Sunday, November 27, 2016

Travel Reading

Before our vacation, I considered what to take along for travel reading. Really I wanted a book for the return flight from Amsterdam, for on the eastward flight one is too tired to read much, and when abroad time spent inside one's hotel room seems wasted. My requirements were that the book should be light, for I would have to carry it through four airports; that it be long, to occupy me during most of seven hours; that it be readable when I am tired; and that it be new to me, or worth rereading now, to justify its space and weight. I couldn't think what around the house met these requirements.

There are histories that fail the weight requirement. There are volumes of philosophy that I cannot read unless well rested. There are novels that I don't consider that I need to reread just now. For some reason, I did not consider poetry, though I have in the past taken poetry along on trips.

On the Friday before we left, I understood that what I really wanted was some novel of Trollope's, preferably in an Oxford World Classics volume. By then it was too late to make it to a bookstore before the airport, and airport bookstores aren't that good in the US these days. Schiphol's English-language selection is not bad, but I didn't see anything I really wanted to get. The next trip we take will probably be to the west coast; I'll keep Trollope in mind for that.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Venice: Graves

Today our path took us past Cimitero





(Not only did Diaghilev's have flowers, but a woman stopped to cross herself in what I take to be the approved Orthodox fashion before she moved on.)

And on to Madonna dell'Orto



At Cimitero, we missed the Protestant section of the cemetery, and so the graves of Ezra Pound and Joseph Brodsky. We haven't had much luck with the graves of poets this trip: last week in Ravenna we missed Dante's.

Friday, November 18, 2016

In Bologna: Odds and Ends

We arrived in Bologna on Monday afternoon. With the exception of Wednesday, when we took the train to Ravenna, we have been walking about and looking at churches, palazzi, and towers since. One can find photographs of these by better photographers who used better cameras. Mostly I have taken pictures of minor curiosities that caught my eye.

On Monday evening we found the Piazza Maggiore largely occupied by booths being set up. Tuesday the Cioccoshow was open, with something like eighty vendors. Most of the chocolate looked very good. A number of the makers had put a lot of work into the appearance of the chocolates:




The old architecture is well-proportioned and handsome, and there are well-designed modern buildings to be seen here and there. However, not all modern adaptations of old buildings were thought through enough:


That is on the Piazza San Stefano. San Stefano is a very old church, or rather complex of churches. But the Benedictines who run it seem to be right up to date.


Finally, we have been astonished at the number of independent book stores: clearly, Bologna is not in the Amazon drainage. There are also news stands, which have nearly vanished from Washington, where one has Hudson News and not much else. This morning I stopped to by postcards at a newsstand, and saw


For 6.8 Euros, one can buy a bilingual edition of Epicurus's letters; that is inexpensive enough to be a casual purchase for the browser who had stopped by for a newspaper.  Now, Hudson News does carry books, and might carry The Marriage of Opposites. I would not expect it to carry works of what I would consider philosophy, and certainly not a volume from the Loeb Classical Library.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Pots and Poetry

While reviewing some basic Italian vocabulary this week, I encountered "pentola", "pot". This called to mind a passage from Iris Origo's memoir Images and Shadows, concerning her instruction in the classics by the tutor Professor Solone Monti:
 The path of learning was sometimes made easy, too, and enlivened by an element of surprise.
"Do you know what Pascoli said to the kettle which wouldn't boil for his dinner?" Monti suddenly asked me one morning, 'Pentola, pentola, pentola, bolli. Pentola, bolli!' Then he added, turning to an equally hungry friend in the doorway, 'Che bell'esametro!'"
Taking a pencil, Monti wrote it down, marking the long syllables and the short--and so, in three minutes, the rhythm of the hexameter was fixed in my mind forever.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Daylight Savings Time

At the end of the 1980s, I worked on a project that managed a number of Data General MV/Eclipse minicomputers. The operating system that ran on them had the peculiarity of not tolerating the system time being set back: setting the time back would crash the process that managed queues and logins. Therefore on the autumn Sunday when the country reverted to standard time, operators would change the time and restart the computers.

Eventually, Data General modified the executive program to survive the time being set back. Eventually, too, it was possible to connect to a government service over the internet and set the time automatically. (This was in the days before one heard much about the Network Time Protocol; and I'm not sure that the DG minis ever supported NTP.) The time changes became more routine, less a source of chaos and confusion. Computer clocks have become more accurate, and the use of NTP more widespread, so that now one expects the systems to handle time and time changes correctly and without fuss. However, when the rules for daylight savings time change, one must patch operating systems and other programs that use local time.

The United States Congress has an odd belief that extending daylight savings time benefits the economy. This belief is not, as far as I know, shared by statisticians and economists. During the oil shock of 1973 and 1974, the country stayed on daylight savings time for the winter. I was commuting to college then, leaving the house many days by 6:30, and got in a fair bit of star-gazing those mornings. More recently, in 2005, daylight savings time was extended to the first weekend of November. My chief reaction then was annoyance at having to apply patches for no good reason.

Today's New York Times carries an opinion piece by James Gleick, a historian of science, suggesting that we should all be on Greenwich time, or UTC as some call it. That is fine advice for computers: run the system clock on UTC, and display local time according to the location of the machine or (when it can be inferred) the user. For the rest of us it seems too radical.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Continuity

On Tuesday, a co-worker reported that Lafayette Square was partially closed. She wondered whether crews were beginning construction of stands for the inaugural parade in January. Today, another co-worker and I passed by the chain link fence that blocks off about a third of the square, and it appears so. The protesters who would ordinarily be on Pennsylvania Avenue facing the White House have now set up near the statue of Jackson.

One forgets, occasionally, in the noise and novelty of an election year, how much goes on by routine. In 1980, a project I worked for shared office space with the Quadrennial Commission, an organization that meets, or met, every four years to consider the compensation of federal employees. As best I recall, they did not know when they started who the next president would be. They did, however, know that personnel in all three branches of the federal government would be collecting pay during the years 1981 through 1984, and that the government needed guidelines for setting the rates of their pay.

So the workers along Pennsylvania Avenue expect that there will be an inaugural parade on January 20. Someone will take that oath, and someone will ride up from the Capitol in a limousine. In all probability, they are correct.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Courtesies of War

Happening to open Josef Pieper's Tradition as a Challenge the other day, I found
By chance, as I was recently paging through Goethe's autobiographical writings, I came across what is not a particularly significant but is both a characteristic and amusing example of such a change. It occurs in the Kampagne in Frankreich--in the records of that strange campaign, which foundered miserably in mud and rain, of the European monarchical forces pitted against the people's army of the French Revolution. In this war, which in many ways really belongs to our era, an arrangement was still able to be made between the warring armies: the outposts on both sides, when the weather was bad (in September! in France!) had the right, depending on the direction of the wind, wrapped in their overcoats, to turn their backs to the enemy without this temporary defenselessness being exploited.
 Grant writes in his memoirs that
The next day, the 24th, I started out to make a personal inspection, taking Thomas and Smith with me, besides most of the members of my personal staff. We crossed to the north side of the river, and, moving to the north of detached spurs of hills, reached the Tennessee at Brown's Ferry, some three miles below Lookout Mountain, unobserved by the enemy. Here we left our horses back from the river and approached the water on foot. There was a picket station of the enemy on the opposite side, of about twenty men, in full view, and we were within easy range. They did not fire upon us nor seem to be disturbed by our presence. They must have seen that we were all commissioned officers. But, I suppose, they looked upon the garrison of Chattanooga as prisoners of war, feeding or starving themselves, and thought it would be inhuman to kill any of them except in self-defence.
and again, of an inspection about a week later
[Chattanooga Creek], from its mouth up to where it bears off west, lay between the two lines of pickets, and the guards of both armies drew their water from the same stream. As I would be under short-range fire and in an open country, I took nobody with me, except, I believe, a bugler, who stayed some distance to the rear. I rode from our right around to our left. When I came to the camp of the picket guard of our side, I heard the call, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general." I replied, "Never mind the guard," and they were dismissed and went back to their tents. Just back of these, and about equally distant from the creek, were the guards of the Confederate pickets. The sentinel on their post called out in like manner, "Turn out the guard for the commanding general," and, I believe, added, "General Grant." Their line in a moment front-faced to the north, facing me, and gave a salute, which I returned
The most friendly relations seemed to exist between the pickets of the two armies. At one place there was a tree which had fallen across the stream, and which was used by the soldiers of both armies in drawing water for their camps. General Longstreet's corps was stationed there at the time, and wore blue of a little different shade from our uniform. Seeing a soldier in blue on this log, I rode up to him, commenced conversing with him, and asked whose corps he belonged to. He was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General Longstreet's corps. I asked him a few questions—but not with a view of gaining any particular information—all of which he answered, and I rode off.
In World War II there was a tacit understanding that when shells were fired to scatter propaganda leaflets the recipients had some minutes of grace to pick them up, and of course to get out of foxholes and trench, stretch their limbs, and so on. But this understanding was more between the psychological warfare arm and the artillery than it was between the warring sides.