Archive for April, 2013
19 Apr 2013

“If I Could Live In Any Decade, It Would Definitely Be The 960s”


Jonathan Soifer in the Onion:

Ever feel like you’re living in the wrong era? Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of stuff I love about today, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that I was born too late. When I look back at the past, I get the sense that I truly belonged in those heady days of peace and love, back between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the High Middle Ages. That’s why, if I could live in any time period, I would definitely choose the 960s.

Something about those wild, revolutionary years really speaks to me. It seemed like everything was going on back then. The frocks looked good, the chants were amazing, and everyone who wasn’t suffering typhoid or acute vitamin deficiencies was just so alive with energy. The 960s just seemed like an electrifying time to be living.

The straight-laced 950s were over but the stirrings of feudalism were only just beginning. Everyone was in this vibrant period of transition between Byzantine autocracy and fealty to large landowners, just trying to discover themselves. For a brief moment you had this optimism that made you feel like you could just stick your thumb out, hop in a passing cart transporting waterfowl, and go. Didn’t even matter where—you’d just take it easy at the next fiefdom and figure it out. Who was going to tell you no? The king? Edgar the Peaceable was on the throne and he didn’t care. It was a simpler time.

There was just this laid-back, anything-goes culture in the 960s, what with the dissolution of the Carolingian dynasty, and I know I would have fit right in.

Plus, so much of my favorite music came out of 960s—the Gregorian chants, the atonal dirges. Before that, they just had plainsong. But then there was this surge of creativity and monks started adding another part to the chant, and boom, florid organum was born. And the sounds they were able to produce with their lutes and recorders were truly groundbreaking. Forget the crap you hear today; back then they knew how to write real hymns.

Can you imagine what it was like to have been around when Odo of Arezzo broke onto the scene? Or to have actually seen Reginold of Eichstätt live? It blows my mind that on any given weekend in the Abbey of St. Martial you could have seen St. Tutilo von Gallen, Ademar of Chabannes, or Hucbald. Hucbald! And just think how amazing it would have been to experience that unforgettable summer of 969, when it seemed like everyone gathered on the lea to circle-dance and intone around a communal fire. Yeah, it was muddy, and yeah, the food was almost assuredly rancid and diseased, but so what? Two words: Heriger and Wigbert!

I guess I was just born a few decades and a millennium too late.

18 Apr 2013

Fictional Characters You Would Not Believe Were Based on Real People

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18 Apr 2013

“Whan That Aprill”

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Today in Literature:

On this day (or possibly the next) in 1394, Geoffrey Chaucer’s twenty-nine pilgrims met at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to prepare for their departure to Canterbury. Chaucer’s poem condenses the four to five day trip into one, and scholars have used various textual references and astrological calculations to establish that day as the day before Easter, thus allowing the pilgrims to arrive at Canterbury Easter morning, after a fifty-five-mile hike through a pleasant English springtime.

Here begins the Book
of the Tales of Canterbury

1: Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
2: The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
3: And bathed every veyne in swich licour
4: Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5: Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
6: Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
7: Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
8: Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
9: And smale foweles maken melodye,
10: That slepen al the nyght with open ye
11: (so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
12: Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
13: And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
14: To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15: And specially from every shires ende
16: Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
17: The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
18: That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
19: Bifil that in that seson on a day,
20: In southwerk at the tabard as I lay
21: Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
22: To caunterbury with ful devout corage,
23: At nyght was come into that hostelrye
24: Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye,
25: Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
26: In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
27: That toward caunterbury wolden ryde.
28: The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
29: And wel we weren esed atte beste.
30: And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
31: So hadde I spoken with hem everichon
32: That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
33: And made forward erly for to ryse,
34: To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.


My favorite quotation:

NPT 2805 Sir, sey somwhat of huntyng, I yow preye.

18 Apr 2013

Barack Obama: Bad Loser

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Barack Obama did not take the Manchin-Toomey expanded-background-checks bill’s defeat in the Senate very well. In fact, he called all of us opposed to that bill “liars” and said that this measure, which would not have prevented the shootings in Newtown or in Phoenix or any other of the well-known mass shootings, was a “common sense step to help keep our kids safe.”

It was never clear to me why Barack Obama or Pat Toomey thought the Constitution actually granted any power to Congress to regulate a non-interstate firearms sale that takes place across a table.

Senator Mike Lee
explained that he voted against the bill because he recognized that all this was another liberal salami game, taking one more slice of our rights today and then coming back for another tomorrow.

The Toomey-Manchin amendment admirably attempted to carve out certain protections for gun owners, but today’s carve-outs are tomorrow’s loopholes. The current “gun show loophole” was itself once considered a legitimate carve-out that protected certain private sales.

Eratosthenes was moved to remark on the president’s sense of self-entitlement. When the left doesn’t get its way, the system has always failed.

I was just noticing this yesterday while listening to the President’s speech on the radio. If the democrats get their butts beat a hundred times in a row, we can predict they’re going to say some variation of exactly the same thing, a hundred times in a row, and that thing will be: This just goes to show that you voters have to give us more of a lock on power.

This is a big part of the reason why I don’t trust them, why their whole way of looking at politics is incompatible with the way the republic was built. Not wanting to over-simplify it too much, but they’re spoiled brats. It’s just like an ex-wife who wants her child support or alimony early: They got this idea in their heads about what is going to happen. Nobody gave them that idea. They literally just gathered around a conference table and wrote it all down. They formed the idea in what was, for all practical purposes, a vacuum, and nobody made any promises about any of it save for the promises they made to each other. On the strength of that thing not coming to pass, they portend misery and doom. Just like any spoiled brat.

They Won’t Give Me Their Guns!And it’s always something polarizing. They get a few RINOs to participate and on the strength of that, they throw around the word “bipartisan” like peas at a food fight or something…but really. If you haven’t been following the news too closely lately and someone described the bill to you and said “Now, what do you think is the Republican position on this and what do you think is the democrat position,” would you really stand their scratching your head going “duh??” because the bill is just so-common-sense and wonderful like Emperor Barry was saying yesterday?

In defeat, I would expect a party that really does deserve more power, to say, in America: Well, back to the drawing board. It wasn’t meant to be. Not right now, at any rate. …

In defeat, the democrats always say the same thing: This was supposed to happen — we decided so — and it didn’t happen that way, so this shows things are really messed up! Voters, you have to help us get rid of those Republicans. When we said we wanted a form of government that works for everybody, we were not talking about them! Their opportunity to be represented in our nation’s capitol, is the one thing that is really, really, heap-big busted right now, and that has to be the next thing fixed.

17 Apr 2013

Applause Drowned Out Leftist Jeers

At Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, the Telegraph reports that expressions of appreciation and respect from the British public drowned out the unseemly expressions of animosity from churlish representatives of the left.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. No one knew who’d started it – perhaps it was purely instinctual. But as the hearse came into view, the crowds found themselves breaking into applause – applause that followed the hearse all the way along the route, until it drew up at the church of St Clement Danes.

Then, once the coffin had been loaded on to the gun carriage and the horses moved off, the applause started again – and followed it all the way to St Paul’s.

Down the roads it spread and spread and spread, a long impromptu chain of respect and appreciation.

The applause wasn’t rowdy; there were no whoops or whistles. It was steady, warm, dignified. But also, somehow, determined.

At Ludgate Circus, protesters began to boo and jeer – only to find the rest of the crowd applauding all the more loudly to drown them out.

Read the whole thing.

The Thatcher funeral inevitably reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s. I remember the whole long route of the hearse to the grave-site far out into the hills, lined all the way with ordinary people, and even the television reportage filled with emotion. I remember in particular the cameras catching sight of one woman holding up a hand lettered sign, which seemed to me to sum up perfectly the feelings of most Americans. That sign read: “Well Done.”

17 Apr 2013

No Labour Voters Here

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Hubert von Herkomer, The Last Muster, (After, Sunday at the Chelsea Hospital, 1875, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

17 Apr 2013

Chinese Swords

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2,000-year-old 100-layer sword, reputed to have been owed by Lui Bang (fl. circa 200 B.C.) first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, found originally covered with blood rust. The pattern shown in the bottom photo is known as leopard spots.

Collectors Weekly visits swordmaker Francis Boyd, learns the difference between Damascus layered and wootz steel, and gets to see a sword gifted in China by Marco Polo (or a close relative).

When I got this sword, it was completely covered in blood rust.” Sword maker Francis Boyd is showing me yet another weapon pulled from yet another safe in the heavily fortified workshop behind his northern California home.

“You can tell it’s blood,” he says matter-of-factly, “because ordinary rust turns the grinding water brown. If it’s blood rust it bleeds, it looks like blood in the water. Even 2,000 years old, it bleeds. And it smells like a steak cooking, like cooked meat. I’ve encountered this before with Japanese swords from World War II. If there’s blood on the sword and you start polishing it, the sword bleeds. It comes with the territory.”

Blood rust: I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it would turn water red, but the steak comment is kind of creeping me out, as is the growing realization that if these swords could talk, I couldn’t stomach half the tales they’d have to tell.

Read the whole thing.

17 Apr 2013

Bad News and Good

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Milton Friedman – “If you put the federal government in charge of zombie maintenance & production, in five years there’d be a shortage of zombies.”

16 Apr 2013

Beautiful Ruins

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Mansion built in 1923 in San Antonio del Tequendama, Colombia, overlooking the Tequendama Falls on the Bogotá River.

I like that house.

My Science Academy has this one and 29 more.

16 Apr 2013

Where Did Your Tax Dollar Go?

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15 Apr 2013

Contemporary Poetry: High-Minded and “Evolved”


poetry reading

David Yezzi kicks the simpering, prating, effeminate ass of contemporary poetry around the block.

Poetry has become so docile, so domesticated, it’s like a spayed housecat lolling in a warm patch of sun. Most poets choose to play it safe, combining a few approved modes in a variety of unexceptional ways: lyrical, pastoral, whimsical, surrealist, lyrical-pastoral, pastoral-surrealist, interior-lyrical, whimsical-lyrical-interior-surrealist, and so on. These poems feel at home in coffee shops and on college campuses; they circulate breezily among crowds of like-minded poems and all of them work hard to be liked. (They are also beloved of prize committees and radio hosts.) Not since the Edwardians has a period style felt so pinched, though, ironically, today’s poetry is offered as “new”—either ground-breakingly populist or transgressively avant-garde. As Joshua Mehigan puts it in a recent issue of Poetry:

    In the end, poetry looks radical only to the outside world, which ignores it, while from inside it looks static. Poets got out of these situations before by doing something new, but novelty is superfluous now. There is no way to get into the game without upping the ante, and there is no way out without bluffing or folding or everyone agreeing on a new game.

How did the main effects of poetry ever boil down to these: the genial revelation, the sweetly poignant middle-aged lament, the winsome ode to the suburban soul? The problem is that such poems lie: no one in the suburbs is that bland; no reasonable person reaches middle age with so little outrage at life’s absurdities. What an excruciating world contemporary poetry describes: one in which everyone is either ironic, on the one hand, or enlightened and kind on the other—not to mention selfless, wise, and caring. Even tragic or horrible events provoke only pre-approved feelings.

Poetry of this ilk has a sentimental, idealizing bent; it’s high-minded and “evolved.” Like all utopias, the world it presents exists nowhere. Some might argue that poetry should elevate, showing people at their best, each of us aspiring to forgive foibles with patience and understanding. But that kind of poetry amounts to little more than a fairy tale, a condescending sop to our own vanity.

15 Apr 2013

Ding Dong To You, Too

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London mayor and notorious bad boy Boris Johnson retorts to all the nasty little leftist toads who made a point of rejoicing publicly over the passing of Margaret Thatcher.

Ding dong, the Soviet Union is dead! Ding dong, communism is dead! And so is the British disease. They are all dead as doornails – the myth of this country’s inevitable decline, the habit of capitulating to the unions, the belief in state control of everything from motor manufacturers to removals firms, taxation rates at 98 per cent: all the Lefty nostrums of the post-war epoch.

Ding dong! Old Labour’s dead! The Labour Party has given up its ridiculous belief in the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange – the slogan that used to be printed on the back of every party membership card. Ding dong, Clause Four is dead as a dodo.

But I tell you what, my little Left-wing friends, and all you who think it amusing to break out the champagne at the death of an 87-year-old woman. There is one thing that is alive and well – and that is Thatcherism. Thatcherism lives; and will live as long as there are people in this country, and on this planet, who see how economic freedom can be the servant not just of the rich, but of our whole society.

14 Apr 2013

New Word of the Week: SWUG

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Esther Zuckerman poses as a SWUG. My commenters are often smarter than I am. One of them, unlike me, noticed that Esther Zuckerman actually used a picture of Tina Fey to illustrate the SWUG type. The “NBC” under the photo should have been a clue. Sigh.

The Urban Dictionary provides the definition:

Senior Washed-Up Girl.

The term goes back a couple of years, but the SWUG concept only recently attracted major attention as the result of a lengthy think piece in the Yale Daily News by Raisa Bruner exploring the culture, the pros and cons, and all possible nuances of SWUGdom, its relationship to Feminism, SWUGdom as fate, as life-phase, as life-style, and as identity.


Yale definitely teaches young people how to play theme and variations on a concept, and Ms. Bruner’s piece caught the attention of one Justin Rocket Silverman (Now that is a millenial generation name!) who, writing in The Cut brought all this to the attention of the World Outside Yale.

Yale senior Raisa Bruner [is] kind of tired of the free-wheeling frat hookup culture that’s so compelling to younger students. The guys know this about women her age, she says, and so they don’t generally hit on senior girls. If she went to Sigma Nu, she’d watch her male classmates focus on that infinitely more fun classmate, the female freshman.

Bruner is a self-identified SWUG — a senior washed up girl. As she explained in a recent feature in the Yale Daily News, to be a SWUG is to embrace “the slow, wine-filled decline of female sexual empowerment as we live out our college glory days. Welcome to the world of the ladies who have given up on boys because they don’t so much empower as frustrate, satisfy as agitate.”

She and her fellow SWUGs are women who don’t bother dressing up for class, or even for fancy parties (though they might still attend them), don’t seek out meaningful (or even just sexual) relationships, spend weekends at their shared homes drinking in the company of other self-identified SWUGs, and feel utter apathy about their personal lives — all at the age of 21.


Gawker decided that all this SWUG stuff really amounted to just a pose and a demand for some attention.

Declaring “‘I don’t give a fuck’ at the right moment,” does not a “more complex person” make. Rather than embracing personal growth internally, there is a clamorous, exaggerated declaration that growing out of a social scene is the equivalent of being “washed-up” in the face of other’s halcyon days. Overall, SWUG-life appears to be a melodramatic desire to make an identity out of boredom and dissatisfaction with the collegiate social scene.


Esther Zuckerman (Y’ 12), at the Atlantic, tells us that she was already a SWUG as a junior two years ago.

I first heard about the term SWUG during my junior year when I was working at the Daily News. From what I can recall, it was described to me as having been coined by a group of girls in the senior class, and I hated it. Yale had been debating treatment of women on campus all year—the school was about to face a Title IX investigation—and the idea of calling any girls on campus “washed-up” was to me offensive and demeaning (the specific words I used in a heated Gchat conversation), even if some fellow women had used the label on themselves.

But I changed my mind on SWUGs as I sort of realized I was one. Looking back through my Gmail inbox today, I crossed into my senior year, when, for me and my friends, SWUG came to be a way we described an attitude that we already possessed. SWUG meant getting meatball subs on a snowy night. SWUGs watched an episode of New Girl twice in a row with a lot red wine. SWUGs baked brownies. In our version of SWUG, an idol might be Liz Lemon, to whom Jack Donaghy once said: “Big night, Lemon? Let me guess meatball sub extra, bottle of NyQuil, TiVo Top Chef, a little miss Bonnie Raitt, lights out.” My fellow would-be SWUGs and I listened to a lot of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” We cared about our academics and our future careers, but when it came to our social lives in the confines of Yale, well, we, as seniors, couldn’t care less.


The whole SWUG business may have really been put on the map at Yale by a Daily News article by Chloe Drimal, published last September, titled: Profile of a SWUG.

You’ve all met one. They’re usually at penny shots promptly at 11 p.m. come Wednesday night, and are then found in Durfee’s around 1 p.m. the next day, buying every liquid they can get their hands on.

I was jealous of them when I was a freshman. They were on a nickname basis with the hottest guys at Yale and danced at the bar of DKE with their shirts off. But looking back on it, I realize the boys were trying to get with the freshmen, not the SWUGs. …

She’s the girl who Kevin, the bartender at Toad’s, hugs when she stumbles in Wednesday night. She’ll dance like no one’s looking. She’s a SWUG. She doesn’t care. Tommy at Box 63 and Compadre at Amigos will both give her free shots on occasion; they are not doing this for freshman girls — only for SWUGs.

She’s the girl in the Zeta basement, before the Coach Reno era, who is biting into a can with her teeth to shotgun on a Sunday. Although she could never beat the Zeta boys in a shotgun, she can beat most ADPhi boys.

She’s the girl who knows the code to get into DKE. She knows the code for ADPhi. (If any single senior girl has the key to Zeta, she may want to seek help.) Facebook bores her. She uses Facebook to find out different football players’ birthdays and plugs them into an astrology website to test their compatibility. She is compatible with no one.

She’s the girl who promised she would never hook up with someone younger than her but now finds herself texting sophomore boys who unavoidably turn her down. She thinks this is funny. She thinks about getting a vibrator; she may already have a vibrator. It may be better than that sophomore boy.

She doesn’t need to walk home late at night and chance getting mugged by a New Haven local because she will just sleep on a couch in one of the frats. The late night crew at G-Heav knows to start making her an egg and cheese when they see her stumble through the door, and sometimes they will allow her to dance behind the counter and crack an egg herself. Again, they don’t do this for the young, hot, freshman girls — only SWUGs.

She’s the girl who tells her friends she is going to have a “friendship night.” When they ask what this means she explains she is going to make a guy want her and then turn him down. She gets drunk and wakes up next to the guy she was going to turn down. She knows this will go nowhere, as she has already plugged his birthday into the compatibility website, and their score was a two. She makes up a short lie about a meeting and asks him to leave her room and then goes back to bed. She doesn’t return his texts. She’s a SWUG.

She is the last one at every party, because hey — who is she going home with? She’s not afraid to dance on tables and knows the top floor of any frat always has the cleanest bathroom. She is wise. She is hot, whether the boys believe it or not. She doesn’t give a hoot. She’s single because she wants to be; her daddy told her there’s more fish in the sea. She is a SWUG, and SWUG life is pretty awesome.

Drimal’s glorification of the SWUG made her in a campus celebrity, profiled by the Yale Herald.


If anyone is not totally SWUGed out at this point, he can turn to some more discussions which appeared in the Oldest College Daily.


On a personal note, we had hook ups at Yale in my day, but we did not have either the term or the identical hook up culture. I think that, as I remember it, quite a lot of female seniors in those days had long since taken anticipated Susan Patton’s advice and were in long-term relationships with Yale men.

The SWUG concept reminds me of the characteristic resentment of ordinarily-groomed-and-dressed Yale girls toward male friends’ dates from outside Yale.

The girl from Smith staying over at Yale would arrive at breakfast nicely dressed, in full make-up, hair in perfect order, and her escort’s female Yale friends and neighbors would glower and make faces, regarding his date’s superior efforts at presentation as personal affronts.

Yale girls all tended to think dating outside Yale constituted both punishable treason and firm evidence of bad taste. I once took a date to a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, in which my current wife was singing in the chorus, and found Karen was using every opportunity that my then girlfriend’s eyes were averted to make faces at me.

14 Apr 2013

James Salter’s “All That Is”

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It has been more than 30 years since James Salter, whom I consider a quite interesting writer of the second rank, published his last novel. The publication of his new book has provoked frequent observation that Salter is really a much better writer writing more substantive and thematically worthy of attention novels than certain better-known establishment writers of fiction, but his work has, for five decades now, somehow mysteriously escaped wide attention.

The new novel is certainly not a masterpiece, but it is a very satisfactory read. It reminded me of John Marquand. The protagonist, Phillip Bowman, serves as a young naval officer in WWII, attends Harvard, and then becomes an editor in a NY publishing house. He marries a young woman out of the same Virginia equestrian circles I currently frequent, and Salter delivers a quite accurate portrait of the Virginia Hunt Country and its unique ethos. The marriage fails for reasons that are not entirely clear. The problem is apparently simply the fact that Bowman takes her away from Old Virginia and moves her to New York where she is obliged to live without horses and hunting and her family and home society. Bowman goes on without excessive perturbation to have other relationships and affairs. He meets a woman returning on a flight from Europe. They share a taxi, and ultimately live together. But she, too, leaves him, and opportunistically gains ownership of the house he purchased for their use by means of legal chicanery. A good while later, he runs into his former lover’s daughter, whom he had known when she was a child. He is friendly, dismissive of the wrong her mother did him, and he proceeds to take advantage of the opportunities which present themselves to make love to her. He persuades her to let him take her on a trip to Paris, where he shares with her his sophisticated knowledge of the city and its restaurants and Picasso’s paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter, and skillfully makes love to her. When he has finally succeeded in bringing her to the peak of erotic fulfillment, he calculates that she will, before very long, come to her senses about the enormous gap between their ages and the unsuitability of their relationship. He then simply walks out, paying the hotel bill, and leaving her penniless in Paris, knowing full well that she will have to seek the assistance of her mother. The reader is likely to think Phillip Bowman cruel. Like Marquand, Salter writes basically about what he knows, and tends to present fictional versions of himself, portraits of the gentleman of accomplishment, the cynical and astute observer of society and humanity, and the homme moyen sensual, the connoisseur of sexual relationships and the female body.

“All That Is” is a novel about love, but Salter’s view of love is appreciative yet unsentimental. Phillip Bowman is grateful for the female companionship that life brings his way, but he is not wildly optimistic about his own motives and capacity for enduring affection or those of any of his successive string of partners. For Salter, love is always, as the title of an earlier novel put it, A Sport and a Pastime.

There was this count, and his wife said to him one day that their son was growing up and wasn’t it time he learned about the birds and the bees? All right, the count said, so he took him for a walk. They went down to a stream and stood on a bridge looking down at peasant girls washing clothes. The count said, your mother wants me to talk to you about the birds and the bees, what they do. Yes, father, the son said. Well, you see the girls down there? Yes, father. You remember a few days ago when we came here, what we did with them? Yes, father. Well, that’s what the birds and the bees do.”

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