November Books 7) Beach Music, by Pat Conroy

earthsea
Jeepers, how did this happen? I last did a bookblogging update four weeks ago, and since then have been travelling a lot and also read about a dozen Arthur C.Clarke Award nominees. (One of which, in full disclosure, I gave up half way through.) But I'm still five bloggable books behind for November, and the same (so far) for December. Here is the first step in fixing the backlog.

I liked Beach Music, much more than I liked Conroy's best-known work The Prince of Tides, but I felt it was not quite the sum of its parts. The parts are all pretty good, so this is not damning with faint praise: the experience of Catholics and Jews, both minority groups in of course rather different ways, in South Carolina in the period of the Vietnam War, with flashbacks to the lived experience of the Holocaust and also a narrative in the 1980s. The core pillar is the slow death of the narrator's mother; the descriptions of people and places - particularly Rome, which is beautifully conveyed - are all pretty compelling.

I was driven by my frustration that the book didn't quite add up for me to look at Conroy's Wikipedia entry, and an now wondering if Beach Music is a partial response to his own earlier work, The Great Santini, about an abusive military father-son relationship. That is also one of the subplots of Beach Music, and clearly one that the author himself is pretty invested in; is the later novel perhaps Conroy's version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? I am sufficiently interested that I may well get the earlier book to make my own judgement.

Eating Crocodile

khinkali
So I was in the local supermarket and spotted some crocodile fillets on the meat shelves, and thought, why not? I remember eating crocodile precisely once before in my life, in of all places Varaždin in October 1998 (a wedding anniversary excursion, which is why the month sticks in my memory). I thought then that it was a bit like chicken but more fishy. So, could I rise to the challenge myself?

Extensive research on the internet, as far as I could do that standing in the doorway of the supermarket, suggested that the easiest thing to do is to chop it up, marinade it in lemon juice and minced garlic for an hour and then then fry it, so that's what I did. I added some soy sauce at the end because I was a bit worried that it needed a bit of extra oomph, and rather unadventurously accompanied it with rice, beans and carrots.

Reviews were fine. Young F said that he thought it was a bit like chicken and a bit like fish, which is basically what I thought before he was born, and given the relative taxonomic places of birds, crocodiles and fish it seems a bit right. Fortunately he likes both chicken and fish, so this was a positive reaction. I think less soy sauce and more lemon would have worked better. But it was tasty enough and gives the impression of being nutritious.

I won't buy it every week - or indeed every month - but I will definitely try it again, perhaps with more forward planning next time.

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Links I found interesting for 20-12-2014

summer

Wednesday reading (belated)

summer
Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The Dying Days, by Lance Parkin
Elizabeth's Bedfellows, by Anna Whitelock
η3

Last books finished
δ3
ε3 (did not finish)
ζ3

Last week's audios
Welcome to Night Vale eps 20-22

Next books
Earth Girl, by Janet Edwards
Infinity Race, by Simon Messingham

Books acquired in last week
Doctor Who and the Vortex Crystal, by William H. Keith, Jr

UK coalition reality check

ni
Andrew Rawnsley has written a piece about the influence of Northern Irish political parties after May's Westminster election.
The Nigel we need to talk about is Nigel Dodds. Mark the name. For within a few months, he is the Nigel who could be an absolutely pivotal player in the politics of our country. It is not impossible that he could even get to choose who becomes our next prime minister.
It is a salutary reminder that Norn Iron remains part of the UK system, but I think he exaggerates the chances of Nigel Dodds playing kingmaker (not least because Nigel is himself at risk in North Belfast, though I expect he will win). The DUP's price will be modest:
...it’s not places in the Cabinet that we would seek. We ask for nothing for ourselves. We want outcomes that would benefit all of our people. We are not seeking to be part of any Government coalition, but, with an open mind, we are willing to sustain in office, a Government that offers policies and programmes that are in the best interests of Northern Ireland in particular, and the United Kingdom as a whole.
That looks like cash to me, rather than any DUP-friendly constitutional tweaks (over which both Dublin and the Shinners would expect to wield a veto).

In any case, this is all pretty improbable. The chance of the extra 6-10 DUP members (let alone five or six Shinners) holding the crucial votes is not high, as Martin Baxter has so ably mapped out. Even his statistics disregard the fact that the SDLP, likely to retain at least 2 of their current 3 seats, take the Labour Whip, which narrows the zone of DUP relevance still further. Added to that, a Labour deal with the DUP which has the side effect of annoying the SDLP may turn out not to be worth it.

Rawnsley also raises the prospect, excitedly pursued by Brian Walker on Slugger O'Toole, that the five or so Sinn Féin MPs might take their seats in hope of picking up some coalition crumbs. This is vanishingly unlikely. I am sure that it is likely in the medium term that the Shinners will end abstentionism at Westminster, rather more likely than a united Ireland is to come about. But it seems improbable that the price they would demand would be easier for a minority government to pay than any conceivable price demanded by the DUP. The calculation is clear: buy off 8-ish DUP votes, and the Shinners stay away. Buy the support of 5-ish Shinners and the DUP (and maybe also the SDLP) move to the opposite column, for a net loss of at least 3.

Moving farther northeast, I do find it interesting that the current Tory proposals for Scotland are much more generous than the Labour equivalents. Of course the SNP must say "no deals with the Tories" for now; but if Cameron is smart (and I know that reasonable people disagree on that point), he will be preparing an offer that the SNP cannot refuse on 8 May, of radical constitutional reform in return for confidence and supply (like the DUP, the SNP have no interest in sitting in the UK cabinet). I am sure that Cameron at least has read Douglas Hurd's 1970 novel dealing with precisely this scenario...

Links I found interesting for 14-12-2014

summer

Links I found interesting for 13-12-2014

summer

Where I've been this year

diplomacy
The overnights meme:

List the places where you spent a night away from home this year, marking places where you spent two or more non-consecutive nights with an asterisk.

*London, England
Nicosia (north), TRNC
Glasgow, Scotland
*Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Belfast, Norn Iron
Lys, Burgundy
*Kidderminster, England
Loughbrickland, Norn Iron
Budapest, Hungary
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Florence, Italy
Budva, Montenegro
Tirana, Albania
Brussels, Belgium (stayed in town last night after work Xmas party)

14 different places, well down on last year. Same as 2009, more than 2011.

Also a day-trip to Berlin and transit through Munich, changed planes in Istanbul en route to Cyprus, changed planes in Vienna en route to Montenegro, drove through Irish Republic en route to Loughbrickland, so tally of countries visited for the year is 14 (Albania, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus [both parts], France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, UK), up from last year's 9.

This is the first calendar year since 2001 that I have not been to the USA.

Previous years: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

Wednesday reading

books
Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The Dying Days, by Lance Parkin
δ3
Elizabeth's Bedfellows, by Anna Whitelock

Last books finished
ℶ1
101 Ways to Win an Election, by Mark Pack and Edward Maxfield
α3
β3
Fear of the Dark, by Trevor Baxendale
The Fat Years, by Chan Koonchung
γ3

Last week's audios
Welcome to Night Vale eps 9-19b
The Monstrous Menagerie by Jonathan Morris
The Night of 1000 Stars by James Goss
Murder at Moorsey Manor by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

Next books
Earth Girl, by Janet Edwards
Infinity Race, by Simon Messingham

Books acquired in last week
Doctor Who and the Rebel's Gamble, by William H. Keith Jr
Islands in the Sky, by Arthur C. Clarke
The Sands of Mars, by Arthur C. Clarke
Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke
The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke

Links I found interesting for 08-12-2014

summer

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Links I found interesting for 07-12-2014

summer

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Richard III's mtDNA and and Y chromosomes

gebealogy, genealogy
I've been very intrigued by the story of the identification of Richard III's remains, published in Nature a couple of days ago. For an occasional genealogist like myself, the connection between the historical lines of descent and the genetic evidence was particularly intriguing. It is pretty amazing that two separate and verifiable mother-to-daughter lines, one of 17 generations and one of 19, were provably established from Richard's sister, Anne of York, to people alive in London today.

The first line of descent, to cabinet-maker Michael Ibsen, included a number of women whose husbands and fathers - or in one case, daughter/sister/aunt - were notable enough to have made it to Wikipedia. I edited the relevant articles to make reference to this (Sir Robert Constable, Henry Chomley, Thomas Belasyse, Sir Henry Slingsby, John Talbot, Sir Henry Gough, Barbara Spooner Wilberforce, and Edward Vansittart Neale). When the findings were first announced in February 2013, it was also stated that another line of descent had been identified, but that the living individual concerned did not wish to go public. I wondered whether this might be a descendant of the musician Margaret Harrison, referred to in an earlier Guardian piece (one-time fiancée of Percy Grainger, daughter of the painter Peter Harrison and the writer Alma Strettell); and if so whether this would really help much, given that such a person would have been not so many generations removed from Michael Ibsen; any failure of methodology with regard to his lineage would likely apply also to Margaret Harrison and her descendants.

But in fact it turned out to be much more robust. Wendy Duldig, a social policy researcher, is descended from a different daughter of Sir Robert Constable and his wife Catherine (née Manners), Richard III's great-niece, back in the early 16th century, with an extra two generations in her lineage compared to Michael Ibsen. Only two of the intervening links in Wendy Duldig's mother-daughter line had close family members who made it to Wikipedia (Sir George Wentworth and Sir Benjamin Truman), though one of them was painted by Gainsborough.(Truman's granddaughter Frances Read, see right). I found this in itself interesting - it shows that even without historical notoriety, the present-day researcher can pursue good genealogical links through the ranks of the upper middle classes.

It shouldn't be very surprising that such lineages rise and fall in income bracket and level of social prominence over the centuries. Taking it in the other direction, consider Mary Garritt, the wife of Thomas Webb, a surveyor in Stow-on-the-Wold in the mid-18th century. Her daughter Frances (1775-1862) married Thomas Salisbury, landlord of Marshfield House in Yorkshire. Their daughter Anne (1806-1881) married another gentry type, Edwyn Burnaby of Baggrave Hall in Leicestershire. Their daughter Caroline (1832-1918) married a widowed clergyman who was the grandson of a duke. Their daughter Nina (1862-1938) managed to bag an earl as her husband. Her daughter Elizabeth (1900-2002) did rather better than a mere earl. Her daughter, another Elizabeth, was born in 1926 and is still alive; those of you in the UK and Canada will find her depicted on certain useful everyday objects, ie money. But her direct female line ancestry can be traced back only six generations before it is lost in Gloucestershire.

These lineages are in fact very fragile. 17 generations on, Michael Ibsen is 57, and he and his siblings have no children, so the lineage from Sir Robert Constable's older daughter will die with them. 19 generations on, Wendy Duldig, in her fifties, is not reported to have siblings or children either. Had Richard III's remains been discovered forty years later, there might have been nobody around to compare his DNA with. There may be other undocumented maternal line descendants still around, daughters whose descendants were written out of the record for reasons easy enough to envisage; but the Leicester researchers seem to have done a pretty thorough job and it's difficult to imagine that much slipped past them. On the other hand, we know for certain that everyone alive today had at least one female-line ancestor who was alive in 1485. We must all be descended maternally from a fairly small number of women even going back only a few centuries. Mitochondrial Eve is reckoned to have lived 100,000-200,000 years ago, but for a lot of us, our most recent common maternal ancestor will have been much closer to the present day.

A couple of demographic notes. The average mother-daughter age difference in Michael Ibsen's lineage is 30.5 years, which is perhaps a little older than I had expected. The average mother-daughter age difference for Wendy Duldig's lineage is 27.5 years, which I find less surprising. The biggest generational jump is 42 years, between Michael Ibsen's grandmother and his mother. There are just four other births to mothers over 35 among the 33 births in the two lineages - Michael Ibsen's great-grandmother, her grandmother, Wendy Duldig's grandmother, and poor Anne of York who at 37 died giving birth to Anne St Leger in 1476, the link that kicks off the entire process. At the other end, there are no provable teenage mothers, though it's quite likely that at least one of the uncertain early 16th century 20-year-olds would have qualified.

Three women are known to have outlived their daughters (one seventeenth-century, two eighteenth-century). Two of these lived to over 90 (both born in the seventeenth century and living to the eighteenth century). The average lifespan of the women born in the fifteenth century was 43.5 years; of those born in the sixteenth century, 47.8; of those born in the seventeenth century, 62.4 (skewed by the nonagenarians, though the Duldig lineage is also pretty robust in general in that era); for both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 70.6 years; and for the two born in the twentieth century, 79. (I have no data on the ages of the fathers.)

It's also interesting to note that Michael Ibsen's family emigrated to Canada, and Wendy Duldig's to New Zealand; but both Ibsen and Duldig have ended up in London.

Finally, the newspapers had great fun with the other side of the story, that the Y-chromosome analysis for male descent failed; comparison of Richard III's DNA with that of several known descendants of the fifth Duke of Beaufort showed that they did not have a common male ancestor in Edward III, as had been thought from historical records, so therefore at some stage the recorded father-son link did not reflect the biological facts. Does this mean that the entire British royal line is illegitimate? Well, probably not - or at least not for that reason!!! Four generations separate Richard III and Edward III, but the fifth Duke of Beaufort was 15 generations removed from his royal ancestor; on the face of it, it's therefore almost four times as likely that the bogus link is on the Beaufort side rather than the York side. On top of that, of the 15 Beaufort side links, only the first two are shared with Henry VII. So if for some peculiar reason you believe that Elizabeth II has a right to rule Britain and various other places due to Henry VII's descent from John of Gaunt, you can probably rest easy.

Links I found interesting for 05-12-2014

summer

Tags:

Wednesday reading (belated)

books
Current
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Fear of the Dark, by Trevor Baxendale
α3

Last books finished
χ2
Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Grass is Singing, by Doris May Lessing
ψ2
ω2
Ages in Chaos: James Hutton and the Discovery of Deep Time, by Stephen Baxter

Last week's audios
Welcome to Night Vale eps 2-7

Next books
The Fat Years, by Chan Koonchung
The Dying Days, by Lance Parkin

Books acquired in last week
Doctor Who and the Rebel's Gamble, by William H. Keith Jr

Links I found interesting for 04-12-2014

summer

Links I found interesting for 03-12-2014

summer

Links I found interesting for 01-12-2014

summer

November Books

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