Sunday, September 30, 2007
Saturday, September 29, 2007
After Lepanto Cervantes remained in hospital for almost six months. He rejoined the Spanish infantry and served in Naples until 1575. In September of 1575 he was on board a vessel bound for Catalonia which was attacked by Algerian corsairs. He was taken prisoner and spent the next 5 years as a slave in Algiers until he was ransomed by his parents and the Trinitarian Order. Back in Spain he married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios in 1584 and took on a number of minor bureaucratic jobs as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada and later as a tax collector. In 1585 he published his first major work La Galatea and also several plays that attracted little notice except for El Trato de Argel and La Numancia.
Cervantes proved to be even more dishonest than the average Spanish government official. Either that or he was extraordinarily foolish or unlucky enough to get caught because he was sentenced to prison for diddling the accounts that he was responsible for as a tax collector. Or perhaps he was simply loose lipped. According to the prologue of Don Quixote the idea of his great novel first occurred to him while he was serving his time at Argamasilla de Alba in La Mancha. His genius was to give a picture of real life and manners and to express himself in everyday speech. Cervantes remained dirt poor and rather dodgy until 1605 when Part 1 of Don Quixote was first published to great international acclaim. It even led to a plagiaristic sequel by an unknown author who went by the pen name of Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda. In reply Cervantes wrote Don Quixote Part II which was published in 1615. The second part of the book is considerably less comic than the first, but it has its admirers.
Cervantes died in Madrid on April 23, 1616, the same day that Shakespeare died. This has led UNESCO to declare April 23td the 'International day of the Book'. There is actually some dispute about this date because it is the date on his tombstone which the Encyclopedia Hispanica claims would have been the date of his burial rather than his death. The coincidence of the two deaths has also led the famous Mexican author Carlos Fuentes to speculate that Cervantes and Shakespeare were actually the same person. In this Fuentes has added his little theory to the almost endless academic industry of the "hidden author of Shakespeare", for which there are over 60 candidates. Cervantes is one of the more outre. There is also some speculation on Cervantes himself, but most of it revolves around his ancestry. The first English translation of Don Quixote was made in 1608 by Thomas Shelton, but this wasn't published until 1612. Shakespeare evidently read Don Quixote, but it is very unlikely that Cervantes was ever aware of Shakespeare's existence. A rather extreme academic, Francis Carr, has suggested that Francis Bacon wrote both Shakespeare's plays and Don Quixote. To say the least this theory has little credibility.
Don Quixote has been recognized as one of the great works of world literature. It has been translated into almost all modern languages. In Spain today every city that has even the slightest connection with Cervantes attempts to claim him as their own. Molly can remember one "conversation"- no... Molly was an audience rather than a participant- in Granada, Espana some years back. I was taking a picture of the statue dedicated to Cervantes in one of the plazas and fell into conversation with one of the locals. It was one thing to hear that Cervantes was both the greatest and most famous writer ever born. It was another to hear nonsense about how deeply connected he was to Granada. Lots of "si,si sis" in that conversation from Molly's side. None of the other works of Cervantes, good as they are, has achieved the fame of this novel.
To see more about Miguel Cervantes see:
Miguel Cervantes at Online Literature http://www.online-literature.com/cervantes (has the text of Don Quixote available)
Works by Miguel Cervantes at Project Guttenberg http://www,guttenberg.org/browse/authors/c#asos (also has Don Quixote online)
The Wikipedia Article on Cervantes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miguel_de_Cervantes
The Cervantes Project http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/cervantes/V2/CPI/index.html (has the complete works of Cervantes in Spanish)
Friday, September 28, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
ANTI-REGIME PROTESTS GROW AND SPREAD:
The latest news from Burma, renamed in their own version of political correctness as 'Myanmar' by the brutal military ruling class of that country, is that ongoing protest have continued to grow in size and spread to many other cities in the country. The latest round of demonstrations actually began back in August, but it is only recently that it has become headline news. The trigger for the protest was plan by the ruling junta to double fuel prices, and the initiators were the country's Buddhist monks. Both the actors and the issues have grown considerably since the beginning of these events, and what will happen next is anybody's guess. There have been numerous other protests against the junta in the decades that they have held power, some of them even mass movements like the present one. All have been suppressed. Some Burmese dissidents suggest that the death toll from the military's actions over the years may have been in the hundreds of thousands. For those interested in following these developments closer than the mass media does Molly suggests the following sources:
2)Burma Digest (has good photos of the demonstrations)
4)Burma Underground (mostly about ethnic minorities in Burma)
A FEW RANDOM MOLLY NOTES ON THESE EVENTS:
*When a hollow regime does collapse there is always some "trigger", sometimes great and sometimes small. This may be as large as a defeat in a foreign war. This has happened often enough in history. It may be as small as a minor change in government regulations that finally touches the majority of the population enough to make them rebel. These triggers come more or less at random and attempts by would be revolutionaries to hasten "regime change" in their absence are harmless busywork at best. At their worst, as with individual terrorism, they prolong the life of the regime in question by both increasing its public support and by "waking up the snake" and provoking it to act against much more serious forces of opposition than the terrorists.
*A regime is likely to be most successfully challenged where there is a sphere of civil society outside of the control of the state where opposition can be more or less freely organized. In recent years this has often been religious in nature. Poland, the Philippines and now Burma come to mind. Actions on the part of the state to eliminate this free public sphere are dangerous because they may provoke the sort of "trigger" discussed above. The state is thus forced to tolerate its mortal enemy within its territory. The actions of the Chinese government today to try and eliminate the Falong Gong cult are evidence of a ruling class that recognizes such a danger and hopes to eliminate it before it becomes so powerful that it has to be tolerated. Such independent public spheres don't have to be religious in nature, but in most countries it is the churches/religions that have a base of public support to begin with that makes them difficult to challenge in their early growth. If independent public spheres do not exist there is NO magical shortcut to bring about regime change short of depending upon a "revolution from above" such as what happened in the ex-Soviet Union when it fell apart. No amount of "militance" will substitute for a mass movement, and the larger and more firmly established the movement is before a "final confrontation"the more likely it is that the end result will be an improvement for the majority of the population that carry out such a "revolution without revolutionaries". The overriding goal of any movement for social change should be to build such independent social spheres- not to engage in spectacular actions.
*"Revolution From Above" is always a possibility as a regime becomes more desperate and less popular. Such "revolutions" are most likely to result in merely superficial changes that better the life of the average person hardly at all- except where they open the field for developing an independent civil society. The sort of divisions and hesitations that lead to such events are, however, a necessary condition for "revolution from below". No regime will fall until it becomes rotten enough so that at least a minority of its soldiers, police, guards,etc are willing to desert. This has to be thoroughly understood,and any actions by so-called "militants" which only serve to increase the solidarity of the armed force opposing the people should be thoroughly discouraged by more sensible opponents of the regime. The Burmese military ruling class have been challenged repeatedly, often by mass movements, over the last few decades, but they kept on soldiering. Whether the present movement wins or loses will depend upon whether the regime is rotten enough so that the soldiers become unreliable. Sensible ruling classes-China, the USA, Cuba are examples- try their best to make at least their military into a closed subculture isolated from the general population. They can hardly ever succeed in doing this 100%. The degree to which they succeed is the degree to which their regime is safe from any change short of that imposed by foreign troops.
*The Burmese people have chosen the path of non-violent resistance. This is a sensible and logical choice. Their strength is not in the number of guns that they can bring onto the street-always a minuscule part of 1 percent of what the military can bring to bear. Their strength is political and emotional. They hope to make the ruling class waver and their armed forces hesitate. Nobody knows better than people in Burma that "all ruling classes will fight violently to keep their position". That's a given. Such truisms are used by the decadent remains of the "New" Left in the USA and those under their influence in other western countries to justify whatever stupid and counterproductive wild schemes they may have to try and bypass the long and hard work of organizing "within the people". Burmese people know this truism far better than any leftist militants do, far, far, far better. But they draw sensible conclusions from this fact. To fight on their own terrain with tactics that have at least a chance of success. perhaps this is because they actually want to win rather than to "prove themselves". everybody should fight to win and not to show off.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
WELCOME TO FALL:
THE AUTUMNAL EQUINOX:
Tomorrow morning at 4:51 am CDT (9:51 UT) the fall equinox will arrive.You can convert this to your own time zone using the Time and Date site. The equinox is defined as the time when the Sun is directly above the Earth's equator. This usually occurs around March 20th (the Vernal Equinox) and September 22nd (the Autumnal Equinox). At this time the Sun crosses celestial equator. The equinox is also the time of year when the celestial equator intersects with the ecliptic. The equinox is a point in time, not the name of a day. The day when daylight and nighttime are "most nearly equal" is referred to as the Equilux. while the equinox falls on September 23rd this year the equilux will actually be September 26th.
The time of the equinox isn't fixed. Each year they fall about 6 hours later. This is partially corrected by the leap year every four years which resets the time of the event. The reset isn't perfect however, and there is a slow drift of the time of the equinoxes (and solstices) to earlier times in the year. The shift amounts to a full day over the course of about 70 years. This shift is largely compensated by the century leap year rule of the Gregorian calender.
As we approach the equinox the rate of change in the length of a day increases. If you follow the time periods of daylight you will notice that they change most slowly around the times of the solstices but change most rapidly at the equinoxes. At the poles this means that the rate of change is instantaneous. The equinox marks the transition from 24 hrs sunlight to 24 hrs darkness. The further you travel from the poles the slower the rate of change. At the equator the rate of change is mere seconds per day. This apparent "midnight sun" in its full effect can be seen up to 100 kms from the poles. The time from the solstice in June to the September equinox is 94 days. The time from the December solstice to the March/Vernal equinox is only 89 days. This discrepancy arises because the orbit of the Earth is elliptic rather than perfectly circular. This means that the rate at which the Earth orbits the Sun also varies. It is faster towards the spring(northern hemisphere) when the Earth is closer to the Sun.
The actual times of daylight and night are not equal at the time of the equinox. This is not just because the equinox is a point in time. It is also due to other factors that contribute to the day being longer than the night at this time of year. First of all, the Sun is not a point source of light. It is a disc, and sunrise and sunset are defined from the point of view of the upper edge of the disc. The discrepancy is at least a minute on both ends of the day. There is also the effect of light refraction when the Sun is near the horizon. This makes the Sun seem to be a little bit more above the horizon at both sunrise and sunset. This effect adds almost seven minutes to the daylight. If you take twilight into account the "day" at the time of the Equinox would be almost an hour longer than the night. As you go towards the poles this difference increases, and the time of the equinox has much more day than night.
INTERESTING EQUINOX FACTOIDS:
There are a number of other interesting things about the equinoxes:
*Equinoxes have a temporary disruptive effect on geostationary communications satellites. This happens because there is a point in time at the equinoxes when the Sun is directly behind the satellite from the point of view of receiving stations on Earth. The Sun's radiation overwhelms the much weaker signal from the satellite with noise. The duration of this effect varies. it may last only a few minutes, but it may persist up to an hour.
*There are a number of other names for the two equinoxes rather than spring/Vernal equinox and autumnal/fall equinox. These names suffer from the fact that they are obvious references to matters only in the northern hemisphere. South of the equator the situation of the seasons is precisely the opposite. Some have proposed using 'March Equinox' and 'September Equinox'. This is familiar to those who use the western solar based calender, but lunar calenders such as the Jewish or Muslim calenders have the equinoxes falling in different months from year to year. The equinoxes were once named in astrology as the 'First Point of Aries' and the 'First Point of Libra'. Because of precession these astrological signs are no longer the constellations where the equinoxes actually occur. Today they are the 'Pisces Equinox' and the 'Virgo Equinox'. One hardly ever hears such terms in common usage. Finally, there are the 'Northward Equinox' and the 'Southward Equinox', referring to the direction of the apparent motion of the Sun at each equinox. These terms are also rarely used.
*There is a persistent folk legend that the equinoxes are the only time of the year when you can stand an egg on end. This myth has been thoroughly debunked by the owner of the Bad Astronomy Blog who devotes a lot of his efforts to exposing hoaxes, myths and misconceptions in the area of astronomy. In actual fact you can stand an egg on end at any time of year. It just takes a little practice and skill. See the article at http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/egg_spin.html
*Because the Sun is not a point source of light it actually takes the Sun about two and 1/2 days to cross the equator. The equinox is defined as the time when the midpoint of the Sun's disc is over the equator.
*A couple of good references on things equinoxal:
COMING SOON AT MOLLY'S BLOG: SHINE ON HARVEST MOON: WEDNESDAY,SEPTEMBER 26TH