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(Photo: Visual Hunt)

Season 7, Episode 3

This week on Freakonomics Radio: it’s hard enough to save for a house, tuition, or retirement. Stephen J. Dubner asks, “So why are we willing to pay big fees for subpar investment returns?” Enter the low-cost index fund. The revolution will not be monetized.

To find out more, check out the podcast from which this hour was drawn: “The Stupidest Thing You Can Do With Your Money.”

You can subscribe to the Freakonomics Radio podcast at Apple Podcasts or elsewhere, or get the RSS feed.

The post The Stupidest Thing You Can Do With Your Money appeared first on Freakonomics.

September spoons for sale

Sep. 21st, 2017 02:49 pm
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Posted by pfollansbee




I’ll be updating my workshop-teaching schedule soon with some Plymouth CRAFT classes and looking toward next year (we’ve started planning Greenwood Fest already!) In the meantime, I have a few spoons (and one bowl) for sale this time – if you’d like one, just leave a comment and we can take it from there; paypal or check is fine either way. Woods this time are birch, cherry & walnut. All carved with hatchet, knife and hook knife. Finished with food-grade flax oil. Prices include shipping in US. Elsewhere additional charge for shipping. Click the images to enlarge. Thanks for you interest, if you have questions just leave a comment or send an email.


Sept spoon 01; black birch.  – SOLD

L: 10 1/2″  W: 2 3/4″



Sept spoon 02; black birch,

L: 10 1/2″   W:  2 5/8″



Sept spoon 03; black birch

L:  10 3/4″  W:  2 1/2″


Sept spoon 04, – SOLD

L: 12″   W: 2 7/8″



Sept spoon 05 – SOLD

L:  11 1/2″   W: 2 3/4″


Aug spoon 01 –  SOLD

this one was my favorite from last time. Didn’t get picked. Might be the price tag…but this is as good a spoon as I can make. cherry, crook. This spoon blank left me with a very long, narrow bowl. Overall a long spoon. Great crook shape, I couldn’t resist.

L: 13 7/8″   W:  2 1/8″


Sept spoon 06 –

Walnut. I’ve been riving up some walnut for joined stools, and got some bits here & there to try for spoons. Radially split.

L:  10 1/2″  W:  2 3/4″


Sept spoon 07, walnut (see above)  – SOLD

L: 10 1/2″  W: 2 7/8″


Sept spoon 08; walnut – SOLD

L: 10 1/2″  W: 3″


large cherry crook – SOLD

The last of these over-sized cherry crooks.

L: 13″  W:  4″


The cherry bird bowl. I have more of these underway, but won’t get to them for months now – I have a lot of furniture work ahead of me. The bird bowls come from great curved crooks.

L: 15″  H: (at front) 7 1/4″


The 9pm End of the World, But More So

Sep. 21st, 2017 01:11 pm
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Posted by Stilgherrian

Kim Jong-Un celebrating after the successful launch of the missile.  Reuters/KCNA

The 9pm Edict cover art version 2, 150 pixelsDo you think we’re close to a nuclear war breaking out? That’s just one of the trivial questions addressed in this podcast.

There’s also talk of gay marriage, racism, British tourists, more racism, and Senator Malcolm Roberts. And of course Nicholas Fryer takes a look through The Arch Window.

You can listen to the podcast above or below. But if you want all of the episodes, now and in the future, subscribe to the podcast feed, or subscribe automatically in iTunes, or go to SoundCloud or Spreaker.

Thank you, Media Freedom Citizenry

If you enjoyed this podcast, please throw a few coins into the tip jar.

Episode Credits

Series Credits

[Photo: Kim Jong-Un celebrating after the successful launch of the missile (Reuters/KCNA).]

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Maurice, though by now clothed, and in his right mind, lay on the bed with an arm across his eyes. This really would not do.

Once was something that could happen. Twice was – cause for perturbation. It was no longer the gratification of a passing inclination.

Why had MacDonald kissed him before leaving? Lightly, affectionately, as if they were devoted lovers facing a brief parting? It made no sense at all.

He heard several fellows come up the stairs: one, from the tittering, was Chumbell, and one – oh dear, that was Basil’s great honking laugh – and that voice that had so recently been whispering in his ear, soft words that he dared say were Scots for he did not understand them, only that from the tone, they were endearments and not the filth that some fellows liked to talk at such times – saying, oh, sure they will show the things to English milords for a little recompense – what, you have never been so far as Naples –

Basil was saying something about his desire to go to Greece - though Maurice confided that Basil liked his comforts entirely too much to undertake such a journey – and MacDonald remarked upon the very notable Greek influences in the Two Sicilies.

Oh, he would become a prime favourite in the club at the rate he was going, damn his eyes.

- you have not seen the Bexbury Bequest at the Museum? Sure, 'tis not on open display, save for a chaste vase or so, but 'tis entire possible for those of the cognoscenti to go examine the late Marquess’ very fine collections.

Chumbell was quite squeaking with excitement.

And then they were standing by the large canvas on the corridor wall just outside the door, and Chumbell murmuring about accuracy and Basil making claims for the need to make a telling composition - would they never go so that he might escape?

At length he heard them – after a deal of expatiation on various paintings – go back down the stairs. He stood up, tidied himself, smoothed down his hair yet again, and peeped out of the door to ensure that there were no onlookers.

He descended the stairs and nearly ran into Sir Stockwell. Ah, Allard, he said – he always manifested the very good ton of addressing Maurice as quite his equal, and not a fellow that he had once been wont to have for a guinea a time, when they were both younger. Come and take port with me.

Maurice had been greatly looking forward to a glass of gin – port was just not the same – but did not protest.

They went into Sir Stockwell’s private office. There was port already on the table. He motioned Maurice into a chair.

Well, he said, I am most exceeding grateful that we have prevailed upon MacDonald to join our number –

Maurice sipped his port and raised his eyebrows.

- but I confide Sir Hartley was quite right that 'twould have been premature to invite him any earlier, 'twas the proper thing to respect his mourning for Lord Raxdell. I was a little concerned about how Saythingport might vote –

Not Colonel Adams?

Adams will think any fellow that can argue about Alexander’s Greeks that settled among the Afghans and discourse on Hindu religion is a fine fellow. But I brought Saythingport to see the prudence of having a fellow so noted for sounding out mysteries among us – for sometimes we have matters we should desire to investigate but can hardly employ some private inquiry agent. I was very careful to choose an occasion when Mysell-Monting could not join us.

Maurice smiled and said he was surprised that Sir Stockwell had not joined the Diplomatic rather than the Admiralty.

But indeed, went on Sir Stockwell, I had a most particular concern of my own. He cleared his throat. I daresay, he said, that my wife will be coming to be dressed by you again, following this scandal of the silly women that were beguiled by an imposter that was neither French nor even a real dressmaker –

I should naturally be delighted, said Maurice, though I confide that she will go wherever Lady Trembourne does, and she, alas, is no patron of mine.

Frightful woman, said Sir Stockwell, if she were my wife – but that fool Trembourne quite grovels at her feet – but does my wife come to your establishment –

(Surely Sir Stockwell was not leading up to being granted very favourable terms when the bills for dressing his lady were made up?)

- I am in some suspicion that she has taken a lover. While she is at least so discreet in the matter that I have no definite knowledge as yet, is it so I should very much like to know who he is. Should not like her beguiled by some seducing rogue or brought into scandal. For indeed one would very much dislike to have to come to a crim.con. action.

Does you entire credit, said Maurice. Even does she not come to me, I daresay there may be ladies in the secret that may be persuaded to a little gossip.

Excellent, my dear fellow. He clapped Maurice heartily on the shoulder. Fellows such as we are well-advized to keep beforehand of matters.

Next morn, Maurice called in Miss Coggin to ask had they ever dressed Lady Sarah Channery, for his memory failed him in the matter.

Miss Coggin gave a loud and vulgar snort, and said, I daresay you would hardly have noticed her, for she ever came with Lady Trembourne, and even though she is better-born, one would have supposed her some poor relation or hired companion. And she is somewhat of the same style of looks –

Ah yes, now I recollect. Never required use of the discreet chamber?

Indeed not. A pathetic creature.

Maurice went to look over the books to see what further information on her patronage he might glean, and was about the task when he heard somebody mounting the back stairway with the clunking of a cane.

He looked out of the doorway. Biddy! he cried, jumping up and going to extend his arm to aid her ascent. Kissing her upon the cheek when she was panting at the top, he said, but sure we did not expect a visit from you. Here, come sit down and I will send for tea.

Biddy sat wheezing for a little while, and then said, came up to lay flowers on dear Thomasina’s grave, and do a little shopping for such matters as Worthing cannot provide. And I went take tea yesterday with dear Tibby, and sure I had heard nothing down by the seaside of this trouble you had been having.

Fie, did not wish bother you with it, the imposture is discovered, we have a deal of business on hand as a result –

I see what it is, you were ever a good thoughtful boy, did not want me to worry, bore it all on your own shoulders -

Did not so, he protested, opened the matter to Lady Bexbury –

There’s my clever boy!

- that quite entirely came at the imposture. But indeed, he said, sitting down and handing her a cup of tea, know not how I might have contrived without her intervention.

Has ever been a good friend to us, said Biddy. And her kindness to dear Thomasina – why, 'twas not even, la, can you no longer work I will go find some almshouse where you may reside so that you need not go upon the parish, no, 'twas keep her in the household among familiar faces, able advize Sophy, the best of everything. She dabbed at her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. O, sure she had savings put by, but in her state of health –

She had a good friend in you, said Maurice. And now, are you here, I should desire open to you some of my thoughts for the gowns for the coming Season, and the ladies that are coming here.

Biddy protested that sure, she was quite out of Town and knowledge of the latest styles, but Maurice confided that even did she not read scandal, she read the pages in the papers on matters of fashion more religiously than her Bible.

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Posted by Stephen J. Dubner

Around 7,000 languages are spoken on Earth 1.0. (Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “What Would Be the Best Universal Language? (Earth 2.0 Series).” (You can subscribe to the podcast at Apple Podcasts or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)

We explore votes for English, Indonesian, and … Esperanto! The search for a common language goes back millennia, but so much still gets lost in translation. Will technology finally solve that?

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

*      *      *

In our previous episode, we talked about living under the ancient curse of the Tower of Babel.

Esther SCHOR: The curse of Babel is an existential condition in which we live every day. We use language to communicate, but we cannot rely on it to make ourselves understood.

We can’t always rely on it because …

John McWHORTER: Well, we have 7,000 languages.

Seven thousand languages? We learned about the many costs associated with this linguistic diversity — financial costs, psychic costs, even war:

Shlomo WEBER: Many people died in the war, which, in fact, easily could have been avoided.

And we learned that linguistic diversity has plenty of benefits too:

Lera BORODITSKY: There are certainly claims about types of thinking that become very hard without language — or become unlikely without language.

Those are some of the things we know about language here on Earth 1.0. But today’s episode is part of our Earth 2.0 series, in which we imagine we could reboot the planet and do some optimizing — or at least some tidying up. So, if we were starting over …

Maria Luisa MACIEIRA [French]: Si on devait tout recommencer à zéro…

Kew PARK [Korean]: … t시 시작한다면…

Isabela CABRAL [Brazilian Portuguese]: Se fossemos começar de novo …

Dhari ALJUTAILI [Arabic]:… أحسن طريقة لكل الناس على الأرض انهم…

CABRAL [Brazilian Portuguese]: para todos na Terra se comunicarem uns com os outros?

PARK [Korean]: 가장 좋은 방법은 무엇일까요?

… what would be the best way for everyone on Earth to be able to communicate with one another?

*      *      *

In the future, human-to-human communication may be so different that it’ll render our mission today moot. Between auto-translation and artificial intelligence and maybe even mind-melding, will anything ever get lost in translation? Maybe; maybe not. But — that’s the future. Let’s talk about language on Earth 2.0 using the tools and knowledge at our disposal today. If we could start from scratch, what would that look like?

Michael GORDIN: If we did this from scratch it would be a very surprising outcome.

That’s Michael Gordin, a historian of science at Princeton.

GORDIN: And who knows how it would work without the path dependency of previous empires, current economic structures, our current modes of transportation and media and communication? It would be very interesting to see how that would shake out.

Okay, let’s start with a couple basic questions. Number one: should we consider — please don’t throw things at me — should we consider having one common language?

BORODITSKY: I would be wary of thinking of common language as the solution to perfect communication …

Lera Boroditsky is a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego.

BORODITSKY: … because we already have [a] common language and that doesn’t lead to perfect communication.

McWHORTER: You would need oddly a language that had a lot less in it than many people would expect.

John McWhorter is a linguist at Columbia; he’s also an author and host of the Lexicon Valley podcast.

McWHORTER: You want it to be something that’s maximally easy for all of the world’s language speakers to use. You could have a universal language where tense was largely left to context, as it is in a great many of the world’s normal languages. You certainly wouldn’t have anything like grammatical gender. The vocabulary could be quite rich. That would be fun, but the grammar would be something where you could pick it up in a week.

Stephen J. DUBNER: I’m curious to know the degree to which language generally is utilitarian, like, “I want to pick up that thing,” or transactional, “I want that thing from you.” or romantic, or relationship, or gossip, or lying, and so on. And I’m just curious how a linguist might think about that.

McWHORTER: Language is more than questions, commands, and certainly more than just naked statements. Real language is about communication and charting feelings, telling people new things and that means that a language is a whole lot more than just nouns, verbs, and adjectives. If somebody says, “Oh, she’s totally going to call you,” that “totally” means, “you and I both know that other people think she isn’t going to call, but we have reason to think that she is.” We are full of things like that.

Okay, this leads to question number two: if there were a universal language, should it be a pre-existing one, or an invented one? English, while hardly universal, has of course become a very powerful language.

McWHORTER: What makes this regrettable to many, and quite understandably, is that English was the vehicle of a rapaciously imperial power and now America is the main driver.

So any pre-existing language will come with baggage, with lots of votes for and against. Does this mean we’d be better off inventing a new one? Apparently, some Facebook bots recently gave it a try.

CBS NEWS: According to several reports, Facebook’s artificial intelligence researchers had to shut down two chatbots after they developed a strange English shorthand.

A shorthand that its human creators couldn’t understand. As it happens, the dream of inventing a universal language has long been pursued by scholars, priests, even — as you’ll hear — by an ophthalmologist.

SCHOR: The history of language invention, which goes back millennia, has to do with reversing the curse of Babel.

Esther Schor is a professor of English at Princeton.

SCHOR: In other words, to return the world to a single language of perfect understanding. For some language inventors, this was imagined to be God’s own language and the language of divine truth.

In the 13th century, for instance, Ramon Llull, a Majorcan philosopher with Franciscan ties, sought to create the perfect language for channeling “the Truth,” and converting people to Christianity.

SCHOR: He created a formula for generating propositions from letters and words. He felt that some of them would be propositions to which an infidel would, of necessity, have to consent. But Llull’s truth was not the Truth, or at least it didn’t seem like the truth to the Saracens who eventually murdered him.  

A few centuries later, the German philosopher Leibniz— an admirer of Llull’s, by the way — tried to build a language based on logic.

SCHOR: Leibniz’s idea was to represent propositions by numbers and he would reason by getting the ratio of one proposition to another and calculate an answer. Again, we have the idea of a language of logic without words.

And in the 19th century, a Jewish ophthalmologist named Ludovik Lazarus Zamenhof created a language both idealistic and pragmatic.

L. L. Zamenhof, or Doktoro Esperanto, invented Esperanto in 1887. (Photo: Wikimedia)

SCHOR: It’s called Esperanto because that was his pseudonym, Doktoro Esperanto, which means the hopeful one. He brags in this initial pamphlet that you can learn it in an afternoon and that it’s fun. So it was supposed to be easy to learn and easy to pronounce.

Esperanto was derived from various European roots. Zamenhof’s idea was not to have Esperanto displace other languages.

SCHOR: He called it a helping language or an auxiliary language. It would stand next to national languages and be a helping language to make bonds among people who were not like one another.

Zamenhof was a universalist …

SCHOR: But he was also a universalist who understood what it meant to have warm feelings for one’s people. Esperanto was to somehow reconcile those two things — to try to breed in us these feelings of attachment for other people who were really quite unlike us.

The larger goal of Esperanto was nothing less than world peace.

SCHOR: He knew that language could be a wall between ethnicities, but that it could also be a bridge. That was his motivation — to build a language that would be a bridge among ethnicities. He modeled it on the teaching of Hillel. “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” Hillel was a 1st-century rabbi, so it had a very Jewish cast to it.

This did not help Esperanto’s cause. As Esther Schor told us: “[A]nti-Semitism changed the fortunes of Esperanto when the French demanded that Zamenhof shear away its religious ideology.” Hitler and Stalin would also reject Esperanto. Regardless: if you remove its religious and utopian components, what’s left, Esther Schor says, is a language with some substantial benefits over many other languages, whether existing or invented.

SCHOR: What he wanted was maximal flexibility and simplicity. For one thing, the verbs are all regular in Esperanto. He wanted a language that was egalitarian and neutral. He didn’t want people to be disadvantaged because they weren’t a native speaker. He speaks very movingly about what it’s like to try to speak a language that’s not your own. He talks about his pulse racing and his palms sweating. It’s an experience I’ve had. Perhaps you have had it also.

Ruth KEVESS-COHEN: Esperanto is a lot easier to learn than other languages because it has very regular rules and very regular grammar.

That’s Ruth Kevess-Cohen. She helped develop an online Esperanto course for the language site Duolingo.

KEVESS-COHEN: You find that it’s taking you a lot less time than you thought to learn the language. Here’s a sentence in Esperanto. “Mi estas knabo” — “I am a boy.” There is no “a” in Esperanto. “Knabo” is a noun because it has an ‘o’ at the end. Every noun ends in the letter ‘o,’ every adjective ends in the letter ‘a.’ Every verb in the present ends in ‘as,’ So you already know that “estas” is “am,” “are.” It’s the same. There’s no conjugation of that.

We spoke with Kevess-Cohen at this year’s Esperanto-USA National Congress — or Landa Kongreso, as you say it in Esperanto. Our producer Stephanie Tam spent a couple days there. You’ll hear about that in an upcoming special episode. You may be surprised to learn that Esperanto is still spoken. Esther Schor again:

SCHOR: These days, the most informed estimates I hear are several hundred thousand people speak Esperanto. The strength of Esperanto is not in numbers. The strength of Esperanto is in its continuity over 130 years in 62 countries, from generation to generation, without being passed down from generation to generation.

Still, for all its thoughtfulness and pragmatism, Esperanto never got anywhere close to its intended universal status — what Esperantists refer to as “La Fina Venko,” the “Final Victory.” Why not?

SCHOR: I can answer that by looking at what does look like a universal language in our world, which is English. What looked like a universal language in Zamenhof’s day was French. Both French and English were propelled into the world by commerce and armies, and Esperanto had neither of those.  

GORDIN: In order to keep a language constant enough so that it can function as a global, universal language, the way English is functioning now, you need to have a global communications infrastructure that standardizes dialects and pronunciations.

Michael Gordin again.

GORDIN: You need to have a global entertainment industry that produces books with standard spelling, and a pattern of accents that are considered acceptable, or that mark different classes or regional identities, and that constant reinforcement requires an infrastructure.

It’s something we don’t think about — at least I’d never thought about it — but there’s a lot of upkeep associated with language.

GORDIN: When classical Chinese was being used as a lingua franca for a very broad region — it was used in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam as the language of written communication — a very strict civil-service exam system privileged learning the language to precision. That stabilized that language.  To a certain extent the Anglophone entertainment publication and media industry, as well as the scientific institutions, stabilize a certain kind of global English now.

Gordin points to another factor that would make it hard to install a universal language: the nature of language itself.

GORDIN: The reason why I think you can’t just blanket install and say, “OK, everybody is going to learn Esperanto,” is because people will experiment and mess with the language. They’ll change it.

Which, by the way, is how we got to where we are today.

McWHORTER: Well, we have 7,000 languages.

John McWhorter, from Columbia.

McWHORTER: And language is inherently changeable not because change is swell but because as you use a language over time and you pass it on to new generations, brains tend to start hearing things slightly differently than they were produced and after a while, you start producing them that way. That is as inherent to language as it is inherent for clouds to change their shapes. It isn’t that that happens to some languages and not others. That’s how human speech goes.

DUBNER: All right, so imagine in our thought experiment now that we’ve got Earth 2.0. You’ve got seven, eight billion people. Let’s say we want to give everybody the most prosperity and opportunity and equity that’s possible. We make you the Chief, let’s say, Communications Adviser of Earth 2.0. We give you the task of writing the plan, the blueprint for creating from scratch our new language systems and institutions. What would that blueprint look like?

McWHORTER: I would say that an ideal, in the future, is that everybody in the world can communicate in one language, that people have another language that they use with their ingroup, and that we have as many of those languages as possible. I don’t think that it’s going to be another six thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine, ever. But there does need to be one language that everybody uses so that as many people in the world as possible can take advantage of economic benefits, such as they are.

WEBER: I would go with a global language on some higher level …

That’s Shlomo Weber, an economist who studies language.

WEBER: … but still keeping the local language for everybody, because sensibilities of the people [are] a very important thing.

DUBNER: Let’s say this Earth 2.0 experiment, just to be a little more realistic, that we’re still working with the resources we’ve got. In other words, the languages that exist now would still exist. English obviously has a big head start, but it obviously also comes with a lot of baggage, right? People learn English because it’s useful, but English has a history of colonialism and domination and so on. Would picking a language like English just doom it to failure?

WEBER: I don’t know. Most of the languages, maybe except Chinese, have the history of domination too.

DUBNER: Does that mean you’re nominating Chinese because they took the Middle Kingdom route and they never really tried?

WEBER: Definitely would be one of the leading languages. Absolutely. But we could have chosen six or seven. To choose one, it’s a very difficult thing. Of course, the colonial legacy of English is questionable. But it’s true for so many others — the history of Russian language, of Japanese, of French, of German, Turkish empire had also its ups and downs. But given our circumstances … English. A reluctant vote for English.

McWHORTER: I almost wish that there was some reason that everybody had to learn colloquial Indonesian. It’s the only language I’ve ever encountered where you can learn a whole bunch of words and, even though you’re going to sound like an idiot, you can get an awful lot done. You don’t sound nearly as much like an idiot stringing together your Lonely Planet words in many parts of Indonesia. There’s no such thing as the moon being a girl and a boat being a boy. None of those things that make languages hard to learn. Really — almost none! I thought this should be the world’s universal language. Indonesian is one of those languages, like English, which has been learned by so many different people speaking so many different languages that it’s relatively user-friendly as languages go.

DUBNER: You’ve argued that isolation in a language breeds complexity. Considering that English is the least isolated language there is these days — it’s everywhere — does that necessarily mean that it will or is becoming less complex, to make it accessible to newer users all over the world?

McWHORTER: It doesn’t mean that but only because this business of languages being more complex when they’re isolated, and becoming simpler when they’re spoken by a lot of adults, is largely something that happens before widespread literacy. English didn’t become relatively user-friendly because of the Bosnian cabdriver in New York. It happened when Scandinavian Vikings flooded Britain and learned bad old English but were dominant enough that generations started speaking the way they did. That became the language. You and I, right now, are speaking really crappy old English. And we feel fine about it.

DUBNER: Speak for yourself. I feel I’ve been pretty literate today. See, I didn’t use the right word for literate. Literate is written, right? I can’t even think of the right word for what I’m trying to say. What do you call it when I’m being …

McWHORTER: Articulate, I suppose.

DUBNER: Articulate. I couldn’t even come up with that. That’s how bad … I know you’re right. I just proved your point. You know what that was? That was Muphry’s Law. Do you know Muphry’s Law?

McWHORTER: No, what’s that?

DUBNER: Muphry’s law is whenever you try to correct someone’s mistake, you make an additional mistake.

McWHORTER: I didn’t know there was a name for that.

DUBNER: There is because our language is so rich, of course …

MCWHORTER: It is exactly that.

As rich as our language may be, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Coming up after the break: let’s say we bit the bullet and went with English as our universal language. How could it be made more accessible and equitable?

McWHORTER: Easy, magic wand: something that we must get rid of is linguistic prescriptivism.

And: let’s not overlook how much technology is already changing our communication.

GORDIN: It’s not going to be a Babel fish that you stick in your ear and will translate everything immediately. But it does improve the possibilities of translating roughly between language groups.


*      *      *

On Earth 2.0, it might be nice if all seven-plus billion of us spoke one shared language — and then, as John McWhorter suggested …

McWHORTER: …  and then people have another language that they use with their ingroup and that we have as many of those languages as possible.

This, McWhorter says, is pretty close to the way a lot of people already communicate.

McWHORTER: If you think about the typical person who speaks Arabic, for example. They almost certainly speak two different languages. There is the Arabic that we would learn in a book, and then there’s Moroccan Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Sudanese Arabic, Libyan Arabic. Those are completely different languages from Standard Arabic — different basic words, different grammatical constructions. You grow up speaking your Libyan Arabic — that’s mommy’s language. Then, when you go to school, you learn something that often I’ve heard people from these countries also call Arabic and that’s this other language. That happened because of history, because of cultural history in the case of Arabic, the Quran. The religious unity of the nations has a lot to do with it, but ideally nobody would have to go to school to “learn Arabic.” That is going on in many South Asian countries. It’s what a typical African often has to go through. Or if you’re Sicilian, you speak Sicilian. You go to school and you learn Italian.

Okay, fine but then there’s the task of selecting the universal language. Michael Gordin of Princeton:

GORDIN: Even if we picked a universal language that was neutral, politics being what it is — and I doubt this could be engineered away — we’d find ways to particularize the previously general.

McWHORTER: It’d be interesting if there was some sort of academy that were designed to keep people from making it more complicated …

DUBNER: I love that the linguist is coming up with The Academy to Keep Language from Becoming More Complicated. You guys are the ones that have contributed, obviously, to the way we think about language as so complicated.

McWHORTER: See, we contain multitudes.

It might be helpful to look at some of the countries that already use formulas calling for two or three languages.

WEBER: The Indians, actually. In some other countries, in Nigeria, Kazakhstan. They tried to implement this formula.

The economist Shlomo Weber.

WEBER: They tried to combine all these things. Every child has to study his own language, English, and the language of the other part of the country. Everything beautiful. You bring national cohesiveness, you bring efficiency through English, and you still sustain your individual languages, your individual attachments, your identification. But it didn’t work, because the people didn’t accept this formula. Why didn’t [they] accept it? Because their attachment to home language was much stronger than doing anything else.

DUBNER: I thought that Kazakhstan worked better than, let’s say, India or Nigeria. What did Kazakhstan do, or what happened there that made it work better?

WEBER: They have a strong government there. But in the case of Kazakhstan, I think the people were convinced that this is right way to go. In Kazakhstan, with its oil and gas resources, English is very important to be a part of the international community. Of course, [the] Kazakh language is important, it’s their own language, but they also recognize that for [the] cohesiveness of the country, Russian is an important language.

DUBNER: But you’re also suggesting that authoritarianism is handy if you want to get everybody to speak the three languages, yeah? Because democracy is a little sloppier.

WEBER: A little sloppy in this regard, right. Some other advantages, but not that.

To be fair, there are a lot of differences between Kazakhstan and India. India is much larger, much more diverse. Even so, says Michael Gordin …

GORDIN: You have to give people a reason to want to engage with the language. The energy required to learn a language is high enough that you really have to work on the motivation. The constructed languages and the natural languages provide lots of examples of the importance of that.

OK, so how do you get people to engage with a language? As we’ve seen on Earth 1.0, most of the big, legacy languages come with a lot of baggage — cultural baggage at least; more likely, colonialist baggage. So what would happen if we chose English as the new universal language? I mean, with 1.5 billion speakers, it’s already 20 percent of the way there. What would you do to make English truly accessible to everyone, especially non-native speakers?

McWHORTER: Something that we must get rid of is linguistic prescriptivism, and by that, I mean that we live with an idea that some ways of speaking a language are bad, broken, and some ways aren’t. It’s all based on myths. That’s not to say that in a formal situation you can get up and say, “Billy and me went to the store.”

GORDIN: In the 19th century, the standard by which people had to know a language, a foreign language that wasn’t their own — so let’s for the moment pretend like everybody in the world speaks French, English, or German. You had to be really fluent in one of those three but only pretty competent in the others. A much weaker level of fluency. The French person didn’t have to know a lot of English but they had to be able, with a dictionary, to puzzle their way through a scientific article. You could relax the assumption that everything has to be perfect grammar-book English and just allow the publication of rougher English in a variety of forms, without this obsessive copyediting. That would be fairer.

McWHORTER: There are some kinds of English that would be so difficult for anybody else to understand that maybe there would have to be some adjustment. But schematically, the idea that most people in most nations have to learn a form of what they speak that requires effort to master that’s crummy.

GORDIN: You could imagine subsidizing global English education. Another fair option is to say, “No, we actually really like the highly-readable, clean English.” You could charge slightly higher page fees for native speakers of English that would subsidize copy-editing for non-native speakers of English.

SCHOR: The most important thing would be to provide incentives for linguistic innovation, or for bringing language and the arts together, for bringing language and engineering together. This would have to come from some organization or donors, of course. But that’s as much of an institution as I would like to imagine negotiating language in Earth 2.0.

WEBER: I would like to have peace on this planet and then to approach those things.

DUBNER: What do you think would be a better way for everyone in the world to learn English? I’m especially curious to know, as an economist, what you think is the R.O.I. on an education dollar versus an entertainment dollar. In other words, would it be better just to have all Hollywood movies distributed globally for free? Would that be the best way for people to learn English?

WEBER: It could be the case. Once again, [the] example of India, Bollywood movies have contributed to [the] tremendous development of Hind[i] …The language was not spoken very widely in India, before the development of Bollywood.

DUBNER: Maybe even five years from now a technology like movies will seem very old-fashioned because there may be technology that’s essentially instant and perfect translation from any language to any language, right?

WEBER: Of course, technology will play a part.

GORDIN: Machine translation, I think, will never be perfect. It’s not going to be a Babel fish that you stick in your ear and will translate everything immediately. But it does improve the possibilities of translating roughly between language groups.

“It’s not going to be a Babel fish” — the Babel fish is from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by the way — “that you stick in your ear and will translate everything immediately.” Maybe not — but maybe. A New York startup called Waverly Labs has been working on a Babel fish-like earbud that’ll do live translation. They say they’ve already taken in $5 million in pre-orders. There’s also the rapidly developing Google Translate and Skype Translator. And it’s not just major languages that benefit from the digital revolution.

SCHOR: I don’t think there’s any doubt that technology has been a great boon to Esperanto …

Esther Schor again.

SCHOR … and I know many Esperantists, especially in the United States, who essentially live their Esperantic lives online. Some of them Skype, some of them do it on Facebook. LERNU.net has several hundred thousand registered users and there’s also Duolingo, which in the past two years since its inception, it has signed on about a million people into the Esperanto course, which is really amazing and marvelous.

But overall, the internet is dominated by what John McWhorter calls the big-dude languages, especially English. Google searches in English return roughly four times more results than Arabic searches; 95% of Wikipedia concepts are represented in fewer than six languages. There is of course no guarantee that this march toward English hegemony continues. History shows us that language is inherently mutable. So what can we assume about the future of language?

GORDON: Since we’re not changing the biology of humans, we can assume a couple of things …

Michael Gordin, the historian of science from Princeton.

GORDIN: … that people will learn languages; that they’ll learn them pretty well when they’re kids; and that languages won’t stay stable. If you want a more broadly-communicative, more inclusive infrastructure, you should focus on training children while they’re young and still able to learn multiple different languages and keeping them straight. In the 19th century, in Bohemia, the Czech region of the Habsburg Empire, it was quite common for neighboring peasant villages, one of which was predominantly German-speaking and one of which was predominantly Czech-speaking, to send kids to be educated in the other town. That way the kid would know both languages. Leveraging the way children can soak up languages almost effortlessly, to create a more dense web of people who understand each other’s languages, would improve some aspects of the system.

But here’s the thing. However judiciously we might draw up the best course of language for Earth 2.0, the original blueprint is unlikely to hold. Language evolves, it diverges; it constantly sparks its own offshoots. Consider a recent group of languages that were created from scratch.

Brian KERNIGHAN: Computer languages are very definitely created. And so somebody sits down and says, “this is the way we want to have our language work.”

Brian Kernighan is a computer-science professor at Princeton. He used to work at Bell Labs, the famous incubator of various operating systems and coding languages. Kernighan himself worked on the UNIX OS and the languages AWK and AMPL. The first major programming languages were invented in the late 1950s.

KERNIGHAN: The first high-level languages, I would say, would fundamentally be Fortran, COBOL, BASIC, and a language called ALGOL — which was in some sense more an academic exercise.

These languages were built for different tasks:

KERNIGHAN: Like scientific and engineering computation, which was Fortran; or business computation, which was COBOL; or even educational computation, if you like, which was BASIC. They’re definitely created for a purpose as opposed to being a natural process. On the other hand, once they’re created, then there’s a pressure for them to evolve.

Just a few years later, in 1961 …

KERNIGHAN: In 1961, a professional journal called Communications of the ACM in their January issue had a cover piece of art, which showed a schematic version of the Tower of Babel. It listed on that probably 200 programming languages. The message was, “Boy, there’s a lot of programming languages.”

Today, there are at least 1,500 programming languages.

KERNIGHAN: Do we need that many languages? Of course not. Do we use that many languages? Actually, no. The repertoire of most journeymen programmers is probably half a dozen to a dozen or something like that.

The parallel between programming languages and natural languages is not perfect, but still striking. A new language costs time, effort, and money to create, to learn, to maintain. Why, then, has there been so much growth?

KERNIGHAN: People are trying to write bigger programs, and they’re trying, often, to address programming problems. That is, taking on tasks that were not part of the original. Therefore the language evolves because the environment in which it lives is changing, the resources that are available for programmers — that is, hardware resources — are changing, and the desires of the people who write programs change as well.

GORDIN: Or an optimist would say developing into varieties of pronunciations and accents display the diversity of who we are.

Michael Gordin, speaking now about natural languages.

GORDIN: That process we’ve seen over world history many times: things fragment, then they coalesce, and then they fragment, and they coalesce again. Part of that has to do with tribal tendencies. Part of it has to do with a love of experimentation, regional loyalty, something that sounds aesthetically interesting. You could end up with something like a guy writing a poem in the late medieval period in the Tuscan dialect, Dante, producing a standard for a language by the act of his particularity.

This kind of change can create chaos. But: it’s also a hallmark of being human — a dissatisfaction with the status quo; a desire to experiment, to build, to adapt to changing circumstances.

BORODITSKY: We’re champions in the animal world at creating our own niches, taking the environment that we’re given, and then radically transforming it to suit our needs.

That’s the cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky.

BORODITSKY: And we do this with language as well.

And what is Boroditsky’s vision for language on Earth 2.0?

BORODITSKY: My emphasis would be on preserving diversity and preserving flexibility making things really easy to learn and really adaptable to environment rather than focusing on making something that is exactly the same and common across everyone. I don’t know that we can judge that we now have the best solution, and we should just build it right in. I’d still want people to learn lots of things through cultural transmission and adjust to their environment, the way that we do so well as humans. In some ways, becoming more aware of the relationship that we have with language is the thing that helps communication — more than simply trying to build one system.

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that just about everyone we’ve heard from in this series on language has been … an academic. They, like all tribes, have their own dialects and sublanguages. Which is often not all that decipherable to the rest of us. I asked Shlomo Weber about this. He’s an economist.

WEBER: At the moment, I’m the director of the New Economic School in Moscow.

DUBNER: I have to tell you. I love academia. I love academics. I love the research you do. But my one big complaint is this: the way that you academics communicate to the rest of us, to the non-academics, is terrible. I understand these are areas of technical expertise but this strikes me as its own little Tower of Babel, where there are academic researchers all over the world doing this amazing and valuable research which by the way is often funded by us, the taxpayers. And yet, we can’t really participate in it because of the way that you all communicate. I’m curious to know if we can’t solve the language or communication problem globally, if we could at least address this problem.

WEBER: Believe me, Stephen, I agree with you. I am doing my small part. I tried to write in newspapers, I go on television to talk about general things and not using the language. But it comes back to economics. There are incentives, and the incentives are not to go to tell you about this research. There is nothing in my incentive mechanism, what [my] university or community offers me, to go to talk to people who are interested in some simplified version of this research. For this, you really need to grow as an individual and to understand that, indeed, the research is supported by your dollars.

DUBNER: I will say this: honestly, as much as I complain about the gap, I’m grateful for it because I wouldn’t have a job if you guys communicated directly to people. Basically, I am the translator. So keep doing what you’re doing, Shlomo.

WEBER: Thank you. And you, Stephen, keep doing what you’re doing.

Coming up next time …

MACIEIRA [Brazilian Portuguese]: Isso vem no próximo episódio.

Oleg IVANOV [Russian]: Это будет в следующем выпуске.

Anisa SILVIANA [Bahasa Indonesia]: Yang akan datang selanjutnya.

Justin CHOW [Mandarin]: 在下一集.

Rendell de KORT [Papiamento]: … sigi proximo.

Larry Summers is a Harvard economics professor but he’s also a former president of Harvard, a former Secretary of the Treasury, and he was the chief White House economist under Obama when the Great Recession hit. What was that like?

SUMMERS: It was a very tense time. We would meet with the President each morning and talk about what was happening.

Summers gives himself and his team a crisis grade:

SUMMERS: While battlefield medicine’s never perfect, I think you’d have to say that the approach we chose was effective.

Summers also sort-of admits a past policy mistake.

SUMMERS: Perhaps, given what happened, you can say it was a mistake.

Summers also reveals — big surprise — that he is not a fan of the current White House.

SUMMERS: It’s the disregard for ascertainable fact and disregard for analysis of the consequences of policy actions.

That’s next time …

MACIEIRA [French]: Ca, ça viendra dans le prochain épisode …

Dayana MUSTAK [Bahasa Malaysia]: Episod seterusnya dalam Radio Freakonomics.

SCHOR [Esperanto]: Tiu venas venontfoje ĉe Freakonomics Radio.

Also: look for our upcoming special episode, with producer Stephanie Tam, about modern-day Esperanto. Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Stephanie Tam. Our staff also includes Alison Hockenberry, Merritt Jacob, Greg Rosalsky, Eliza Lambert, Emma Morgenstern, Harry Huggins, and Brian Gutierrez; we had help this week from Sam Bair. Special thanks to our intern Kent McDonald — and to the many listeners who contributed their voices, and their languages, to this episode. The music you hear throughout the episode was composed by Luis Guerra. You can subscribe to Freakonomics Radio on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or via e-mail at radio@freakonomics.com.

Kim LE [Vietnamese]: Xin cảm ơn rất nhiều.

Hagit SALTZBERG [Hebrew]: תודה רבה

SILVIANA [Bahasa Indonesia]: Terima kasih.

ALJUTAILI [Arabic]: شكراً جزيلاً

MACIEIRA [Brazilian Portuguese]: Muito obrigada.

Mara DAJVSKIS [Latvian]: Liels paldies.

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode:




The post What Would Be the Best Universal Language? (Earth 2.0 Series) appeared first on Freakonomics.

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Posted by bethwesson


The clip I can’t stop watching!

I keep re watching the clip from Outlander’s next episode “All Debts Paid”.  I find myself mesmerized by Lord John Grey.  I have to laugh at myself because I know these characters so well that I’m all up in what’s going on in Lord John’s head when he sees Jamie.  I’m already interpreting his facial expressions and body language!  This is one of the big issues we book fans turn TV series fans have to deal with…knowing too much! My knowing what Lord John is thinking is actually kind of ironic because I’m pretty sure this actor, David Berry, did not know as much about his character at this point in filming the story. I believe I heard him say he got the role one day and was on set the next. An actors’ life is a strange one to be sure. So, how did he manage to embody that character so quickly?  It’s gotta be magic or Kismet or some other kind of cosmic luck or a casting department that are clairvoyant geniuses! Seriously, their track record deserves its own olympics!  I KNOW Cait and Sam had no real idea just what kind of plum roles they had landed.  I think I remember reading about Sam telling a director/friend that he had just gotten something he thought might be a big deal. I’m pretty sure he knows now that it was.  However, that whole first season, I continued to wonder if they truly knew what great characters they were going to get to play.  Did they know they were going to get to play characters that struggled with real issues, made hard choices, lived with integrity, and evolved?  Do they know it just keeps getting better?

We fans have had eight books to get to know these characters intimately.  In Lord John’s case, Diana felt he was interesting enough to give him his own book series. His character arc of being a gay man in the 1700’s is interesting.  What would life be like for a gay man in a time when knowledge of your sexual orientation could get you killed and ruin the lives of everyone you care about?  Some would say not so different than now. Lord John is definitely one of my favorite characters. I’ve written before that I think he might actually rival Jamie in honor, integrity and loyalty and Claire for being caring and kind.

Recently, I read some research on the topic of loneliness.  I thought about that research this week after watching Outlander ‘s last episode “Surrender”.  Jamie, Claire, and Frank were all suffering from loneliness. The research I read suggested that loneliness was monstrous in its effects on the people who suffer it, mentally, spiritually, and physically.  They went on to distinguish what is true loneliness vs transient feelings of being lonely.  They concluded that the cause of loneliness was a want of intimacy.  I believe the deeper look that Diana gives us in the life of Lord John Grey is also one of loneliness and a want of intimacy.

Psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, an early researcher in the topic of loneliness, claimed that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world. She suggested that we often guiltly avoid the lonely because it “touches on our own possibility of loneliness”.  The research, I read, suggests that there is a high frequency of loneliness in those who feel other, different, those that feel discriminated against. When the HIV epidemic was at its zenith, scientists found they were able to predict which patients would die sooner.  It wasn’t those who lacked family or support systems, as they expected.  It was those who were still in the closet.  The inability to be yourself and be accepted for who you are can have devastating consequences.  Lord John Grey is a man who must be in the closet and that takes its toll. When you are forced to present yourself as someone other than who you are every word must be watched, every look practiced, every touch measured, and every piece of information about yourself policed. A person forced to stay in the closet lives in constant fear of exposure or blackmail.  Intimacy and even friendships can, and at times must, be limited. Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John gives a look into the loneliness these sharp limits can create.

outlander-staffel3-john-grey.jpgWhen these two men, Lord John and Jamie Fraser, meet again in Ardsmuir Prison they are both lonely.  They are both in positions that require them to keep themselves somewhat separate from others.  Lord John is the governor of the prison and as such, holds a position of authority that makes few his equal. Jamie finds himself in a similar predicament. The men in the prison look to him as their leader and chief. As governor and as MacDubh, both men hold a position that naturally places them in a higher “social” station if you will.

Jamie has spent the years since he lost Claire in some type of “prison”.  Ardsmuir has provided him with more company than he has had in years and believe or not more freedom.  He is no longer being hunted, he is no longer a danger to those he cares about, but he is still without the intimacy that would relieve some of his loneliness. The prisoners give him something to care for and about, but they look to him as a leader more than friend and treat him with deference.  He is different and apart from them. John’s prison is the secret he must keep.  John has family and friends, but other than his occasional lover, he has no one with whom he can be himself.  He is different and apart from everyone even his own brother.  John has to measure every word he speaks and hide his true self from everyone.  He craves intimacy.

Despite, the difference in their stations and the odd circumstances under which they interact, it is not surprising that they would strike up a tenuous friendship. Had they met under different circumstances, they would have found they had a lot in common. John and Jamie are both learned men who share a love of books and philosophy. They are both soldiers who have had the responsibility of leadership. They get each other’s sense of humor. They are both fiercely loyal and protective of those they love.  And, I think as men of integrity, they recognize the honor in the other.

Lord John has the misfortune to fall in love with Jamie, a man who can never return his feelings.  Jamie has very real reasons for associating homosexuality with the abuse he suffered at the hands of BJR, and his reaction to John’s revealing of his desires is nothing short of violent and complete rejection. The fact that they are able to be friends after all, and in the end, speaks volumes about both men. I can’t help but believe that Lord John’s friendship became the most important of Jamie’s life and his for John, as well. I believe that each was able to help the other heal.

There was not easiness between them any longer—but there was honesty. And that was a thing he had had—ever would have—with precious few men.—Lord John in The Scottish Prisoner, Chapter 18

John challenged Jamie’s beliefs about love and friendship and made him a more tolerant and empathtic man and Jamie gave John the acceptance he craved and a purpose of sorts, someone worthy to love.

Could you call a man who would never touch you- would recoil from the very thought of touching you- your lover? No. But at the same time, what would you call a man whose mind touched yours, whose prickly friendship was a gift, whose character, whose very existence, helped to define your own?

—-Lord John in Lord John and the Plague of Zombies

I am so looking forward to watching this relationship develop, watch the show handle another difficult subject with sensitivity, and wonder at the power of acceptance and love.





Off tomorrow!

Sep. 20th, 2017 07:43 pm
17catherines: Amor Vincit Omnia (Default)
[personal profile] 17catherines
On my grand and crazy choral adventure through Europe.  So you won't be seeing a lot of me here, though I will undoubtedly be all over Facebook like a rash.  Incidentally, it turns out that I'm in Paris for the Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre, which is very exciting, and means that I have been madly signing up to free exhibitions and tours of all sorts of things.  I shall report back when I can.

I finished up work on Friday, but have been running around like a madwoman ever since, because what with everyone around me having horrible health scares or worse this year, I'm beginning to feel a bit morbid about my trip and wanted to see everyone before I left just in case I died while overseas.

Yeah, that's the inside of my brain right now.  It does not sleep.  Sleep is for the weak!  (Or for the plane.)

I also have apparently decided that I am only allowed to ignore the postal survey if I have written EVERY IMAGINABLE POLITICS BLOG POST before I leave.  So in addition to the one from last week, I wrote an epic piece yesterday fact-checking one of those long lists about all the ways countries lost their religious freedom after achieving marriage equality (hint: they really didn't. Also, some people are really paranoid about gender fluidity), and I'm working on four more pieces which will publish at various points while I'm away and after I come back.   Because I'm nuts.

Oh, and I posted my vote back on Monday, because that's rather more important than just writing endless essays...

For a different flavour of nuttiness, we're doing the Global Challenge at work this year, and our team is called 'one small step for science', which pretty much mandates an astronaut theme – and so on Saturday, I led my team on our first big group walk to the planetarium.  We met in Brunswick, at Handsome Her, a café that has achieved peak Brunswick by being vegan, environmentally sensitive (glass straws, no disposable cups or serviettes, free compost out the back for your garden) and feminist (men have to pay an 18% surcharge, which is donated to a women's shelter, and the walls are covered with vulva-themed art.  Except in the bathrooms, which have a menstruation art theme.  It's quite... something.).  Also hipster - every item on the menu has about twenty different elements, including things like charcoal brioche buns, smoked avocado and strawberry baobab ice cream.  Oh, and also all menu items are named for feminist icons.  And there are four kinds of non-dairy milk available for your coffee.

It's hilarious.  The food's pretty good, too.

Anyway, having stuffed ourselves silly on vegan yummies, we embarked on our journey, which quickly turned into a bit of a death march because everyone had arrived late, which meant we hit Brunch Peak Hour, which meant we left late, which meant we had just over 2 hours in which to walk the 12 km to the planetarium before our show started.  Ouch.

We started by walking along the Capital City trail, through Royal Park, until we met Flemington Bridge. Which we hadn't been expecting to meet, but evidently we got onto the wrong trail in Royal Park.  Fortunately this was, if anything, a short cut. Then we wandered through the streets of Kensington, and along a rather pretty path between houses and gardens with rather farm like fences that made us feel as though we were being herded like cattle - we were on the site of the old abbatoir, as it turned out!

Next we walked along the Maribyrnong River for a while, past the glorious golden Buddha statue, and then sadly left it behind us to walk along a rather busy road and under the Westgate Bridge. We had to take a slight shortcut at this point, which was a pity, because we missed a nice little footbridge out over the water.

Finally, we reached the planetarium - five minutes before our show was due to start!  We rushed in, and got to watch a gorgeous show about stars and how they work, which had really spectacular artwork - they would visualise the star as it would look, then stylise it into an art-deco / stained glass sort of design, and it was just stunning.  This was followed by a guided tour of the night sky over Melbourne in September, which referenced the indigenous constellations, and was really fantastic.  Finally, we got a special extra video about the Cassini mission to Saturn, which had of course ended the night before.  So that was really a nice touch, and we all walked out resolving to do some actual star-watching at a later challenge date.

And then we caught the ferry home, because if you can catch the ferry, you must catch the ferry.  That is the rule.

It was spectacular, and fun, and I got 26,700 steps and hurt all over for two days.  But it was worth it.

And this is me signing off for now - I have politics blog posts to write and a bag to pack.  See you next month!

the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)
[personal profile] the_comfortable_courtesan

Of course Sandy had heard of the certain club. There had been that matter of the comedic actor Elias Winch, Miss Richardson’s uncle, whose perilous proceedings at public places of resort had entirely ceased once he had joined. And when it seemed that Sir Hartley Zellen, a very useful man in the Commons, might join their reforming set, it had been ascertained that he was entire discreet in indulging the urges of his disposition as a member of that club.

But it had been Clorinda who had acquired intelligence of the place. There had been no approaches during the years with Gervase.

So while he returned a civil reply to Sir Hartley’s discreet overture, he was not sure what he might do about the matter.

Is it not, he asked Clorinda, a bordello?

Why, I apprehend that there are arrangements whereby fellows may gratify their urges, but 'tis also, I confide, a place where fellows of the disposition may gather and feel they may breathe a little more freely than they may do in general society. And I daresay there is some matter of being able to assist does one of their number encounter difficulties, for there are fellows that command considerable interest among 'em. And perchance there are fellows that are not in the happy situation that you had and may not live together openly, but find it a place where they need not disguise their affections.

Indeed we were most uncommon fortunate, he said in sombre tones. But, dearest sibyl, is it foolish and sentimental in me to ask, what would Gervase say?

Clorinda smiled at him. Not in the least, dear Sandy. But I think he would wish that you did not become an entire recluse, went about in Society; and I think he would consider that your presence would be of entire benefit to the club, that must indeed be a thought of theirs as well. You are known a clever and well-thought-of fellow such I am sure they would greatly desire among their number.

Would that I had a fan about me that I might smack you with it as an arrant flatterer!

But is it not entirely so? You are still greatly valued among our political set for the acuity of your judgements, indeed there have been mutterings from Sir Barton and Lords Abertylld and Vinwich that sure you should stand for Parliament yourself.

Sandy shuddered. I think I prefer to be an eminence gris.

Or eminence rouge! Sure that better suits you, I confide. She sighed. Whereas do you not think that Susannah Wallace would show extreme well as an MP?

Without a doubt, but that in the present state of society, I fear men would not listen to her, however sound her arguments.

They both sighed.

He felt curiously agitated about the prospect of attending: there was some matter of an initiation to be undergone, and then, a deal of fellows, no doubt, that, apart from Sir Hartley, he did not know.

Do you think I am dressed entirely suitable? he asked Clorinda.

She glanced up at him. Sure, she said in a distracted fashion, these working-parties to make clothes for the orphans might answer, if only the ladies that express themselves with great enthusiasm at the prospect would ever come to 'em and work. What, my dear? Oh, indeed, you look an entire well-dressed philosopher, and I would suppose they do not expect a gentleman of fashion.

Clorinda! Please to look at me properly and tell me is anything out of order.

La, o bello scozzese, you are in a taking over this business, my dear. They have already passed you for membership –

There is some ceremony -

Swearing tremendous oaths I daresay. Mayhap somewhat like unto the Freemasons, not that I know aught about 'em. Is not The Magic Flute give out to be about masons?

You seem in somewhat of a taking yourself, o silly creature, you seem considerable distracted.

Clorinda sighed and shook her head. I think Sir Vernon is going propose to me again. Sure I should not have supposed that an occasional agreeable romp was merely all he desired.

Sandy snorted. Why, I suppose he has been about a very diplomatic wooing, to lure you into concessions step by step –

Alas, I think you have the right of it. But, my dear, you look entire well. I have told Nick to bring the carriage round for you, and then bring it back to convey me to Sir Vernon’s dinner party.

So he went off in fine style to the extremely discreet doorway where one scrutinized him through the peephole before admitting him, and he was conducted at once to a small room where he was met by and introduced to Sir Stockwell Channery, Lord Saythingport, Terence Offerton, and Mr Chumbell. They read him over the conditions of membership and the horrid warnings as to the fate of any that breached discretion, but there was no ritual to the matter and while he was required to take an oath, no-one made him swear upon a Bible.

They then all heartily wrung his hand and desired him to enjoy the amenities of the establishment.

Chumbell, that was positively bouncing up and down, put his arm through Sandy’s and said, perchance they might go take a little sherry and discourse of classics?

Oh, come, Chumbell, said Offerton, taking Sandy’s other arm, there will be time enough for that, let the fellow find his feet a little first. Though he then went on to remark on the very fine billiard-table provided for members.

Indeed it was an excellent fine club – splendid comfortable public rooms, attentive footmen, a well-provided supper-table – and more familiar faces than he had anticipated. Tom Tressillian the actor; Colonel Adams, that had given such a fine lecture to the antiquarians on certain Hindu antiquities of Bengal; Sir Hartley, of course –

Is that music? he asked.

Why, must be Herr Hahn favours us upon his flute, cried Offerton.

Well: Franz Hahn; 'twas no surprise when he came to think of it.

And, in the room where Hahn was playing, standing under a painting of a faun, that was probably a Linsleigh, and undoubtedly one for which he had modelled, Maurice Allard, looking at him with a little lift of his chin and an air of having as much right as anyone to be there: surely the case. He was dressed entirely sober, but one did not spend two decades and more in the company of such a noted arbiter of style as Gervase, that had achieved the approbation of Brummell himself, without garnering some apprehension of what fine tailoring looked like. And how it might set off a fellow’s looks…

Franz Hahn put down his flute with great care, came up and shook Sandy by the hand, murmured that he heard Lady Bexbury was likely to resume her soirées? and gave a civil response to Sandy’s enquiries after his family. Did he know everybody? Perchance he had not met Allard?

Naturally, said Sandy, as Franz Hahn made the introduction, Lady Bexbury has spoken of him, declares she would be an entire dowd without him.

'Tis ever a pleasure, said Maurice, to have the dressing of Lady Bexbury.

At which moment came up Colonel Adams, with recollections of the very interesting questions Mr MacDonald had raised at his lecture, and wondering if he would some time care to come look at his little private collection of Hindu antiquities?

Sandy made some civil reply and was very glad of the glass of wine he found in his hand. He looked about the room and said, I confide that painting is a Linsleigh?

The most of the paintings are, said Offerton. He added, with a wink, there are some particular fine ones on the upper floor – is Basil here the e’en?

Maurice shrugged. Have not seen him.

Offerton went on, you may go look at 'em – of course, do not enter any chamber that has the door closed, but is the door open you may look in.

Mayhap later, said Sandy, a little overwhelmed at the warmth of his reception – the icy gaze in those black eyes was quite salutory refreshing by comparison.

After supper, feeling in need of a few moment’s solitude, he said that he would go look at the paintings, no need to accompany him.

Some few of the doors were already closed, but there were paintings along the corridor, and he peeped inside the first open door he came to. The chamber was empty, though well-furnished, and he examined the painting, rather glad that he was alone, for he could still, he found, be brought to the blush.

There was a faint noise: he looked up, and saw Maurice Allard, in the act of closing the door.

He was about to say that he supposed that they could both maintain a reasonable cool civility to one another in public – for it looked as though that was the concern that Allard wished to disclose – and their eyes met, their gazes locked. And – oh, they had not exorcized that carnal urging, that furor, after all.

Some while later – sure these chambers were very well provided for their purpose – Maurice looked up and said, that was not what I intended.

I did not think it was. Will it be noted?

I am like to doubt it, providing we do not go downstairs together.

Well, I shall go down first, and say how very taken I was by the paintings, is that really the time, sure one might have supposed oneself frolicking with Dionysus in Ancient Greece – and then I shall go ask Chumbell about whether he considers them an accurate portrayal –

Do you do this sort of thing very often?

Seldom, said Sandy, but have long had the acquaintance of an entire mistress of the art of making people see what she wants them to see.

Maurice scowled at him. It was - endearing. Sandy kissed him and began to dress.

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[personal profile] the_comfortable_courtesan

Dear Hannah! I daresay you would know best, but you do not show at all, are you entire sure you are with child?

La, Maurice, I can assure you that women – most of 'em - know the matter’s afoot. At least once they have already been about the business a time or two. One does hear tales of young girls that did not realize their state, and women at a certain time of life that supposed ‘twas the climacteric come to ‘em.

He began to drape stuff around her and take measurements. If we gather it thus - you see? – makes a pleasing effect and none would suspect what lies beneath.

Mind you do not make it too fine – I shall not be about giving speeches the while, and going to as few meetings as I may. But one may not eschew all company, and there is the matter of village gossip.

He looked at her. It was entire pleasing to see such a happy young woman in his fitting-room. So many of the ladies who came to him had some matter that troubled them, or were discontent by nature, and even a little flattery, and dressing them very well, did not entirely soothe their spirits.

You manage matters 'twixt the pair of you very well: how is Miss Ferraby?

Entire well. We are indeed fortunate. But 'tis agreeable to come to Town and see family and friends. But indeed, I should ask is all well with you – Lady Bexbury said you had been having some little trouble?

Quite resolved, he said, greatly hoping that he was not the subject of conversation over that lady’s supper-table.

She said somewhat to the effect that 'twas indeed good of you to see me now you have so much business come upon hand now 'tis all remedied.

Sure, you are family.

Why, I am daresay there are those among our connexion would not wish make that acknowledgement, was all known.

Maurice looked at their reflections in the pier-glass. Provided, he says, one does not flaunt, maintains a due discretion, so that it does not have to be openly spoke and known about –

Hannah’s eyes met his in the glass. She did not need to voice her understanding.

Some moments later, while she was putting on her accustomed garments, she said, but really I do not understand why people make such a bother about it. So unnecessary. Sure society is very cruel to unwed mothers and their offspring, but one may see that there is some reason – may not be a good or charitable reason, but if 'tis not the fear of the fathers about bringing scandal upon them, ‘tis the more general worry that they may come upon the parish and cause expense and raising of the rates. She sighed. And at least one may talk of that, and say that that harshness causes unhappy women to destroy their infants, and make arguments for more humane treatment. But when something may not even be talked of –

He patted her shoulder.

After she had left, he scribbled down a few notes and sketches for the gowns he would have made for her, and then told Miss Coggin, the head of the sewing-room, that he would be going out. Did not have any ladies coming for fittings the afternoon; did any come in hopes – vulgar creatures, murmured Miss Coggin – she might go take their measurements and requirements and ask 'em to return once they had been given appointments.

She pursed her lips in the way he knew meant that she would bring any ladies that did so to a fine appreciation of the consequence of the establishment.

He set off on a journey he did not particularly want to take, but was to undertake a prudent matter to dispatch. He took a hansom cab to some distance from his final destination: for although the tavern he sought was not precisely within the notorious rookery of Seven Dials, it was on its border. He picked his way fastidiously along the streets, keeping his walking stick in his hand in a manner that suggested it might serve as a weapon as well as a fashionable accoutrement.

From long habit he looked about before entering the place. But it was very unlikely anyone who might recognize him would see him here.

Enquiring as to whether Nat Barron was on the premises, he was directed by a jerk of the thumb into a back room.

Nat was there among various members of his gang. One of whom – presumably a new recruit – said, 'ere, oo’s the pooff: earning himself a smack or two about the head from Nat. Show some respect, Maurie may look the gent but he’s an old friend.

Nat Barron and Maurice clasped one another’s shoulder, looked into one another’s faces, and then Nat motioned him to sit down, pouring him a glass of the gin he kept for himself.

Got somebody that needs warning off? he asked.

Maurice shook his head. I think word has got about after making a few examples.

For what had gained him the position he now enjoyed at the club was this connexion that enabled severe warning to be given to any that used knowledge gained there for the purposes of extortion. In return, Nat acquired the good feeling of fellows in high places that might well be useful to him did necessity arise. 'Twas entirely mutually beneficial.

Pity, said Nat, as you see there are one or two fellows here would be the better of some occupation to work off their feelings.

Maurice took a sip of gin, and disclosed to Nat the recent trouble he had had.

Oh, and you want us to show this spying fellow the error of his ways?

Why, it might gratify my feelings did you so – Nat smiled and shook his head and says, talks as good as a play – but I thought, a fellow that has a memory like that, might be of use to you.

Nat nodded slowly. A good thought. You always did have that long view.

Maurice shrugged. If a long view was considering that luring fellows into alleys so that Nat and his boys could rob them was an occupation with a rather short future and like to end badly for him, whereas obliging gentlemen in comfortable indoor surroundings was not only remunerative but provided him with considerable insight into gentlemanly habits and behaviour, yes, he took the long view: and the even longer view had been completing his articles of apprenticeship. But he also made sure to stay on Nat’s good side. Passed on any useful gossip he learned from ladies in the course of his day, and had constructed this very beneficial alliance 'twixt Nat and the club.

Sure he owed Nat a considerable debt for the protection that in younger days his friendship had afforded an undersized pretty boy disinclined to the usual boyish pursuits and happier to play with girls.

May not linger, he said, but thought you should know of the fellow as soon as might be, before goes completely to ground.

Maurice walked to where he might find a hansom cab and directed it to take him to his lodging. Once there, he washed himself very thoroughly with the very expensive soap, to get rid of any lingering stink of Seven Dials before he went to the club, where he was bidden to a committee meeting to consider upon new members.

Smoothing pomade into his hair, he had the unwanted memory of a larger hand stroking it in a fashion it was entirely foolish to suppose affectionate, rather than the pleasure one might take in stroking a fine purring cat.

But that was past and done.

At the club he was ushered into the committee room. It was ever gratifying to him, even if these marks of respect were founded upon those early connexions.

Sir Stockwell sat at the head of the table; Chumbell at the foot; Colonel Adams, late of Bengal and with the most fascinating stories of dancing boys; Sir Hartley Zellen, whose fine looks were becoming a little florid, and his hair thinning; Terence Offerton; Lord Saythingport, that had a wife, an established mistress, and had at one time offered Maurice an establishment.

Ah, good, Allard, said Sir Stockwell. Mysell-Monting cannot come, but we have a quorum, nonetheless. Now, the matter of fellows we may solicit to join our number –

Various names were put forward, of whom Maurice knew little but any public reputation they had. Some former comrade of Adams in the East; a scholar known to Chumbell – a Cambridge man, but nevertheless a sound fellow, very sound; a naval officer acquainted with Sir Stockwell; a couple of young fellows in Saythingport’s set –

Sir Hartley cleared his throat. Has not the time come to consider MacDonald? he said. Sure it would have been somewhat vulgar to approach him very shortly after Lord Raxdell’s dreadful demise, but ‘tis nigh two years ago that the accident happened. An excellent fellow.

Is he not, replied Saythingport, given out most exceeding radical in his views?

Why, said Sir Hartley, he is a philosopher and will throw out a deal of hypotheses, but our set have always found him sensible and practical.

Is he not, squeaked Chumbell in great excitement, considered something of a classical scholar?

I would know nothing of that, said Offerton, but has quite the cunningest hand at billiards, next after Jacob Samuels.

Why, said Sir Stockwell, as to his abilities in classical learning, I was late conversing with Admiral Knighton, that says that his lady wife, that is known for her most remarkable unwomanly capacities in that sphere, holds him in quite the highest esteem. Also considers him a very clever fellow himself, that has a particular knack for sounding out mysteries.

Maurice felt his face settle into a mask as of one considering these arguments. 'Twould be entire vulgar to blackball MacDonald, that had done him such great service in his own difficulty. But one might confide that Saythingport, and possibly Adams, would do so.

But, when the balls for each candidate were tallied, there were no black balls for MacDonald.

Maurice’s heart sank.

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Posted by bethwesson

This move to Sunday night programming is throwing a definite wrench into my reflection and writing.  My real life is full of grandchildren’s athletic events, activities, and my own school work. There is rarely a day that I don’t have something to attend or something to grade.  My old Outlander viewing/writing schedule found me watching the show either lying in bed at midnight with headphones and an iPad or viewing early Saturday morning with two mini doxies on my lap and sipping several cups of coffee with cream. I would write a few notes and watch again and write a few more notes.  I would then watch the show on the big screen Saturday night with my husband, let my thoughts percolate until Sunday morning,  spend a few hours writing, revising, and proofreading and then hit the publish button around noon. Soon, I would find myself frantically correcting the proofreading errors I saw after I hit publish…sigh.

My time to write and reflect has been shortened by half and I am finding myself jealous of those folks who have access to “screeners” and time to sit with their thoughts. These episodes are so full of meaning, I could write pages.  I could write about how young men continue to dream of the glory of war and guns that become as rare and as mythical as unicorns. I could write of how hard life is and how quickly hardship can age and change us all. I could write of the cost of war and the destruction of the highland way of life, of sacrifice, and family.  I need time to think and so, I’m hoping my readers will wait until I find my focus and voice.

Jamie Grieves

Yesterday, I opened Twitter to find someone tweeting about episode 3.2 , “It looks like Jamie is missing Claire a lot more than she misses him”.  I quickly shut my feed, not wanting to be influenced before I had a chance to form my own opinions, but now I think that tweet might have help me find my focus…grief. Did Jamie miss Claire more?

Ian put it perfectly when he explained how a missing hand can still hurt even when it is no longer there and that, he reminded Jamie, was just a hand…”Claire was your heart”. The overwhelming sadness I felt watching Sam Heughan’s portrayal of Jamie cannot be overstated. His portrait of a man who has lost everything, including his heart, was visceral. I felt him.  I felt his absolute and abject loneliness. I felt his pain.  His heart has been ripped from his chest and yet, he lives. I marked his body language. He reminded me of a dog that has been beaten too many times. It was if he expected the next blow to happen at any moment and as a result, shies away from as much human interaction as possible. He walks as if he always has the deadweight of the deer on his shoulders.  He is never without the heavy weight of burden and grief. He is awkward and slow to respond and you wondered how often he ever spoke. It was almost as if he had to go find his words. He is emotionally exhausted.

It is true that the mind and soul can only take so much before they shut down and It appears as if he has stopped caring.  He just gives a slight nod when he hears Ian has been arrested, again, and Fergus cannot provoke him to a reaction even when he calls him a coward.  As I watched, I kept thinking it isn’t that he doesn’t feel, it’s that he feels too much.  He can’t escape his loss, it is all around him. Lallybroch has always been his dream, his place of refuge, but even it is now a reminder of all that has been lost. He cannot even live in the open without causing them all danger and so literally and figuratively exists in shadow. He has no where he can go, he has lost both of his homes, Lallybroch and…Claire.

Claire Grieves

“My mother. My mother lives in another world.”  says Bree.

Our glass faced Claire cannot completely hide her feelings even when she tries.  And,…she tries. If Jamie feels too much in his grief, it seems Claire feels too little. Jamie wakes from Culloden to another nightmare, living instead of dying.  Claire didn’t have to wake up to the nightmare of living without Jamie.  She has been forced from the beginning to walk into hers.  She believes that Jamie died at Culloden and believes herself to be a widow. As a result, her grief is different. Her grief is about trying to find a new normal, a new self without Jamie.  She suppresses and moves on because she promised Jamie she would. She suppresses and moves on because she promised Frank she would.  She suppresses and moves on because she has a daughter who needs a mother.  She can’t afford to lose herself in her grief.  She has to let go of the past because she has a future. Feelings, however, cannot stay suppressed inside the skin forever.  Caitriona Balfe’s subtle performance let’s us see how hard she is trying. Her feelings come to the surface and escape through a crack in her facade in the form of a flinch, a comment, a look of longing, displaced anger, and emotional distance.  Claire needs to be in the present, but she cannot truly come back from the past.  She too is trying to find a way to live without her heart and the phantom hurts and burns and keeps her up at night.

Filling in the Cracks With What Mortar Comes Handy

Jamie and Claire are only human. Jamie so closely relates sex to love that he cannot bring himself to seek the comfort of laying with anyone but Claire. Jamie longs for tenderness, for the gentleness of a woman’s touch, for intimacy to take away the sting of his loneliness. Mary’s acknowledgement of his love for Claire and her offer of something less than, but something they both need to keep them whole, is just too sweet to resist.  And, so he closes his eyes and faces his need with a single tear. Claire misses her husband…Jamie. She misses how he completes her and makes her feel alive and whole. And, so in her loneliness she reaches for her husband Frank, across their bed, closes her eyes and faces her need.

Finding a New Normal

They can never truly be the same again, but come to the realization that they have to find a way to live. For Jamie, it took the loss of Fergus’ hand to wake him up to the realization that he does have something to live for and for the first time in six years, he looks to the future and takes action.  He is trying to find a new normal, a way to live without his heart.  He has so few options, but he takes advantage of the one he has been given by the redcoats. He sends himself to prison to provide for Lallybroch and his family.  He keeps them safe the only way he can by exchanging one type of prison for another.  In truth, I had the feeling that this is Jamie’s purgatory for the sins he believes he has earned and he is enduring, “even 200 years” without Claire, until he can find her again in death.  In the book, Jamie understands that his life will hold little happiness and he accepts that is his lot.

Claire suffers her own type of purgatory, living in neither heaven nor hell, in her marriage of convenience. Like Jamie, she has surrendered to her circumstances.  She has accepted the things she cannot change and has come to the realization, that for her, finding a new normal must include the element of living for more than just herself.

“I once believed I was whole. But, the man I loved was Jamie.  I was part of something bigger than myself”.

She misses her calling as a healer and making a difference.  We see them both surrender to a new future, a new normal, and watch them move away from the past to the sound of bagpipes playing Scotland the Brave.


I was moved by both Jamie’s and Claire’s visions of each other. I felt sorry for them both, he for seeing her and realizing once again that she is gone, and her for her loneliness, for the intimacy she craves.  But, both scenes left me with a vague sense of unease.  Their images of each other have been frozen in time. Jamie sees Claire in her 1700’s clothing with her wee herb basket on her arm, smiling gently at him, all womanly grace and beauty.  The reality of who Claire is becoming is more warrior than woman.  She is going into battle and it will change her.  Claire’s vision of Jamie glowing in firelight, forever young and virile and smiling, is a far cry from the feral bedraggled and imprisoned man he continues to be.  Jamie is no longer the warrior he once was and struggles to find agency. His struggles will affect who he becomes, as well.  I am once again afraid that when they do finally reunite, they may not find the man and woman they once loved.  But, I trust in the power of love to overcome and who Jamie and Claire are when they are together…something bigger than themselves.




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[personal profile] the_comfortable_courtesan

Sandy found himself feeling curiously light-hearted. He had entirely expected to feel cast into the gloom and despondency that had ever followed his carnal engagements with Geoffrey Merrett, but somehow, yestere’en’s romp with Maurice Allard had quite disproved the Galenic maxim. There been, perchance, a lack of the constraint that afflicted him when 'twas a matter of fellows he had known since their youth, that had – he fancied – been wont to look up to him, considered him even in the light of a mentor: and it had rendered the undertaking somewhat shameless in its indulgence. He doubted not that 'twould be very hard to shock Maurice Allard in any matter of carnality, anymore than one could Clorinda. Well, he had done the deed, much to his astonishment, and it had been exceeding enjoyable, and he would never have to see Allard again, and there would certainly be no matter of languishing sad spaniel eyes gazing at him across a dinner-table anxious for a depth of affection he could not give.

Why, my dear, said Clorinda, pouring him coffee, you are very cheerful the morn.

Why, have we not succeeded in sounding out a mystery and bringing the matter to a most exceeding satisfactory conclusion?

'Tis so, and yet –

And yet - ?

La, I am a foolish fretful creature, but I wonder what that woman goes about now. Perchance one should go warn Miss Addington, lest she goes try her encroaching ways upon her.

Why, 'tis by no means like the time you were given out at Carlsbad when she behaved so shocking.

Indeed she is a soberer creature these days: and I confide she would go straight to Lady Jane and disclose the matter to her.

And ask whether she might send for the Admiral and his horsewhip, perchance!

Hector came in with a note upon a tray for Sandy, saying that the boy waited for a reply.

The sight of Geoffrey Merrett’s handwriting somewhat lowered his mood. He broke the seal. Why, he said, Geoff is back in Town and wonders am I free the e’en to dine at his club – I cannot recollect any other engagement and may as well get this over with –

He went to the desk, scribbled an acceptance, blotted, folded and sealed it and handed it to Hector, adding sixpence for the boy.

Why, my dear, you make a very hearty breakfast the morn, shall I ring for more muffins?

No, I have had an entire sufficiency, but might you oblige me with more coffee –

She did so, adding, and do you go out at all?

I had a purpose to work in the library if that is agreeable?

Entirely, if you do not mind me coming to and fro a little for books upon monasteries and monks and some general history.

You go write some tale on that topic?

Have some inclination to do so, 'tis very pleasing to feel a tale under my hands again. But Hannah will come look in at tea-time. Purposes stay at Raxdell House with her parents, that falls out well: might give her a little note for Seraphine, in case that minx – sure she is by now a deal too old to be named minx! – endeavours make trouble.

Indeed, 'twas being in that plot with Evenden brought about their ill-fated union, so that she might not turn evidence upon him, the wretch – but I cannot see it profiting her.

O, did she not ever quite feed upon spite and malice! But I daresay you will wish to see Hannah.

I am ever pleased to see Hannah.

Indeed, it was a very agreeable day: sitting in the library and Clorinda in and out and talking of monasteries: are there not, she asked, communities of monks now returned to English soil?

Indeed so: do you like, I might ask Father O’Donaghue of the matter when I go play chess with him, might take his mind off the state of Irish affairs.

'Twould be most exceeding kind.

And then having tea with dear Hannah, that was looking most exceeding well, but not yet visibly with child. Clorinda looked at her and said, La, these modern fashions, a lady may conceal a deal beneath 'em.

Hannah smiled. 'Tis sure a better thing than lacing very tightly to conceal one’s state. Tomorrow I go consult with cousin Maurice as to how to have my skirts cut so that they will disguise my condition until 'tis time for us to go into Shropshire.

Sandy reminded himself that he was entirely bound to hear occasional news of Allard from his relatives in and out of the household: had ever been the case and was no matter to be bothered about now.

He felt a curious shyness towards Hannah, that might be bearing his child, but as a result of the application of scientific ingenuity rather than the more usual means. But then she asked him about the works of Mr Dickens and the use of fiction to draw attention to social problems, and they were having one of their fine accustomed conversations.

All a deal more agreeable than the prospect of dining with Geoffrey Merrett. But he arrived punctual to the minute at Geoffrey’s club, and was shown to a discreet nook where Geoffrey was waiting, looking less agitated that Sandy had anticipated.

Dear fellow! Sit down. Have some of this excellent sherry.

You are in good spirits, remarked Sandy.

Why, I think that matters have come about so that the concern I had will have disappeared entirely.

Sandy sipped sherry and noticed that for all Geoffrey seemed so cheerful, his gaze was evasive and he did not meet Sandy’s eyes.

But he waited until they had been served dinner and the attendant had withdrawn before interrogating the matter further.

I think, he said, you had better tell me the all, nonetheless.

Geoffrey put down his soup-spoon, looked at Sandy, and sighed. You will think me the most wretched of fellows –

Sure I doubt that –

- but it came to pass that I entered upon a liaison with Lady Sarah Channery -

Why, you dog! (Sure it would have been entire improper and unkind to laugh.)

- which we conducted very discreet at her dressmaker’s – Madame Francine –

(Of course: Lady Sarah was a hanger-on of Lady Trembourne’s, would have been persuaded by her to patronize the latest sensation.)

- but then, the poor dear creature received a note demanding recompense in return for not communicating the matter to Sir Stockwell.

Sandy thought this over for a moment. Had it not been given out, when she married Sir Stockwell, that her portion was very small indeed, the Marquesses of Maldane having been pockets to let these several generations?

How might she pay – or was it supposed that you would cover the amount?

Geoffrey frowned. Why, one does not like to give in to extortion, so I advised her to write pointing out her position, and saying she needed time to go about selling jewels most exceeding discreet to raise the ready. And then hoped to lay the matter before your wisdom to see how we might proceed so as to scotch this snake.

But, Geoffrey went on, breaking into a beaming smile, one hears that Madame Francine has been shown up an entire imposter, and has closed up her establishment and disappeared. So we may suppose that she has entirely fled from the scene of her crimes.

I am like, mused Sandy, to wonder did she make it a common practice to exact this levy upon the ladies that made use of her discreet chamber? 'twould make it more understandable – for although Lady Sarah is not a wealthy lady, was she one among some several, I daresay 'twould all mount up into an agreeable sum.

Indeed she is not, poor soul. Has a decent allowance of pin-money, but bills go to her husband.

Sandy suppressed a snort of amusement at the thought – had it occurred to Geoffrey? – that dressmakers’ bills presumably included some disguised item for use of the discreet chamber.

Is Sir Stockwell a jealous husband? he asked, trying to recollect what he knew of the fellow. Held some post at the Admiralty, did he not?

Why, has not shown undue jealous in the past – indeed, somewhat neglectful I fancy, 'tis a great pity, entirely the sort of thing that disinclines one to matrimony, the sight of spouses that are entire indifferent to one another. But one may suppose that he would not desire to be given out a cuckold.

May be they have some understanding? But I confide that is she so worried about this attempt, cannot be so.

O, you mean like Lady Zellen?

Precisely so. I daresay Sir Hartley would not care for their matrimonial arrangements to be announced in the press, but has ever found it entirely to answer to have young fellows squire Lady Zellen around while he is about his other business. Why, did not your brother Eddy - ?

Oh, that was long since! Before he went rusticate in Herefordshire, marry Cissie, become the entire country squire.

Geoffrey began to recount various matters of family gossip, while Sandy determined that 'twould be reasonable to desire Clorinda to investigate whether any other ladies had been subjected to like demands, and who they were.

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Posted by blue milk

pretty dead girls

Just a reminder that the amazing Emily Maguire and I will be speaking about the fetishism of female victims and the limits to empathy at a Queensland Writers Centre event at the State Library THIS Friday. Get your tickets here. We’d love to meet you.

There will also be a book signing.

On shame and mothering

Sep. 18th, 2017 03:55 am
[syndicated profile] blue_milk_feed

Posted by blue milk

Layered on top of Ariel’s narrative are the complex themes of violence and shame. Both are constantly experienced by Ariel, as they act externally on her body—by virtue of unfair welfare policies, a bitter mother, closing institutional doors and the occasional confrontation with the father of her child—and manifest as internalized beliefs on what is “normal.” Towards the novel’s opening, Ariel lists out her woman-shames of the physical body and connects them to what that body produces and experiences: art, sexuality, children, debt, success and failure. After witnessing a male doctor sharply slap the newly-born Maia to hear her first cry, Ariel becomes unrelenting in her commitment to breaking the cycle of shame and violence—to living in defiance of that list.

However, all this is complicated by Gore’s commitment to characters as complicated, fully-fleshed people—both inflicting judgement on Ariel while also offering flashes of support and understanding. The grandmother that is embarrassed for Ariel’s situation is also the family member that loves her best. The flighty ex-girlfriend that visits Ariel also leaves condescending poetry. Ariel is a dedicated mother who chain-smokes around her daughter.

From Sara Gregory’s review of Ariel Gore’s new book, We Were Witches in Ms.

“Whatever it was, it was Gothic”

Sep. 18th, 2017 03:53 am
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More brilliant essay writing from Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in GQ with “A most American terrorist: the making of Dylann Roof”. I am always fascinated by the role of mothers in these kinds of stories.

During two stages of his trial, Dylann Roof decided to represent himself. When family members of the victims testified, they listened to him, without looking over, as he lifted himself weakly from his chair and dismissed them from the stand with his deep, always bored, blunt voice, which sounded like his mouth was full of Karo syrup. He didn’t object often, but when he did it was because he was bothered by the length and the amount of testimony that the families offered. Could they keep their stories about the dead quick? Whenever he stood to be walked back to his holding cell, his mouth moved with what I first thought was a sigh or a deep exhale—really, it was an ever present twitch, a gumming of his cheeks that sometimes ended with his tongue lolling out and licking his thin lips.


Felicia Sanders, one of the few survivors, told the courtroom early on that Roof belonged in the pit of hell. Months later, she said that because of him she can no longer close her eyes to pray. She can’t stand to hear the sound of firecrackers, or even the patter of acorns falling. Because of Dylann Roof, Felicia Sanders had been forced to play dead by lying in her dying son’s blood, while holding her hand over her whimpering grandbaby’s mouth. She had pressed her hand down so tight that she said she feared she would suffocate the girl. Eighteen months later, Felicia Sanders pointed that same hand toward Dylann Roof in the courtroom and said, with no doubt in her voice at all, that it was simple—that man there was “pure evil.”

Their vitriol was warranted but also unexpected, since in most of the press coverage of the shooting it had largely been erased. Almost every white person I spoke with in Charleston during the trial praised the church’s resounding forgiveness of the young white man who shot their members down. The forgiveness was an absolution of everything. No one made mention that this forgiveness was individual, not collective. Some of the victims and their families forgave him, and some of them did not. No one acknowledged that Dylann Roof had not once apologized, shown any remorse, or asked for this forgiveness. Or the fact that with 573 days to think about his crime, Dylann Roof stood in front of the jurors and, with that thick, slow tongue of his, said without any hesitation whatsoever, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”

On the first morning that Felicia Sanders testified, I was seated directly behind Dylann Roof’s mother, and because she is skin and bones, it was apparent that she was having some kind of fit. She trembled and shook until her knees buckled and she slid slowly onto the bench, mouth agape, barely moving. She said, over and over again, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She seemed to be speaking to her boyfriend, but maybe it was meant for Felicia Sanders, who was soon to take the stand. A communiqué that was a part of the bond that mothers have, one that was brought up by the radiant shame one must feel when your son has wreaked unforgivable havoc on another mother’s child. Whatever it was, it was Gothic.

On being a female economist

Sep. 18th, 2017 03:36 am
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The 30 words most uniquely associated with women are (in order): hotter, lesbian, bb (Internet terminology for “baby”), sexism, [a vulgar term for breasts], anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, [another vulgar term for breasts], pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.

The terms most associated with men are rather different. They include: mathematician, pricing, adviser, textbook, motivated, Wharton, goals, Nobel and philosopher. Indeed, the only derogatory term in the list is a slur used against gay men.

From Elizabeth Winkler’s article, “How some economists discuss their female colleagues” in the Washington Post. 

On fairytales

Sep. 18th, 2017 03:31 am
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By her own account, Diana was not clever. Nor was she especially good, in the sense of having a dependable inclination to virtue; she was quixotically loving, not steadily charitable: mutable, not dependable: given to infatuation, prey to impulse. This is not a criticism. Myth does not reject any material. It only asks for a heart of wax. Then it works subtly to shape its subject, mould her to be fit for fate. When people described Diana as a “fairytale princess”, were they thinking of the cleaned-up versions? Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns. The caged child is milk-fed, finger felt for plumpness by the witch, and if there is a happy-ever-after, it is usually written on someone’s skin.

From this excellent essay, “The princess myth: Hilary Mantel on Diana” in The Guardian. 

How the blank stare becomes sinister

Sep. 18th, 2017 03:28 am
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Fashion-magazine layouts have a particular feel to them. We know it well: stylized, blank, alluring in an anonymous way, suggestive of sex, but devoid of sensuality or personal emotion. The photographs draw us in, but the models don’t return our gaze. Instead, they tend to wear a kind of frozen, faraway gaze, a look that frees us to gawk unashamedly, without fear of being caught staring. Fashion models feign ignorance of the camera lens in order to signal that we are not their interlocutors, but rather voyeurs whose desires are roused only to be rechanneled toward the items for sale (clothes, jewels, handbags, etc.).

Such photos exist to cast the fetishizing spell of the commodity over us. They create, that is, a dissociative relationship with the viewer. And while Melania Trump was known to have been somewhat stiff as a model, she has clearly mastered that squinty, middle-distance gaze, which she regularly employs as First Lady.

Melania dresses and moves as if she were awkwardly performing a theatrical role, much as Ivanka does. Their oddly stilted presence in political settings seems to transform all occasions, no matter how “presidential,” into advertisements. This is not because they were both once models, but because they cannot stop posing like models. (Ironically, successful models learn to avoid such obvious artificiality, since it makes the unreality of fashion shoots too glaring.)

The Trump women evince a dazed blankness and anonymity that in turn cast doubt on the reality of everything around them.

From “Melania Trump and the chilling artifice of fashion” by Rhonda Garelick in The Cut. 

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