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

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Friday, September 30, 2011

The Greatest Collection of Edited and Revised Books

The Qianlong Emperor, aka Hongli, 1736.

The Siku Quanshu, aka Imperial Collection of Four, Emperor's Four Treasuries, Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature, or Complete Library of Four Treasuries, is a catalog of 3,461 titles from the imperial collection and libraries of Qing China.  They were bound in 36,381 volumes of more than 79,000 chapters.  It took 9 years to complete.

Front page of the Siku Quanshu.

When it was commissioned, the Yongle Encyclopedia was the world's largest encyclopedia, made in 1403 during the Ming dynasty.  The Qianlong Emperor wanted to demonstration the superiority of the Qing dynasty, so he initiated it in 1773.

Việt Sử Lược, a Vietnamese Chronicle.

The chief editors were Ji Yun and Lu Xixiong, who had an editorial board of 361 scholars to work with.  They initially collected over 10,000 manuscripts.  15,000 copyists work on the project.  Over 3,000 of the works were destroyed, as they were considered to be anti-Manchu (the Manchus led the Qing dynasty).

A copy of a book written by a Jesuit missionary to introduce western knowledge
to the Ming empire, written circa 1623, and included in the collection.

There are four parts to the collection, named for the imperial library divisions:  "Classics"; "Histories", histories and geographies; "Masters", philosophy, arts, and sciences from Chinese philosophy; and "Collections", anthologies from Chinese literature.  The books were further divided into 44 categories, and include major texts from the Zhou Dynasty on, covering all fields of learning.

Page one of the Sea Island Mathematical Manual.

Four copies were made for the Emperor and stored in specially constructed libraries in the Forbidden City, Old Summer Palace, Shenyang, and Chengde. Three other copies were placed in libraries in Hangzhou, Zhenjiang, and Yangzhou for the public.  There are four copies extant today at in Beijing, Taipe, Lanzhou, and Hangzhou.

Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, originally written in 646 CE.

The Emperor initially had a tough time getting citizens to lend the project their books, for fear of persecution and the loss of their books.  So small a number turned in books that the Emperor issued a decree stating the books would be returned when the project was finished, and that the owners would not be persecuted.  This resulted in more books being loaned.  The Emperor also made promises and offered rewards to the owners, saying he would add his own personal calligraphy to the books.  The amount of books turned in doubled.

A Ming dynasty text.

While it preserved many works, the destruction and suppression of opposing political views is a loss.  These unfit works were considered rebellious, anti-Qing, insulted previous (albeit "barbarian") dynasties, or dealt with the problems of defending the empire and its borders.  Some works were merely modified to make them more politically correct.  Most of the works destroyed were from the Ming dynasty.  The Siku Jinshu is the catalog of all the books that were banned, containing 2,855 titles which were burned.

An example of the Emperor's calligraphy.

Aside from editing, revising, and destroying texts, the authoritative body examined new writings.  If any word or sentence was deemed derogatory, the author(s) would be persecuted.  In the Qianlong Emperor's time there were 53 cases of literary inquisition.  The punishments were beheading, corpse mutilation, or being sliced into pieces until dead.

The Emperor doing calligraphy, mid-18th century.

The Qianlong Emperor was a major patron of the arts, and saw his efforts to preserve and restore Chinese culture as very important.  He acquired rare paintings and antiquities by any means necessary.  He often added poetic inscriptions to paintings, which were considered a mark of distinction.  Unique to him was the habit of using his reflections on paintings to mark them, almost like a diary.

Example of the Emperor's calligraphy, mid-18th century.

He, himself, was a prolific writer, publishing over 40,000 poems and 1,300 prose texts in a series of his collected writings done between 1749 and 1800.  He eventually became bored and disillusioned with being an emperor, and left the governing of the empire to his officials, who were corrupt.  Between the monies spent collecting art and literature and living a very luxurious life, and the embezzlement and corrupt actions of his officials, his dynasty and empire gradually declined.

A work on Tibetan Buddhism by the Emperor, 1792.

Today, while this is looked upon as an achievement, it is more of an example of censorship, book banning, and historical deletion.  The Qianlong Emperor would probably be very dismayed, as he thought of himself as the ultimate scholar.  We think that the internet is merciless in tracking our sins, but the centuries have not been kind to the Emperor.  He receives his just but rather evil reputation, and we mourn the loss of not him, but the books he destroyed.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Election Protection: Avoiding the "F" Word

Next year there will be a presidential election, and even though it's over a year away, things are already heating up.  It's going to be an interesting year.  (Is that old Chinese saw "may you live in interesting times" wishing one well, or is it a curse?)  Already people are saying, "Enough!  Can we go just one day without any political news?"


No.  We can't.  These are serious times, and they require both serious thoughts and serious actions.  The news cycle is rampant with reports that seem ridiculous, and of course it's the job of the news media to stir things up, but there is an underlying threat that we can't afford to ignore.


One of the things we have to start working on NOW is electoral fraud.  This is illegal interference with the process of an election, also known as voter fraud. This kind of deception is used to bring about a desired election result by increasing the votes of a favored candidate or oppressing the votes of an opponent.  Typically it is done by illegal voter registration, improper counting, or intimidation at polls. But there are other ways to influence the vote.

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electorate boundaries in order to produce the desired result.  This may result in a candidate getting the most votes overall, but still losing the election.  Because this redrawing of boundaries is not illegal, thus technically not electoral fraud, it is considered to be a violation of the principles of democracy.  This has been recently proposed in Ohio, among other places in the U.S.

Voter misinformation is also common.  If voters are given the wrong information about time or place of polls, they will miss their chance to vote.  This past August the Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing political advocacy group funded by the infamous Koch brothers, distributed flyers in Democratic areas of Wisconsin districts advising voters to send in their votes two days after the deadline.

Wisconsin voters, image courtesy of AP.

Also in Wisconsin earlier this month, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sent an internal memo instructing personnel to not tell residents about the free ID that is now required to vote.  The ID costs $28 if people don't specifically ask for the free one.  This would be a deterrent to voting, especially for voters who are having a hard time financially.

Image courtesy of this site.

U.S. citizens are familiar with confusing ballots.  That's how Dubya was elected in 2000.  There are instances of ballot stuffing, miscounting, vote buying, and other dubious manipulations, but one that is being addressed is voter intimidation. Although this includes threats, violent or economic ones, it also means making it difficult to get into a polling place, or being told that it is the wrong place.  There is a group that focuses on this.

Image courtesy of this site

The Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have the opportunity to vote.  This is a non-partisan group that works to see that all can vote, regardless of which party they choose.  Staffed by thousands of volunteers who are trained to be on the lookout for voter intimidation and to help people find the right polling places, it partners with a wide variety of organizations also bent on seeing democracy done right, such as the Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, the American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to name just a few.

Right now they are in need of attorneys, paralegals, and law students to answer hotlines, and serve on legal field deployments on Election Day.  Check back with their website to see what other needs crop up, and to contact your local group.

But the main thing is to vote.  Yes, it can be discouraging and tiring to hear all the political ranting and raving.  There may not be a candidate that you can really get behind - often times it's just a matter of picking the lesser of two evils.  But vote! You have one voice; use it.  Otherwise, don't complain, don't joke, don't comment, just keep your voice locked up with your refusal to take part in democracy.  And know that you are part of the problem.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just the Basics

iPhone 4 image courtesy of Apple.

Apple just announced the new iPhone 5, which has some users very annoyed, having recently purchased iPhone 4.  Every few months it seems that there's a new mobile phone that is quicker, smarter, with more bells and whistles.  That's why I was so amused to learn of what might be called the "anti-smart" phone.

John's Phone is touted as the world's most basic cell phone.  Designed by the Dutch firm John Doe Amsterdam, it is being marketed as perfect for the elderly, children, or technophobes.  Or people who want just the basics.

No internet, no camera, no text-messaging, no selection of ringtones, just big keys that one can use to call anywhere in the world.  No explanation is required to learn how to use it.  Just call and hangup, adjust the volume, lock or unlock it, and one can save numbers to speed dial under each number key.

No address book, or at least not one you access within the phone itself.  There is a 32-page paper address book attached to the back of the phone with an ink pen resembling a stylus (a unique twist!), a notepad, and for gamers the "games" section in the notepad allows you to play tic-tac-toe.  This little book also has pages printed with "Write your text message here", with lines for To, From and the message.

Since it is an unlocked cell phone, it can be used with a prepaid, contract, national, or international SIM card.  It will not work on 3G or CDMA networks.  There is an integrated antenna, but no speaker phone.  There is a single ringtone with three settings:  loud, normal, and silent.  All three can be set to vibrate.

There is a small screen that displays inbound and outbound calls.  A set of earphones comes with each phone.  The battery is good for six hours of use, and about three weeks for standby.  The battery is an integrated lithium-ion battery, chargeable by using the (EU) adapter or USB cable included.

The phone is made of high-quality plastic and is water-resistant.  It weighs roughly 3-1/3 ounces, and is about 4.13" x 2.36" and is .59" thick.  John's phone is available in snow (white), business (black), tree (brown keys on black), grass (green), sweet (pink), and bar (metallic gold).  They cost $100 each ($150 for "bar") and shipping, via UPS or PostNL, is $10 for countries in the EU (free for the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Denmark, and the United Kingdom); $15 for the rest of the world.  Delivery is between 1-6 working days.

Be the first one on your block to make the pure and simple cell phone fashion statement.
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of John's website.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Symbol of Democracy and Classical Art: the Parthenon

It is a readily recognizable icon that every schoolchild knows - the Parthenon.  It is the most important surviving example of classical Greek art and an icon for Athenian democracy.  Built on the Acropolis, the seat of the Delian league, in the mid-5th century BCE, it was then and still is considered the finest example of a Doric temple ever built.

It's said that the Greeks have a word for it, but where the word "parthenon" came from is debatable.  The word "parthénos" has an unclear etymology.  It means a maiden or girl, but also means a virgin or unmarried woman.  It was applied to Athena and Artemis, maiden goddesses.  "Virgin" seems to be the reference, as "parthenoi" are the virgins who safeguard the city.  The parthenon may have been a room in the temple, which one is unknown, that were the "virgin's apartments", and may have referred to a room where a peplos, a garment, was woven and given to Athena by the Arrephoros, young girls who served in the cult of Athena.

Block V (fragment) from the east frieze of the Parthenon, circa 447-433 BCE.
This shows a new peplos being brought for Athena.  This is one of the so-called
"Elgin" marbles in the British Museum.  Click here to see their take on them.

Originally it was the home of a massive chryselephantine sculpture of Athena made by Phidias, called "Athena Parthenos".  It was the most famous cult image, and was the masterpiece of the most acclaimed sculptor in ancient Greece.  There have been a number of replicas, which is how we know about it, for the original has been lost.  Begun about 447 BCE, the gold sheets which covered it were removed in 296 BCE and were replaced by gilded bronze plates.  In 165 BCE it was damaged by fire, but repaired.  It remained in the Parthenon until the 5th century CE, and was mentioned in an account in the 10th century CE in Constantinople, where it was taken, but may have been destroyed in another fire.

The Varvakeion Athena, a Roman copy made of marble in the 2nd
century CE, is considered to be most faithful to the original.  Her
garment is belted by a pair of serpents, a winged Nike stands on her
right hand, and a sphinx in the center of her headdress. 

The Parthenon is no stranger to damage and destruction.  The first attempt to build a temple for Athena Parthenos was just after the battle of Marathon in 490-488 BCE.  It was replaced by a larger temple which was still being built when the Acropolis was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE.  During the "golden age" of Pericles the Acropolis was the site of an important project which included the Parthenon.  Under the general supervision of Phidias, architects Kallikrates and Iktinos began work in 447 BCE and completed it by 432 BCE.  Some of the decorations took another year to complete.

An engraving from A. Rosengarten, 1898,
A Handbook of Architectural Styles, NY.

The platform it is built on, or stylobate, is where the pillars stand, and has a slight parabolic curvature upward to reinforce the structure and deflect rain.  The columns lean inwards slightly, and if they were extended they would meet about a mile above the center of the structure.  There is a slight bulge to the columns, known as entasis, which was used since the pyramids in Egypt and even during the Renaissance.  Although some studies claim that its proportions approximate the golden ratio, recent studies claim otherwise.

The Parthenon was a treasury, used to store the votive offerings to the gods, of the Delian League which was moved from Delos once the Parthenon was completed. Consistent with a treasury building, there were a series of marble panels, metopes, on the outside walls.  Each side had a different subject.  Some have been destroyed, primarily from a cannonball in 1687 during a Venetian attack; fifteen from the southern wall were removed and are part of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.

A centaur and a lapith fighting.  From the southern wall, currently in London.

The southern wall showed the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs.  The Lapiths were a legendary people from Thessaly in Greek mythology.  At a wedding feast where the centaurs were not invited, they crashed the scene and tried raping the women.  The centaurs were kicked out and expelled from Thessaly.  What is known of the missing metopes is from drawings done in 1674, and their subject matter is not clear.  In March this year five metopes were discovered in the southern wall of the Acropolis.  They were most likely placed there in efforts to repair and extend the wall when the Acropolis was used as a fortress in the 18th century.

Another metope from the southern wall, also in the British Museum.

The eastern metopes were over the main entrance, and show the battle between the Olympian gods and the giants.  They are in poor condition, and identification of the figures is guesswork.

The eastern metopes.

The northern metopes show scenes from the Trojan War.  The western metopes depict the invasion of Athens by Amazons, however, because of the Amazons in eastern clothing, scholars consider them to really be about the Persian wars.

The western metopes.

The Parthenon frieze is a relief sculpture of marble that was on the Parthenon's exterior walls, carved in situ circa 440 BCE.  Again there is argument here whether it depicts the Panathenaic procession or the sacrifice of Pandora.  Making up the majority of the "Elgin marbles", most of it is in the British Museum.

The British Museum's display of most of the Parthenon frieze.

Although the Parthenon was originally a temple, this is not in the conventional sense.  There was a small shrine in the structure, the statue of Athena, and a treasury.  It served as a temple to Athena until the 5th century CE, when it was converted to a Christian church.  It became an important pilgrimage site in Byzantine times, where it was known as the Church of the Parthenos Maria (Virgin Mary).  During the Latin Empire (1204 - 1261) it became a Roman Catholic church.  The conversion from temple to church involved removing much of the interior and creating an apse, and led to the removal and possible destruction of some of the sculptures.

Southern side of the Parthenon.

When Athens fell to the Ottomans in 1456, part of the Parthenon was made into a mosque and a minaret was added.  Although the Ottomans remained respectful of monuments in their acquired territories, they did not make any efforts to preserve them.  It was under their auspices that the Parthenon was almost destroyed.  In September of 1687 a band of Venetians surrounded the Acropolis and fired cannonballs at it and the Turks within.  The worst damage occurred when a cannonball hit the stores of gunpowder inside.  In the looting that followed, sculptures and pieces of them were taken.

Fragment of a shell believed to be from the Venetians in the
(you guessed it!) British Museum.

In the 18th century there arose a group of archaeologists and travelers who succumbed to philhellenism -  the love of Greek culture.  Efforts were made to survey the ruins of classical Athens, and in 1801 the British ambassador to Constantinople, the Earl of Elgin, obtained written permission from the Sultan to study and make casts of the antiquities of the Acropolis; demolish recent construction; and remove sculptures from them.  This is spurious, as the document is nonexistent.  He detached sculptures from the buildings, and bought some from local denizens.  Some of the sculptures were sawn in half to make their transport to England easier.

Sculptures from the east pediment, thought to be Hestia, Dione, and Aphrodite.
Currently in the British Museum.

According to the British Museum's website (see link above), Lord Elgin's actions were examined by Parliament and found to be legal, and the sculptures taken were acquired by the Museum in 1816.  Negotiations by the Greek government for the return of these Greek treasures has been going on since 1983, to no avail.

Although the Parthenon will never be restored to its original glory, efforts are being made by the Greek government to restore both its structural and aesthetic integrity.  Archaeologists and architects work with modern equipment and computers to determine original states as much as possible.  Earlier reconstruction efforts that were incorrect are being dismantled, as are some of the methods used, such as using iron pins which have caused erosion.  Newer metal work is being done with titanium.

Even in its decline and its state of damage, the beauty overwhelms, especially in person.  A testament to the artistic genius of 2,500 years ago, the Parthenon still stands as evidence of one of the best achievements of humankind.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Those Dirty, Evil, Rotten Books!

Image courtesy of the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America).

Saturday, September 24, was the beginning of Banned Books Week for 2011. Sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, and the PEN American Center, this event has been held yearly during the last week of September since 1982.  It has also been endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.  Since 1982, over 11,000 books have been challenged.

Image courtesy of the Lake City Public Library.

The purpose is not only to encourage readers to examine works that have been challenged, but to also promote intellectual freedom in libraries, schools, and wherever books are read or sold.  Many groups celebrate banned and challenged books during this week and hold awareness campaigns.  The difference between a book that has been challenged and one that has been banned is that a challenged book is an attempt to remove it from a library or curriculum, while a banned one has been removed.

Amnesty International also observes this event by drawing attention to individuals who are persecuted because of what they write, circulate, or read.  Here is a link to featured individuals who have or are being oppressed, tortured, or imprisoned.

Lydia Cacho Ribeiro had to leave her home in
Mexico because of recent death threats for her
books exposing a child pornography ring and
the trafficking of women and girls.  Image from
 Amnesty International (see link above).

Banned Books Week is the only national observance of the freedom to read.  Last year there were 348 titles reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom that were challenged, and many more go unreported each year.  The Office of Intellectual Freedom collects their information from newspapers and reports submitted by individuals, all of which go into a database.  The Banned Books Week Resource Guide is updated every three years, and is available at your local library or can be purchased.  Click here for a PDF file on books challenged or banned in 2010-2011, and the reason(s) why.

Image courtesy ALA

The very popular Twilight series, by Stephanie Meyer, was challenged as being sexually explicit, violent, unsuited for its age group, and having a religious viewpoint.  Fortunately, it more than survived.  Currently irritating many a parent and parent group is the book And Tango Makes Three, which is about same-sex penguin parents, seen as promoting homosexuality to young children "against their will".  In fact, some may argue that being challenged is a good marketing ploy for a book.

This book is based on a true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo
in New York who were given an egg to raise.  Co-author Justin Richardson was
quoted in an article in the NY Times:  "We wrote the book to help parents teach
children about same-sex parent families.  It's no more an argument in favor of
human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole
or sleep on rocks."  Homophobic parents will be pleased to learn the pair has
since split up, and one of the males has paired with a female.

There is an argument whether there is indeed any censorship occurring, but former ALA (American Library Association) president Camila Alire has stated that there are hundreds of documented attempts to suppress access to written materials each year, and when a library is asked to restrict access, that is an attempt at censorship. Opponents argue that parents have the right to object to their children being exposed to certain literature, but since parents will differ as to what literature they object to, it seems that they need to take it upon themselves to limit exposure, and not try to force their decisions on everyone.

Image courtesy of Lee's Summit High School, Mo.

It is indeed fortunate that a majority of the books targeted during Banned Books Week were not banned or restricted, but that is because of the efforts of the cadre of librarians, teachers, booksellers, readers, and others in communities.  This celebration of the freedom provided by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deserves the respect and thanks of free people who like to read freely. This reader thanks everyone who takes part - I am personally grateful to everyone who fights for accessibility to all books, whether I read them or not.