Friday, July 20, 2012

Edgar Alan Poe on "how melancholy an existence"

Letters of Note has a interesting 1848 letter by Edagar Alan Poe to George Eveleth in which he writes that his bouts of drunkenness and his deteriorating health were due to his trying to cope with the prolonged illness of his wife, Virginia: "This 'evil' was the greatest which can befall a man."

You say —"Can you hint to me what was the terrible evil" which caused the irregularities so profoundly lamented?" Yes; I can do more than hint. This "evil" was the greatest which can befall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever & underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially and I again hoped. At the end of a year the vessel broke again — I went through precisely the same scene. Again in about a year afterward. Then again — again — again & even once again at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death — and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly & clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive — nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank, God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink rather than the drink to the insanity. I had indeed, nearly abandoned all hope of a permanent cure when I found one in the death of my wife. This I can & do endure as becomes a man — it was the horrible never-ending oscillation between hope & despair which I could not longer have endured without the total loss of reason. In the death of what was my life, then, I receive a new but — oh God! how melancholy an existence.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

From Wikileaks Syria Files: Assad gets Feedback and advice on TV Interview

Wikileaks is in the process of releasing more than two million emails from the Syrian government.  The nature of the emails varies, as one might expect, and span the period between August 2006 and March 2012. 

One extraordinary document is an email to Assad regarding his performance during a recent television interview.  The writer is the epitome of a member of the court, careful to give advice while more careful to not seem too knowledgeable as one hears at the very beginning of the email:

Hello, Allow me please to raise the following comments on the language and content of the interview, hoping you find them useful. I apologize for going too far in questioning the details of grammatical structures, which run, by and large, smoothly and coherently enough. However, for the purposes of accuracy and refinement, which you always seek to achieve, I sought to present a microscopic commentary rather than a selective one; which might have lead to magnifying trivial points at the expense of the rich content and forceful arguments of yours. My remarks include: 1. Comments on the structures of certain statements to make them more coherent and lucid and avoid unnecessary repetitions. These are marginal comments which you can very well ignore, as they involve no shortcomings in grammar or language use, but are added for the sake of refinement and stylistic embellishment, should you be tempted to know.

Or as he says later:

I hesitated before I decided to enlist those minor remarks because knowing they are mistakes, which you certainly know, is not enough to avoid making them. Only making them as often as you can and listening to yourself and having another listen to you regularly can be of help. Sorry for this unmannerly remark, but I felt I had to say this because I noticed a clear difference between the September interview (with Mr. Rose) and this one. I remember that with the former interview I was literally struggling to find a single thing to comment on or mark as a ‘grammatical mistake’, and I had to listen to the interview over and over again, and every time I did, I was so struck by your eloquence and so disappointed with your perfection which scared me into thinking I most certainly have lost my job and soon have to start hunting for a new one.

 But for the most part, he gives good advice, no doubt with a frequent glance to the noose in the corner. ---
"I wouldn’t blame everything on abroad* On abroad* is a prepositional phrase but it is an incorrect use because a prepositional phrase is made up of a preposition + a noun. The word ‘abroad’ does not function as a noun; as it is used only as: - An adjective meaning ‘in a foreign country’; "markets abroad"; "universities abroad”, etc. - An adverb meaning ‘to or in a foreign country’; "they had never travelled abroad" or “to work abroad, to study abroad, etc.” Alternative: I wouldn’t blame everything on countries abroad (foreign countries) Alternative: I wouldn’t blame everything on factors abroad (i.e. external factors) Alternative: I wouldn’t blame everything on others (or other countries)"

The writer ends with the quote:  "'Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas' نحن نحبّ أفلاطون، لكننا نفضّل' الحقيقة عليه" أرسطو!'"

Ground Zero: Krulwich on Five Men and the Bomb

Robert Krulwich at Krulwich Wonders has a post on a chilling movie of five service members as a two kiloton device detonates 18,500 feet above them.  Four were volunteers.

"On July 19, 1957, five Air Force officers and one photographer stood together on a patch of ground about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. They'd marked the spot "Ground Zero. Population 5" on a hand-lettered sign hammered into the soft ground right next to them."
 See the movie and Krulwich's blog at Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Travel Desk and the Declaration of Independence

Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
Declaration of Independence Desk, 1776

While the drafts of the Declaration of Independence were among the first documents Jefferson wrote on this desk, the note he attached under the writing board in 1825 was among the last: "Politics as well as Religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may, one day, give imaginary value to this relic, for its great association with the birth of the Great Charter of our Independence."