Archive for January, 2014
31 Jan 2014

Fighting Skull & Bones with Foucault

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A bit of Yale architectural decoration.


Mark Edmundson
(who teaches English at UVA) has a very amusing, slightly rueful memoir in the Chronicle of Higher Education recalling his youthful animosity to tweeds, Bones, the American reactionary establishment and his enthusiastic embrace of the theoretical tools of deconstruction as a means of sticking it to the Man.

You couldn’t see Skull and Bones from the seminar room in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, though it was directly across the street. But the building was much on my mind the afternoon of the reception and had been from the day I got to New Haven. To my 26-year-old self, it seemed nearly impossible that literature—Keats, Shelley, Shakespeare, Whitman—was sharing space with Skull and Bones. I did not know much about Bones, but I took it to be a bastion of reactionary America. The society reached out its withered hand to tap future Wall Street pirates, CIA agents, and the sort of State Department operatives who had leveraged us into Vietnam, where a number of my high-school buddies had gone to be maimed and worse.

At least the Skull and Bones building looked its part. They called it the Crypt—and it did look like it was designed by Edgar Allan Poe. It was all stone and metal, with no real windows, and doors of enormous weight. Those doors must have closed with the grimmest finality, though never in my five New Haven years did I see them open or shut.

The Crypt was a monument to the dark. It looked like the temple of a demon—Moloch or Beelzebub—one of the devils we discussed in our Milton seminar in the elegantly decomposing room of the Munchkin party.

One day I saw that the Crypt’s front door and the wall next to it were blotched with red: the red of the anarchist flag, the red of rage and retribution. Someone had taken a couple of cans of yowling crimson paint and thrown them at the facade of Skull and Bones. I loved it. Perhaps that night people would mass in front of the building, carrying rakes, scythes, and wrenches. A strike force would arrive armed with five-pound sledgehammers and the requisite silver stakes to take care of the nightwalkers inside.

All right, I got a little carried away. I knew that wasn’t really going to happen. But something might. The university and the community were finally showing distaste for the monument to plutocracy and (why not say it?) death.

This was not what I associated with American education. I’d come from Bennington College, a small liberal-arts school in Vermont, where people worshiped Martha Graham and poetry. After I graduated, I taught at the Woodstock school, a Bennington for high-school students. Woodstock was about playing music and smoking weed, writing spontaneous bop poetry and reading Marx and Kerouac. When they completed the curriculum, the kids applied to college, and things being what they were in America circa 1977, they tended to get in—though not to Yale.

I’d been deluded. I thought that university education entailed reading Whitman during the week and listening to the Grateful Dead on weekends. (“I never cared about money,” the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd once wrote. “It was not what Country Joe and the Fish taught me to value.”) It seemed that here at Yale, education might be about William Howard Taft and Averill Harriman, all the time. I knew that Yale was renowned for Wall Street connections; I knew that it sent recruits to the CIA; but I thought—what did I think? I thought that the English department, in conjunction with the spirits of Emerson and Whitman, would be at war with what was dark and outdated about Yale. I thought that the English department would win, hands down. But there was the Crypt across the street, and no one was doing anything about it. No one even talked about it.

Then I discovered the opposition at Yale—or at least I thought I did. When I arrived, I was devoted to literature straight out, and my goal was to become learned enough to pass my affection on to students. That was about it. (Though I also liked the hours that professors were rumored to work—I was an expert at engaging in prolonged bouts of doing nothing.) “What we have loved,” Wordsworth says to his friend Coleridge in The Prelude, “others will love, and we will teach them how.” I could teach others how to love Whitman and Ginsberg and be paid for it, if only a pittance. Sign me up.

To my 26-year-old self, it seemed nearly impossible that literature—Keats, Shelley, Shakespeare, Whitman—was sharing space with Skull and Bones.

But the stuff that had the aura of subversion about it wasn’t literature, it was theory. Maybe that was the true alternative to Bonesmanship. After a while, I dropped any illusions I might have had about running the Bones gang out of town. Still, there had to be some kind of alternative culture to Bones culture, to succor the grad students and maybe even save an undergraduate or two from being swallowed alive by Moloch. Maybe theory was 1968 by other means.

Jameson, Hartman, Bloom, Derrida, de Man: All seemed rebellious, and all were right here at Yale.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to the Anonymous Reactionary English Prof and Karen L. Myers.

31 Jan 2014

King Charles the Martyr

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King Charles I’s scaffold speech:

“For the people. And truly I desire their Liberty and Freedom as much as any Body whomsoever. But I must tell you, That their Liberty and Freedom, consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, Sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a soveraign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.

Sirs, It was for this that now I Am come here. If I would have given way to an Arbitrary way, for to have all Laws changed according to the power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore, I tell you, (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) That I Am the Martyr of the People.”

Hat tip to Ratak Monodosico.

30 Jan 2014

Gravity is Not Your Friend in the South Tyrol

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If you live in Tramin/Termino in the South Tyrol, you had better beware of falling rocks.

Gizmodo has more pictures.

30 Jan 2014

Gibson Guitars Makes a New Model

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In a famous case of overreaching, federal agents twice raided the renowned Gibson guitar company of Nashville, TN, for supposed violations of laws of Madagascar and of India. Madagascar and India had actually approved the export of the wood in question, but the feds were operating on the basis of their own interpretation of those foreign laws.

Curiously enough, the Martin guitar company, which uses exactly the same woods, but which donated money to democrat candidates was never bothered. Gibson’s CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was in the habit of making donations to Republican campaigns.

Daily Caller story

Though firmly asserting its innocence, the Gibson company ultimately concluded that it could not afford to spend millions of dollars fighting the case and settled, paying a $300,000 fine and contributing $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation “to promote the conservation of protected tree species.”

The feds sanctimoniously kept the Madagascar ebony in question, contending that Madagascar officials were “defrauded” by a local exporter about the nature of the product. But Gibson did get back all the seized Indian rosewood.

Gibson is commemorating its own persecution by producing a special “Government Series II Les Paul” model celebrating the return of its materials, complete with “fingerboards… made from solid rosewood returned to Gibson by the US government.”

Nat Harden, at Ricochet, reports:

This week Gibson has announced the “Government Series” of guitars, to celebrate the end of its tussle with the eager enforcers of the U.S. Customs Department.

It’s a series of guitars made, purportedly, with the very same wood that was seized by the United States government, which was later returned at the end of the fiasco.

Ladies and gentlemen, Here’s a photo of the Gibson Les Paul Government Series II. The body is painted in a custom color the company has named “Government Tan”–suitably drab–a nod to the joyless reality of living under the heavy thumb of stifling bureaucracy.

Read the whole thing.

30 Jan 2014

Puma in the Kitchen

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A mountain lion broke through an electric fence in Lo Curro, Vitacura, Chile and frightened by the sound of an alarm proceeded to enter a house where the homeowner was eating breakfast. The humans managed to lock their unwelcome vistor in the kitchen, where he proceeded to demolish the place, while they took photographs through a window. Eventually, police and representatives of the Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG) arrived to sedate and remove the animal.

The puma may have been being kept illegally by a resident of the nearby town of La Dehesa.

Terra story (in Spanish)

30 Jan 2014

Anniversary of the Execution of King Charles I

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King Charles I, executed by left-wing totalitarians, 30 January 1649.

He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;
Nor call’d the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bowed his comely head
Down as upon a bed.
This was that memorable hour
Which first assur’d the forced pow’r.
So when they did design
The Capitol’s first line,
A bleeding head, where they begun,
Did fright the architects to run
.

Andrew Marvell

29 Jan 2014

Two New Poems by Sappho Discovered

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Sappho, Roman wall painting from Pompei.


James Romm
, at the Daily Beast, has some very important news.

[T]wo poems came to light when the owner of an ancient papyrus, dating to the 3rd century A.D., consulted an Oxford classicist, Dirk Obbink, about the Greek writing on the tattered scrap. Dr. Obbink, a MacArthur fellow and world-renowned papyrologist, quickly realized the importance of what the papyrus contained and asked its owner for permission to publish it. His article, which includes a transcription of the fragmentary poems, will appear in a scholarly journal this spring, but an on-line version has already been released.

Despite Sappho’s fame in antiquity and huge literary output, only one complete poem of hers survives today, along with substantial portions of four others. One of those four was substantially recovered only in 2004, also from a scrap of papyrus. Dr. Obbink’s new find adds a precious sixth poem to the body of Sappho’s surviving work and inspires hope that more such recoveries lie ahead.

“The new Sappho is absolutely breath-taking,” said Albert Henrichs, a Harvard classics professor who examined the papyrus with Dr. Obbink. “It is the best preserved Sappho papyrus in existence, with just a few letters that had to be restored in the first poem, and not a single word that is in doubt. Its content is equally exciting.” One of the two recovered poems, Prof. Henrichs notes, speaks of a “Charaxos” and a “Larichos,” the names assigned by ancient sources to two of Sappho’s brothers but never before found in Sappho’s own writings. It has as a result been labeled the Brothers poem by Prof. Obbink.

“There will be endless discussion about Charaxos and Larichos, who may or may not be Sappho’s brothers,” Prof. Henrichs commented. One important point in that debate will be the Brothers poem’s clear implication that Charaxos was a sea-going trader. The historian Herodotus, writing about two centuries after Sappho, also describes Charaxos as a wayfarer—a man who traveled to Egypt, where he spent a fortune to buy the freedom of Rhodopis, a beautiful slave he had fallen in love with. Upon his return home, Herodotus relates, Sappho brutally mocked her brother’s lovestruck folly in one of her poems.

The Brothers poem contains no such mockery, but rather depicts an exchange between two people concerned about the success of Charaxos’ latest sea voyage. The speaker—perhaps Sappho herself, but the loss of the poem’s initial lines makes this unclear—advises that a prayer to Hera would be the best way to ensure this success, and expounds on the power of the gods to aid their favorites. The poem’s final stanza speaks of Larichos, presumably Sappho’s younger brother, “becoming a man…and freeing us [Sappho’s family?] from much heartache.”

A horizontal line on the papyrus indicates the end of the Brothers poem and the beginning of the next, an address to the goddess Aphrodite. Only scattered words from this second poem can be recovered from the papyrus, which grows more tattered and illegible toward the bottom. To judge by what is known of Sappho’s poetry generally, this poem may have taken the form of a request that Aphrodite aid Sappho in the pursuit of a beloved, whether male or female.

The two poems share a common meter, the so-called Sapphic stanza, a verse form perhaps devised by Sappho and today bearing her name. Both belonged therefore to the first of Sappho’s nine books of poetry, and their recovery gives a clearer glimpse than scholars have ever had into the makeup and structure of that book. “All the poems of Sappho’s first book seem to have been about family, biography, and cult, together with poems about love/Aphrodite,” Dr. Obbink writes, adding that the two thematic groups may have alternated throughout the book as they do on the papyrus.

Sappho wrote in a dialect of Greek called Aeolic, significantly different in sound and spellings than the Attic Greek that later became standard. The papyrus in fact contains a few markings where a scribe, judging that Aeolic Greek might be unfamiliar to readers, made cues for correct pronunciation. It also bears the marks of an ancient tear and a patch job—a place where, after some rough handling, the original scroll was spliced back together with a pasted-on papyrus strip.

The handwriting on the papyrus allowed Dr. Obbink to establish its date as late 2nd or 3rd century A.D., almost a millennium after Sappho first wrote. It was not long after this time that texts written in Aeolic and other non-standard dialects began to die out in the Greek world, as the attention of educators and copyists focused increasingly on Attic writers. Sappho, along with many other authors, became a casualty of the narrowing Greek school curriculum in late antiquity and the even greater selectivity of the Middle Ages when papyrus scrolls were recopied into books.

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Greek Reporter:

The new Sappho is the best preserved Sappho papyrus in existence, with just a few letters that had to be restored in the first poem, and not a single word that is in doubt. Its content is equally exciting,” said a Harvard classics professor upon examining the papyrus.

One of the two recovered poems speaks of a Charaxos and a Larichos, the names assigned by ancient Greeks to two of Sappho’s brothers, though never before found in Sappho’s own writings. The poem is set to cause discussions about whether or not the two men are Sappho’s brothers. It depicts an exchange between two people concerned about the success of Charaxos’ latest sea voyage. The speaker may be Sappho herself, but the loss of the poem’s initial lines makes this unclear.

A horizontal line on the papyrus indicates the end of the first poem and the beginning of the next, an address to the goddess Aphrodite. Only scattered words from this second poem can be recovered from the papyrus, which grows more tattered and illegible to the end.

The two poems share a common meter, the so-called Sapphic stanza, a verse form perhaps devised by Sappho and today bearing her name. Both belonged, therefore, to the first of Sappho’s nine books of poetry and their recovery gives a clearer glimpse into the makeup and structure of that book. “All the poems of Sappho’s first book seem to have been about family, biography, and cult, together with poems about love/Aphrodite,” Dr. Obbink writes.

29 Jan 2014

Pete Seeger R.I.P.

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Jesse Larner, at HuffPo, explains just why Peter Seeger sucked as a folk singer.

As someone on the left who loves folk music, I understand that I’m supposed to feel mystically uplifted by the dean of activist folkies. But for those very reasons — because I believe in a humanist political order, and because authentic folk music speaks to me — I never could stand Pete. I don’t question his dedication or his energy. It’s just that I think them unfortunate. His conception of “folk music” has done tremendous damage, and his politics have done tremendous damage, and these things are connected.

Seeger’s been very influential. Most Americans, when they think of “folk music,” think of the 50s and 60s “revival” of that form: the songs, and versions of songs, made popular by him, The Weavers, Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio. This is a mistake. The songs these people became famous for singing are pretty, denatured coffee-house comforts that have little to do with the life that informed the originals. …

For [the] bowdlerization of the folk tradition — deeply disrespectful to the people who created it, I may add — Pete the tireless popularizer of fake folk music bears much of the blame.

It’s worse than that, and here’s where the politics comes in. I’ve tried to describe the power of folk music, because it is important to understand that this power is not amplified when made explicit, when harnessed to an agenda. It is negated. Folk music is about life, and politics is only a small part of life. …

Who the hell was Pete? He came from a distinguished family of musicians and academics afflicted with self-conscious class-consciousness; his father, Charles Louis Seeger, although from an old Puritan patrician line, joined the radical Industrial Workers of the World in the 1930s, a form of ostentatiously slumming solidarity that predicted much about his son’s future. Pete was a professional musician from a young age, Harvard dropout, assistant to folk archivist Alan Lomax, and dedicated political activist. He knew everything about folk music, except what it is.

Read the whole thing.

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The perfect Pete Seeger song:

Lots of hat tips to Iowahawk.

29 Jan 2014

Most Harmful Impact of Drugs

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Hat tip to Danny Trejo.

29 Jan 2014

Alaska Pets on Porch

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Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

29 Jan 2014

Response to Obama’s State of the Union

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Joe Pesci in “My Cousin Vinny” (1992).

28 Jan 2014

It’s Good Enough For Me

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28 Jan 2014

“Cell Phone Above the Sea of Fog”

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28 Jan 2014

Dilbert

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Hat tip to Karen l. Myers.

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