Monday, July 14, 2014

From My Quotes Cupboard: How Botta’s Mounds lifted the Assyrians out of the abyss of the past

Thoughts of a man riding a horse through a desert resulted in one of the most important archeological finds of all times:

Flat was the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers, but here and there mysterious mounds rose out of the plain. Dust storms swirled around these protuberances, piling the black earth into steep dunes, which grew steadily for a hundred years, only to be dispersed in the course of another five hundred ...

Here evolved one of archeology’s greatest triumphs, if only for the reason that the land of mounds showed no visible traces of past greatness...
Today it is called Iraq, and Baghdad is its capital ... In 1840 [Paul Emile Botta] was appointed [French] consular agent in Mosul, on the upper Tigris. Evenings, at twilight, when Botta fled the suffocating heat of the bazaars to refresh himself on horseback excursions out into the countryside, he would see the strange mounds that dotted the landscape everywhere ...
By sending off this little expedition Botta was eventually to immortalize his name in the history of archeology. The identity of the Arab informant is forgotten, lost in the drift of years.

But Botta is still remembered as the first to disclose the remains of a culture that had flowered for almost two thousand years, and for more than two millennia and a half had slumbered under the black earth between the two rivers, forgotten by men...
The moment had come when, no longer able to keep this conviction to himself, he sent the news to Paris, and so out into the world. “I believe,” he wrote with pride, and the newspapers made headlines of  it, “that I am the first to discover sculptures that can be truly identified with the period when Ninevah was at its height.” ...

            France was fired by Botta’s revelations. Aid was mobilized on the most generous scale to enable Botta to continue his work. He dug for three years, from 1843 to 1846...

            The palace was laid bare, rising up from mighty terraces... At one swoop the mysterious Assyrian people were lifted out of the abyss of the past.


Gods, Graves, & Scholars, by C.W. Ceram, Alfred A. Knopf 1956

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Writing thrillers: The Venice of Red Spies, Black Spies and Ruthless Doges

Venice - by Edward A. Goodall
The climax of our novel, Obelisk Seven, takes place in the Doge's Palace in the heart of Venice. 

In an earlier post (reproduced here), we explored the history of the city state of Venice, after visiting it on a European tour, with a delightful tour guide from Trafalgar Tours.

Our research surprised us: we had not realized how powerful Venice was for so many centuries, nor did we know that the Venetians were very tough defenders of their unique democracy.

The Tough Venetians  

They were tough on their powerful families, tough on their Doges, tough on their citizens, and tough on their enemies. 

They elected Doges using white balls and black balls, as well as a child, and they used spies to keep their citizens – including their leaders - under tight control.

The Council of Ten

Way back in 1310 the powerful Council of Ten was created. There was a conspiracy by a member of one of the families which ruled Venice - the Tiepolo conspiracy - against the Doge, but he fought it off and razed the palaces of the conspirators to the ground; then the Venetians decided to give the Council the job of protecting the Republic against crimes against the state.

Starting in the 1500s, three of its members served as State Inquisitors, known as the Supreme Tribunal. They had a secret police, and a network of spies all over the Republic. 
Spying was institutionalized in Venice from a very early time. 
The Spy system of Venice

The Big Three spies from the Council of Ten had the power to try and convict Venetians for treason. They built a huge network of spies inside Venice and in other countries.
One of the three State Inquisitors was known as the 'red one' because he was chosen from the Dogal Councillors, who wore robes of scarlet. The other two were chose from the Council of Ten, and were known as the 'black ones'. It did not matter what color their robes were; they were all powerful, ruthless, and believers in swift justice. They could torture anyone, or give amnesties to anyone. 

You never saw the face of your judge, when they hauled you in.
Council of Ten Chamber in Doge's Palace in Venice
The Doges were usually old men when they were chosen as the supreme leader of the republic of Venice, and they could not leave Venice unless at least two members of the Council of Ten accompanied them. 

The Republic was held together by the glue of suspicion.
Crackdown on a Doge

The Council of Ten would not tolerate even a Doge getting out of hand.

There's the case of Doge Fosari, back in 1423. He started taking too much power into his hands and the Council decided to teach him a lesson in humility.

They targeted his son, and accused him of treason. The charge was false, but that did not matter.

Monday, July 7, 2014

From My Quotes Cupboard: The fish that drank French blood

In the sea fight at Sluys, with Edward in personal command, the longbow men dominated the English armament, with one ship of men-at-arms placed between every two ships of archers, plus extra ships of archers for reinforcement if need arose. Not naval  power but the strength of soldiers and archers on board ship determined sea battle in this era. They operated from high-decked cogs of 100 to 300 tons fitted with fighting platforms or “castles’ for the archers ...

No one dared tell the outcome of the battle to Philip IV until his jester was thrust forward and said, “Oh, the cowardly English, the cowardly English!’ and on being asked why, replied, “They did not jump overboard like our brave Frenchmen.” The King evidently got the point.

The fish drank so much French blood, it was said afterward, that if God have given them the power of speech they would have spoken in French.


A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1978

For more Quotes, please CLICK HERE and for even more, CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Siamese cat photos 2014

Lovely and photogenic little critters, aren't they?

Both sides covered

Bookend cats

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Just in case you think you understand the Universe ...

Consider these theories, from BBC News:

So we now have tons of dark energy pushing the envelope, lesser amounts of dark matter holding the whole thing together, and the matter we know – that table you can rap your knuckles on – is a mere 2oth of all matter.

Good. That explains a lot.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Authors, Your 84% chance to ensure you write a Bestseller!

Hold your horses, and consider this, you aspiring best-selling author you:

Three computer scientists at Stony Brook University in New York think they found some rules through a computer program that might predict which books will be successful.

And they maintain that their algorithm has an 84% chance of success!

That’s better than the chance of success you get from tea leaves gazing, asking-friends-to-review-your-novel, copying the beats of Blake Snyder in Save the Cat! and countless other success-assured methods parlayed by countless experts.
Yechin Choi

Three scientists from Stony Brook University in New York - Vikas Ganjigunte Ashok, Song Feng, and Yejin Choi - have found some correlations of success (let’s call them the Ashok-Feng-Choi Success Styles) for best sellers after an in depth study of many books.

So what did the 3 Wise Scientists do? They used statistical stylometry (now there’s a phrase to casually drop into your next dozen or so discussions!) which is a statistical analysis of literary styles in different genres of books. This let them identify stylistic elements that are more common in successful books than in unsuccessful books. Here’s Wikipedia on stylometry.

So the lesson for aspiring authors is to Follow the Algorithm to worldwide best-selling success.

Song Feng

They found that successful books made great use of conjunctions to join sentences ("and" or "but") and prepositions than less successful books. They also found a high percentage of nouns and adjectives in the successful books; less successful books relied on more verbs and adverbs to describe what was happening.

More successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. The results varied by genre, but books that are less successful, the researchers reported, used words like "wanted," "took" or "promised." Successful authors employed "recognized" or "remembered."

"It has to do with showing versus caring," Choi said. "In order to really resonate with readers, instead of saying 'she was really really sad,' it might be better to describe her physical state, to give a literal description. You are speaking more like a journalist would."

Friday, January 3, 2014

From My Quotes Cupboard: Spain beats Rome in conquering territory

By 1600, Spain had conquered almost the whole of coastal South America except Brazil, and much of the interior as well, down to the River Plate ... No other conquest like this has there been in the annals of the human race. In one generation the Spaniards acquired more new territory than Rome conquered in five centuries.

The Oxford History of the American People by Samuel Eliot Morison
Prehistory to 1789 Publishers The New American Library 1972

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

From My Quotes Cupboard – Teddy Roosevelt’s White House guest

When a doorkeeper mistakenly refused admission to one leathery customer, the President was indignant. "The next time they don't let you in, Sylvane, you just shoot through the windows."

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris, New York: Ballantine 1979.

For more Quotes, please CLICK HERE and for even more, CLICK HERE.

Some more of my random posts for you: