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Posts tagged ‘History’

Book Review: Titanic Survivor


Jessop circa 1916, in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform. A larger, uncropped version of this photograph appears in the book. The writing that is cut off at the bottom says “Your loving sister, Violet”.

Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters (Sheridan House 1997) is the memoir of ocean liner stewardess Violet Jessop (pictured), for whom ending up where the action was was a major constant in the first part of her life. The book is edited and annotated by maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham. The book covers the first part of Jessop’s life, from her childhood in Argentina until the 1930s. It includes brief eyewitness accounts of the sinkings of the RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic. However, despite being aboard when the incident took place, Jessop makes no mention of the RMS Olympic‘s collision withe the HMS Hawke.* The book also includes several rare photographs and appendixes, one of which lists the ships Jessop served on, dates included.

Frankly, if you are a Titanic buff or are looking for detailed book about that ship, then this is probably not the book for you. Jessop does not go into much detail in her accounts, which only occupy three short chapters in the book. Furthermore, she refers to most of her shipmates using pseudonyms. Hence, the only new thing you’re likely to learn is that the ship’s cat was named Jenny.

Likewise, Jessop’s account of her very dramatic escape from the Britannic is also brief.

However, if you are looking for an account of what it is like to be an ocean liner stewardess, then this is the book for you. She talks of the complaints (passengers who want too many flowers to be arranged, one woman who wanted new furniture in her stateroom, the low wages, being away from home a lot). She provides unusual anecdotes and mariners’ yarns.

The annotations by Maxtone-Graham are very helpful, providing the context and background necessary to understand Jessop’s memoirs. For the most part they are not at all intrusive.

Certain episodes related in the book might be triggering for some people: Three times, during the first half Jessop implies that someone raped (without ever using that term) her or attempted to do so (specifically during her childhood in Argentina, while a governess, and while on a ship for the Royal Mail Line). Be aware of this if you read the book.

Additionally, Jessop mentions that she had difficulty first becoming a stewardess because she was “too pretty”. This and the above are examples of why feminism was necessary a century ago. And since they still happen, they are one of the reasons why feminism is still necessary.

So long as the qualifications above are taken into account, I recommend this book.

*The eighteenth chapter of Jessop’s manuscript is missing. Since the memoir is roughly chronological, an account of the collision could have been there, as that is where it would be chronologically.

Picture via the Wikimedia Commons.

Inaccuracies in an epic

Last month, at another blog, I was in a discussion concerning movies about the RMS Titanic. Since this blogger’s favourite was the 1997 movie, I asked him if he had seen any of the other reasonably good dramatizations of the sinking (1953’s Titanic and A Night to Remember). He said he hadn’t. After this, more discussion led to him writing, “…I just love eye-candy, especially when the pedantic perfectionist in me can scour the ship for inaccuracies and find none.” This gave me the idea to watch that person’s favourite movie and spot the historical inaccuracies.

Titanic is a very long movie, but I eventually managed to find the time to watch it twice and spot inaccuracies. I paid special attention to the ship, and I did spot a few mistakes. I viewed the two–DVD tenth–anniversary edition, and the chapter titles are taken from there. If you have an alternative edition with different chapter titles, these should give you some idea of how far along chronologically the error takes place. Since my list is combined from two different lists created during different viewings, there might be a few cases where the errors are slightly out of order.

The inaccuracies I noticed are after the jump. In a few places I note where there are alternative possibilities or where there is a dispute over what the actually happened. In a couple of spots I speculate on the reasons or suggest corrections. If an error is made repeatedly, I mention it only once. I don’t mention anachronisms or continuity errors. Nor do I mention the “hidden faces” who are extras who represent some other historical person (examples being the older man in Boat 6 and the boy spinning a top). I do not list inaccuracies in deleted scenes. On the real ship there were plenty of people whose lives could have interesting stories woven around them, but I won’t hold using fictional characters against this film. However, I do mention one huge plot hole.

Lastly, it contains spoilers!


Worst US presidents?

At Lawyers, Guns, & Money there is an interesting discussion of who the worst American president is. As you might expect, the usual suspects are named the worst.

What about my view? As a Canadian I am tempted to choose Madison. Frankly, invading your country* is an excellent way to get anyone to hate you. But nevertheless, other considerations must come into play, and these compel me to conclude that Madison is certainly not the worst.

I know this might be an unpopular position, but I retain my view that George W. Bush is not the worst president. As a matter of fact, it might be argued that it is too early to rate him. Consider Truman. When he left office, he was absolutely hated. Since then, he has become more and more highly ranked amongst historians. The distance of time allows people to move beyond partisanship and get a more objective look, while the president’s legacy gets time to develop and become fully apparent. For these reasons, one could make the case that it is too early to rate Bush (and Clinton and Obama, at least).

I think James Buchanan was the worst US president. Bush, whose achievements include an expansion of the surveillance state, statist reactionaries on SCOTUS, blowing the budget on deficits, the rise of torture, creeping theocracy, the Iraq War, and having a really smooth outgoing presidential transition, at least kept the goddamn country together. Buchanan, on the other hand, came in as President of the United States of America, and left as President of the Untied States of America. You can’t do worse than that.


Some random stuff

In no particular order:

  • What were you doing 1954/04/11? For me, that was decades before I was born, but if you were alive back then you weren’t doing much, as that day was the least exciting day in the twentieth century. I wonder what that Turkish academic and those Belgian voters think about having that day to themselves. Today, with the amazing democratization of information the internet provides, you can find out about some public figure’s sneezing fit two minutes after it happens. Clearly, the idea of an uneventful day is so last century.
  • The United States Department of Defense has released its report on the consequences of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Guess what? It will be a complete non–event. Other countries have gays and lesbians in their militaries with no ill effects, and the same will happen to the United States. About two–thirds of personnel think that repeal will have no ill effects or no effect at all. A strong majority support repealing DADT.
    • Unsurprisingly, the only group opposed to repeal is American evangelicals. They continue to deprive their country’s military access to badly–needed personnel and specialists, a pretty funny way of “supporting the troops”.
  • The 2010 Pacific hurricane season ended yesterday, and was the least active season since the weather satellite era began in 1971. Despite that, it was pretty eventful, with hundreds of people killed and a Category 5 hurricane forming. This record low inactivity does not disprove global warming or climate change, not the least because the Atlantic was very active this year, and the fact that climate models do not predict that there will be a greater number of tropical cyclones.
  • If you see bits of white falling down when you view my blog, you are not seeing things. Rather, that is a snowfall decoration to celebrate the holidays. It will remain visible until January 4.

Argumentum ad Sangerum

At CNN, Ruben Navarrette Jr. has a commentary on the stimulus package recently passed by the United States House of Representatives. He makes two arguments, both of which are bad.

One of them is the fact that funding family planning is unnecessary for stimulating the economy. He somehow thinks that advocates of including contraception in the stimulus package think that “babies who would otherwise have been born were destined to become dependent on welfare and other public services”. I wonder what makes him think that every baby born will not end up that way, (that is, the assertion that all children born during a recession will end up dependent on welfare is as baseless as the assertion that none of them will). Also, including contraception in the stimulus package would have saved money, $200 million over five years to be precise. He also says that, in a paragraph of its own, “[t]here is nothing more private — that is, none of the government’s business — than the personal decision that a family makes about how many children to have. Besides, [Nancy] Pelosi’s comments had an ugly ring to them.” Rather ironic considering that contraception allows people to control the when and number of children, and that making access to it more difficult means the government is interfering in the childbearing decisions people have. By denying it to poor people, the government is making it harder for them to do that. The net result is that sex becomes an expensive luxury for the rich and dangerous for the poor.

In addition, he makes a fallacious argument by tying birth control funding to Margaret Sanger and eugenics. Margaret Sanger did indeed advocate eugenics, an evil thing, for which she is rightfully condemned. She also advocated the use of birth control. However, the fact that she advocated one evil thing has no bearing whatsoever on whether the other things she advocated were also evil because of her. To do so is to commit what is called the association fallacy. Since Sanger, her advocacy of eugenics, and the organization she founded, Planned Parenthood, are often involved in the abortion debate, and the fact that she advocated eugenics is often mentioned in an attempted to discredit the others, I feel that this act of playing the Sanger card happens often enough for me to dub it argumentum (or reductioad Sangerum. This faulty reasoning can also go in reverse, by arguing that since Sanger was opposed to something, that something must be good. As according to Wikipedia, Sanger was opposed to (some) abortion (for at least part of her life), this means that since Sanger was “evil”, and she was opposed to some abortions, this means that abortions must be “good”, right social consies? Playing the Sanger card this way can sure turn the abortion debate on its head.

As I explained the argumentum ad Sangerum is a special form of the association fallacy. The following example demonstrates why the association fallacy, and hence the argumentum ad Sangerum is fallacious: Adolf Hitler (I know about Godwin’s Law, but please bear with me) advocated and committed various hellish acts, such as anti-Semitism, genocide, mass murder, war crimes, and so on, and is rightfully considered an evil man. Hitler did not make those things evil; genocide and the others are evil in of themselves. Basically, Hitler is evil because of the things he did and advocated. To assert that something is bad just because Hitler advocated it commits what is known as the argumentum (or reductio) ad Hitlerum, which is a special form of the association fallacy. As explained above, Hitler is evil because of his actions; his actions are not evil because of him. In other words, Hitler did not make genocide and the others evil; genocide and the others were evil before him, and they are still evil now that he is dead. To assert that Hitler made his actions evil leads to ridiculous conclusions; after all, since Hitler was a vegetarian and was evil, based on this line of reasoning, other vegetarians, like Gandhi, were also evil. The absurdity of this conclusion shows that the argumentum ad Hitlerum is fallacious. The same reasoning applies to the argumentum ad Sangerum.

Of course, just because someone is committing the argumentum ad Sangerum fallacy does not mean in of itself that their conclusion is wrong; to do is to commit another fallacy, the fallacy fallacy. What they need instead is a new argument. The same logic applies to everyone else.

Bush is not the worst president

The Majority Leader in the United States Senate, Harry Reid, has just called George W. Bush “…the worst president the we’ve [the United States] ever had.” I know this might be a divisive view, but I cannot consider George W. Bush the worst President of the United States. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s done a bad job and I disagree with many of his policies, even though it’s possible that the passage of time will improve his legacy. Yet, I must hold that someone else was the worst President of the United States.

That person is James Buchanan. Why? He failed to do an adequate job to stop secession and avert the American Civil War. For all of his failings, George W. Bush came in, and will leave as, President of the United States of America. Buchanan did not. That’s why Bush is not the worst.

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