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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2010

December  25,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Edwin shuddered and turned to a Rotamint machine.  He fed in his Edwardian sixpence, saw wheels whizz and numbers flare; then stillness.  He fed in the other, deutero-elizabethan, and, after some seconds of busy mechanic gestation, the tinkling of the birth of the jackpot could be heard.  It drew eyes from other machines,e ven a few spectators for Edwin's gathering of the silver harvest.  'Fackin' lacky,' said a youth.  Who else had been that?  Of course, Nobby of the Kettle Mob, only jailed, not fined nor naffink.  Edwin counted six shillingsworth of six-pences.  Good.  But was it really good?  A kip for the night, leaning on a rope that collapsed promptly at dawn, a slab of bread and marge, and then what?  Living for the day, Christlike.  But these impoverished sects had always sprung to birth in warm climates, where living for the day was possible.  Edwin walked out into the cold and wet night, giving courteous thanks to the filial man who had invited him in.  He went the way whence he had come, collar turned up and hands in pockets.

--The Doctor is Sick by Anthony Burgess

December  24,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Words, he realised, words, words, words.  He had lived too much with words and not what the words stood for.  James Joyce had been such another, with his deliberate choice of a sweetheart from a sweetshop, his refusal to correct a visitor who had called a painting a photograph because 'photograph' was so lovely a word.  But James Joyce at least had not told a gangster that he had done a tray on the moor just because he liked the sound of it.  A world of words, thought Edwin, saying it aloud and liking the sound of it.  'A whirling world of words.'  Apart from its accidents of sound, etymology and lexical definition, did he really know th emeaning of any one word?  Love, for instance.  Interesting, the collocation of sounds: the clear allophone of the voiced divided phoneme gliding to the newest of the all English vowels which Shakespeare, for instance, did not know, ending with the soft bite of the voiced labiodental.  And its origin?  Edwin saw the word tumble back to Anglo-Saxon and beyond, and its cognate Teutonic forms tunbling back too, so that all forms ultimately melted int he prehistoric primitive Germanic mother.  Fascinating.  But there was something about the word that should be even more fascinating, to the man if not to the philologish: its real significance when used in such a locution as 'Edwin loves Sheila'.  And Edwin realised that he didn't find it fascinating.  Let him loose in the real world, where words are glued to things, and see what he did: stole, swore, lied, committed acts of violence on things and people.  He had never been sufficiently interested in words, that was the trouble.

--The Doctor is Sick by Anthony Burgess

December  23,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

A beautiful thing about war is that it makes everything that we or our allies do the wisest and best that was ever known.  Every appointment is ideal.  No one is ever retired except for "ill-health."  Every retreat is for "strategic reasons" and "upsets the foe's plans."

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

December  22,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

There are no excusable errors in war; all blunders are inexcusable.  And it was especially unpardonable, it would seem to the ordinary onlooker, to repeat in 1917 the same useless tactics that had decimated the Allied ranks int he previous years.  In fact, it almost seems like an empty repetition to tell over again the story of the brave advances in the face of the enemy fire, the sanguinary combats where the British lossess far outran the German, and the final end of the battle with nothing worth while gained to show for all the heroism that brought mourning into thousands of homes.  The British offensive against Passchendaele in the fall of 1917 has been called "a forlorn expediture of valor and life without equal in futility."  Ground was gained, but the British paid nearly two lives to one for it,a nd could do nothing profitable with it after they got it.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

[N.B.:  Why are all blunders inexcusable in war?  What can be weighed in the balance of brining "mourning into thousands of homes"?  What noble words do not choke in the throat confronted with the inarticulate mother's grief?]

December  21,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The little slices of territory gained by the Allies seemed to have a strangely bewitching effect on the minds of the generals, making them think that the next attack, or the next, or the next, would be the magic one to break the German line.  they were like players at Monte Carlo, risking more and more on the hope that the next throw would win.  And they were not risking coin, but lives.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

December  20,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The failure to realize the facts of the situation are laid by Hindenburg to a lack of imagination.  He wrote after the war:  "If our western adversaries failed to obtain any decisive results in the battles of 1915 to 1917, it must be ascribed to a certain unimaginativeness in generalship."  a little imagination, for example, might have led the British commanders to suppose the mountainous and elaborate preparations on a certain sector for a might assault would case the Germans to make equally complet preparations for an impregnable defense.  That, as a matter of facct, is exactly what occurred, so that when the shock of assault came, it was much like the classic supposition of an irresistible force meeting an immovable body.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

[N.B.:  One sees this lack of imagination in lots of other areas too--hence the great value in playing chess in that that game requires a player to anticipate how his or her opponent will react to a notional move and then how he or her will react in turn, ad infinitum.  Bad players make moves for immediate (and, almost always, transient) tactical advantage at the expense of long-term strategic advantage.  The great players can see 30 or so moves ahead.]

December  19,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Two large and disastrous flaws have been found in this theory [of attrition], however, by recent British writers who have been digging patiently and pitilessly into the war records of that time.  The first is that the British and French losses of those days were twice as large as the German, so that the "attrition" was wasting away the Allied forces twice as fast as it was eating into the German ranks.  The second flaw was that the prolific Fatherland was sending to the colors 1,000,000 men per year in new recruits, or new reenforcements more abundant than the losses, so that during the "attrition" the German armies were really growing larger instead of smaller.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

December  18,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Germans must have admired the courage of those British troops who leaped from their trenches, time after time, at the shrill of the whistle, without adequate artillery support or enough machine guns, and with crude hand-bombs made of jam-tins, to attach the splendidly prepared and equipped armies of Falkenhayn.  But the Germans could hardly admire the wisdom of British generals who ordered such sacrifice.  The British commanders explained that they were waging a "war of attrition"--that is, a war of wearing down and wasting away botgh armies, on the idea that when the last German was killed, several British and French would be left to claim victory.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

December  17,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The wizardry of words seems to have a bewitching effect on the French mind.  "the best defense is attack," was the fatal phrase that ruled French tactics.  That may be good policy in a fist-fight or a duel with broadswords, but in a modern war it is merely a gallant way to commit suicide.  It means, in plain English, "Throw your men on th enemy's guns."  The enemy could not ask anything better.  No army in the world ever had so many machine guns as the Germans had when they invaded France.  Their only fear was the the French might be sheltered behind breastworks or entrenchments where the machine guns could not get at them.

Imagine their joy, then, when they say the French coming on the run in massed formation, to be cut down like wheat.  Dressed in vivid uniforms of blue and red, with the officers in black and gold, as if to offer the German masksmen every opportunity, the French cried, "Forward!" Vive la France!" "The bayonet!  The bayonet!" and rushed gallantly to their doom.  Not less than 300,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured in what is known as the Battle of the Frontiers.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

[N.B.:  The word "French" should be replaced by the word "human" in the first sentence--but otherwise it's an accurate enough damnation.]

December  16,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Ah!  Fatal words of this war! Too late in moving here!  Too late in moving there!  Too late in coming to this decision!  Too late in starting with enterprises!  Too late in preparing!  In this war the footsteps of the Allied forces have been dogged by the mocking spectre of 'Too late.'"

--David Lloyd George in the House of Commons, December 20, 1915

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

[N.B.:  This quotation served as the introduction to Part III of Woods' book, titled "British and French Blunders that Prolonged the War."]

December  15,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

During the latter half of 1916, and beginning promptly on July 1, as if by agreement to divide the year, the two great antagonists exchanged roles, and the Germans stood on the defensive while the Allies adopted the plan of blasting the enemy line with artillery and then rushing it with masses of men.  Only the location was changed.  The battlefield was now in the valley of the Somme.  The French at Verdun for four terrible months had taught the Germans that these tactics of shelling and charging could not break through; now on the Somme, in turn, for four and a half months more, the Germans were to teach the French and British precisely the same lesson.  Verdun had been the world's greatest battle; now the Somme outclassed Verdun.  Failing to break through at Verdun, Falkenhayn said he had no such intention--"our object was to inflict on the enemy the utmost possible injury, with the least possible expenditure of lives on our own part."  Failing to break through on the Somme, the British put forward the theory of "attrition."  The war was to be won by attrition.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

[N.B.:  The strategy of "attrition," which was never adopted in a subsequent conflict, serves as the great refutation that the generals of World War One were falsely maligned as "donkeys leading lions."  Attrition made no sense at the time--as was recognized then--and it continues to make no sense now (particularly if the side practicing attrition, such as the French and British, have fewer men numerically than their opponents).]

December  14,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"God punish England!" (Gott strafe England!) was the deep prayer of every German heart.  We commonly call upon heaven to punish our enemies when we feel the job is beyond us, and this very prayer betrayed the conviction that Britain had spoiled the game, as, in fact, proved true.  a German poet, Ernst Lissauer, expressed the feeling of his nation in the famous "Hymn of Hate" first published in Jugend in Munich, and translated by Barbara Henderson for the New York Times.  It ran in part like this:

HYMN OF HATE

French and Russian, they matter not,

A blow for a blow, and a shot for a shot,

We love them not, we hate them not,

We hold the Weichesel and Vosges gate,

We have but one and only hate,

We love as one, we hate as one

We have one foe and one alone--

England!

 

You will we hate a lasting hate,

We will never forego our hate,

Hate by water and hate by land,

Hate of the head and hate of the hand,

Hate of the hammer and hate of the crown,

Hate of seventy millions, choking down,

We love as one, we hate as one,

We have one foe and one alone--

England!

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

[N.B.:  Although Hitler was no more than an anonymous messenger in some dirty trench when this was written, the line "We love as one, we hate as one" seems quite prophetic now--but not in the way intended by the author (who, ironically, was German-Jewish).]

December  13,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

A lot of talk is being heard right now that "the next war will be won in the air."  "that is a great misconception," said General Harbord, as we sat in the offic eof th ePresident of the Radio Corporation of America and the General turned his thoughts back from the miraculous triumph of radio to the days when he was directing the immortal fight of his marines at Chateau Thierry.  In a few crisp sentences the General viewed the airplane in the cold hard light of fact.  "Planes can only fly in good weather, while the war has to go on in all weathers," was one of his succinct remarks.  "Airplane observation is very uncertain, and so is bombing," he added; "it is very hard to hit anything.  We must remember, too, that a plane cannot capture an objective or hold a position or take prisoners, and for its rest, its food, its clothing and its pay it always has to come back and take refuge behind the army, which is doing the real fighting."  In fact, General Harbord feels that airplanes have little or no real influence in deciding any war, and are overrated.

--Colossal Blunders of the War by William Seaver Woods

[N.B.:  This books was published in 1930 and these remarks, in the era of drone attacks, are as true now as they were then--particularly the observation that it's boots on the ground that will hold an objective, not domination of the air.]

December  12,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is a small earthquake in Bromyard, measuring 3.6 on the Richter Scale.  Because it is Bromyard, not only are there not many dead - not many people noticed.  I thought a wheelie bin from The Ptarmigan had crashed into my wall.   Several miles away in Pencombe crockery fell off a shelf, but didn't smash.  Mr. Geroge Webb of Bredenbury who according to the local press has "long taken an interest in geological matters" said it sounded like "two things rubbing together."

--Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis

[N.B.:  If this isn't an example of that famous laconic British sense of humour, I don't know what is.]

December  11,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Byron, who calls in to use my toilet free when skating between his nice homes in Carmarthen and Towcester, once told me that the reason he'd very sensibly never been in the least bit inclined to attend any orgy was because, "There's always a nude fat man standing on the stairs eating a ham salad."

--Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis

December  10,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

A poster in Hereford, "Do Hugs Not Drugs", made me want to take up the crackpipe as soon as I got home.

--Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis

December  9,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

By the way, I also hate these white plastic bracelets people are wearing - "Make Poverty History" or the breast cancer ribbons and prostate brooches, etc.  Little signs of solidarity meaning, "I care."  If you could get a badge saying, "Make Poverty Quieter," I might be tempted.

--Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis

December  8,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

What an off-putting language German is, though.  It's all Fahr, Fuchs and Kunst.  I am not a competent linguist.  Trying to search for a word-compound that means "Is this house near traffic?"  (Verkehrsanbindung), what I came out with was "Haben Si mit der Frau Verkehr gehabt?"    Or, "Did you have intercourse with this woman?"  The expression of pure gibbering shock on the estate agent's face was a marvel.

--Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis

December  7,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

What a useless painter Bacon was - all those smeary faces and placenta pinks.  He had one idea in his life: paint people (Popes particularly, or Dan Farson) as if they are inside out and being buggered.  His pictures on display next to Picasso's only emphasized his amateurishness.  The slaughterhouse screams are adolescent.  Bacon had no idea how to paint shoes, wristwatches or hands.  Nobody has been capable of competent draughtsmanship in England since the death of Augustus John.

--Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis

December  6,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The vicar recited the Nunc Dimitis.  I deem it a small triumph that I'd persuaded the Rev. Jeremy to find a copy of The Book of Common Prayer and do a proper service.  He'd looked genuinely surprised.  "Most people want excerpts from The Lion King," he said.

--Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis

December  5,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Good evening, Mr. Charlton," Patrick said.  Seeing the other two together made him feel frightened.

Charlton looked up at him, his face heavy with menace, or possibly just with being Charlton.  "Quite a surprise to see you here," he said, doing a pretty good job of ironical silent apology for the absence of naked women and tanks of gin from the amenities on offer.

--Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

December  4,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The sight of the clouds of it swirling softly under a street lamp, with the vague glimpse behond this of the High Street traffic and the rounded hill above, where chains of lights stretched upward until they were lost in the woods, made a picture sugary enough to remind him of how appealing the town had looked when it was new to him, how certain to offer up someone he would fall authentically in love with.  The most that oculd rationally be said for the dump now was that it was not the London suburb where his mother ran her dress-shop.  And yet, well, there was something about the look of the train beginning to move out of the station above the canal bend, the way a line of young trees in a nearby front garden caught the light from the uncurtained windows, the sound of the church clock striking the half-hour through the noise of vehicles, something which made it not impossible to believe that even here and any time now that simple and final encounter might take place--to believe it for a moment, before the image was blurred and fouled by the inevitable debris of obligation and deceit and money and boredom and jobs and egotism and disappointment and habit and parents and inconvenience and homes and custom and fatigue: the whole gigantic moral and social flux which would wash away in the first few minutes any conceivable actualisation of that image.

--Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

[N.B.:  That last sentence, from beginning to end, offers a master-class in how to be a great prose stylist.  I'll give you just three signs (or spore, if you will) of the passage of the fabled beast:  (1) starting a sentence with a conjunction such as "and" or "but"; (2) using the "m-dash"; and (3) using the colon.]

December  3,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Right, now shall I tell you why you feel like that?  I'm not being sneering now, I promise you.  It's because you've had the kind of upbrining--very excelling in its way, I'm not saying anything against it--but it's the kind with the old idea of girls being virgins when they get married behind it.  Well, that was perfectly sensible in the days when there wasn't any birth control and they thought they could tell when a girl wasn't a virgin.  Nowadays they know they can't and so everything's changed.  You're not running any risk at all.  But you've had that kind of upbringing and that's why you feel like this.  Do you see?  It's just your training."

"Maybe it is, but that doesn't make any odds to me.  I just don't care why I think what I do, it doesn't change anything."

--Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

[N.B.:  This is the unanswerable argument:  "I just feel this way and I'm not going to change--take it or leave it."  Unfortunately, few have the resolve to abide by this reasoning.  It is, though, the theme of Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons.]

December  2,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

He gave a laugh and patted her shoulder.  "All right, hold it.  But do you mean you think I was just trying to fool you, leading you on and not meaning it when I said I'd stop?"

"Oh, I don't know, pet, don't let's go into that.  This business of why shouldn't we do this, and we do it, and so then why shouldn't we do this, and we do that, because it's only a tiny bit more than the one before, and it would be so nice--it's leading on and it's not leading on, it's like with a bag of sweets, just one more and we'll put them away, except one more's only just one more, isn't it?  and they are nice, so there's never anything against . . . Oh, all I mean is people forget things and lose their heads.  You know how they do."

"And you're making bloody sure you don't lose yours, eh?"

"That's it."

"Why?"

"Why?  Because I don't want to do anything I'd be sorry for afterwards.  That's pretty obvious, isn't it?"

--Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

[N.B.:  This book was written in 1960, just a few years before the widespread introduction of The Pill (and about ten years before the legalization of abortion) which rendered the above-quoted conversation archaic.  This sort of vignette is now as incomprehensible as Trollope's clergymen fighting over benefices.]

December  1,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Before long Patrick slipped his left hand under her dress in the non-important places: back, shoulders, upper arms.  It was rather like one of hte kids at school getting out of his seat to borrow a pencil-sharpener or pick up a writing-book when you knew that what he really wanted to do was run round the room yelling.  Soon Patrick's hand, moving sleepily, began trying it on at the front.  She took a sleepy grip of his wrist.

--Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis