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Happy birthday, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres!

Dedicated this day in Anno Domini 1260 by Saint Louis IX.

Having long blown through all my major requirements by then, I took a Gothic cathedral architecture course my last semester of college in which we studied Chartres pretty extensively.   Alas, while I retain a memory of enjoying the course very much, the mists of time have largely dimmed my recollection of what I actually learned beyond technical terms like apse, nave and transept and the names of the major French cathedral towns.  I have a vague recollection that the emphasis of the course was more on the aesthetic and technical aspects and less on the historickal and theological.   But as I say, this was twenty five years ago and I was a shallow lout with a bad case of senioritis, so it’s entirely possible that such imbalance was a function of my own receptiveness rayther than the prof’s presentation.

Too bad I can’t hop into the Wayback Machine and go revisit the course.  I’m sure I’d get an awful lot more out of it now.

Education.  Youth.  Waste.  Etc., etc.

So it seems that the human braim is so highly bureaucratized that it has specific lobes tasked with the function of recognizing faces:

For the first time, scientists demonstrated that two clusters in a brain region called the fusiform gyrus play a central role in the way we see faces, but not other objects.

Tests on a patient with prosopagnosia – a condition where sufferers cannot distinguish one face from another – showed that electrical stimulation of the nerves instantly caused his perception of a face to become warped, while other objects in his field of vision remained unchanged.

Researchers said the findings could lead to new treatments for the condition, and may also explain why some people have a better memory for faces than others. Up to two per cent of the population are though to suffer from some form of “face blindness”.

The very first words that popped into my own braim on reading this article were, “I dunt know you…But you?  I nehver forrrget a fayzzzzz.  Meeeester…….Checkov.  Eeesn’t it?”

Actually, I didn’t know there was such a thing as “face blindness” but it might explain why people look straight through me from time to time.  Obviously their fusiform gryrii must be on the fritz.

Me? I remember faces quite well.  Names, on the other hand……

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo really must slipping.  Not only did I fail to post on Trafalgar Day due to real life swamping, I also completely overlooked the fact that last Friday was the anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864 in which Union forces under Little Phil Sheridan crushed Jubal Early’s rebs near Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, thereby essentially ending the Confederate presence in the Valley for the duration of the war and stripping Lee of a critical source of supplies.  I usually mark the anniversary by reprinting “Sheridan’s Ride” by Thomas Buchanan Read, an admittedly third or fourth rate piece of doggerel but of the sort of Historickana (if I may) – like “Barbara Fritchie” or “The Charge of the Light Brigade” or “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” or “Casabianca”– that I actually rayther enjoy.

Well, in atonement for my oversight, I’ve just nipped over to the devil’s website and picked up a copy of Sheridan’s Memoirs.  I had been meaning to do so anyway so this seemed as good an excuse as any.  I have never read a biography of Sheridan, much less his own autobiography, but one cannot indulge very much in Civil War and post-War frontier history without his thundering across the pages from time to time and I have long had the urge to, as it were, fill in some of the gaps.

I am particularly interested to compare Sheridan with Grant and Sherman, about both of whom I have read a great deal more, including both their own memoirs.  It seems to me from what I know that there is, in fact, a vast gulf between Little Phil on the one hand and Sam and Cump on the other.  The latter two were certainly remorseless in their prosecution of the War but one has a sense that the reason for their aggressiveness was a recognition that this was the surest way to actually end the War as fast as possible, to the benefit of all involved both North and South.  Underneath their drive, both seem like sensible and not unkind men.  (I am sure that some friends of the decanter will take violent exception to this assessment.  A glass of wine with you!)  Sheridan, on the other hand, has always seemed to me to be one of Nature’s pit bulls, the genuine Berserker, the kind to go on worrying and tearing his enemy for the shear sake of the worrying and tearing until somebody finally manages to pull him off.

By way of illustration, when Lee offered to surrender to Grant at Appomattox, Grant at once took up the negotiations.  Not only that, in the end he gave Lee extremely humane and dignified terms, calculated to get Lee’s men home and back to their ordinary lives as quickly as possible.  When Sherman heard of this, he immediately proposed the same terms of surrender to Joe Johnston, whose army Sherman held at bay in North Carolina.  No hard feelings.  Sheridan, on the other hand, when he became aware of the negotiations between Grant and Lee, was livid.  Grant had the Army of Northern Virginia at his mercy.  Sheridan wanted it wiped off the map.

I gather that his approach to administering Reconstruction in Texas and his service fighting against Indians on the Great Plains was of a similar scorched-earth bent.

Not a nice man, I’m thinking, but I am eager to see what he has to say about himself.

Somewhat related, and especially since presidents, horses and bayonets have dominated the nooz the past day or two, did you know that Rutherford B. Hayes was a Union cavalry commander who fought (and was wounded) at Cedar Creek?  And that he’d also earlier fought and been wounded at South Mountain?  I knew about South Mountain, but not about Cedar Creek.  Also,  I hadn’t realized that he’d been part of the raid of “Black” Dave Hunter (another not very nice fellah) on Lexington earlier that summah which resulted in the burning of VMI.

Delightful the things you find out when you start poking around.  One of these days, I mean to go more deeply into the war records of the later 19th Century presidents – Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Garfield, McKinley and the like, just for the historickal pleasure of it.  (Chester Arthur was what might now be called a REMF and didn’t see any action.  Grover Cleveland ducked the draft by sending a substitute.)


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October 2012