Archive for July, 2018
31 Jul 2018

Renaissance Musical Notation Knives

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From the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Open Culture:

These knives, which have musical scores engraved in their blades, brought a table together in singing their prayers, and may have been used to carve the lamb or beef in their “striking balance of decorative and utilitarian function.” At least historians think such “notation knives,” which date from the early 1500s, were used at banquets. “The sharp, wide steel would have been ideal for cutting and serving meat,” writes Eliza Grace Martin at the WQXR blog, “and the accentuated tip would have made for a perfect skewer.” But as Kristen Kalber, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses the knives at the top of the post, tells us “diners in very grand feasts didn’t cut their own meat.” It’s unlikely they would have sung from the bloody knives held by their servants.

The knives’ true purpose “remains a mystery,” Martin remarks, like many “rituals of the Renaissance table.” Victoria and Albert Museum curator Kirstin Kennedy admits in the video above that “we are not entirely sure” what the “splendid knife” she holds was used for. But we do know that each knife had a different piece of music on each side, and that a set of them together contained different harmony parts in order to turn a roomful of diners into a chorus. One set of blades had the grace on one side, with the inscription, “the blessing of the table. May the three-in-one bless that which we are about to eat.” The other side holds the benediction, to be sung after the dinner: “The saying of grace. We give thanks to you God for your generosity.”

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Kristen Kalber, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, discusses these knives.

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Maya Corry discusses the Fitzwillian Museum’s musical notation knives starting at 2:30.

31 Jul 2018

“Well, Do You?”

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31 Jul 2018

Another Federal District Judge Rules Against Trump

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30 Jul 2018

Eloquent

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30 Jul 2018

A Genre’s Deep Norms Matter

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Eric Raymond defends the integrity of the genre in an intelligent and well-reasoned essay. The SJW crowd will not like this one.

In the book reviews I’ve been writing recently I have been applying some very specific ideas about the nature and scope of science fiction, particularly in contrast to other genres such as fantasy, mystery, and horror. I have not hesitated to describe some works found in SF anthologies as defective SF, as non-SF, or even as anti-SF.

It is not fashionable these days to be so normative about any kind of artistic form, let alone SF. The insistence that we should embrace diversity is constant, even if it means giving up having any standards at all. In a genre like SF where the core traditions include neophilia and openness to possibility, the argument for exclusive definitions and hard boundaries seems especially problematic.

I think it is an argument very much worth making nevertheless. This essay is my stake in the ground, one I intend to refer readers back to when (as sometimes happens) I’m accused of being stuck on an outmoded and narrow conception of the genre. I will argue three propositions: that artistic genres are functionally important, that genre constraints are an aid to creativity and communication rather than a hindrance, and that science fiction has a particular mission which both justifies and requires its genre constraints.

HT: Karen L. Myers.

30 Jul 2018

A Rising Democrat

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29 Jul 2018

Medieval Man vs. Millennial Man

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29 Jul 2018

Glimpses of a Mass Extinction in Western New York

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Fossil tree stump, Gilboa, New York.

First, they came for the brachiopods…

In the New Yorker, Peter Brannan finds in Western New York State abundant evidence of Global Warming and planet-wide mass extinction having nothing whatsoever to do with human industrial production or the automobile.

[T]he Hudson Valley roughly marked land’s end, and, by now, I had pushed off this secret coastline to head west, and offshore. The red earth that earlier bracketed the highway—rumors of ancient rivers on land—now gave way to gray, banded rocks filled with seashells, where stacks of seafloor piled up, millennia-thick.

“The farther west you go in New York, it’s all marine fossils,” a paleontologist told me before I left. “New York would have been facing into a great continental sea. All the way out to Ohio, it’s all marine.”

This upstate ocean poked out from under farmland, and crumbled from rock walls behind gas stations. In the Devonian period—hundreds of millions of years ago—it was filled with sea lilies, sea scorpions, armor-plated monster fish, forests of glass sponges, and patch reefs of strange corals. At night, these reefs were cast in shimmering chiaroscuro, inviting moonlit patrols of sharks and coelacanths. Where the water met land in eastern New York, dawn revealed fish hauling ashore on nervous day trips—slimy, gasping astronauts under a withering sun.

In the ages since, the tropical inland sea drained away, the continents merged and rifted, and the seafloor turned to stone. As fish conquered the land at last, the ocean was buried and forgotten. …

The dramatic change roughly marks the Taghanic Event—a mass extinction that razed corals, brachiopods, and squid-like creatures stuffed in elegant shells all over the world. It was one of almost twenty global mass extinctions in the history of complex life, a list that includes five cataclysmic outliers, when the planet nearly died, and one that might someday include us. …

The great Devonian mass extinction remains something of a mystery. There were oxygen-starved oceans, fueled by an explosion of massive algae blooms—perhaps even driven by runoff from the land, as the emerging world of trees carried out their massive geoengineering project, greening the continents. Other research adds invasive species spread by surging seas, preposterous volcanoes and extreme climate change to the chaos for good measure. Whatever form this destroyer took, it laid waste to 99.99 per cent of the largest reef systems the world has ever known—the so-called “megareefs” of the Devonian, ten times more extensive than our own. Trilobites, tentacled drifters, fish wrapped in heavy armor—nothing was spared.

RTWT

I still have somewhere boxes full of unprocessed limestone rocks full of Devonian brachiopods I collected back when I was in high school.

28 Jul 2018

Harper’s Suddenly Finds Trump Supporters Are the Cool Kids

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“Who’s the cool kid now?”

Walter Kirin, in Harper’s (of all places), describes discovering that today, all the cool people, the rebels and outsiders, are the Trump supporters, while the sanctimonious, preachy types, the annoying conformist scolds are the liberals!

Puritanism, Mencken said, is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” But liberal puritanism is slightly different. It fears that the wrong sort of people might be happy, or that their happiness might be of the wrong kind. I’d seen examples of it on Twitter, in snarling remarks about Trump’s porn-star mistress, his age difference with his wife, his multiple marriages, his rumored romps with Russian prostitutes. The ostensible charge was Trump’s hypocrisy and that of his evangelical supporters for pardoning such lewdness in their leader, but sometimes I sensed disgust in the attacks not only with Trump, but also with sex, in all its messiness. When Jimmy Kimmel recently referred to Trump as Pumpkin ­McPornHumper, the hint of sniffy distaste was unmistakable.

If Trump’s presidency is a national emergency and opposing it the equivalent of war—though I prefer sticking with the political process—then there isn’t much room for liberals to be liberal in the ways I found so attractive as a boy. Indeed, I see evidence that certain liberal principles, the ones that impressed me in the Seventies, have eroded. Back then, for example, the CIA was understood to be a nest of liars and psychopaths who toppled democratically chosen leaders, lied to the public to start wars, and ran sick experiments on innocents using drugs and mind-control techniques. In Three Days of the Condor, a thriller from the period, Robert Redford plays a lowly CIA officer who discovers that the agency is nothing more than a crime ring. These days, however, with Trump playing the heavy, the CIA is revered by many liberals as a bulwark of integrity, its missions sacred, its conclusions unimpeachable, and its former director, John Brennan, worthy of a high-profile cable news job. The FBI draws similar adulation, never mind its history of spying on the likes of Ernest Hemingway, John Lennon, and Martin Luther King Jr.

This great liberal switch from skepticism to sanctimony about the most powerful arms of the Establishment is matched by a viral fear of Russia that reminds me of the John Birch Society pamphlets I’d come across now and then when I was young. Somehow, instinct told me then that they were crazy, exaggerating the cunning of the enemy, the depravity of the collaborators, and the vulnerability of America. The liberal comedians who lampooned such claims on shows such as Laugh-In were my idols. They dared to speak the most radical truth of all in a time of panic and paranoia: the sneakiest adversary is the mind. The Cold War was real, of course, and deadly serious, as are the tensions with Putin’s Russia, but my liberal heroes of the Seventies discerned other dangers that were closer to home. Rigidity. Stridency. Shrillness. Self-righteousness. One way they answered the period’s harsh conservatism was to hang loose, not get uptight. Love, not war. Remember?

27 Jul 2018

Bugatti Type 51

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27 Jul 2018

The Limits of Human Sympathy

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Giuseppi Marc’Antonio Baretti (1719-1789) after an affray in Haymarket was tried for murder but acquitted in 1769.

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), recording a conversation that took place on October 19, 1769:

Talking of our feeling for the distresses of others;—JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, there is much noise made about it, but it is greatly exaggerated. No, Sir, we have a certain degree of feeling to prompt us to do good: more than that, Providence does not intend. It would be misery to no purpose.’ BOSWELL. ‘But suppose now, Sir, that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged.’ JOHNSON. ‘I should do what I could to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.’ BOSWELL. ‘Would you eat your dinner that day, Sir?’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir; and eat it as if he were eating it with me. Why, there’s Baretti, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow, friends have risen up for him on every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plumb-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetic feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind.’

I told him that I had dined lately at Foote’s, who shewed me a letter which he had received from Tom Davies, telling him that he had not been able to sleep from the concern which he felt on account of ’This sad affair of Baretti,’ begging of him to try if he could suggest any thing that might be of service; and, at the same time, recommending to him an industrious young man who kept a pickle-shop. JOHNSON. ‘Ay, Sir, here you have a specimen of human sympathy; a friend hanged, and a cucumber pickled. We know not whether Baretti or the pickle-man has kept Davies from sleep; nor does he know himself. And as to his not sleeping, Sir; Tom Davies is a very great man; Tom has been upon the stage, and knows how to do those things. I have not been upon the stage, and cannot do those things.’ BOSWELL. ‘I have often blamed myself, Sir, for not feeling for others as sensibly as many say they do.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, don’t be duped by them any more. You will find these very feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They pay you by feeling.’

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Mme Verdurin

À la recherche du temps perdu, Vol. VII, Le Temps Retrouvé, Chapter II, “M. de Charlus pendant la guerre; ses opinions, ses plaisirs” (ca. 1920):

These Verdurins (and then Mme Verdurin on her own, after her husband’s death) hosted dinner parties, and M. de Charlus pursued his pleasures, while hardly reflecting on the fact that the Germans—immobilized, to be sure, by a bloody barrier that was constantly being rebuilt—were only an hour’s car drive away from Paris. And yet it must be admitted that the Verdurins were indeed thinking about this because they had a political salon where the situation of not only the army but also of the navy was discussed each evening. They really were thinking about those hecatombs of annihilated regiments, of drowned ship passengers; but an inverse operation multiplies what impinges on our well-being to such an extent and divides what does not impinge on it by such a colossal figure that the death of millions of strangers is whispered to us as softly as and almost less disagreeably than a draught of air. Mme Verdurin, suffering from her migraines on account of not having a croissant to dunk in her café au lait, had obtained from Cottard a prescription that allowed her to order them at a certain restaurant of which we have spoken. This prescription had been as difficult to obtain from the authorities as the nomination of a general. She received her first croissant on the morning when the newspapers reported on the sinking of the Lusitania. As she dunked the croissant in the coffee and repeatedly flicked her newspaper to keep it spread flat without having to leave off dunking, she said: ‘How horrible! This is more horrible than the most terrible tragedy imaginable.’ But the death of all those drowning victims must not have seemed more than a billionth of its actual magnitude to her, for as she engaged in these dolorous reflections with her mouth full, the expression that was floating on the surface of her face—an expression probably brought there by the flavor of the croissant, so preciously curative of migraines—was actually one of mild satisfaction.

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George F. Kennan (1904-2005).

George F. Kennan. Memoirs—1925-1950 (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1967), p. 432.

Darkness had now fallen. Reuter left. His place was taken by dinner guests, this time from the foreign colony. I had known them before, at another post. With their arrival, talk turned to the usual foreign colony gossip and chitchat. Forgotten were the ruin and desolation outside, forgotten—the two and a half million people who lived round about in hardship and uncertainty, forgotten—the great planes whose motors could be heard overhead at exact intervals of three minutes as they swept through the rain and the gloom. I marveled at the stubborn inertia of the social habits of us Anglo-Saxons, and asked myself the despairing question: How many more catastrophes would yet have to occur, how many more cities would have to be smashed, how much more horrible and insistent would have to become the visible evidences of cruelty and suffering in this world before we could be brought to stop handing each other drinks and discussing through the long evenings the price of antiques, the inadequacies of servants, and the availability of cosmetics in the PX.

HT: Ratak Monodosico.

26 Jul 2018

Hillary in Mumu Discussing Why She Lost

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26 Jul 2018

What We Know

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A conservative on Facebook summarizes the facts of the Russian Collusion scandal.

…let’s talk about the facts as we know them.

German bank records prove the funding chain from the DNC and Hillary campaign through Perkins-Coie and managing partner Marc Elias to Fusion GPS and on to Chris Steele. And the Russians. And there were reporters on the payroll too.

So we have collaboration between the very top of the blues and Russians via a complex hidden funding scheme.

We know that the Michael Isikoff story on Yahoo News which was used as partial justification for the warrants was leaked to Isikoff by Chris Steele directly.

We know Steele hated Trump and made it his mission to ensure he wasn’t elected.

We know that Strzok and Page spoke of an insurance policy in case Trump was elected, and they spoke of it in Andrew McCabe’s office.

We know that the dossier and Yahoo News story plus a letter from Harry Reid that originated from the dossier were the basis of all the FISA warrant applications.

We know the FBI paid Steele directly also, in addition to what he got from Fusion.

We know the dossier was unverified, not obtained through U.S. intelligence activities, and paid for by the DNC and Hillary campaign. And that neither fact was disclosed to the Court. And that neither fact was disclosed to Trump as a candidate, as President-elect, or as President.

We know the warrants also named George Papadopoulos and the Trump Campaign in addition to Carter Page. We know that when Trump said that Obama was surveilling him at Trump Tower and the media laughed, that he was being surveilled.

We know that Rice and Power unmasked over a hundred people recorded in the surveillance.

We know that Lisa Page texted to Peter Strzok that “POTUS wants to know everything we’re doing.”

We know Obama knew all about Russian meddling, Trump had no idea, and Team Obama did nothing to stop it or tell anyone.

We know Comey pre-exonerated Hillary and granted immunity to five senior advisers and two IT staff who wiped her server.

We know Obama wrote to Hillary on her private server using an alias even though he claimed not to know about it.

We know the DNC via Bob Creamer staged every act of violence at Trump rallies.

We know the DNC rigged and stole the primary for Hillary.

We know there was a shredding party at State one weekend.

We know Comey leaked his classified notes to the New York Times.

We know that Comey did not tell Trump the truth about the dossier.

We know that the warrants were renewed multiple times without any updated information (i.e. surveillance yielded nothing).

We know McCabe leaked and lied about it and that he was compromised by the large donation from Hillary bagman Terry McAuliffe to his wife’s Democratic Virginia Senate campaign.

We know that Carter Page is not a spy as he was never charged and the surveillance ended.

We know Lynch and Bill Clinton met inappropriately in Phoenix two days before Comey exonerated Hillary. We know Lynch was lying when she said she did not know what Comey was going to say before he said it.

We know Lynch personally issued an extraordinary visa waiver to Putin Stoogette Natalia Veselnitskaya after she was denied a visa in Moscow so she could get in to attend the staged meeting at Trump Tower with the President’s son and son-in-law. And that shortly thereafter she was a front-row guest at a Congressional hearing, sitting next to Obama’s Ambassador to Russia.

We know piles of cash flowed to the Clintons after the sale of Uranium One. We know Bob Mueller had uncovered massive Russian corruption with regard to U. S. uranium BEFORE the sale, that Eric Holder knew about it and signed off anyway, and that the Maryland prosecutor who sat on the charges until the sale was complete was Rod Rosenstein.

We know that George Papadopoulos was baited and hooked by Alexander Downer, and invited to London to allow Downer to get him drunk and report it to the FBI, which is why Papadopoulos was named in the warrants, and that Downer had just overseen the Australian $11M donation to the Clinton Foundation.

We know Paul Manafort’s crimes date from 2006 and have zero to do with Russian collaboration OR Trump.

We know Flynn did not lie as there is no one who says he did. He pleaded guilty because the legal fight had bankrupted him. They still haven’t sentenced him.

We know Peter Strzok was personal friends with Judge Rudy Contreras, a FISA judge and the one who accepted the Flynn plea before he was recused without explanation. We know Lisa Page planned a fake dinner party so Peter and Rudy could talk without arousing suspicion.

We know Brennan and Clapper were part and parcel of the whole thing. Clapper’s starting to blame Obama now.

Let me know which Reds might be hit. I know of none and the 400 pages of FISA documents don’t provide any new names.”

25 Jul 2018

The Seattle Freeze

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Jonathan Zwickel agrees that the Seattle Freeze is real. What would you expect, he contends, from a city like Seattle? Home to a growing population of gloomy, narcissistic left-wing hipsters, self-entitled and with a chip on every shoulder.

“Seattle is a moody college kid still figuring out whether to get a job or hitchhike across Europe.”

If Seattleites are not especially welcoming, it’s for good reason. This place is hemmed in by towering mountains and imposing bodies of water, and blanketed by climatic gloom nine months of the year. Sublime as it is, the environment can punish the human spirit. Only the hardy survive, and the ones who put down roots are rightfully wary of those who haven’t put in the time yet. There isn’t a lot of room. We’re fighting for limited resources. Keep the bastards out. Give ‘em the Freeze. If you make it through, maybe you, too, deserve to stay.

The Freeze strives to preserve in an age of gratuitous consumption. You can call it good or bad but that misses the point. It simply is. Respect it or go back to California. It took me years after arriving to reach a détente with the fundamental, dour flavor of this place. I’ll never be considered a local — “I grew here, you flew here” are words someone actually said to me once — nor am I the true Northwesterner who’s only happy when he’s miserable. Still, this place is home.

I have succumbed to the petty, particular virtue of this place and now I’m OK with it, which is possibly the most Seattle thing I’ve ever written.

RTWT

They can keep Seattle, and the rest of the Left Coast, as far as I’m concerned.

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