For all you J. R. R. Tolkien Fans

Today is the birthday of J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien (1892) (books by this author), born to English parents in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where his father was working in a bank. Tolkien was always fascinated with languages, he went to school at Oxford, first studying Classics, and later, English Language and Literature. He came across an Old English poem by Cynewulf, which contained a couplet that fascinated him: “Hail Earendel brightest of angels / Over Middle Earth sent to men.” The couplet found new life in the universe of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1955), which takes place in Middle Earth and includes a half-Elven character named Earendil the Mariner, who eventually becomes a star.

In 1925, Tolkien returned to Oxford University as a professor of Anglo-Saxon and, later, English Language and Literature. One day, while grading exams, he discovered that a student had left one whole page in his examination booklet blank. Tolkien, for reasons unknown even to him, wrote on the page, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” This single line turned into a bedtime story that he told his children, and from there, a book:The Hobbit (1937).

From: Writer’s Almanac

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 1:47 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

A mini-biography of the man who wrote “Moby-Dick”

Herman Melville (books by this author), age 21, set sail aboard the whaling vessel Acushnet on this date in 1841 from the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, bound for the Pacific Ocean. Melville had no experience as a whaler, and not much as a seaman, either, although he’d sailed to Liverpool, England, and back during his few weeks as a cabin boy on a merchant ship. But he loved the sea, and he was eager to learn. Whaling was still big business in 1841; whale oil from blubber was the most widely available fuel for artificial lights, powering household lamps, streetlights, and even lighthouses. It was also one of the most popular lubricants, used in factory machines, sewing machines, and clocks.

Melville learned the ins and outs of whaling, helping to harpoon the whales, harvest them, and process their oil aboard the ship. He also listened to the tales his fellow whalers told, particularly of a legendary white sperm whale called Mocha Dick. Knickerbocker Magazine had described the whale in 1939: “this renowned monster, who had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers, an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength. From the effect of age, or more probably from a freak of nature, … he was white as wool! … Numerous boats are known to have been shattered by his immense flukes, or ground to pieces in the crush of his powerful jaws.” Melville also met the son of Owen Chase, who had survived a whale attack on the Essex 21 years earlier, and he read Chase’s account. It gave him material for Moby-Dick, which begins, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

Taken from: Writer’s Almanac

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

I guess we in the land of the free did our share of putting down women

Today is the birthday of women’s rights reformer Lucretia (Coffin) Mott, born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1793. She went to public school in Boston for two years, and then, when she was 13, she enrolled in a Quaker boarding school near Poughkeepsie, New York. After two years there, she was hired on as an assistant, and then a teacher. She quit when she found out that she was being paid less than half of what the male teachers all made, simply because she was a woman; the experience sparked her first interest in women’s rights. In 1811, she married fellow teacher James Mott, and the newlyweds moved to Philadelphia. Ten years later, she became a minister in the Society of Friends, as the Quaker church was called, and she was a popular public speaker on matters of religion and social reform.

She was active in the abolitionist movement when she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton on a ship to London; both were on their way to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. They were attending as delegates, but found that the convention would not let them speak because they were women; they were even seated in a separate area, behind a curtain. The two women resolved then and there to organize a convention for women’s rights as soon as they returned home. It took eight years, but eventually they did: the Seneca Falls (New York) Convention of 1848.

Mott wrote, “The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation, because in the degradation of women, the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.”

Taken from: http://writersalmanac.org/

Published in: on January 3, 2015 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

A very good summation of the contents of Space…….by Elizabeth Howell

What is Space?

by Elizabeth Howell, SPACE.com Contributor   |   February 28, 2014 08:34pm ET
From the perspective of an Earthling, outer space is a zone that occurs about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the planet, where there is no appreciable air to breathe or to scatter light. In that area, blue gives way to black because oxygen molecules are not in enough abundance to make the sky blue.

Further, space is a vacuum, meaning that sound cannot carry because molecules are not close enough together to transmit sound between them. That’s not to say that space is empty, however. Gas, dust and other bits of matter float around “emptier” areas of the universe, while more crowded regions can host planets, stars and galaxies.

No one knows exactly how big space is. The difficulty arises because of what we can see in our detectors. We measure long distances in space in “light-years,” representing the distance it takes for light to travel in a year (roughly 5.8 trillion miles, or 9.3 trillion kilometers).

From light that is visible in our telescopes, we have charted galaxies reaching almost as far back as the Big Bang, which is thought to have started our universe 13.7 billion years ago. This means we can “see” into space at a distance of almost 13.7 billion light-years. However, astronomers are not sure if our universe is the only universe that exists. This means that space could be a lot bigger than it appears to us.

Radiation invisible to human eyes

Most of space is relatively empty, meaning that there are just stray bits of dust and gas inside of it. This means that when humans send a satellite to a distant planet, the object will not encounter “drag” in the same way that an airplane does as it sails through space.

The vacuum environment in space and on the moon, for example, is one reason that the lunar lander of the Apollo program looks so odd-shaped —like a spider, one crew said. Because the spacecraft was designed to work in a zone with no atmosphere, there was no need for smooth edges or an aerodynamic shape.

While space may look empty to human eyes, research has shown that there are forms of radiation emanating through the cosmos. In our own solarsystem, the solar wind — made up of plasma and other particles from the sun — permeates past the planets and occasionally causes aurora near the Earth’s poles. Cosmic rays also fly through the neighborhood, emanating from supernovas outside of the solar system.

In fact, the universe is permeated with the cosmic microwave background, which can be understood as the leftovers of the immense explosion that formed our cosmos (usually called the Big Bang). The CMB, which is best seen in microwaves, shows the earliest radiation that our instruments can detect. [Infographic: Cosmic Microwave Background Explained]

One large feature of space that is poorly seen or understood is the supposed presence of dark matter and dark energy, which are essentially forms of matter and energy that can only be detected through their effects on other objects. Since the universe is expanding and accelerating in that expansion, that is seen as one key piece of evidence for dark matter. Another is gravitational lensing that occurs when light “bends” around a star from a distant background object.

Stars, planets, asteroids and comets

Radiation is one feature of space, but the universe is also full of objects that we can see. The most familiar objects to humans are planets and stars.

Stars (like our own sun) are immense balls of gas that produce their own radiation. They can range from red supergiants to cooling white dwarfs that are the leftovers of supernovas, or star explosions that occur when a big one runs out of gas to burn. These explosions spread elements throughout the universe and are the reason that elements such as iron exist. Star explosions can also give rise to incredibly dense objects called neutron stars. If these neutron stars send out pulses of radiation, they are called pulsar stars.

Planets are objects whose definition came under scrutiny in 2006, when astronomers were debating whether Pluto could be considered a planet or not. At the time, the International Astronomical Union (the governing body on Earth for these decisions) ruled that a planet is a celestial body that orbits the sun, is massive enough to have a nearly round shape, and has cleared its orbit of debris. Under this designation, Pluto and similar small objects are considered “dwarf planets.”

The definition of extrasolar planets, or planets outside the solar system, is still not firmed up by the IAU, but essentially astronomers understand it to mean objects that behave like planets in our neighborhood. The first such planet was found in 1992 (in the constellation Pegasus) and since that time, hundreds of alien planets have been confirmed — with thousands more suspected.

Asteroids are rocks that are not quite big enough to be dwarf planets. In our own solar system, they are often considered to be leftovers from when our neighborhood was forming, and are most concentrated in a belt between the planets Mars and Jupiter. Younger solar systems also have collections of asteroids, but if planets are not there yet, astronomers can sometimes use the term “protoplanets” to indicate planets in formation.

In our solar system, comets (sometimes called dirty snowballs) are objects believed to originate from a vast collection of icy bodies called the OortCloud. As a comet approaches the sun, the heat of our star causes ices to melt and stream away from the comet. The ancients often associated comets with destruction or some sort of immense change on Earth, but the discovery of Halley’s Comet and related “periodic” or returning comets showed that they were ordinary solar system phenomena.

Galaxies and black holes

One of the biggest cosmic structures we can see are galaxies, which essentially are vast collections of stars. Our own galaxy is called the Milky Way, and is considered a “barred spiral” shape. There are several types of galaxies, ranging from spiral to elliptical to irregular, and they can change as they come close to other objects or as stars within them age.

Often galaxies have supermassive black holes embedded in the center of their galaxies, which are only visible through the radiation that each black hole emanates as well as through its gravitational interactions with other objects. If the black hole is particularly active, with a lot of material falling into it, it produces immense amounts of radiation. This kind of a galactic object is called a quasar (just one of several types of similar objects.)

Smaller black holes can also form from the gravitational collapse of a gigantic star, which forms a singularity from which nothing can escape — not even light, hence the name of the object. Once believed to be theoretical objects, scientists have found evidence of black holes in the universe. No one is quite sure what lies within a black hole, or what would happen to a person or object who fell into it.

Large groups of galaxies can form in clusters that are groups as large as hundreds or thousands of galaxies bound together gravitationally. Scientists consider these the largest structures in the universe.

Published in: on April 28, 2014 at 12:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Growing Inequality

Growing Inequality

An “eclectic excerpt” provided by delanceyplace

Today’s selection is from the new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. Amid increased concern over growing inequality, a European economist has garnered global attention and stirred controversy with his recent claim that the world is entering a period of inequality similar to what existed in Europe prior to 1914. Added to that controversy is his recommendation that a progressive tax on capital is the solution. In one quote, his assessment of recent U.S. income tax cuts is that they will “eventually contribute to rebuild[ing] a class of rentiers in the U.S., whereby a small group of wealthy but untalented children controls vast segments of the U.S. economy and penniless, talented children simply can’t compete….there is a decent probability that the U.S. will look like Old Europe prior to 1914 in a couple of generations.” His explanation of the cause is very simply that “r > g,” in other words that “when the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based”:

“The overall conclusion of [my] study is that a market economy based on private property, if left to itself, contains powerful forces of convergence, associated in particular with the diffusion of knowledge and skills; but it also contains powerful forces of divergence, which are potentially threatening to democratic societies and to the values of social justice on which they are based.

“The principal destabilizing force has to do with the fact that the private rate of return on capital, r, can be significantly higher for long periods of time than the rate of growth of income and output, g. The inequality r > g implies that wealth accumulated in the past grows more rapidly than output and wages. This inequality expresses a fundamental logical contradiction. The entrepreneur inevitably tends to become a rentier, more and more dominant over those who own nothing but their labor. Once constituted, capital reproduces itself faster than output increases. The past devours the future.

“The consequences for the long-term dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying, especially when one adds that the return on capital varies directly with the size of the initial stake and that the divergence in the wealth distribution is occurring on a global scale.

“The problem is enormous, and there is no simple solution. Growth can of course be encouraged by investing in education, knowledge, and non polluting technologies. But none of these will raise the growth rate to 4 or 5 percent a year. History shows that only countries that are catching up with more advanced economies — such as Europe during the three decades after World War II or China and other emerging countries today — can grow at such rates. For countries at the world technological frontier — and thus ultimately for the planet as a whole — there is ample reason to believe that the growth rate will not exceed 1-1.5 percent in the long run, no matter what economic policies are adopted.’

“With an average return on capital of 4-5 percent, it is therefore likely that r > g will again become the norm in the twenty-first century, as it had been throughout history until the eve of World War I. In the twentieth century, it took two world wars to wipe away the past and significantly reduce the return on capital, thereby creating the illusion that the fundamental structural contradiction of capitalism (r > g) had been overcome.

“To be sure, one could tax capital income heavily enough to reduce the private return on capital to less than the growth rate. But if one did that indiscriminately and heavy-handedly, one would risk killing the motor of accumulation and thus further reducing the growth rate. Entrepreneurs would then no longer have the time to turn into rentiers, since there would be no more entrepreneurs.

“The right solution is a progressive annual tax on capital. This will make it possible to avoid an endless inegalitarian spiral while preserving competition and incentives for new instances of primitive accumulation. … This would contain the unlimited growth of global inequality of wealth, which is currently increasing at a rate that cannot be sustained in the long run and that ought to worry even the most fervent champions of the self-regulated market. Historical experience shows, moreover, that such immense inequalities of wealth have little to do with the entrepreneurial spirit and are of no use in promoting growth. Nor are they of any ‘common utility,’ to borrow the nice expression from the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen with which I began this book.”

author: Thomas Piketty
title: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
publisher: Belknap Press
date: Copyright 2014 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
pages: 571-573
If you use the above link to purchase a book, delanceyplace proceeds from your purchase will benefit a children’s literacy project. All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity.

 

Published in: on April 27, 2014 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Chairman Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward

In today’s excerpt (from delanceyplace.com) – during Chairman Mao Zedong‘s Great Leap Forward, which was an effort to use centralized Communist planning to vault China’s economy past those of the Western European powers, China endured one of the greatest tragedies in human history – the death of over 45 million people:

“Between 1958 and 1962, China descended into hell. Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up with and overtake Britain in less than fifteen years. By unleashing China’s greatest asset, a labour force that was counted in the hundreds of millions, Mao thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors. Instead of following the Soviet model of development, which leaned heavily towards industry alone, China would ‘walk on two legs’: the peasant masses were mobilized to transform both agriculture and industry at the same time, converting a backward economy into a modern communist society of plenty for all.

“In the pursuit of a utopian paradise, everything was collectivized, as villagers were herded together in giant communes which heralded the advent of communism. People in the countryside were robbed of their work, their homes, their land, their belongings and their livelihood. Food, distributed by the spoonful in collective canteens according to merit, became a weapon to force people to follow the party’s every dictate. Irrigation campaigns forced up to half the villagers to work for weeks on end on giant water-conservancy projects, often far from home, without adequate food and rest. The experiment ended in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known, destroying tens of millions of lives.

“At least 45 million people died unnecessarily between 1958 and 1962. The term ‘famine’, or even ‘Great Famine’, is often used to describe these four to five years of the Maoist era, but the term fails to capture the many ways in which people died under radical collectivization

The Qin Dynasty of China

I’ve been studying a little about Ancient History.  Here’s a some very interesting facts about the Qin Dynasty of China, presented by a great teacher’s site for kids. I think the kids sites are more fascinating at times the our “grownup” sites 🙂

The Qin Dynasty only lasted for 15 years. Yet it is one of the most famous dynasties in ancient Chinese history. Emperor Qin ran his dynasty with absolute control. Punishment for those who disagreed with him was swift and harsh. You could be put to death simply by suggesting another way to do things. There was only Qin’s way. 

Qin was the first man to control all of China. He died of natural causes, but during his brief rule, he called himself First Emperor of China. And the name “China” stuck. 

Qin was a legalist. A legalist believes that people are basically bad. That’s why it is necessary to control every minute of their life. Otherwise, they’ll do bad things, which could hurt others. 

Qin developed a system of bureaucracy so that he could control every minute of peoples lives. He divided his empire into 36 provinces. Each had two government officials in charge of it. There had to be 2 so they could keep an eye on each other. Then he broke the provinces into smaller districts. Each district had two people in charge of it. And so it went. Each unit getting smaller and smaller, and each unit reporting to the one above it. People at all levels were paid very well.  

Qin developed a spy system: It was not enough to have two people in charge of each little piece, so that they could keep an eye on each other. Qin also developed a spy system, so that all people kept an eye on each other. Spies were rewarded very well.  

Qin had great power. His system of organization gave him complete control. He used that control to make the huge changes he felt China desperately needed to protect herself. 

Changes:

The Great Wall: Qin set people to work building the Great Wall. He believed the country needed better protection. Just as cities had wall built around them, he wanted a wall built around China. 

He greatly weakened the nobles: Qin took land away from the nobles so they would lose most of their control and wealth. He did not want the nobles to band together to remove Qin from power. Anyone who fought this change was either buried alive or put to work building the Great Wall. 

He greatly weakened the teachers and scholars: Censorship was introduced. Qin burned what he called useless books. If a book was not about agriculture, medicine, or prophecy, it was burned. Scholars who refused to allow their books to be burned where either burned alive or sent to work on the wall. Qin did not want his people wasting time. He wanted nearly all the people to grow food. 

He gave most peasants one of two jobs: Either a peasant was assigned to grow food or to harvest silk. If they tried to do anything else besides their assigned job, they were put to death or sent to work on the wall. If people were slow or lazy, they were put to death or sent to work on the wall. 

He built public works projects: Qin put some people to work building bridges, roads, canals, and systems of flood control. The people he assigned to do this work either did the work they were assigned to do quickly and well, or they were killed or sent to work on the wall.

He created a law code: His law code applied to everyone. He created a huge law enforcement group, to enforce those laws. 

He created a system of standardization: Qin introduced one system of weights and measures, one system of money, the same written language, the same laws – all systems of standardization to be used all over China. No one argued with him. 

Qin did not believe that he was cruel. His systems of protection, standardization, and job assignment probably saved millions of lives from flood and famine and war. Qin thought of himself as an outstanding leader. He used to say, “A thousand may die so that millions may live.” 

Qin had planned that his son would take over one day. After Qin died of natural causes, his son tried to rule the county. A peasant led a revolt against Qin’s government officials. People all over the country joined in the revolt. The revolt was successful. That peasant became the new emperor. He called his dynasty the Han Dynasty.

Published in: on April 26, 2014 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

It is the birthday of American merchant Johns Hopkins, born

It is the birthday of American merchant Johns Hopkins, born on a tobacco plantation in Anne Arundel County, Maryland (1795). The Hopkinses were Quakers and in 1807 they’d freed their slaves, so Johns stopped going to school at a young age to help out on the plantation.

He left for Baltimore in 1812 to work in his uncle’s grocery business. He lived with his uncle’s family and fell in love with his cousin Elizabeth, but Quakers strongly opposed the marriage of first cousins. Both Johns and Elizabeth remained single their entire lives. After working for his uncle for seven years, Johns started a dry goods business with his three brothers. They sold goods to farmers in the Shenandoah Valley, and they often took moonshine as payment. Back in Baltimore, they bottled the moonshine and sold it to city folk as “Hopkins’ Best.” Johns invested his profits in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, turning his modest Hopkins’ Best earnings into a sizeable fortune.

With no wife or children, he began to ponder the fate of his tremendous fortune after his death and in 1867 he incorporated The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital. When he died in 1873, his $7 million fortune was divided between the two institutions.

Published in: on May 19, 2013 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Amongst the Frenchby Paul ZimmerI do not have their

Amongst the French

by Paul Zimmer

I do not have their words,
do not have their years or customs.
Passing them on the road,
shy as fog passing down
slopes into the valley,
I always give first utterance
or make an uncertain gesture.

My neighbors are kind,
knowing I am like rain,
that if they wait long enough,
in time I will go away.

It is the same for me in
all directions—under stars
swarming out of foothills,
on the gravel I churn
with my shoes—east, west, 
north, or south—the same.
If I remained in
this friendly place forever,
I would always be a stranger.

“Amongst the French” by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited. © The University of Georgia Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Published in: on May 19, 2013 at 8:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Molybdenum, Tungsten, and Big Bertha

Some very interesting Insight into the world of war profiteering, and the world of limited natural resources

In today’s excerpt – molybdenum and tungsten. A key German advantage in World War I was Big Bertha, a forty-three ton gun which could fire a 16-inch, 2,200 pound shell nine miles. However, after a few days of firing, the twenty-two foot steel barrel would be useless since the iron in steel has a low melting point. The solution? Molybdenum from America in World War I and tungsten from supposedly neutral Portugal in World War II:

 

“The famous Krupp armament company found a recipe for strengthening steel: spiking it with molybdenum. Molybdenum … could withstand the excessive heat because it melts at 4,750°F, thousands of degrees hotter than iron, the main metal in steel.

 

“Back in the trenches, the Germans were soon blazing away at the French and British with a second generation of ‘moly steel’ guns. But Germany soon faced another huge Bertha setback – it had no supply of molybdenum and risked running out. In fact, the only known supplier was a bankrupt, nearly abandoned mine on Bartlett Mountain in Colorado.

“[One world war later], Nazi Germany coveted tungsten for making machinery and armor-piercing missiles, and its lust for [it] surpassed even its lust for looted gold, which Nazi officials happily bartered for tungsten. And who were the Nazis’ trading partners? … It was supposedly neutral Portugal whose tungsten fed the wolfish appetite of the German kriegwerks. …

 

“Proving his worth as a former professor of economics, [Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio] Salazar leveraged his country’s near monopoly on the metal (90 percent of Europe’s supply) into profits 1,000 percent greater than peacetime levels. …

” Salazar …  played the Axis and Allies brilliantly with vague promises, secret pacts, and stalling tactics that kept the tungsten trains chugging. He had increased the price of his country’s one commodity from $1,100 per ton in 1940 to $20,000 in 1941, and he’d banked $170 million in three frenzied years of speculation. Only after running out of excuses did Salazar institute a full tungsten embargo against the Nazis on June 7, 1944, the day after D-Day, by which point the Allied commanders were too preoccupied (and disgusted) to punish him. I believe it was Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind who said that fortunes can be made only during the building up or tearing down of an empire, and Salazar certainly subscribed to that theory. In the so-called wolfram war, the Portuguese dictator had the last lycanthropic laugh.”
Author: Sam Kean   
Title: The Disappearing Spoon
Publisher: Back Bay
Date: Copyright 2010 by Sam Kean
Pages: 91-94

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

by Sam Kean by Little, Brown and Company
Hardcover

If you wish to read further: Buy Now

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 Should you use the above link to purchase a book, delanceyplace proceeds from your purchase will benefit a children’s literacy project. Delanceyplace is a not-for-profit organization. 

About Us

Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. 

To visit our homepage or sign up for our daily email click here
To view previous daily emails click here.
To sign up for our daily email click here.

Read more at campaign.r20.constantcontact.com

 

Published in: on August 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,