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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JULY 2015

July  31,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

In an ideal world, corrupt standards in public life would be purged by exposure.  Dishonesty, sexual depravity, financial irregularity by public figures would result in their disgrace, and replacement by those who were pure, lovely and of good report.  In the imperfect world we actually inhabit, the elimination of double standards resulted in the weakening of any standards at all. 

--Our Age: the Age of Elizabeth II by A. N. Wilson

[N.B.:  Or, as La Rochefoucauld more pithily put it, "hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue."]

July  30,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Post-Profumo, British politicians were noticeably less intelligent.  What intelligent person would choose to enter a sphere of life where it was deemed legitimate for the popular press - and, in time, all newspapers, and even the BBC - to publicise love affairs and sexual indiscretions?  It is arguable that for those who were thrust into public life either by insatiable ambition (the politicians) or by the accident of birth or marriage (the Royal Family) the scrutiny was actually intolerable, a fact which is surely one of the explanations for the psychological oddity of so many late twentieth-century, early twenty-first-century politicians and royal persons.

--Our Age: the Age of Elizabeth II by A. N. Wilson

July  29,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Violent crimes, and murders, and even thefts, tended not to be punished by imprisonment until the close of the nineteenth century.  Floggings, hangings or transportation, or (same thing) pressing the criminals into military service were thought better ways of dealing with both crime and its causes.  For the Victorians, who cared so deeply about financial probity and about the exercise of reason, incarceration was the appropriate treatment of the indigent and the insane.  The workhouse was the place where they locked up the poor who had fallen upon hard times, whereas the debtors' gaol was for the more genteel Mr Dorrits and their families. 

--Our Age: the Age of Elizabeth II by A. N. Wilson

July  28,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The manner in which societies care for the mentally ill reveals much.  In primitive societies, mental illness could be seen as a form of diabolic possession.  In post-Enlightenment times, the most disturbing feature of madness was its assault upon order.  The phrase was that a man or woman had 'lost their reason' - a terrible thing by any standard, but if your entire social and metaphysical system was, as you supposed, based on reason, madness was especially to be feared.  Hence the post-Enlightenment view that those who had 'lost their reason' should be incarcerated.

--Our Age: the Age of Elizabeth II by A. N. Wilson

July  27,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Eden, the only male British Prime Minister known to have varnished his fingernails, was easily the best-looking individual, of either sex, to occupy that office int he twentieth century.  Many also regarded him as the most disastrous, though there is so much competition for the role that attempts to draw up an order of prime ministerial incompetence, during the period 1956 to the present day, would be invidious.

--Our Age: the Age of Elizabeth II by A. N. Wilson

July  26,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

William Cawley, who had been frail at the time of his flight from Restoration England, died in Vevey in 1667, aged sixty-five.  He had been one of the commissioners for 'demolishing superstitious pictures and monuments in London', whose brief had culminated in the destruction of the stained-glass windows of Henry VII's Chapel in Westminster, and of Queen Henrietta Maria's chapel in Somerset House; her altarpiece, designed by Rubens, was cast into the Thames.

--Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

July  25,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Cromwell and the army representatives instead approved Harrison's proposal to commit the government of the nation to a council of religious men, who would contemplate God's will, and express it through legislature.  This body became known as Barebone's Parliament after one of its members, Praise-God Barebone, a leather merchant of Fleet Street and a 'man of great piety, understanding and weight'.  It proved to be rather better at prayer and contemplation than government, and it soon became clear that Harrison had recommended it to Cromwell as a prelude to the Second Coming, in accordance with his apocalyptic beliefs, rather than as a practical political entity.  Fifth Monarchists believed that good men were needed to prepare the way, before the victory over the Anti-Christ could be made complete.

--Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

[N.B.:  What a great name for the next Mad Max movie: Praise-God Barebone.]

July  24,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Axtell had the Royalist prisoners disarmed, then led to a mill, where, within the hour, they were murdered in cold blood.  Aston was beaten to death with his wooden leg, which his killers then split open: there had been a rumour that this was where he stored gold coins.  This gossip proved to be false.

--Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

July  23,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

When further incarnations of the High Court of Justice sentenced prominent Royalist leaders from the Second Civil War to execution, the Duke of Hamilton - leader of the force from Scotland, defeated at Preston - asked the executioner if the axe he saw awaiting him was the one that had dispatched the King.  Informed that it was, the duke kissed it in homage, before presenting his neck to the same blade.

--Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

July  22,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

[Charles] broke off when he saw a man touching the axe, fearing he might dull the blade: 'Hurt not the axe, that may hurt me,' he implored.

--Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

July  21,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

As the case progressed, some of those opposed to the King found their anger turn into contempt.  Astonished onlookers observed one man spit in Charles's face.  The King reached for his handkerchief and silently wiped himself clean.

--Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

July  20,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the most obstinate pockets of Royalist resistance in the south had been Basing House, home of the Roman Catholic Marquess of Winchester.  As an English stronghold, it was second only to Windsor Castle in size, and successfully withstood two sieges in 1643 and 1644.  Conditions were so dire for Basing's defenders at one stage that the marquess's brother secretly plotted with some dispirited comrades to let the Parliamentarians take the place.  When the scheme was discovered, this aristocrat's life was spared, but his punishment was severe: he was forced to hang his fellow conspirators.

--Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

July  19,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

On the side, without making a big deal of it, Brad started to teach Ronan the language of trading.  A "bid" was an attempt to buy stock, an "offer" an attempt to sell it.  To cross the spread, if you were selling, meant to accept the bidder's price, or, if you were buying, the offering price.

--Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

July  18,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The amazing idea the big Wall Street banks had sold to big investors was that transparency was their enemy.  If, say, Fidelity wanted to sell a million shares of Microsoft Corp.--so the argument ran--they were better off putting them into a dark pool run by, say, Credit Suisse than going directly to the public exchanges.  On the public exchanges, everyone would notice a big seller had entered the market, and the market price of Microsoft would plunge.  Inside a dark pool, no one but the broker who ran it had any idea what was happening.

--Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

July  17,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Dark pools were another rogue spawn of the new financial marketplace.  Private stock exchanges, run by the big brokers, they were not required to reveal to the public what happened inside them.  They reported any trade they executed, but they did so with sufficient delay that it was impossible to know exactly what was happening in the broader market at the moment the trade occurred.  Their internal rules were a mystery, and only the broker who ran a dark pool knew for sure whose buy and sell orders were allowed inside.

--Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

July  16,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The idea that a human being needed to stand between investors and the market was dead.  The "exchange" at Nasdaq or at the New York Stock Exchange, or at their new competitors, such as BATS and Direct Edge, was a stack of computer servers that contained the program called the "matching engine."  There was no one inside the exchange to talk to.  You submitted an order to the exchange by typing it into a computer and sending it into the exchange's matching engine.  At the big Wall Street banks, the guys who once peddled stocks to big investors had been reprogrammed.  They now sold algorithms, or encoded trading rules designed by the banks, that investors used to submit their stock market orders.  The departments that created these trading algorithms were dubbed "electronic trading."

--Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

July  15,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

At the behest of the SEC, in turn responding to public protests about cronyism, the exchanges themselves, in 2005, went from being utilities owned by their members to public corporations run for profit.  Once competition was introduced, the exchanges multiplied.  By early 2008 there were thirteen different public exchanges, most of them in northern New Jersey.  Virtually every stock now traded on all of these exchanges: You could still buy and sell IBM on the New York Stock Exchange, but you could also buy and sell it on BATS, Direct Edge, Nasdaq, Nasdaq BX, and so on. 

--Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

July  14,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Worried that it needed to do more to promote diversity, RBC invited Brad along with a bunch of other nonwhite people to a meeting to discuss the issue.  Going around the table, people took turns responding to a request to "talk about your experience of being a minority at RBC."  When Brad's turn came he said, "To be honest, the only time I've ever felt like a minority is this exact moment.  If you really want to encourage diversity you shouldn't make people feel like a minority."  Then he left.  The group continued to meet without him.

--Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

July  13,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Even then, none of the line's creators knew for sure how the line would be used.  The biggest question about the line--Why?--remained imperfectly explored.  All its creators knew was that the Wall Street people who wanted it wanted it very badly--and also wanted to find ways for others not to have it.  In one of his first meetings with a big Wall Street firm, Spivey had told the firm's boss the price of his line: $10.6 million plus costs if he paid up front, $20 million or so if he paid in installments.  The boss said he'd like to go away and think about it.  He returned with a single question: "Can you double the price?"

--Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

July  12,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Generals' personalities sometimes lack colour, but this could not be said of Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien.  Twelfth in a family of sixteen children, as a young transport officer in Zululand he was one of the few survivors of the 1879 disaster of Isandlwana, following which he was nominated for a VC for his efforts to save other fugitives.  Thereafter he gained extensive experience of colonial wars, and fought at Omdurman - he became a lifelong friend of Kitchener.  He emerged from the Boer War with an enhanced reputation, and thereafter held a succession of commands.  A committed army reformer, he especially promoted musketry and was an evangelist for machine-guns.  In July 1914, Smith-Dorrien was sent to address several thousand public-school cadets at their summer camp, where he astonished an almost uniformly jingoistic audience by asserting that 'war should be avoided at almost any cost; war would solve nothing; the whole of Europe and more besides would be reduced to ruin; the loss of life would be so large that whole populations would be decimated'.  At the time most of his cadet listeners recoiled from such heresy, but those fortunate enough to survive until 1918 came to look back with respect on Smith-Dorrien's frankness and independence of thought.

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

July  11,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Napoleon wrote that the presence of the general is everything, that he is not merely the head but the very all of an army: 'it was not the Roman army which conquered Gaul, but Caesar; it was not the Carthaginian army which caused the republican army to tremble at the gates of Rome, but Hannibal; it was not the Macedonian army which reached the Indus, but Alexander'.  By 1914, personality had become less important, and mass more so, than a century earlier.  But Bonaparte's thesis was not invalidated.

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

July  10,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mangin wrote in a deplorable book he published in 1910, La Force Noir: 'In future battles these primitives, for whom life counts so little and whose young blood flows so ardently, as if eager to be shed, will certainly display the old "French fury" and will reinvigorate it if necessary'.  Now that war had come, Moroccans, Senegalese and Algerians were indeed hurled foremost into its flames.  By 1918, France's black soldiers had suffered a death rate three times higher than that of their white comrades, because they were so often selected for suicidal tasks.

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

[N.B.:  Indeed, even in so-called Modern Times, racism kills.]

July  9,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The infantry tried to renew their advance uphill in short rushes.  French Field Service Regulations assumed that in twenty seconds as assault line could move fifty yards before an enemy could reload.  A survivor of Virton observed bitterly: 'the people who wrote those regulations had simply forgotten the existence of such things as machine-guns.  We could distinctly hear two of those "coffee-grinders" at work; every time our men got up to advance, the line got thinner.  Finally our captain gave the order: "Fix bayonets and charge!"  It was midday now, and . . . devilish hot.  Our men, in full kit, started running heavily up that grassy slope, drums beating, bugles sounding the charge.  We didn't even reach those Württembergers.  We were all shot down before we got to them.  I was hit and lay there until I was picked up later.'  Gen. Edgard de Trentinian, who had orchestrated the disaster, later faced an inquiry.  He was acquitted, and received a decoration for his morning of madness.

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

July  8,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Most British generals took pride in their personal appearance, but Joffre's often verged on the slovenly.  His corpulence was the object of some mockery: it was claimed that the regulation requiring every French officer to be capable of riding a horse with conviction had to be waived in his favour.  He was sixty-two in 1914, and native talent had propelled his rise from humble origins as one of eleven children of a cooper.  Most of his career had been spent in France's colonies, but when the post of chief of staff of the army fell vacant in 1911 Joseph Gallieni, the obvious candidate, asserted vehemently that Joffre, and not he, must be the man.  The general was famously a listener rather than a talker.  He unsettled and indeed alarmed subordinate army commanders by sitting for hours in their headquarters, through conferences and crises, often without interjecting a word.

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

July  7,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

She reflected uneasily: 'it is said that "an orderly retreat was unimpeded by the enemy".  But why retreat if they have won?'

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

[N.B.:  And then again some things never change.]

July  6,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Some patriots decided that if insufficient young men were volunteering for military service, women could 'do their bit' by shaming them into doing so.  Bernard Hamley was playing golf with a friend on Wimbledon Common, and just congratulating himself on a fine tee shot, when two girls came out of the nearby clubhouse.  One said sharply, 'That was a good shot, wasn't it?  I hope you will be making as good a shot against the Germans,' before presenting both players with white feathers.  The men then identified themselves as officers in the 1st London Rifle Brigade, granted a few hours' leave of absence.  'The young females were somewhat crestfallen and made some inadequate excuses.'

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

[N.B.:  Sometimes the past is not just a foreign country--it's a different planet.]

July  5,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The newspaper Neue Preufsische Zeitung was the first to employ the word Burgfrieden to describe Germany's new political truce.  It derived from a medieval custom, forbidding private strife within the walls of an embattled castle.  Now, Burgfrieden became once more a common currency.

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

July  4,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

In tangled harness Bethmann, the Kaiser and Moltke made the critical decisions.  Germany actively encouraged the Austrians to attack Serbia, and Berlin's three principal actors made no attempt to manage events in such a way as to avert a wider calamity.  Therein lies the case for their culpability for what followed.  It seems mistaken to argue that they entered the July crisis bent upon precipitating a general European conflict; but a pervasive German fatalism about such an outcome contributed largely to bringing it about.

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

July  3,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

In June 1912 a schoolboy shot at the governor of Croatia in Zagreb, missing his target but wounding a member of the imperial administration.  In March 1914 the vicar-general of Transylvania was killed by a time-bomb sent through the post by Romanians.  Yet Franz Ferdinand was capable of seeing the funny side of the threat: while watching military manoeuvres one day, his staff succumbed to panic when a dishevelled figure suddenly sprang from a bush clutching a large black object.  The Archduke laughed heartily: 'Oh, let him shoot me.  That's his job - he's a court photographer.  Let him make a living!'

--Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

July  2,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

But not only must the respiration be considered; the ear is pleased in good writing by variety and grace of cadence, and above all by that personal rhythm, that song which in a great writer is the sound of his voice and the essence of his style.  But the lack of any rhythm in their writing is not the only fault I find with the prose of modern authors.  Their diction is quite as undistinguished; they all seem to take their vocabulary from a common dust bin.  Our older writers were lovers of language; they were fine gentlemen, even dandies sometimes in their use of words; they read old books and studied dictionaries in their search for apt expressions, and now and then on their pages we would be pleased to see some ancient, primitive word appear with its face washed and its eyes again shining.  Or again there might be some lovely, new-minted term to express a meaning which had not yet found expression.  One might also come on one of those unexpected encounters of familiar words in which Emerson said the art of writing consisted, or be enchanted by those longer phrases which possess a kind of magic--phrases either written with care and deliberation as by Sir Thomas Browne, or Pater, or sparkling sometimes unexpectedly like those waves which break into little gleams of foam on the ripple of Thackeray's easy prose.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith

[N.B.:  Although unmentioned by Smith, the best example of this is the great bard, Shakespeare himself.  He is credited with either coining or using for the first time in preserved writings (it is hard to tell which is which given that earlier writers were not treated with the same care as he) several thousand words.  He is also thought to have the widest vocabulary of any prose writer.  This, by the bye, also explains why a writer such as Cormac McCarthy will be of interest for generations to come.]

July  1,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The truth is that almost all that makes the reading of old books delightful is neglected by those who wield their steel nibs in this age of steel.  There were arts, there were blandishments, there were even tricks, which were intended to beguile the older generations, and which have succeeded in beguiling subsequent generations as well.  In the first place good prose used to be written, not, as it is written to-day, for the eye alone, but also for the ear.  "Write so wisely as we may," Landor makes Horne Tooke remark, "we cannot fix the minds of men upon our writings unless we take them gently by the ear."  There must be suspensions, parentheses, pauses now and then for taking breath.  If the writer puts down one word after another without regard to any consideration but that of saying somehow what he wants to say, the effect will be very much like that of the sentence itself--we cannot read for long such piece-of-string sentences without boredom and fatigue.

--Unforgotten Years by Logan Pearsall Smith