Sunday, 14 December 2014

Book review: Lamentation

I enjoyed it. It is even, in places, exciting. But I doubt I'd re-read it.

By C. J. Sansom, in the "Shardlake" series.

Good points: interesting, long, decent story. Feels quite authentic - whatever that means; but at least there's not too much that jars. A few things do - at one point a character says "By the way," which doesn't feel right. The politics mostly feel right. The book of the title - Lamentations of a sinner - appears to actually exist.

There's a sub-plot about a bitter dispute between two siblings about ownership of a wall painting. This serves to pad out some sections of the book, but once its done, its a bit "huh" - what was it in there for? Perhaps just an interesting detail? But it felt somewhat more like filling. Maybe. Indeed the book lacks a bit of cohesion towards the end... it all rather peters out, before we finally discover whodunnit.

That reads somewhat negatively. But, as I said, I enjoyed it; its good.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Justice in M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis

For reasons I forget, I read some of M. Tullius Cicero, De Officiis. Its a classic, you know, in which Cicero expounds his conception of the best way to live, behave, and observe moral obligations.

Of the three remaining divisions, the most extensive in its application is the principle by which society and what we may call its “common bonds” are maintained. Of this again there are two divisions—justice, in which is the crowning glory of the virtues and on the basis of which men are called “good men”; and, close akin to justice, charity, which may also be called kindness or generosity. The first office of justice is to keep one man from doing harm to another, unless provoked by wrong; and the next is to lead men to use common possessions for the common interests, private property for their own... The foundation of justice, moreover, is good faith— that is, truth and fidelity to promises and agreements.
That interests me, because of the way it parallels and yet differs from Hobbes. Which is, in case you've forgotten, the definition of injustice is no other than the not performance of covenant. And whatsoever is not unjust is just. Hobbes would insist on the Sword, not Good Faith.

Cicero has a different emphasis to Hobbes: he is more concerned to give practical advice, often by example:

Injustice often arises also through chicanery, that is, through an over-subtle and even fraudulent construction of the law. This it is that gave rise to the now familiar saw, “More law, less justice.” Through such interpretation also a great deal of wrong is committed in transactions between state and state; thus, when a truce had been made with the enemy for thirty days, a famous general went to ravaging their fields by night, because, he said, the truce stipulated “days,” not nights. Not even our own countryman's action is to be commended, if what is told of Quintus Fabius Labeo is true—or whoever it was (for I have no authority but hearsay): appointed by the Senate to arbitrate a boundary dispute between Nola and Naples, he took up the case and interviewed both parties separately, asking them not to proceed in a covetous or grasping spirit, but to make some concession rather than claim some accession. When each party had agreed to this, there was a considerable strip of territory left between them. And so he set the boundary of each city as each had severally agreed; and the tract in between he awarded to the Roman People. Now that is swindling, not arbitration. And therefore such sharp practice is under all circumstances to be avoided.
Hobbes by contrast never uses examples, because he is interested in a general theory.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Scattering ashes

We interred Henry's ashes today. It was a rather strange ceremony, and I'll write it down. These days, as everyone says, you rarely see death or anything to do with it.

Henry had died in Milton-u-Wychwood, and hadn't left specific instructions for himself, but had previously expressed a wish to be scattered where his wife, Mickey, had been many years earlier. So, we arranged that. Or rather Rob did; with some help from Mother I think. Various things turned out to be a little bit harder than you might have thought, so it wasn't until today that we (me, Rob, Mother, Nicola) could all find a day to meet, with all the preliminaries sorted: you don't just turn up and scatter ashes (I'm speaking as though my specific case was a general one; of course I've no idea if that's true or not). Incidentally even finding Mickey's plot wasn't trivial. It turns out that her real names were Mildred May (former married name Walker, nee something double-barrelled I've forgotten). They need that to find her scattering place. Once they have that, they pre-dig a hole for you about a foot across and a bit more deep, for you to "scatter" the ashes into. They charge an insane amount of money for this: cost £75; Saturdays is £80 on top of that (staff out of hours), times available 11-3pm, according to Rob's email.

That was unexpected, and to me distinctly odd: I'd expected to throw handfuls of dust into the wind, or into the grass or the flowerbeds or something; but no. Into the hole it goes. I deliberately let a little of the dust float free: he did always have a twinkle in his eye, after all. The ashes come in a scattering-device, about a foot high, indeed it would just about have fitted into the hole they'd dug. And when you pull the release handle they start to fall out of the bottom.

I guess this is all the consequence of doing it in a cemetery, and a privately run one at that. If we'd wanted to scatter them in Ashridge woods, we could have just done so.

Beckenham Cemetery is quiet and peaceful. Today, in golden late-year light, it was lovely; we went for a walk around afterwards.

I took some pix. Some were to enable us to find the spot again, should we ever need to. If you pay (quite a lot; I think more than £1k) you can have a rose planted for you, and a permanent place thus secured. Some of those plaques you see are for that. I'm not sure about the others: were they the names of roses? I reaally can't remember.
   2014-11-29 14.13.06

Here's a more general view of the spot:

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All these pic are from my phone camera which is a bit rubbish; sorry. If you follow the links back to flickr, there are others in the set that show you where we were in relation to the overall layout.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near

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And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

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Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

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My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,

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And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;

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The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

13 Princelet Street

...or, a visit to London, to celebrate Manfred's 80th birthday. Just notes, so I can recall it later if I need. All of this was organised by Mfd+J.

Of the house: its a Landmark near Spitalfields market, which means it is full of history, and such. Had the weather been better we'd likely have wandered around the district more, but as it was it rained or loured most of the time so we ventured out only to eat - or in my case, to run. I think this was fine; had the weather been better we'd likely have felt too much obligation, been forced to wander; this was more relaxing. M+I, D+E, Si+B were in this house. Mfd+J and Ernie were in the nearby 5 Fournier Street, but I didn't see that.

This picture really doesn't tell you what the area was like. But I like it anyway, so there.

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Of the time: we went up on Friday night. We caught the Liverpool Street train from Whittlesford, then walked the 10 mins to the house. Saturday morning I went for a run - down Brick Lane, out on Commercial Road, down the riverside to Canary Wharf, then back up and around the Tower of London; see my GPS track. Saturday lunchtime we went out to restaurant Galvin la Chapelle which had the mild disadvantage of being posh enough to require me to dress. But every now and again I should do that anyway; and the food and service more than made up for the long trousers. J+K joined us for lunch and somewhat after; they left sometime during the afternoon when I'd fallen asleep. Saturday evening was bread+cheese. Sunday morning I was going to go for another run but didn't: the rain was harder, and my calves were feeling somewhat battered from yesterday, for unclear reasons. Sunday lunchtime was the Galvin again, but the less posh Bistro side. And so home, on the 4:23 train.

Sunday saw a game of Cluedo featuring E, D, Mfd, J, Ernie, Si. Miranda won, which (she would like you to know) is important. Saturday evening till late was Take 2 (which Becky claims as a family game; we start with only 5, following her rules).

Of London: I have come to feel that I ought to see it more; so this was a good chance to do so. I didn't see much; more leisure is required.

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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Book review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword (or you can try wiki's article, but its not much more helpful) is part two of the series begun in Ancillary Justice, which I very much liked. I liked this one too; though the effect wears off a bit, because there aren't many new ideas. This isn't really much of a review, because if you think you might like the book, you should read AJ first, and if you like that you'll definitely want to read this.

Many of the same elements are present, including the main character, whose lack of interest in telling male from female continues to be well drawn. In this volume, that extends to the (lightly touched upon) sex between various characters; you don't really know any of their sexes, or whether that matters.

Some way through I began to find the character's - well, the entire portrayed society's - obsession with tea a bit odd. It kinda brings out the all-stories-are-isomorphic thought, and connects the narrative back to Jane Austen or such.

The ship's crew - in the case of Breq's: the humans whose sense of fitness requires them to act as though they were ancillaries (i.e., as emotionaless unreacting pithed huamns controlled by the ship's AI) are also well drawn, and nicely fit into the story. There are quite a few bits like that, some that I noticed even if I can't now remember them, and some that I may have missed; but they all combine to make a fuller book.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Book review: Bones of the Earth

Bones of the Earth is a knock-off of Asimov's the End of Eternity. The original is better: read that, not this.

Quite how the author of Vacuum Flowers and Stations of the Tide came to write this gumpf I do't know. There are no ideas here: the paradoxes of time travel are dealt with heavily and uninspiringly; and he manages to stuff up Zeno too. Really, I should have given up at that point.

If you really really like lots of dinosaur information... then read wikipedia, not this.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Diary of an injury

On Thursday 6th November we (Chesterton RC) did our second "Core" session. On the very first exercise, after the self warm-up, I managed to injure myself. I think I'll track it so I can recall it if needed.

The exercise was standing-jumps: from stationary, you jump forward as far as you can. This wasn't measured, but I was quite keen to go as far as possible, as Paul had beaten me in the measured jumps in the first session a week earlier. So I threw myself into leaping forward and flinging my arms up. As I jumped, I felt a pain in my stomach and this persisted: I couldn't jump any more. The pain is quite localised, and appears to be in the muscles slightly to the right of my belly-button: on the edge where the belly shades into the side. They diagnosed it as a ripped abs, and that may be right, it seems to be in about the right place.

Symptoms: some exercise (pull-ups for example) are impossible. Some (inverted rows) are entirely possible. But getting down on the floor has to be done carefully to avoid using that muscle. Squats are fine. Sleeping was OK, but moving from one side to another required care.

On Friday I drove into work, and moved carefully, and all was well. Saturday I think I've got somewhat better, but its still definitely there.

A week later

Thursday 13th: things are getting better, but aren't back to perfect. I did today's Core session, skipping the jumps and the pull-ups and the dead-ants. I've had a few tiny goes on the erg - leaning back feels like its going to tear things, though that is decreasing. Legs-only works OK.

Sleeping is now fine. I don't have to move with caution. It still feels like uncontrolled sneezing would be a bad idea.

Saturday 15th: and today we had an outing in the IV. It was a decent outing, and I was OK. We didn't do firm pressure, at my request, but we did come close.

Sunday 16th: ran 16k; fine.

Part II

On Thursday the 27th I damaged my back at Core: I'm not sure exactly how. I think I straightened/ hollowed my back too much, during at 45 kg deadlift. And, foolishly, finished the set. It gave me pain for a week, diminishing; indeed its not fully right now on Saturday the 6th of December. But I did a 2k erg on Thursday, and rowed and coxed today, so I'll declare myself healed, again.