kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2017-04-15 12:44 am

My faith in human nature is restored

Today we met a 'service provider' who was not only competent at his job, but also human and helpful beyond the call of duty.  We had arrived at Gloucester Green far in advance in order to catch the last bus to Faringdon, which was due to leave at 7:20 pm in line with the Sunday schedule that the internet said the bus company was operating on.  Because it was cold we sat in a cafe and just as we were stepping out of the door at 7:10 to get on the bus, it pulled out and left.  It looked like we were stranded in Oxford for the night.  We went to the Stagecoach bus office where the usual indistinct and useless mumbling was about to begin when our hero stepped in.  At first he only explained that they were a different part of the company and had no information about the running of the Swindon route - that office would be closed.  When I had called the Swindon office and found that they were, indeed, closed, I came back and he made some phone calls and then said that the only option was to file a complaint, take a taxi, get a receipt and then get Stagecoach to reimburse the money.  We have a long history of trying to screw reimbursement money out of Stagecoach, and never would I want to go through that process again, but nevertheless, there seemed to be no choice.  So I filled in the form that he provided, he gave me his name and number and helpfully suggested that when we get the taxi we should secure a quote first and not rely on the metred fare.  So off we went to find a taxi in George Street and were negotiating with the driver about the £50 fare when suddenly the Stagecoach hero ran up behind us and breathlessly declared that another bus had just arrived (because it turned out that they were operating on the Saturday rather than the Sunday schedule!) and he was concerned that our claim wouldn't be processed if the Company knew we could have taken another bus.  So off we ran back to Gloucester Green after him.  It is for such people, in whom the milk of human kindness has not run dry, that the phrase 'God bless him' is reserved.  I wish it were possible to show appreciation to these random individuals whom one encounters when least looked for and never sees again, but alas! they will never know what an effect they produce on those whom they help.
kortirion_among_the_trees: (cat closeup)
2017-04-10 12:54 am

Bringing up a Scottish child

'Это называется крупный рогатый скот', сказал папа по дороге на ферму.
'Но Скотт не рогатый', ответила Элли с возмущением, 'он ведь писатель!'
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2017-03-04 01:10 am

Memo

'Images du quartier juif de Varsovie, dans ou près de, la rue Nowolipki, une zone commerciale, pendant l'été 1939. Le Docteur Benjamin Morris Gasul a été invité à donner une conférence en Union Sovietique en 1939. Lui et son épouse Lala en ont profité pour faire le tour de l'Europe. Ils ont à cette occasion, tourné un film en 16 mm couleur montrant le quartier juif de Varsovie quelques semaines avant l'invasion allemande de la Pologne. Document de "Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive".'

Can find no other way of saving from Facebook )
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2017-03-03 11:03 pm

And lo, God created the Tory Party

Sometimes the Tories come out with something so grotesque and surreal it takes your breath away: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/03/bereavement-benefits-cut-to-help-people-readjust-to-life-as-single-parents  The government is even recommending people avail themselves of pauper funerals, or 'low-cost alternative options' as they're now known.  So now we can add widows and widowers to the long list of foreigners, people wanting to marry foreigners, people with disabilities, unemployed people, young people, old people, men, women, cats, dogs, Martians and others whom they've successfully screwed.

One of my favourite scenes of all time:

kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2017-02-04 10:53 pm

Back to your regularly scheduled programme

Very interesting article with lots of food for thought: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich?
Too much food, actually, so I'll just remark on two things.  I'm struck by how influenced by Hollywood (rather than real instances of civilisational collapse, as during wars) all these people's doomsday scenarios and preparations are.  But much more striking is the level of egotistic irresponsibility and absence of self-awareness that such behavior entails.  The cause of the imminent social collapse you fear and the cause of your immense wealth are one and the same - put two and two together and use all your money and, therefore, potential power, to influence politics for the better, just as your other ('socially minded') brother billionaires are actively influencing it for the worse.  With power comes responsibility, noblesse oblige and all that, but these people have no concept of a social contract.  Looking out for number one is the most defeatist philosophy imaginable - when number one - in combination with other similar number ones - actually has enough money to genuinely influence the direction of the world.  But no, they prefer to contribute their bit to dismantling the edifice in the hope that when it finally comes crashing down they'll have a helicopter ready to whisk them away to New Zealand.
kortirion_among_the_trees: (portrait)
2017-01-01 05:43 am
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Bookworm)
2016-12-21 11:59 pm

Wow

I haven't read any of her fiction (tried one book once and couldn't get into it), but what little I've seen of her journalism is impressive, and as for this: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/22/on-optimism-and-despair/  wow! подпишусь под каждым словом.  Simple and true things beautifully expressed.  This isn't an award acceptance speech, it's a humanist manifesto.  
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-12-16 03:26 pm

Absolute must read

This is one of the most important summative pieces to have appeared in a long time.  It goes to the root of absolutely everything: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n24/tom-crewe/the-strange-death-of-municipal-england  For years now I've had the feeling that I'm living in a post-apocalyptic landscape, amidst crumbling ruins where nothing works - and this is why.  And with every passing year the scale of the collapse becomes more and more stark.  The only suitable analogy I can think of is Eastern Europe post-1989 (minus the crime) - how long will it take before we reach that level?  There is no question that it's only a matter of time (to be hastened by Brexit, whenever it finally happens).

Viewing it from the perspective of my period - the golden age of local government* - puts the current state of affairs in a particularly tragic light.  It's a pity the article doesn't admit the many failures of municipal governnment in its glory days: the corruption, the mismanagement, the inhumanity.  That would have made the portrait much more nuanced.  But overall, its benefits unquestionably outweighed its deficiencies, and its destruction is indeed tantamount to the destruction of functioning society.  'Sliding off a cliff' indeed.

(*Oh the happy hours I have spent reading about the LCC and the politics of School Board elections and satires of municipal socialism and Chamberlain's destruction of small Birmingham businesses...  As Kipling said, 'what should they know of [21st c.] England who only [21st c.] England know?' Even the fraction of its past that I'm familiar with is enough to realise how tremendous has been the loss, the hollowing out.  Virtually all the things that 'made England great' - which is to say, all the things that gave genuine grounds for hope in a time that was in many respects even more barbaric, and certainly as ideologically nasty as our own - are gone.  But hey, who needs to know about that stuff when you can just blame immigrants?)
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-12-12 11:25 am
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-12-10 12:51 pm

Propaganda

Propaganda is a professional interest of mine (historically rather than theoretically), and this year has really brought home to me that no matter how tremendously the means of its delivery improve, no matter how much the technology changes, the content and the techniques remain always the same.  At the primitive end, we're still getting nineteenth-century fat-cat capitalists in top hats (almost literally) - as in the email from 38 Degrees that came to my inbox today.  All that targeted social media micro-advertising by Cambridge Analytica that is held in some quarters to have determined the outcome of the US election consisted of the same level of content - you can be at the cutting edge of Big Data, but the images and slogans you're sending out haven't moved on one iota from the pre-telephone age.  At the sophisticated end we're getting the same kind of destabilisation of reality that Orwell wrote about in the 1930s.  People think fake news is new?  For God's sake!  History stopped in 1936, wrote Orwell, because everything the media (of every ideological persuasion) was putting out was lies.  That was about newspapers; in the 1940s he worked for the BBC and wrote about the egregious distortions of reality perpetrated in the broadcast news.  And that was just in Britain - across the channel there were the insane fantasy worlds being created by the Nazis and the Soviets.  Those who think Nineteen Eighty-four is about surveillance haven't bothered to read the book.  It is, first and foremost and most importantly, about living in a 'post-truth' world, and though its technologies are now laughably outdated, its descriptions of the social and psychological effects are more relevant than ever.  When all moorings have been cut loose, when you are floating in a sea of misinformation and no longer know which way is up, when you are too cynical to believe anything and therefore gullible enough to believe everything, including things which are entirely self-contradictory, when concepts such as 'facts' and 'evidence' have lost all purchase, then you are in the world of Nineteen Eighty-four. Sound familiar? That kind of propaganda was never about pushing an ideological line, it was always about securing and maintaining power - and that is the great insight of the book.  Does anyone truly believe that Trump or Putin have an ideology?  Did Orwell's O'Brien? (The answer is no.) Ideologies are a tool for use at the 'primitive' level of targeted messaging - give the white supremacists what they want to hear, and the affluent Republicans something else, and give the lefties a suitable target to vent their rage at.  But over and above all this, undermine truth, logic, reality; mislead, confuse, flip-flop, until people don't know whether 2+2=4 or 5 or whatever Big Brother tells them.  It wasn't 'Russia Today' that invented this, or the internet that made it possible.  It's been around for much of the twentieth century, and those who forget the past... 
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-11-29 07:02 pm

Another question

Is there any evidence of Tolkien's familiarity with German Romantic Lieder, or directly with the German poetry of the late 18th, early 19th centuries (Goethe, Schiller, etc.) on which these were based?  I can't find any references in Hammond and Scull.
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-11-25 12:12 pm

Question for German-speakers

Are the internet dictionaries correct to say that Gewoge can be translated as 'waving', 'surging', 'rocking', 'swaying'?  And is this an appropriate word to use to describe the motions of the sea?
Any help would be much appreciated.
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-10-27 04:10 pm

After months of impatient waiting

I've finally had the chance to go see I, Daniel Blake.  In the middle of the working day, so the audience was entirely made up of pensioners.

It was incredibly powerful.  Paradoxically, even the crude bits of social commentary where visibly unprofessional actors deliver heavy-handed lines did not detract from the power, but simply enhanced the overall effect of unvarnished realism.  I don't know how anyone could leave a screening of that film and not go out boiling with rage and indignation and grief, calling for bloody revolution.  And this precisely because there is absolutely no politics in it, other than some drunkard's incoherent babblings about that 'Duncan'.  It is also a film marinated in the tropes of 19th and early 20th c. social realism and documentary.  I could see the texts I read and teach shining through in every twist of the plot and in every characterisation.  Hell, not just the texts, the pictures too:



'Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward' - replicated almost exactly in a scene depicting the queue at a food bank.  There are iterations of that famous painting in photograph form in any number of documentary texts from my period, not to mention verbal descriptions.  Can you think of any equivalents today?

And herein lies the problem.  Eighty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago, this was the stuff of art: you couldn't turn around for all the novels, stories, paintings, not to mention journalistic exposes and sociological studies - read widely by the general public - which took the material of Daniel Blake as their subject.  Where are they now?  Why is Ken Loach virtually the only one doing this?  Why is this no longer a subject for creative endeavour?  The film is almost archetypal - a sort of anti-fairy tale in its plot and character functions - but it is also absolutely up-to-date-to-the-last-second in its social detail, more 'modern' and 'for our time' than whatever the latest trendiest thing in cinema happens to be.  There are gold-mines there, utterly untapped, for more subtle artists than Loach is - why aren't they coming?

Society a hudred years ago was crueller, much more dreadful in so many respects than it is today, but it was also better, because indignation and grief for human suffering were palpably in the air, were setting the tone of the public discourse, transcending party lines, 'framing the conversation'.  Where can you turn now other than various advocacy organisations and a few journalists for any articulated outrage?  It is one of the many functions of art to give culturally influential and lasting form to condemnation of contemporary injustices.  Art is manifestly failing in that duty in our society, and exceptions like Daniel Blake only prove the rule.

P.S. The film is vintage Loach through and through, and the ending, particularly, is very reminiscent of the conclusion of Land and Freedom.
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-10-27 01:37 am

Frustrating, as every modern BBC documentary I've ever seen

Fantasy with Andrew Marr  (available on BBC iPlayer for another month)

Frustrating, because there are some perceptive and accurate descriptions - courtesy, no doubt, of the excellent team of advisors (Mendlesohn, Fimi, Maslen, Garth - a who's who really) - but they're mixed in with the usual unutterable drivel and portentious ignorance.  I was alternating between wanting to scream and nodding in pleasant surprise.  It's worth a watch, overall, but I just wish they'd let the experts speak for themselves.  Now a programme of interviews with Mendlesoh, Fimi, Maslen and Garth, along with some proper author interviews (instead of the slightly extended soundbites on offer here), would really be worth watching.  The audience figures might be much lower, but at least people would genuinely learn something about fantasy.  Not much chance of that, though, on modern TV.
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-10-03 11:56 am

Anyone care to join me?

Teaching Fellow in Late Medieval to Early Modern English Literature Vacancy Ref: 037487

Applications are invited for a Teaching Fellow in English Literature of the late medieval to early modern period.

The successful candidate will have experience in the design and delivery of teaching within the Higher Education sector, and the ability to deliver pre-honours and honours undergraduate courses in English Literature, including postgraduate teaching as appropriate. Successful Candidate will also be expected to contribute to the administration of the subject area including course organisation, as well as to undertake course assessment.

This full-time (35 hours each week) post is available for a fixed-term period of 2 years from 1st January 2017 (or as soon as possible thereafter) until 31st December 2018. Salary scale: £31,656 to £37,768 per annum.

Applications should be received no later than 5.00pm (GMT) on Wednesday 26th October 2016. It is anticipated that interviews will be held on 14th November 2016.

Informal queries can also be sent via email for the attention of Dr Andy Taylor, Head of English Literature, to llc@ ed.ac.uk.

Further details and information on how to apply can be found here: https://www.vacancies.ed.ac.uk/pls/corehrrecruit/ erq_jobspec_version_4.jobspec?p_id=037487

***

Lecturer in British Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century

Applications are invited for the post of Lecturer in British literature of the long eighteenth-century. The Department of English Literature seeks a dynamic and enthusiastic colleague to provide teaching and research in the period. The successful candidate will have experience of teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and be able to undertake excellent research.

This position is full time and open ended, and is available from January 2017. Salary: £38,896 to £46,414 per annum

Further information and queries should be emailed for the attention of Dr Andrew Taylor, head of English Literature, to llc@ed.ac.uk.

The closing date for applications is no later than 5.00pm (GMT) on Wednesday 26th October 2016. It is anticipated that interviews will take place on 6th December 2016.

Further information and details on how to apply can be found at https://www.vacancies.ed.ac.uk/pls/corehrrecruit/ erq_jobspec_version_4.jobspec?p_id=037539

kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-09-28 12:10 am

Oh what the hell, while we're on the subject of work

I find the conjunction of this, dating from the year I was born:



(In particular the lines: 'We've got a machine can learn the knack / Of doing your job, so don't come back ... Watch out for the man with the silicon chip')

With this: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/john-lanchester/the-robots-are-coming (to be read in full)

Utterly fascinating.  MacColl as a prophet of the socio-economic consequences of 'machine learning' (!!) - who'd have thunk it?

P. S. It's also just occurred to me that the LRB is the only present-day equivalent in this country of a 19th c. толстый журнал.
kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
2016-09-09 12:26 am

Grammar

Not a well-written article, but confirms what I've always instinctively known: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/evidence-rebuts-chomsky-s-theory-of-language-learning/  The only aspect of linguistic studies that has ever interested me (apart from bilingual language acquisition) is, unsurprisingly, old-fashioned philology, and universal grammar always seemed utter bollocks against that background.  However, I know nothing about philology really, so I do wonder whether my gut feeling was something real historicist students of language shared?  Not much light on this from the article, which comes from a very different disciplinary angle.