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Oh, Fop Off

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I LOVED the following six videos, which comprise the final episode of The Supersizers Go. It's informative, interesting, and--at least in my opinion--hysterically funny. Admittedly, a lot of the jokes have to do with British history, Regency literature and crude bodily humor, but hey, LOTS of people find that stuff really funny, right?

I learned about Supersizers Go Regency in the Spring 2010 issue of the Newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America. A few years ago I invested in a life membership of JASNA, because I got tired of writing a check each year for something I planned to belong to for the rest of my life.

I'm embedding all six videos so that you have no excuse not to watch them all. Just do it, OK? As for me, I'm going to watch the other episodes, which include the food and habits of the Restoration, the Elizabethan age, and the Victorian era.

the other five are after the break.

Divine, Transhuman Models

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I recently read a book I should have read ages ago, The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade. I've read so many works that reference TS&TP that at moments I thought I'd read it already-but I hadn't. I'm glad I've read it now, even though I found it fairly tedious. It's a general overview of the difference between homo religiosus and "non-religious man," first of all, not a detailed history of anything, so it lacks captivating details. More importantly, I personally find the general project somewhat spurious, this business of drawing a distinction between the religious and the non-religious human, as if a thirst for the transcendent is not something essential to human nature, but is instead something tacked on to us at previous points in history, and so can be collectively shed. OK, not every individual cares about transcendence, but as a species, I think we hunger and thirst for it, though we find it in different things: art, or science, or literature, or nature, and so on.

The book also assumes a homogeneity (rather than a variety) of religious experience, asserting that certain uniform and fairly rudimentary attributes are what makes one alive to the sacred, and that absence of these attributes makes one, by necessity, profane. For instance, Eliade seems to believe that one cannot be truly invested and alive to the sacred without a belief in a fairly anthropomorphic god. He asserts that homo religiosus

Female Soldiers in the NY Times

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This blog entry is intended to convince you to read this essay in the Times, about female soldiers and veterans with PTSD. But it has a very long intro before I segue to that topic, so I'm including the link upfront.

An essay I wrote is running today in the print version of the NY Times (at least, it's supposed to--I confess I haven't yet ventured out of the house to buy it) but the online version appeared Friday. I'm not going to link to it here, because my blog is semi-anonymous, meaning I keep my last name out of it, though I know most of the people who read it know who I am, or can figure it out pretty damn easily.

Finally, I Understand Labor Day

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I never understood Labor Day. It made no sense: there's a holiday to celebrate work? You celebrate work by taking a day off? What?

This morning I read this essay by Michael called Who are the wealth creators? in Salon.

Well, who are the wealth creators? That is one of those questions I never really had to confront growing up as the happy child of white-collar capitalists. Sure, I took a semester-long course in free enterprise in high school--you had to to graduate--but I swear we didn't really confront this question. I think we just assumed that wealth was like matter: it had always existed, or else it had existed for so long that there was no point of imagining a time when it hadn't existed. Without ever really thinking about it, I was sort of willing to operate on the assumption that one of my in-laws explicitly avows: "Wealth is limitless, not a pie. The fact that someone else has a really big piece doesn't mean that my piece necessarily has to be any smaller." And although I was sort of smart enough, even as a high school student, to know that wasn't true, I didn't care, because I didn't really know any poor people--or at least, if I knew poor people, I didn't know they were poor. Every student in my tiny school showed up each morning reasonably dressed. No one looked underfed. How bad could being poor be? It probably wasn't all that much worse than not being rich, which we weren't, but we didn't suffer particularly from want.

Of course, I've come a long way since then. I've realized that being poor can be pretty bad. But more concerned with the question of "who controls wealth?", I never stopped to ask the question, "Who creates wealth?" until I was confronted with it. Turns out different schools of thought have different answers to that question. Lind writes,

6/6/44

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D-Day is one of those incredibly easy dates to remember: 6/6/44. (Plus it's conveniently the same both for Americans, who do this illogical thing of going Month/Day/Year, and Europeans, who go Day/Month/Year, smallest measure to largest.) I always do remember it, not only because it's easy, but because (as I mention every so often) I have this thing for military history.

I choke up over D-Day. I am vehemently opposed to wars of aggression like the US's nasty war in Iraq, but the heroic assault by the Allied Forces on the shores of Nazi-occupied France--that gets me where I live. I honor and admire the sacrifice that happened on those beaches in Normandy 65 years ago today. Particularly since it was barely the beginning of the end: eleven months would pass before Germany's unconditional surrender and V-E Day proclaimed on May 8, 1945.

I always observe D-Day, which isn't to say that I celebrate it; I just, well, watch it. I watch its approach on the calendar; I watch its hours pass; I watch night fall and I note that fact that when I wake up the next day, D-Day is over, even though the invasion of those beaches in Normandy would not be completed, in some cases, for days.

The US Army has a website commemorating D-Day, and of course there are books and movies devoted to D-Day as well. I think I might watch The Longest Day this afternoon.

Armistice Day

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Something about me that sometimes surprises people is that I have an obsession with both military history and war literature. And I always observe Veterans Day, however unobtrusively--it actually does arouse reverence in me.

As you may or may not know, Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day, commemorating the day in 1918 when the Great War, as it was known at the time ended, at 11 a.m. on November 11. Thus, even though Veterans Day honors veterans of all wars, it has a special tie to World War I. Today is the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I.

The Guardian is honoring that tie today with some interesting features: a set of photos of writers from the Great War and the works they produced, a couple of less familiar poems about the war, and a link to the First World War Digital Archives. They're all worth checking out, as is this NY Times editorial on the various ways Armistice Day is still recognized.

P.S. My favorite text about the Great War is Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter, which deals not only with the war but with the horrific flu epidemic that followed it. The final paragraph never fails to move me to tears.

I Completely Agree with Gorbachev Right Now

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One of the weirdest tourist attractions I've ever seen in my life is Lenin's body, and one of the scariest military rituals I've ever witnessed is the changing of the guard at his tomb. It was totally creepy to see these grim young men carrying rifles goose-stepping towards me--it was probably the first thing that gave me any inkling of what it would be like to live under military occupation.

Anyway, after the guard changed, we all got to file through the tomb and see the body. I got in trouble because my coat wasn't closed--the zipper was broken and I couldn't close it--and that upset one of the guards (actually more of a docent kind of dude; as I remember, the ones with the guns were outside the entrance); apparently you have to keep your coat closed so you are less likely to reach inside it and pull out a weapon. I showed the guard/docent that my zipper wouldn't work--which sucked, because it was February in Moscow, and I would have liked to be able to zip up my coat--and I guess he decided a 20-year-old American tourist wasn't that much of a security risk, because he let me trundle past the body with everyone else.

And I remember that I thought it looked waxy and green, and thought the innumerable statues and paintings and so forth EVERYWHERE YOU WENT were enough to let you know what the guy looked like--I certainly can identify him now. I didn't see why you needed to see his actual dead body, which, at the point I saw it, had been dead for sixty years.

Finally, I Finish "The War"

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My habit of watching stuff on TV months after everyone else has seen it continues.... I just finished watching Ken Burns’ documentary on World War II, aptly titled The War.

I am quite glad I waited to watch this, as I had time to gather opinions from others who watched it as it was televised, particularly from my friends who, like me, are very interested in military history. They said pretty much the same thing: “It was good, but not great. I thought I would LOVE it, and I didn’t. I only liked it."

So I sat down to watch it with lowered expectations, and because I expected less, I was pleased and surprised when I ended up liking it A LOT--maybe I didn't LOVE it, but it was close.

I feel dirty right now, and nauseated, having tried to read one of William Kristol’s editorials in the NY Times. Loathing and revulsion don’t cover the reactions I have to that man. I have despised him since he first came to my attention, back around 2002 when I started paying attention to the fact that there were evil people with power who really, really wanted us to go to war. I would say that I can’t believe the Times hired the guy, were it not for the fact that the Times credulously accepted the kinds of arguments Kristol and his ilk offered for why we should go to war.

Something else that made me feel dirty and nauseated was this article about the evil that is Facebook. I resisted Facebook for a very long time, but finally joined a few months ago, after people convinced me it was one of the more benign social networking sites out there. Wrong! It’s owned by some really dreadful people who are glad to give the CIA access to all your information. I looked into deleting my account, but it turns you can’t do that--you can only “deactivate it.”

But this is not a post about Kristol or the Times--or Facebook or spying. It’s a post about dirt and dirtiness and cleanliness, and Kristol et al is useful in that they show the way dirtiness and cleanliness are states of mind, the way things we think about can make us feel, genuinely (not just as a figure of speech), that we need to take a shower.

This isn’t a new idea. It’s covered quite well in Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas, a book about ritual filth and purity that I had to read in grad school and liked well enough that I read it again later, just for fun. I’m looking forward to rereading it this summer, both just for the fun of it and as research for an essay I want to write about that concept of contamination ever so important to childhood, namely, cooties.

What I'm Reading Meme

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I started this blog entry more than two weeks ago--in fact, in a conversation about this book, I told someone I'd finished the entry and would be posting it the next day--and that was two weeks ago. At the time, I really did plan to post this the next day--but then I looked at what I'd written and decided this book deserves a more interesting and thorough write-up. Here it finally is.

Anyway, here's a meme I've seen going around, along with its rules:

* Grab the nearest book.
* Open the book to page 123.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
* Do not dig around for the 'cool' or 'intellectual' book on your shelf. Do not go to the other room to find an old textbook. Just pick up whatever is lying at hand.

I grabbed the book I was currently reading: Shoes: A History from Sandals to Sneakers, edited by Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil. It is a thoroughly fabulous book and I plan to blog all about it eventually, but for now I'll focus on the chapter in which page 123 occurs: Chapter 5, "War and Wellingtons: Military Footwear in the Age of Empire" by Alison Matthews David.

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