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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Munchausen (1781) - Part 3


(Pic source)
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3) Nearing Petersburg I took to a sleigh. In the Finnish woods I saw a terrifying wolf that looked very hungry. He was loping behind me and caught up easily, and I soon saw that I could not get away from him. So I lay down flat in the sleigh, and let my horse run straight on. Things turned out as I had guessed and hoped: the monster leaped over my head and onto my horse, and began to devour it from behind. I sat up in my sleigh and watched this gruesome sight. Finally, when the wolf had eaten his way into the horse’s chest and was between the traces, I struck the wolf with the whip’s handle as hard as I could. He sprang forward, startled; what was left of the horse fell away, the wolf was in the harness and could not get back out. I whipped even harder, he raced ahead madly, and by this means I made my entry into Petersburg.
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Original:

3) Nahe vor Petersburg nahm ich einen Schlitten. In den finnischen Wäldern sah ich einen entsetzlichen Wolf, der mir sehr hungrig schien, hinter mir hertraben; er holte mich leicht ein, und ich sah bald, daß ich ihm nicht entfliehn konnte. Ich legte mich also platt im Schlitten nieder, und ließ mein Pferd gerade aus laufen; es geschah, was ich vermuthet und gehoft hatte: Das Unthier setzte über meinen Kopf weg, gerade auf mein Pferd zu, und fing an, es von hinten aufzufressen. Ich richtete mich in meinem Schlitten auf, und sah diesem Gräuel zu. Endlich, wie der Wolf schon an der Brust des Pferdes war, und sich auf die Art in das Seilenzeug hineingefressen hatte, schlug ich mit aller Kraft die ich hatte, auf den Wolf mit der umgekehrten Peitsche zu; er erschrak, und sprang vorwärts; der Rest des Pferdes stürzte hin, der Wolf war in den Seilen, und konnte nicht zurük, ich peitschte immer stärker, er lief wie rasend fort, und so fuhr ich in Petersburg hinein.


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Monday, May 25, 2015

Munchausen (1781) - Part 2



(Pic source)

More of my translation of the Baron's early adventures:
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2. I rode on. Night was falling, and there was still no sign of a village. Everything was covered in snow and I didn’t know the way. So I dismounted, found a small pointed stick to which I tied my horse, took my pistol, lay down not far from my horse, and fell so deeply asleep that I didn’t wake up until the next morning. To my great astonishment I found myself in the middle of a village - in the churchyard, to be precise – but my horse was nowhere to be seen. At last I could hear it whinnying as though it was in the sky; I looked up and saw it above me, hanging from the steeple by its reins. Now I could explain everything: yesterday the village had been buried in snow, which had melted overnight; I had been asleep while the snow dropped away and without knowing it had been gently lowered down; and what I had taken for a pointed stick to which I had tied my horse, had been the very tip of the spire poking out of the snow. Then I took my pistol and shot through the halter, so that the horse fell to the ground; and rode on.
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Original:

2) Ich ritt weiter, es ward Nacht, und noch war kein Dorf zu sehen. Alles war voll geschneyt, und ich kannte den Weg nicht. Ich stieg also ab, fand einen kleinen spitzigen Pfahl, woran ich mein Pferd band, nahm meine Pistolen zu mir, legte mich nicht weit von meinem Pferde hin, und schlief ein, so fest daß ich erst des andern Morgens wieder erwachte. Mit großem Erstaunen fand ich mich itzt mitten in einem Dorfe, und zwar auf dem Kirchhofe; mein Pferd aber war nicht zu sehn. Endlich hör ich es wie in der Luft wiehern; ich blicke herauf, und sehe es oben am Kirchthurm angebunden hängen. Nun konnt’ ich mir alles erklären: Gestern war das Dorf zugeschneyt gewesen, die Nacht war alles aufgethaut; ich war im Schlaf, wie der Schnee weggesunken, immer unmerklich mit herabgekommen; und was ich für einen spitzen Pfahl gehalten, war die nur ein wenig aus dem Schnee hervorstehende Kirchthurmsspitze gewesen, woran ich also mein Pferd gebunden hatte. – Ich nahm itzt meine Pistole, schoß den Halfter des Pferdes entzwey, wodurch es herunter auf die Erde fiel; und ritt weiter.


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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Baron Munchausen - the original (a translation) - Part 1


(Pic source)

The earliest printed edition of Munchausen (originally Münchhausen) stories I have found so far is from a magazine of humorous prose published in Berlin between 1774 and 1783. The Baron (or Freiherr) appears largely in 1781, with a couple of extra tales two years later (Vade Mecum für lustige Leute, Theil 8 (1781), Nr. 175, S. 92-101 und Theil 9 (1783), Nr. 106, S. 76–79). The first book dedicated solely to the Baron's adventures appeared in London in 1785.

Here is my translation of the Berlin edition's introduction and the first episode:
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There lives in Hessen a very witty man, Herr von Münchhausen, who has issued a certain type of curious stories that bear his name, though not all may have been invented by him. They are tales full of the most unbelievable exaggerations, but at the same time they are so comical and humorous that we have to laugh heartily without bothering about their plausibility. In their way, they are truly Hogarthian caricatures. Our readers, who may already have heard several of them, will find some of the finest here. The comic effect is greatly increased if the narrator relates everything as if he has seen or done it himself. So:

1. I once had to make a long and difficult journey in a hard winter.  I was on horseback and not dressed very warmly, either. On the way I saw a poor sick man who was almost completely naked; my heart bled for him and despite feeling so cold myself I threw him my coat. And a voice from Heaven could be heard, saying, “Münchhausen, Münchhausen, that shall not go unrewarded, or may the Devil take me!”
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Original:
Es lebt ein sehr witziger Kopf, Herr von M–h–s–n im H–schen, der eine eigne Art sinnreicher Geschichten aufgebracht hat, die nach seinem Namen benannt wird, obgleich nicht alle einzelne Geschichten von ihm seyn mögen. Es sind Erzählungen voll der unglaublichsten Uebertreibungen, dabey aber so komisch und launigt, daß man, ohne sich um die Möglichkeit zu bekümmern, von ganzem Herzen lachen muß; in ihrer Art wahre hogarthsche Karrikaturen. Unsere Leser, denen aber vielleicht schon manche davon durch mündliche Ueberlieferung bekannt sind, sollen hier einige der vorzüglichsten davon finden. – Das Komische wird sehr erhöht, wenn der Erzähler alles als selbst gesehn oder selbst gethan vorträgt. Also:

1) Ich hatte einst eine weite und unbequeme Reise im strengen Winter zu machen. Ich war zu Pferde, und eben nicht sehr warm gekleidet. Am Wege sah ich einen armen Kranken, der fast ganz nackt war; mein Herz blutete mir, ich warf ihm, trotz meines eignen Frostes, meinen Mantel hin. Und eine Stimme ließ sich vom Himmel hören: „M–n, M–n, daß soll dir, hol mich der Teufel, nicht unbelohnet bleiben!“


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Monday, May 18, 2015

Horses, wine and shoes



Some believe the Good to be that which is useful; they accordingly bestow this title upon riches, horses, wine, and shoes; so cheaply do they view the Good, and to such base uses do they let it descend. They regard as honourable that which agrees with the principle of right conduct – such as taking dutiful care of an old father, relieving a friend's poverty, showing bravery on a campaign, and uttering prudent and well-balanced opinions. We, however, do make the Good and the honourable two things, but we make them out of one: only the honourable can be good; also, the honourable is necessarily good.
Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

So with 650 newly-minted honourable members, the House of Commons should be awash with prudent and well-balanced opinions.

Maybe we should wait and see though. I think Cameron's lot may still be swayed by riches, horses, wine, and shoes.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Costly coffee

How much?
source

An interesting Starbucks story from pcpro.

Hackers are emptying people’s bank accounts using the Starbucks app.

Starbucks has admitted that users of its app are having their bank accounts drained by hackers. Thieves have gained access to a number of users’ apps - and with it access to their bank accounts, PayPals and any other linked forms of payment - all without needing an account number or password.

After gaining access to Starbucks accounts, thieves are exploiting the auto-reload feature of the app. Designed to make buying Starbucks even more convenient, the app will helpfully use a linked bank account to top up your Starbuck balance when it’s low.


Maybe lovers of inferior coffee saw the app as a kind of direct debit, but I still don't see how they could possibly have been so gullible as to drink the stuff on a regular basis.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fairer votes for the UK (2): regional inequalities

One way in which the voting system is skewed is the disproportion between the size of the electorates in our member nations and number of their seats in the national Parliament, as discussed in the previous piece.

Overlaid on that is a difference in turnout (which in itself may be an indication of other inefficiencies in our system of representation that dissuade many from involving themselves at all). So the results in the 2015 General Election show that Welsh and Northern Irish voters returned more MPs per vote cast, if one can put it that way:



Within the nation-regions, Party voters are unevenly distributed and this leads to a bias in results under "First Past The Post". That bias varies regionally, again reflecting the uncomfortable compromise between local and national loyalties. In the charts below, equitable representation would score a 1.00 ratio between overall votes obtained and seats gained:


 



An independent MP (and we have only one in the UK!) will score highest of all, since all her votes are concentrated in one constituency.

And that leads us on to another conflict: are we voting for a political party or a person? Opponents of the political-list system like to stress the connection between the local MPs and their constituents. But in a "safe" seat it seems that only the rosette matters and candidates can be parachuted in from Central Office. Or (as in my former MP's case) switched to a safer neighbouring constituency when boundary changes threaten his effortless security.

Looking at the UK as a whole, we see a bizarrely skewed result, reflecting inequalities in regional seat allocation (average size of constituency), turnout, and geographical distribution of party voters:


This has worked heavily against certain minor parties:


It is said that the current system allows us to have majority governments (and to throw out ones we don't like).

But this is at a cost: we have (in my opinion) been misgoverned for many decades by parties who have an eye on the swing voter in the swing seat, who often pursue policies that the majority greatly dislike (and that may be harmful and foolish), and who are happy to see large numbers of the electorate become completely disconnected from the process of (alleged) self-government.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fairer votes for the UK (1): adjusting regional disparities

Whether the current voting system is broken or running fine, depends on your point of view. For the Tories it seems to be going swimmingly. For many others, it looks like a pig's ear.

In the first place, there is the issue of local or regional identity vs national identity and governance. The four components of the UK are not represented in Parliament in proportion to their voting population:
 

Scotland and Northern Ireland are favoured slightly (by about 1 seat), and Wales significantly so (by 8 seats). A closer fit would be this (and I give another alternative based on Cam's plan to cut the number of MPs to 600):


There are regional differences in turnout, but doubtless these will vary from one General Election to another, and for different reasons, so it wouldn't be just to allocate seats according to actual votes cast in previous elections. But the differences in turnout this time are noticeable:

  Turnout %
England 65.9
Scotland 71.1
Wales 65.6
N. Ireland 58.1

I suppose the independence issue stimulated the Scots, and perhaps as Northern Ireland's changing demographic continues to steer them into an accommodation with the South their voters may increasingly see the lands to their East as of declining relevance to them?


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