About Richard Bowker

Author of Senator, The Portal series, and The Last P.I. series.

Even more busts of Roman emperors (and others)

For some reason one of my most popular posts was about busts of Roman emperors at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Turns out the place that has even more busts of Roman emperors is Italy — specifically, the Uffizi in Florence. Here are a few.

Here’s Claudius, not looking very happy:

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Here’s Domitian, who was awful:

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Here’s Marcus Aurelius, who wasn’t awful:

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Here’s Caligula. Does he look like he’s insane?

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Here’s Tiberius, who was a perv:

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Here’s Julius Caesar, who wasn’t an emperor, but c’mon, this is a pretty interesting bust. I wouldn’t want to mess with this guy:

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And Cicero, who also wasn’t an emperor:

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I don’t know how lifelike these busts are, of course, but they sure seem lifelike. These are real people, staring out at us across 2000 years of history.


This Living Hand

When we think of Rome, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the English poet John Keats, who died there in 1821 of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Here is his grave in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, with the epitaph he wrote for himself:

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Odd that the gravestone doesn’t even mention his name. On a wall next to the grave we see this:

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Next to Keats’s grave is that of his friend Joseph Severn, who accompanied him to Rome, since Keats was too sick to travel by himself:

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There are worse things to be remembered for, I suppose, than being the friend of John Keats.

A couple hundred yards away from Keats are interred the ashes of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who died in a boating accident in Italy at the age of 29:

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The quotation is from The Tempest.

Here is a painting of Shelley’s funeral pyre:

Many of the details of the painting are apparently made up. For one thing, Shelley’s body was in bad shape by the time he washed up on shore. (The only way they recognized him was his clothing and the copy of Keats’s poems in his back pocket.)

Keats died in a tiny apartment at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. This is now the site of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, which contains letters, books, and other memorabilia of English poets. Via Wikipedia, here’s what happened to the contents of the House during World War 2:

During World War II, the Keats–Shelley House went “underground”, especially after 1943, in order to preserve its invaluable contents from falling into the hands of, and most likely being deliberately destroyed by, Nazi Germany. External markings relating to the museum were removed from the building. Although the library’s 10,000 volumes were not removed, two boxes of artifacts were sent to the Abbey of Monte Cassino in December 1942 for safekeeping. In October 1943, the abbey’s archivist placed the two unlabelled boxes of Keats–Shelley memorabilia with his personal possessions so that they could be removed during the abbey’s evacuation and not fall into the hands of the Germans. The items were reclaimed by the museum’s curator and returned to the Keats–Shelley House, where the boxes were reopened in June 1944 upon the arrival of the Allied forces in Rome.

I didn’t have time to visit the Keats-Shelley House, but here’s what it looked like at 23:00 on a Roman night:

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And this gives me a chance to reprint this final fragment by Keats, written as he confronted the certainty of his coming death.

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.
I find these eight short lines utterly terrifying.

One cannot underestimate Feynman’s contributions to physics

I was listening to a podcast about the physicist Richard Feynman and I heard some professor utter this sentence. He meant the exact opposite, of course. What he wants us to understand is that Feynman’s contributions to physics were immense — that is to say, even if you tried, you couldn’t overestimate them. Garner’s Modern American Usage notes similar similar sentences from the Post, the Times, and the Globe. He compares it to the phrase “could care less”, which in informal usage is understood to mean the oppose of what the words seem to imply — that is, we use it to mean “couldn’t care less”.  Garner rates “could care less” a 3, which means “Widespread but still considered incorrect”. He rates “impossible to underestimate” a 1 — that is, “Rejected”.

I have trouble with “impossible to underestimate” myself, so I have sympathy for the professor on the podcast. There’s some kind of double negative going on in the phrase that makes the logic hard to work out. If you just said, “Don’t underestimate Feynman’s contributions…” the usage would be correct, but “impossible to underestimate” just heads in the wrong direction.

One space or two?

Between the first draft of my novel and the second I went cold turkey and switched from two spaces after a sentence (which I’ve been doing for half a century or so) to one space. I did a global search-and-replace through my manuscript and changed all eleventy-billion occurrences of “period-space-space” to “period-space”.  I typed all my new sentences with one space between them. I switched over to single spaces in my emails as well. And I will never look back.

Yes, I know, this was an amazing achievement. Appreciate the congrats. I did it mainly because those extra spaces were going away when the document was prepared for publication. Also, at work I work on a lot of documents with multiple authors, and it is moderately important to be consistent. Also, I just wanted to show myself what I was capable of.

Anyway, here’s a study that purports to show a slight benefit to two spaces after a period. This gets the authors a feature article in the Washington Post, but the study has lots of issues, as this wonderful article in Lifehacker points out. The key issue is that the study uses a monospace font. But nobody nowadays uses a monospace font, except for showing computer code or the like!

[R]eading a proportional font and a monospace font are two completely different scenarios. The study even acknowledges this: “It is possible that the effects of punctuation spacing seen in the current experiment may differ when presented in other font conditions.” Of course it’s possible—that’s what the whole debate is about! Why would you use Courier New!

So the study is pretty bogus, but I suppose the money from the two-space lobby will continue to roll in, and the researchers will go on speaking tours, write best-selling books, appear on major talk shows, etc. Good for them. But I will have the quiet satisfaction of having done the right thing by switching to one space, even at enormous personal cost. Not all heroes wear capes.

“Analysts poured over satellite images…”

That’s the sentence I read in this morning’s Boston Globe, reprinting this Washington Post article. Oddly, the online Post article spells the word correctly: pored. Here we can read about the difference.

Did the Post article originally have the same error, and someone subsequently corrected the article on its web site? Or was the article at the Post correct all along? That meant someone at the Globe must have read the phrase, decided that “pored over” couldn’t possibly be correct, and made the change to show that folks in Boston know how to spell.

Either way, sheesh.

Every day Twitter shows us that famous people, including writers, don’t know how to spell. That’s fine. Everyone needs an editor. Where are they at the Globe?

Second draft of the novel is done

Appreciate the congrats, as our president would say.

It clocks in at 112K words, down about ten percent from the first draft. Yay! Lots of little stuff to take care of, but I think it’s about where it needs to be.

Its name, by the way, is Home.

In celebration, here is video of David Pastrnak’s hat trick against the Maple Leafs last night. That third goal is simply amazing.