Monday, January 16, 2012

On gluten intolerance

I am a rare North American celiac/coeliac/gluten-intolerant individual because I grew up in a family with others who had also been diagnosed and so was never "alone" the way many people who come to realize they "have this" are. There are so many of us in my extended family that we have tables of gluten-free food at family events (including weddings and funerals.) Yet even coming from a family of (medically diagnosed) celiacs many of my relatives had difficulty persuading doctors to administer the appropriate diagnostic tests.

I have recently come to realize just how isolated other individuals are who come to suspect they are, or are diagnosed as, gluten intolerant.

Over the next few days I am going to update this post with links to various resources for other celiacs. Anyone who has questions or suggestions is invited to post them as comments and I'll try to either answer or provide links to others who can. Update the first: What are the symptoms/signs that you might be a celiac? If there is any chance you have celiac disease you need to immediately get all gluten out of your diet. Gluten may be places/foods you won't immediately suspect. The first thing you need is a good list of safe foods and a good list of foods that are not (or may not) be safe.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

100 years ago today: The tale of the typewriter

One hundred years ago typewriters were expensive and still comparatively rare. People who had mastered the skill of using these machines were often themselves referred to as "typewriters." In some cases (as mentioned in passing in E. F. Benson's An Autumn Sowing, published in 1917) the person who was being hired to type brought their machine with them. It was a tool of their trade and one which required an investment in order to yield returns.

One hundred years ago today one could buy a yearly subscription to The Tensas Gazette (St. Joseph's, LA) for $1.50. A "Standard Sewing Machine" (non electric) with all attachments included could be bought for $15.00. A very nice automobile could be bought, new, for $700.00 and a "young man's" suit for $15-30.00. One might pay between $2.50 to $4.00 for a pair of shoes.

A Royal Standard Typewriter cost $75.00. It is hard to realize now that the typewriter was in many ways as revolutionary a device as were word processors in their day. They were not cheap yet they were not so expensive that only a member of the upper middle class could afford one. Of course members of the upper middle class did not use typewriting machines, they employed human beings to do so for them. Almost from the first days of typewriters invention expert users were predominantly women. Indeed it has been convincingly argued that typewriters played an important role making the office a safe and acceptable place for women to work. (see The Woman and the Typewriter: A Case Study in Technological Innovation and Social Change, Donald Hoke, Milwaukee Public Museaum)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

100 years ago yesterday: Libertarian remedies in action

100 years ago yesterday a New York jury acquitted Max Blanck and Isaac Harris of criminal negligence in the fire that killed 146 women and men in the Asch Building (Triangle Shirtwaist) fire (TRIANGLE CO. HEADS ACQUITTED ON CHARGE OF MANSLAUGHTER, The New York Evening World, December 27 1911). The families of the victims were barred from the courtroom the day the jury return with its verdict and a cordon of police escorted Blanck and Harris out of the building and to the subway.

Neither man was ever convicted in criminal court for any of the deaths that day although in 1913 they were lost at case in civil court and were instructed to pay $75 in compensation to the family of each person who died. In that same year Blanck was arrested and fined $20 for once again locking workers in at his factory.

Many people today think that the men who owned the Triangle Shirtwaist factory were convicted and it was that which led to improvements in workplace conditions for American women and men but that is almost the opposite to what actually happened. It was the anger among the public after witnessing business owner after business owner get at most a slap on the risk for endangering the lives of their workers that led to state and federal regulatory bodies that worked to prevent these tragedies from happening in the first place.

In other words, we have "real world" data that indicates that the Libertarian remedies for bad work places, bad managers and bad products did not work.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

100 years ago today: Some are more equal than others

One hundred years ago today, December 13 1911, this is what the left hand side of the front page of The New York Evening World looked like:

Princess Louise was not an American. Her husband was not an American. Her children were not Americans. Neither the Princess, nor her husband, nor her daughters were (or had been) involved in negotiations with the American government. The steamship in question had not departed from, nor was it heading to, the United States of America. Had the Princess Royal, her husband or their daughters, been injured or even killed there would have been no direct or indirect impact on the government of the United States.

The miners whose desperate raps signaled to rescuers that there were still men alive in the "ruined colliery"--they were citizens of the same country as the editors, writers and readers of The Evening World. The collapsed mine and the dead and endangered miners were not even located on the other side of the country let alone across an ocean and off the coast of a different continent. Yet the news of that scores of men had yet to be rescued after the explosion at the Cross Mountain coal mine was not even one of the two most important stories of the day as one can see:

One could make the argument that the stories about Sheepshead Bay and Ethel Conrad were of parochial interest to New Yorkers. One might even make the argument that the trial of the "labor bombers" in Indianapolis was also relevant to New Yorkers because, "New York, Brooklyn and Hoboken Ask Evident to Use in Local Prosecutions" though that relevance does not seem so pressing that it merits sharing the top half of the front page with news of a mine disaster in Tennessee. But the news about Princess Louise? That unmasks the news values that underlie the choice and placement of stories. News about the lives of rich and socially "important" people from other countries was at least as important as the lives of working class Americans.

The last bodies of trapped miners were not located until December 19 1911. Those two men, Alonzo Wood and Eugene Ault, had survived long enough to build a barricade in an effort to protect themselves from the gasses in the mine and to write farewell messages to their families on the wall.

Monday, December 12, 2011

100 Years Ago Today: Paging Rick Perry re the Department of Energy

The Democratic Banner (Mt. Vernon, Ohio. December 12, 1911, page 1.) HUNDRED DEAD IN MINE BLAST / Briceville, Tenn., Is The Scene Of Latest Catastrophe. There had been an explosion in the Cross Mountain coal mine (near Briceville, TN) on December 9. When The Banner went to print it was still unclear exactly how many men had been in the mine when the explosion occurred and what the chances were of anyone being rescued. After several days 5 men were pulled out of the mine alive. The dead numbered 84. The Bureau of Mines, which had created May 16 1910 as a response to a number of severe mining accidents in the United States, led the rescue efforts.

According to The United States Mine Rescue Association, During the three years leading up to the establishment of the U. S. Bureau of Mines, 1907 to 1909, there were 50 coal mine disasters in which 5 or more miners were killed. Total killed - 1,773 (Historical Data on Mine Disasters in the United States.) "Bureaucrats" from that department pioneered or popularized technologies to rescue miners (including the use of canaries as a early warning of dangerous gasses and equipment for miners so that they could "self-rescue.")

In 1995 Congress closed the U. S. Bureau of Mines transferring oversight of health and safety to the Department of Energy while cutting 66% from the budgets of the various programs that were farmed out to Energy and other departments.

Yes, one of the federal departments that Rick Perry is so eager to slash is responsible for the health, safety and rescue of American miners. Maybe Governor Perry would like to explain his eagerness to cut an agency responsible for the safety of miners to the families of the 29 miners who died April 5 2010 in the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV. Maybe Governor Perry would like to explain his eagerness to the American miners who risk their lives every day.

Or maybe the names of the people who died and the mines that have become graves have slipped his mind along with the name of the Department that is responsible for their welfare.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Translating genius

One of the challenges of the reader who wishes to read a book written in a language they themselves cannot read is to select the best translation. Readers may fall back on the advice of reviewers or use the literary reputation of a proxy, for example an editor or series such as "Penguin Classics."Of course the choice challenge presupposes that the reader has access to more than one translation. It also suggests that there is a single "best" translation for all readers. In many cases neither is true.

Kit Whitfield's excellent series of deconstructions / analyses of the first sentences of famous and notable books has fostered in me the habit of thinking of "first sentences" as I reshelve my books. So, earlier today I noticed my copies of Eugénie Grandet as I filed some of my Austens away, and pulled them out to consider whether I should nominate the first sentence of that book for analysis. But which first sentence I wondered, the English or the French. The English first sentence didn't completely evoke the French book that I remembered. So I sat down and read the first several pages in French and then in the English of more than one translation. All of which made me think about the problem of translations. We talk about reading The Iliad or The Aeneid or The Bible or Beowulf but few of us are actually reading the words originally written. We are experiencing these works of genius through the eyes and minds of translators. So we do not really have, as readers, an opinion about any of those works--we have an opinion of those works as mediated by those who translated them.

Look, for example, at the first several hundred words of Eugénie Grandet:

Note #1: for those who don't read French--just skim down to the English translations. The point I am making in this piece does not require knowledge of that language.

Note #2: in French there are several more sentences before the first paragraph ends. The different font colours indicate the places in the text translators added paragraph breaks.

This is how Honoré de Balzac's Eugénie Grandet begins:
Il se trouve dans certaines provinces des maisons dont la vue inspire une mélancolie égale à celle que provoquent les cloîtres les plus sombres, les landes les plus ternes ou les ruines les plus tristes. Peut-être y a-t-il à la fois dans ces maisons et le silence du cloître et l'aridité des landes et les ossements des ruines. La vie et le mouvement y sont si tranquilles qu'un étranger les croirait inhabitées, s'il ne rencontrait tout à coup le regard pâle et froid d'une personne immobile dont la figure à demi monastique dépasse l'appui de la croisée, au bruit d'un pas inconnu. Ces principes de mélancolie existent dans la physionomie d'un logis situé à Saumur, au bout de la rue montueuse qui mène au château, par le haut de la ville. Cette rue, maintenant peu fréquentée, chaude en été, froide en hiver, obscure en quelques endroits, est remarquable par la sonorité de son petit pavé caillouteux, toujours propre et sec, par l'étroitesse de sa voie tortueuse, par la paix de ses maisons qui appartiennent à la vieille ville, et que dominent les remparts. Des habitations trois fois séculaires y sont encore solides quoique construites en bois, et leurs divers aspects contribuent à l'originalité qui recommande cette partie de Saumur à l'attention des antiquaires et des artistes. Il est difficile de passer devant ces maisons, sans admirer les énormes madriers dont les bouts sont taillés en figures bizarres et qui couronnent d'un bas-relief noir le rez-de-chaussée de la plupart d'entre elles. Ici, des pièces de bois transversales sont couvertes en ardoises et dessinent des lignes bleues sur les frêles murailles d'un logis terminé par un toit en colombage que les ans ont fait plier, dont les bardeaux pourris ont été tordus par l'action alternative de la pluie et du soleil. Là se présentent des appuis de fenêtre usés, noircis, dont les délicates sculptures se voient à peine, et qui semblent trop légers pour le pot d'argile brune d'où s'élancent les oeillets ou les rosiers d'une pauvre ouvrière. Plus loin, c'est des portes garnies de clous énormes où le génie de nos ancêtres a tracé des hiéroglyphes domestiques dont le sens ne se retrouvera jamais. Tantôt un protestant y a signé sa foi, tantôt un ligueur y a maudit Henri IV.[1]
Here are the first two paragraphs of Marion Ayton Crawford's Penguin Classic translation[2] of the same book:
In some country towns there exist houses whose appearance weights as heavily upon the spirits as the gloomiest cloister, the most dismal ruin, or the dreariest stretch of barren land. These houses may combine the cloister's silence with the arid desolation of the waste and the sepulchral melancholy of ruins. Life makes so little stir in them that a stranger believes them to be uninhabited until he suddenly meets the cold listless gaze of some motionless human being, who face, austere as a monk's, peers from above the window-sill at the sound of a stranger's footfall.

One particular house front in Saumur possesses all these gloomy characteristics. It stands at the end of the hilly street leading to the castle, in the upper part of the town. This street, which is little used nowadays, is hot in the summer, cold in winter, and in some places dark and overshadowed. One's footsteps ring curiously loudly on its flinty cobble-stones, which are always clean and dry; and its narrowness and crookedness and the silence of its houses, which form part of the old town and are looked down upon by the ramparts, make an unusual impression on the mind. There are houses there which were built three hundred years ago, and built of wood, yet are still sound. Each has a character of its own, and their diversity contributes to the essential strangess of the place, which attracts antiquaries and artists to this quarter of Saumur.
Here is how Katharine Prescott Wormeley's translation[3] begins:
There are houses in certain provincial towns whose aspect inspires melancholy, akin to that called forth by sombre cloisters, dreary moorlands, or the desolation of ruins. Within these houses there is, perhaps, the silence of the cloister, the barrenness of moors, the skeleton of ruins; life and movement are so stagnant there that a stranger might think them uninhabited, were it not that he encounters suddenly the pale, cold glance of a motionless person, whose half-monastic face peers beyond the window-casing at the sound of an unaccustomed step.

Such elements of sadness formed the physiognomy, as it were, of a dwelling-house in Saumur which stands at the end of the steep street leading to the chateau in the upper part of the town. This street—now little frequented, hot in summer, cold in winter, dark in certain sections—is remarkable for the resonance of its little pebbly pavement, always clean and dry, for the narrowness of its tortuous road-way, for the peaceful stillness of its houses, which belong to the Old town and are over-topped by the ramparts. Houses three centuries old are still solid, though built of wood, and their divers aspects add to the originality which commends this portion of Saumur to the attention of artists and antiquaries.
In each case the translator was faced with the same task. They needed not to translate Balzac's original word for word but meaning for meaning and theme for theme. They needed to use words to paint the picture that Balzac wanted his readers to have of that town and that house. Balzac's style was inextricable from his themes. Yet the translator is also faced with the task of translating the original book so that it is accessible and understandable to readers who come from a different literary tradition. Such a reader might respond quite differently to the paragraph and sentence structure of the original that would have someone from the original audience. The (French) opening of the book is an extended word picture of a time and place. The sound of the language carries part of the load of "setting the scene." Reading the French out loud carries quite a different feeling than reading the English out loud.

Each translator chose to break up the original long, uninterrupted opening, into smaller paragraphs. I don't know to what degree the existence of earlier translations affected the two quoted above, however both chose to insert paragraph breaks at the same points in the text. I have read other translations that inserted them at different points.

To get a sense of just how difficult it is to pick the "best" translation consider the following. I originally read Eugénie Grandet in French. I was looking for an English "version" more for annotations and footnotes than for a translation of the words since I was sure that I was missing some elements of the book that readers of Balzac's time would have appreciated. I agree that for the modern reader, especially for the modern reader brought up within the styles dominant in the English reading world, stylistic changes may make the book more readable. However, in my opinion, none of the translators quite nails that opening sentence. None of them are able to translate Balzac's opening into one that would repay the type of attention Kit Whitfield brings to the opening sentences she has analyzed.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of translators in general or these translators in particular. Perhaps Balzac's opening sentence could only be translated into English by Balzac himself--if he was fluent in the language. Perhaps the particular quality of that sentence cannot be duplicated in the English language. I don't know. I do know that the more I grapple with that single sentence the greater my admiration and respect for translators.

Note #3: One of the wonderful bonuses of Kindle/Amazon ebooks is that one is usually offered the option to download a sample of the book, generally the first chapter. This allows readers the opportunity to browse books much as one would in a book store or library. One doesn't need to own a Kindle to do this. The "Kindle for your computers" software is available for free. The sample chapter is downloaded to your computer and you can peruse it at your leisure. I looked for an number of translations of Balzac's books before I wrote this piece and ended up buying my third copy of the book.

[1] Eugénie Grandet is in the public domain. The French text in this article is from the version on the website. insert footnote

[2] Balzac, H. Eugénie Grandet. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1955.

[3] Also available on Project Gutenberg.

Friday, December 9, 2011

100 years ago today: Fighting demon nicotine

Perusing the December 9 1911 issue of the The Logan Republican (Cache County, Utah) an opinion piece on the front page caught my attention, BANEFUL INFLUENCES OF CIGARETTE SMOKING. The article itself was a peculiar mixture of warnings similar to those offered by many medical doctors one hundred years later and warnings that seem utterly nonsensical to us today. The author, Doctor Adamson, warned that smoking and a smoke filled atmosphere was bad for the lungs:
A simple case of pneumonia, but the cough persistent and irritating and will not be relieved by the usual remedies. The case goes from bad to worse, resulting in death. The real cause CIGARETTES!
should you ever visit a prize fight you will notice that just before it begins the referee steps into the ring and says "No Smoking." Now this order is not the result of false sentiment, modesty nor religion, he doesn't care how much you smoke, drink or debauch yourself, but he does know that smoke, even second hand, hurts the lungs and spoils the wind of the fighters and therefore will not permit it.
But Dr. Adamson also warns that cigarette smoking leads to a loss of "mental and moral control." He tells of a man who sat "rolling and smoking" cigarettes in his cell awaiting execution for the crime of shooting his wife to death. He tells of a "cigarette fiend" who actually "had a cigarette between his teeth when he killed his victim." He claims that "without exception" every troubled boy sent to the "Industrial school" was a cigarette smoker.

I wondered how common this perception of nicotine as yet another drug that led to "fiendish" (the common word at the time) behaviour was in 1911. Did this article reflect a common (or at least not uncommon) concern at the time or was it articular to communities such as the Mormons of Utah?

Poking around in the digital files of the Library of Congress one finds that the perception that cigarettes delivered a drug that rivaled morphine in its intensity and undermined the individual who smoked both physically and morally in newspapers across the United States and for years prior to, and after, 1911.

The Adair County News (Kentucky) ran an article THE CIGARETTE FIEND on the front page of the December 3, 1902 issue that captures the flavour of many:
"The cigarette." said a veteran inhaler of the poisonous weed the other day, "has caused the ruin of more young men than whiskey, morphine and 'dope' habits of all kinds. You don't believe it? Don't take my word, but go to the young man of twenty-five who has smoked cigaretts [sic] from his boyhood and ask him. He, like I, speaks from experience. It first robs him of manhood and will power. It incapacitates him for business. It creates a thirst for drink and to soothe his parched lips and tongue takes to strong drink--water doesn't have the desired effect. It robs him of honor and leads him to gamble.
It is fascinating to realize how hard the makers and sellers of cigarettes worked to counteract the fairly common perception that their product undermined the health and morals of its customers. One wonders if those who railed against the habit would have been more successful in preventing its widespread acceptance had they limited their attacks on it to the physical dangers it presented.