Wednesday, December 28, 2022

'A Solemn Thought': JRRT & The Canon

So, here's a quote I was looking for, as it turned out in the wrong place, which I thought I'd share. 

Writing of the author of SIR GAWAIN & THE GREEN KNIGHT, Tolkien says

Of this author, nothing is now known.*  But he was a major poet of his day; and it is a solemn thought that his name is now forgotten, a reminder of the great gaps of ignorance over which we now weave the thick webs of our literary history. But something to the purpose may still be learned of this writer from his works.

I thought this came from the Tolkien/Gordon edition of SGGK (1925).

Turns out it appears in JRRT's SGGK translation (1975), Introduction p.13.

  *except that he probably wrote three other works: PEARL, PATIENCE, and PURITY.

Of these three, I strongly recommend PATIENCE, a hilarious retelling of the Jonah story.

--John R.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Shades of Svalbard


So, I was reminded of Philip Pullman's Svalbard, home of his armoured bears who have their own city, by these photos of an old abandoned outpost up in the arctic.* Who knew that polar bears wd gather into a bear colony, given the right conditions? I suppose the buildings serve all the functions of a cave: roof, walls, and so forth.

Anyway, the piece has such striking photography that I thought I'd share. 

--John R.


Catch, Neuter, Release

 So, thanks to Janice for sharing with me the link to the story about the two women arrested for removing strays from a city part:

This story is appalling on multiple levels

--the arrest of an eighty-four year old woman and her sixties-ish companion

--sending out three prowl cars to handle what shd have been a minor dispute, which sends the signal that the police were looking for a fight and deliberately escalated the encounter

--it's a bad sign to hear the arresting officer lying about the encounter as he reports in at the end of the tape

--that what the women were doing is actually the best way to cut down on feral cat colonies; it's at the heart of the startling decline in stray cat populations, which in turn has helped make possible the rise of no-kill shelters. 

--it's alarming to see police who are so bad at their job. The work they do is important, and they need to do it well.

--John R.


 So, the current issue of the Chaosium newsletter ends with the sad news that their excellent little boardgame MISKATONIC LIBRARY: THE RESTRICTED COLLECTION will only be available through January 31st. Apparently their license agreement with the game's designer, renowned designer Reiner Knizia, has expired. 

If you like the Cthulhu Mythos in general and Chaosium's take on Lovecraft's work, you really shd think about picking this one up. I know I'm glad to have it on my gaming shelf, even after said shelf has been cut way back in recent months. 

--John R.



Remember, Khan of Khans and Miskatonic University games to be withdrawn from sale on Dec 31!

Your last chance to order these ENNIE award-winning games, and for only $9.99each! (US warehouse only - now sold out everywhere else)

Khan of Khans and Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection must be withdrawn from sale at 11.59pm PT on December 31st, 2022 due to the end of the license with Dr Reiner Knizia.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Deed of Gift (The First Emancipator)





Robert Carter, whose example is enough to remind us that there existed men and woman during the Revolutionary War who knew what was right and did not lack the personal will to act upon that belief.(Levy, p. 194)


—Gary B. Nash, professor emeritus, UCLA, author of Red, White & Black: The Peoples of Early North America


So, I've finally made my way through THE FIRST EMANCIPATOR by Andrew Levy, a book I picked up as an impulse buy on Sunday April 6th 2007 and only now, over the past few weeks, gotten around to. It was worth the wait. Levy deliberately avoids presenting the story with anything resembling a narrative arc (the better to reflect his protagonist's erratic career). It is a major part of his thesis that Robert Carter was not just forgotten but deliberately obscured because he had achieved what conventional wisdom among the slave-owning Founding Fathers held as an article of faith to be impossible: that gradual manumission could free slaves and integrate them into the community without overly disrupting the local economy or overall society. 


Instead of the deathbed manumission fashionable at the time*  Carter worked out a schedule that essentially transformed his slaves into indentured servants and then to freemen. Through a document known as the Deed of Gift(which shd rank as one of the great documents in American history on display in D.C.) he freed four hundred and fifty slaves, taking pains to keep families together and seeing to it that they had help if needed to establish themselves. 



Why did he do it? The answer is both simple and complex. 

The simple part is that he decided slavery was wrong, largely on religious  grounds. This formed a constant from the time he abandoned his initial Episcopalian/Deist roots from a more radical Baptist faith (he was an important figure in the early history of Baptists in Virginia). As the Baptists established themselves and became more like other churches (e.g., segregating services) he left them behind for Swedenborgism, only in time to leave that behind in turn for a highly personalized faith that owed something to the Quakers but was really a faith of his own. 


Having decided that segregation and slavery were wrong, he spent years trying to work out a system that would replace it with something better.  There are hints that he paid a price for this. For one thing he became estranged from his family, who considered he had disinherited them. More ominously, not long after making his Deed of Gift he suddenly abandoned Virginia, sneaking away by night and relocating to Baltimore, where he spent the last fifteen years of his life, refusing even to visit Virginia to visit family; his library he sent for piecemeal over the years. No one knows why he left his home state, but there are hints that he got threats from his peers: in one page of his journal/estate records he wrote the words 'TAR AND FEATHER' three times in large, ragged letters. I suspect he got a visitation from his fellow plantation owners similar to what the Klu Klux Klan wd have done a century later. 


Despite the removal of Carter, the process he had set in motion continued its work for years to come, even after Carter's death. A good legacy to leave behind, and an achievement worth celebrating.


Here's a good note to end on: 

"eighteenth-century Anglo-American society put a premium on certain traits of character—on circumspection, caution, and calculation; on the control and suppression of one's real feelings"

        (Gordon S. Wood, 1992; quoted in Note 51 page 240)

--John R.

--current reading: THE DRAGON GRIAULE by Lucius Shepherd.



*as in the case of Washington. contrast Jefferson, who was far less generous to his slaves


Tuesday, December 20, 2022

D&D in The Guardian

 So, a few days ago the British newspaper THE GUARDIAN ran a piece on playing D&D from the point of view of a first time Dungon Master.

It's nice to see mainstream media stories on D&D that have moved on beyond the 'here's this weird scary thing' to 'maybe it's time you shd give this hobby a try'.

One point I particularly noted was the author's observation about the slow pace of the game, much more than had been the case when he'd played the game, not run it --i.e., it'd gone faster when he'd been a player, much slower than as a DM. 

D&D has always been notorious in that the game slows down when combat begins, so that a single combat can take up an entire gaming session. But as a longtime player and DM* I have to say that the game has slowed overall, beginning with the advent of 3e. From 3e onward so many factors come into play in combat that it simply takes longer to figure out what happens. In recent years this hesitation to make decisions, to commit to a course of action, seems to have spread to all decision-making within the game. Thus a simple decision --say, which of several cave entrances the PCs should explore first-- can take a surprising amount of time. 

The reason is probably that PCs are precious. In the early days of D&D it was relatively quick and easy to roll up a PC;  generating a replacement character in mid-session** was not at all unusual.*** Now there are  so many factors involved that this is no longer the case.

And I have to say games where the PCs overthink everything tend at some point to generate their own solution in the form of the least patient person adopting a kick-in-the-door policy. 

--John R.

--current reading: just finished THE FIRST EMANCIPATOR 

*I started in early 1980, though it took me until around late 1982 to find a stable group (through the expedient of starting one myself).

**I've even known of cases when a character was killed, a replacement rolled up and join the PC group, only to be killed in turn and replaced in turn, all in the same session, though this was counted a display of serious bad luck.

***In some games, losing your magic items/special equipment was a more serious blow than the death of the character.

Cat Report Dec. 16th 2022


So, today we had seven cats:  three pairs and one solitaire, with an empty set of cages.


Great to hear about the adoption of LUCY-LOU, who was both beautiful and winsome.  Hope that his pending appointment for BOLT also turns out well.


Between us my fellow volunteer K and I got four cats out on walks.  I started off with BINGO, who was low-key but seemed to enjoy himself. He mostly sat on the small cat-stands lined up outside the room, giving them his personal seal of approval while he watched the world go by. He also did some window shopping, wanting to claim some scratching boards for his own (as did Irwin later).

 Meanwhile K took BONGO further afield. 


Next it was IRWIN and ELENOR’s turn. I walked him while K walked her. As in previous weeks it was nice to see how much Irwin enjoyed going up and greeting the store employee, many of whom not only stop and pet him but know his name. They both had long walks — surprisingly long given how the store was fairly crowded with people and several dogs (mostly well behaved). Irwin kept asking for doors to be opened; the only time I obliged was to let him briefly inspect the men's room.


ONYX and SEVERUS came out and played in the Cat Room.  They enjoyed the attention, games, and being groomed by K. They’re two smart cats —I haven’t seen them open their cages, as others report, but I have seen them open the cupboards with almost casual ease. 


BOLT asked to come out. This was such a change from a week ago (when he had just arrived) that I petted in his cage a good while first. Once he did come out he played games, rolled in catnip smell, and generally enjoyed himself.  A word of warning: beware the belly rub.


Still didn’t think our two black panthers wd be calm enough to be walkers; maybe next week. And to try to walk a cat named Bolt just seemed like asking for trouble.


—John R.




I loved this part out of another volunteer's report: 

There was a spider that walked in.   

That was a great toy for the cats.   

He didn't last long. 



Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Cat Report (Friday Dec 9th, 12 to 2)

Note: this report is slow to be posted because I wanted it to include some photos Janice took of the cats, but Explorer has proved unhelpful, so after some delay I'm going ahead and just posting the report itself.


 It was a good day in the cat room, with three bonded pairs (Bingo and BongoEleanor and IrwinSeverus and Onyx) carried over from last time. The adoption since last week of Blossom and Buttercup, as well as Siamese-ish George and Paco, along with the arrival just this morning of two new cats, Lucy Lou and Bolts (both solitaries) left us with a full house: eight cats.

Thanks once again to fellow volunteer K.’s taking on taking care of the cages, plus plenty of games and attention for all the cats in turn, I was able to walk Bingo, Bongo, and Irwin, while K. made sure Eleanor had a turn. I offered Severus one but he exercised his whole veto power on the idea of the leash. We had a close call when Bingo slipped the leash, but fortunately he ran right back to the cat-room and asked to be let back in.

It’s hard to tell Severus and Onyx apart, but one of them (I think Severus) has learned how to open the cupboard doors (especially the door to the clean clothes). The other one watches and tries to open a door himself but hasn’t quite figured out the trick of it.  Much later in the shift I spotted one of these two (again I think Severus, but it cd have been Onyx) playing with Bingo. The much smaller black cat wd sit down beside Bingo and Bongo’s cage and very slowly slip his paw up into Bongo’s space until Bongo wd notice and swat at it. They might have been kids sharing a back seat on a long car ride.

Of our two newcomers, Lucy Lou is truly beautiful: a grey-orange attention-loving fluff-puff. Don’t think it’ll take long for her to be out and about exploring.

Bolts, by contrast, is very shy, so much so that he was hiding under the blankets. Rather than force him to come out so soon after he’d settled in, I reached in under the blanket to pet him. This seemed to help: he was only half-hidden by the end of our shift. The person who reported that he has a striking difference in his eyes was right: one is yellow and the other darker golden color.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t take the newcomers long to fill at ease.

—John R

Americans as seen by (some) Europeans, 1754

 So, while continuing to make my way through Andrew Levy's THE LAST EMANCIPATOR I'm finding various interesting bits to follow up on somewhere down the line. High on that list is a 1754 novel that sounds like a forerunner of the mystery novel mingled with the melodramatic / Gothic and the picaresque. Here's Levy's description of Kimber's book (p. 15):

in 1754, Edward Kimber, the editor of London's Gentleman's Magazine, published a novel entitled History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Anderson: Containing his Strange Varieties of Fortune in Europe and America, Compiled from his Own Papers. The novel featured as its antagonist a wealthy, corrupt young American slaveholder, 'the richest heir' in the colony, but 'a lad of bad principles, unlettered, and of coarse manners,' who is murdered, in the novel's crowd-pleasing ending, by his own slaves


I consider myself pretty well versed in nineteenth century literature, but I confess to have not come across that one before. Now to see if I can find a copy that is both easy of access and inexpensive to acquire.

--John R

Friday, December 9, 2022

Wednesday's Cello

So, I was a big fan of THE ADDAMS FAMILY when I was a kid, watching it during its original run. I was particularly fond of Thing, Gomez, Lurch, and especially Uncle Fester.*

So when I heard of WEDNESDAY, the new spin-off of the Addams' story focusing on rebellious teen daughter Wednesday ("Wednesday's child is full of woe"), I definitely wanted to try it out. We have not been disappointed.

Having enjoyed it myself, I wanted to share two of the more interesting bits: (1) Wednesday playing the early Rolling Stones song "Paint It Black" on the cello in what sounds to me like a virtuoso solo

and (2) a very striking dance scene set to an almost rockabilly number called "Goo Goo Muc". This one was new to me but a high point of the episode.

We plan to watch the last episode this evening tonight. Short of any unexpected jump-the-shark moments I think this series as a whole proves itself a worthy expansion of its excellent progenitor(s).

--John R.
current reading: THE FIRST EMANCIPATOR

*it was not until years later that I learned the backstory of Jackie Coogan, who played Fester, which made him something of a hero of mine; I admire the actor independently of enjoying the character.

I also in recent years came to know and admire the work of Charles Addams, the cartoonist who created the 'Family' . More like Gorey than anyone else, but with his own distinct voice.  Highly recommended. 

When I'm Sixty-Four

So, you listen to a song for years, till comes a day when it applies directly to you.

As in this case,  when I seem to be catching up with SGT PEPPER.

So here's a thank you to Paul McCartney (1942 and counting) circa 1967.

Though prophecy is imperfect in that the song failed to mention anything about the lemon cupcakes.

--John R, (1958 and counting)


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Selim the Algerine

So, I'm currently reading a book I picked up as an impulse buy fifteen years ago. It's moved from shelf to shelf over the years without my ever actually getting around to reading it. The current sort-out of my books and realization that I know someone who I think wd find it interesting make this seems a good time to re-home it.

I'll probably be making a separate post about the book in question*, but before I forget I wanted to share an odd little piece of Colonial-era history.

When John Craig, a frontier Presbyterian minister from Augusta County, was given charge of an emaciated, homesick Muslim prisoner-of-war who had escaped Mohawk custody at the end of the French and Indian War, he wrote Carter, appealed to the latter's reputation for 'beneficence to the poor and afflicted,' and asked the councillor to help 'Selim the Algerine' return to Algiers --a task Carter undertook with such generosity that Selim, upon returning to America several years later, traveled directly to Nomony** to seek Carter's renewed assistance, (p. 26)

I knew that was an international war but I confess I had no idea the combatants were so far-ranging. If I'd seen a book or movie which depicted someone from the Barbary States held captive by the Mohawks I wd have been skeptical. Live and learn. Sometime I'll have to see if I can find out more of Selim's story.***

--John R


**the chief of Carter's many plantations. 

***Andrew Levy, the author of THE FIRST EMANCIPATOR, gives as one source a 1924 book by an Andrew Price (SELIM THE ALGERIN) and another by Wm Meade (OLD CHURCHES, MINISTERS, AND FAMILIES OF VIRGINIA) which a quick search seems to indicate goes back to as far as 1861.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Christine McVie

So, I was sorry to hear the news about Christine McVie's passing. She was my favorite of the many talented singer/songwriters who were part of that protean group Fleeetwood Mac over its many years. If I had to pick a single song of hers as my favorite, it'd be "Homeward Bound", from BARE TREES (1972) -- which, not coincidentally, is my favorite of their albums.

Second place wd probably go to "Brown Eyes" from TUSK (1979). The album is a self-indulgent mess* but this song, where she was backed up by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green, stands out along with a few others.

 I got to see her once (this wd have been around 1984), when she was performing in small venues in places like Milwaukee in support of her solo album, which stays in the memory as pleasant. In those days I was deeply interested in rock music's version of the phenomenon that I have since learned is called Theseus's ship. If something is in continual use, and is repaired and maintained  throughout that time, so that at what point it consist entirely of replacement parts, is it still Theseus's ship at that point? Or, in the rock n roll version, in rare cases, a group would be stable, with the same line-up of the same personal). More often a long-lasting group will be ever-evolving, so that the line up would change over time: Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Starship were typlical examples.  In some cases an old group continue to tour without a single remaining original member (there was a point in the early seventies in which there were two rival versions of Fleetwood Mac on tour). 

In any case, McVie's passing has put me in the mood to, in the words of Bob Seger, "take those old records off the shelf; I'll sit and listen to them by myself". I think over the next few days I'll be listening to all the Fleetwood Mac albums I have on vinyl (plus one on cassette and two I only have on cd):


THEN PLAY ON (the standout tune here is the blistering "Oh Well").** when they sounded like Santana before there was a Santana.

KILN HOUSE (for which McVie did the cover art). back in the day when they did Buddy Holly covers.

FUTURE GAMES (a transition album; an uneasy combination of Danny Kirwan and Bob Welsh)

BARE TREES (dominated by Danny Kirwan; their best album of them all)

MYSTERY TO ME (dominated by Bob Welsh)

HEROES ARE HARD TO FIND (still v. much Welsh's band)

FLEETWOOD MAC (the first of the albums made by the classic line-up most people think of when they hear the name 'Fleetwood Mac: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, & Stevie Nicks. second in sales and reputation only to the follow-up, Rumours)

RUMOURS (one of the best-selling albums of all time and the high-water mark of their career)

TUSK (Buckingham's folly: a rambling hodge-podge that proved Rumours was a hard act to follow.)

LIVE (essentially a live album of the concert tour to support Rumours, plus a few others, like Beach Boys cover "Farmer's Daughter")

MIRAGE (going through the motions)

TANGO IN THE NIGHT (more of the same)

SAY YOU WILL (something of a comeback for the group: Buckingham/Nicks without Christine McVie)

--So there it is: not a complete discography, but a lot of music on a dozen albums, plus a few solo efforts (two by Kirwan and two by Nicks, in addition). I'm grateful the Christine McVie for the songs we have thanks to her that we wdn't have otherwise.

--John R.

*It's one of those albums that proves just how hard it is to do a worthy follow-up to a best0selling career-defining album; the Eagle's THE LONG RUN is another example.

**Here are the lyrics to Green's little ditty:

Can't help about the shape I'm inCan't sing, I ain't pretty, and my legs are thinDon't ask me what I think of youMight not give the answer that you want me to
Now when I talk to God I knew he'd understandHe said "stick by me I'll be your guiding handDon't ask me what I think of youI might not give the answer that you want me to"
Oh well.