Playing 'Wolf Hall'

April 5th, 2015

How to Play 'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel, taken from Mantel's notes for stage adaptations of her work:

Cardinal Archbishop Thomas Wolsey

You are, arguably, Europe's greatest statesman and greatest fraud. You are also a kind man, tolerant and patient in an age when these qualities are not necessarily thought virtues.

You are not quite the enormous scarlet cardinal of the (posthumous) portrait. You are more splendid than stout, a man of iron constitution who has survived the "sweating sickness" six times. You are a cultured Renaissance prince, as grand and worldly as any Italian cardinal. Renowned for the speed at which you travel, you are capable of an unbroken twelve-hour stint at your desk, "all which season my lord never rose once to piss, nor yet to eat any meat, but continually wrote his letters with his own hands…" Your household observes you with awe, as does the known world. You hope you might be Pope one day, but think it would be more convenient if you could bring the papacy to Whitehall; you wouldn't want to give up your palaces or your place next to your own monarch, and anyway you could probably run Christendom in your spare time. […]

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August 4th, 2014

Chris Brooke has been reading The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark's book on the outbreak of the First World War.

[What…] I was repeatedly struck by were the sheer number of quite extraordinarily belligerent actors that I encountered along the way, and I ended up a bit surprised that continental war didn't break out much earlier than 1914. […]

[French diplomat…] Paul Cambon takes the prize:

Underpinning Cambon's exalted sense of self was the belief – shared by many of the senior ambassadors – that one did not merely represent France, one personified it. Though he was ambassador in London from 1898 until 1920, Cambon spoke not a word of English. During his meetings with [Foreign Secretary] Edward Grey (who spoke no French), he insisted every utterance be translated into French, including easily recognized words such as 'yes'. He firmly believed – like many members of the French elite – that French was the only language capable of articulating rational thought and he objected to the foundation of French schools in Britain on the eccentric grounds that French people raised in Britain tended to end up mentally retarded.

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Olga Targaryen?

July 11th, 2014

I'm indebted to Chris Williams for bringing to everyone's attention that today is the feast day for Saint Olga of Kiev:

Princess Olga was the wife of Igor of Kiev, who was killed by the Drevlians. At the time of her husband's death, their son Svyatoslav was three years old, making Olga the official ruler of Kievan Rus until he reached adulthood. The Drevlians wanted Olga to marry their Prince Mal, making him the ruler of Kievan Rus, but Olga was determined to remain in power and preserve it for her son.

The Drevlians sent twenty of their best men to persuade Olga to marry their Prince Mal and give up her rule of Kievan Rus. She had them buried alive. Then she sent word to Prince Mal that she accepted the proposal, but required their most distinguished men to accompany her on the journey in order for her people to accept the offer of marriage. The Drevlians sent their best men who governed their land. Upon their arrival, she offered them a warm welcome and an invitation to clean up after their long journey in a bathhouse. After they entered, she locked the doors and set fire to the building, burning them alive.

With the best and wisest men out of the way, she planned to destroy the remaining Drevlians. […]

Basically, it's A Game of Thrones without the dragons.

[Via Chris Williams, commenting in a thread on diplomacy at Blood & Treasure]

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Victorian Strangeness

June 24th, 2014

The man who hoped to die in a railway crash:

Money. Property. Land. Heirlooms. Whatever the mourners were hoping to inherit when they first gathered for the reading of the will, they were to be sorely disappointed.

Shock. Disbelief. Dismay. Indignation. That's what they got instead. The man they grieved, who had never given them so much as a penny while he breathed, stayed true to the habit of his lifetime.

He'd left everything – the whole kit and caboodle – to his killer. It wasn't a ghastly coincidence, nor the tell-tale sign of murderous greed, but a heartfelt gesture of thanks – appreciation for a job well done. […]

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Jennifer in paradise

June 18th, 2014

Jennifer in paradise: the story of the first Photoshopped image

"It was a good image to do demos with," Knoll recalls. "It was pleasing to look at and there were a whole bunch of things you could do with that image technically." And maybe there was something in it that hinted at the kind of more perfect world that Photoshop might reveal. Knoll would leave a copy of the software in a package including the picture at the companies he'd visited. Often he'd return to find that the programmers had cloned his wife.

[Via Wis[s]e Words]

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Yolo Buggies

May 31st, 2014

Geoff Manaugh, on the work of 19th century surveyors in California who set out to map out the borders between counties:

Like a dust-covered Tron of the desert, surrounded by the invisible mathematics of a grid that had yet to be realized, these over-dressed gentlemen of another century helped give rise to an abstract model of the state.

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Like some kind of gallstone

May 5th, 2014

19 feet down and 9 feet to the west of the original site:

Like the Pentagon, its better-known counterpart in the United States, Britain's Ministry of Defence building is a fairly mundane, if gigantic, office block camouflaging a much more exciting subterranean realm of secret tunnels, bunkers, and – at least in the MoD's case – a perfectly preserved Tudor wine cellar. […]

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IDS would approve

May 5th, 2014

Best. British. Job Ad. Ever!

[Via The Yorkshire Ranter]

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Object: matrimony.

March 21st, 2014

16 Ways to Find Love in the Personal Ads (in 1900):

"Wanted: wife. Farmer's daughter preferred, willing to marry poor man. Must be good girl, good-looking, weight 100 or under, no grafters."

[Via The Morning News]

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February 28th, 2014

Maciej Ceglowski's Webstock presentation on Our Comrade The Electron draws lessons for modern technologists from the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the inventor of – among other things – the theremin:

Termen was just what Lenin needed: a Soviet inventor with an electrical gizmo that would dazzle and amaze the masses, and help sell the suspicious countryside on electrification. He gave Termen a permanent rail pass, encouraging him to take his show on the road all over the Soviet Union.

When Lenin died a few years later, Termen sent urgent word that Lenin's body be immediately frozen. He had an idea for how to bring him back to life, but it required putting the body on ice. He was devastated to learn that Lenin's brain had already been taken out and pickled in alcohol, and his body embalmed for public viewing.

Given Termen's track record of technical achievement, it's probably a good thing he didn't get a chance at making zombie Lenin.


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