Monday, November 21, 2011

History (mildly revised)

I think a lot about history.  Well, sometimes I think a lot about history.   I studied history in college - got a bachelors degree, did most of the work toward a masters degree, but ran out of money & motivation (I think motivation was the balance of the issue), joined the Army learned strange things and went to strange places and the rest, as they say is, uh, history.  But that's not the kind of history I was thinking about.

A couple of things I know about history is that you frequently know more about an event the farther away in time you are from that event, and you have to know your sources.   History is written by the victors, so the story goes, but that isn't always true.

Take William Rufus, for example.  Good old King William II of England, 3rd son and successor to William the Conqueror,  King from 1087 to 1100.  In high school world history classes William Rufus merited maybe a sentence or two, I can't really remember.  In college survey courses he might get a paragraph.   He's one of those characters who if you really want to get to know, you have to put some effort into finding out about it.  There is information out there, but he is not prominent amongst the post Anglo-Saxon kings and queens of England.

William died in 1100 as a result of a hunting accident.  He was with several members of the nobility at the time (who else would he be with), including his brother Henry, and the scuttlebutt was that he was murdered.  But that's just conjecture.  It's quite possible that some near sighted member of his party mistook a rather broad man with long flowing hair and a full beard sitting astride a large horse for a deer and let fly an arrow in his general direction.  There were no corrective lenses in the 11th century, not even for nobility or royalty, so it's possible, I don't know.  It could be that he just conked his head on a low lying limb.  But what I do know is he died while hunting, and when the members of his party realized he was dead, they scattered.  Not out of fear, but because they knew there was going to be upheaval and they needed to get control of their property and lands before anyone found out.  Henry - the good King's brother - made a beeline for London and managed to get himself crowned King, even though I don't think he had the strongest claim. But he was there, so he was able to do it. 

Anyway, anything you read will tell you William Rufus was a brutal ruler & his subjects were happy to see him go.  It's in all the history books.  Sometimes you have to accept things, after all there just isn't enough time to question everything that comes along, so this was one of the things I just accepted as part of my education - that William Rufus was a brutal ruler.

But now I have some time to think about it, and I wonder how do all the history books know this?  Where did they get their information?  Well I think they got a large part of their information from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles, a series of documents started long before William Rufus and continued long after.  They were written by priest type people (they were pretty much the only people who could read and write at the time), and they did not like William Rufus one bit.   They had lots of reason to not like him - they had a vested interest in making him look bad.

The early Norman Kings of England could have cared less about Anglo-Saxon language and culture.  They caused a pretty massive upheaval amongst the higher echelons of Anglo-Saxon society, but pretty much ignored the lower classes, especially the language. They just didn't care.  They didn't speak English and didn't bother to learn it, didn't out law or direct how it developed in any way. The Norman kings generally had large holdings in what is now France, and much of their efforts and energies were directed towards that.   The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were like an underground subversive newspaper being written right out in the open, and the Kings either didn't know or didn't care (or both). Who the heck was going to read it anyway?  This went on for a long time, and I believe this is the main source for William Rufus being seen as such a brutal person.

My suspicion is he was pretty brutal.  It was the 11th century, and I don't think he was among the "enlightened". This is no Edward the Confessor we're talking about. But there's a good chance that he was no more brutal than any other King of his era.
Anyway, a part of learning stuff, of thinking critically is questioning the sources.  You have to ask where the money is coming from, so to speak.  So when you read something, or see something on TV, even if you agree with it, it pays to ask what the motivation is.

Frequently things boil down to money, and there is a good chance the Chronicler's, when you pulled away all the layers, were no different.  These were church people for the most part, and I bet anything William Rufus (and his father) confiscated church lands for this or that, and in the 11th century, especially, land was money.  

At any rate, the history of William Rufus was written largely by the vanquished.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Thanksgiving (in the USA) is November 24th this year, and I don't really have any thoughts about it.  Maybe that's because I'm a man, or maybe I'm just empty of thoughts.  But I have no real thoughts about it, so I thought dig around in my brain and see what I could find.

When I was a young child in eastern Kentucky, Turkey was not part of our Thanksgiving tradition.  I'm not sure why that is, but I'll put forth a hypothesis and maybe it will fly. 

My thinking goes like this.  My grandparents, all four of them, were 19th century people.  They were raised by people firmly rooted in the 19th century, and those traditions and values were passed on to them.   Land and farming were very important to them.  They grew their own food - not only tons of vegetables, but fruit too (especially apples) and they also raised cattle and pigs.  Big pigs. And sometimes rabbits.  There was always a mule about, and it's basic function was for plowing.  Grandpa plowed behind a mule, just like people had done in the "old timey" days.

They weren't completely self-sufficient, they'd buy flour, sugar, coffee, stuff like that.  But virtually everything else, they grew or raised.  It was very hard work - I don't think I ever appreciated how hard they worked.  I remember Grandma saying they worked "like dogs" and they kept at it until they hit their early 80s and just could not do it anymore.

I don't remember either set of my grandparents raising or hunting Turkeys.  I'm not sure there were any Turkeys around to hunt anyway.  I don't know what they raised before my time, fowl wise, but I never remember them raising any winged creatures other than yard birds - sometimes referred to as chickens.

They did, however, raise hogs.  And hogs were slaughtered & butchered when it was cold, and I recollect that the main dish at my earlier Thanksgivings was ham - so I have a feeling I was eating one of my grandparent's pigs.  It may have been one from the previous season, they had a smoke house & electricity so they could store stuff for long periods.  I don't know.  I just know that Turkey was not part of the Thanksgiving meal.  To this day Turkey is not something I really look forward to.

I've seen the Norman Rockwell paintings so I know Turkey had be firmly established as a traditional Thanksgiving food by the time I sprouted forth.  But it wasn't traditional for my family, and I suspect it wasn't for almost everybody around there at that time.  It was different back then. 

I suppose this counts as a Thanksgiving thought. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Thoughts Nov 5, 2011

Time once again for some thoughts.  Don't really have any, but here goes.

This is North Carolina, it should be 70 degrees or so right about now, but it's not.  That bugs me, I like warm.

We go back to standard time very early tomorrow morning.  I'm not going to worry about it.  Daggone people messin' around with time, like they're some sort of Einstein wannabe or something. 

I dont think time really exists anyway.  Clocks and calendars measure days and hours, but days and hours are not time.  Days and hours are measurements of the passage of something we call time, but really isn't time. 

Gravity does exist, however, and it freaks me out.  So strong, yet so weak.  How can it hold the moon and not crush me?

I don't even have an inkling of an understanding of the universe. 

I dont even understand why, no matter where you are on planet earth, the ground appears to be below your feet and the sky appears to be above your head.  

I have found that the most interesting things are frequently the things that didn't seem interesting at all at first glance. 

Thru the medium of television, I've discovered that we could easily afford a home in a backwater village in southern Italy (especially if we could live without heat).  Bergen, Norway is a completely different story.  I don't think we could buy a place there, at least not without some sort of job.  And you'd surely need heat, though maybe not a/c., not sure.

In Minnesota, there's a joke about a Norweigan (Or Swede, take your pick) who loved his wife so much he almost told her.

Pickles the Dog thinks that she is a good dog.  She also thinks that she is a pretty dog.  Righ now she is where she always is this time of night - zonked out on the couch.  She barks if she hears something unusual, so that's worth the price of dog food.

I don't like shaving.

I love rhubarb pie.  No strawberries please.  Putting strawberries in rhubarb pie is like putting coconut in banana pudding.  Don't need it.  Even more importantly, don't want it.

Fine grit sandpaper is a phrase I could live without.

This is about all the time (rather what we call time) I have to think of things this evening.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our eBay Month - Oct 2011

October was our best month this year.  

In looking at the sales & things I keep track of, in one way it seems like a broken record.  Most of our sales are either postcards or various forms of antique photographs, and so much of what determines whether we have a good month or not depends on the photograph sales.  The same was true for October.

Our sales of single postcards - which I still consider the core part of our business - was a little higher than average, and the price we got per card was a little higher than average.  It was a good solid postcard sales month & I'm quite happy with it, but we've had months this year where we've sold more. 

Our sales of photographs is another story - they were by far the highest sales of year. Actually the highest sales ever (except for June, but that was a special case, so I don't want to count it).  Also, for the first time since we've been selling photographs, they generated more money for the month than the postcard sales - and we had a good postcard sales month. (Again, except for June) Our photos are the same types of photo's we've always had. (Once again, except for June). Its as if people suddenly discovered that we sell them.  I really don't know why so many sold this month.  

We offer free shipping domestically, maybe that played a role. eBay increased the title size to 80 characters, perhaps that helped. I really don't know for sure.

June was a special case, photo wise, where a few unique photos did very well for us.  In October, it was volume, photo grunt work so to speak, the most individual photos we've sold in a month, ever.  In October we sold our typical photos, and there is no reason why we can't repeat that.  We may not, but it's entirely possible.  In June, we had a few unique photos and that will be very hard for us to replicate.  June was a little bit of luck, but luck had nothing to do with October.

I pay attention to photos - I know what makes an antique photo unique and collectible.  They are actually hard to get hold of for a reasonable price (unique items being unique and all).   I also know that people collect photographs for reasons other than absolute uniqueness, and I'm doing my best to get a share of those people.  At the same time I keep my eye out for something really interesting or unusual.

It's like a car dealership that sell Mercedese and Chevys.  The Mercedese are much more expsenive, but they'll make more money over all on the Chevy sales.  I won't get into maintenance, because there the analogy may break down.

There is nothing special about the month of October.  October 2010 was a poor month for us, sales wise.  You'd have to go back 18 months or so to find a month where we did better than last month.

Another first for October 2011 - we actually sold more than we listed, so the inventory in our eBay store has gone down a bit. 

eBay fees are high.  Of course the more you list & sell the more fees you pay.  There are also PayPal fees, which aren't as high, but are high enough.  Postage is also a major expense - generally our second highest expense of the month. 

Even with the increased expenses it was a good month.   November seems to be starting off well so we'll see if it keeps up.