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Posts Tagged ‘comedic relief’

Primary Sources Can Be Fun

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the courses I’m taking this semester is a history course concerning the Revolutionary War as it was fought in and affected the province of Maine (which was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time, and after the Revolution was part of the state of Massachusetts until 1820).  One of the documents we’re using in the course is called the Baxter Manuscripts, and is a compiled transcription of various letters, notes, legal documents etc., mainly pertaining to the provincial assembly of Maine and its communications with the Massachusetts legislature in Watertown.

Now, as anyone who has read anything about the American Revolution probably knows, the state of the art in English written communication in the 18th century was, er, interesting as compared to today.  There was a great deal less standardization as regards orthography, in particular, and the rules of capitalization and punctuation were observed somewhat less conscientiously even by well-educated people like the Founders.  And there was that whole thing with the two versions of lowercase s, so that you ended up with sentences that looked like they were saying “at which point the foldiers were told to take themfelves outfide or face the confequences.”

Even by these liberal standards, though, there are some utter gems in the Baxter Manuscripts.  Take, for instance, this letter to the Massachusetts revolutionary council regarding militia units in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine:

To the Honorabel the Counsel of the Massachetts Bay

Gentlemen – you may Remembr that you gave ordors for Raising Two Companys To Be Stashond on Nashone the Captns have Borth Ben With me Sence & Returnd and Say they Cannot Inlist any men By Reson of the Wages Being So Loo  I have Ben Indavoring to forawd the mater But find that To Be the younavarcel Compaint – if your Honers Are pleasd To Give any farther ordors About the Mater I Shall Indaver To Conduct Agreabel thair to
I am yours To Sarve

Joseph Dimuck

Dated att Falmouth Desembr ye 23 1776

Now that, my friends, is a missive.  I particularly enjoy (as does our instructor) the word “younavarcel”.  The younavarcel Compaint would make an excellent band title for an American Revolution-themed punk rock band (there must certainly be at least one making the rounds of the historical re-enactment community).

A Snapshot In Time

October 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Yes, it’s well past time for an informative post about what’s going on this semester.  This, however, is not that post.  I just wanted to note something that happened today.

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is a very basic introductory U.S. History class, because it’s a degree requirement on the HTY side of my schizoid program.  Being a basic class taken by a lot of freshmen, this is held in one of the giant auditorium-style lecture halls in Little Hall.  I’ve had several classes in these rooms, but never one quite like this.  It’s sort of your classic college Giant Introductory Lecture, where the instructor’s not that bothered about whether people turn up or what they’re doing as long as it doesn’t frighten the horses.

I sit up at the back, behind all the stadium seats, at a desk thoughtfully provided by the DSS office; from my perch I can see what all the people in about a third of the auditorium are up to.  As you might expect, a lot of them are up to using their laptops for stuff other than paying attention to the lecture.  Facebook, sports websites, lolcats, that kind of thing.  I usually pay it little mind.  It’s no skin off my back if the kids aren’t with the program.

Today, though?

Today someone was playing Galaga.

Thought we wouldn’t notice… but we did.

Notes from Military History Class

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Here are a few notes from my European Military History notebook, which I’m going through in the process of studying for finals.

I love that they have to put nutritional information on bottled water. It’s water.  It hasn’t got any.

In those times [Ed. note the reign of Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden, 1611-1632], generals fought (insufficient comms tech for REMF approach).

England’s military spending went mostly on the navy during this time.  Not much call for land forces except during the Civil War.  They didn’t conscript army troops until 1916!  Incompatible with the English character.  Besides, if you raised a conscript army, you’d be arming commoners, for heaven’s sake.

Maintaining discipline: tricky.  Particularly with such crap officers.

("The Stuarts have chin problems." – Prof. M)

I like that warfare in this era [Ed. note ca. 1700] was traditionally so abstruse that a frontal assault was considered innovative and dramatic.

"The French cannot form… "  … the head?  Blazing sword?  What?  [Ed. note Bad time for Prof. M to have slide advance problems.]

French/Batavians break and run.  English win!  But 20% of them are casualties.  Still, you should see the other guys.

("There’s always a war in Canada." – Prof. M)

("Belgium itself is not that valuable." – QOTD out of context)

France’s worst enemy in the opening stages of the war [Ed. note the War of the First Coalition, 1793-1797]: France.

"… who had served in future wars"?  Wait, was Carnot a time traveler?

Sphinx thing: a myth.

1802: Peace of Amiens. British recognize N’s France, return seized French colonies, recognize the Republics, annexation of Belgium, etc.

1803: Britain realizes that wasn’t a good idea, resumes hostilities.

By 1812, N controls most of Europe.  Annexed or run by puppet states.  3 factors about to turn this around:

1) British blockade, strangling French trade.

2) The Russian thing.  Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

3) Nationalism.  Works for France when experienced by Frenchmen, not so much when experienced by Dutchmen, Germans, Italians, Swiss etc.

I think we’re into the counter-counter-revolution at this point.

Projector problems [Ed. note during film on Battle of Waterloo] result in the odd appearance of the British "beigecoat".

"This was widely believed to be the end of Nixon’s career."

[Ed. note Antoine-Henri Jomini] Becomes a colonel under Marshal Ney w/ no experience to speak of b/c it’s wartime and he wrote a book.  Those were the days.  Witnesses Austerlitz, the Prussian campaign, & the Iberian insurrection.  Is part of Grand Armee, marches on Russia… and stays there.  By joining the Russian army.  "A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience."

Guy here in a Hartford Whalers hat.  Vintage or ironic?

[Ed. note Carl von Clausewitz] Believed war’s essence was "total war", but that it never happens.  (Platonic ideal?  Regular wars are as Shadow, if you want to be all Zelaznian on it.)

CHINA: economically vast, militarily (esp. navally) insignificant.  BRITAIN: navally mighty, commercially rapacious.  I think you can see where this is heading.

Projector misaligned.  How does that even happen? It’s on the ceiling.

[Ed. note on the Crimean War] Nobody had any real clue what the hell they were trying to do.  Result: Fiasco, confusion, slaughter, and comedy.

Russians able to fortify Sebastopol while French & British argued about taking it.  War significantly prolonged.

Meanwhile, the British were gallantly screwing themselves by trapping themselves in Balaklava w/ no fresh water or easy access to interior.

Russians besieged, were repulsed, had about given up & were leaving when Raglan decided to counterattack for no particularly good reason.

(Raglan/Lucan/Cardigan – the classic clusterfuck lyricized by Tennyson in "The Charge of the Light Brigade")

Interestingly, the only battle I can think of in which two generals were named after kinds of sweater.

Cavalry charges: not so useful vs. barbed wire.

SA war [Ed. note the Second Boer War, 1899-1902] opened poorly for Britain.  This would become something of a pattern for them in subsequent wars.

Scotsmen unsuitable to battle in sun-baked hellholes.

Enter Col. Kitchener!  Owner of one of the era’s great moustaches.

When last we left WWI, Europe was tangled up in a ridiculous network of alliances and nobody really liked Russia.

Admiral Tirpitz, unsurprisingly, author of the Tirpitz Plan.

June 28, 1914: Austro-Hungarian Archduke assassinated in Bosnian capital by Serbian nationalist.  This eventually leads to UK-German war, because Europe in 1914 was just that stupid.

Russians and Germans try to find a way out, but b/c of the inefficiency of the Russian train system, the mobilization can’t be stopped.  Aug. 3, Germany declares war on Russia & France.

And Belgium, ’cause it was neutral and in the way.  And it’s THAT which brings the UK into the war.

No wonder US policy & public opinion were that this was an incredibly stupid war & we should stay the hell out of it.

4 Aug 1914 – Germans, as they are wont to do, invaded Belgium.

Meanwhile, astonishingly, the Russians mobilized much faster than anticipated.  Moltke sacked, Paris not taken, Germans’ momentum broken.  Stage set for 4 years of pointless stalemate.

And there we are, fighting pointless battles of attrition like Ypres, in which 150,000+ casualties accomplish precisely dick.

Meanwhile in the East, the Russians were doing what they do best: producing infantry tokens. [Ed. note Axis & Allies joke!] By the time they’re done they’ll have 12 million men in uniform . Admittedly that’s 12 million soldiers with Russian training & equipment, but still.

Meanwhile, Austria fails to accomplish anything vs. Serbia – the whole point of this ridiculous war in the first place.

And thanks to our old friend Fritz Haber, there was plenty of poison gas for everybody.

U-boat warfare vs. Britain economic.  Aim to force UK out of war by cutting off overseas trade.  That didn’t work, but since they kept blowing up US ships, they did eventually get us into the war.  So, well done, U-boats.

Germans thought taking Verdun would break the "exhausted" French.  French thought holding Verdun would break the "exhausted" Germans.  And there you are.

In the East, Russians fail to convert.

Polish-Soviet War, 1918-1921 – sort of a feature of the Russian Civil War, but not really.  It’s confusing.  Poles on offensive, Red Army crap but enormous.  And so it goes.

And so to Italy, perpetually trying to put on its big boy pants and mostly failing.  This paves way for Mussolini, who will… not really accomplish anything either, but looks like he might for a while there.  Comes to power in 1922, pseudo-legally.  Seeks to restore Italy’s pre-eminence in Europe.  You know, that it lost in 490.

British & French foreign policy in the 1930s responded about as effectively [Ed. note to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia] as you might expect  – condemning Italy but not doing anything effective to oppose them.  This way they can anger Mussolini and Haile Selassie while helping no one.  It’s 1935, after all.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Civil War.  Short version: Reds fight among selves, Fascists monolithic, Fascists win.

At the time no one had any real idea why this [Ed. note the Condor Legion bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, 1937] happened, since Guernica was not really involved in the conflict.  Only later did it emerge that the whole thing was basically a huge explody German science experiment.  Basically the Luftwaffe just wanted to see if they could really blow up a whole town.

Meanwhile, Italy blunders.  Going for easy glory, ends up walking into the screen door of history. [Ed. note The Italians come in for a pretty regular kicking in my notes on the ’30s and ’40s.]

British, American volunteers took part on Republican side (& the Americans were tagged as Commies for their trouble, though to be fair a lot of them were).

Causes of WWII.  Somewhat simpler than those of WWI.  Ready?

1. Hitler

That was easy.

The thing about early-WWII movies is that you know things are never going to end well.

The Poles: mystifyingly sanguine.  "Run headlong into certain death because you think you can win: 5." [Ed. note HOL reference!]

Man.  Look at that map.  The Italians didn’t even make it to Monte Carlo.  How sad is that?

Why does Hitler invade the USSR?  As Mallory probably didn’t really say, because it’s there.

Russians as ever unprepared.  Soviet leaders actually managed to be surprised by this.

Then, with the sort of timing Hitler could always count on from his allies, Japan attacked the US and brought us formally into the war.

Oh, what a surprise, the firebombing of Japanese civilians was Curtis LeMay’s idea.

Truman figured the A-bomb would win the war, save a ton of Allied casualties, and impress the Russians so much we would never have any trouble out of them ever again.

So THAT worked.

2nd bomb proved we had more than one, although ironically we DIDN’T have more than two.

Korean War: you know the lyrics.

Wow. Just… wow.

March 1, 2011 2 comments

In Classics 102 (which I’ve just realized sounds like a radio station – "You’re listening to All Request Mozart, keep it here on Classics 102") right now, we’re reading the Aeneid.  If you’re not familiar with this work, it’s an epic poem by the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC – 19 BC), better known to history as Virgil, who wrote it at around the same time that Octavian was becoming Augustus and the Roman Republic was becoming the Empire.  It purports to tell the story of the founding of Rome by refugees from the sack of Troy, as described in Homer’s Iliad.

In class, we’re working from the Mandelbaum translation, which attempts to preserve something of the original verse form, and it’s pretty rough sledding – dense with mythological references and historical allegories that Virgil expected would be intuitively obvious to his audience, but which require a bit of digging for the modern reader (at least this modern reader) to come to grips with.  It comes across as a sort of Odyssey-by-the-makers-of-Gladiator: a story of mythic travel and high adventure in which a doughty hero and his band of loyal followers are constantly messed about by the gods in an effort to get home, although where Ulysses and his men were trying to get back to the home they had left, Aeneas and the survivors of Troy are en route to a new home promised to them by the gods (the ones who aren’t trying to kill them) – the region of the Tiber in Italy, where Rome would eventually be.

The whole thing is pretty transparent propaganda, if you keep in mind when it was written and for whom.  There’s a scene in which Aeneas is presented with a shield, made for him by Vulcan at the request of Venus (who happens to be Aeneas’s mother).  On the shield is engraved a pictorial history of Rome, from the time of its founding to the triumph of Augustus, none of which had actually happened yet from Aeneas’s point of view, but the tail end of which was not just recent history but pretty much current affairs reportage for Virgil’s original readers.  The basic thrust of the story is: "Rome.  How long has it been awesome?  It’s always been awesome, baby."

Where "just wow" comes into it is this: I was looking at my copy today, and realizing that it’s pretty old.  The Mandelbaum translation was first published in 1961 and revised in 1971, and the edition we’re using in class is the Bantam Classics paperback, ca. 1985.  On the spine, next to the utterly superfluous "USED" sticker the campus bookstore put on it – this is a paperback book whose pages have turned entirely yellow with age – is the original price, $2.95.  I was curious about what it costs new these days, if this edition is even still in print, so I looked it up on Amazon.

As you might expect, there are a lot of editions of the Aeneid out there.  While I was trawling down the list looking for the Bantam edition, I ran across one that made me just stop and stare for a moment: Alfred J. Church’s The Aeneid for Boys and Girls.

A children’s edition.  Of the Aeneid.

This would have been astounding enough – I mean, we’re talking about a translation of an epic Roman poem about the fall of Troy (from the Trojan side) and its really quite exceedingly violent aftermath, including the foundation of Rome by the survivors of Troy in an area that already had a population, thank you, and reacted about as you would expect.  And there’s a children’s edition.

But even that is not why we’re here to say "just wow" today.  No, that leads on from my discovery, made from that listing, that Mr. Church also did for Boys and Girls editions of the classic works of Homer which Virgil was, let’s be honest, cribbing pretty heavily.

Which means, that’s right: The Iliad for Boys and Girls.

The Amazon listing has a "look inside!" feature that allows the prospective buyer to examine the first few pages.  I encourage everyone to investigate this, but let’s look at a couple of the key points together, shall we?

As everyone who’s ever attempted to give himself a little classical culturin’ up knows – even if, like me, it’s about as far as he ever got – the Iliad begins with some translational variation on this classic line:

Sing, goddess, of the rage of Achilles son of Peleus, that ruinous wrath which brought such sorrow upon the Achaeans.

Mr. Church renders this:

Once upon a time there was a certain King of Sparta who had a most beautiful daughter, Helen by name.

Is it me, or does it, uh… rather lose something in this form?

My favorite part, though, is on the next page, where he’s listing some of the prominent Greek figures who are going to be involved in the upcoming war with Troy:

So they all came to a place called Aulis, with many ships and men.  Others also who had not taken the oath came with them.  The greatest of these chiefs were these:-

Diomed, son of Tydeus; Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Less, and Teucer the Archer, who was brother of Ajax the Greater.

Nestor, who was the oldest man in the world.

The wise Ulysses.

Achilles, who was the bravest and strongest of all the Greeks, and with him his dear friend Patroclus.

I’d just like to repeat that last part.

… and with him his dear friend Patroclus.

Oh, man.  Any kid who reads this is going to be in for a deep, reverberating shock later on in life.

I ordered a copy of The Aeneid for Boys and Girls.  I had to.  I may bust it out in class as my Optional Extra Review.  I resisted the siren call of The Iliad for Boys and Girls this time, but I may yet revisit the concept; it depends on how much fun The Aeneid for Boys and Girls turns out to be.  I have to say, based on the sample provided, it looks very, very promising.

If You Must Punt, Punt With Style

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Today we had the first of two exams in CMJ 103, Fundamentals of Public Communication.  The exams are worth 15% of our final grade apiece, so they’re important but not, individually, absolutely critical.  Which is good, because they’re kind of annoyingly at odds with the way the rest of the class works.  We don’t really use the textbook for much, other than to read through chapters having to do with what we’re trying to accomplish in the speaking part of the class, but the test questions are drawn directly from the textbook, and so a lot of them are very specifically terminological.

Since public speaking these days is basically a really lite-beer subset of psychology, that terminology is mostly rather soft and vague, and specific to this particular book, so we’re not really being tested on what things are called generally as on what this particular author likes to call them.  I find this irritating and frankly kind of a waste of my precious, aged brain cells.

Still, most of the test was multiple choice, and multiple-choice tests are the optimal form for things based on specific terminology, as far as I’m concerned.  Oftentimes the prospective answers will include two things that are obviously terms from the book, one of which is right and the other of which is either its opposite or irrelevant, two things that are completely made up but were intended to seem convincingly like terms from the book if you weren’t really paying attention, and one that is just completely ridiculous and is presumably just there to weed out the students who can’t actually read at all.

So 45 multiple choice questions went past… pretty quickly.  This concerned me slightly, since the instructor had said as we were beginning that she’d seen students in one of the other CMJ 103 divisions still at work on their exam at the end of the previous class period.  We had 50 minutes to get the whole test done and I washed up on the beach at the end of the multiple-choice section in about 17.  Christ, I thought, the essay question must be hellacious.

You see, the two parts that weren’t multiple-choice were a single five-part short answer question and one essay question at the end.  In the latter, we were meant to read a sample speech introduction and then critique it as to whether it contained all the bits the book tells us a speech introduction is supposed to have in it.  This proved to be easy and, apart from the necessity to write it down on unlined paper in a way that the instructor would be able to read (yes, I’m 37 and I still have trouble writing on unlined paper without my lines getting all slanty-wanty, which I used to get into trouble for in the second grade), wasn’t time-consuming either.  Slightly puzzled at having finished everything but the short answer question in less than half the class period, I backtracked to the short answer question, which I had skipped for fear that I would need all the time for the essay.

This, next to an indicator that it was worth five points of our total grade, was, “Name the five stages of the situational audience analysis process.”

I considered this for upward of a minute (it felt longer) and had to concede that I had no idea.  The audience analysis chapter was the squidgiest, psychologyish-est chapter in the half of the book we’ve so far read, even more tiresome and pompous than the one about Speaking Ethics, and though I get the basic idea, I had absorbed almost none of the specific terminology, in part because we’re not going to have time to be doing audience research before our actual speaking assignments anyway.  So I had no idea what the five stages of the situational (as opposed to demographical – I could have at least made some basic guesses if it’d been that one) audience analysis process are.

Thus, I instead answered this way (paraphrasing slightly from memory, but without deliberate abridgement):

[5 PTS] Name the five stages of the situational audience analysis process.

1. I have to confess that I’m drawing a complete blank on this particular subject.

2. I will therefore sacrifice these five points to the dark gods of exam questions.

3. Iä! Iä!, etc. (Lovecraft, 1930)

4. ?

5. Profit!

I doubt my instructor will get the Lovecraft reference (she doesn’t strike me as that sort of girl, though I admit that may be me erroneously pre-judging the audience), but at least I didn’t just leave it blank.  And I did do a bit of audience analysis – you can see it by the South Park reference. (I can’t stand that show, but I know the instructor likes it.)  And I did include a citation!  Though I may have gotten the year wrong.