Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Crow and the Emperor

"I closed the gulf of anarchy and brought order out of chaos. I rewarded merit regardless of birth or wealth, wherever I found it. I abolished feudalism and restored equality to all regardless of religion and before the law. I fought the decrepit monarchies of the Old Regime because the alternative was the destruction of all this. I purified the Revolution."

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

My friend Crow who met the Emperor many years ago had this to say about him:

For all his faults, (he had some world class ones) Napoleon's greatest achievements, other than in battle, were in the field of law, the arts, government, and civil reform. Wherever the writ of the French Empire ran, there were basic civil rights, freedom of religion, hospitals and orphanages.The Code Civil, better known as the Code Napoleon has survived and thrived to this day, and gave France its first written code of law. It is also a part of the laws of Italy, Germany, and parts of the United States.

He revamped French education, instituted the precursor of the metric system, granted full citizenship to the Jewish people, granted freedom of worship for all denominations, encouraged industrialization and agriculture, built roads, bridges, harbors, drained swamps, encouraged and sponsored the arts, established the first governmental office to oversea France's natural resources, planted trees, balanced his budgets, put France on a stable economic footing, brought the smallpox vaccination to the continent, encouraged the use of gas lighting, and opened careers in France to talented people, not caring if they were peasant or noble, middle class or fanatic, as long as they would serve honestly and loyally.

Napoleon also established the Legion of Honor as a system to recognize those who had served France in an extraordinary capacity, be they military or civilian. He also established fire departments, hospitals, and orphanages. The fact that not one European nation alone could defeat him is testimony to his greatness. It required not only the combined forces of Russia, England, Austria and Prussia to remove him from power, they needed treachery and deceit to remove him for good. His position in history is positively unique, there never was another character quite like him and there never will be again.

At 5'7", the Emperor wasn't short either. That was propaganda. Yes, everyone has faults and Napoleon Bonaparte's major fault was that he thought he could make the world a fair place by force.

Unfortunately, now we have those who embrace the idea of force while forgetting the principal of fairness:

Quote of the week:
“One person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests” 
~ John Stuart Mill

Friday, February 19, 2016

the seven ravens

THERE was once a man and woman who had seven sons, but never a daughter, however much they wished for one. At last, however, a daughter was born. Their joy was great, but the child was small and delicate, and, on account of its weakness, it was to be christened at home. The father sent one of his sons in haste to the spring to fetch some water; the other six ran with him, and because each of them wanted to be the first to draw the water, between them the pitcher fell into the brook.

There they stood and didn’t know what to do, and not one of them ventured to go home. As they did not come back, their father became impatient, and said: ‘Perhaps the young rascals are playing about, and have forgotten it altogether.’ He became anxious lest his little girl should die unbaptized, and in hot vexation, he cried: ‘I wish the youngsters would all turn into Ravens!’ Scarcely were the words uttered, when he heard a whirring in the air above his head, and, looking upwards, he saw seven coal-black Ravens flying away.

The parents could not undo the spell, and were very sad about the loss of their seven sons, but they consoled themselves in some measure with their dear little daughter, who soon became strong, and every day more beautiful. For a long time she was unaware that she had had any brothers, for her parents took care not to mention it. However, one day by chance she heard some people saying about her: ‘Oh yes, the girl’s pretty enough; but you know she is really to blame for the misfortune to her seven brothers.’

Then she became very sad, and went to her father and mother and asked if she had ever had any brothers, and what had become of them. The parents could no longer conceal the secret. They said, however, that what had happened was by the decree of heaven, and that her birth was merely the innocent occasion. But the little girl could not get the matter off her conscience for a single day, and thought that she was bound to release her brothers again. She had no peace or quiet until she had secretly set out, and gone forth into the wide world to trace her brothers, wherever they might be, and to free them, let it cost what it might.

She took nothing with her but a little ring as a remembrance of her parents, a loaf of bread against hunger, a pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair in case of fatigue. She kept ever going on and on until she came to the end of the world. Then she came to the Sun, but it was hot and terrible, it devoured little children. She ran hastily away to the Moon, but it was too cold, and, moreover, dismal and dreary. And when the child was looking at it, it said: ‘I smell, I smell man’s flesh!’

Then she quickly made off, and came to the Stars, and they were kind and good, and every one sat on his own special seat. But the Morning Star stood up, and gave her a little bone, and said: ‘Unless you have this bone, you cannot open the glass mountain, and in the glass mountain are your brothers.’
The girl took the bone, and wrapped it up carefully in a little kerchief, and went on again until she came to the glass mountain. The gate was closed, and she meant to get out the little bone. But when she undid the kerchief it was empty, and she had lost the good Star’s present.

How, now, was she to set to work? She was determined to rescue her brothers, but had no key to open the glass mountain. The good little sister took a knife and cut off her own tiny finger, fitted it into the keyhole, and succeeded in opening the lock. When she had entered, she met a Dwarf, who said: ‘My child, what are you looking for?’

 ‘I am looking for my brothers, the Seven Ravens,’ she answered.
The Dwarf said: ‘My masters, the Ravens, are not at home; but if you like to wait until they come, please to walk in.’

Thereupon the Dwarf brought in the Ravens’ supper, on seven little plates, and in seven little cups, and the little sister ate a crumb or two from each of the little plates, and took a sip from each of the little cups, but she let the ring she had brought with her fall into the last little cup. All at once a whirring and crying were heard in the air; then the Dwarf said: ‘Now my masters the Ravens are coming home.’ Then they came in, and wanted to eat and drink, and began to look about for their little plates and cups. But they said one after another: ‘Halloa! who has been eating off my plate? Who has been drinking out of my cup? There has been some human mouth here.’

And when the seventh drank to the bottom of his cup, the ring rolled up against his beak. He looked at it, and recognised it as a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said: ‘God grant that our sister may be here, and that we may be delivered.’
As the maiden was standing behind the door listening, she heard the wish and came forward, and then all the Ravens got back their human form again. And they embraced and kissed one another, and went joyfully home.

 Crow was visiting the Brothers Grimm when they first told this tale. He'd dropped by with his old friend and wonderful artist, Arthur Rackham. Brandy and fruitcake were enjoyed by all.

With thanks to Project Gutenberg 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

cultivating Crow

Once again, this winter as in others, Crow has been sending me field reports from his annual flight of phantsy. This time I got another crudely wrought picture post card with a story he hopes we'll all find fascinating. Here's his letter:

My very dear susan and good friends,

I wonder if you're aware that my relatives are excellent arborists? Yes, it's true. Over the course of history crows and other corvids have planted thousands of acres of trees - namely, nut bearing trees like walnuts, oaks and beeches but they've managed to plant a fair number of berry bushes as well. You see trees, intelligent and sensitive as they are (being the highest form of plant life on the planet), have a singular problem - the fact they can't move. Birds, on the other hand, can move great distances.

Corvids roam large territories to scavenge seeds, fruit, and even meat, storing as many morsels as possible to eat later but they don't have one giant trove filled with loot the way squirrels do. Instead, they hide each treat in a separate place. While they remember a lot they can't remember everything (much like humans). Each year, a certain percentage of the birds' cached seeds goes uneaten. Because the birds like to hide food just an inch or two under the soil, these seeds have a chance to take root and grow into trees.

Over the course of time, this arrangement has become mutually beneficial. Many large-seeded trees have co-evolved with corvids, developing seeds that contain enough nutrition that the birds fill up faster and aren't so likely to eat them on the spot. Even better, many corvids prefer to cache their seeds in recently burned or disturbed landscapes, which are the most in need of reforestation.

For instance, for 150 years on two islands in California’s Channel Islands National Park oak and pine forests had been ravaged by imported, non-native livestock. But when the animals were taken back to the mainland in the 1980s, the local island jays (who can bury up to 6000 seeds a year) managed to double the size of the oak and pine forests in just a few decades.

By planting seeds and nuts, my friends lay the groundwork for entire ecosystems. Many plants thrive in the shade offered by trees like oaks and pines, and animals flock to the area as well. Finally, forest floors are excellent carbon sinks. It turns out that corvids are, in fact, guardians of the forest. But you already knew that, didn't you?

I hope you found this entertaining as well as educational (these things always go best together, don't you think?).

I'll be home soon. Please leave me some fruitcake.

Ever yr affec friend

ps: Crows also like to have fun for no reason:

Quote of the week:
Humanity has already achieved, technically, the total success all Utopians ever dreamed of; our problems now are entirely due to wrong thinking. We are in the tragic-comic predicament of two crazed men dying of thirst, fighting over a teaspoon of water in the middle of a rainstorm. We cannot see the rainstorm because we are hypnotized by emergency-reflexes fixated on the teaspoon.

Robert Anton Wilson

Thursday, February 4, 2016

bob and ray

I'm pretty sure I've never written here about anyone famous who has recently died but I heard just a little while ago that Bob Elliott of the famous old comedy team of Bob and Ray passed away yesterday. Among my favorite memories of living in New England in the 70s and 80s was listening to their radio shows when we were out driving. I've always associated their droll humor with Boston and the east coast of the US  as the hosts of an ostensibly serious radio program. Their 'staff' (all voiced by the two of them) was a comic menagerie of reporters, book reviewers, actors and all other manner of radio personalities, all of whom interacted with Bob and Ray as well as with each other. Almost all of these characters had picturesque names, as in one sketch where Bob introduced Ray as one Maitland W. Mottmorency, who then replied, "My name is John W. Norvis. I have terrible handwriting."

They worked together from the 40s until 1990 when Ray Goulding died and over the course of those five decades played more characters than I can count. Parodying radio commercials of the time was a standard routine with a typical show having such 'sponsors' as:

* The Monongahela Metal Foundry ("Casting steel ingots with the housewife in mind")
* Einbinder Flypaper ("The brand you've gradually grown to trust over the course of three generations")
* The United States Post Office ("Makers and distributors of stamps")
* The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel ("Makers of all sorts of stuff, made out of everything")
* Cool Canadian Air ("Packed fresh every day in the Hudson Bay and shipped to your door")
* The United States Mint ("One of the nation's leading producers of genuine U.S. currency")
* Penuche ("With or without nuts, the greatest name in fudge")
* Kretchford Braid and Tassel ("Next time you think of braid or tassel, rush into your neighborhood store and shout, 'Kretchford'!")

The only real way to enjoy Bob & Ray is to listen to them. With that in mind, here's one of my favorites, with Bob Elliott as the Komodo-dragon expert being interviewed by Ray Goulding:

They were so low-key you could almost forget you were listening to satire.. until:

"You can run a big operation like I've seen here and only take in 12 dollars a week?" asks an incredulous Elliott while interviewing Goulding's paperclip factory chief.

"We have a low wage structure," responds Goulding, noting that employees make 14 cents a week and "live in caves on the edge of town and they forage for food."