A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Big Daddy Khan

Statue of Genghis Khan in front of the Government Building in Sükhbaatar
Square, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  Image courtesy of GenuineMongol/Wikipedia.

In December of 1241, Mongol armies stood poised to invade Vienna and northern Albania.  Thus far they had been unstoppable as they spread into Europe.  Led by Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis by his son Jochi, at the last minute he was informed of the death of the current great Khan, Ogedei.  According to Mongolian military tradition, when a Khan died all the princes immediately met to elect a successor.  Europe was saved from what would have been an inevitable takeover.

Coin of Genghis Khan minted at Balkh, Afghanistan in 1221 CE.
Image courtesy of PHGCOM/Wikipedia.

The Khan lineage did manage a huge takeover in another realm - genetically.  For centuries most Asian potentates have claimed descent, many spurious, from the House of Borjigin - the most famous family in Central Asia.  Members of the clan are still found throughout Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Kazakhstan.  According to legend, one of the female ancestors was impregnated by a ray of light, and the spawn of that light sired the entire Mongol nation.

Portrait of Genghis Khan.  Image courtesy of Cultural China.

However, with the advent of genealogical DNA testing, which examines the nucleotides at specific locations on a DNA strand, it is possible to really trace the ancestry of the Great Mongol ruler Genghis Khan.  A man's patrilineal ancestry can be traced using the DNA on his Y chromosome.  The Y chromosome passes down virtually unchanged from father to son, unlike other parts of the genome which recombine.  A man's test results are compared to another man's to determine when they shared a "most recent common ancestor" or MRCA.  (Matrilineal ancestry can be using mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA.)

Portrait of Genghis Khan from the 14th century.  Paint and
ink on silk.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 2003, an international group of scientists identified a Y-chromosomal lineage present in about 8% of the men in a large region of Asia (amounting to about 0.5% of all men in the world), or about 16 million descendants living today.  The pattern of variation they found led to their hypothesis that the lineage originated in Mongolia some 1,000 years ago, which makes it prior to the birth of Genghis Khan, but consistent with the founding of the Borjigin clan.

Reverse of a 100 Tenge coin from Kazakhstan.
Image courtesy of the Nat'l Bank of Kazakhstan.

This kind of spread is considered to be too rapid to have been caused by genetic drift, the effects of which are much smaller in large populations.  Therefore it has to have been the result of selection.  The 23 authors of the 2003 study proposed that the lineage was carried by male descendants of Genghis Khan and his close male relatives which spread through social selection.  This is consistent with the then  prevalent Mongol custom of having several wives, concubines, and unfortunately, the rape of conquered women.

The Mongol Empire circa 1311.  Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the authors, geneticist Spencer Wells, stated, "It's the first documented case when human culture has caused a single genetic lineage to increase to such an enormous extent in just a few hundred years."  When Genghis Khan died, his empire extended across Asia, from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea.  Whole populations were slaughtered, but the most beautiful women were taken for harems, and Big Daddy got first pick.

Portrait of Empress Xiao Zhuang Wen (1613-1688), historically
the mother of the Qing dynasty, she was a descendant of
Genghis Khan.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Included in the spreading of the great Khan's genes were some of the ruling descendant groups:  The Yüan Dynasty, the Chaghatai Khans, the Ilkhanids of Persia, the Shaybanids of Siberia, the Korean Goryeo Dynasty, and the Astrakhanids of Central Asia.  There have been many specious claims of descent from Genghis Khan, including western genealogists who have tried to link Queen Elizabeth II to him.

Chokan Valikhanov (l) (1835-1865) shown here with Doestoevsky.
Valikhanov was a well-known Kazakh scholar and historian who
was a descendant of Genghis Khan.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the populations, the Hazaras of Pakistan, had a long tradition of claiming descent from Genghis Khan.  This group was the only one from the study found outside of Mongolia, proving their claim.  However, the most conclusive proof will be had once the great Khan's grave is found and DNA extracted from his remains. The search for his final resting place has been ongoing and futile. Legend has it that everyone involved in his burial will killed for secrecy, and a river was diverted over his gravesite to confuse future seekers.

Portrait of Genghis Khan on a Mongolian hillside for the 2006 Naadam
celebration - a summer festival held for centuries comprised of three games:
wrestling, horse racing, and archery.  Image courtesy of Vidor/Wikipedia.

Which begs the question:  Who's your daddy?

Click here to see an article from The American 
Journal of Human Genetics from 2003.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bagging Books

A book purse made from Journeys Through Bookland.

Looking for a novel fashion accessory - literally?  How about a book made into a bag or wallet?  Caitlin Phillips of Rebound Designs makes them, to the tune of about 600-700 a year.  This year she’s made 265 so far, but the holiday season is approaching.

Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl.

Ms. Phillips removes pages from books while leaving the covers intact.  The spines become the bottoms of her purses.  She takes care to only use books that are damaged, falling apart, unwanted or being thrown out.  Out-of-date textbooks work well. When she does use new books she uses ones that are mass-produced classics.
Janson's History of Art.

Her pieces are handcrafted and take ten to twelve hours to make, not including the time spent on gathering books and searching for the right fabric.  Fabrics are specially selected for their respective pieces, so the fabric is only used once.  

Oliver Twist.

The handles are mostly beaded and match the books.  Each piece is fully lined with 100% cotton fabric, and has a pocket to hold a small cell phone or wallet.  There are extra reinforcements to the spines.  While these pieces are not designed for everyday use, they are much more durable than they were as books.

The Scarlet Letter.

While she doesn't remove water spots, torn or bent cover edges, or stray markings, which she feels adds to the character of the piece, she does give advice on their proper care.  Rain or shine can be a problem - no leaving them in the sun for very long, or getting them wet.  The handles fold inside, so the pieces can be stored on a shelf, just like the books they once were.
James Joyce's Ulysses.

Ms. Phillips does custom orders and gets requests for them every week.  Although she often is asked for books that she’s done before, each one is unique.  She offers a variety of choices in fabrics and handles to customers to ensure the items are not only made to order but are one of a kind.  She will also find a specific title for customers.  Her stock of books is in the thousands, but if she doesn’t already have it she will hunt library sales and online for it.  Many people give her their own books, ranging from new ones to an old, treasured but damaged book.  Some authors bring her their own books.

A custom-made purse of Jane Eyre.  From a choice of five fabrics and two
handle options.  Click here to read more about this purse and options.
Custom orders can take two-three weeks to complete.

Jane Austen is one of the most sought-after authors.  Although the most popular book once was Pride and Prejudice, people are also responding more to Emma and Sense and Sensibility.  As Phillips states, “Austen seems to appeal to a very broad spectrum of women of all ages and backgrounds; her appeal is really timeless.  She’s not a passing fad, and the women who buy my purses aren’t necessarily interested in fads, but rather in things that they can connect to.  Her work is so funny, much sharper than a casual reader might think, and unlike some books women read in their youth that later in life seem a bit dated, her books stand up to multiple readings.  Of course, I’m a fan as well, so my personal bias shows.”

Above and below, two different treatments for Pride and Prejudice.

Ms. Phillips comes by her knowledge of books with the expertise of someone who graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with degrees in English and Drama.  She started out as a drama major, but since she tested out of all the freshman requirements, she was able to take whatever she wanted to earn credits.  She would go to the campus bookstore, checkout the reading lists, and sign up for classes based on them.

The Adventures of Robin Hood.

She intended to pursue graduate work in Theater Studies, which is more academic than performance based, but the universe had different plans.  She doesn’t perform professionally any more, but is part of an amateur troupe, and occasionally steps in last-minute on a production.
A Singer Sewing Book.

This is what happens when a creative person is raised to recycle and craft.  Her idea arose from working in a used bookstore and seeing what was unwanted and discarded.  Since she grew up frequenting bookstores and fabric stores, she combines two loves into one endeavor.

Nancy Drew, front and back.

At times repetition rules the day, but mostly her work is stimulating.  Each book is different and the purses often turn out “spectacularly different” than she expected.  She listens to books on tape while she works - an interesting concept as she sees, touches, hears, and thinks about books simultaneously.  She has a part-time assistant, Devon, who helps deal with the volume and photographing the finished items.

For men too self-conscious to carry a "purse", a wallet might do.  Her wallets are slim and folded so they aren't bulky.  They are protected by a double layer of water-resistant vinyl, and include pockets for credit cards, business cards, and ID.  These are a fairly new item for her.  She’s getting a lot of requests for iPad, Kindle, and other ebook covers, which she may offer in the future.  Right now she’s trying to streamline her process to have more time for reading, friends, and yes, she has cats.  (Books and cats seem a universal combination.)

These ingenious creations give new meaning to the word "pocketbook".  If you get one large enough (or if you are reading a small book), you can stash your book in your book.  An Alice in Wonderland purse just made my wish list...

All images courtesy of  Rebound Designs.
Caveat:  if you are interested in purchasing 
or commissioning an item now is the time 
as the holiday season is quickly approaching!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Librarian Liberators

Chief librarian Madame Jocasta Nu from Star Wars Episode II:
Attack of the Clones.  Image courtesy www.starwars.com.

Is this your notion of a librarian - a gray-haired, bun-coiffed woman?  Of course, this one does not appear to have the requisite spectacles.  When I was teaching and tired of constantly putting on and taking off my glasses (I can see distance like a hawk, but can't read a menu without help) I started wearing an eyeglass necklace. One day after school my principal saw me walking out the door wearing them.  He laughed and teased me about how "only librarians wear those". I pointed to my husband (a librarian) who had come to pick me up, and said, "He doesn't."  My principal blushed, but that seems to be one of the common perceptions about librarians.

Far from being the mousy, shushing, bespectacled, gray women of most people's perceptions, librarians come in a variety of packaging (including "guybrarians") and can be ardent defenders of their beliefs.  Take the ALA (American Library Association), for example.  They have promoted books, ideas, learning, and the freedoms due them.  Founded in 1876,  they took on the task of supplying library materials and services through their Committee on Mobilization and War Service Plans (later called the War Service Committee) in 1917.

This was at the invitation of the War Department's Commission on Training Camp Activities to provide library service to the U.S. soldiers and sailors in the U.S., France and other locations.  The ALA was one of seven welfare groups affiliated with the Commission.  The ALA's wartime program, The Library War Service, was directed by Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, and later Carl H. Milam.

In the three years between 1917 and 1920, the ALA, whose membership was about 3,300, managed some remarkable achievements:  they raised $5 million in public donations through two campaigns; they established 36 camp libraries with $230,000 in funds from the Carnegie Corporation; they distributed approximately 7-10,000,000 books and reading materials; and provided library collections to over 500 locations, including military hospitals.

The work of the Library War Services continued after World War I. Importantly, permanent library departments were created in the Army, Navy, and Veteran's Bureau.  The American Merchant Marine Library Association was founded in 1921 for the purpose of  establishing and promoting professional library services to personnel of the American Merchant Marine, U.S. Coast Guard ships, stations, lightships, and lighthouses.

But perhaps most importantly was establishing the American Library in Paris, initially in 1918 but officially in 1920.  This was founded by community support and with 30,000 books left over from the Library War Service.  It is a private, non-profit association and is now the largest English-language lending library in Europe.  Their motto is atrum post bellum, ex libris lux, or "after the darkness of war, the light of books".

One of the first trustees was Edith Wharton.  Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein were early patrons, and contributed to the Library's periodical Ex Libris, which is still in publication as a newsletter.  Patrons such as Archibald MacLeish and Thornton Wilder borrowed books.  Stephen Vincent Benét wrote "John Brown's Body" there in 1928.  When Sylvia Beach closed Shakespeare & Company in 1951 she donated books from her lending library to the American Library in Paris.

Image by Elaine of www.europeaupif.com.

During the Nazi occupation of France, when French Jews were under threat, the Library operated an underground service, lending books to Jewish members.  In 1952, Director Ian Forbes Fraser barred the door to an inspection visit by McCarthy cronies Roy Cohn and Joseph Schine, who were touring Europe in search of "red" books in American libraries (the American Library in Paris is incorporated in the U.S.).  Today the Library is part of the American University in Paris.

Although, sadly, no such guild exists, this image can be purchased on a tshirt or
tote bag at this site.  The motto means "we know what you read, and we're not saying".

The ALA continued during World War II with its efforts to provide services to the armed forces.  The Victory Book Campaign in the 1940s stimulated civilian book donations.  This project was a favorite of FDR, and is a reflection of the perception of the war as a struggle between democracy and fascism.  It was a joint effort of the ALA, American Red Cross and the United Service Organization (USO).  All together 10 million books were delivered.  They were received, sorted, packed, and shipped by librarians.

These two images are courtesy of www.ohiohistory.org.
They were published by the US GPO and distributed by
the Office of War Information, Division of Public
Inquiry to many U.S. libraries in 1942.

Being a librarian means knowing how to access all types of information.  It also means protecting the freedom of information and helping everyone gain access. Librarians are often moral activists.  Wars are fought on all different kinds of fronts, and the ones that keep information and privacy free are of the utmost importance to us all.  It's comforting to know that there is a trained army ready to fight and protect us from intellectual tyranny.

Caption on sash reads "Read me my rights".
Image courtesy of Flickr.
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of the ALA.

This button can be ordered from the ALA.  It was inspired by
documents from the FBI which revealed a series of emails in
which FBI agents complained about "radical, militant librarians".
This button raises awareness of the overreaching aspects of
the U.S. Patriot Act.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Persistence, Thy Name is Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace at age 24 in 1848.

The late 1700s and early 1800s saw a huge explosion of discovery in the study of flora and fauna,  perhaps thanks to botanist Joseph Banks (who was with Captain James Cook from 1768 to 1771 when Cook went to the South Seas).  Banks collected 30,000 plant specimens, including 1,400 never before documented. Lured by both scientific interests and salability, plant hunters searched the world over for new species.  Along with them were the scientists interested in animal and insect species.

Batocera wallacei (female) a longhorn beetle discovered by
Wallace on the Aru Islands in Indonesia.

Alfred Russel Wallace started out as an apprentice surveyor for his older brother. He then served as a schoolmaster teaching drawing, mapmaking and surveying. He met entomologist Henry Bates which changed his life.  He started collecting insects himself, and became inspired by reading the writings of traveling naturalists, including Charles Darwin.  He decided he wanted to travel abroad as a naturalist, and with Henry Bates went to Brazil to collect insects.  He spent four years there, taking notes on the flora, fauna, geography, and the peoples and their languages that he encountered.

Photograph by an unknown photographer of Wallace in Singapore, 1862.

This was not an easy trip.  They were not at all prepared for the tropical rainforest. Tormented by his subject insects, thought to be crazy by his native guides when he preserved his samples in their homemade alcohol instead of drinking it, he even broke his glasses which were crucial for his work.  He finally boarded a ship for home with all of his specimens.  Twenty-eight days out to sea and the ship caught fire, burning everything he had spent the time collecting, save for part of his diary and some sketches.  He was saved by a lifeboat.  Fortunately he was insured.

Undaunted, he later sailed to the Malay Archipelago, which is now Malaysia and Indonesia, where he spent eight years racking up about 14,000 miles of travel and visiting every important island in the region at least once.  There he collected 110,000 insects, 8050 birds, and 410 mammal and reptile specimens, thousands of which had never been documented.

Drawing of a Flying Frog from Wallace's book The Malay Archipelago on wood
by Dutch illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

During his explorations he expanded and established his thoughts on evolution and came up with an insight on natural selection.  He sent an article he wrote on his theory to Darwin, and it was published along with a description of Darwin's theory that year.  He published his studies and experiences in 1869 in The Malay Archipelago.  Dedicated to Charles Darwin, the book enjoyed great popularity and was continously in print until the early 20th century.  The novelist Joseph Conrad was a big fan and used it as a source of information for his writings, particularly for his novel Lord Jim.

Image courtesy of www.age-of-the-sage.com

Although Darwin seems to steal all the credit for the theory of evolution, both men came upon similar ideas simultaneously.  Darwin coined the term natural selection.  He had been working on his theory for some time when Wallace began sharing his own thoughts.  To Darwin's surprise, Wallace's thoughts on evolution mirrored his own.  Wallace had been supplying Darwin with bird specimens for his studies when he decided to seek Darwin's help in publishing his theories.  Charles Lyell, the foremost geologist of the time, arranged for both men to present their theories to a meeting of the Linnean Society in 1858.  Darwin developed his work into his famous book On the Origin of Species, which was published in 1859. Wallace chose to continue his travels and study.  Some historians and scholars construct a rivalry between the two men, but they continued to correspond and support each other's work.  Darwin was instrumental in helping Wallace secure a pension when he fell on hard times financially.

Wallace went on to do a great many things, becoming what some historians call the father of biogeography for his work on the geographical distribution of animal species.  But what impresses me is that from what I would call a harsh start collecting insects and plants, he endured and went on to pursuits that changed the course of science.   The Victorian era was a golden era for animal, insect, and plant collecting, and these hunters were courageous adventurers, some of whom risked their lives.  Sheesh!  I get upset when I get a hangnail!


Monday, July 4, 2011

Fools, Fashionistas, and Fighters

Fireworks display at the Washington Monument on July 4, 1986.
Photo by Sgt. Lono Kollars, courtesy of the DOD.

Today we celebrate Independence Day in the United States.  This commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring the independence of the Thirteen Colonies from the Kingdom of Great Britain.  While the United States has many patriotic songs - The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, to name a couple - one that is still sung is Yankee Doodle.

Yankee Doodle is an Anglo-American song that is also the state anthem of Connecticut.  It is Number 4501 on the Roud Folk Song Index, a database of over 300,000 songs that have been collected from all over the world from oral traditions in the English language.

The Old Van Rensselaer House where Dr. Richard Shuckburg is said to have written
Yankee Doodle, Albany, New York 1907.  Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

It was originally sung by British troops mocking the ragtag colonial troops. The Continental Army was impoverished, and their dress was shabby and tattered. What they had going for them was spirit, but to the British troops, they were quite absurd.

Although there is some disagreement on the origins of the word "yankee" (and isn't there always?), in the final consensus it appears the word came from the Dutch. The Flemish called the Dutch disparagingly either Janke, literally "little John", or Jan Kaas, literally "John Cheese".  The Dutch turned around and applied it to the English colonists.  It was used as far back as 1683 by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) for the English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. During the Revolutionary War it became a negative and unfavorable term for all the colonists.

"The Spirit of '76", originally called "Yankee Doodle", by A.M. Willard, circa 1875.
This is one of the most famous paintings of the Revolutionary War.  Image courtesy this site.

The term doodle means fool or simpleton, a sorry and trifling fellow.  It first appeared in use in the early 17th century, possibly from the Low German dudel or dödel meaning the same.  The first verse of the song is as follows:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni.

Macaroni?  Well, it seems that the macaroni reference is yet another slur. Macaroni (sometimes maccaroni) was a pejorative term for one "who exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion".  So the song implies that the "doodles" were so foolish as to think that sticking a feather in their hat would make them a macaroni, which they were low-class enough to aspire to. Again, insinuating that the colonists were trying to be something which they were not.  

In 1764 Horace Walpole mentioned "The Maccaroni Club (which is composed of all the traveled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses)".  Basically it was a label for men and women who tried to affect the dress, mainly a hairstyle, of the upper classes.  In 1770, Oxford magazine wrote, "There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up amongst us.  It is called Macaroni.  It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion."

It was quite the vogue in the 1770s.  The images below (from the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale, except for the last one) show how these fashionistas were caricatured and satirized:

"The Macaroni", printed for John Bowles in London, July 3, 1773.  Note the
tricorn hat on top of his massive hair, the curls to the side, and the rosettes on his shoes.
"The Paintress of Maccaroni's", printed for Carington Bowles, London, April 13, 1772.
The paintress has been suggested to be Angelika Kauffman.
"The Macaroni Painter, or Billy Dimple sitting for his Picture", by Robert Dighton, engraving
by Richard Earlom; printed for Bowles and Carver, London, September 25, 1772.  The
painter is Richard Cosway, who was known for his foppish dress.  Note the pictures on
the wall behind as well - all are in the "macaroni style".
"What is this my Son Tom", published by R. Sayer and J. Bennett, London, 1774.
This was  London, and you can see the difference in styles between father and son.
Image courtesy Library of Congress.  The poem reads:

Our wise Forefathers would express
Ev'n Sensibility in Dress;
The moden Race delight to Shew
What Folly in Excess can do.
The honest Farmer come to town
Can scarce believe his Son his own.
If thus the Taste continues Here,
What will it be another Year?

According to the Library of Congress, Oscar Sonneck researched the origins of the song in 1909.  He found a reference to it in an early U.S. opera, The Disappointment, in 1767.  He concluded that it was written by Shuckburg, or a version of it was, during the French and Indian wars at the home of the Van Rensselaer family.  This family was an influential family of patroons in New York, and Shuckburg was a British army surgeon.

Underscoring the silly, foppishness of the original song, it was the inspiration for a song from a musical called Little Johnny Jones by George M. Cohan.  This opened on Broadway in 1904, and was made into a movie titled Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942 starring James Cagney.  A "dandy" is a clotheshorse, a fop, a fashion plate. The song that Cohan wrote was called The Yankee Doodle Boy, and drew from the lyrics and melody of Yankee Doodle.

So there we have it.  An old, much-loved song that made fun of the militia.  I guess the colonists had the last laugh, though, and perhaps that's why a song intended to ridicule became a symbol of the underdog.