Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Feanor watches tv

So, thanks to Janice having heard good things about it, we watched the documentary THE LION IN YOUR LIVING ROOM, which I highly recommend.

Midway through it, Feanor got down from Janice's lap, walked halfway across the room, and sat himself down to watch what was going on. I think he was listening more than watching, attracted by a section in which they played a variety of different cat vocalizations; Janice thinks he was mainly looking. In any case, it definitely attracted his attention (usually it's Hastur who watches the tv at odd moments, but she was in another room at the time).

By the way, that's my Sime in the background to the upper left; to the right of it are Janice's two Naismiths.

--John R

The Cat Report (W. November 30th, 2016)

Annabell Lee’s adoption means that there’s just two cats in the cat-room today: LILLITH (8 yr old mature cat, white w. grey) and SHEENA OPRIA (12 yr old senior cat, solid sleek black). They’re no longer in their extended lodging but back in their usual two-unit cages.

Lillith came out at once, as usual, and settled herself in the tube in the outer room. She wasn’t much in the mood to play, but she did have two walks. She’s chatty when out and about, but quiets down when something gets her attention. Her favorite parts of the store are the shelves with the bags of cat litter just to the left of the cat room and the far wall, the quietest part of the store. She was quite interested in the pet beds along that wall, and wanted to try some out for softness and size. 
   Between the walks I discovered that she had some tangles, so set to working on them. She didn’t think much of my technique, but I did get some of the knots worked through; if we do this bit by bit it shdn’t take long to get her fur all nice and untangled.

Sheena has made a lot of progress. Last week she hid in the back of her cage, as far away from me as she cd get. She seemed to like my petting her, but resisted any efforts to get her to come towards the front of the cage (she went and hid in her dirt box each time I tried). This week she came up to the front of the cage right away and enjoyed a good petting. Based on the good advice someone posted this week (sorry; I’ve forgotten who), I moved her over to the top of the cat-stand in the outer room, where she stayed for the next two hours. She loves being petted, arching her back and putting her tail in the air, but has a quick switch when she wants you to stop. She seemed frightened by all the games I offered but did like the catnip. She was so panicked by the collar that I gave up my idea of walking her right away. To calm her back down afterwards I gave her a towel-bath with a wet towel; she followed this up with a proper thorough tongue-based grooming of her own, just to show me how it was done.

In other news, we had a donor who brought by forty cans of wet cat food: brands such as Weruva, Fancy Feast, and Blue Wilderness. I’ve stashed then inside the bench.

Glad to hear the news about Annabell Lee, and Skittles (who I didn’t even meet), and Oscar the rv cat. I have friends who sold their house, bought an r.v., and hit the road with their two cats a year ago, and they report that their cats are doing fine: they watch the outside (which changes every few days) with great interest, but are very emphatic about staying INSIDE where it’s nice and safe. Let’s hope the same proves to be true of Oscar.

Had to say it made my day when I heard that Edison had found a new home. Needing a new home at his age, having been really sick with the kalki, and having lost his bonded partner, he really deserves a break.

No health concerns; both cats seemed to be fine.

—John R.
(written under the scrutiny of my own two cats, sleeping on separate corners of my desk and soaking up the lamplight)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Verne on Verne

So, as I continue to make my way bit by bit through Lottman's biography of Verne, I think the following is going to be my favorite quote from the book:

Mr. Jules Verne is the creator of a new genre 
and has earned a place of his own in 
contemporary literature. A lively storyteller, 
the equal of our finest novelists, he is at the same
 time one of the best scientific minds of our time. 
No one has endowed fiction with greater realism; 
in reading his books one wonders whether they 
are really the product of the imagination.*

The author of this paean to Verne's work is, it turns out, Verne himself. That is, the words above are Verne describing his own work, taken from a circa 1866 blurb he wrote to accompany one of his early novels. I tried to imagine one of the Inklings writing this about his own work and drew a blank  (Wms might think it but I don't think even he wd say it in print).

I think the biggest surprise, to me, is Verne's relationship with his publisher, which was closer to Elvis's with Col. Tom Parker than Tolkien's with Allen & Unwin.  I wd even go so far as to describe most of Verne's writing as Work For Hire. The publisher kept Verne on a retainer, paying him a yearly income that was later re-arranged into a monthly stipend. The copyrights belonged to the publisher, not the author, and the publisher also had great influence over the stories' contents. Sometimes Verne wd pitch a book to his publisher for inclusion in his ongoing series EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGES (in which almost all his books appeared), only to have the publisher reject it. Sometimes the publisher (M.Hetzel) demanded the ending of a book be re-written; in a few cases he assigned Verne a topic (generally it seems for his non-fiction works).  One of Verne's great ambitions, never realized, was to be made a member of the French Academy; I wonder if rumor of his arrangements with his publisher got out and counted against him (given that bias against work-for-hire continues to the present day).

In any case, pecking away at the biography has made me think I really shd at some point read up a bit on the Franco-Prussian war and the resulting Commune. It's also convinced me it's time to re-read one of the classics: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Here's hoping I can find a good-quality Kindle edition.

--John R.

*JULES VERNE: AN EXPLORATORY BIOGRAPHY by Herbert R. Lottman (1996), p. 119

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I Remember the Memory Wars

So, here's an interesting piece on Repressed Memory Syndrome, and the evidence that 'repressed' memories are all-too-often false memories (that is, that the process designed to recover lost memories creates the memories it's trying to find).  A major figure in that fray has just won a major award, the John Maddox Prize, given to scientists who stand their ground in the face of outside pressure.

My take on this would be that every genealogist knows that people get things mixed up; that things  you'd think everyone would remember get lost while some things get handed down in surprising detail (for example, in my family there are two distinct versions of the story how my great-grandfather died on his way to church,  an event that took place a hundred and two years ago).*

The mutability of memory also came up in Gerald Posner's book on the Kennedy assassination, CASE CLOSED (1993), in which he discusses at one point how witnesses' memories of the event has changed over time.

As an Inklings scholar, of particular interest to me is the collecting, sifting, and evaluating evidence regarding literary events. When did the Inklings first begin to meet? When did Tolkien start THE HOBBIT?  When did he finish the earliest draft? When witnesses disagree -- for example, Fr. John and Michael Tolkien directly contradict JRRT's accounts of THE HOBBIT's origins -- how do we decide which is more accurate? When we have evidence that comes from an unreliable source, do we ignore it entirely or use it with caution?

So, it behooves us to have an awareness of the tricks memory plays. I know I have to watch out myself when quoting something somebody told me decades ago. Stories evolve over time, and it's all too easy to embellish and 'improve' a story if you're not careful.

--John R.
just abandoned: FARHENHEIT FOUR FIFTY-ONE (half-way through). doesn't hold up well on re-reading, all these years later.

*The solution I used was to write down all the information I could when interviewing someone about this or that side of the family, then go back and sort it all out later as best I cd.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A. A. Milne vs. P. G. Wodehouse

So, I've long known about the bad feeling between A. A. Milne and P. G. Wodehouse,* stemming from Milne's accusing Wodehouse of treason for some stiff-upper-lip broadcasts PGW made about the lighter side of being in a German detention camp in the early days of World War II.** Told he'd have to face a tribunal and explain himself when he returned to England, Wodehouse went to New York instead and didn't return to England until thirty years later, when he was invited by the Queen to come and accept a knighthood.

I'd known that Wodehouse, who was famous for his sunny disposition, had let the matter pass aside from writing one short story that created a Milne analogue in order to mock his poetry.

What I had not known until tonight/yesterday is that Wodehouse took a few more digs at Milne, the best of which took the form of a joke that goes something like this:

Wodehouse was once reported to have said 
that he had started a “Try to Like A.A. Milne 
Club.” There were no takers, until one man 
joined, only to resign a week later. “Since 
joining the association,” he explained, “I have 
met Mr. Milne.”

For more details about the two men's uneasy relationship, see

For a much more detailed account of Wodehouse's wartime broadcasts, see the book WODEHOUSE AT WAR, which I think (it's been a long time since I read it) includes at least some of the actual broadcasts in the interest of letting those curious read and decide for themselves.

--John R.
current reading: WOULD I FIGHT, ed. Keith Briant & Lyall Wilkes (1938)

*author of the Winnie-the-Pooh and Bertie-and-Jeeves stories, respectively

**most people don't think creating the rough equivalent of HOGAN'S HEROES is a war crime. Milne however had a job to do at the propaganda department and wanted to make an example of Wodehouse.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How Volcanoes Work, according to Verne

So, I was bemused by the following passage in Verne's THE GOLDEN VOLCANO, written circa  1899. In what I suppose we might call a misinformation dump, he has a character explain how volcanoes work and get it gloriously wrong:

"Volcanoes, as you know, are all -- and this can be definitely 
asserted -- located at the edge of the sea or near it -- Vesuvius, 
Etna, Hecla, Chimborazo -- in the New World as well as the Old. 
The natural conclusion to be drawn from this is that they must 
be in underground communication with the oceans. Water filters 
into them, quickly or slowly, depending on the composition of 
the soil. It reaches the interior fire, where it's heated and turns 
to steam. When this steam, trapped in the bowels of the earth, 
attains a high pressure, it creates an internal upheaval and tries 
to escape to the outside, dragging ashes, slag, and rocks out 
through the chimney, surrounded by swirling clouds of smoke 
and flame. That, without any doubt, it the cause of eruptions 
and probably of earthquakes, too . . ."

All eyes were on the engineer at that moment. The explanation
 he had just given of volcanic phenomena was certainly 
an accurate one.


I don't know if this faux-science was something that's been put forth as a legitimate theory of vulcanology or if it's just an idea Verne had come up with and was throwing out there. I suspect the latter.  I'm pretty sure the realization that Yellowstone is a caldera of a supervolcano came after Verne's time, so we can't fault him there, but there are many volcanos that are a long way from the sea. Maybe it depends on how generously we define "near" the sea to be.

Also, I have to say that after all the build-up I was a little disappointed to find that the mountain of the title was 800 to 1,000 feet tall.

--John R.

THE GOLD VOLCANO: Reading Minor Verne

So, the current book I'm reading is an impulse-read plucked off the shelf of the local library to read while on a trip: THE GOLDEN VOLCANO by Jules Verne --one of the books left unpublished at Verne's death in 1905 and rewritten by his son for posthumous publication.  This edition goes back and strips out all his son's changes, printing the original Verne-ian version for the first time.

I was a big fan of Verne back when I was about ten to twelve, and read (and reread, repeatedly*) all the classics: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, and, best of all, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (which I first read way back in 1972).

In later years when I came to reread all these as a adult, I was disappointed both with the writing and with the bogus science involved (given Verne's reputation for writing fact-based extrapolation).  I made a concerted effort to read the newly translated versions of THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, books which I'd heard had been greatly changed by their nineteenth century translators, only to find that I much preferred the old vintage translations over the new scrupulously corrected ones that took pains to have their books accurately represent what Verne wrote. It's a rare case in which I'd say the people who monkeyed with these stories at the time knew what they were doing and actually did improve them.

I've also in recent years sought out minor Verne titles, partly to see if there were any gems I didn't know about and partly because you can get an really good idea of someone's talent by reading their second-tier books).**   Here are the ones I've read:


Given the low quality of all these, I think it's pretty clear that I can give up with a clear conscience and not worry about missing any hidden gems.

I've concluded that if you come across a book by Verne you never heard of, you're probably better off giving it a pass. And when re-reading the old classics like AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (which I think holds up best of them all), don't bother seeking out the most recently translated one; an old Illustrated Classic will probably do just fine.

--John R.
current reading: THE GOLDEN VOLCANO, by Jules Verne (verdict: don't bother)

*I also read FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON but it didn't grab me and I've never re-read it.

**for example, I'm quite fond of Woolf's NIGHT AND DAY (her attempt to write like Jane Austen), and was fascinated and disturbed by H. G. Wells' MIND AT THE END OF ITS TETHER (his final despairing pessimistic work, in which he decided he'd been wrong to think that mankind could create a better world).

***these two were gifts from my friend, the late Jim Pietrusz.

****I've been trying to remember whether I read TRIBULATIONS OF A CHINAMAN IN CHINA a few years back or simply read a little and then gave up, skimming the rest.