've been treated to many stories of our ape ancestors/successors since 1968's original movie Planet of the Apes hit the screens. This year we have yet another sequel/prequel/$$$$$$quel in a long line of ape-filled films, spawned from French author Pierre Boulle's original novel, published in 1963.

From the "blurb" on the book's back cover:
It "hurtles the reader into a distant simian world where man is brute and ape intelligent, in a novel as harrowing, hypnotic, and meaningful as any of the great masterpieces of satiric literature."

"This novel is respectfully descended from Swift on one side, and Verne on the other." (The Atlantic Monthly)

"The tale enables Boulle to dissect, with delicate irony, the stupidity of established authority, the vanity of human ambition and the nature of our own society. The novel's surprise ending is singularly horrifying." (Newark News)

"Planet of the Apes is tomorrow's version of Gulliver's Travels." (Louisville Times)

Pierre Boulle (20 February 1912 – 30 January 1994) also wrote Bridge over the River Kwai (adapted, very successfully, to film too).

Apart from a wonderfully memorable scene in the original Planet of the Apes movie (when Charlton Heston finds the Statue of Liberty broken, half-submeged on the sea shore and cries "Damn you all to hell!") the films, or those I've seen, were....well, just alright enough to pass a couple of hours when at a loose end.

It appears the Statue of Liberty ending was dreamed up especially for the original movie; it did not appear in the novel. Pierre Boulle achieved a similar surprise, but in a different way.

Boulle described his novel as fantasy rather than science fiction, with a strong vein of social satire and allegory. The author is said to have used experience as a soldier and prisoner during World War 2 in depicting the relationship between apes and men.

From what I've gleaned online Boulle's novel begins differently from the original movie. The novel's story was framed as a record set out in a manuscript found in a floating bottle, in space, by a couple of wealthy space tourists. The manuscript, they discovered, was a hand-written account by one Ulysse Mérou, a Paris journalist, who tells of his visit (in the year 2500) to Alpha Orionis, a planet entirely controlled by apes.

Mérou's companions were killed, he remained marooned on the planet. After much deprivation and many adventures he escaped to his still orbiting spaceship, travelled back to Earth and Paris through many centuries of relative time. Officials are waiting to meet him; it is around 700 years after his departure. From their back views the welcoming committee appeared normal to Mérou, as they turn around - yep, you guessed: apes. On Earth evolution had slipped into reverse. A final "surprise" takes the reader back to the framing in the first chapter - the two space tourists who found the message in a bottle are revealed to be chimpanzees.

We saw the previous movie in the new Apes sequence, Rise of Planet of the Apes, a prequel to the original 1968 movie. It was a fair enough visualisation of how such a turn around might have come about. This year's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a continuation of that theme, we saw it this week. We enjoyed it. There are messages embedded, which I hope young people who see the film will identify and absorb. This film, more than the "Rise of..." or any of the earlier set I've seen, carries a clear lesson, and unmistakeable allegory. It's not hard to see reflections of all manner of well-known conflicts as the story unfolds: cowboys and "indians", settlers v. indigenous people, Israeli v. Palestinian, left wing v. right wing, protestant v. catholic, Christian v Muslim, capitalist v. communist... the list could go on.

The apes had been educated to live by the creed: "Ape Not Kill Ape". "I always think ape better than humans," the apes' leader, Caesar, says towards the film's conclusion as his dream of peace dies. "I see now how like them we are."

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows how violence and war can erupt, despite efforts to compromise, because of crafty manipulations - on both sides of a conflict. A lesson that "rotten apples", rotten humans and rotten apes (and there's always at least one) can infect a group who otherwise might have remained ambivalent and entirely disinclined towards violence. There's a feeling, by the end of the film, that tragically such conflicts, once started, have no solution, all will end in the way we know only to well from world history.

By being aware of the manipulation at source, one day things might change.
War, huh, good God y'all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again...........
(From song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, as sung by Edwin Starr)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ Lyonel Feininger

 Lyonel Feininger, left,  and Mark Tobey
Lyonel Feininger (July 17, 1871 – January 13, 1956), German-American painter, born in New York to German-American parents who were both musicians. He set out to study music but found early on that he preferred art, which he studied in Germany and France. His paintings embrace expressionism and cubism.

Feininger began his career as a cartoonist and pioneer of the comic strip. He also composed, played piano and dabbled in photography - in his "spare time". A multi-talented individual!

I wasn't familiar with his name or his work before preparing this post. There's plenty of information on his professional progression online, but hardly anything about his personality and personal life. There might be clues in the book shown, above left. He married twice. His second wife was Jewish, which partly accounted for the couple's emigration to the USA in the 1930s, from Germany where they had settled. The Nazis labelled Feininger's paintings "degenerate" anyway, so he had at least two reasons for leaving the land where it appeared he had felt most at home, had absorbed the trends and culture of that country over several decades, and had become an early member of the famous Bauhaus school of art and architecture.

See also HERE and HERE

Examples of of his paintings:

 Gables I, Lueneberg
Jesuiten III (Jesuits III)
Segelboote (Sailing Boats)

 Time Immemorial

 Umpferstedt I

 Silver Star

Lady in Mauve

Am Strande (On the beach)

Covers from his cartooning days:

Lyonel Feininger's natal chart. Astro.com has his birth data: as 17 July 1871, New York, at 06:08 the time with a "C" rating (source unknown, use with caution).

A quadruple Cancerian : Sun, Moon Uranus and Jupiter - the first 3 of those conjoined. I found nothing about Feininger's personality online, but if his nature shines through his artwork he would appear to have been a mix of light-hearted humour (his cartooning) and a detail oriented guy keen on modernity and experimentation (his cubism-like style involving human figures).

Venus, planet of the arts, lay in precise Virgo, in harmonious trine to Saturn (structure) in its home sign Capricorn, and in helpful sextile to Jupiter (expansion, humour) in Cancer. That, together with avant garde and experimental Uranus conjoining Sun and Moon just about describes his art styles.

Neptune (imagination, creativity, photography) in Aries was in square (challenging) aspect to the more emotionally-charged Cancer cluster, which gives a kind of echo to the more precise, structured Saturn-ish feel of his cubist-related work - he definitely wasn't in the business of painting fluffy, dreamy mystical scenes!

Saturn, lying opposite Jupiter, could be seen to reflect a balance of his two signature styles: humour and structure.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Another Air Tragedy

Another air tragedy - and so soon after the still unsolved MH370 mystery. Today's crash also involved Malaysian Airlines.

A Malaysian airliner reportedly with 295 people on board has crashed in Ukraine near the Russian border, on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. It has been reported that it appears to have been shot down by a surface to air missile, possibly mistakenly.

According to a Reuters correspondent: from The Guardian,
Dozens of bodies were scattered around the smouldering wreckage of a passenger jet that crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, a Reuters reporter said.

An emergency services rescue worker said at least 100 bodies had so far been found at the scene, near the village of Grabovo, and that debris from the wreckage was scattered across an area up to about 15km (nine miles) in diameter.

Broken pieces of the wings were marked with blue and red paint – the same colours as the emblem of the Malaysian airline which lost track of a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was carrying almost 300 people.

That website is being updated rapidly.

Thoughts and sincere sympathies go out to relatives and loved ones of passengers and crew of MH17.

Malaysia Airlines report that there were 173 Dutch, 44 Malaysian (including 15 crew and 2 infants),
27 Australian, 12 Indonesian (including 1 infant), 9 United Kingdom, 4 Germany, 4 Belgium, 3 Philippines, 1 New Zealand, and 1 Canadian residents on board.

20 passengers’ nationalities are unknown. There were reportedly some Americans on board who could have boarded with passport other than USA's (dual citizens).

Planet Plotting

Happening upon this video advert for a $330,000 watch that has all the planets rotating in real-time, I thought about older artifacts with similar purpose. I know their names, but have difficulty remembering which is which. I mix up an orrery with an armillary with an astrolabe, and so on. To remind myself, and maybe others who suffer from the same problem, I've collected images of them, all together, to act as a memory aid.

Additional information on each is available at the links provided at each heading.

The Armillary Sphere

Variations are spherical astrolabe, armilla, or armil. A model of objects in the sky (in the celestial sphere), consisting of a spherical framework of rings, centered on Earth, that represent lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features such as the ecliptic. As such, it differs from a celestial globe, which is a smooth sphere whose principal purpose is to map the constellations.

The Orrery

An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system that illustrates or predicts the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons, usually according to the heliocentric model. It may also represent the relative sizes of these bodies; but since accurate scaling is often not practical due to the actual large ratio differences, a subdued approximation may be used instead. Though the Greeks had working planetaria, the first orrery that was a planetarium of the modern era was produced in 1704, and one was presented to the Earl of Orrery — whence came the name. They are typically driven by a clockwork mechanism with a globe representing the Sun at the centre, and with a planet at the end of each of the arms.

The Astrolabe

An astrolabe (Greek:astrolabos, "star-taker") is an elaborate inclinometer, historically used by astronomers, navigators, and astrologers. Its many uses include locating and predicting the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars, determining local time given local latitude and vice-versa, surveying, triangulation, and to cast horoscopes. It was used in classical antiquity, the Islamic Golden Age, the European Middle Ages and Renaissance for all these purposes.

The Quadrant and Sextant
An astronomical quadrant is essentially a graduated quarter of a circle, set up to measure the altitude of celestial objects above the horizon. The graduations from 0 - 90° are on the circumference, or limb of the instrument, over which usually a sight or index arm moves. While the quadrant was a quarter of a circle, the sextant was a sixth of a circle (60°) and its smaller arc meant that it was often more portable than a quadrant.

 Hat-tip to Daily Mail
More on celestial navigation HERE.

I really ought to include in this list the ephemeris (plural ephemerides) - hardly an artifact, often in book form, or nowadays available online, it serves much the same purpose as some of the above: tables giving computed positions of Sun, Moon, planets and other celestial bodies for every day of a given period, past, present or future - weeks, years, centuries.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How about "Ready for Gore"?

I'd put my hopes about Al Gore running in 2016 to the back of my mind for a while since my post in June, then yesterday afternoon, catching sight of my sidebar, I typed 'Al Gore 2016' into the Google search box and found I'd missed something, on 3 July:

I haven't watched Morning Joe since 2008, so would've missed it anyway, but it's surprising I hadn't picked something up from reading around. Maybe some websites just don't want to know about Al Gore.

I read yesterday that there's a movement afoot to get Elizabeth Warren to run, "Ready for Warren". Much as I admire her, I doubt she's ready, or strong enough, to take on the Presidency yet. She'd become a tool for the oligarchs in no time flat. Al Gore knows his way around, knows exactly how they fight dirty. I believe he could be the only one with even an outside chance of saving the day environmentally, and in other ways too.

We're stuck, for now, with the two party system, Al Gore is the best chance there is of making it work at least a little better than it's working at present.