What a beautiful day to finish a grim book! But that’s WWI for you.

I’m enjoying a lovely day in the Finger Lakes and finishing off a very well-done but depressing book, Mark Thompson’s The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919. Yes, there are other things I should be doing, but this book has been taking too long. Thompson starts by pointing out that Anglophones mainly know about Italy’s WWI experience from Hemingway, who spent a few weeks on that front with an ambulance crew. In part this is because there really is no great work of fiction from Italy about the Great War – Thompson discusses that problem a good bit. Even though a lot of later greats served in the trenches, they didn’t write much about it. Montale published one poem about the trenches; Gadda planned a great damning novel, but never wrote it.
So Italy’s great battle to redeem unredeemed Italians – where we get the word irredentist, by the way – ended up killing more Italians than they got: 689,000 soldiers dead, wounded and lost for 650,000 extra Italians inside the expanded borders. Gosh.
Thompson is also very good on the silences in Italy after the War – and indeed until quite recently. Literatteurs were not the only silent ones. In part that silence was enforced by the recasting of WWI by the Fascists, who, after all, took over only 4 years after the end of the war and 3 years after the settlements that gave Italy Trieste but encouraged d’Annunzio’s weird seizure of Fiume.
Thompson helped me understand the Austro-Hungarian side of things a good bit – the internal disaster of Emperor Karl’s empire is a big part of the story. Thompson’s own history in the Balkans (he’s written two books about the late 20th century wars there) must have helped him there.
The book has a good balance between battle field narratives, social context, and individual stories. Thompson found interesting people to follow through the war by means of their diaries and correspondence, from the disastrous Italian commander Cadorna to Bosnian majors. The person who comes off worst of all is d’Annunzio, which is saying something.
I recommend it. I’m passing my copy along to the library.

That’s a big hoard – 5,913 coins!

Two pots, 3 meters apart, found by a metal detectorist in Wales. Neat! Great picture at the link, too.

There have certainly been bigger hoards out there, but if you think of this as one person’s savings being buried in Wales it might shift some of your attitudes towards early 4th C Roman Britain.
Oh – and here’s a bonus British/American plural/singular usage thing. Where we’d say Exceptional Roman coin hoard the BBC online headline is ‘Exceptional’ Roman coins hoard.
via Archaeology in Europe

Returning Art Looted by the Nazis

Here is a good article about the process one museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, has gone through with one painting, a Fernand Leger, before returning it to the heirs of the 1939 owner.

After 10 years of detective work, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has concluded that a $2.8 million painting it has owned for decades was stolen by the Nazis. The museum has returned the 1911 painting, Fernand Leger’s “Smoke Over Rooftops,” to the French heirs of a Jewish art collector who died in 1948.
“Having researched this to the end of the road, we decided we had to return the painting; it was the right thing to do,” said Art Institute Director Kaywin Feldman.
Other museums have faced similar challenges to their collections. The institute’s saga began in 1997 when the museum received a letter claiming that the painting had been taken from Alphonse Kann, a legendary French collector who owned “tons of Picassos, Braques and late-19th-century Impressionist paintings,” according to Patrick Noon, the institute’s paintings curator. His story helped inspire a 1964 movie, “The Train,” starring Burt Lancaster, about a trainload of art that the Germans tried to spirit away before the Allies liberated Paris in 1944.

First they had to decide this was the right one – Leger painted at least 5 other “Smoke Over Rooftops.” Then they had to deal with the awkward sales history – once in 1942 to one Parisian gallery owned by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the great dealer in everything Cubist and a German Jew himself, and once to a second gallery owned by a German specialist in selling degenerate modern art for and to the Nazis.
It sounds like this was an expensive process, and the MIA hasn’t released a figure yet. The conclusion, though, says something about the strength of their collection:

Initially the museum hoped Kann’s heirs would lend or give it to the museum but that proved impossible. Asked if the institute would try to buy it back if the Leger were to be offered at auction, Feldman and Noon smiled ruefully and shook their heads.
“We have two other very nice Leger paintings in the collection,” Noon said.

If art history undergraduates ask why they should learn French and German (and Russian would be useful for this line of work, too), tell them this story.

Apportioning Blame

If Greenspan is to blame for the financial crisis, is Dan Brown to blame for Doubleday cutting 10% of their staff? They deny it, but you know, they would!

Mr. Drake said the decision was not related to the delay in the delivery of the next novel by Dan Brown, the author of “The Da Vinci Code,” the blockbuster best seller published in 2003.
Back in 2004, Doubleday said the target release date for the next book was 2005, but Mr. Brown has yet to deliver a manuscript. Sales from even a single title — if it is as significant as “The Da Vinci Code” — can make a substantial difference to a publisher’s sales.
Nevertheless, “the changes we’ve made are quite separate from anything to do with Dan Brown,” Mr. Drake said.

Cooper Square Hotel – Dubai on the Bowery

Cooper Square Hotel

Originally uploaded by Professor Bop.

World Architecture News explains a building that confused me a few weeks ago in NYC – I hadn’t read about this one.
I agree that it feels odd in Manhattan. But Manhattan’s skyline has been static for so long that the buildings going up lately have got to help.

The flickr member who posted the photograph has interesting links about the 4 story tenement in the foreground and how it dodged the wrecking ball.

Oh – about Dubai – look here. Dubai’s recent architectural boom includes a number of sail-shaped buildings or buildings that swell or twist in one direction or another.

Accidental Science? Statins help pneumonia?

The death rate among people hospitalized for pneumonia was one-third lower for those taking statins than for those not taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs, a Danish study found.
While the findings are preliminary and offer hope, more research is needed before doctors can prescribe statins as infection fighters, experts said.
. . .
But statins are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect, Thomsen said, and “we are just beginning to understand that systemic infections such as pneumonia cause inflammation that may trigger a lot of adverse reactions in human bodies.”
It’s possible that other factors, such as the “healthy-user effect,” meaning that people who take statins are in better shape and take better care of themselves, might explain the results of the study, Thomsen added.
“However, we aimed to control for most of the confounding factors in the analyses,” he said. “I do not find it likely that confounding explains the whole statin effect.”
Other drugs for coronary conditions, such as beta-blockers and aspirin, did not have any effect on pneumonia mortality in the study, Thomsen noted.

They’re going to look some more – and check on statins and severe infections and sepsis. The article actually sounds a note of caution:

Until such studies are done, Thomsen said, “I think it is too early to make recommendations about statin therapy for severe infection or treatment. We have learned from the lesson of hormone-replacement therapy and antioxidants, when some doctors and drug companies prematurely recommended drugs on the basis of positive observational studies, that therapeutic recommendations should not be based on animal studies, plausible biological mechanisms, and findings from observational studies.”

Language comparison

Speaking of Francophonie and language instruction in schools, Prof. Tom Smith has two sons in high school, one taking Spanish, the other taking Latin. You can guess my preference, but read his examples of textbook translation exercise sentences:

1. Please tell Juan to recycle the plastic.
2. Henry’s mother is going to the political rally.
3. The labor union was organized and everyone was happy.
4. By travelling to South America, Robert broadened his perspective.
5. Let’s foment a violent revolution against the capitalist oppressors.
1. The centurion bravely slaughtered the barbarian.
2. The batallion invested the hill fort by digging a trench around it and flinging stones upon the Gauls with their catapaults.
3. The doughty lad caught the wild horse and tamed it.
4. Having burnt the Carthagian ship with Greek Fire, the trireme captured the survivors and enslaved them.
5. The soldier was at peace because he knew his duty.


Francophonie retreats – Rwanda officially turns to English

In another blow to the language of love, the Rwandan government has decided to change instruction in schools from French to English.
All government employees are now required to learn English, and everyone here from lawmakers to taxi drivers to students to businesspeople seems to believe that the usefulness of French, introduced by Belgian colonizers, is coming to an end.
“When you look at the French-speaking countries — it’s really just France, and a small part of Belgium and a small part of Switzerland,” Theoneste Mutsindashyaka, Rwanda’s state minister for education, said in English. “Most countries worldwide, they speak English. Even in China, they speak English. Even Belgium, if you go to the Flemish areas, they speak English, not French.”
. . .
As a minor bonus, Mutsindashyaka — who is in charge of rolling out the English-language curriculum for 2.6 million students and 50,000 teachers — said he was happily surprised to find that English textbooks are far cheaper than French ones. A fourth-grade English math book costs 70 cents, for instance, compared with $4 for the French version.

Economies of scale, I guess.
Further: I thought I’d google around on the issue and found this blog: The Worldwide Decline of French, whose tagline describes it thus: “This is the only web log to specialize in the declining use of the French language, both globally and within France itself. We use recent and less recent web articles, blog entries and books written in French, English, German and other languages to document the failure of costly Francophonie policies in- and outside France.”
Here’s the Unfrench Frenchman on Rwanda.