Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Little Folly

A Little FollyA Little Folly by Jude Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the other two books by Jude Morgan. Unfortunately, this one fell off for me about half way through. Not sure what was missing or if I just wasn't in the mood. There were some funny observations and situations, but I didn't get much involved with the characters, as I remember doing with An Accomplished Woman and Indiscretion.

A few notable quotes:

"Sir Clement Carnell's ruling passion, until the very last moment of his life, was his passion for ruling. In other times and circumstances he might have made a fine king of the absolute and despotic sort, bringing troublesome provinces to order, crushing rebels under his chariot wheels, and inscribing on a giant column his exact and fearsome laws. Being, however, only a country gentleman of Devonshire, he had to make do with tyrannising his wife and children."

"But Miss Rose's determination to be ignored and slighted was not yet satisfied; and there must be a good deal more fuss about her taking a glass of wine, and her insisting that she did not expect such a privilege, before the matter was done, Miss Rose in this demonstrating the peculiar talent of those who proclaim their absence of self-esteem for getting a lot of attention by pretending they never get any."

"Demi-reps, my dear. Cyprians. Votaries of Venus. The muslin sisterhood." "Oh," said Louisa, in an impressed tone. "I thought they were just prostitutes."

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rights of Man VS Reflections on the Revolution in France

The Writings of Thomas Paine - Volume 2 (1779-1792): the Rights of ManThe Writings of Thomas Paine - Volume 2 (1779-1792): the Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

Reflections on the Revolution in FranceReflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
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So you are reading along in Thomas Paine's defense of the French Revolution when you come across a compelling argument as to why his opponent, Edmund Burke, is not only wrong, but morally reprehensible:

"But Mr. Burke appears to have no idea of principles when he is contemplating Governments. 'Ten years ago,' says he, 'I could have felicitated France on her having a Government, without inquiring what the nature of that Government was, or how it was administered.' Is this the language of a rational man? Is it the language of a heart feeling as it ought to feel for the rights and happiness of the human race? On this ground, Mr. Burke must compliment all Governments in the world, while the victims who suffer under them, whether sold into slavery, or tortured out of existence, are wholly forgotten. It is power, not principles, that Mr. Burke venerates; and under this abominable depravity he is disqualified to judge between them." (p. 23)

Oh, that horrid Burke! See!? He's ethically challenged, so his arguments are invalid. But wait. Here's what Burke actually wrote:

"Abstractedly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I in common sense, ten years ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government, (for she then had a government,) without inquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon its freedom?"

Paine has crafted an artfully edited statement with which to skewer his adversary. Or did he accidentally reverse "could I" to "I could"? Either way, this was long before anyone had coined the term "Fake News."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Promiscuous Knowledge Acquisition

It's not what you're thinking. I'm using the word in the sense of its second, slightly less derogatory meaning:

pro·mis·cu·ous /prəˈmiskyo͞oəs/
demonstrating or implying an undiscriminating or unselective approach; indiscriminate or casual.
"the city fathers were promiscuous with their honors"
synonyms: indiscriminate, undiscriminating, unselective, random, haphazard, irresponsible, unthinking, unconsidered
"promiscuous reading"

From page 26:

This idea came to mind when I started reading my latest eBay acquisition: a set of books called "The Golden Treasury of Knowledge" Margaret Bevans, editor-in-chief. The 16-volume set, originally published by Golden Press in 1961, contains "420 basic articles with 2500 illustrations and maps; not organized alphabetically—random articles on a wide range of topics in each volume, cross-referenced in the index (vol 16). Intended for children (level probably around age 8-12)." This description comes from Goodreads.

When I was young, our family had a set of encyclopedias, but this is something different. The introduction in Volume 1 states, "The articles in the volume are chosen for variety and interest. You can open the book anywhere and find absorbing reading. But when you have read an article that suggests another idea, look in the index in Volume 16 for related articles and facts." What I like about this method is that it is both thought-out and systematic while appealing to the random "scrappy" impulses of a curious mind.

Now, for a sample of the promiscuous content of Volume 1: The Universe, Giotto, Domestic Cats, The First Firearms, Venezuela, The Chestnut Blight, Molecules and Their Structure, The French Revolution. At the back of each volume there is a time chart showing how the periods of history relate and at what time the events in the articles took place.

These are the kinds of books for whiling away an afternoon, whether you are nine years old or a little bit older. And please don't tell me that all this information is available online. While that's perfectly true, it doesn't suit me to stare at a screen any longer than I already do. These books are refreshing, in an old-school kind of way.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Galileo's Daughter

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and LoveGalileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent science biography from the Ambleside Online Year 9 curriculum. I'm trying to pre-read more of the Ambleside books before my children get to them. This is a book that I had wanted to read when it first was published, but I never got around to it.

I had a mistaken notion that Galileo's daughter was also a scientist. She was not. She was born Virginia Galilei in Padua in 1600. Galileo never married her mother, though she bore him three children. Her sister Livia was born a year later and her brother Vincenzio was born in 1606. The two daughters entered the convent in Arcetri while the son was later legitimized by arrangements his father made with church officials. Suor Maria Celeste (Virginia) and Suor Arcangela (Livia) spent most of their lives in the Convent of San Matteo. The convent was of the Order of Saint Clare, known for their vows of extreme poverty modeled on Saint Francis of Assisi. The sisters lived through several rounds of plague outbreaks in Italy and were continually on the verge of starvation. Don't girls always get the best treatment? ... but that's another story.

Dava Sobel uses the letters from Suor Maria Celeste to her famous father to chart the course of his later life. This approach humanizes a figure who was subsequently painted in heroic proportions by his admirers. Galileo's struggle with the Inquisition and censors of his treatises on the revolutionary Copernican heliocentric worldview are the stuff of scientific legend. Galileo the man was not quite so heroic, but who can blame him? When your opponents can torture or kill you for disagreeing with them, it's usually advisable to take a pragmatic approach to dialog.

There were a number of passages that I highlighted throughout the book. My absolute favorite is one tending more towards philosophy than science, but the two were much more closely related in Galileo's time.

"The deeper I go in considering the vanities of popular reasoning, the lighter and more foolish I find them. What greater stupidity can be imagined than that of calling jewels, silver, and gold "precious," and earth and soil "base"? People who do this ought to remember that if there were as great a scarcity of soil as of jewels or precious metals, there would not be a prince who would not spend a bushel of diamonds and rubies and a cartload of gold just to have enough earth to plant a jasmine in a little pot, or to sow an orange seed and watch it sprout, grow, and produce its handsome leaves, its fragrant flowers, and fine fruit. It is scarcity and plenty that make the vulgar take things to be precious or worthless; they call a diamond very beautiful because it is like pure water, and then would not exchange one for ten barrels of water. Those who so greatly exalt incorruptibility, inalterability, etc. are reduced to talking this way, I believe, by their great desire to go on living, and by the terror they have of death. These individuals do not reflect that if men were immortal, they themselves would never have come into the world. Such men really deserve to encounter a Medusa's head which would transmute them into statues of jasper or of diamond, and thus make them more perfect than they are." --Galileo's "Dialogue" translated by Stillman Drake

Apart from refusing to suffer fools gladly, unless instructed by the Inquisition to do so, Galileo is cemented in my memory with this quote:

"Galileo prided himself on having been the first to build a proper telescope and point it toward the sky. But he believed his own greater genius lay in his ability to observe the world at hand, to understand the behavior of its parts, and to describe those in terms of mathematical proportions." (326)

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Nature Journal Struggles

Yesterday a small group of Charlotte Mason homeschoolers visited the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase. We tramped around the woods, collecting small items for our nature journals. The children were naturals at noticing things around them and taking the time to draw and record in their journals. It was so easy. Why have I made it so hard?

I've been struggling to integrate meaningful nature journaling in our studies for years. It has been hit-or-miss at best. A few times I've been absorbed in a drawing and thought how much I want this to grow, both for myself and my children, but somehow it gets squeezed out.

Almost ten years ago, I purchased a book in hopes of keeping a nature journal.

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around YouKeeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My 2008 review: Reading some of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy inspired me to try to capture the natural world on paper -- ideas, impressions, and sketches. It's surprising the amount of nature you can find in your own backyard and by walking down the street! I hope to make this a continuing project with my kids for years to come.

This is a great resource. I sketched our bird feeder this afternoon and incorporated several ideas from Ms. Leslie's book. The struggle continues.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Grove of Eagles

The Grove of EaglesThe Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Winston Graham's historical novel of Elizabethan England is not his best, but is still better than most contemporary historical fiction. The male protagonist in this novel did not engage my imagination as well as other novels. Graham seems better at female characters, for whatever reason. I skimmed the third quarter of the novel, but the early part of the story and the conclusion were good reading. Plenty of historical figures including Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Essex, the Cecils, and the Howards. 3 1/2 stars.

From early in the story:

"Before I was old enough to reason I came to love the sea, to know it as an element as natural as earth. As soon as I was old enough to reason I came to fear it--not as an element but for what it could bring." the Spanish Armada. Later on, the main character becomes a secretary to Walter Raleigh. The English spell it "Ralegh" without an i. However, there was definitely an "i" in Ralegh. But that's another story.

"The environment into which Walter Ralegh took me...was a foreign to life at Arwenack as the de Prada house in Madrid. ...Doors of the mind were opened looking upon new and exciting country as vivid and as unexplored as anything in Guiana or the colony of Virginia. Here were books treating of every subject from astrology to campaigns of war, from botany to Greek history, from chemistry and experiments in alchemy to poetry and philosophical speculation. Nor were they ranged along the walls of a single room; they proliferated about the house, left open on tables and settles, dropped where they had been temporarily abandoned and where they would be most convenient picked up. Globes and maps abounded and musical instruments and paintings and busts, and old parchments and vivid tapestries..."

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