Saturday, December 24, 2016


Who would have thought the boldest thing Obama would do in his eight years in office wd be to abstain on one vote?

--John R. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Propaganda as History

So, earlier this week I was startled to come across a piece on Talking Points Memo claiming that it was now well-known that the fault for bringing about World War I was all Germany's.

here's the link.

And here's a string of quotes that more or less sum up the author's thesis:

"our collective understanding of what happened 
during the so-called 'July Crisis' of 1914* 
is basically wrong"

far from being "a ruinous war that none of the powers 
actually wanted but were unable to avoid", 
Marshall claims that "World War I was 
engineered deliberately by Germany"

"the actual war . . . happened because 
Germany wanted to go to war"

a little later he muddles his point somewhat 
by claiming of the Germans that 

"they did not want a war with Great Britain 
[but] were willing to risk it"

This seems to me demented. I'm not a WWI scholar, but I have read a good deal of material relating to the war (or as they used to call it, The War) over the years -- the kind of things everyone with a Ph.D. in twentieth century British literature shd know as the general background to the period and a specific major element in the lives of many of the writers of the period, such as Ford Maddox Ford, Hemingway, Dunsany, and of course Tolkien.**

Contemporary propaganda presented it as a war to end all wars (a concept Tolkien personally scoffed at) or a war to save democracy from Der Kaiser (a rationale seriously compromised by England's alliance with Czarist Russia, the most repressive Great Power of its time).

As far back as the mid 1930s, revisionist history was swinging round to the idea that England had played a large, if not the largest, role in seizing upon the crisis and deliberately turning it into a war.
There is ample evidence that the British Empire (which we shd remember was the largest, most powerful country in the world at the time) saw in Imperial Germany a rival who had to be destroyed while there was still time (exactly the motives Marshall ascribes in his post to Germany). So widespread was this notion that there was a thriving sub-genre of literature in England of England-conquered-by-Germany stories in the years just before the outbreak of the war (for a famous example, see Saki's WHEN WILLIAM CAME). Combine this with the thesis presented by George Dangerfield in his seminal 1935 work THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL ENGLAND -- that Britain seized upon the continental crisis as a way out of an internal crisis -- and a v. strong case can be made for England's being in exactly the position Marshall claims for Germany.

Of course, it's extremely unlikely it was a simple either/or (good England/bad Germany OR good Germany/bad England). The truth is probably something resembling Geoffrey Wawro's well-argued thesis for both combatants in the Franco-Prussian war a generation before: that both Napoleon III's empire and the rising Prussian state had excellent internal motivations for going to war with each other -- to divert attention away from a failing imperial state in France's case, and to bring independent small German states (Bavarians, Hessians, Saxons, etc) into the fold in Prussia's case -- and were seeking pretexts to trigger that war. Add in France's desire to take back some border provinces annexed by the Germans in 1871, Russia's longterm plan to control the Balkans, Austria's fighting back against what they saw as state-sponsored terrorism on the behalf of Serbia, and you have a case where most of the combatants wanted the war either as a milestone on long-range plans or as offering an opportunity to seize some immediate benefit. None of them had any idea what they were doing, how many millions upon millions they were sending to their deaths. And I'm not sure that knowledge would have stopped them if they had.

Still, it's a fascinating and complex issue, and I'd be interested in hearing what others thought of the It-Was-All-Germany's-Fault thesis.

--John R.

WorldWar I: "It was a group effort".

*i.e., Tuchman's thesis that an interlocking system of alliances more or less inexorably propelled the various nations into war

**not to mention its biggest impact, the death in the trenches of writers like the great poet Edward Thomas, short story writer H. H. Munro ("Saki"), fantasist Wm Hope Hodgson, and too many others to mention

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Latest Publication (on THE FALL OF ARTHUR)

So, yesterday brought in the mail my contributor's copy (plus one extra) of TOLKIEN STUDIES Volume XIII, which includes my essay " 'That Seems to Me Fatal': Pagan and Christian in The Fall of Arthur". This is a piece I presented a part from at Kalamazoo two years back (or was it three?), and a somewhat some substantial excerpt at a symposium later that year; I also read the whole thing out at last year's MythCon in Colorado Springs, not as a main presentation (that was devoted to my guest-0f-honor speech re. Charles Williams' Arthuriad) but as a side-presentation suitable to the Arthurian theme of that conference.

My basic thesis is simple: that a passage in Tolkien's Letter to Waldman sets down succinctly Tolkien's reasons for rejecting the Arthurian mythos as the basis of his own 'Mythology for England'.  It's an idea I've had in mind to do for years, and the long-delayed publication of THE FALL OF ARTHUR finally gave me the opportunity.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of my friend Jim Pietrusz, Arthurian extraordinaire. I wish I'd been able to write this essay a year or two earlier: I'd have loved to have found out what he thought of it.

I also make one other appearance in this year's volume, in that my contribution to the Shippey festschrift (my essay 'Inside Literature: Tolkien's Exploration of Medieval Genres") gets mentioned in the essay-by-essay review of the book, including the following passage:

. . . with seven pages of notes and bibliography,
his scholarship clearly suggests an impressive
depth lurking beneath. Rateliff earns several
scholar points by venturing into other languages
to explore the Tolkien apocrypha, valuable
material, though some of it is unfinished
and all is far less explored than the novels.

I love the idea of racking up some 'scholar points', and think I'll have to figure out a way to put that on a button.

Obviously I haven't had a chance to do more than skim the contents, but thanks to the good folks at the Tolkien Society the full table of contents of the issue can be seen here:

--John R.
current reading: SUMMER OF LOVE: THE MAKING OF SGT PEPPER by George Martin.

The Cat Report (W.12/21-16)

With Lillith’s untimely return to Arlington* and the arrival of three new cats, yesterday morning we had a total of four cats in the Renton cat-room: all-black SHEENA OPRIA (at 12 one of our two senior cats, though she doesn’t look it), 
 Old Man HANK (long lean and very orange; he’s 14 and looks it), lively MARIO (less than a year ald and might best be described as a grey tuxedo cat), and 3-yr-old HELENA (a beatiful little brown tabby who distrusts the other cats and prefers they keep their distance).

Sheena came out right away and spent the morning in her favorite place, on the blanket atop the bins in the back of the room. She was pleased to get some attention (petting) but not interested in any games and definitely wanting to keep her distance from the other cats. She got worked up when Helena jumped in her cage and made herself at home, keeping a wary eye on things until I got Helena to move and All Was Well.

Helena was just as wary if not more so but happily perched atop the little cat-stand when it was placed outside her open cage. She hissed at the other cats if they got what she considered too near, but she didn’t swat or slap at anybody: just a little hiss now and then when she considered it called for. Later in the shift I picked her up and put her atop the tall cat-stand in the outer room, where I was glad to see her settle right down and welcome an array of games: the stick game, the feather-duster game (which she treated as if it’d been a captured bird), the bootlace game, and especially the bug-on-a-stick (‘Da Bug’). She’s quite the little predator, so I was surprised when a woman came in with her two sons and Helena let them all pet her. I conclude that she likes attention, it just has to be the right kind of attention. 

Hank is quite the gentleman, greeting all visitors and welcoming all attention. He has real charisma, and I’m sorry to hear he’s been taken back to the clinic today over some concern re. his teeth. He loved the box I brought in, and was in and out of it repeatedly. But he liked the box-top just as well (it made a nice noisy surface for the bug-on-a-stick to land on and skitter over). Best of all, he thought, was the paper bag. He liked this so much I left it behind for him (folded up and on one of the top shelves). He had a good walk outside: a bit nervous but not panicky. Surprisingly, while he wanted people to pet him inside the room he avoided people when encountering them outside the cat-room. Given how much he loves to explore when in the cat-room I did let him take a peek into the bench when I was putting my bag away: thirty seconds was all he wanted to hop in, sniff the place, and hop back out again. Thereafter he ignored it, in a been-there, done-that sort of way. He does love to play, especially the bootlace game and the bug-on-a-stick. I got one or two tangles out of his tail-fur, but he said he’d prefer someone with a gentler touch to do any more of that that might need doing. Towards the end of my shift he got interested in what was going on outside the cat-room, watching the people outside. He enjoyed being out of his cage, and was unhappy with me for making him go back inside it at the end of my shift. He’s a great cat w. a sad back-story;** hope he finds a good home soon. 

Little Mario is full of bounce. He and Hank are not buddies but tolerate each other remarkably well: Hank didn’t mind Mario playing near him so long but preferred he keep at least a foot away. Mario also had a walk and as jumpy at first, settling down some as the walk progressed. Found out that he’s quite a smart cat: anywhere I took him, he knew exactly where he was in the store as soon as I set him down again, and remembered each area he’d visited before and how they all linked up. He wanted to play all shift, enjoying just about any game he could get. He got a lot of attention from visitors, as did Hank, simply by being outgoing and friendly, greeting every visitor. Not surprised that there was already a hold on him from potential adopters; hope they come back for him soon.  

We had lost of visitors today, including a few who expressed an interest in volunteering; think we’ll definitely be hearing from at least one of these.  

One visitor said she’d adopted a cat from here named Nebb about five years ago; does that strike a cord with anyone?

No health issues aside from those potential ones noted by others.

—John R. 

*Hope her potential adopter isn’t put off by the delay and this adoption does go through later this week). 
   Also hope Mr. Hank gets a clean bill of health and is soon back with us.

**for pictures of all the cats, and a brief bio of what is known about each, cf.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tollers and Jack

So, about a month ago I posted a bit about a stageplay in the works that was to center on the friendship between J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.;postID=8569072464201792301;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=12;src=postname

Since then I've been in contact with the playwright for the project, who confirms that the project is indeed ongoing. They now have a workable draft (albeit one that will still get some tweaking) and plan to stage the piece -- provisionally called TOLLERS AND JACK -- as part of their 2017/2018 season at Vancouver's Pacific Theatre.

I'll post more as I find out more: all I know for sure at this point is that whenever it does reach the stage we'll try to make one of our rare visits up to Vancouver to see it.

--John R.

current reading: A FIELD GUIDE TO DINOSAURS (Henry Gee) and dipping into EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI (Jung Chang)

current anime: TENCHI

Friday, December 9, 2016

It's Lemon Cupcake Day

Today was lemon cupcake day. Janice and I and the cats enjoyed a quiet day together: she made scones for breakfast, I made soup for supper. The four inches of snow they predicted didn't come off, so we made one excursion: to the Renton Coin Shop, where I picked up the last remaining Presidential Dollar to complete my collection, the Reagan coin. It's been out for a while, but I'd been putting off getting it. I have what I think is the world's only circulated set of these coins: I carry each around with me till the next one comes out, whereupon the old one goes into the coin album. I find I've been reluctant to stop carrying my favorites, while I've been equally reluctant to start in on this or that dastard (Hoover, Nixon, now Reagan). Since US law forbids putting a living person on a coin, we won't be getting Carter, Bush, Clinton, W.Bush, or Obama.

So ends the latest of a string of four failed attempts to revive the dollar coin. I'll be curious to see what the fifth will be.

And now for a quiet evening by the fireplace reading DINOSAURS OF DARKNESS (which I picked up and started reading back in 2004 but only read a few pages in then; now I've restarted from the beginning and am enjoying the whole thing) alternating with watching some old-school anime (TENCHI).  And, later, more cupcakes.

--John R.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Emerson, Lake

So, today came the news that Greg Lake has died, from cancer. Following the late great Keith Emerson's suicide earlier this year (bedeviled by depression and arthritis), that means two of the three men who created my favorite album, TARKUS (1971), are gone now.  And I have to think Carl Palmer, the last and least of the trio, is taking his vitamins and looking both ways at street corners.

The brief obit I saw called out his early days (Court of the Crimson King)* and of all his ELP work mentioned only his bitter little anti-Xmas song "I Believe in Father Christmas" and, of course, "Lucky Man".

I'm grateful to my cousin Sam for having introduced me to their music all those years ago, and to Emerson and Lake and Palmer for all the good music. They were uneven and wildly eclectic, but at their best they were superb. I know I'll be doing a lot of listening to their oeuvre over the next few days.

--John R.
current reading: still the Verne (20,000 Leagues) on and off

*I've always wondered if this was partially inspired by The King in Yellow but have never seen any supporting evidence

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mt. Adams Fumerole

So, now that we've just gotten back from what will probably be our last trip of the year, it's time to attend to some arrears, such as posting more on the blog. In particular, there are various odds and ends I wanted to post on but never got them properly written up at the time.

Accordingly, here are some pictures (by Janice) I wanted to share from our visit with our friends Bijee and Ray in mid-November down to the Trout Lake region (just north of the Columbia River Gorge and just south of Mt. Adams, one of the chains of not-currently active volcanoes that stretch across the state*). During one of our walks, Bijee showed us what is, according to our best guess, a fumerole or volcanic vent, connected somehow to the Mt. Adams system.**  It's currently no longer active, and there's no telling how long it's been there: Bijee only discovered it a year ago, and said it's crumbled a good deal since then. I suspect in another year or so it'll probably be gone.

  The first two photos below shows the mini-volcano in all its glory, while the third has me in the picture for perspective (as you can see, the main part of the fumerole is about twice my height). The last picture shows several rocks from the debris at the base of the mound. which tended to yellow, red, and a brownish orange. Some of the rocks were very crumbly, almost sandstone-ish, while others were rock-solid. One of the smaller, more crumbly rock had a few blackened pine needles in it. And a few had quartz-like crystals.

All in all, an interesting spot I'm glad to have had a chance to visit; thanks to Bijee for sharing.

just finished: THE WHITE DARKNESS

*Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt Hood across the river down in Oregon

**there are lava tubes running through the area a surprising distance from the mountain itself