Cheeks, Civility, and Locofocos

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March 21, 2016 by libroshombre


Cats and dogs are very different creatures, yet, with some exceptions, they can get along together civilly, as evidenced by a long series of both critters cohabitating my household. There are some similarities; both are predators and natural biters and neither possesses full cheeks. And “without cheeks, they can’t create suction to drink, as people, horses, and elephants do,” according to “Precise Method Underlies Sloppy Madness of Dog Slurping,” a recent article. Instead, “they use their tongues to quickly raise water upward through a process involving inertia.”

“Both animals move their tongues too quickly to be completely observed by the naked eye. But dogs accelerate their tongues at a much faster rate than cats, plunging them into the water and curling them downward toward their lower jaws, not their noses. They quickly retract their tongues and a column of water forms and rises into their mouths, but they also curl the underside of their tongues to bring a tiny ladle of water upward. Cats, on the other hand, lightly touch the surface of the water with their tongues, never fully immersing them … When their tongues rise into their mouths, liquid adheres to the upper side, forming an elegant water column.”

All full-cheeked humans suck and drink the same way. It seems we’d be better at talking civilly, too, like Black Tom Fairfax, one of the most civil leaders during the English Civil War. I encountered Fairfax in John Aubrey’s “Brief Lives,” in which he gave scores of thumbnail personality sketches of “Worthies of England” as seen in the mid-1600s. It works wonders at putting me to sleep, but reading Aubrey’s 100-word entry on “Thomas Fairfax, 1612-1671,” woke me right up: “Thomas, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, Lord General of the Parliament Army … when Oxford was surrendered (24 June 1646), the first thing General Fairfax did was to set a good guard of soldiers to protect the Bodleian Library.” After describing the abuses the Bodleian suffered at the hand of the King’s Cavaliers when they controlled Oxford, “by embezzling and cutting off chains of books,” Aubrey noted that Fairfax “was a lover of learning, and had he not taken special care, that noble library had been utterly destroyed … I assure you this from an ocular witness.”

The Bodleian is one of the world’s greatest libraries, founded in 1602 and eventually incorporating the libraries of all the colleges making up Oxford University. Since 1610 a copy of every book published in Britain has to be given to the Bodleian, which now has over 110 miles of shelves. Like most gigantic libraries, you can read, but not borrow, their millions of books in one of the 29 ornate reading rooms. But you must ask a librarian to retrieve it for you well in advance.

Oliver Cromwell was an extremist and Fairfax’s underling, and was less willing to consider both sides of issues and remember the underlying humanity of everyone involved. Fairfax’s reputation for moderation was such that he was forgiven when the monarchy was restored, while other Parliament leaders lost their heads. Speaking of which, what’s with calling the criminal who harassed the Iditarod mushers a “terrorist?” Calling a drunken fool “a terrorist,” with its implication that he plotted his attack, had premeditated evil intent, or even desired it at all when sober, is extreme hyperbole, a form of verbal terrorism, that sadly reflects the national mood.

It’s part of a miserable cycle, like the Locofoco Party of 1830s America. “Loco-Foco” was a “self-lighting cigar” patented in 1834, with “loco” coming from “locomotion” and “foco” being a misspelling of “fuoco,” Italian for “fire.” It quickly came to mean self-ignitingmatches, like those used by a radical wing of the Democratic Party to light candles when angry Democratic Party regulars turned off the gaslights in their meeting hall. Ralph Waldo Emerson said the Locofocos were “stiff, heady, and rebellious; they are fanatics in freedom; they hate tolls, taxes, turnpikes, banks, hierarchies, governors, yea, almost all laws.” Sounds like the modern political scene. Fortunately, we possess public libraries dedicated to presenting all viewpoints to foster an informed, civil electorate.






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