Another righteous one

We all know about Oskar Schindler. Lots of us have heard about Chiune Sugihara (whose name I had to look up just now), a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who, acting against his country's ally and disobeying specific orders, issued visas to thousands of Jews. And there was his opposite number John Rabe, a Nazi businessman in Nanking who sheltered thousands of Chinese from the atrocities of his country's ally.

But here's a new one: Dr. Ho Feng Shan, a Chinese diplomat in Vienna who, like Sugihara, issued as many visas to Jews as he could. He was an early bird, managing to get disciplined by his government months before the war started. And a late recognition: only after his death in 1997 did his activities come to light; even his daughter knew almost nothing about them.

Thanks to The Peking Duck, specifically to commenter bingfeng, for this. The blog is the Official Nesting Place of the Faction of Quacking Canards, and you can guess how much I want their proposed t-shirt.

What language do they speak in Iran?

Another curious coincidence today, and I wish I remembered the term Jon Carroll used for this sort of thing. Not African swallow -- that's something else -- but some ornithological term.

Anyway, I was pondering something, a thing that I might even turn into a blog entry, when an irrelevant question occurred to me; and a few hours later in a completely independent way the question came up and was answered. So I might as well begin with the posting that was dubiously worth writing.

I had occasion this afternoon to muse on irretrievably lost opportunities; only institutional in this case, not personal; but there's a bit of sadness to all such musings. And it occurred to me that while the best short poem of all is "Jenny kissed me when we met", there is one great standout among the quatrains (or Rubaiyat, as we call them in Persian):
The moving finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
--LXXI in Fitzgerald's translation (duh), the popular and successful fifth edition

I admit to the Philistine position that this is an exquisitely constructed bit of verse. The images are striking; the antique diction is well suited to the context. Jenny is a great deal jollier; but then, as Richard Mitchell said,
Children learn what they most need to know from happy stories of the birth of kings, and grown-ups learn again and again what they most need to remember from sad stories of the death of kings.

I wonder what examples of the form, and short verses generally, appeal to people with properly educated taste. Of course, the poem is trivial and obvious. (Hum the "Ride of the Valkyries" (a thoroughly hackneyed piece) and it doesn't sound like much either.) But after all, as Dirac said,
In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by
everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.

I said "Persian" above, because I like the traditional, classical effect of the name; but, I thought idly, was that the proper name for the language? For that matter, is Farsi exactly, identically the thing named by Persian, or am I messing up my linguistics? So, a few hours later, I am looking at the Language Log, and there's an amusing note on Danish pastry, in which I find "Persian (or if you prefer, Farsi)." Turns out, a lot of the speakers of that language really don't like the foolish Americanism of calling it Farsi. Like talking of Deutsch or Nihongo; or worse, if I read one comment right, though I don't know enough German to read his humorous example.

All right, then, a bunch of people who care think that to say Farsi is to turn your back on thousands of years of Persia's civilization. I can get behind that.

Update: I mean, of course, I can get behind the sentiment of not turning one's back on a civilization, no matter what kind of dangerous twits may be momentarily the keepers of the flame. One can't be too careful what one says in these days of Freedom Fries. And I should have added a Read the Rest rating in the style of Amygdala, and a high one, for the if-you-prefer thread. Joseph Bell is particularly eloquent on the value of using corrupted forms from civilizations with which we have a long history of contact.

Nothing important happened today

At least, that's the version of George III's famous diary entry cited by Wikipedia. It's pleasant to note that someone has marked the quote with "citation needed"; just try to find a citation, or figure out whether it's "important" or "of importance", by googling. But I digress.

Jon Carroll has written a column that can almost stand with his too-oft-reprinted Thanksgiving column. And if you hurry, you may be the 7,345th person to remind him that the fruited plains are not from Irving Berlin, but from Katherine Lee Bates. A fine piece, though, especially for those of us in that corner toward which, as Carl Sandburg(?) said, the rest of the United States slopes, causing everything loose to roll down into California.

Carroll talks of the land, staying mostly out of the politics. Extremism in defense of California is no vice. Carroll notes that "patriot" refers to "father" in Latin. But (speaking of Berlin), German has not only vaterland but heimat, from "home". A good way of speaking, if you can get over certain unpleasant associations.

Bates, however, had a political agenda, sneakily getting into brotherhood and stuff. (And will God crown my efforts with coherence? Not likely, when I see that the Language Log has annotated Ray Charles's missing of the subjunctive "crown", and that a Google search on crowned good brotherhood brings the good news that most references to the song that are not quoting Ray Charles get the words right.) And it's politics that created this day, and politics that I wanted to talk about.

To get down, then, to the document that we celebrate with John Adams and with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

And by the way, The Star-Spangled Banner is a damn fine song, as is America the Beautiful, even if they both drag God into it, and even if the Banner is warlike and bombastic. Bomburstic. Whaddaya want from a national anthem? At least we're not watering our furrows with the other guys' blood. And as to its being based on a drinking song, I ask you: if you're going to strain your voice, would you do it for "the land of the free and home of the brave" or for "the myrtle of Venus and Bacchus's vine"? Perhaps I'm courting the fate of Hippolytus, but my choice is clear.

So. I hold that the introductory section of the Declaration is self-evident. If you doubt it, you can read many pages of proof in the paper by Stephen E. Lucas. It is also an unsurpassed bit of English prose.
Whan that Aprille with her shoures soote
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes
When in the course of human events
It need not be embarrassed to stand in that company.

But what about the famous bill of grievances against the King and his country? We all know that it's terribly exaggerated and unfair. And "merciless Indian savages," good heavens! But what about it, really? Wouldn't if be nice to see a sober annotation and analysis of the list? Lucas treats of the list, but his treatment is trivial: he analyzes the grammar, rhetoric, and logic. It looks to be a good analysis (haven't read it through yet), and by no means trivial; but I'd like to see a discussion of the real historical events associated with the charges and how the charges and the history relate.

There must be dozens of analyses that are simply dismissive: you know, the revolution was just because Americans didn't like paying taxes for their benefits, the ingrates. (If you want a rebuttal of that new discovery, which seems right now to be fashionable in schools, you might not do better than to look up the one written during the Revolution by an anonymous author who turned out to be Thomas Jefferson.) And the Patriots would be glad to provide some, when they find someone who can read eighteenth-century English, but of course it will be nationalist garbage -- though maybe they won't want to write anything when it requires them to take on that item about slavery: too uncomfortable a topic. Does anybody know of a good treatment anywhere?

Meanwhile, we can contemplate the exact meaning of "conquer we must, when our cause it is just", with reference to the many senses of must, and without raising the scorn of some eight-year-old cynic, as one school did in the Korean War, by replacing "when" with "for".