I came, I saw, but there was no Latin to be conquered

veni vidi

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never had the option of studying Latin while in high school.

Mind you, the decidedly uninspired worth ethic I demonstrated in my teens perhaps ensured that I wouldn’t have taken Latin had it been offered, but the fact that California’s public school system was well in the crapper by the time I was enrolled in high school in 1980 made it a non issue.

Indeed, the Language of the Caesars was considered passé by the lightweights who had taken control of the Golden State’s education system beginning in the 1960s.

Instead, I squeaked my way through a couple of years of French – which in no way prepared me for the two years of college French that was required for me to graduate.

Years later I regret not having studied at least a smattering of Latin at some point in my schooling.

To be able to read Cicero, Cato or Tacitus in the original would have given me the chance to view their world through a wholly different lens, rather than one distorted, even unintentionally, by translation.

Fortunately, after a decline of several decades the study of Latin is increasing in popularity once again. Perhaps, common sense is returning to a segment of the education community, and the greatness of literary giants of past millennia are again being recognized on a wider basis.

Latin may not be for everybody but as Cicero once stated, “Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.”

(Above: Cartoon from The New Yorker and likely the only time the words “mani” or “pedi” will ever appear in this blog.)

Inquirer’s demise a sad reflection on state of print journalism

philadelphia inquirer sign

Anyone who has followed the print journalism industry over the past decade has witnessed its unmistakable decline.

Metro papers in particular have been hard hit as technology has revolutionized not only information distribution, but advertising, as well. The collapse of classified advertising coupled with the dramatic increase in online readership has resulted in the newspaper industry deteriorating precipitously in recent years.

Consider the Philadelphia Inquirer: 25 years ago it had 700 employees, dispatched journalists around the globe regularly to file stories and boasted daily circulation of more than 500,000.

Today, the paper fields barely 200 employees, has pulled back its coverage dramatically and seen daily circulation shrunk to a little more than 160,000.

“The Inquirer used to send reporters and photographers to South America and Africa,” said photojournalist Will Steacy, whose father was an editor at the publication and who has closely followed the paper’s decline since 2009. “They once sent a guy off to study the fate of the black rhino for six months. Now no story gets done that involves much more than a half-hour drive from the city. Otherwise it is mostly wire stories.”

As the British newspaper The Guardian notes, the Inquirer once had a reputation for both holding local government to account as well as breaking big foreign stories.

“ … it was the Inquirer that uncovered, for example, the full truth behind the OPEC oil blockade of 1973 that was causing panic in Philadelphia and beyond, by dispatching its reporters to examine the shipping lists of Lloyd’s of London and to interrogate dock workers in Rotterdam and Genoa,” according to The Guardian.

Today, in what is perhaps a sad reflection on both the industry and those that it serves, the Inquirer, at least based on its website traffic, appears beholden to lowest-common-denominator stories.

“The stories that receive the most clicks on philly.com,” Steacy suggests “are weather stories, celebrity stories, sex stories. I guess best of all is a celebrity sex story with a good weather angle… ”

The last bit fits all too well with musician Paul Weller’s wonderfully crafted line: “The public wants what the public gets.”

Native American tribe strives to save language from extinction

omaha language 1

Imagine your native language has but a few fluent speakers. An even dozen, to be exact, and none under the age of 70.

That’s the situation sisters Glenna Slater and Octa Keen of Macy, Neb., find themselves in.

The pair is among the few certified to teach the language of the Omaha Indian tribe, called Umónhon. They keep a tally of people who still speak their language.

That list is now on a single leaf of notebook paper, complete with names that have been crossed out, representing speakers who have died, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

“The sisters fear a day may come when the last name is scratched out,” according to the publication.

“It just tears part of your heart out,” Keen said, “because you know it’s never coming back.”

Umónhon is among approximately 2,000 languages around the globe that are classified as “severely endangered,” according to the Encyclopedia of the World’s Endangered Languages.

Continue reading

Philanthropist donates $300 million in works to Princeton

william scheide scheide library

A vast array of rare books, manuscripts and documents, including several exquisite 15th century bibles, first folios of Shakespeare’s works and an original copy of the US Declaration of Independence, have been bequeathed to Princeton University.

The collection, valued at around $300 million, was given to the university by William H. Scheide, who died last fall at age 100. Scheide had moved the collection to Princeton in the late 1950s from his home in Titusville, Penn., where it had been amassed over three generations, creating the Scheide Library at Princeton in the process.

The bibles include a Gutenberg Bible printed in 1455 and described as exceedingly rare and beautifully illuminated.

The collection also contains Shakespeare’s first, second, third and fourth folios, according to The Guardian.

“Shakespeare’s first folio, for example, was the first book of plays published in a format generally reserved for literature,” the publication reported. “The first folio is sometimes called ‘incomparably the most important work in the English language,’ according to Folger Shakespeare Library.”

Other items in the collection include a handwritten speech about slavery by Abraham Lincoln, a 1493 letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain about his discovery of the New World, musical sketchbooks and manuscripts of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Wagner, as well as all 47 volumes of music produced by Bach.

Scheide’s bibles – the first four printed editions of the Bible – are the jewels of the collection.

Continue reading

Researchers narrow search for remains of Don Quixote author

miguel de cervantes statue

Researchers believe they may have found the remains of the man said to be the author of the first modern European novel, beneath the chapel of a cloistered convent in Spain.

Experts searching for the remains of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes said earlier this month that they found wooden fragments of a casket bearing the initials “M.C.” containing bones beneath the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid’s historic Barrio de las Letras, or Literary Quarter, according to the Associated Press.

Archaeologists are seeking to solve the centuries-old mystery of where the famed Spanish writer was laid to rest. The initials on a plank of the coffin were formed with metal tacks embedded into the wood.

While the bones of at least 10 people were found inside the niche containing the broken wooden planks of the coffin, some of the remains belonged to children.

Cervantes’ remains went missing in 1673 when work was undertaken at the convent. They were thought to have initially been taken to another convent before being returned, according to the Daily Mail.

Researchers are examining the bones to try to determine whether Cervantes’ are among them. Cervantes, who was 69 when he died in 1616, left several clues that should aid investigators with their probe, including:

  • He had just six teeth when he died; and
  • He suffered three wounds during the famed Battle of Lepanto, including one that left one of his arms withered.

Cervantes’ influence on the Spanish language is such that it is often called the “the language of Cervantes.”

His magnum opus, fully titled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, and published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615, follows the adventures of Don Quixote, a landless nobleman who has imbibed too many chivalric novels and lost touch with reality. In a bid to bring justice to the world, he turns knight errant, recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his faithful squire, and roams the world in search of adventure.

Cervantes himself led a fascinating life. Born in 1547, he had by 1569 moved to Rome, where he worked as chamber assistant to a cardinal.

Continue reading

Mysterious stone carving shows up at British yard sale

stone-garden-ornament

A British archaeologist and television producer, perusing a yard sale in Leicester, England, came across an item being sold as garden ornament that was unlike other objects being proffered.

Instead of a garden-variety garden ornament, the stone carving had a complex pattern that “may be some form of writing,” according to James Balme, who purchased the article.

Weighing approximately 60 pounds, the stone is about 18 inches long and 5-1/2 inches wide at its base.

The stone appears to have been used as “a keystone from an archway or indeed a vaulted ceiling,” according to Balme.

While its exact date is uncertain, Balme believes it’s from the Anglo-Saxon period, which began when the Romans abandoned Britain around 410 AD and ended with William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, according to the online publication RedOrbit.

The sandstone carving has been used as a garden ornament for several years, Balme told the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten.

In an effort to identify the use and exact date of the stone carving, Balme is turning to social media such as Twitter to try to learn more about the stone.

(Top: Stone found by James Balme on sale as a garden ornament in Leicester, England.)

Evidence that the technologically lame will be forever among us

dogbert

For a society that prides itself on technological savvy, a segment of the Western world seems utterly unable to comprehend one of the simplest concepts concerning Internet security.

SplashData, a California-based provider of password management applications, reports that the most common Internet password held by users in North America and Western Europe in 2014 – once again – was “123456”. Next up was the even less imaginative “password”.

Since SplashData started its study in 2011, “123456” and “password” have been the top two passwords each and every year. This, despite the fact that millions of accounts are hacked annually, technology employed by hackers is constantly improving and countless warnings not to use insipid passwords are issued regularly.

At this point, anyone who goes with “123456” or “password” is all but asking for their information to be stolen. Especially if one goes with “password”. Talk about the height of laziness. You might as well just give your boss your resignation slip, put on a pair of old sweats and call it a career because you aren’t even trying anymore.

Other common passwords included “12345” – for those unable to type in a full six digits – and the ever-so slightly longer “1234567”, “12345678” and “1234567890”. Given that hackers employ computer programs that can run through common passwords in a matter of seconds, using sequential numbers such as the above is barely a step above packaging up your data and mailing it to the bad guys.

Other number-based passwords include “111111” (no need to even move your finger while you type!), “123123”, “696969” and the crafty “abc123” (unimaginative and lazy).

For the technologically indolent who are number-adverse there’s “qwerty”, “letmein” and “access”. Yes, nothing screams “computer whiz” like the password “letmein”. I believe both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs used that for years, although Jobs preferred “letmein1”.

Finally, a couple of other notably bad passwords: “superman” and “batman”.

The above passwords might be understandable if they were taken from a group of 5th graders, but SplashData based its list on more than 3.3 million passwords that were leaked last year. That means a significant number of adults actually thought the “batman” and “abc123” were credible passwords.

No one deserves to be hacked, but some folks sure seem determined to extend an attractive invitation.