Confrontation between a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Little Owl. © Ian Schofield/National Geographic Photo Contest (via 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest - The Big Picture - Boston.com)
Books of 2013 - #38: The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr
I was having a conversation about exploding whales (not making this up) with some friends which eventually mentioned the substance ambergris. When I didn’t know what that was, he began to explain it, then he stopped and handed me this book.
This book is not about ambergris, but it does explain what it is and why it is used in the making of perfume. This book isn’t about perfume either, but it is about the reason we’re able to smell things and the man (Luca Turin) who seems to have cracked that case. Among other things, he is a perfume fanatic.
You’ll notice that I say seems to, This book certainly presents what sounds like to me and many others, very convincing arguments for Luca Turin’s theory of smell. But a large part of the scientific community that studies smell has either rebuked these claims or ignored them entirely
This book is also about the sheer intransigence of the scientific community to take any serious look at these claims even though it goes against scientific principles to dismiss things without answering or even looking at the data. As Burr found in writing this book, there are a great deal of vested interests built upon another theory of smell which would prove to be irrelevant if Turin is correct, and fortunes have been spent (and continue to be spent) on assumptions that Turin is wrong.
In reading it, I learned a great deal. I learned what Turin’s theory is, but I also learned other things because they ended up being related to Turin’s process for his discovery. For instance, I had no idea what spectroscopy was, and now I do.
I also learned a lot about the process and politics of the scientific community, which was both fascinating and disheartening. On the one hand, I was not surprised. The larger community treating what is probably a correct theory with utter contempt is not new. It happened to men like Galileo who proposed that the earth orbited the sun (which was proposed as early as the third century BCE by Aristarchus).
On the other hand I am surprised, because guys like Aristarchus were operating in a world where almost no one was on their level enough to even understand and evaluate what they were doing. And at the end of the day, there really wasn’t a whole lot of data for them to work with. When Hipparchus abandoned a heliocentric model, it was because his calculations showed orbits to be elliptical, which he thought was unlikely. (What I don’t understand is how he even figured out that they were elliptical!) But that isn’t the case with Turin. There is lots of data, and a community of dozens of specialists on smell with hundreds of chemists, biologists and physicist who could work on this together, but generally they don’t.
This was a good read, but a little technical at times (only a little). Burr drops a lot of chemical names that most of us won’t know, but then on the flip side he uses Turin’s terminology for perfumes which is highly evocative.
I say this is a good read, but I would probably only recommend it to people who I know enjoy non-fiction. It’s very well written, but at the end of the day, novel readers would still probably prefer a novel.
Okay, let’s talk a bit about how ancient languages work.
There are four types of ancient Greek that people typically look at. This would include Attic, Ionic, Doric, and Koine.
Attic Greek was spoken in Athens and the surrounding area. It is close-ish to modern Greek, and if you take ancient Greek in college, this is probably what you’ll learn. (Or Koine, depending on the type of college you’re going to.)
Ionic Greek is a sub-dialect of Attic Greek. It was spoken to the East of Athens, mainly.
Doric Greek is a dialect of Ancient Greek that is known as “Western Greek”. It was spoken by the Spartans and those who were culturally like them.
Kione Greek is a later form of ancient Greek that was also known as Alexandrian Greek and is the closest to modern Greek. This is a revival of Classical Greek that was made to mimic Attic, so they’re similar. Koine is a simplified Attic, and is the Greek that was used to write the New Testament.
Modern Greek is NOT the same as ancient Greek! Tumblr, please pay attention.
MODERN GREEK IS NOT THE SAME AS ANCIENT GREEK.
So please stop putting ancient Greek into google translate because it doesn’t work that way. You’re just gonna get a jumbled mess of gobbeldy-gook and look ridiculous.
There are different dialects of ancient (and modern) Greek, so there are different ways to pronounce the language. Modern scholars have a decent-ish guess on how to pronounce things. But it’s a dead language so we’re all kind of guessing here. But some guesses might be better than others.
Traditionally, most of the research on Ancient Greek came from the UK, the Unites States, Germany, and kind of France, so their pronunciation is going to be different from scholar to scholar and country to country. For example, my husband learned ancient Greek from a British dude, and he has colleagues who learned Greek from American dudes, and they all pronounce words differently and that’s okay because Ancient Greek is a dead language and the modern Greeks don’t even know how to pronounce it, anyway. (Not to mention all of the other dialects of ancient Greek that are out there…)
So it’s kind of a waste of time to debate with other Pagans on the “right” way to pronounce a deity name because we’re all talking about dialects and centuries here and there’s probably not a right way to do anything, anyway. This language has been around for a few thousand years in one way or another, so there is bound to be some variation and that’s okay.
(Just not google translate)
Similarly, Latin is a dead language. It survives today via “Church Latin” but Church Latin is different from Classical Latin. Church Latin is pronounced very differently from Classical Latin, and even sometimes the grammar has different rules, too. There are 400 years separating the height of Classical Latin and the onset of Church Latin.
So keep that in mind when trying to use Latin. Are you trying to be Roman or are you trying to be Catholic? This might make a huge difference when reciting spells, for example.
The grammar structure of these two languages is really different from English so sometimes it can be hard to translate one into the other and vice versa. Sometimes there are not word-for-word equivalents and that’s just the way it’s going to be.
So there you go. There is your lesson for today. Just remember these are dead languages, and as said to me from a dead language scholar, “that shit ain’t easy.”
Or maybe “illud stercus facile non est” or even “skor ou esti.”
See, Rowling largely operates Harry’s generation in a clear system of parallels to the previous generation, Marauders and all. Harry is his father—Quidditch star, a little pig-headed sometimes, an excellent leader. Ron is Sirius Black—snarky and fun, loyal to a fault, mired in self-doubts. Hermione is Remus Lupin—book smart and meticulous, always level-headed, unfailingly perceptive. Ginny is Lily Evans—a firecracker, clever and kind, unwilling to take excuses. Draco Malfoy is Severus Snape—a natural foil to Harry, pretentious, possessed of the frailest ego and also deeper sense of right and wrong when it counts. And guess what? Neville Longbottom is Peter Pettigrew.
Neville is a perfect example of how one single ingredient in the recipe can either ruin your casserole (or stew, or treacle tart, whatever you like), or utterly perfect your whole dish. Neville is the tide-turner, the shiny hinge. And all because he happens to be in the same position as Wormtail… but makes all the hard choices that Pettigrew refused the first time around. Other characters are in similar positions, but none of them go so far as Neville. None of them prove that the shaping of destiny is all on the individual the way he does.
Ne dicas quid est mihi!
—"You shouldn’t say what it is to me!" - What google translate give for Latin when you type in, "Don’t tell me what to do!"
When the first attempt by the United States to launch a satellite into orbit, in 1957, ended in disaster, did Democrats start to cheer, and unify to stop a space program in its infancy? Or, when Medicare got off to a confusing start, did Republicans of the mid-1960s wrap their entire political future around a campaign to deny government-run health care to the elderly?
Of course not. But for the entirety of the Obama era, Republicans have consistently been cheerleaders for failure. They rooted for the economic recovery to sputter, for gas prices to spike, the job market to crater, the rescue of the American automobile industry to fall apart.
I get it. This organized schadenfreude goes back to the dawn of Obama’s presidency, when Rush Limbaugh, later joined by Senator Mitch McConnell, said their No. 1 goal was for the president to fail. A CNN poll in 2010 found 61 percent of Republicans hoping Obama would fail (versus only 27 percent among all Americans).
Wish granted, mission accomplished. Obama has failed — that is, if you judge by his tanking poll numbers. But does this collapse in approval have to mean that the last best chance for expanding health care for millions of Americans must fail as well?
Does this mean we throw in the towel, and return to a status quo in which insurance companies routinely cancel policies, deny health care to people with pre-existing conditions and have their own death panel treatment for patients who reach a cap in medical benefits?
The Republican plan would do just that, because they have no plan but to crush the nation’s fledgling experiment.
But where were the news conferences, the Fox News alerts, the parading of people who couldn’t get their lifesaving cancer treatments under the old system? Where was the media attention when thousands of people were routinely dumped once they got sick? When did Republicans in Congress hold an oversight hearing on the leading cause of personal bankruptcy — medical debt?
All of that is what we had before. And all of that is what we will return to if some version of the Affordable Care Act is not made workable.
A lot of people make a lot of money by not sending us to the doctor. I passionately hate them, and if I could opt out of my employer provided health insurance, I would rather live without health insurance than pay BCBS another red cent!
I don’t like the ACA, but it is vastly better than what we had before which is being held hostage by health insurance companies.