Friday, July 25, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Nevertheless, the number of visitors here will probably pass 200,000 while I'm traveling. It's not 50 freaking million page views, but it's still quite a number. I guarantee my books have sold all together only a few thousands.
I looked for a good picture of an odometer or the number 200,000 and this is the best I could come up with:
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
All that time off in the summer!
I'm not complaining, I think I've got a great job, but I would like to point out that there's always plenty to do.
Note, for instance, what a newly tenured medieval literature professor in the United States is doing in the next five weeks, on top of attending an important conference in Britain (and here I directly quote):
* Re-write article due August 15th according to feedback from collection editors -- some of which feedback I got orally at Kalamazoo, and have been working on, but most of which I just got about a week ago.
* Finish academic book (on planes and trains while away) and write review for - gulp! - Speculum (my first ever for them).
* Read dissertation and prepare for as yet unscheduled August defense. Thank god I'm the outside reader. Note: my first dissertation committee position ever.
* Read MA thesis and prepare for early-August defense.
* Correct proofs of article (possibly with stolen time at Famous Author conference if editors won't give me a 5-day extenstion). I just got the PDF of the proofs 10 minutes ago and they're due July 25th. I'm leaving tomorrow and I'm still fine-tuning my paper, doing laundry, packing, etc.
* Prepare for and organize department orientation for non-TA students.
* Meet with colleague with whom I will be the dramaturge for a 2010 production of medieval drama (he needs to plan the season this far in advance and we have to settle on which plays and what form of text -- simply modernized or truly translated).
This kind of stuff is just as much a part of her job as teaching in a classroom. Sure, she could maybe now get away with doing less, but the only reason she has a permanent job and a tenured one at that, in a profession that has many more talented candidates than positions, is that she has always worked hard. And indeed she wants to work hard.
But there's not a lot of lying around in the summer drinking mojitos involved.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Part revivalism, part politics, part a search for release in personal renewal, both a manipulation of popular beliefs and prejudices common to all social groups and an attempt to channel these towards a narrowly laudable yet essentially familiar and explicable end, the summons to Jerusalem succeeded because it caught the imagination of a society not necessarily ready but psychologically, culturally and materially equipped to answer the call. In the level of official enthusiasm, in the rapidity of popular acceptance, in the extremes of response, in the widespread uncertainty, indifference and regional variation shadowing extravagant and well-publicized bellicosity, 1096 was the 1914 of the Middle Ages.
The Jefferson Airplane on the Smothers Brothers Show.
I feel a desire to point out that the words of this song come, more or less, from an excellent post-apocalyptic novel by John Wyndham entitled The Chrysalids (UK) or Rebirth (US). This book was an assigned text in one Toronto high school for years, presumably until too many copies fell apart. Not a bad choice. Perhaps it led a few students to conclude "I've seen their ways too often for my liking" a little more quickly.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
A while back, Dee Barizo sent me a link to an interesting article on the History of Print, which I mentioned here. If you missed it, have a look.
Now that same industrious guy has alerted me to a site devoted to travel information which includes some special interest pages. Dee thought you good readers would be particularly interested in this collection of ancient holiday resorts. But don't neglect to look at the list of other recent posts on travel related topics. One I liked is entirely modern: 8 More Abandoned And Decayed Hotels From Around The World. Have fun!
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
I could reply to Appell myself, but I am more interested in something that Bowers says in defending his own devotion to blogging:
I have a personal stake in this, of course. Before I became a blogger, I spent my entire 20's trying to become an academic (English and critical theory was my focus). While I struggled to produce a handful of conference papers or publishable articles during that decade, in my four years as a blogger I have published about 4,400 articles that have received about 50,000,000 direct page views, 46,000 incoming links, and over 100 Lexis Nexus mentions. Had I stayed in academia, none of this would have been possible, and I would have continued to receive an endless series of rejections from the gatekeepers. The "experts" that Appell describes did not see the same value in my writing huge numbers of other people clearly have. Either they were wrong about my writing, or I just wasn't writing about the best topics for me. Probably a combination of both, but I'm pretty sure the balance of evidence shows they were wrong. (Man, I am still really angst ridden about this.)It seems likely that somewhere in Bowers's soul he thinks of himself as a failed academic. I, as an employed and high-ranking academic at a small but respectable academic institution, think he has nothing to apologize for (I am talking about activity level, not the specific things that he has written.) He does talk about important issues. And I note that if he and others like him had left it to the established media to cover and interpret what is going on in the world, things would be much worse than they are now. But again that's not the point of this post. The point is this:
50 million freaking direct page views!
In that fact I see the doom of the academic journal as it now exists, in particular the paper version thereof. Fifty million direct page views!
I don't fear for the academic book actually, because I think books, at least good ones, provide an in-depth experience that nothing else has been able to rival so far. But when it comes to investigating the small pointsthat lead to the big insights, or clear up the small mysteries that clarify the big picture, why not do it all electronically? (Preservation questions apart of course; again, nothing beats paper yet. And there are other practical questions to be considered.)
I am quite aware that most so-called academic blogs, including my own, are made up of snippets that may or may not be developed into some important scholarly contribution -- and usually not. But blogs and the habit of reading them is a rather new thing. See how they grow.
One example of the direction they might go can be seen in the medievalist group blog In the Middle. Here some like-minded scholars, with a penchant for complex literary theory that sometimes leaves me behind, are throwing out some of their best new ideas in what might be seen as half developed form, so that their blog partners and any passing reader can think about them and comment, favorably or unfavorably. This is not instead of the usual academic activity. Material on In the Middle relates directly to conference papers, potential articles, and monographs being worked on by the blog owners, material it should be noted that otherwise I never would have heard of (being a more or less conventional historian). I'm part of an unexpected audience that was attracted to the blog by a reference to some other blog. And there must be many others, all of whom are in a position to comment, at whatever length. Who knows what some half-random reader may say that may contribute to this remarkable productivity?
This is just one way the Web can work for you.
Working academics who are reading this: be honest. When was the last time you sat down with a congenial group and really kicked around an idea that appeared in an academic article? There's nothing better for getting the intellect really working, for shooting down mistaken ideas, for putting together half-formed thoughts into useful ones. But they are rare, those in-person opportunities. But the Internet, for us lucky ones, is always available. And damned cheap to compared to paper journals.
PS: what about copyediting, you ask? It's dead anyway, as I'm here attest on the basis of much recent reading of ink-on-paper publications by big-name scholarly presses.
Image: Fifty million marks, Germany, 1923.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Perhaps someone should ask him who he works for.
From the Canadian Press:
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo - where he met with the Japan's emperor and prime minister following this week's G8 summit - Harper said the Liberal government of the day knew about Khadr's treatment in Guantanamo Bay.
"The previous government took a whole range, all of the information, into account when they made the decision on how to proceed with the Khadr case several years ago," he said.
"Canada has sought assurances that Mr. Khadr, under our government, will be treated humanely. We are monitoring those legal processes very carefully."
The prime minister then said Canada "frankly, has no real alternative" to the U.S. legal process.
However, Khadr's U.S. military lawyer, navy Lt.-Cmdr William Kuebler, took issue with that in an interview Thursday on CTV's "Canada AM.
"I think that what is being done to Omar Khadr right now rest squarely on the shoulders of Prime Minister Harper," Kuebler said.
"There is very little question that if Canada, the last western country to allow its citizen to be detained in Guantanamo Bay, demanded Omara's repatriation from Guantanamo to face due process under Canadian law, that the U.S. government would heed that request," he said.
Kuebler said the Canadian government has known since at least 2004 that U.S. assurances regarding the treatment of Khadr were false, "yet continued to hide behind those assurances in allowing Omar to be detained in Guantanamo Bay."
He said videotaped interviews with Khadr are expected to come out in the next few days and that the contents are likely to be "quite powerful."
Now news comes out of Italy that the wolf, too, may be late (13th century A.D.?), and produced by a method unknown in antiquity.
For more details, see the story from the BBC.
Just goes to show you how our links to the past are always uncertain, or maybe, as Henry Ford said, "the bunk."
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
This may be the top cultural achievement of the 21st century (so far). I'm not kidding. A bit of an antidote to all the crap flying around.
Thanks to Jennifer Lynn Jordan at Per Omnia Secula for alerting me. "Pretty remarkable" indeed.
But...no yoga? :-)
Update: more on the video. The NY Times is right to say the Internet is central to the matter.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
To a greater or lesser degree, all Sufis stepped out of the social rules for a realm of freedom, permanently, temporarily, or just momentarily, to escape the endless demands of family and friends and the rigid rules of social etiquette, seeking to find a deeper meaning to life. Originally, they did not form a hierarchy themselves. But all places of escape fill up as news of their attractions spreads, and all develop organization in the process. By the end of our period, the Sufis were no longer back-packing tourists in an untouched and exotic world. The great Sufi orders were under formation and there were now Sufi hierarchies in this world reflecting angelic hierarchies in the next. The leaders of such hierarchies, though wealthy and influential, still did not have actual political or military power, but that too was to come, especially in tribal areas, if only after our period.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
English Russia says:
"Some say that Russian Post Office is considering on using special Postal Dirigibles on the distant Siberian parts of Russia and those are leaked project drawings for this project."
The designers seem to have taken the whole steampunk aesthetic to heart, as these pictures indicate.
Steampunk is a retrospective futurism: stories featuring technology as it might have developed with airships rather than airplanes, in a world that hadn't yet gotten to the First World War, or never did. The movie The Wild, Wild West is a good example; League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a not so good one.
Note in this picture the Golden Compass in front of the building?
That movie, too, has steampunk elements.
Homage, I believe that's called.
Update: Eventually steampunk turned into this. Ah, nostalgia.
Henrik has been to the Battle of Hastings re-enactment twice, and was depicting a Norman cavalryman both times. In a recent private conversation he described some of his experiences, and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce much of that material here.
Henrik makes no great claims to historical insight into the use and effectiveness of cavalry in the Middle Ages, as you will see below, but at least he's given re-enactment a try and speaks clearly and sensibly about his own experience. The role and importance of cavalry in the High Middle Ages, once considered unambiguously the "age of cavalry," is a very controversial subject among professional military historians, and discussions of the issue often lead to broad generalizations. I have no idea how many such historians have much experience of riding, or riding in difficult conditions where horses must face ferocious human beings waving sticks at them. Henrik has at least done that.
The following account has been lightly edited by me, and arranged in what seemed to me the best order. Any awkwardness results from the fact that you are reading only one part of a conversation that included a number of other people.
Tracking down YouTube videos of Hastings re-enactments is left as an exercise for the reader.
Image: The 2006 re-enactment, from a gallery of pictures taken by Jonathan Krarup.
-Horses are herd animals that group together and follow the leader - especially in frightenng circumstances. But once frightened out of their gourd, they are virtually uncontrollable and will usually run in whatever direction they are pointed in, till they fall or are convinced they are safe- which usually is after they are exhausted. Stallions also are more aggressive and will fight if not frightened, by the circumstances they are in. Training can help them learn what to expect and convince them not to be frightened most of the time. Mares are normally less aggressive and so more controllable, yet they still can be aggressive if trained to be so. Yet either gender will be out
of control if in flight mode. Since they are big and strong, their panic can be very destructive if they are using all their strength to "get away".
The severe bits and spurs that were used at some periods, by some horsemen ( prick spurs with sharp points 3 or 4 inches long with disc stops to prevent deeper penetration into the horse's side, or bit arms that were 12 inches long to provide extra hard pressure when the reins
were pulled, making breaking of the lower jaw an easy possibility, for instance) show the amount of effort it sometimes took to "get the horse's attention" when it was in panic mode.
Usually a horse will not run into obstructions or over unusual looking ground - painted bars on a flat pavement, for instance, is very good at stopping a horse from walking on it. They have to be trained to do so. Polo ponys are trained to run into things, like other horses, during the game of Polo, and the horse used to hit the shieldwall at Hastings was a polo pony, the owner said.
I believe horses need a lot of training to actually run into a formation and once injured in the process, will likely avoid it in the future. Moving up to within sword or spear length, however is likely a better possibility that most horses will do with a little amount of training. A long spear can allow the rider to strike with the force of the moving horse, before it stops at the point of contact and if running parallel to a formation's face, allows the rider to reach laterally with his lance and strike with the movement of the horse added to this own. Of course use of guns from horseback allows rapid movement to within range, discharge and then rapid movement out of
range to reload, etc.
The main advantage I've found at Hastings, of poorly trained horses is they provide rapid transportation all over the battlefield and radically reduce fatigue on the part of the armored warrior in the process. They also provide an elevated platform from which to wield any weapon and provide major assistance in entering or exiting a combat engagement at high speed, if desired. The elevated position allows the warrior to see better where to focus his attention or enter or exit combat, to his advantage. It also allows him to be more visible to his companions for whatever advantage it can provide - be it directing their movement or offering support or scaring their foes. Lastly it provides assistance in negotiating the circumstances of battle by helping when the rider is injured or weak from exhaustion, so he can retreat or continue , in spite of his condition.
At Hastings 2006 I saw one of my cavalry companions charge the Saxon shield wall on his well trained horse and it hit full force at a gallop with its chin way in the air so its chest slammed into the shield and knocked over several people, who were quite surprised and pissed off that it happened. The rider told me later he thought he had the go-ahead from the line of Saxons, to charge it, and he'd worked hard to train his horse to charge a shield wall, well before the reenactment. It was a joy to see, but not to experience being hit. A couple of the downed Saxons got bloodied by it, I was told.
Another thing I saw that weekend was a German rider - he had a big white beard and was riding a white horse and can be seen in many U-tube video clips- went down with his horse in a big cartwheeling somersault as they galloped downhill after assaulting the shieldwall. I was going slower when I saw him go down and after looking forward to be sure my horse wasn't going to trip I looked back at them and they were both on their feet standing next to each other again. Still pictures and video clips show them riding again a few minutes later, but none that I've seen show them falling or getting back up. An eyewitness from the Netherlands,who was watching from downhill said the rider's kite shield - which was tied close to his body with the enarms and guige straps, kept the high saddle pommel from crushing the rider as the horse rolled over him on the ground. I corresponded with a friend of the rider, who was riding there too and he said both the rider and horse were unhurt and fine afterward. That was amazing to see and especially that no one was hurt. I wish there were some video or still pictures of it. But in both cases, the shieldwall charge and the falling horse and rider, they happened to the west side of the battlefield and were well away from the spectators who were to the east side and there were lots of warriors and horses in the way, in between, blocking most people's view and camera angles. Any hidden cameras that the reenactors snuck/sneeked (?) onto the battlefield were usually not pointed at the horses so most action is lost to them and the few other cameras spread around to the north or south just seem to have missed those two pieces of the action.
Most ( 60 +/-) of the 90 or so horses at Hastings 2006 were rented from various stables for those of us who didn't own our own, there. The remainng 30 or so horses were privately owned and had a great variety of training and experience. The German rider on the white horse was part of a group of Germans who all rode together in Conroy number three ( of five Conrois that year) Most of the horses in that group were white and one was dalmatian dog spotted. They usually performed in 12th century reenactments and wore full mail to cover feet and hands.
In the case of the horse that charged the shieldwall, the owner said he trained his horse to do that manouver. You'll have to ask him why, but I presume because he thought it would be useful and fun. None of the other horses did that and in fact most never got even within spear length of the shieldwall since they were nearly all intimidated by a shouting and clamoring confrontation of scary looking "animals", that to prey animals ( the horses) looked like they would bite them in
half. Most of the rental horses had never seen such a thing before and didn't know what to make of it and certainly didn't want to approach within touching distance except with a lot of urging on the rider's part. I know my horse refused to get close unless another horse went first and showed the way. It was rather frustrating and this is the same thing the other two horses that I rode in 2000 at Hastings did as well. There, however my Conroi leader rode ahead and charged along the shieldwall so we all followed and galloped along the face and stabbed with our spears over the top at the Saxons behind it. In 2006 , my Conroi leader didn't ride up to the wall, but hung back urging us to go on and attack. Perhaps he couldn't get his horse to get close and lead the way, either. In any case our conroi didn't make much contact with the shield wall, but once some of the Saxons broke out into the open we were able to get closer to individual warriors and I managed to make a kill in single combat with Scott from the "Vikings U Like" guys who sell Viking jewelry and belt fittings at Pennsic and Estrella War . I gave him my silk lance pennant as a memorial to his "death".
I have been told by several people who were on foot, that the vibration of the approaching horses was very intimidating to the people on the ground, but likewise the rumble and clashing of the people was very intimidating to the horses as they approached a strange environment. The riders and horses did practice the day before the battle to try to get ready for the battle, but that practice was limited to formation riding as a group, so we would look pretty for the spectators, not so the horses would be ready for combat. We should have had some simulated combat training too, but they never did that.
On the second battle reenactment day the horses were a little better since they already had experienced the combat the day before and that helped a little, but not very much.
In re-reading what I said here, I'd like to offer an addendum, lest anyone think this experience was indicative of true mounted combat, of the period, beyond the most general sense.
When I described riding past infantry and stabbing at them over their shields, I feel it needs to be stated that this was rather hard to do, the stabbing over shields part. What I mean is that the combat rules in effect specifically forbade striking the head, face or neck of anyone ( for safety reasons )! So to strike over a shield, whether from the ground or from a higher position, on horseback , was difficult if not impossible since the head was in the way when approaching from the front and a ban on striking from behind, made that option unavailable. This is unfortunately, the major aspect of the Hastings reenactments that made simulating real combat nearly impossible, to the extent the SCA does at its combat events. Anyone could just hang their shield in front of their torso ( the legal target area) and ignore head and leg shots since they didn't count, and never move their shield to defend themselves. It was up to the opponent to manouver his weapon around the static shield defense to make a killing blow. This was generally only possible in close and often open combat - where you could circle the other guy. From horseback where the horse was holding back or faced with a shield wall barrier, getting behind with a weapon was nearly impossible. My open field combat worked when I finally managed to slip my spear blade past a single shield and stab my foe in the gut, behind his shield.
-- Henrik Olsgaard
Friday, July 04, 2008
For some reason the software that Phil Paine uses at philpaine.com archives old posts without attaching a permalink. Thus sometimes my links to his posts become broken. I don't doubt that some readers have had frustrating experiences as a result.
Today for some reason I was poking around at philpaine.com and came across this post on the Finnish composer Sibelius. As Phil says, Sibelius has always been a great favorite of his; one of my earliest memories of our friendship is of walking to a park in Toronto's Annex to find a statue of the man.
I'm just going to copy this finely written piece here, in hopes that it will lure a few more readers over to enjoy Phil's site.
Sibelius: En Saga Throughout my life, Sibelius has remained unchallenged as my favourite composer. As much as I might love Mozart, or Dvorak, or Vaughan Williams, and take delight in even their minor compositions, none has the place in my heart, and subconscious, that Sibelius has.
The first work of the granite Finn that I ever heard was En Saga, Op.9. It has usually been considered no more than a rousing showpiece, but I think it offers some depths to explore. Sibelius' approach to composing was dispassionate and scientific. Though much of his work is intensely emotional, it seldom gives the impression of being a spontaneous outpouring of his own immediate feelings. But En Saga, a work of his youth, apparently fits this category: "I could almost say that the whole of my youth is contained within it. It is an expression of a state of mind. En saga is the expression of a state of mind. I had undergone a number of painful experiences at the time and in no other work have I revealed myself so completely. It is for this reason that I find all literary explanations quite alien." .
Despite attempts by reviewers to relate it to either the Finnish Kalevala, or to the Scandinavian Edda, Sibelius seems to have meant the title in the sense of a personal saga. The work exists in three forms. The standard version is the one that Sibelius revised in 1902. By this time, his mastery of orchestration was without peer, and the revisions he made are justifiable improvements. But I possess, on a cd conducted by Osmo Vänskä, a performance of the original 1892 version. The improvements of 1902 smoothed away some of the ungainly vigour of the younger man's work, whic has its own merits. Sibelius' daughter Aino certainly thought so: "I like and have always liked the first version. Papa removed some violent passages from it. Now En Saga is more civilised, more polished." Thus, the work experienced a journey from the forest to the town, gaining and losing something along the way. A pastoral middle section was excised entirely, and it contains some rather advanced features, for the time, such as seventh inversions of ninths, proceeding in parallel motion.
En Saga is supposed to have originally been conceived of as a chamber work, a septet, but the score of this was lost. In 2003, Dr. Gregory Barrett (Indiana University) published a reconstruction of the En Saga Septet, but I haven't heard it, or found a recording. It is rather hard to imagine, since the piece we are familiar with is like a miniature symphony, a fine example of how Sibelius could treat a large orchestra like it was a single instrument, that he was playing with his own hands. En Saga was not only my first exposure to the Music of Sibelius, but a piece that awakened me to the adventure of music. I was never the same after I heard it. Growing up among Canadian lakes and forests that are virtually identical to those of Finland, exposed to native speech and rhythms very similar to those behind En Saga, the work could reach me in a way that none had before. To this day, those rhythms echo in my mind at the oddest moments, and will always come to mind when I walk alone among shield rocks, birch and spruce.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Image: A Richard II London groat (4d or pence) from a site by Ivan Buck. Alas, no depiction of the golden angel.
Update: Hoisted from comments:
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
On the plus side (from the wonderful The Big Picture).
And on the other, chilling souls across the USA and beyond:
John Cole at Balloon Juice.
I wish I could say, "That is all."
Update: Here's a comment to that Balloon Juice post.
I don't know why I can't link to Balloon Juice but it referred to this.