windowthroughtime

A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: April 2013

All Things Must; Man Is The Only Creature That Wills (1)

will

 

For those of us of a mischievous nature our will represents the last opportunity for a bit of sport. For those of you who like the thought of reaching out from beyond the grave but are struggling to think of something to insert into your will, this is the first of an occasional series of unusual and, I hope, amusing bequests from history.

Of course, the fact that our will is being read dashes any hopes we may have had of achieving immortality. However, we might be able to achieve a vicarious form of immortality through the arrangements we effect by way of our will. Take the case of the famous social philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) who is widely regarded as the founder of utilitarianism. He left his preserved, clothed body to posterity. No one is quite sure what he was trying to achieve with this gift but ever since his death in 1832 his clothed skeleton, topped off with a waxen model of his head, has been preserved in a wood and glass cabinet, known as the Auto-Icon.

It wasn’t Bentham’s intention to have a wax head atop of his skeleton and for years he carried around with him a pair of glass eyes that he wanted to be affixed to his preserved face. Unfortunately, the process of preserving his body distorted his face to such an extent that a wax replica had to be used. Apparently, his head was stored between his legs but, not surprisingly, presented such a source of temptation to would-be pranksters that it was locked away. The Auto-Icon is currently stored in the university he founded, University College, London, and is occasionally moved so that he can attend meetings.

An alternative way to achieve a sort of immortality is to follow the example of Juan Potomachi who popped his clogs in 1955. He left a grant of $50,000 in his will to the Teatro Dramatico on the condition that they used his skull in future productions of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet!

Our final attempt at immortality is that of an American hat maker, S Sanborn, who died in 1871, leaving his body to science and bequeathing it to Oliver Wendell Holmes, the then professor of anatomy at Harvard, and to one of his colleagues. In his will Sanborn stipulated that two drums were to be made out of his skin and given to a friend who on the 17th June of every year had to go to Bunker Hill and at dawn pound out the tune, Yankee Doodle Dandy, in commemoration of the American rebels’ victory in 1775. The rest of Sanborn’s body was to be composted as fertiliser and used to grow an American elm.

Food for thought! To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

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Afrique, Je T’Aime

rokia traore

 

Beautiful Africa – Rokia Traore

It may be a churlish thing to say but one positive thing to come out of the troubles besetting Mali is the explosion of music from its established stars. Rokia Traore’s latest album, Beautiful Africa, is an eloquent plea for the preservation of her country’s historic culture of tolerance. The title track sees the chanteuse in fine form lamenting in French and Bambara the effects of war and conflict on her homeland and ends, in English, with an impassioned plea, “Lord, give us wisdom, give us foresight”.

Traore’s vocal style is distinctive, moving from cool and soothing to an impassioned style almost at the flick of a switch. She has Nina Simonesque qualities at times. Her backing is spare and atmospheric with drums, n’goni – a stringed instrument like a lyre – guitar and bass adding sound patterns that complement her vocals. The way that her guitar weaves intricate patterns with Mamah Diabate’s n’goni creates a magical sound. This is a slightly funkier and rockier set than her last release of five years ago, Tchamanthche, but none the worse for that. The precision of the vocals and the instrumentation draw the listener in and demands their full attention. It is late night reflective music to relax to.

As well as the title track the stand-out tracks for me are N’Teri which moves from a sparse n’goni-dominated opening to a full throttle electric finale featuring beatbox and distorted guitars and the more soulful and reflective Melancolie. The album was recorded in the UK – Bristol, in fact – and is produced by John Parish who has worked with PJ Harvey and Eels amongst others.

It was worth the five-year wait for this album. Highly recommended.

 

In Graham We Trust – Part Forty Five

Graham Turner Post Leeds United

 

Forty six down, season finished, fifty five points secured. 16th place

TMS 3 Portsmouth 2

The Meadow saw an entertaining encounter between TMS and already relegated Portsmouth to round off the season.

TMS showing one change – McAllister in for McGinn – took an early lead, Goldson powering in a header from a Taylor corner in the 5th minute. Jacobson, rapidly becoming their dead ball specialist, scored direct from a free kick (again) in the 32nd minute, the shot taking a wicked deflection off the wall. Asante with a fine turn and a low shot made the game comfortable at 3-0 in the 52nd minute and a comfortable win seemed to be on the cards.

Portsmouth had other ideas, however, and the introduction of Webster changed the game round. The normally reliable Weale let a shot escape his grasp and Harris was the quickest to react on the hour mark. A fine run down the wing by Webster and a cross enabled Agyemang to score in the 77th minute to set up a rousing finale.

TMS held on to secure their second win in four days. Results went in their favour and so they ended the season in the heady heights of 16th. An entertaining end to what was a hard campaign.

A Question Of Taste

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It is hard but occasionally it is necessary to feel sorry for those creative types in advertising agencies. After all, they have to entice those who don’t care to buy stuff they don’t need.

You can easily imagine that ideas in their espresso and Charlie fuelled hothouses can seem the funniest thing known to man. However, when they emerge into the cold-light of day, they go down like a lead balloon.

One of the latest major advertising gaffes is that devised for Korean car manufacturer, Hyundai, by those creative types at Innocean. Their mission was to promote the environment-friendly emissions of a new model which, apparently, are 100% water. What better way, you can imagine the argument going, than to film a scene where a chap tries to commit suicide by exposing himself to the fumes of the car, only to fail because of the non-noxious qualities of the emissions.

And so it came to pass.

Cue outrage particularly from the loved ones who had lost relatives to this particularly unpleasant method of doing yourself in.

Of course, it is all a matter of taste but surely someone somewhere should have had the wit to see what was coming. On the bright side, Hyundai might become the car of choice for the Samaritans!

 

What Is The Origin Of (16)?…

snuff box

 

Up to snuff

This curious phrase is used to indicate that someone or something is up to the required standard, although originally it seems to have indicated that someone was in the know and on the ball.

The use of snuff, powdered tobacco, which was inhaled through the nose was all the rage in the 17th century and beyond. Owing to its cost snuff only the rich could afford to indulge in this fashionable habit. So someone who was up to snuff was rich, smart and sophisticated enough to enjoy and appreciate the fine tobaccos used in snuff manufacture.

The phrase’s first recorded use appears in John Poole’s parody of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which was published in 1811 under the title, Hamelt Travestie. He wrote the lines, “He knows well enough The game we’re after: Zooks, he’s up to snuff” and “He is up to snuff, i.e. he is the knowing one”, clearly using the phrase in its original context of someone in the know.

Grose , in his dictionary published in 1823, lists the phrase, “up to snuff and a pinch above it” and defines it as meaning flash, ostentatious or, perhaps, sophisticated. It seems that the later meaning of being up to a required standard entered common usage at the turn of the 20th century.

 

Let the cat out of the bag

This phrase means to disclose a secret.

There are two competing claims for the origin of this phrase. The first relates to the shady dealings of market traders in the 16th century. Often they were guilty of trying to deceive their would-be customers by passing off one thing as another. Around the 1530s there was a tradition of selling livestock unseen or hidden in a sack. This underhanded trick was presumably so prevalent that it spawned a couple of phrases, the one we are considering and “pig in a poke”. Cats were often substituted for piglets and so to let the cat out of the bag was to disclose the salesman’s deception, literally.

The other theory is that the cat referred to was the cat o’ nine tails, the fearsome implement of punishment used to castigate recalcitrant sailors. It was commonly used and the custom of using it pre-dates the first appearance of the phrase, letting the cat out of the bag, in print. The whip had three strands of cord from which the rope lashes were made and each cord was made from three strands of string. The cat aspect no doubt relates to the scratches that the knotted end made on the victim’s back which resembled the scratches made by the claws of a cat. It may be that the cat o’nine tails when not deployed was kept in a bag but it is hard to see how the use of the phrase to indicate the disclosure of a secret could have come from this practice.

There are versions of the phrase in Dutch – ‘Een kat in de zak kopen’ – and German – – ‘Die Katze im Sack kaufen’ – which both are used in the context of buying false goods ie a cat in a bag.

The first published use of the phrase appears in the London Magazine of 1760 – “We could have wished that the author… had not let the cat out of the bag” and there are several other recorded usages in the 1760s and 1770s where the phrase is put in quotation marks, suggesting that it was newly coined around that time.

Our feline friends were commonly kept by our ancestors to try to make some headway in controlling the mouse and rat populations and cats appear in a number of English proverbs. The weight of evidence suggests that the phrase owes its origin to the shady practices of the Tudor market traders.

For Me, Fast Food Is A Running Herbivore

David-Whipple_2545038b

I have long made it a rule to eschew fast foods. Not for me the siren call of the golden arches or the pleasures of the finger-lickin’ recipes of the Confederate Colonel. I have even been known to resist that nano-second when too full of Sir John Strawberry the kebab purveyed by some dodgy on-street vendor seems vaguely alluring.

However, there is one property of Ronald’s fare that seems to have escaped my notice. David Whipple of Utah decided to buy a burger from the golden arches franchise and, as you do, decided not to consume it but to keep it to show friends and family how the preservatives in said burger would maintain its appearance – the sort of behaviour, I suppose, that passes for an acceptable party piece in that neck of the woods. After a month or so – Whipple either had a small circle of friends or the novelty of his act soon wore off – he forgot about his burger and stuffed it into the pocket of a coat which he kept in the back of his truck. As an aside, for males of my generation a constant source of irritation in this micro-chipped digitised world in which we live is the almost impossible task of finding apparel with the type of deep pockets we need to keep our paraphernalia in, a habit formed when every schoolboy crammed his pockets with string, conkers, penknives, worms etc – but I digress.

After a few months the coat was taken out of the truck and hung up in a cupboard chez Whipple. A couple of year passed and Mrs Whipple, succumbing to that irresistible urge that overcomes the fairer sex, went through her hubby’s pocket and found the said burger. Upon examination they were amazed to find that apart from the pickle disintegrating – there is always a weak link – the burger showed no signs of mould or fungal growth or even a strange odour – testimony indeed to the overwhelming power of the chemical preservatives which are added to the foodstuff.

Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, Mr Whipple put the burger onto e-Bay and received bids of up to $2,000 for this curiosity. However, the family decided not to sell it and so fourteen years on still bring it out from time to time to warn the impressionable youth of the dangers of fast foodstuffs.

What is quite clear is that anyone contemplating a trek to the North or South Pole or an expedition through the rain forests should ignore canned and preserved food supplies and go down to their local fast-food emporium and stock up with burgers. The chemical qualities of their preservatives will ensure that the “food” is fit enough for consumption in any emergency at any time. I think the marketing gurus are missing a trick by not alerting us to these amazing qualities of their wares.

What A Way To Go (8)

angel of death

Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths.

I have always considered death by asphyxiation to be one of the most unpleasant ways to meet your maker, particularly if your demise is as a result of the best of intentions on the part of your inamorata. Consider the fate of James Betts who, in 1687, was sealed in a cupboard by Elizabeth Spencer at Corpus Christi college, Cambridge in an attempt to hide him from her father, John Spencer. His daughter was entertaining a young undergraduate when her father interrupted them. She hid the student in a wardrobe (which college records state only opened from the outside) where he was left for a long time and asphyxiated. In a fit of grief, Elizabeth committed suicide and her ghost is said to walk the courts of the college every Christmas Eve.

Immolation has been used as a means of getting rid of an unsuitable heir. King Yeongjo of Joseon came to the opinion that his son, Crown Prince Sado (perhaps aptly named) was unsuitable to succeed him as king of Korea. The king had received reports his son was mentally ill, wantonly killing people and very erratic. Naturally, this was a great disappointment to the king and with the consent of the queen, Lady Li, he finally ordered his son to be sealed alive in a large rice chest, where he died within eight days in 1762.

Staying in hotels can be injurious to your health. Arsenic used to colour wallpaper and curtains green was a silent killer in Victorian times. Hydrogen cyanide was another killer, used to rid rooms of bed bugs. Poor Dan Andersson, a Swedish author, booked himself in at the Hotel Hellman in Stockholm in 1920 only to die of cyanide poisoning because the staff had failed to get rid of traces of the poison from his rooms.

Exercising your pets can imperil you. Consider the fate of Alexander 1, the king of the Hellenes, who in 1920 was taking a walk in the Royal Gardens with his dog when his pooch was attacked by a monkey. In attempting to defend the mutt the king was bitten by the monkey, clearly no respecter of his royal personage. The diseased bites caused sepsis and three weeks later the king died.

And finally (for the time being), a cautionary tale about that odd American game, baseball. Ray “Chappie” Chapman played for the Cleveland Indians at the time. In a tense game in 1920, pitcher, Carl Mays, playing for the New York Yankees, threw a submarine ball – for the uninitiated, the ball is released underhand and just above the ground, with the torso bent at a right angle and shoulders tilted so severely that they rotate around a nearly horizontal axis. The impact of the ball striking Chapman in the head was so loud that Mays thought it had hit Chapman’s bat. Mays caught the ball as it bounced onto the field and threw it to Pipp at first base. Chapman fell to the ground twice trying to make his way to first base. The unfortunate hitter was taken to a hospital, where surgeons operated and discovered a skull fracture. He initially seemed to rally after the surgery but died early in the morning on the following day. The game and Mays carried on with Cleveland winning 4-3. In the subsequent investigation the New York District Attorney determined that the incident was an accident, and no charges were filed. The submarine ball was subsequently banned.

In Graham We Trust – Part Forty Four

Graham Turner Post Leeds United

 

Forty five down, one to go, safety achieved

TMS 1 Oldham Athletic 0

This victory saw TMS break through the fifty point barrier (the target at the start of the season) and ensure that there is at least a four point gap between them and the final relegation place. One change – Summerfield in for McAllister.

The match was won by a Jacobson direct twenty yard free kick – you would have got a tidy pay out for a small wager if you had bet on this one – in the 48th minute. Weale made his customary couple of good saves to keep the Latics at bay and Taylor missed a good opportunity at the other end. The major positive was another clean sheet from what is by any standard a fairly callow back four.

If results go our way on Saturday TMS could finish as high as 15th – it is amazing how supporters believe that results can’t possibly go against them when the result will be the demise of their team but optimistically clutch every straw when the out-turn can be a position beyond their wildest dreams. For me, I will be satisfied if we stay where we are – ambitions (modest though they were) satisfied.

A lot of hard work is needed over the summer to rebuild the team, drawing on the many lessons learned painfully during this campaign.

The final game sees the rejuvenated Pompey visit – I for one am glad that they seem to have emerged from their recent traumas and have an ownership model that is likely to serve them well in the future. However, you cannot ignore the recent past and for serial offenders who have traded with little regard to the financial consequences they clearly sought to gain an unfair advantage over their rivals. The Football League should take a stronger stance against such clubs than they have to date, otherwise what is the disincentive. Still, looking forward to hosting the Pompey hordes.

Who Was St George?

200px-Saint_George_-_Carlo_Crivelli

 

It is St George’s Day today, the patron saint of England. But who was he?

He seems to have some historical basis and is thought to have lived between around 275 to 303 CE. His father was a Greek, Gerondios, from Cappadocia, a city in Asia Minor, and his mother is thought to have come from Lydda which was situated in the Palestine and had become Hellenised following the invasion of Alexander the Great.

George served in the Roman army in the guard of the emperor, Diocletian. All went swimmingly for George until 302 CE when Diocletian issued an edict to the effect that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. George objected and made his representations to the Emperor. Diocletian did not want to lose one of his best men but George put him in an impossible position by renouncing the Emperor’s edict and in front of his fellow soldiers declaring himself to be a Christian. Despite offers of wealth, land and other forms of largess, George refused to give way and the Emperor had no alternative but to execute him.

Before his execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared to meet his gruesome end. After a period of intense torture during which he was resuscitated three times, George was decapitated in front of the walls of Nicomedia. His body was returned to Lydda where Christians soon honoured him as a martyr.

Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox traditions. Eastern Orthodox iconography depicts him slaying a dragon – the dragon represents Satan (see Revelations 12: 3 – and there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads) and the Roman Empire.

The earliest dedication to St George in England is a church in Dorset, Fordington, which is mentioned in the wars of Alfred the Great. His feast day, which was established as April 23rd, became popular from the time of the Crusades and his flag – a red cross on a white background – was adopted by the English and the City of London in 1190 to gain the protection of the Genoese when sailing in the Mediterranean. Although the saint has no obvious connections with England, his association with the country and his adoption as its saint has a long pedigree. Indeed, although the Reformation in England put paid to a lot of Saints’ Days, St George’s was one of the very few to survive, testimony to the high regard in which this saint was held by the English. Perhaps the saint’s military background appealed to the bellicose English.

St George was also one of the Fourteen Helpers – a group of saints venerated together by the Catholics because their intercession was believed to be particularly effective against diseases. Their origin is thought to date back to the fourteenth century at a time when plague and pestilence – particularly the Black Death – were prevalent. St George was invoked to ensure the health of domestic animals – clearly dragons weren’t domesticated!

An odd saint to have as your patron but we seem to have been happy with him for long enough. Happy St George’s Day!

 

Mens Insana

criminal brains

 

Phrenology, the process that involved observing and feeling the skull to determine an individual’s psychological attributes, has a long tradition in medical and psychological history. Some new research, presented by Andrew Raine, suggests that there is something in the theory.

His book, The Anatomy of Violence, presents intriguing evidence that the brains of certain kinds of criminals differ from those of us who live life on the straight and narrow (other than the odd motoring conviction which don’t count, unless you are a politician). In his research he scanned the brains of criminals and compared them with scans of “normal” people. Habitual criminals with psychopathic tendencies often have a shrunken ventromedial prefrontal cortex – an area of the brain associated with decision-making. Those criminals who offended habitually were shown to have an under-developed dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that is associated with learning from mistakes. Other research conducted by Graeme Fairchild has suggested that adolescents with aggressive disorders often have a shrunken amygdala that displays unusual activity. The amygdala is involved in controlling and shaping emotions and morality.

What to make of all this? Well, it raises two issues, both of which have deep and distasteful consequences.

Firstly, if the research is right, then it would be possible to identify people with these brain disorders through scanning before they had the opportunity to offend, say when they are young. Secondly, if the research is right and a person’s propensity to commit crime is driven by the way their brain is wired, does this mean that they have reduces responsibility for their own actions?

Surely, it is a slippery slope to start going down the route of eugenics and either breed out these features or to subject children who display these symptoms to corrective treatment. Where will such an approach end? And surely, even if there are some mitigating factors behind why someone committed some criminal act, it is reasonable for society to require them to pay for their crime in some way.

The more we come to understand the workings of the brain, the more troubling some of the ethical dilemmas this enhanced knowledge brings. There is something to be said in remaining in blissful ignorance.

Isn’t science wonderful?