This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,332) on Friday, June 11, 2021.
Periodically, a few people, and a few members of the news media — and then a few government officials and agencies — will stir themselves up over an identified flying objects, UFOs. As I write this, we are awaiting the release of a government report on possible sightings of such objects.
I must admit, as may be obvious, that I am an extreme skeptic about UFOs. Yes, there are things that people see that remain unexplained. But why must we have the government issue a report that will say simply that?
There are many things that I do know exist that merit the government’s attention. One of those, to give you an example, is robocalls and why we can’t stop them. I eagerly await the government’s report on that.
Whatever government report you are awaiting, I hope wonderful summertime weekend.
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,324 subscribers and had a 24.3 percent open rate; 2 people unsubscribed.
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Mary Somerville, the first person to be called a ‘scientist’ (part 1)
William Whewell had a problem.
In 1834, he was reviewing a newly-published book titled On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. It was an extraordinary work, something that he had never encountered before. It was a book that took on incomplete and fragmented knowledge of the fields of astronomy, mathematics, physics, geology, and chemistry and brought all of them together into a beautiful tapestry.
Whewell was no stranger to the idea that one could reach across specific fields of inquiry to come up with larger conclusions. He was known as a polymath because of his wide variety of Interests in poetry, theology, astronomy, mathematics, and many other such topics. At this point in his own career he was well on his way to be coming a Master at Trinity College in Cambridge.
In writing his review, when he would normally have referred to the author as a mathematician or an astronomer or whatever other field the author specialized in, he might also have referred to the author as a “ man of science.” None of those monikers, however, was appropriate in this case because the author of this extraordinary book did not specialize in any single field. More importantly, the author was not a man.
She was Mary Somerville, a Scottish woman and one of the most versatile intellects of her age.
Whewell needed a new term for her, so he invented one. He came up with the word “scientist.” We have been using that term ever since.
And it is especially fitting that Mary Somerville was the first person to have that term bestowed upon her. Mary was born as Mary Fairfax, daughter of an English naval officer, in Jedburgh, Scotland, in 1780. The family lived in genteel poverty, with Mary’s mother having to keep farm animals and grow crops to make ends meet when her husband was at sea.
Mary was something of a wild child, roaming through fields and meadows and taking in only a small part of the little formal education that was offered to her. Her mother taught her to read but not to write. But when her father returned home from sea at one point and found that she could not write, he sent her to a boarding school in Musselburgh. That did not go well. Mary chafed at the school’s emphasis on repetition and memorization.
Mary’s active intellect needed something else. When she was about 15 years old, she noticed an algebraic equation that was an illustration in a fashion magazine. She was intrigued. She managed to get her hands on an algebra book and learned how to solve algebraic equations on her own. It was the beginning of her lifelong love of mathematics.
Her parents did not encourage this particular love affair, however. They actively tried to stop her pursuits by taking her her candles away so that she could not read at night.
Despite their opposition, Mary continued her self education by teaching herself to read Latin so that she could understand Euclid and his writings on geometry. Mary’s parents finally got their way in 1804 when she married a distant cousin, Samuel Greig, and the family moved to London. Mary fulfilled her role as a modern wife, producing two sons and spending most of her time taking care of them. Her husband did not encourage Mary’s intellectual endeavors.
In 1807, tragedy struck when Mary’s husband died, and that was followed shortly thereafter by the death of one of her sons. Her husband’s death left her with enough income so that she could move back to Scotland with her other son and once again take up her studies of mathematics and other fields of Interest. She began to submit solutions to problems posted in mathematics journals, and she even won a prize for doing so.
Again, her family objected to her continued studies. It was undoubtedly a great relief to them when Mary married William Somerville in 1812. William was a medical man, and he encouraged Mary to expand her interests, which eventually included Greek, geology, botany, and mineralogy. The couple moved to London where William was elected to the Royal Society of surgeons, which allowed them to meet and mix with some of the great intellects of the day.
During the next decade and a half, Mary continued to delve into her many interests in all parts of the scientific world and to impress its leaders with her reasoning and her writing.
In 1827, when Mary was 47 years old, Lord Henry Brougham, the head of the society for the diffusion of useful knowledge, asked Mary to take on the task of translating Simon-Pierre LaPlace’s Celestial Mechanics. At first, Mary did not think she was up to the task because she did not have a university education. The job, however, appeared to be one of simple translation and would probably take only a few months, so she decided to tackle it.
The task turned out to be far longer than a few months and far more complex than simple translation. But when it was done, what she produced set Mary on the road to intellectual fame.
Next week: Mary Somerville’s impact on the entirety of science
So, Republic, what did you do during The Troubles?
When The Troubles erupted in August 1969 in the six counties in Northern Ireland that Great Britain still claimed, the two sides of the conflict — the Protestants and the Catholics — were well and quickly established in the eyes of the world.
Protestants were in the majority in those counties, and discrimination against Catholics, which included confining them to certain neighborhoods in many places, was open and widespread. To those who paid attention — particularly in those in the United States who had just experienced the decade of civil rights — that kind of discrimination shocked the senses.
The British government in London had initially left the situation in the hands of the authorities in Northern Ireland, but the police force there was overwhelmingly Protestant. The mutual hatred between the Catholic community and the Royal Ulster Constabulary was intense. Catholics barricaded themselves in Derry and fought police with petrol bombs.
Where was the Republic of Ireland and its government among all this chaos?
The sympathies of the people of the Republic were definitely with the Catholics of Northern Ireland, and there was indeed political pressure on officials to do something. But what?
Invade Northern Ireland? The idea certainly had its advocates, but the British would have considered that an act of war, and the army of the Republic will ill-prepared for any such action.
What some in the Republic did is the subject of a nine-part podcast produced by the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ titled GunPlot.
It’s a fascinating story. I listened to the first two episodes in one sitting and the third soon thereafter. I’m still listening.
If you are interested in The Troubles specifically or the history of Ireland in general — or if you just enjoy hearing Irish accents and a rollicking good story — this is a podcast to spend some time with.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Frederick Forsyth and the importance of silence to a writer
Stories of how writers become writers — the origin narrative, if you will — are continually fascinating and somewhat more rare than you might think. Writers, particularly writers of fiction, enjoy telling other people’s stories, but they often think but their own stories or dull or even non-existent.
Not so with Frederick Forsyth, one of the most successful writers of the Intrigue and thriller novels of our age.
Forsyth is most famous for his breakthrough novel, The Day of the Jackal, as well as others such as The Dogs of War, The Odessa File, and many others.
Forsyth begins his autobiography, The Outsider: My Life of Intrigue, with these words:
We all make mistakes, but starting the Third World War would have been a rather large one. To this day, I still maintain it was not entirely my fault. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
During the course of my life, I barely escaped the wrath of an arms dealer in Hamberg, been strafed by a MiG during the Nigerian civil war, and landed during a bloody coup in Guinea-Bissau. The Stasi arrested me, the Israelis regaled me, the IRA prompted a quick move from Ireland to England, and a certain attractive Czech secret police agent — well, her actions were a bit more intimate. And that’s just for starters.
All of that I saw from the inside. But all that time, I was, nevertheless, an outsider.
The writer, Forsyth says, must enjoy silence, and it was the development of that characteristic that drove him to be a writer. There were, he said, three factors that over the long haul taught him to enjoy silence.
One was but he was an only child, and that circumstance in and of itself meant that he would spend a good deal of time alone growing up.
A second factor was that he grew up in the town of Ashford, England, during World War II. Ashford is on the coast, and many of its residents, including most of the children there, were evacuated because of the threat of a German invasion. Forsyth stayed in Ashford for the duration of the war, but he had no one of his age just spent his boyhood with.
The third factor, he says, was that he was sent off to school when he was 13 years old. The type of school that he went to could be particularly brutal on a young boy with no friends or family connections. Consequently, the way to cope often is to retreat into the safe space of your own mind, and that’s what Forsyth said he did.
Forsyth served in the Royal Air Force, and afterward joined the Reuters News service is a correspondent. In 1965 he became a reporter for the BBC, and he covered conflicts in Africa at that time. His first book was the nonfiction the Biafra story, published in 1969.
The Day of the Jackal was published in 1971 and almost immediately became an international bestseller and the basis for a highly popular movie. Forsyth has been writing with the same what kind of talent and energy ever since.
He is 83 years old and has slowed his writing down somewhat. His last novel, The Fox, an espionage thriller, was published in 2018. Forsyth’s autobiography, The Outsider, is written in the same breathless and intriguing style as that of his novels.
From the archives: Edgar Allen Poe and the development of the mystery novel
American author Edgar Allan Poe — whom we all read in school and some continued to read long afterwards — gets lots of credit for developing the modern detective/mystery novel. He was not the first to write about mysterious crime and its solution, but his five short stories (Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, The Mystery of Marie Roget, Thou Art the Man, and The Gold Bug) pointed the way for future writers to develop this genre.
In addition, Poe — the literary critic — had some definite thoughts about the detective story. It should contain the “unity of effect of impression” that he believed could only be achieved by a short story or something that could be read in one sitting. Plenty of authors have taken the detective story to the novel form and maintained this unity.
But Poe also wrote that
- the mystery should be preserved throughout most of the story,
- that the mystery should converge in the denouement (“There should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.”), and
- that no “undue or inartistic means should be used by the author to conceal the solution to the mystery.”
This information all comes from Detnovel.com, a website created by Prof. William Marling, who has written extensively on the topic of the detective novel.
Tiffany N. : After only seeing James Bond films, I was so surprised to thoroughly enjoy the books! They were succinct and fast-paced, and he seemed to have more depth as a character than we see in the movies sometimes. I made my way through the entire collection a few years ago and highly recommend for a summer read!
Jane R.:I live in Wellington, New Zealand and experience the cicada rock concert annually. Of course here it usually occurs from January with it varying in sound intensity and duration depending on how good the summer season was 17yrs before.
Vic C.: My first look at “Goal Kick” was a quick one and required a closer examination because, at first glance, the object of the kick looks like the head of someone lying on the ground. “Ouch!”
Elizabeth F.: As a psychologist and teacher and presenter of multi media learning opportunities, I have long known that the “teacher” learns more and is forever indebted to the student.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world, I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary, and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair, and disrespect. Nikki Giovanni, poet and professor (b. 1943)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Inoculation’s advocate, Fleming’s Casino Royale, and the first American to die in Vietnam: newsletter, June 4, 2021
Verse and Vision: Poems and painting from a couple of years ago
(I shared this list last month in a newsletter but later found out that none of the links in the original version of the newsletter work. I have tried to correct that with the list below.)
A couple of years ago a colleague at the Blount County Public Library asked me to record a poem because April is National Poetry Month. One thing led to another, and by September, I had made about 20 video recordings of poems recited as voiceovers for watercolor paintings that had some relationship to the poem or the poet.
Before April 2021 gets away from us, I thought it might be a good idea to reprise that list in honor of this year’s National Poetry Month, and I hereby invite you to revisit any of those videos with the links below:
Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby by William Wordsworth
The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1492 and The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus: http://bit.ly/lazarus-newcolossus
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe: http://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest
Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott
Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner
In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson
To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray
My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
Most of these videos were recorded out of doors on a small porch at the side of my house. I did that because the natural light is better than anything I can set up inside. Now that the weather is turning warmer, I may revive this Verse and Vision series. Any suggestions about poems or paintings would be greatly appreciated.