April 2016

April 2016 letter

My cousin, Milly Wilberts, died of cancer in early March. She was a Wight-Klinkhammer. I did not hear about her death at the time. She was a great person and I really liked her.

wild cherry

We are having a very wet and cold spring so far. I thought we were done with frost and put out some tomato plants. It has frozen at night three times since then. The trees are in leaf or with large buds. The wild cherries blossomed so spring is coming along if slowly (photo is wild cherry out of bedroom window). The French weather forecasters, who are usually pretty accurate, were badly wrong 3 days in a row. They forecast terrible storms with high winds and hail – the days were normal. We have to run to keep up with the grass this time of year.

Harry’s medication is not fixed yet. He is having low thyroid function as a result of the heart medicine and so they are trying to get the right level of thyroid medicine. The result is that he is suffering from low energy right now, soon to be corrected we hope. (good thing the weather is not great). Our regular doctor is ill and probably will not be returning. The replace takes a little getting used to – she talks fast and without clear enunciation.

Ciara’s Chris is now working in Merrilee’s ‘family’ firm. Ciara will be a member of the bar in early May.

Our east neighbours had a baby girl and all is well. Now we will have two young girls on both sides of us. Ginger is fenced off on both sides but she still knows in her heart that ALL little girls belong to her. The west neighbours have had this year’s lambs from across the road delivered to live on his grass for some months. So now we have little ba-ba sounds. Ginger also believes that she should be playing with the lambs.

I have not been blogging regularly for a several months but have started again and hope to be posting twice at week soon. I did some stats and they are not too bad. Also one post was an editor’s choice in ScienceSeekers.

Paul and Pam are going to visit in a few days.

In this month: April letter; and below, Garage progress; Making Bread – memories of Milly and bread; Oxidative stress – new theory about antioxidants; Re-building Paris – story of Haussmann’s transformation; Splitting verbs – rant about grammar pedants; Why the Middle East? - Butler’s famous quote; Webstats – the visitors to my site so far this year; April image – France long, long ago

Garage progress

or lack of garage progress. Between the weather and Harry’s health very little has been done. The current task is getting the slats up that will hold the slates in place. Harry works on it when it is not raining, blowing a gale or he is at some appointment. He works for shortish periods between rests (his medication has made him tire easily but that will improve). The government is no longer concerned with when the garage will be finished so one source of pressure is gone but Harry wants to finish everything while he is still able to.

roof slats for slates

Making Bread

Down memory lane again and thinking of Milly Wilberts, I recall the few months that I lived with her. Hank was working in another state for a while, welding, so there was usually Milly, me, and the three young boys. They were very short of money and on food stamps. I believe that Mom was giving Milly some money towards my keep but neither Mom or Milly ever mentioned that. To making ends meet, we fished in the local stream (smoked the fish) and made bread. I thought about the bread. Although I cannot eat bread anymore, I still think of it as a friendly food.

Milly taught my to make bread in medium large batches. The loaves were baked in two oven loads, wrapped, and frozen. I just loved making bread, every part of it but especially kneading. And I loved the smell of the yeast and of the baking. And of course it was very good to eat – like good bakery bread rather than the factory-make stuff. It was a happy time of talking and laughing with Milly along with physical labour with the bread.

Then I thought about bread making in a different place. Harry and I were poor for a while in Vancouver and so I made bread and I enjoyed it – there were 6 people in the house and I was the only one with a job. I was not the only one who could cook but I was the only one making bread and buying groceries. We ate a lot of bread. One of the people in the house, Ingar Ann, had a visit from her mother. She was keeping a lot of secrets from her mother and so the whole household had to be re-arranged. I was pissed off with the preparations. When the mother came, I was kneading bread. I was angry and somewhat curt, didn’t smile, didn’t chat. The lady was a dour, stern, Swedish woman and she did not smile or say much either. The mother left after her inspection of the whole house and everyone in it. She told Ingar Ann that she was relieved, and that she was happy as long as Ingar Ann was living with me because anyone who made bread like that was a sober, reliable person. Yes, Milly taught me well how to put my back into kneading.

Oxidative stress

Recently a few trusted pieces of advice have been overturned although many people have not heard the corrections (or do not believed them). We learned that fat is not so bad and carbohydrate are not so good. We learned that cholesterol is not so bad so it is reasonable to eat healthy foods like eggs. Avoiding salt if you have a bad heart is now being studied and may turn to dust (or maybe not). It is the turn of antioxidants. The free-radical theory of aging was questioned in 2006 and by 2013 was seriously doubted by many. Studies were showing that antioxidants did not work to protect against disease or aging.

What is happening? Here is a tiny bit of chemistry. Oxidation and reduction are opposite chemical reactions; they occur together and the total reaction is called a redox reaction. It is really a question of stealing electrons. If one thing is oxidized then another has to be reduced. To be oxidized is to gain an oxygen atom or loss a hydrogen atom or, more clearly stated, to loss electrons. To be reduced is the opposite. The theory was that free radicals removed electrons from other molecules and by doing that oxidized and damaged those molecules. Antioxidants will mop up the free radicals and stop the damage. But the antioxidants appeared not to work, or not work very well. It even seems that you can take too much antioxidant.

The reasons are probably that the redox level is a balance, the balance point is different in different compartments of the cell, and the redox level is being controlled by another system, one based on sulphur. There are two pairs of sulphur containing molecules having an oxidized and reduced form. The reduced forms are called cysteine and glutathione; the oxidized forms are cystine and glutathione disulphide. They occur in different concentrations in different compartments of the cell to maintain a particular redox balance. The extent to which an antioxidant such as vitamin C can act depends on it being restored to its unoxidized form so that it can destroy another free radical. Without the sulphur based system, a antioxidant can work once and that is the end of capacity. A high cystine and low glutathione has been shown to give higher mortality – an unhealthy state. The higher the cystine/glutathione ratio the more disease and aging.

But there is a rub. For various complicated reasons cysteine and glutathione cannot be taken as supplements. Fortunately, it has been found that the Mediterranean diet and zinc help to keep the redox balance healthy with a low cystine/glutathione ratio.

Story of the re-building of Paris from the Guardian series about cities - Haussmann rips up Paris – and divides France to this day

Paris today

Georges-Eugène Haussmann is feted internationally for transforming the French capital with an audacious programme of urban planning. Yet 125 years after his death, his legacy at home remains much more controversial. Why?

He was the Parisian who ripped up his home city; one of the most famous and controversial urban planners in history. Even now, 125 years after the death of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, France remains divided over whether the man who transformed Paris into the City of Light was truly a master planner – or an imperialist megalomaniac. Internationally, Haussmann is celebrated for much that is loved about the French capital; notably those wide avenues flanked with imposing buildings of neatly dressed ashlar and intricate wrought iron balconies. To his republican compatriots, however, Haussmann was an arrogant, autocratic vandal who ripped the historic heart out of Paris, driving his boulevards through the city’s slums to help the French army crush popular uprisings.

Historian and Haussmann expert Patrice de Moncan is exasperated by the century’s worth of criticism that has been levelled at this hugely influential figure. “Sometimes I don’t know where to start; it’s bullshit from beginning to end,” De Moncan says. “But it’s a view many people still hold in France. “Haussmann has been portrayed as this almost sinister figure, only out to enrich himself and with his fingers in the till. His critics accused him of filling Paris with cobbled streets, bland buildings with stone facades, and wide, dead straight avenues so the army could repress the masses.” De Moncan, who is writing a new biography of Haussmann, smarts with the injustice of what he sees as the ongoing maligning of his hero. “Some said he was austere, but from what I have discovered he liked a good party and threw great ones. Others accused him of chasing the girls – it’s true he had a mistress [the opera star Francine Cellier] with whom he had a child, but unlike others at that time, he accepted, recognised and educated the girl.”

In 1848, Haussmann was an ambitious civil servant determinedly climbing the ranks when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte – nephew and heir of Napoléon I – returned to Paris after 12 years’ exile in London to become president of the French Second Republic. Bonaparte, later elected Emperor Napoléon III, hated what he saw. In his absence, the population of Paris had exploded from 759,000 in 1831 to more than a million in 1846 – despite regular outbreaks of cholera and typhoid that killed tens of thousands. The French capital was overcrowded, dingy, dirty and riddled with disease. Why, Bonaparte pondered, was it not more like London, with its grand parks and gardens, its tree-lined avenues and modern sewage system? Paris, he declared, needed light, air, clean water and good sanitation.

Haussmann was an imposing figure both physically – at 6ft 3in – and intellectually. Born into a bourgeois military family with strong Lutheran ties, he had been a brilliant student at elite Paris colleges, and personified the Protestant work ethic. Portraits show a tall, solid, often studious figure with a not unkind face, often sporting a chin-strap beard and, in later years, thinning hair. France’s interior minister, Victor de Persigny, believed Haussmann to be the ideal candidate for the job of Prefect of the Seine and overseer of Napoléon III’s plan to transform the city. “He is one of the most extraordinary men of our time; big, strong, vigorous, energetic and at the same time clever and devious,” wrote De Persigny to the emperor. “He told me all of his accomplishments during his administrative career, leaving out nothing: he could have talked for six hours without a break, since it was his favourite subject, himself.”

Paris during re-building

Haussmann got the job. A week after his appointment in the summer of 1853, he was summoned to the emperor’s official residence at the Palais des Tuileries, where Napoléon III produced his plan for Paris. It showed a map of the city with three straight, dark lines drawn over it: one running north-to-south and two east-to-west either side of the Seine, all cutting through some of the most densely populated but historic areas of central Paris. “This is what I want,” Napoléon III told Haussmann. It was the start of the most extensive public works programme ever voluntarily carried out in a European city, turning Paris into a vast building site for more than 17 years.

Haussmann cut a swathe through the cramped and chaotic labyrinth of slum streets in the city centre, knocked down 12,000 buildings, cleared space for the Palais Garnier, home of the Opéra National de Paris, and Les Halles marketplace, and linked the new train terminals with his long, wide and straight avenues. Less well known is Haussmann’s commissioning of an outstanding collection of street furniture – lampposts, newspaper kiosks, railings – and the decorative bandstands in the 27 parks and squares he created. Below ground, Haussmann oversaw the installation of les egouts, the city’s complex sewage network. He also commissioned reservoirs and aquaducts to bring clean drinking water to the city. On his orders, gas lamps were installed along the widened cobbled streets; now when the elegant flâneurs who strolled the 137km of new boulevards retired for the night, the revellers and prostitutes who emerged from the bars and the shadows could walk safely. The new streets came with trees and broad pavements along which café terraces sprang up, soon to be filled with artists and artisans enjoying “absinthe hour”.

In his Dictionary of the Second Empire, Josephy Valynseele wrote of Haussmann: “During his career he showed a maniacal ambition, an impudent opportunism and was, whatever he did, a genius of showmanship.” But republican opponents criticised the brutality of the work. They saw his avenues as imperialist tools to neuter fermenting civil unrest in working-class areas, allowing troops to be rapidly deployed to quell revolt. Haussmann was also accused of social engineering by destroying the economically mixed areas where rich and poor rubbed shoulders, instead creating distinct wealthy and “popular” arrondissements. Critics also accused him of destroying the city’s medieval treasures, citing the enduring charm of the narrow winding streets of the Marais: the city’s oldest district and one which escaped Haussmann’s razing.

There was additional outrage at the staggering 2.5bn franc bill for the work – around €75bn today. By 1869 the attacks had become deafening, and Haussmann was forced to vigorously defend himself before MPs and city officials. In the hope of salvaging his own flagging popularity, Napoléon III asked Hassmann to resign. He refused. “Haussmann had a great belief in public service and had spent his whole career in the service of the king and then the emperor,” De Moncan says. “He believed if he resigned it would be assumed he had done wrong, when in fact he was very proud of what he had done. Napoléon III offered him all manner of inducements but he still refused, so the emperor sacked him.

“The Second Empire and Napoléon III were despised by republicans, and Haussmann was the victim of this political backlash. Victor Hugo hated him, and because everyone in France regarded what Hugo wrote as the word of God, they hated Haussmann too. Hugo, the man who wrote Les Miserables about how desperate conditions were in Paris, accused Haussmann of destroying the city’s medieval charm!” De Moncan observes this was the same “charm” that had brought epidemics to Paris; the charm that “had 20 people living in one room with no light and no toilets, just a common courtyard into which they did their business. People like Hugo forgot how truly miserable Paris had been for ordinary Parisians.”

Out of a job and persona non grata in Paris, Haussmann spent six months in Italy to lift his spirits. He returned and was given a management post with the military – which lasted less than a week before Napoléon III was defeated. Haussmann lived out his final days in rented accommodation on a paltry 6,000-franc pension, the equivalent of €20,000 a year today, paying regular visits to his three beloved daughters. In his memoirs, he seems stoic rather than bitter about his fall from grace: “In the eyes of the Parisians, who like routine in things but are changeable when it comes to people, I committed two great wrongs. Over the course of 17 years I disturbed their daily routines by turning Paris upside down; and they had to look at the same face of the prefect in the Hôtel de Ville. These were two unforgivable complaints.”

Some of Haussmann’s harshest critics, including the politician and philosopher Jules Simon, later changed their view of him: “He tried to make Paris a magnificent city and he succeeded completely,” Simon wrote in 1882. “He introduced into his beautiful capital trees and flowers, and populated it with statues.”

Paris as planned

Today, Haussmann is remembered by the grand boulevard that bears his name, on which the Palais Garnier sits, and a statue on its corner with Rue de Laborde in the 8th Arrondissement. But according to De Moncan, Haussmann’s vital contribution to modern Paris is still not fully appreciated.

“Haussmann was never forgiven or recognised in his lifetime in France, and still isn’t. If I give a conference here, people groan when I talk about him. Right up until the 1980s, his buildings were dismissed as rubbish and as many as possible were destroyed, so that all those unlovely 1970s glass and concrete structures could go up. “But what he did was phenomenal; he was the world’s first modern urban developer. Everyone who came to Paris for the universal exhibitions, including Queen Victoria, was astonished by the transformation of the city. In 1867, there was a meeting of European architects in Germany at which Haussmann was hailed as a pure genius; a brilliant modern urban developer. Yet all that was said about him back home was that he was a crook.”

Splitting verbs

Everyone who knows me, knows how much I dislike grammar pendants. People get so upset about non-existent rules because “my high school teacher said…”. They assume that ancient English usages are recent ignorance. They assume that other dialects of English as old and as well used as their own are the language of people too lazy to learn the ‘proper’ language. I really don’t think they realize how they appear arrogant, anti-social, rude and ignorant of their own language.

The Associated Press Stylebook apparently feels that banning the split infinitive is not good enough. They ban adverbs between auxiliary verbs and main verbs. Although it is clear that we have been doing this for more than 600 years, they say it is wrong. Almost every great author did it. This pseudo-rule is not as old as the split infinitive rule; it is a brand new baby. It may be the result of confusion over what an infinite verb actually is. The pseudo-rule about splitting infinitives dates from the first Grammar Schools, schools that taught Latin to the sons of wealthy commoners.

Some Latin masters developed a crafty scheme to help their students. They would force them to speak English in a Latin-ish way and then they would make fewer mistakes in Latin. This affected the way English was spoken by people in this particular social class. Those above and below that stratum went on speaking as they had been. One of the rules that these children learned was to keep the ‘to’ right next to its infinitive verb in English so that they would recognize to use the infinitive form of the verb and not a preposition, when they did their little translation in their heads. That this little annoying non-English pseudo-rule should be with us after hundreds of years when it is only used by pendants and even they forget to use it occasionally – is just crazy.

Even more crazy is the ‘don’t split verb’ rule. John McIntyre called it “the dumbest rule in the AP Stylebook”. John Bremner said “those who would ban splitting a compound verb are even more antediluvian than antisplitinfinitive troglodytes”. Whoever invented the new rule for adverbs did not do us a favour. Who would honestly think that “had appeared suddenly” was to be preferred over “had suddenly appeared”? Neither is clearly better and the one that is less awkward in a particular sentence is the one to use. No rule is needed.

Lately, I have decided to call people who correct someone’s grammar unless they were asked to, are paid to or do it in a particularly kind and nice way to second language speakers. No matter how clear is the error, if the reader/listener understands what is meant, then correction is basically rude. It is especially rude if there was no error to begin with and that is quite common. Correcting someone’s clearly understood language is as rude as commenting one someones weight, clothes or taste in interior design. It is simply a rude personal remark and people should be called on it. I don’t care much whether I lose friends with this resolution. It is just too hard to hold my tongue when someone makes clear that they care more about how a person says something than what they say. I am old enough to be bad tempered about what bothers me – I can be a grumpy old lady. You are warned.

Why the Middle East?

There are lots of reasons for war in the Middle East but most of them would apply to other regions where we do not go to war. One big reason is the oil. This old a familiar quote puts motivations in a clear light.

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” – Major General Smedley Butler, who died the most decorated US Marine in American history, in a speech given in 1933


I have been remiss lately: not posted to my blog regularly and not at all for a quite a few weeks in Jan-Apr, and not taken the trouble to put notices in various places. I also did not tracked the stats and so I was surprised that they were as high as they were. I am currently trying to get in gear to be more consistent.

Looking at the first 4 months of this year gives -

Sites that have not been updated for a very long time (inactive but available) are still visited. JanetsPlace is steady at about 800 visitors a month; the genealogical site varies a lot 400-800 a month; Thoughts on Thoughts got about 18500 visitors per month and still gets the odd comment.

The two sites that I post to are doing OK. JanetSpace is climbing from about 300 to 500 a month; Neuro-Patch has dropped (no doubt from lack of posts) from 18000 to 12000. One post got an editors pick on ScienceSeekers.

April image

les tres riches heures du duc de Berry - april


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About Janet Kwasniak

Retired pensioner, raised in Canada but UK citizen living in France, interested in Science and many other things.

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