Polonaise: Dance, Jacket, or Sandwich Spread?

OK, probably not the third option, but one never knows. There’s also a French sauce polonaise, just to further muddy the waters.

All these things are derived from the French adjective form of Poland. The music, a form of the sauce, and the jacket all derive from Polish folk music, cuisine, or folk costume.

A polonaise gown from the 1700s. Fair Use from: https://www.costumecocktail.com/2016/05/30/winged-robe-a-la-polonaise-ca-1778-1780/
Eighty years later . . . Image source: https://cdn0.rubylane.com/_pod/item/1903041/5591/Antique-Victorian-1869-polonaise-bustle-dress-full-2o-2048-61a3115b-r-a2a2a2-2.jpg

From the front:

Source: https://cdn0.rubylane.com/_pod/item/1903041/5591/Antique-Victorian-1869-polonaise-bustle-dress-full-6o-2048-0f368201-r-a2a2a2-2.jpg

The original form was a dress with a trim bodice that opened into an over-skirt. The back and sometimes sides were looped up into a bustle, revealing the color and details of the underskirt. I suspect the idea was to keep the outer skirt away from whatever you were working on, and you had an apron on over the dress. Or it was a way to show off embroidery and lace or ruffles on the under-skirt.

The polonaise musical form is a march in 3/4 time, or so it sound like. It is stately and does not have the intimate feel of a waltz. (Keep in mind, the waltz was scandalously intimate when it first debuted. His hand was where?!? They were how close?)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3e1OH1BpjA

As you watch the video, note that under the faster beat is a slow 1-2-3, 1-2-3. It’s a very different feel from the 1-2-3, 1-2-3 accented pattern of a waltz or minuet.

This is a concert polonaise rather than one intended for dancing, but you hear the same tension between the march feeling and the three beats to the bar. Chopin is famous for his polonaises, but other composers did and do write them.
In some ways, the polonaise reminds me a bit of a quadrille and other group dances (Irish, American) with the lines and movement. All hands are accounted for at all times. 😉

Cabbaging onto a New Leaf

It is one of those phrases I never think about until someone else boggles. I was talking about maps and navigational charts, and observed that I had possessed one for the area under discussion, “but a student cabbaged onto it and I haven’t gotten a current one.” The instructor blinked hard, and observed that my dialect and my accent did not match. And added that he understood the meaning, but had never heard “cabbage” used as a verb.

When I was growing up, at least within the Red family, “to cabbage onto” something was to steal, often by borrowing and somehow never returning it. I never thought about it being somewhat unusual. “Took a cotton to her,” is common in the US South, or was. “Turn over a new leaf,” even though it didn’t refer to plants. But “to cabbage?” Apparently it is a Midwesternism, found in Nebraska and parts of the Dakotas. Now, these are states settled by people who grew and stored and consumed large amounts of cabbage as part of their native cuisines (Germans, Bohemians, Scandinavians, Irish, Poles, Mennonites and Hutterites). So my guess is that cabbage theft was known, and disapproved of, and so “to cabbage” meaning “to steal” became part of the regional dialect. However, the OED says that the oldest usage of cabbage as a synonym for “to steal” goes back to 1793, and England, so who knows.

Cabbage onto. “To take a cotton to” meaning to like, which might come from how sticky short-staple cotton fibers are (they cling to everything because of static). “To tree” means to chase some animal or someone up a tree, literal or otherwise.* English doesn’t seem to have many other instances where a plant is verbed. Perhaps “to tomato” in the sense of to pelt someone with rotten produce, perhaps. I’ve never come across “to turnip,” or “to cucumber.” As metaphors and similes, sure. “Cool as a cucumber,” “red as a beet,” “he’s in a pickle,” which originally referred to the keg, barrel, or vat of brine used to preserve whatever was being pickled.

English is strange.

*”To pine” as a verb goes back a ways, but traces to Latin poena meaning a punishment, not pinus (also Latin) as in the tree.

Goth Bardic?

So, I was listening to the Wagakki Band and this appeared on the side-bar. Interesting juxtaposition.

Blind Guardian is better known as a heavy metal/speed metal group, but they also do, well, Tolkien-rock and things like this. It’s a sign of a good song that you can strip out the genre cues and it is still catchy and memorable. I suspect it will appear in a Familiars book.

When Money gets Expensive

Note: I am not an economic historian, and I am eliding a lot of monetary policy detail.

Right now, everyone is wincing at the inflation in progress in the US. Money is cheap compared to “stuff,” so the dollars per unit of stuff is going up. Most of us, I suspect, are far more familiar with inflation than deflation. Historically, inflation gets all the attention from historians. Roman emperors did it by diluting silver currency with lead or copper. Byzantine emperors did it by diluting silver currency. Spain under Charles V and Phillip II did it by accident when the treasures of the American poured into Seville and Madrid, thence into the economy of Europe to pay for the various Spanish wars. It hit again in the early 1600s when local nobles diluted silver with lead and copper.

What about deflation? If inflation’s bad for most people (like, oh, most of Europe in the 1500s-1600s), then deflation is good, yes? Prices go down, your coin buys more stuff per unit of coin, and everyone’s happy. Yes, if you are a consumer, or if you are collecting on a debt. If you are a producer of goods, or are paying off a debt, each dollar/schilling/mark you pay on that car loan is worth more and more flour/lattes/music CDs. And it takes more grain/chickens/butter/fabric to pay for each dollar in taxes. Instead of fifty bushels of wheat, now you have to pay one hundred bushels of wheat to get the same amount of coin/money.

That was the United States after the US Civil War. The country had become an industrial nation, although agriculture was still very, very important, and farmers had some political clout, if they could all get together and use it. However, it seemed to many rural people that the industrial east (steel, oil, railroads, consumer goods, the binder twine monopoly) ran both the economy and the country, to the detriment of the people actually growing and mining the stuff. Part of this lay in the US government’s insistence on a firm gold standard, with little or no coinage in silver. Money was very, very expensive. So expensive that it attracted British investors, who could make a fortune loaning money to American businesses at 10-15% interest, as compared to the 3-5% interest back in England.*

People, namely consumers and businessmen, in the urban areas did well and the standard of living was growing nicely. People who had to pay taxes in gold coin or gold-backed notes, and who produced food and fiber, felt trapped and squeezed. They paid taxes. City people didn’t. (The income tax didn’t exist. Taxes were land taxes, and import/export.) Farmers and ranchers and miners had to scrape up gold coin for taxes and other bills, even as prices they got for their grain, cattle, and fiber dropped compared to the value of that coin. With the discovery of the big silver loads in Nevada, Colorado, and California, westerners and farmers began pushing for “free silver.” They wanted a bimetallic standard, gold and silver, and cheaper (inflated) money so that they could pay their bills and prosper.

Toss in the international economic splat (Panic) in 1873, the first modern global recession, then a downturn in 1886 and the Panic of 1893, and you have three decades of lack-of-progress for some, along with growing labor unrest. On top of that, new immigrants were arriving from Central and Southern Europe. They spoke little or no English, dressed funny or seemed otherwise “Off” (Italians), tended to be Catholic or even Jewish, and worked for cheap compared to native-born Americans. Oh, and a few people in Europe were assassinating elected and hereditary rulers in the idea that if you eliminate the monarch, the government will go away and Paradise!** And Marx’s ideas were in the air, but they weren’t all that popular in the US just yet.

Out of this you get the Progressive Movement (efficiency, internationalism, experts know what is best for the rest of the people, central government over state governments) and the Populist Party, which was an outgrowth of the earlier Farmers Alliance and Farmers’ Union.*** The Populists wanted cheap money (Free Silver!), limited immigration (no Brits buying huge chunks of land that Americans needed), and more attention paid to the West and Midwest, especially to farmers’ demands. The Populists were in some cases, like the earlier Alliance, multi-racial, or tried to be. One of the reasons for Jim Crow in the South had been to keep poor whites and poor blacks from working together to oust the old elites from political power.

So inflation’s not good, deflation’s not good, and thus far, I’m not certain anyone has come up with a way to achieve “just right” for more than a few years at a time. You want a stable form of exchange that doesn’t get “watered down” with lead or copper, or that governments can’t produce through handwavium. You also need to keep that medium of exchange from becoming too expensive for people to use. Somewhere there’s a Goldilocks point of not too inflated, not too deflated, and prices for currency are just right compared to prices for stuff. Somewhere . . . Somewhere . . .

*Ever wonder why so many huge ranches were owned by English and Scottish companies? They had the cash to invest. The Swan, XIT, Rocking Chair Ranche, JA, ROW, and others all came from British money.

**The Anarchists tended to be hazy on the steps in-between, and often disagreed with each other.

***The Farmers’ Union is still around, and still somewhat active in Kansas and Nebraska and South Dakota.

Book Review: Breverton’s Phantasmagoria

Breverton, Terry. Breverton’s Phantasmagoria: A Compendium of Monsters, Myths, and Legends. (London: Quercus Publishing Plc. 2011)

Some days, or times of day, you just want something you can pick up, nibble for a page or two, then set aside. This is that sort of book. If you want to read about the Gordian Knot, the Ship of Fools, The Flying Dutchman, learn if snakes really do flee from naked men, or puzzled over the story of Prince Madoc, you can find all that and more in this book. It is great for trivia buffs, writers in search of plot seeds or McGuffins, or people who occasionally read while in the, ahem, Reading Room.

I get the feeling that Mr. Breverton collected odd bits and things, snippets and archaeology reports and mythologies and folk lore and archaeological reports a bit like a bower bird. It is a book you can read through by topic, or just open at a random page and nibble at random moments. The writing style is light and somewhat breezy. A few things I sort of shook my head at, because there’s a bit of “gee-whiz!” at times. Spaceflight in the Mahabarata? Um, I’d like to see other translations of the text. The book starts with people, then monsters and ghosts, then magical places (real and otherwise), flying monsters and odd things in the sky. Mysteries of the deep comes next, then strange artefacts and maps and stuff, treasure tales (Oak Island again), and wraps up with “is this legend true? Well, here’s what inspired it.)

All in all it is a fun book, and the two things that I back-tracked he was correct as far as sources went (did a boloid explosion do-in Soddom and Gamorrah? Quite possible, which led to my reading about something similar, at about the same time, in the Alps.)

The book is available on Kindle, but that takes some of the fun of “open to a random page” out of it. Breverton seems to be a trivia buff, because he has several more themed titles.

Two paws up.

FTC Note: I purchased this book with my own funds, and received no remuneration for this review.

Open Floor

What topics would you like to see me blog about? I was working on City, Priest, and Empire and Day Job things this weekend, and alas, my blogging brain took a day off.

I hope to push through during Spring Break and get the Merchant book done. It will be close to 100K words, making it the longest book I’ve written to date.

Wind Creatures

OK, actually Strandbeest, or “beach creature,” but they are wind-powered and amazing, occasionally creepy, cute, and make me boggle at the mechanics and engineering every time I see them. They are the brain children (brain pets?) of the Dutch sculptor Theo Jansen.

Image used under Creative Commons Fair Use. Original found at: https://www.dogonews.com/2015/10/4/theo-jansens-whimsical-strandbeests-come-to-america

Jansen started the project as a way to draw attention to the problems he feels that Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) will cause the beaches and sand dunes of the Netherlands. He uses PVC pipe and waste plastics (straws, plastic sheet, bottles) to build creatures that are actuated by the wind. A system of water injection to the “feet” helps the beests stay on top of the sand. Technically, they are called kinetic sculptures, meaning that they are supposed to move. Most kinetic sculptures are closer to Calder mobiles. These are more like the flattened fossile creatures from the Burgess shale, brought back to life.

Jansen built his first large Strandbeest in 1990. It had a few technical flaws. Over time the beests have “evolved” as Jansen puts it, no longer breaking their own backs as they walk across the beaches. He sells plans and encourages people to make their own small versions. The engineering is amazing to watch. I know it is gearing and levers, but there’s something very cool and a little eerie about watching these creatures walk with the wind.

I’m amazed by the things.

And here’s Adam Savage, who built a model Strandbeest, having fun with Theo Jansen and a real beest.

https://www.strandbeest.com/

The Utopia Problem

There’s been a larger-than-usual wave of utopian ideas and Millennialism running around the world in the past decade or two. Granted, utopian ideas never go away, because someone always has dreams of a perfect world, not just a World To Come in the theological sense, and a smaller number of someones want to put everyone else into their personal idea of paradise. Most utopian ideas never get past books, or a very small and limited group that eventually gives up, or dies off without harming anyone else (or in a rare case, without benefiting anyone else). These ideas tend to come in waves, usually associated with some sort of serious social stress.

Millennialism takes its name from the 1000-year period associated in some Christian theologies with the Second Coming. When used in history, it describes a religions movement that has a very, very strong End Times component and either seeks to undo major social and religious crises, or to bring the New Creation sooner. The Münster Anabaptists, the Ibo cattle-cult, the Ghost Dance among some of the Plains Indians in the US, Extinction Rebellion, are all examples of Millennialism. The Ghost Dancers sought to call the spirits of the bison to return, the dead would rise again, and the Anglo-Americans would be driven away. Things would go back to the glory days when the Plains peoples had horses, some trade goods, and lots and lots of buffalo. Justice would be done and a new world arise from the ashes of the old. Extinction Rebellion sought [seeks?] a reversion to a world without internal combustion and petrochemicals, where small numbers of humans live in harmony with Nature and are no longer in charge of the environment. Some E.R. folks go to the extreme and see the world as so terribly broken that nothing save the elimination of all humans can possibly right the terrible wrong. Then a new, perfect world will arise from the old and justice will be done.

Millennialism by definition is religious. Not necessarily Christian or Jewish, but there’s a religious core to the movement, and it behaves as a faith. Utopian ideas often incline toward religious language, but they can be secular, or at least work very hard to be “post-religious” in today’s language. A perfect world can be made here, on earth. And have people in it. Which for me right there means utopia is not going to happen.

My utopia is far, far different from yours. My paradise is another person’s “I’m-dying-of-boredom.” You want a tropical island paradise of easy living and warm climate, with lots of friendly people and things to do with people. I want a place where it’s always autumn and there are lots of books to read and stories to tell and there’s frost some evenings, and chilly rain on occasion, and people leave me alone. Utopia – Nowhere – because there’s no place on this planet that is autumn all year round.

When peoples start trying to impose a utopia on others . . . it gets ugly. Workers’ Paradise! Kingdom of [Deity] where all worship and live according to religious teachings! The General Will of the People where true freedom is obedience and you can be forced to be free! A world where everyone lives “small,” and has only a few possessions and lives in an apartment and finds self-worth and happiness by, um, following their bliss? Working for the state? Doing what gives them joy and somehow getting paid for it by the State? Or, combine several of those, and everyone will live at a a very low level of physical subsistence, work for the state, and be very happy eating protein made from insects and other things because the People don’t have to/can’t compete for stuff and status. And a small group of wise people will run everything and the planet will heal.*

That utopia is close to my idea of an infernal plane. There’s no room for variation or chance (the 5 Year Plan always works, da, Tovarish?) There’s no room for stories other than those approved by the small group of wise people. There’s no place for my books, electronic or hard-copy. There’s no room for the individual in that utopia. And it is static. Static states . . . tend to become un-static in messy and sometimes catastrophic ways. Even when I agree with the ideals of the utopia, the thought of trying to impose one on other people makes me back away slowly while reaching for a large stick or a can of bear-spray.

Human nature always defeats utopias. New Harmony. The Shaker colonies. Those are the most benign examples that come to mind. Jonestown. Münster and the fiery end of the Anabaptists there. Unless you have an outlet for the Odd, the stubborn, the determinedly individual, and also for social tension, well, utopia turns into something else.

In the 1960s-70s there was a trend for sci-fi where computer chips and supercomputers allowed for the creation of a tech-topia. Everyone had a chip in their brain (or something similar) and so bad thoughts and impulses were muted or burned away by the super-wise computer and the world was perfect. Until it wasn’t. Today it is social programming through the internet and government control of assets (with a government run by a small group of wise, kind people who will know what is best for everyone.)

No, thanks. Millennialist movements sometimes end quietly, other times they end in blood and fire. They almost always hurt someone, if only the group members. Utopias imposed on people are not paradises. Any time someone starts promising a wonderful, better world on earth, I start to twitch. I’ve read about those. No, thanks.

*Heal from what? The last time a large civilization declined and shrank in Europe, that being the end of the Western Roman Empire, some of the worst environmental degradation and erosion before 1800 happened. Why? No one was around to do flood control, to maintain canals and drainage systems, to keep fields from eroding. I’d wager similar things happened in the 1300s, albeit on a less obvious scale. There’s some serious speculation that the CO2 in the atmosphere, in addition to making plants happier, is keeping at bay the global cooling that should accompany the current solar minimum. I don’t want to “heal” back to a Pleistocene climate for most of the Northern Hemisphere, thanks!

What is Evil?

It’s one of those questions that every philosophical system and religion has to deal with. What is evil? How do you recognize it? How do you define it? How do you fight it, or do you? The question came up in recent weeks, back-to-back, in otherwise unrelated discussions or lectures. That sort of coincidence usually means I need to pay attention.

Eli Wiesel said that evil is indifference to one’s fellow men. I heard that definition, and thought, “What about suicide bombers, what about . . .” and began sort of listing individual actions and things that seem to be the opposite of indifference. But Wiesel was talking in the context of the Holocaust, about systems of evil. In that case, indifference does apply. The system doesn’t care about suffering, has no pity, or mercy, or interest in understanding people. People of the system are indifferent to what goes on, deaf to objections from victims of the system. Think of bureaucrats with quotas, or who always close the office at three-thirty in the afternoon, no matter how many people are still waiting to get help with paperwork, or in need of something. That’s the mild version. Stalin’s Soviet Union, or the Nazi empire, or Mao’s Great Leap Forward are the more severe version. Individuals disappear.

Then there’s active individual evil, the evil freely chosen, embraced, for a whole host of reasons. Some of them are because the individual’s wiring is skewed, and evil is the easier path. (A lot of people who might go that way don’t, for a number of reasons. But a few do.) The two are not exclusive. Actively evil people often do well in an evil system, or become the head of an evil system.

At an individual level, it’s not just indifference, although I suspect there’s a bit of that, a certain sadism, or even cold calculation that others are less than, well, anything. People are things, are tools, but are also obstacles to be removed, demons to be sent wherever $Deity wants them to go, toys to play with and enjoy watching them suffer.

Judaism and Christianity use the story of the serpent in the garden, where evil is introduced to paradise through temptation and disobedience. But where did the serpent get it from? The “Book of Job” is often nodded to as a book about coping with evils, but if you read it carefully, well, it’s not satisfying, exactly. Evil in the New Testament is personified as the Tempter, Satan, and as actions that go against the will of the Lord. But what is evil? An idea? An action? Where does it come from? Was it created by G-d? That leads into the argument that a perfect and good deity can’t have created evil, unless the deity did it for reasons that are good and that mortals just can’t understand. Or you get into dualism, where you have a good deity and an evil one, and eventually the good side wins (Zoroastrian system, among others.)

Evil is one of those things “I know it when I see it.” Except my definition of evil seems to be rather different from others’ definitions. Being a suicide bomber, to me, is evil. To others, it is a way of getting rid of evil. Lyall Watson’s book Dark Nature, and some of his other works, considers the idea in nature. Is what we call evil something that other animals do? Is it built into life in some way, something that culture checks most of the time, but that leaks out at other times? It’s a creepy book, one that I’m still chewing over even though it’s been a while since I read it. When orcas seem to “play” with seals before finally killing and eating them, is it evil? Or is it just further evidence that Adam’s fall condemned other creatures as well (one idea I’ve seen kicked around)?

Humans have been debating the question of evil for a very, very long time. It’s a question with no easy answer, unless it is to say, “This is evil. This I will not do, this I will avoid thinking about, this idea I reject and will teach/preach/fight against.”

But what is “Evil?”

Speaking of Frontiers and Poems . . .

Since I’m in an odd mood today, here’s a poem I first encountered as the title of a fun history/fiction/who knows book. “The Coming American.”

Bring me men to match my mountains;
Bring me men to match my plains, —
Men with empires in their purpose,
And new eras in their brains.
Bring me men to match my praries,
Men to match my inland seas,
Men whose thought shall pave a highway
Up to ampler destinies;
Pioneers to clear Thought’s marshlands,
And to cleanse old Error’s fen;
Bring me men to match my mountains —
Bring me men!


Bring me men to match my forests,
Strong to fight the storm and blast,
Branching toward the skyey future,
Rooted in the fertile past.
Bring me men to match my valleys,
Tolerant of sun and snow,
Men within whose fruitful purpose
Time’s consummate blooms shall grow.
Men to tame the tigerish instincts
Of the lair and cave and den,
Cleans the dragon slime of Nature —
Bring me men!


Bring me men to match my rivers,
Continent cleavers, flowing free,
Drawn by the eternal madness
To be mingled with the sea;
Men of oceanic impulse,
Men whose moral currents sweep
Toward the wide-enfolding ocean
Of an undiscovered deep;
Men who feel the strong pulsation
Of the Central Sea, and then
Time their currents to its earth throb —
Bring me men!

Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911) is another Victorian poet, popular in his time and now pretty much forgotten. Some of his pieces sound a bit like Robert Service, others like early Robert Frost, James Whitcomb Riley, and similar poets. The book (by Irving Stone) that took its title from the above poem is about the opening up of Nevada and the Sierras, about scandal and triumph, engineering, and Populism, and all sorts of Wild West stuff. The book caused a flurry of unhappiness among people who didn’t care to recall that their ancestors had not been as pure as the driven snow. Today, history buffs of the American West take that for granted, but in 1956? Oh, the pearl clutching. The book ranks up there with De Voto’s Across the Wide Missouri and Stanley Vestal’s books, in my opinion, as far as “should be required reading for US West 101.”)