The News Media: A Rant

So, fair warning. I’m exceedingly steamed with the American and other news media, particularly networks coverage of recent events. What follows below the fold is a rant. For fiction, humor, and the like, please return tomorrow. Continue reading

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TV Review: American Masters Ursula K. LeGuin

MomRed wanted to watch the special on PBS about Ursula K. LeGuin. I was curious to see how they framed her life and works, and to see what they had to say about Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness. Short version: it wasn’t bad, just heavily PC.

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Classical Knowledge?

So, my mind was wandering the other day, or more accurately, fleeing the truly obnoxious and depressing “morning show” blaring in the waiting area of the eye doctor’s office, and I started thinking about a book that I didn’t buy. I was in line at a very, very unusual bookstore, and they had a shelf of Loeb Classics editions, all ten percent off. One of them was Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy. This was a book I’d been wanting for a while, mostly because of the connection between it and King Alfred of Wessex, Alfred the Great. However, even at ten percent off it was a little spendy, so I didn’t get it.

Those thoughts led me to recall a story in Roy Bedichek’s Adventures of a Texas Naturalist where he was at a cocktail party and referred to “Thalassa, thalassa!” one associate caught the reference instantly, but a young woman did not. She had never heard of the Anabasis, could not discuss Xenophon’s prose style, was not familiar with the Greek classics in translation or in Greek. Bedichek wondered what had become of the schools. This was in the 1950s.

So, I started going through my mental list. Which of the Classical classics have I read, either in the original or in translation? Continue reading

Who Are You?

One of the historical themes of the Early Modern Era in Central and Eastern Europe is definition of identity. Who comprises the Polish nation? Who is a Magyar/Hungarian? What does it mean to be a Bohemian? Since only the people who had political status counted as members of the nation, only the nobility bothered with the idea until 1792 and the rise of Romantic nationalism. Until then, us and them were the more important distinctions.

To Slavs, “we” were the people who spoke intelligible languages. “They” did not speak, and to this day the word used to mean a German once meant someone who could not speak—just like the ancient Greeks and “barbarians.” Over time, especially once the Ottomans and Tatar Hordes became major threats, “we” also included Russian Orthodox Christians (Russia) and Roman Catholics (Poles). Germans had Catholicism, a tradition of having been mentioned in Roman writings, and not being Franks or Slavs or Vikings.  For the bulk of the population before 1792, that was pretty much what mattered. Continue reading

Good Fences: Thoughts for July 4

“As soon as everyone had a title, owned their house, they built a fence.” Christopher gestured to the very nice fences, all different, separating the nicely kept houses and yards in the village we were driving through. “It is theirs.” He lives in an apartment in Krakow, but has relatives who live in a village.

Think on that for a moment. As soon as Poland was free of Communism, as soon as everyone knew what they owned and where their property lines were, they built a fence. Some are tall, some are at most waist high. A few rebels have hedges, mostly low. All different styles, materials, shapes. Some have gates, others have none. But every house in every relatively new* village in Poland has a fence around it. The fields don’t, not always, but the houses do.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property,” as John Locke phrased it. Property and knowing that this is mine to use as I will and care for and improve, property led to happiness and safety. Jefferson modified it a little to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” but his other writings make it clear that a man without property depends on someone else, and cannot be truly independent.

Thus, in 1989, the Wall came down and fences went up. Continue reading

Vienna Once More

I’m rolling down the Danube, reentering familiar territory on the northern bank of the Danube. Now the language makes more sense, and the river that has run through so much of my travels returns to view once more, wide and brown-grey, rolling through time.

People have lived in the Alpine foreland just west of Vienna, the Vienna Woods, since the Paleolithic. The area had fish, wild plants, shelter, and was on the way to a lot of other places. The Danube flows between the Alps and the edge of the Bohemian Massif to the north, and is a natural highway. Eventually farming seeped into the area, and the people later called the Celts moved in. The site of Krems, upstream of Vienna, has been occupied steadily since the Neolithic.

A few hundred years after the La Tene people settled the region, Rome established a town at Vindobona (between modern Rotenturm Strasse and Marcus Aurelius Strasse), then the larger settlement of Caernuntum downstream. People remained in the area, the Germanic tribes, the Huns and Avars swept in and out, Slavs drifted through, and then Germanic people reasserted themselves on top of Rome’s presence. Continue reading