September Pieces Of My Mind #3

Control panel of a 1949 Lidingö tram (SSLidJ A24B 17)

  • Half asleep last night, I found a memory floating up from 1980s sediment in my mind. When you bought a record as a present, you would ask the sales clerk to seal the inner paper sleeve with a sticker. This would allow the recipient to change it in if they wanted another record. The sticker often identified the store.
  • Movie: Paddington I (2014). The beloved children’s book ably filmed with new subtext about immigration and homelessness. Grade: Excellent in its genre.
  • My old laptop crapped out 7½ months ago. I have been eking out a sad digital existence on my various employers’ Windows laptops since. But now I’ve bought an ultralight of my own and installed glorious Ubuntu Linux on it!
  • I look back with deep regret at the ramen noodles of my youth, where I would simply cook the noodles with water and stock powder. Those were dark, dark days, before I became learnèd in the ways of ancient Chinese wisdom.
  • When I see pictures of sand and gravel on Mars or an asteroid, I can’t help but think “That’s soon going to get covered in weeds, like a spoil dump on an excavation”.
  • It feels a bit odd to read Magnus Västerbro’s new book about the 1867-69 famine in northern Sweden while eating.
  • Tell your mother that you walked all night on velvet green
  • The code name for the final massacres of Jews in part of occupied Poland in November 1943 was Aktion Erntefest, “Operation Harvest Festival”. You just can’t make this shit up. )-:
  • County admin building is looong and narrow with the entrance lobby at the middle. My desk is near one end. There’s an exit here too, but it’s only used for fire safety. For security reasons, we have to use the main entrance, a looong unnecessary corridor walk in the wrong direction. /-:
  • The vanity options on Academia.edu cost $99 a year. Nope nope nope.
  • Reading about Shang dynasty mass human sacrifice, thinking about the murdered slaves we excavate in Viking Period graves, and of the Holocaust, and of the Aztecs. )-:
  • Mushrooms are pretty useless from a nutritional perspective. They’re 3% carbs, 3% protein and the rest is almost entirely water. Compare to the blueberries growing next to the mushrooms: 9% carbs, 1% protein. Or potatoes: 16% carbs, 2% protein. Swedish farmers’ traditional lack of interest in these fungi, many of which are poisonous, was well motivated.
  • The bit in “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” where you can’t hear the words is supposed to be “Back to the howling old owl in the woods / Hunting the horny-back toad”. Because the poet is leaving his rich socialite partner and going back to his rural roots. (I just can’t understand why Taupin broke the scansion with the unnecessary words “in the woods”.)
  • Cool detail in Magnus Västerbro’s new book. Swedish-speaking settlers in the woods of northern Sweden survived a bad 1860s famine by bartering with the Sami for reindeer products and traditional gathered and preserved plant foods. Just like New England colonists surviving their first winters thanks to food contributed by local native tribes.
  • I love finds conservation. It’s expensive, but it always gets you new information, particularly for rusty iron objects. Thanks to the good people at Acta Konservering, I was just able to insert a third site with resin-taper holders into the section on indoor lighting in the final proofs of my Medieval castles book.

I rode a 1949 Lidingö tram (SSLidJ A24B 17)

Carl Milles 1916, “Venus on a shell”, Gåshaga, Lidingö

 

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18 thoughts on “September Pieces Of My Mind #3

  1. Crossover: “Paddington at Castle Moulinart” *
    “Paddington 3. The Right To Arm Bears** ”
    and the spinoff, with Paddington, Arnold and Jean-Claude Van Damme: “Urside Fury”
    I did not include the X-rated stuff for the “Furries” target viewership.
    *Tintin fans will get the reference
    **Britons may not get this.

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  2. There’s only one part of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” where you can’t hear the words? It wasn’t until I read the lyrics a few months ago that I learned that “get[ting] you on your feet again” involved self-medication, specifically in the form of vodka and tonics.

    Sir Elton’s singing style has generated quite a few mondegreens over the years. In “Daniel”, he manages to make “Spain” sound like three syllables. And there have been several interpretations of just what it is the narrator of “Rocket Man” is burning (it’s “Burning out his fuse up here alone”). Enunciation has never been one of Sir Elton’s better points.

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    • I don’t have any more of a problem with hearing Elton’s lyrics than I do with many others. But I do wonder why the old owl in the woods was howling, and why it was hunting horny back toads. Could these be some sort of in-joke, a reference that only Bernie and Elton understood?

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      • Owls are birds of prey, and some of them do howl (there is at least one species called a “screech owl”). However, I always assumed that it was the narrator who wanted to hunt horny back toads.

        I have also thought of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” as a sequel to “Honky Cat”. In the latter song, the narrator is giving up the pleasures of country living (I infer it to be the southern US since New Orleans is explicitly mentioned in the song; “honky” is US slang for a white person) to live in the big city, and in the former he repents that decision after seeing firsthand how a “high class lady” lives (the narrator claims he should have stayed on the farm).

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  3. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was going to be called Operation Iraqi Liberation. The legend holds that somebody noticed the all-too-appropriate acronym at the last minute, and ordered the name to be changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    Speaking of too-appropriate acronyms, there was also Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign committee, the Committee to Re-Elect the President. The acronym CREEP became far too appropriate in the aftermath of a certain third-rate burglary in June of that year.

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  4. There is something that loves long corridors. The League of Nations HQ in Geneva had a long, long lobby known as the Salle du Pas Perdus, roughly translated as the salon of wasted steps.

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  5. One of the things about the design of the Pentagon – despite vastness, you can walk from wherever to wherever else in whatever time.

    While you are having the horrors, there’s the Warring States period. When Chinese scholars named it, they weren’t kidding – for the whole duration of that period, there was an average of 1.37 wars every year. In the worst one, the army of one state captured 400,000 enemy soldiers. They just couldn’t handle the logistics of that many prisoners of war, so they buried them all alive, save for 250 of the youngest, who they sent back to their state to recount what happened and so sew terror in the remaining inhabitants.

    During the Shang, when they had only bronze weapons, which were rare and costly, battle was fought only by the elites who were trained in fighting, using chariots, and were smaller scale events that were less deadly. Later, after the Chinese on the north China plain discovered how to smelt iron and it became possible to mass produce weapons that were more effective for killing that bronze weapons, and they could conscript and arm much larger armies from among the farmers, and it was considered unnecessary to train the farmers in fighting, the battles became much larger affairs with staggering death tolls.

    The total population of the north China plain at the time was nearly 60 million (known from contemporary census documents – Chinese have been obsessive documenters and record keepers), so the numbers quoted for armies are credible.

    An ordinary soldier could get promoted to the next rank by taking the head of one enemy soldier. Someone who took multiple heads could get catapulted up the hierarchy. Battles involving the taking of 60,000 heads were not particularly rare events.

    When the Han Dynasty decided they needed to get serious about defeating and destroying the Xiongnu Empire, they mobilised an army of 300,000, light cavalry + infantry, with another 100,000 in support. In the final decisive battle, which the Chinese crossed the Gobi Desert to fight, 100,000 horses were killed.

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  6. Incidentally, I am totally unconvinced by Li Feng’s evidence that the Han Dynasty knew about the Roman Empire. They evidently knew vaguely about some great empire to the west, but most of the contemporaneous descriptions of this great empire bear no resemblance at all to the Roman Empire – some describe the Romans growing mulberry trees and cultivating silk worms, but then why would Romans have any need for Chinese silk? For the few that do sound vaguely something like it, it just seems like a fortuitous coincidence, and could equally describe any of the larger states that existed at the time between China and Rome, e.g. the Seleucid Empire. I think this is a real weak point in his book.

    There is no evidence whatever in Roman records that they had any knowledge of China at all. They knew that silk came from somewhere to the east, and that was about all.

    Later in the history of the Han Empire, the story of Marcus Aurelius sending two emissaries to China sounds apocryphal; there does not appear any material evidence to support it. When the Han sent emissaries west to seek out this great western empire, they were dissuaded from continuing on their journey by intervening polities who did not want to lose their status as middle-men in the Silk Road trade, and so they turned back and returned to China. So there is no material evidence that the two empires ever had any kind of direct contact, or even any substantial, realistic knowledge of the other.

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  7. What about the sea trade, from Egypt to the Indian Ocean? Sea travelers in South-east Asia could have been intermediaries to China, and once they had established a trade route, it would be tempting for others to “rediscover” the route for themselves.

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    • There was mention of a route via Vietnam – that was allegedly where the two emissaries from Rome to the Han court
      came from, but Li Feng sounds skeptical about that; don’t know why, it seems feasible to me. But there’s just no material evidence that they got there – if they had, it’s a reasonable presumption that they would have given an accurate account of the Roman Empire. Of course, what Han scribes would have made of that, who knows?

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    • Monsoon winds make sea trade between Arabia and India relatively easy. You have reasonably reliable winds blowing one direction for half the year and the opposite direction the other half.

      Getting beyond India by sea, or up the Red Sea to Egypt, would have been considerably more difficult before the lateen (triangular) sail was invented (which IIRC was after the fall of the Western Roman Empire). The lateen sail lets you travel in pretty much any direction except directly into the wind, and for that you can “tack” between, say, 30 degrees left and 30 degrees right of the direction the wind is blowing from.

      Either way, the easiest route after landfall would probably be east into Vietnam and then north into China. In principle, you could go up the Irrawaddy River into Yunnan and then about 30 km east to the Yellow River (with the Mekong halfway between the two), but those are rather deep gorges, so that route is probably no easier than via Vietnam.

      The Romans definitely knew about India (that’s how far east Alexander got before he turned around). I think they had a vague idea that China existed (because silk came from there) but had no clue as to how big China was. The Han Dynasty, likewise, probably had a vague idea that somebody far to the west was buying their silk, but had no clue about the scale of that empire, which was too far away to be any plausible threat.

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      • During the Han Dynasty, Vietnam was a vassal state of China, so it seems an obvious route (assuming they got advice from a good travel agent).

        In any case, I don’t see that it is a big deal – both empires were well outside each other’s sphere of influence. So whether they knew of each other’s existence or not doesn’t seem to me to be of material importance. It’s not like they were going to have any kind of frequent interaction. The Chinese obviously knew there was a lot more of the world to their west, with some very large states that were very different from theirs, and the Romans knew the same about the world to the east. What more did they need to know that would have been useful to them?

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  8. More old dirty secrets coming out in USA.
    Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has launched an unashamed populist campaign to displace May, even if he wrecks the country in the process.
    In other words, same old, same old.
    I am not getting into the plight of the tsunami victims, my brain can’t take in more misery.

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  9. Popular music: Thanks to the US senate hearings, we have been reminded about the *real* threat: Reggae music!
    It is making our nice white boys drink and fight, going from Yale to jail. UB40 has a lot to answer for.
    – – –
    I have said it before; it was fecking stupid of the Stockholm politicians to scrap the tram system. The underground /subway/tube was the new shiny thing, as glorious as house facades made of concrete. And the rest of the traffic would swiftly speed away on the streets and roads that would emulate New York and Los Angeles, while raw sewage was pumped directly into lake Mälaren.

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