https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1761119/post

Advertisements

Elephants

Lynn and MbD’s exchange about elephants reminded me of Beryl Markham’s comments on the subject in West With the Night, which FWIW I’ll just render here verbatim:

“I suppose, if there were a part of the world in which mastodoon still lived, somebody would design a new gun, and men, in their eternal impudence, would hunt mastodon as they now hunt elephant.  Impudence seems to be the word.  At least David and Goliath were of the same species, but, to an elephant, a man can only be a midge with a deathly sting.

 

It is absurd for a man to kill an elephant.  It is not brutal, it is not heroic, and certainly it is not easy; it is just one of those preposterous things that men do like putting a dam across a great river, one tenth of whose volume could engulf the whole of mankind without disturbing the domestic life of a single catfish.

 

Elephant, beyond the fact that their size and conformation are aesthetically more suited to the trading of this earth than our angular informity, have an average intelligence comparable to our own.  Of course they are less agile and phyiscally less adaptable than ourselves — Nature having developed their bodies in one direction and their brains in another, while human beings, on the other hand, drew from Mr. Darwin’s lottery of evolution both the winning ticket and the stub to match it.  This, I suppose, is why we are so wonderful and can make movies and electric razors and wireless sets — and guns with which to shoot the elephant, the hare, clay pigeons, and each other.

 

The elephant is a rational animal.  He thinks.  Blix [NB: Baron Bror Blixen, Karen Blixen’s husband and Markham’s close friend] and I (also rational animals in our own right) have never quite agreed in the mental attributes of the elephant.  I know Blix is not to be doubted because he has learned more about elephant than any other man I ever met, or even head about, but he looks upon legend with a suspicious eye, and I do not.  […]

 

But still, there is no mystery about the things you see yourself.

 

I think I am the first person ever to scout elephant by plane, and so it follows that the thousands of elephant I saw time and again from the air had never before been plagued by anything above their heads more ominous than tick-birds.

 

The reaction of a herd of elephant to my Avian [plane] was, in the initial instance, always the same — they left their feeding ground and tried to find cover, though often, before yielding, one or two of the bulls would prepare for battle and charge in the direction of the place if it were low enough to be within their scope of vision. Once the futility of this was realized, the entire herd would be off into the deepest bush.

 

Checking again on the whereabouts of the same herd next day, I always found that a good deal of thinking had been going on amonst them during the night.  On the basis of their raction to my second intrusion, I judged that their thoughts had run somewhat like this: A: The thing that flew over us was no bird, since no bird would have to work so hard to stay in the air — and anyway, we know all the birds.  B: If it was no bird, it was very likely just anoher trick of those two-legged dwarfs against whom there ought to be a law.  C: The two-legged dwarfs (both black and white) have, as long as our long memories go back, killed our bulls for their tusks.  We know this because, in the case of the white dwarfs, at least, the tusks are the only part taken away.

 

The actions of the elephant, based upon this reasoning, were always sensible and practical.  The second time they saw the Avian, they refused to hide; instead, the females, who bear only small, valueless tusks, simply grouped themselves around their treasure-burdened bulls in such a way that no ivory could be seen from the air or from any other approach.

 

Thsi can be maddening strategy to an elephant scout.  I have spent the better part of an hour circling, criss-crossing, and diving low over some of the most inhospitable country in Africa in an effort to break such a stubborn huddle, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

 

But the tactics vary.  More than once I have come upon a large and solitary elephant standing with enticing disregard for safety, its massive bulk in clear view, but its head buried in thicket.  This was, on the part of the elephant, no effort to simulate the nonsensical habit attributed to the ostrich.  It was, on the contrary, a cleverly devised trap into which I fell, every way except physically, at least a dozen times.  The beast always proved to be a large cow rather than a bull, and I always found that by the time I had arrived at this brilliant if tardy deduction, the rest of the herd hat got another ten miles away, and the decoy, leering up at me out of a small, triumphant eye, would amble into the open, wave her trunk with devastating nonchalance, and disappear.”

And a little later she warns:

“Elephant hunters may be unconsciounable brutes, but it would be an error to regard the elephant as an altogether pacific animal.  The popular belief that only the so-called ‘rogue’ elephant is dangerous to men is quite wrong — so wrong that a considerable number of men who believed it have become one with the dust without even their just due of gradual disintegration.  A normal bull elephant, aroused by the scent of man, will often attack at once — and his speed is as unbelievable as his mobility.  His trunk and his feet are his weapons — at least in the distateful business of exterminating a mere human; those resplendent sabres of ivory await resplendent foes.”

And she proceeds to prove her point by recounting an instance where she and Baron Blixen literally came within an inch of being reduced to dust themselves, courtesy of a large elephant bull.

 

Markham, one of aviation history’s great female pioneers (among several other accomplishments), was hired as an aerial scout by elephant hunters in a time when the ecological devastation wrought by their dubious occupation was not a noticeable concern; and she makes no bones about the fact that this was part of how she was earning her living at the time.  Given her comments in the opening paragraphs of this excerpt, however, and her alertness to the the unconscionable havoc that humans with guns can wreak, I would like to think that she’d be on the side of conservation these days (even if she’d probably also be unapologetic about her past) — having grown up in Africa and considering it home, she clearly loved its wildlife vastly better than most of its human society.  Her comments elsewhere in the book (as well as, again in the opening paragraphs of this excerpt) also make it quite clear that like most of those who have seen the damage that guns can do in action, she was appalled by the notion of easy access to guns, and of guns in hands where they don’t belong.  In another part of the book, she quotes with approval her friend (and flying instructor) Tom Black’s disdainful comment on an amateur hunter’s severe injuries at the claws of a lion he’d shot but not killed immediately: “Lion, rifles — and stupidity” … and she makes it perfectly clear that from her point of view, the lion’s later death from its gunshot wounds was the vastly more regrettable and anger-inducing outcome of that encounter than the hunter’s injuries.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1730569/elephants

Should come with several prescriptions / warning labels:

Review:

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

The first caveat, obviously, being “don’t ever try this at home.”  Most of the poisons Harkup discusses are much harder to obtain these days than in Agatha Christie’s time, so for most of them the risk of being used as a murder weapon may have been mitigated in the interim, but that’s not true for all of them — belladonna, phosphorus, opiates, ricin, and thallium are still scarily easy to obtain (or distill) if you know how and where, and the story of Graham Young (aka the stepson from hell) is a chilly reminder that (1) it may not actually be a particularly wise idea to present your 11 year old son with a chemistry set for Christmas for being such a diligent student of the subject — particularly if he has taken a dislike to your new spouse — and (2) there are still poisons out there, thallium among them, that are but imperfectly understood and may, therefore, be misdiagnosed even today.

 

My second caveat would be to either read this book only after you’ve finished all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories that are discussed here, or at least, let a significantly enough amount of time go by between reading Harkup’s book and Christie’s fiction. (Obviously, if you’re just reading this one for the chemistry and have no intention of picking up Christie’s works at all, the story is a different one.)

 

There are exactly two instances where Harkup gives a spoiler warning for her discussion of the books by Agatha Christie that she is using as “anchors” for the poisons under discussion (morphine / Sad Cypress and ricin / Partners in Crime: The House of Lurking Death), and in both instances, my feeling is that she is using the spoiler warning chiefly because she is expressly giving away the identity of the murderer. 

 

In truth, however, several other chapters should come with a massive spoiler warning as well; not because Harkup is explicit about the murderer (she isn’t), but because she gives away both the final twist and virtually every last detail of the path to its discovery.  As Harkup herself acknowledges, a considerable part of Agatha Christie’s craft consists in creating elaborate sleights of hand; in misdirecting the reader’s attention and in creating intricate red herrings that look damnably convincingly like the real thing.  But in several chapters of A Is for Arsenic, Harkup painstakingly unravels these sleights of hand literally down to the very last detail, making the red herrings visible for what they are, and even explaining just how Christie uses these as part of her elaborate window dressing.  The effect is the same as seeing a conjurer’s trick at extreme slow motion (or having it demonstrated to you step by step) — it completely takes away the magic.  Reading Harkup’s book before those by Christie that she discusses in the chapters concerned makes you go into a later read of those mysteries not only knowing exactly what to look for and why, but also what to discard as window dressing — the combined effect of which in more than one instance also puts you on a direct trail to uncovering the murderer.  This applies to the chapters about hemlock (Five Little Pigs, aka Murder in Retrospect — see my corresponding status update), strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), thallium (The Pale Horse), and Veronal (Lord Edgware Dies); as well as, arguably, though perhaps to a lesser degree, to the chapter about belladonna (The Labours of Hercules: The Cretan Bull).  In fact, in at least one of these chapters

[spoiler]

(Veronal)

[/spoiler]

she as good as discloses both the murderer and the final twist before she’s ever gotten to a discussion of the drug used in the first place.

 

As a result, Harkup’s book loses a half star in my rating on this basis alone, and I’m left with one of the odd entries in my library where I’m checking off the “favorite” box for a book that I’m not rating at least four stars or higher.  Because the fact is also that I immensely enjoyed Harkup’s explanations just how the poisons used in Christie’s novels work (and where they occur naturally / what they derive from), which has both increased my already enormous respect for Christie’s chemical knowledge and the painstaking way in which she applied that knowledge in her books, and also served as fascinating background reading and a chemistry lesson that is both fun and instructive.  I just know that this is one of the books I will come back to again and again in the future, not only when revisiting Christie’s catalogue but also when reading other books (mysteries and otherwise) involving poison — from the beginning of this read, I’ve had repeated flashbacks to books by other writers (and I’m gratified that Harkup hat-tips at least one of them, Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain, in her discussion of thallium, even if I’d also have liked at least a little word on the effect of the embalming procedure described Marsh); and I’m fairly certain that my future mystery reads involving poisons will prompt some considerable fact-checking at the hands of A Is for Arsenic.

 

Which in turn brings us back to caveat No. 1, I suppose … don’t ever try this at home!

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1706879/should-come-with-several-prescriptions-warning-labels

Reading progress update: I’ve read 202 out of 320 pages.

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

What does it say that I read the opium chapter this night, after having woken up at 4:00AM (against all habit)?

 

I can see the temptation in using Sad Cypress as the anchor book for this chapter, and I’m glad Harkup gave an unambiguous spoiler warning this time around before proceeding to give away the final twist, in order to be able to address a compound that Christie uses in this novel (and which she only mentions by name in Poirot’s final round-up of the suspects).  Still, it’s not like this is the only book by Christie where morphine plays a prominent role, and Harkup would have been able to do without a spoiler completely by choosing, say, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (which was likely inspired by one of the real life cases Harkup addresses anyway), discuss morphine, heroin / diamorphine and codeine exactly the way she does here, and then, without specifically identifying Sad Cypress, tag on a paragraph beginning with “In another book, the poisoner …” — and then proceed to describing the solution of Sad Cypress.  Ah, well.  But, as I said, at least this time around there’s a clear spoiler warning … which should absolutely be heeded by anybody who hasn’t read Sad Cypress yet.

 

Notes on the previous chapters:

 

I’m now wondering whether the murderer in Ellis Peters’s Monk’s Hood would really have made it all the way to being found out by Brother Cadfael, a considerable time after the murder, without suffering the slightest effects of the drug himself.

 

And while I thought I couldn’t possibly be more scared of both nicotine and opiates than I already am anyway, just reading about the chemistry involved all over again was a not-very-much-needed refresher of just how scary these really are.  And, um, why kicking the habit (smoking) once and for all some 20 years ago was definitely the right thing to do.

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1668883/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-202-out-of-320-pages

From Twitter (for the resident ESC Aficionados): Eurovision Acts as EarlyModernists

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1668492/from-twitter-for-the-resident-esc-aficionados-eurovision-acts-as-earlymodernists

Brilliant

Review:

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus - Margaret Atwood, Laural Merlington The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood

Irreverent, insightful, funny, deeply humane and empathetic.

 

The myth of Odysseus is one of my favorite parts of Greek mythology: in telling it from the perspective of Penelope — with a good bit about Penelope’s childhood and youth, and her and Odysseus’s marriage thrown in for good measure, as well as with her 12 slain maids acting as a very Greek chorus — Atwood turns it inside out, gives it a feminist spin, and puts it together again in her very own way.  And Laurel Merlington’s narration is sheer genius … if you’re into Greek mythology and audiobooks, get the audio version now.  (If you’re not into audiobooks but into Greek mythology, still get the edition of your choice.)

 

Absolutely loved every second of it.

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1667443/brilliant