Archive for March, 2010

Toynbee on the EIC, Malthus

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

The metamorphosis of the East India Company’s servants “from pettifogging traders … into imperialistic swashbucklers and large-scale extortionists” was accomplished between A.D. 1750 and A.D. 1785 (see Spear, T. G. P., The Nabobs (London 1932, Milford), p. 23). “The transformation of factors into soldiers and statesmen … meant that soldiers and officials brought commercial minds to their new duties, in which, if they were not always over-careful of the Company’s coffers, they never forgot their own” (ibid., p. 28). In Bengal the European adventurers’ reign of terror was at its height from A.D. 1761 to A.D. 1771-2, when it was curbed by Warren Hastings’ reforms (see ibid., pp. 32-33).

How did they do it? Education. EIC opened a school:
1765: acquired Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and the Northern Circars;
1806: opened a college for probationer-appointees to its administrative service in India, used it until EIC demise, 1857.
College initially in Hertford Castle, 3 years later moved to Haileybury. About 100 students; length of the course = two years; students 16-19 at admission. You got in by nomination from a Director of EIC, and graduated straight into a post in India.
Indian Civil Service open competitive exams began 1855.
Haileybury is now a public school – it closed 1855-62, so no uninterrupted trad.

Malthus was a professor on its staff from A D. 1806 until his death in A.D. 1834. !!!!!!

In the early years of the nineteenth century of the Christian Era the highest reasonable hope might well have been thought to be the conversion of a piratical Clive into a chicken-livered Jos. Sedley […]. At Calcutta, where the transition from a respectable obscurity to a corrupt ascendancy had taken place between A.D. 1756 and 1765, there was a reversion towards respectability under Cornwallis’ régime (proconsulari munere fungebatur A.D. 1786-93). The nineteenth-century era of virtuous aloofness was inaugurated by Wellesley (fungebatur A.D. 1798-1805). See Spear, op. cit., p. 26.

great photo of somali pirates

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Cargo ship with 24 crew seized near Aden. Somali pirates in balaclavas caught looking exactly like Scott’s Timawa, only at higher speed.

worlds in miniature, Dutch flood defences

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Madurodam is twee, but has acres of flat polder.

Truro’s New County Hall in miniature, at St. Agnes (why’d I never see this? Note how it’s marooned in a level plane, a mid-space object. The ship, too, is an archteypal mid-space object)

the rest are all under bldgblog’s quick links 9 (worth it for comments, too)
Eleusis 3D Archaeological Recording and Visualization Project

“a modular, self-assembling floating platform delivered by cargo ships could provide a cheaper naval base for military forces” in their battle against piracy. Making BLDGBLOG’s long-stated comparisons between Archigram and DARPA seemingly explicit, the “Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform (TEMP),” as it’s known, “would turn the standard ISO containers carried by cargo ships into modules that each serve a specific purpose, such as living quarters, command cells, comm shacks, or weapons stations. Once deployed by cargo ship, the self-propelling modules would use low-level computer brains to assemble themselves into a larger structure.” Mobile, modular, military instant cities at sea. Read a bit more at The Register. (picture also good: harriers on a container ship).

Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defense Line.

lost post 1 (x-posted from lj)

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

So it’s just finishing, and we just watched the pilot yesterday. And I think I’ll save myself the time, honestly. I have a pretty clear idea of what will happen over the next n seasons: .

– astonishing revelations will pile up, but they won’t change the situation one iota
– everything will happen to everyone, until the characters are as indistinguishable as angels
– lots of suspenseful music, jungle destruction. The carefully-timed exit of minor characters
– I will be invited to gasp every 24 minutes.

Am I wrong? What should I watch instead?
Update: apparently I’m right in ways I hadn’t expected. via beatonna, who’s done her own bit. What do you call snarky pseudo-spoilers? Snoilers?

On a related, although plainly not identical, note: I dislike locked-door mysteries. I can’t be bothered to play along, because I know the writer is holding all the cards and I’m basically in for patting myself on the head for the cleverness of ruining the surprise ending in the event I “win”. Perhaps my dislike stems from my time writing computer adventure games. It strikes me that Lost is probably written by and for people who also don’t like locked-door mysteries, but it’s kind of half in locked door mystery drag because we all know that there’s a certain language of suspense about them – so it refers to that suspense without delivering it in fact. Why then do I like it when Tim Powers leads me along by the nose, and I’m always half a page ahead of his revelations, so the surprises are often not, exactly, or at least delivered in a sort of fugue? Is it because I get to pat myself on the head almost continuously, while being distracted by the next layer of the onion? How is that qualitatively different from Lost?

And obviously, the characters are suffering from post-traumatic stress, and they’re still hoping to be rescued, and they’re not really doing everything they can yet, but I’m guessing nobody’s going to really try to think hard about where they are or what that might mean for their chances of sailing to somewhere more useful/less monster-infested. My question is, does this seem reasonable? How rare is the following knowledge, actually?
1. They know they were heading “back” toward Fiji when the accident happened, they know their points of departure and arrival, that they would approximate a great circle route to get there, and that they were “a thousand miles off course” (not less). From this they should be able to narrow down an area for their position.
2. They presumably have working watches, set to the time at the point of departure. Right now they know the date. Add a stick, the sun and patience, and they should be able to get a pretty rough longitude and latitude. Military boy?
3. I’m guessing they departed from Australia or New Zealand and were headed for LA (this is unfair of me: I think they’re going to LA because it’s a TV show, but they’d actually know) – that’s a lot of sea, and not a few unmarked islands, but this is a biggie and it looks volcanic (unlike most of Melanesia/Micronesia, for example). Chances are it’s on a fault line, that narrows things down a bit further. If they were going “back” to Fiji, then they’ll be northeast of it now, and southwest of Hawaii. I’m guessing they’re somewhere around Tuvalu or Kiribati (without looking). If they could get an atlas from the wreckage (and they know where the cockpit is), well, Australia’s a big target. I dunno. Dominant currents would sweep you away from it if you’re around Fiji, but would be all over the place if you’re north of Australia. But if you keep heading southwest, and you have enough water and food supplies (really the critical question – suggests a small crew), and you shift to due west if it starts getting cold, you should run into land eventually.
4. If you’re making a raft, reeds are easiest to work with and nicely bouyant. If you insist on trying to cut down palm trees to make a raft that looks like the Flintstones, palm fibre is tough, strong and reliable. There should be no shortage of improvisable sailcloth in the wreckage.
5. Most fundamentally, the ancient Greeks worked much of this out, starting with fewer tools that our heroes, here. It took a while; during any one genius’ life they might come up with a couple of pieces of the navigational puzzle. The Aegean is a place where you might well just blunder into the next bit of land using hope and a bundle of sticks, very unlike the South Pacific. Fine. But they didn’t know their destination: they were groping about in the dark, coming up with ideas and trying to see if any were useful. Really, actually, how hard is it to derive navigation from basic principles once you know it’s possible? How did the Polynesians do it?

Cheating outrageously, I have to say that it’s worth looking on Google Maps between Hawaii and Fiji, at Howland island, Baker island, and even more at Aranki and Noriti. Just keep zooming in there: it’s like a charming little present.

My great unanswered questions: will they look mysteriously the same for n years, or will the men get long, straggly beards, will the fat guy lose weight, will they start having to make their own clothes, shelter, etc etc? How will they meet their nutritional needs in the short term, the long term? Will this be adequately addressed by just having one of the muscular young men show up with a fish on the end of a stick in the next episode, and never be revisited? There. I’m done.

men who hate women 3: where to start

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Elmore Leonard said: Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword… A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. He probably also said “go through your first draft and cut the first 60 pages, then see if it all still makes sense. If it does, cut more,” but I can’t find that quote.

If one were to follow this advice with Larsson, I think you’d probably cut the first half or more. Larsson tells us all about our characters up front. And it’s nice, because they’re all resolutely low-concept, hard-to-summarise people. One would be doing a severe disservice to the flavour of the novel to say of his two leads:

He’s an out-of-work journalist with the ethics of a schoolboy hero,
she’s an emotionally damaged, analytically brilliant rape victim.
They fight crime.

…but it would also be true, and you could find all that out about them just from reading the second half.

Wondering how much dissertation I will have to cut, come book time.

x-posted from lj: men who hate women 1

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Elsewhere, I’m belatedly reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, partly because, strapped to the academic sausage machine, I like the idea of writing novels with no intention of publishing them. It changes quite a lot, halfway through the novel, to realise that it was first published under the title Men who hate women. Alas, I fear that if Larsson continues in the rather dry, low-key and socially nuanced vein I’ve seen so far, I’ll have to restrain my Foglian adventurous expectancy over The Air Castle that Blew Up.

Regarding that dry, low-key, incrementally-tension-ratcheting authorial voice, I’m not sure what to make of the news that:

There are rumors about a Hollywood version… George Clooney, Johnny Depp, and Brad Pitt are all interested in playing the central role of Mikael Blomkvist; and producer Søren Stærmose… has been approached by directors including Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, and Martin Scorsese
I’m wondering what a Tarantino/Pitt version would look like – of course, Salander would then be played by Uma Thurman, which I think would be a pity because the role seems to have been written for Christina Ricci (though Lauren Ambrose could probably do it well, too). I imagine something like Adaptation, where the film devolves into actiony cliches in the final reel, having spent the previous 90 minutes telling you it was on no account going to do exactly that. Especially since Blomkvist seems to be a depressive, introspective loner who spends a lot of time shuffling papers in diffident confusion – not something I’m used to seeing from Tarantino or Pitt – and since Tarantino has repeatedly said that after Jackie Brown he’s not interested in making any more “old man films.”

Of course, I’d like to see Almodovar direct it with Jonathan Pryce and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jurgen Prochnow supporting, but there you are.

Men who hate women

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

These are collected thoughts about Stieg Larssen’s Girl with the dragon tattoo, under its original title. Eventually they will constitute a review.

3/29/10. Now about 2/3 through the story. Conclusions so far:


I’m wondering if our hero is not succumbing to a pathological sort of confirmation bias: I would be strangely pleased to discover that the lurch of plot gears, the apparent breakthrough, the looming denouement were actually artifacts of where we are in the narrative, rather than signs that the detective’s reality is beginning to coincide with that of the crime – fourth-wall-breaking critiques of the conventions of the genre, like having the detective say “well we’re on page 200 and I still haven’t got a clue, I imagine something must be coming along any minute.” And then to have reality refuse to oblige. The client is hoping really hard that the detective will see something new, and now the detective sees… something. Or not. How tedious it would be to have his suspicions confirmed (and perhaps a car chase at the end). Perhaps I am a perverse sort of mystery reader.  Also, the narrative so far is so laden with incidental detail that I keep expecting it to conceal a whole Chekhov’s arsenal.

Lost thoughts

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

John Locke? Really? Is he all excited about freedom and property rights? No, apparently he speaks for the island, after his encounter with the giant thing. Which would be more impressive if he hadn’t been established as the weirdo in episode 1.

What about the doctor/leader – Shepherd? Ahem. Is Sawyer supposed to be a never-grown-up Mark Twain?

ca. episode 6, the false dichotomies are starting to pile up: go to the water or stay by the plane? Dig in and risk missig recuers or stay visible and risk the unseen monster? Here’s a thought: set up base by the water and rotate people into and out of watch duty. I can’t see that you’d need more than 9 people on the beach, 12 at the outside, out of 46. There’s no need to conceptually split the group. Some people should be looking for food, too. And some building shelters. And some thinking about how to design improvements to their lives. You know, just like Populous or Civilisation.

One really nice thing, though: that every random grouping of people that discovers something discouraging chooses to keep it from the larger group, because each person believes that the larger group is irrational/will despair/will run amok if this knowledge is spread. While all the people in the random subgroup are of course made of sterner stuff/can withstand such disappointment. This seems like a very true observation of human behaviour to me.