Archive for WW II

another book on J.B.S. Haldane [review of a book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2020 by xi'an

As I noticed a NYT book review of a most recent book on J.B.S. Haldane, I realised several other books had already been written about him. From an early 1985 biography, “Haldane: the life and work of J.B.S. Haldane with special references to India” followed by a “2016 biographyPopularizing Science” along an  2009 edited book on some Haldane’s essays, “What I require from life“, all by Krishna R. Dronamraju to a 1969 biography with the cryptic title “J.B.S.“, by Richard Clarke, along with a sensational 2018 “Comrade Haldane Is Too Busy to Go on Holiday: The Genius Who Spied for Stalin” by Gavan Tredoux, depicting him as a spy for the Soviet Union during WW II. (The last author is working on a biography of Francis Galton, hopefully exonerating him of spying for the French! But a short text of him comparing Haldane and Darlington appears to support the later’s belief in racial differences in intelligence…) I also discovered that J.B.S. had written a children book, “Mr Friend Mr. Leaky“, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl’s illustrator. (Charlotte Franken Haldane, J.B.S.’s first wife, also wrote a considerable number of books.)

The NYT review is more a summary of Haldane’s life than an analysis of the book itself, hard as it is not to get mesmerised by the larger-than-life stature of J.B.S. It does not dwell very long on the time it took Haldane to break from the Communist Party for its adherence to the pseudo-science Lysenko (while his wife Charlotte had realised the repressive nature of the Soviet regime much earlier, which may have led to their divorce). While the review makes no mention at all of Haldane’s ideological move to the ISI in Kolkata, it concludes with “for all his failings, he was “deeply attractive during a time of shifting, murky moralities.”” [The double quotes being the review quoting the book!]

75 years later, it is more than time for full nuclear disarmament!

Posted in Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2020 by xi'an

the story of Gertrud and Auguste Macé

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2020 by xi'an

The discussions about the links between early statistics and eugenism brought back to memory the tragic story of a German-Norman couple, friends of my grandparents, Gertrud(e) and Auguste Macé, whom I met in the mid 1980’s. Auguste Macé was a school friend of my grandmother, born near the harbour city of Granville, Manche and, like my grandparents,  a war orphan, son of a French conscript killed in combat during WW I. During WW II, when Nazi Germany promptly invaded France in the Spring of 1940, Auguste Macé was part of the millions of French conscripts captured by German troops and sent to a stalag, in North-Eastern Germany (Prussia), where he was made to work in farms missing their workforce conscripted to war. In one of these farms, he met Gertrud, daughter of the farm owners, they fell in love, and Gertrud eventually got pregnant. When her pregnancy was revealed, Auguste was sent to another POW camp. And, while Gertrud was able to give birth to a baby boy, she was dreadfully punished by the Nazis for it: as she had broken their racial purity laws, she was sterilised and prevented from having further children, presumably staying in her parents’ farm. At the end of WW II, Auguste was freed by Soviet troops and went searching for Gertrud. It took him around six months of traveling in the chaotic post-war Germany, but he eventually found both her and their son! They then went back to Auguste’s farm, in Normandy, where they spent the rest of their life, with further hardships like the neighbourhood hostility to a Franco-German couple, lost their young adult son in circumstances I cannot remember, and tragically ending their life together in a car accident in 1988, on a trip to Germany… [When remembering this couple, I have been searching on-line for more information about them but apart from finding the military card of Auguste’s father and Auguste’s 1988 death record by INSEE, I could not spot any link in birth or wedding certificates or in the 98 lists of WW II French POWs. Where I could not find my great-uncle, either.]

appel du 18 juin

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2020 by xi'an

the (forty-)seven samurai (赤穂浪士)

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2019 by xi'an

During my vacations in Japan, I read the massive (1096p) book by Osaragi Jiro on the  Akō incident, with occidental title the 47 rōnins. Which I had bought in Paris before leaving. This is a romancized version of an historical event that took part in 1701 in the Genroku era. Where 47 rōnin (leaderless samurai) avenged the death of their former master Takumi no Kami ordered by the current Shôgun after Takumi no Kami stuck an official Kira Yoshinaka who had insulted him publicly. And were also condemned to commit sepuku. (As I suspected while reading the book, it was initially published in 1927-1928 as a series, which explains for its length.) This is a very famous story in the Japanese culture and there exist many versions in novels, plays, movies, one featuring the fabulous Toshirō Mifune (and another one commissioned by the Japanese military during WWII), and prints, including some by Hiroshige and Hokusai. Not only it is a great read, with a very classical style (in the French translation) and enough plots and subplots to deserve the 1096 pages!, but it also reflects [much more than in Yoshikawa’s Musashi] upon the transition from feudal to modern Japan, with the samurai class slowly dwindling out for the merchant class and a central administration. Which the central characters in the book mostly bemoan and hence praise the chivaleresque action of the 47 rōnins, fighting against superior forces, except for some who reflect on the uselessness of a warrior class (and go as far as assassinating random samurai). Interestingly, the conclusion of the real story, namely the suicide of the 47 rōnins, is not included in the book. Which links the head of the revenge to famous characters of the time, including a scholar anticipating the Meiji rise of Japanese nationalism by removing cultural and religious links to China, including the preeminence of Shintoism over Buddhism. The book is also the attention paid to seasons and gardens throughout, which is a feature I found in many Japanese books. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the story involves very few female central characters and, except for one spy, very passive roles.