Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Almost Blue by Chet Baker

Almost Blue by Chet Baker

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There is a face I know too well

The Face
by Stevie Smith

There is a face I know too well,
A face I dread to see,
So vain it is, so eloquent
Of all futility.

It is a human face that hides
A monkey soul within,
That bangs about, that beats a gong,
That makes a horrid din.

Sometimes the monkey soul will sprawl
Athwart the human eyes,
And peering forth, will flesh its pads,
And utter social lies.

So wretched is this face, so vain,
So empty and forlorn,
You well may say that better far
This face had not been born.

They would have liked to regard Germany as the industrious, respectable ant, had not the posturings and roarings of the Kaiser somehow discouraged this view

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Britain’s predicament resulted from a split personality evident both within the Cabinet and between the parties. The Cabinet was divided, in a split that derived from the Boer War, between Liberal Imperialists represented by Asquith, Grey, Haldane, and Churchill, and “Little Englanders” represented by all the rest. Heirs of Gladstone, they, like their late leader, harbored a deep suspicion of foreign entanglements and considered the aiding of oppressed peoples to be the only proper concern of foreign affairs, which were otherwise regarded as a tiresome interference with Reform, Free Trade, Home Rule, and the Lords’ Veto. They tended to regard France as the decadent and frivolous grasshopper, and would have liked to regard Germany as the industrious, respectable ant, had not the posturings and roarings of the Kaiser and the Pan-German militarists somehow discouraged this view. They would never have supported a war on behalf of France, although the injection of Belgium, a “little” country with a just call on British protection, might alter the issue.

Grey’s group in the Cabinet, on the other hand, shared with the Tories a fundamental premise that Britain’s national interest was bound up with the preservation of France. The reasoning was best expressed in the marvelously flat words of Grey himself: “If Germany dominated the Continent it would be disagreeable to us as well as to others, for we should be isolated.” In this epic sentence is all of British policy, and from it followed the knowledge that, if the challenge were flung, England would have to fight to prevent that “disagreeable” outcome. But Grey could not say so without provoking a split in the Cabinet and in the country that would be fatal to any war effort before it began.

The Rice Field Series by Haruto Maeda

The Rice Field Series by Haruto Maeda

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A Nibble on the Sun

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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A Nibble on the Sun
Image Credit & Copyright: Padraic Koen, Adelaide, South Australia

Explanation: The smallest of the three partial solar eclipses during 2018 was just yesterday, Friday, July 13. It was mostly visible over the open ocean between Australia and Antarctica. Still, this video frame of a tiny nibble on the Sun was captured through a hydrogen-alpha filter from Port Elliott, South Australia, during the maximum eclipse visible from that location. There, the New Moon covered about 0.16 percent of the solar disk. The greatest eclipse, about one-third of the Sun's diameter blocked by the New Moon, could be seen from East Antarctica near Peterson Bank, where the local emperor penguin colony likely had the best view. During this prolific eclipse season, the coming Full Moon will bring a total lunar eclipse on July 27, followed by yet another partial solar eclipse at the next New Moon on August 11.

What are the measurable effects of 250 years of rapid cognitive assortative mating arising from urbanization, densification, and specialization?

A speculation.

Knitting together strands from economic development, genealogy, assortative mating, and the work of Gregory Clark.

There is a perception that in modern societies we are seeing a rise in mental and psychological conditions such as autism, ADHD, depression, etc..

There is, however, also debate as to whether we are really seeing a rise in the incident rate of such conditions. It is possible that the rate has stayed the same all along but that in the past, before the industrial revolution, 95% of the population was always at the knife's edge of survival and that people with such conditions in the past simply died at young ages and therefore were not a great presence in the surviving adult population.

Alternatively, the rate may have also stayed the same and the only difference is that we now have the diagnostic infrastructure in place to identify that which was previously ignored.

Related, and I am inclined in this direction, the infrastructure that has developed for diagnosis has also generated incentives for diagnosis. I.e. there may be an increase in diagnoses but the difference between the new rate and the long term rate is primarily false-positives.

But let's assume into existence, for speculative argument, a real increase in psycho-neurological conditions. What might be the cause. We have the celebrity contingent arguing that it is a consequence of vaccines but the empirical evidence for that is weak or at best mixed.

Others assume that there is some tie to changes in societal structure, urbanization, or pollutants arising from the industrial revolution. All plausible but the evidence is, again, at best mixed.

I wonder, if the rate rise is real, whether it might be a result of recent and persistent assortative mating based on cognitive ability.

We know with some confidence that this has happened with Ashkenazi Jews (not all Jewry). Their own religious and cultural pressures strongly selected for high cognitive performance. In Europe in the Middle Ages, these pressures were accompanied by exogenous host culture pressures which precluded Jews from many economic activities and forcing them into high cognitive professions. The combination of internal and external selection pressures led to a standard deviation rise in cognitive capability (IQ 115 versus norm of 100).

However, this selection pressure also has been associated with an increase in a range of rare conditions such as Tay-Sachs disease, Familial Dysautonomia and others. There is dispute as to exactly why these range of conditions manifest at such higher rates among Ashkenazis. It might perhaps simply be a founder effect. Others speculate, though, that it is associated with the pressures driving the cognitive shift.

That is the first speculation - that rises in cognitive selection are associated with related neurological and biological consequences as by-products of that selection.

There are two greater path shifts in the past five hundred years. 1500 (1497 technically) marked the logistical revolution with the first hesitant and intermittent trans-oceanic, trans-continental movements of peoples and goods. Hesitant, but from that point forwards on-going and accelerating.

The second great path shift occurred roughly two hundred and fifty years later around 1750 with the emergence of the industrial revolution in northwestern Europe.

The logistical revolution and the industrial revolution in combination with one another had transformative impacts. Populations gradually departed from the Malthusian norm whereby population always remained just on the edge of catastrophe and any improvement in productivity led to an unsustainable population increase which led to famine which led to a winnowing of the population.

Population levels exploded, people's living conditions became dramatically more dense (movement from the country to towns to cities). With market economies, people specialized their labor. Overall, the speed of everything increased dramatically, the complexity of everything, the uncertainty of everything. All of sudden there was a disproportionate selective value placed on pre-existing capabilities such as memory, observation, abstraction capability (pattern recognition), fluid intelligence as well as crystallized intelligence, processing speed, behavioral skills, self-discipline and self-control, etc.

If we take 1750 as a generalized ground zero where virtually all (exaggerated) the population is agriculturally based and distributed randomly across country with few and small concentrations of towns and villages, one might imagine that pair-bonding and mating selection is driven essentially by proximity.

However, in the 250 years since then, ten generations, the great majority of the population has moved from agriculture and rural distributed populations to industrial and services in towns and cities (80% of the population). Within the cities, with labor specialization and close proximity, there is for the first time, an opportunity for mass assortative mating based on cognitive capacity.

If it is true that strong selective pressures on cognitive capability drive increased neurological and morbidity effects, then it becomes reasonable to assume that 250 years of selective pressure might lead to an increase in autism, depression, neuroticism, ADHD, etc.

We still have the issue of whether the rate effect is real or not, but if we ever get that nailed down, then the cognitive selective pressures of 250 years of assortative mating associated with urbanization and densification should be testable at a population level. By nation and by family line, those that industrialized and urbanized earliest should show the greatest increases in autism, depression, neuroticism, ADHD, etc.

Regardless of the speculation, I observe that I have seen very little research on the worldwide genetic consequences arising from rapid urbanization and densification in just 250 years and the consequent effects of cognitive based assortative mating.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Ev'ry time we say goodbye by Ella Fitzgerald

Ev'ry time we say goodbye by Ella Fitzgerald

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Each day of the trial revealed new and unpleasant irregularities in finance, the press, the courts, the government

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
In the President, however, intelligence, experience, and strength of purpose, if not constitutional power, were combined. Poincaré was a lawyer, economist, and member of the Academy, a former Finance Minister who had served as Premier and Foreign Minister in 1912 and had been elected President of France in January, 1913. Character begets power, especially in hours of crisis, and the untried Cabinet leaned willingly on the abilities and strong will of the man who was constitutionally a cipher. Born in Lorraine, Poincaré could remember as a boy of ten the long line of spiked German helmets marching through Bar-le-Duc, his home town. He was credited by the Germans with the most bellicose intent, partly because, as Premier at the time of Agadir, he had held firm, partly because as President he had used his influence to push through the Three-Year Military Service Law in 1913 against violent Socialist opposition. This and his cold demeanor, his lack of flamboyance, his fixity, did not make for popularity at home. Elections were going against the government, the Three-Year Law was near to being thrown out, labor troubles and farmers’ discontent were rife, July had been hot, wet, and oppressive with windstorms and summer thunder, and Mme. Caillaux who had shot the editor of Figaro was on trial for murder. Each day of the trial revealed new and unpleasant irregularities in finance, the press, the courts, the government.

Kamiros, Rhodes, 1954

Kamiros, Rhodes, 1954 photo by Robert McCabe

Spent a wonderful summer afternoon here in 1981.

The crisis as reported is just the crisis of a few.

Further support for my contention that much of the purported polarization in the nation is the product of a media structural shift and its concentration in a handful of geographic locations and susceptible to only a narrow range of beliefs and concerns. From If You Ignore the News, America Actually Seems Pretty Nice by Justin Fox.
Now that I’m back home, though, I do have something to say about the mood I experienced while traveling, although I’m not sure it was so much America’s mood as mine. Harvard University economist and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers reported recently after a similar if more small-town-focused road trip with his wife that:
We were ... struck by how remote the concerns of the coasts seemed. Televisions in bars and restaurants were rarely turned to news channels. No one seemed terribly concerned with the controversy over then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh.


Now that I’m back in New York and my media diet is back to more or less normal, the sense of calm, remove and, yes, optimism that pervaded my long days of driving has begun to dissipate. Maybe this just means I’m returning to the real world after an escapist journey. But I also wonder if it’s an indication that my normal media diet — even though it’s mostly free of such known toxins as Facebook and cable TV news, and heavy on old books — is driving me a little nuts.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a column puzzling over the rise in political polarization in the U.S. despite the absence of “a single great ideological divide” like slavery in the 19th century, and asked readers what they thought was driving it. The majority of the responses fingered the media in some form or another. That seems about right. How people get their news has changed dramatically over the past few decades — starting with the rise of conservative talk radio starting in the late 1980s and continuing through the founding of Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter and other new platforms. The results have included more attention to previously obscure topics, which is great, and more openness to ideas outside the prevailing mainstream, which isn’t necessarily bad, but also includes a lot more tendentiousness and untruth. The reaction of the mainstream media to the loss of its information monopoly has often exacerbated the divisions and distrust. And President Donald Trump, who seems intuitively to understand this new media landscape better than anyone, has chosen to use it mainly to foment further division and anger.

If one exits this roiling media landscape to spend a few weeks interacting with the actual (and often spectacular) American landscape, and talking to people about things not directly related to Donald Trump, this country can actually feel like a pretty calm, friendly, well-functioning place. Maybe it is! But until its citizens find better ways to talk to each other about national issues, it will also probably keep feeling like a country on the brink of something awful.

Rings Around the Ring Nebula

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Explanation: There is much more to the familiar Ring Nebula (M57), however, than can be seen through a small telescope. The easily visible central ring is about one light-year across, but this remarkably deep exposure - a collaborative effort combining data from three different large telescopes - explores the looping filaments of glowing gas extending much farther from the nebula's central star. This remarkable composite image includes narrowband hydrogen image, visible light emission, and infrared light emission. Of course, in this well-studied example of a planetary nebula, the glowing material does not come from planets. Instead, the gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from a dying, sun-like star. The Ring Nebula is about 2,000 light-years away toward the musical constellation Lyra.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

Kind of Blue by Mile Davis

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With their relentless talent for the tactless

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
With their relentless talent for the tactless, the Germans chose to violate Luxembourg at a place whose native and official name was Trois Vierges. The three virgins in fact represented faith, hope, and charity, but History with her apposite touch arranged for the occasion that they should stand in the public mind for Luxembourg, Belgium, and France.

Quatrain LXXIV - Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Quatrain LXXIV - Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 1913 by René Bull

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Neutrino Associated with Distant Blazar Jet

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Neutrino Associated with Distant Blazar Jet
Illustration Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab

Explanation: With equipment frozen deep into ice beneath Earth's South Pole, humanity appears to have discovered a neutrino from far across the universe. If confirmed, this would mark the first clear detection of cosmologically-distant neutrinos and the dawn of an observed association between energetic neutrinos and cosmic rays created by powerful jets emanating from blazing quasars (blazars). Once the Antarctican IceCube detector measured an energetic neutrino in 2017 September, many of humanity's premier observatories sprang into action to try to identify a counterpart in light. And they did. An erupting counterpart was pinpointed by high energy observatories including AGILE, Fermi, HAWC, H.E.S.S., INTEGRAL, MAGIC, NuSTAR, Swift, and VERITAS, which found that gamma-ray blazar TXS 0506+056 was in the right direction and with gamma-rays from a flare arriving nearly coincidental in time with the neutrino. Even though this and other position and time coincidences are statistically strong, astronomers will await other similar neutrino - blazar light associations to be absolutely sure. Pictured here is an artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar.

Instead of believing in God, we make ourselves to be gods, and self-interest is what we worship.

I am deeply skeptical of universal explanations and therefore approached Social Collapse Caused All the Bad Things Last Week by Kim Hirsch with a jaundiced mind. But it was sufficiently ridiculous claim (All? Really, all?) that I had to take a look.

And as often is the case, the headline is less a real indication of the argument than it is a means of getting people to at least pay attention to the argument being made.

However, Hirsch has a line in her piece which strikes a chord.
We are a people who have rejected traditions which we once honored, but now sneer at — things like religious faith, respect for others and for life, and morality. Instead of believing in God, we make ourselves to be gods, and self-interest is what we worship.
I have had uncountable conversations over the past couple of years regarding a phenomena that I am still trying to determine whether is real.

My tentative observation is that it seems that there are fewer real conversations and conversationalists around. People who recognize conversation as an art form to be practiced and cultivated. People with capacious minds and hearts. People who sit down to share a conversation of discovery.

Rather, there seems an ever greater proportion of people who seize every verbal interaction as an opportunity to a) spill their troubles, b) declare their treasured but shallow opinions, c) complain, or d) fill the air with the sound of their voice. People who are not interested in a conversational partner but want an audience.

Is that observation true? I don't know, but it feels like it. And others seem to notice it as well.

If accepted as a true statement, I am also at sea as to causes though I suspect they do lie in loss of tradition, respect arise from religious exploration, and the unpleasant pervasiveness of postmodernism with its emphasis on everyone is a winner. It seems like we have been cultivating a generation of little emperors. But emperors with no clothes.

Which all relates to Hirsch's phrase
Instead of believing in God, we make ourselves to be gods, and self-interest is what we worship.
That is as good an explanation of the decline of conversationalists as any. Conversation takes at least two people of good heart and good mind and we have been forming small hearts and small minds with narrow horizons but religious conviction in their own primacy.

From this perspective, the vaunted political polarization (which I believe to be an incorrect diagnosis anyway) is perhaps not really about polarization but about the dissolution of social customs and the primacy of self-regard.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Plenty of eloquence, not enough wisdom

From Catiline's War (Bellum Catilinae, c. 44 BC) by Sallust
Satis eloquentiae, sapientiae parum.
Plenty of eloquence, not enough wisdom (said of Catiline)

The deeds of passion cease to chain

Having lived in Sweden as a child in the early 1970s and having read Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlö as probably my first mysteries, I have an affinity for Swedish crime mysteries and Scandinavian Noir in general.

I came across an author new to me, Arne Dahl, a nome-de-plume of Jan Arnald. Looks like there are another half dozen in the series. Which is good because I enjoyed Europa Blues which is my first read of his work.

A police procedural with a slow build-up of the main characters, it is centered on the residual sins arising from World War II. There is an intriguing introduction of the Furies, aka Erinyes. Some very clever story-telling merged with deeper consideration of Europe and civilization. It was a bit of a slow start but I enjoyed the twining together of many strands and the robust ending.

Interesting structure for a procedural, interesting speculations on philosophical issues, reminders or new information about old cultural arcana. Very good.

Some snippets.
It was a fresh spring morning of the newly woken kind, the type often seen during the first week of May. The kind of day which looks so inviting from indoors but turns out to be a slyly masquerading winter's day.
On traffic.
It was nine in the morning and the traffic around Haga Sodra and Nordtul was at a complete standstill. Car traffic had increased dramatically in Stockholm over the last year. For some reason, it had suddenly become extremely attractive to be stuck in traffic. Cheap psychotherapy, presumably; a line of metal boxes full of screaming Mr. Hydes. The alternative was the newly privatised commuter train which never seemed to be running, or else the metro which seemed to be forever standing in dark tunnels for hours on end, or else you could cycle along one of the sadistic cycleways no one dared to use since they seemed to have been deliberately designed to cause particularly awful accidents.
At an initial crime scene, the investigators discover what turns out to be a phrase Ἐρινύ, the Erinyes of above.
Then there's this thing with the Erinyes. "Ἐρινύ". From a literary point of view, it's pretty damn exciting.
Have you heard of Aeschylus?

'I'm assuming you'll be looking into the literary side of it in your own time?' Jan-Olov Hultin said brutally.

'Of course,' Hjelm replied, continuing without further ado. 'In ancient Greece, in the fourth century BC, people used to compete, in the field of tragedies. The authors of these tragedies each wrote three dramas: they took themes from older myths, and the three tragedies belonged together, like a kind of suite. Only one complete suite, a trilogy, I suppose, survived. It was written by the eldest of the three great tragic authors, Aeschylus, and it's called Oresteia.

The first of its dramas is called Agamemnon and it'a all about a Greek commander from the Trojan War coming home. He brings a lover with him as a war trophy, an enchantress called Cassandra. His wife Clytemnestra has also found herself a new lover while he's been away and she murders both her husband and his innocent lover. That's the end. It sounds pretty banal, but I'll be damned if it's not one of the most venomous things ever to have been written. OK, part two of the suite is called The Libation Bearers. In this one, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's son Orestes is on the hunt for his mother and her lover. Honour demands that he avenges his father. A blood feud. Are you following?

'Mmm,' said Hultin tentatively.

'And just as he should, he takes his revenge and murders his mother. End of part two. The third part is called The Eumenides. Since he's guilty of murder, Orestes is now being hunted by the most terrible beings that mythology has to offer. They come from the most ancient parts of the kingdom of the dead. They're the goddesses of revenge, the Erinyes. "We are the children of eternal Night, And Furies in the underworld are called."

"They manage to catch up to Orestes, but just as the hour of vengeance is about to strike, Athena - the wise goddess of Athens - appears. In court, she replaces the ancient laws of bloodlust - the driving force behind the Erinyes - with a modern rule of law worthy of Athens' new-won democracy. Barbarism is subdued, civilisation is triumphant. And the Erinyes are tamed; they have become part of society by being offered "a calm and peaceful haven." The era of primordial rage is over. They young, reasonable gods take over from the old, blind, hateful ones. And the Erinyes become Eumenides. Powerless, but with new-found peace. For the first time ever.'
Dahl is getting at real challenge. When you have tamed the Erinyes within, made them Eumenides, what is to protect you from Erinyes which might still come from without. Wolves become sheep dogs become pets. But there are still wolves out there.

At a crime scene.
The moon floated silently from behind invisible clouds and the place was transformed. It was no longer a damp, dark, ancient forest, crawling with invisible life; it was the barren, cruel place where death dwelled. With the emergence of the moon, the gravestones came into vision, one by one, until the scene looked like more like something from a poem by Edward Young.
Edward Young? Name rings a bell. Need to look up his work.
Such was the poodle's real core. As Goethe had written in Weimar.
Groucho Marx famously said:
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
What about the core of the poodle? I studied a fair amount of German in high school and college including Goethe. What is this poodle's core? I don't readily recall it.

The English equivalent is the core of the matter, the gist of the matter, the heart of the matter. It originates from Goethe's Faustus. Faust goes for a walk and is joined by a poodle who follows him back to his apartment.
Faust (Entering, with the poodle.)
Behind me, field and meadow sleeping,
I leave in deep, prophetic night,
Within whose dread and holy keeping
The better soul awakes to light.
The wild desires no longer win us,
The deeds of passion cease to chain;
The love of Man revives within us,

The love of God revives again.
Be still, thou poodle; make not such racket and riot!
Why at the threshold wilt snuffing be?
Behind the stove repose thee in quiet!
My softest cushion I give to thee.
As thou, up yonder, with running and leaping
Amused us hast, on the mountain’s crest,

So now I take thee into my keeping,
A welcome, but also a silent, guest.
Note that emerging theme (in bold above) of giving up the deeds of passion for the love of man. The poodle continues to make a disturbance, howling, snarling, and beginning to grow in size. Eventually it metamorphosizes into Mephistopheles.

Observing this, Faust notes:
Faust: This was the poodle’s real core
The core of the poodle was the demon Mephistopheles.

Dahl is not heavy handed in the implications. He builds a structure to consider but leaves it to the reader to develop his or her own lines of thought.

For me, it aligns with concerns I have had about European loss of cultural confidence since the war. It sometimes feels as though there is such a passionate effort to never make the same mistakes again, that perhaps some even worse errors will be made instead. We need a modicum of the raw barbarian passion of the Erinyes to avoid a descent into Eumenides who are not merely peaceful but on the road to dissolution or oblivion.

I had never particularly thought if it before but Dahl's theme brings to mind a resemblance between H.G. Wells' Eloi and Morlocks who have a more than passing resemblance to the Erinyes and the Eumenides in Oresteia.

I like an author who makes you think.

And once settled, it cannot be altered

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
“Your Majesty,” Moltke said to him now, “it cannot be done. The deployment of millions cannot be improvised. If Your Majesty insists on leading the whole army to the East it will not be an army ready for battle but a disorganized mob of armed men with no arrangements for supply. Those arrangements took a whole year of intricate labor to complete”—and Moltke closed upon that rigid phrase, the basis for every major German mistake, the phrase that launched the invasion of Belgium and the submarine war against the United States, the inevitable phrase when military plans dictate policy—“and once settled, it cannot be altered."

Lindos 1954

Lindos 1954, photo by Robert McCabe

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I visited this site in 1981. Magnificent.

Moon and Venus over Cannon Beach

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Moon and Venus over Cannon Beach
Image Credit & Copyright: James W. Young

Explanation: What's that spot next to the Moon? Venus. Two days ago, the crescent Moon slowly drifted past Venus, appearing within just one degree at its closest. This conjunction, though, was just one of several photographic adventures for our Moon this month (moon-th), because, for one, a partial solar eclipse occurred just a few days before, on July 12. Currently, the Moon appears to be brightening, as seen from the Earth, as the fraction of its face illuminated by the Sun continues to increase. In a few days, the Moon will appear more than half full, and therefore be in its gibbous phase. Next week the face of the Moon that always faces the Earth will become, as viewed from the Earth, completely illuminated by the Sun. Even this full phase will bring an adventure, though, as a total eclipse of this Thunder Moon will occur on July 27. Don't worry about our Luna getting tired, though, because she'll be new again next month (moon-th) -- August 11 to be exact -- just as she causes another partial eclipse of the Sun. Pictured, Venus and the Moon were captured from Cannon Beach above a rock formation off the Oregon (USA) coast known as the Needles. About an hour after this image was taken, the spin of the Earth caused both Venus and the Moon to set.

Head of a Sasanian King

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 50.

Click to enlarge.

11 Head of a King
Sasanian, late 4th c. A.D.
Silver; h. 151/2 in. (38.4 cm)

The prestige of the Sasanian dynasty, which ruled over northwestern Iran from the third to the mid-seventh century, was so great that its art was widely imitated in the East and the West. Silver-gilt plates and vases decorated with hunting, ritual, and banquet scenes are among the best-known Sasanian works of art (nos. 10 and 13). Magnificent weapons also exist, with handles and scabbards of gold and silver and blades of iron (no. 12). This powerful head, which may depict the Sasanian king Shapur II (310-379), is raised from a single piece of silver with details chased and in repousse. A true sculpture in silver, it demonstrates the technical proficiency and aesthetic eloquence of Sasanian metal-workers. Fletcher Fund, 1965, 65.126

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Grey had perfected a manner of speaking designed to convey as little meaning as possible

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
When the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, telephoned him that morning, in the interval of a Cabinet meeting, Lichnowsky, out of his own anxiety, interpreted what Grey said to him as an offer by England to stay neutral and to keep France neutral in a Russo-German war, if, in return, Germany would promise not to attack France.

Actually, Grey had not said quite that. What, in his elliptical way, he offered was a promise to keep France neutral if Germany would promise to stay neutral as against France and Russia, in other words, not go to war against either, pending the result of efforts to settle the Serbian affair. After eight years as Foreign Secretary in a period of chronic “Bosnias,” as Bülow called them, Grey had perfected a manner of speaking designed to convey as little meaning as possible; his avoidance of the point-blank, said a colleague, almost amounted to method. Over the telephone, Lichnowsky, himself dazed by the coming tragedy, would have had no difficulty misunderstanding him.

New York Chronicles

From New York Chronicles street photography by Luc Kordas

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Dark Slope Streaks Split on Mars

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Dark Slope Streaks Split on Mars
Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Explanation: What is creating these dark streaks on Mars? No one is sure. Candidates include dust avalanches, evaporating dry ice sleds, and liquid water flows. What is clear is that the streaks occur through light surface dust and expose a deeper dark layer. Similar streaks have been photographed on Mars for years and are one of the few surface features that change their appearance seasonally. Particularly interesting here is that larger streaks split into smaller streaks further down the slope. The featured image was taken by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars-orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) several months ago. Currently, a global dust storm is encompassing much of Mars.

Ming dynasty jar

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 116.

Click to enlarge.

57 Jar
Ming dynasty, Hsuan-te mark and period, 1426-35, from kilns at Ching-te Chen, Kiangsi province
Porcelain painted in underglaze blue; h. 19 in. (48.3 cm)

The porcelains of the Ming dynasty have attained such recognition in the West that "Ming" has almost become the generic name for anything ceramic fabricated in China before the twentieth century. While, unhappily, many of the pieces called "Ming" have no claim to that attribution, the porcelains that were produced during the period are among the most beautiful and exciting to emerge from China's kilns. In many respects the blue-and-white porcelains of the early fifteenth century illustrate these wares at their apogee. They combine the freedom and energy of a newly ripened art form with the sophistication of concept and mastery of execution that come with maturity. The highest traditions of early Ming-dynasty brushwork are represented in the bristling dragon on this marvelous jar. Flying amid cloud forms, he moves around the jar with total power and consummate grace. Flanked by the heads of fearsome monsters is an inscription with the reign title of the incumbent emperor, Hsaan-te (1426-35). Gift of Robert E. Tod, 1937, 37.191.1

Friday, October 26, 2018

A man who means well feebly

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
At the last moment one was offered. A colleague of Bethmann’s came to beg him to do anything he could to save Germany from a two-front war and suggested a means. For years a possible solution for Alsace had been discussed in terms of autonomy as a Federal State within the German Empire. If offered and accepted by the Alsatians, this solution would have deprived France of any reason to liberate the lost provinces. As recently as July 16, the French Socialist Congress had gone on record in favor of it. But the German military had always insisted that the provinces must remain garrisoned and their political rights subordinated to “military necessity.” Until 1911 no constitution had ever been granted and autonomy never. Bethmann’s colleague now urged him to make an immediate, public, and official offer for a conference on autonomy for Alsace. This could be allowed to drag on without result, while its moral effect would force France to refrain from attack while at least considering the offer. Time would be gained for Germany to turn her forces against Russia while remaining stationary in the West, thus keeping England out.

The author of this proposal remains anonymous, and it may be apocryphal. It does not matter. The opportunity was there, and the Chancellor could have thought of it for himself. But to seize it required boldness, and Bethmann, behind his distinguished façade of great height, somber eyes, and well-trimmed imperial, was a man, as Theodore Roosevelt said of Taft, “who means well feebly.” Instead of offering France an inducement to stay neutral, the German government sent her an ultimatum at the same time as the ultimatum to Russia. They asked France to reply within eighteen hours whether she would stay neutral in a Russo-German war, and added that if she did Germany would “demand as guarantee of neutrality the handing over to us of the fortresses of Toul and Verdun which we shall occupy and restore after the war is over”—in other words, the handing over of the key to the French door.

Three Friends, Ano Peristeri, Epiros 1961

Three Friends, Ano Peristeri, Epiros 1961 photo by Robert McCabe

Click to enlarge.

Cerealia Facula

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Cerealia Facula
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS/DLR/IDA

Explanation: Cerealia Facula, also known as the brightest spot on Ceres, is shown in this stunning mosaic close-up view. The high-resolution image data was recorded by the Dawn spacecraft, in a looping orbit, from altitudes as low as 34 kilometers (21 miles) above the dwarf planet's surface. Cerealia Facula is about 15 kilometers wide, found in the center of 90 kilometer diameter Occator crater. Like the other bright spots (faculae) scattered around Ceres, Cerealia Facula is not ice, but an exposed salty residue with a reflectivity like dirty snow. The residue is thought to be mostly sodium carbonate and ammonium chloride from a slushy brine within or below the dwarf planet's crust. Driven by advanced ion propulsion on an 11-year mission, Dawn explored main-belt asteriod Vesta before traveling on to Ceres. But sometime between this August and October, the interplanetary spacecraft is expected to finally run out of fuel for its hydrazine thrusters. The subsequent loss of control of its orientation will result in the loss of power and the ability to communicate with Earth. Meanwhile Dawn will continue to explore Ceres in unprecedented detail, and ultimately retire in its orbit around the small world.

Portrait of a Man and Woman at a Casement

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 161.

Click to enlarge.

3 FRA FILIPPO LIPPI, Florentine, ca. 1406—d. 1469
Portrait of a Man and Woman at a Casement
Tempera on wood; 251/4 x161/2 in. (64.1 x 41.9 cm)

This painting, datable between 1435 and 1440, is the earliest surviving double portrait and the earliest Italian portrait in an interior setting; it may have been painted to celebrate an engagement or marriage. The lady is elaborately dressed in the French style and wears a richly embroidered headdress with scarlet lappets. The word picked out in pearls on the sleeve seems to read leal[tai (fidelity). The young man looking through the window rests his hands on the coat of arms of the Scolari family, and the sitters have been identified as Lorenzo di Ranieri Scolari and Angiola di Bernardo Sapiti, who were married in 1436. The landscape is thought to have been inspired by Flemish models. Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889, 89.15.19

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ahab the Arab

Having grown up overseas until my late teens, I have spent a later lifetime learning of small cultural nuggets of which I was unaware because I was not here. One of those nuggets was the phrase "Ahab the Arab" (with a long a). I have not heard it used often, and always in fast moving conversations or raucous situations where there was no real opportunity to query exactly to what it might be alluding. Just one of those small elements of the warp and weft of vernacular American culture.

Question now answered. In searching for something else, I come across Ray Stevens, a singer song-writer as well as a master of comedic novelty songs. One of his early comedic hits was Ahab the Arab from 1962.
The song portrays a "sheik of the burning sands" named Ahab. He is highly decorated with jewelry, and every night he hops on his camel named Clyde on his way to see Fatima, who is the best dancer in the Sultan's harem. Fatima is described with a modified quote from the 1909 hit, "I've Got Rings On My Fingers": "with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes and a bone in her nose, ho ho". During the ride, Ahab "speaks" (actually, produces ululations that parody the Arabic language) to Clyde. (A later version adds the advertising catch phrase "Sold, American!" to the end of one chant. This is perhaps due to a Kinky Friedman (famous for the song and album Sold American) cover version which also added those lines). The phrase was also well known to Americans from the commercials for radio's popular The Jack Benny Program, sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes. The program began and ended with two tobacco auctioneers rattling off prices in a rapid-fire similar to Stevens' delivery, ending with "Sold American!"

When Ahab finds Fatima in her tent, she is ironically engaged in stereotypically Western behavior: "eating on a raisin, and a grape, and an apricot, and a pomegranate, a bowl of chittlins, two bananas, three Hershey bars, and sipping on an RC Cola, and eating a Moon Pie, listenin' to her transistor, watchin' the Grand Ole Opry, and readin' Mad Magazine while she sung, 'Does your chewing gum lose its flavor?'" Ahab woos Fatima with another mock Arabic chant, this time a quote from the song "Let's Twist Again" by Chubby Checker. Fatima (portrayed by Stevens in falsetto) responds to Ahab's advances with laughter and an (English) utterance that Ahab is "crazy."

Ahab loves Fatima, which apparently doesn't sit too well with the Sultan, whose apperance prompts an escape attempt, which does succeed, because Clyde was the fastest camel in the desert, and they "lived happily ever after". (The original single version was edited and does not mention the escape attempt at all, instead ending the song with Fatima saying, "Crazy, baby!")

Double click to enlarge.

The dead Edward is stronger than the living I!

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
As the final crisis boiled, his marginalia on telegrams grew more and more agitated: “Aha! the common cheat,” “Rot!” “He lies!” “Mr. Grey is a false dog,” “Twaddle!” “The rascal is crazy or an idiot!” When Russia mobilized he burst into a tirade of passionate foreboding, not against the Slav traitors but against the unforgettable figure of the wicked uncle: “The world will be engulfed in the most terrible of wars, the ultimate aim of which is the ruin of Germany. England, France and Russia have conspired for our annihilation … that is the naked truth of the situation which was slowly but surely created by Edward VII .… The encirclement of Germany is at last an accomplished fact. We have run our heads into the noose .… The dead Edward is stronger than the living I!”

Street photography by Luc Kordas

From New York Chronicles street photography by Luc Kordas

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Clouds of Earth and Sky

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Clouds of Earth and Sky
Image Credit & Copyright: Angelo Perrone

Explanation: If you go high enough, you may find yourself on a picturesque perch between the water clouds of the Earth and the star clouds of the Milky Way. Such was the case last month for one adventurous alpinist astrophotographer. Captured here in the foreground above white clouds are mountain peaks in the Dolomite range in northern Italy. This multi-exposure image was captured from Lagazuoi, one of the Dolomites. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the Dolomites were not mountains but islands an ancient sea that rose through colliding tectonic plates. The Dolomites divergent history accounts for its unusually contrasting features, which include jagged crests and ancient marine fossils. High above even the Dolomites, and far in the distance, dark dust lanes streak out from the central plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. The stars and dust are dotted with bright red clouds of glowing hydrogen gas -- such as the Lagoon Nebula just above and to the left of center.

Torso of Ile-de-France

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 260.

Click to enlarge.

28 ARISTIDE MAILLOL, French, 1861-1944
Torso of Ile-de-France
Bronze; h. 42 3/8 in. (107.5 cm)

Maillol was primarily interested in representing the formal structure of the human figure, but he never ventured into the avant-garde world of abstraction. While influenced by Greek sculpture of the early fifth century B.c., Maillol's female nudes are often recognizable as modern French women. Three versions of this torso were made between 1910 and 1921; this one is believed to be the second. Edith Perry Chapman Fund, 1951; Acquired from The Museum of Modern Art, Gift of A. Conger Goodyear, 53.140.9

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

First Dance by Jacqueline Osborn

First Dance by Jacqueline Osborn

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And if the Christians felt a little blue

Sunt Leones
by Stevie Smith

The lions who ate the Christians on the sands of the arena
By indulging native appetites played what has now been seen a
Not entirely negligible part
In consolidating at the very start
The position of the Early Christian Church.
Initiatory rites are always bloody
And the lions, it appears
From contemporary art, made a study
Of dyeing Coliseum sands a ruddy
Liturgically sacrificial hue
And if the Christians felt a little blue—
Well people being eaten often do.
Theirs was the death, and theirs the crown undying,
A state of things which must be satisfying.
My point which up to this has been obscured
is that it was the lions who procured
By chewing up blood gristle flesh and bone
The martyrdoms on which the Church has grown.
I only write this poem because I thought it rather looked
As if the part the lions played was being overlooked.
By lions’ jaws great benefits and blessings were begotten
And so our debt to Lionhood must never be forgotten.

General Moltke on mobilization day was found lying on a sofa reading Lady Audley’s Secret

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Confident in his magnificent system, Deputy Chief of Staff General Waldersee had not even returned to Berlin at the beginning of the crisis but had written to Jagow: “I shall remain here ready to jump; we are all prepared at the General Staff; in the meantime there is nothing for us to do.” It was a proud tradition inherited from the elder, or “great,” Moltke who on mobilization day in 1870 was found lying on a sofa reading Lady Audley’s Secret.

His enviable calm was not present today in the palace. Face to face no longer with the specter but the reality of a two-front war, the Kaiser was as close to the “sick Tom-cat” mood as he thought the Russians were. More cosmopolitan and more timid than the archetype Prussian, he had never actually wanted a general war. He wanted greater power, greater prestige, above all more authority in the world’s affairs for Germany but he preferred to obtain them by frightening rather than by fighting other nations. He wanted the gladiator’s rewards without the battle, and whenever the prospect of battle came too close, as at Algeciras and Agadir, he shrank.

Alley of Trees, Damyang, Jeollanamdo, South Korea, 2012 by Michael Kenna

Alley of Trees, Damyang, Jeollanamdo, South Korea, 2012 by Michael Kenna

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The Edge-On Spindle Galaxy

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

The Edge-On Spindle Galaxy
Image Credit & Copyright: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, U. Arizona

Explanation: What kind of celestial object is this? A relatively normal galaxy -- but seen from its edge. Many disk galaxies are actually just as thin as NGC 5866, pictured here, but are not seen edge-on from our vantage point. A perhaps more familiar galaxy seen edge-on is our own Milky Way Galaxy. Cataloged as M102 and NGC 5866, the Spindle galaxy has numerous and complex dust lanes appearing dark and red, while many of the bright stars in the disk give it a more blue underlying hue. The blue disk of young stars can be seen extending past the dust in the extremely thin galactic plane. There is evidence that the Spindle galaxy has cannibalized smaller galaxies over the past billion years or so, including multiple streams of faint stars, dark dust that extends away from the main galactic plane, and a surrounding group of galaxies (not shown). In general, many disk galaxies become thin because the gas that forms them collides with itself as it rotates about the gravitational center. The Spindle galaxy lies about 50 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Dragon (Draco).

Room from Kirtlington Park

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 261.

Click to enlarge.

30 Room from Kirtlington Park
English, 1742-48
Wood, plaster, and marble; h. 20 ft. (6.09 m), I. 36 ft. (10.97 m), w. 24 ft. (7.32 m)

Kirtlington Park, near Oxford, was built for Sir James Dashwood between 1742 and 1746 by William Smith and John Sanderson; the park was laid out by Lancelot ("Capability') Brown. This room, originally used for dining, has its original overmantel painting by John Wooton, dated 1748. The spirited plaster decoration was designed by Sanderson and executed by an Oxford stucco-worker; the central panels at the four sides of the ceiling depict the seasons. The richly carved chimneypiece is of marble, the mahogany doors and shutters are equipped with their original gilt-bronze hard-ware, and the oak floor is also original. Fletcher Fund, 1931, 32.53.1

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Instantly converted from Marx to Mars

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
In Berlin on August 1, the crowds milling in the streets and massed in thousands in front of the palace were tense and heavy with anxiety. Socialism, which most of Berlin’s workers professed, did not run so deep as their instinctive fear and hatred of the Slavic hordes. Although they had been told by the Kaiser, in his speech from the balcony announcing Kriegesgefahr the evening before, that the “sword has been forced into our hand,” they still waited in the ultimate dim hope of a Russian reply. The hour of the ultimatum passed. A journalist in the crowd felt the air “electric with rumor. People told each other Russia had asked for an extension of time. The Bourse writhed in panic. The afternoon passed in almost insufferable anxiety.” Bethmann-Hollweg issued a statement ending, “If the iron dice roll, may God help us.” At five o’clock a policeman appeared at the palace gate and announced mobilization to the crowd, which obediently struck up the national hymn, “Now thank we all our God.” Cars raced down Unter den Linden with officers standing up in them, waving handkerchiefs and shouting, “Mobilization!” Instantly converted from Marx to Mars, people cheered wildly and rushed off to vent their feelings on suspected Russian spies, several of whom were pummeled or trampled to death in the course of the next few days.

Barnard 228: The Dark Wolf Nebula in Lupus

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Barnard 228: The Dark Wolf Nebula in Lupus
Image Credit & Copyright: Gabriel Rodrigues Santos

Explanation: These dark markings on the sky can just be found in silhouette against a rich, luminous background of stars. Seen toward the southern constellation of Lupus the Wolf, the dusty, obscuring clouds are part of the Lupus Molecular Cloud some 500 light-years distant. Packs of low mass stars are forming within them, from collapsing cores only visible at long infrared wavelengths. Still, colorful stars in Lupus add to this pretty galactic skyscape. It spans about 8 degrees, not far from the central Milky Way.

Persian Beaker

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 313.

Click to enlarge.

4 Beaker
Iranian or Iraqi, 9th c.
Glass, free-blown(?) and relief-cut; h. 53/8 in. (13.6 cm), diam. at lip 5 5/8 in. (14.2 cm)

In many respects the glass produced by medieval Muslim craftsmen has never been surpassed. These artists continued pre-Islamic glass traditions as well as developing totally new departures for the medium. One such new technique was used to produce this beaker, whose ornament was created by cutting away the entire outer surface except for the design, which is then in relief. The technique and the design (palmettes, half-palmettes, and floral motifs on two scrolls between two horizontal ridges) bear a close resemblance to early Islamic carved rock crystal. In size, preservation, and fineness, this piece has few parallels in Islamic relief-cut glass. Purchase, Rogers Fund and Jack A. Josephson, Dr. and Mrs. Lewis Balamuth, Mr and Mrs. Alvin W. Pearson Gifts, 1974, 1974.45

Monday, October 22, 2018

In the affinity for error of German diplomats, these judgments established a record.

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Now that the moment had come, the Kaiser suffered at the necessary risk to East Prussia, in spite of the six weeks’ leeway his Staff promised before the Russians could fully mobilize. “I hate the Slavs,” he confessed to an Austrian officer. “I know it is a sin to do so. We ought not to hate anyone. But I can’t help hating them.” He had taken comfort, however, in the news, reminiscent of 1905, of strikes and riots in St. Petersburg, of mobs smashing windows, and “violent street fights between revolutionaries and police.” Count Pourtalès, his aged ambassador, who had been seven years in Russia, concluded, and repeatedly assured his government, that Russia would not fight for fear of revolution. Captain von Eggeling, the German military attaché, kept repeating the credo about 1916, and when Russia nevertheless mobilized, he reported she planned “no tenacious offensive but a slow retreat as in 1812.” In the affinity for error of German diplomats, these judgments established a record. They gave heart to the Kaiser, who as late as July 31 composed a missive for the “guidance” of his Staff, rejoicing in the “mood of a sick Tom-cat” that, on the evidence of his envoys, he said prevailed in the Russian court and army.

Mykonos, 1955

Mykonos, 1955 photo by Robert McCabe

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Layers of the South Pole of Mars

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Layers of the South Pole of Mars
Image Credit & License: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin; Bill Dunford

Explanation: What lies beneath the layered south pole of Mars? A recent measurement with ground-penetrating radar from ESA's Mars Express satellite has detected a bright reflection layer consistent with an underground lake of salty water. The reflection comes from about 1.5 kilometers down and covers an area 20 kilometers across. Liquid water evaporates quickly from the surface of Mars, but a briny confined lake, such as implied by the radar reflection, could last much longer and be a candidate to host life such as microbes. Pictured, an infrared, green, and blue image of the south pole of Mars taken by Mars Express in 2012 shows a complex mixture of layers of dirt, frozen carbon dioxide, and frozen water.

Woman with Parakeet by Renoir

From Wikipedia.

Click to enlarge.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1871
Woman with Parakeet (French: La femme à la perruche)
Oil on Canvas

Though the painting's date of creation has been a subject of debate, it is now agreed that Woman with Parakeet was created after Renoir returned from serving in the Franco-Prussian War, and likely after the events of the Paris Commune in 1871. Previous publications dated the painting to 1865. In 1912, in a letter to Joseph Durand-Ruel, Renoir identified the painting as an image of Lise Tréhot created "no later than 1871."

Woman with Parakeet was never exhibited in the Paris Salon. In 1871, the year the work was painted, there was no Salon Exhibition due to the Franco-Prussian War. In 1872, Renoir's submission Parisian Women in Algerian Costume was rejected.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Lise in a White Shawl, another portrait of Tréhot in what is likely the same dress
Woman with Parakeet is believed to be one of the final paintings depicting Renoir's close companion Lise Tréhot before the model ended her relationship with Renoir and married the architect Georges Brière de L'Isle. Lise's black taffeta dress with white cuffs and a red sash is likely the same dress worn by the model in Lise in a White Shawl. The room depicted in the painting displays typical interior design of the Third Republic, characterized by dark heavy colors and greenery.

Throughout the history of art, countless images of women with birds have foregrounded the intimacy and emotional bond between human and animal. The subject of a woman with a parrot or parakeet was particularly common in paintings during this period of time. In many cases, this imagery is symbolic in nature, at times referencing the woman as vacuous and mimicking others, or carrying erotic connotations that relate the caged bird to the caged woman. This subject matter previously appeared in works by artists Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet.

In Woman with Parakeet, however, the analogy between the woman and her pet bird is comparatively understated. The rich yet stifling interior restricts the model's space, like that of the parakeet when confined to its gilded cage. The model's elaborate, ruffled dress and its bright red "plumage" resonate visually with the bird's own brightly colored feathers. The parakeet might also be characterized as playing the traditional role of confidant to the woman. Unlike the other artists, Renoir's subject is placed in a realistically modern setting and his model is unpretentious in her looks and dress.

This work is considered an early work of Impressionism, characterized by the broad, loosely-handled painting technique.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

We few, we happy few

Mary Katherine Ham certainly asked a question that people wanted to answer.

Here's my Netflix viewing for the next while.

Protocol for the occasion broke down altogether.

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
After graduation from the Staff College in 1898, Hoffmann had served a six-months’ tour of duty in Russia as interpreter and five years subsequently in the Russian section of the General Staff under Schlieffen before going as Germany’s military observer to the Russo-Japanese War. When a Japanese general refused him permission to watch a battle from a nearby hill, etiquette gave way to that natural quality in Germans whose expression so often fails to endear them to others. “You are a yellow-skin; you are uncivilized if you will not let me go to that hill!” Hoffmann yelled at the general in the presence of other foreign attachés and at least one correspondent. Belonging to a race hardly second to the Germans in sense of self-importance, the general yelled back, “We Japanese are paying for this military information with our blood and we don’t propose to share it with others!” Protocol for the occasion broke down altogether.

Central Lunar Eclipse

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Central Lunar Eclipse
Image Credit & Copyright: Anthony Ayiomamitis (TWAN)

Explanation: Reddened by scattered sunlight, the Moon in the center is passing through the center of Earth's dark umbral shadow in this July 27 lunar eclipse sequence. Left to right the three images are from the start, maximum, and end to 103 minutes of totality from the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The longest path the Moon can follow through Earth's shadow does cross the shadow's center, that's what makes such central lunar eclipses long ones. But July 27 was also the date of lunar apogee, and at the most distant part of its elliptical orbit the Moon moves slowest. For the previous lunar eclipse, last January 31, the Moon was near its orbital perigee. Passing just south of the Earth shadow central axis, totality lasted only 76 minutes. Coming up on January 21, 2019, a third consecutive total lunar eclipse will also be off center and find the Moon near perigee. Then totality will be a mere 62 minutes long.

Woman with a Parrot by Manet

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 233.

Click to enlarge.

139 EDOUARD MANET, French, 1832-1883
Woman with a Parrot
Oil on canvas; 727/8 x 50% in. (185.1 x 128.6 cm)

Given his inclination to allude to the works of other painters, it is probable that Manet conceived this picture in response to the controversial nude exhibited by his rival Courbet at the Salon of 1866 (no. 132). While Courbet's picture is explicitly sexual, Manet's is discreet and spare. It has been suggested that this picture is an allegory of the five senses: smell (the violets), touch and sight (the monocle), hearing (the talking bird), and taste (the orange). The model is Victorine Meurent, who also posed for Manet's celebrated Olympia and Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (both 1863; Musee d'Orsay, Paris). Gift of Erwin Davis, 1889, 89.21.3

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Presumably, idiotic behaviour confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties

From The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour by Ben Alexander Daniel Lendrem, et al. From the Abstract:
Sex differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency hospital admissions, and mortality are well documented. However, little is known about sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. This paper reviews the data on winners of the Darwin Award over a 20 year period (1995-2014). Winners of the Darwin Award must eliminate themselves from the gene pool in such an idiotic manner that their action ensures one less idiot will survive. This paper reports a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners: males are significantly more likely to receive the award than females (P<0.0001). We discuss some of the reasons for this difference.

File under "Settled Science".

From the paper:
However, there is a class of risk—the “idiotic” risk—that is qualitatively different from those associated with, say, contact sports or adventure pursuits such as parachuting. Idiotic risks are defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final.

According to “male idiot theory” (MIT) many of the differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency department admissions, and mortality may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.16 There are anecdotal data supporting MIT, but to date there has been no systematic analysis of sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. In this paper we present evidence in support of this hypothesis using data on idiotic behaviours demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Award.
I liked this clarification of methods.
To qualify, nominees must improve the gene pool by eliminating themselves from the human race using astonishingly stupid methods. Northcutt cites a number of worthy candidates. These include the thief attempting to purloin a steel hawser from a lift shaft, who unbolted the hawser while standing in the lift, which then plummeted to the ground, killing its occupant; the man stealing a ride home by hitching a shopping trolley to the back of a train, only to be dragged two miles to his death before the train was able to stop; and the terrorist who posted a letter bomb with insufficient postage stamps and who, on its return, unthinkingly opened his own letter.
Not just everyone makes the grade. There are honorable mentions who are not included in the study.
We reviewed all Darwin Award nominations, noting the sex of the winner. Our analysis included only confirmed accounts verified by the Darwin Awards Committee. Urban legends and unverified accounts were excluded. Honourable mentions—worthy examples of idiotic behaviour not resulting in elimination from the gene pool—were also excluded from the analysis. Examples include the man who slipped when using a belt sander as an auto-erotic device and lost a testicle. Repairing his scrotum with a staple gun, he was able to salvage his remaining testicle thus failing to eliminate himself completely from the gene pool.
Based on the results of this robust methodology, the conclusion is clear - Male Idiot Theory has strong empirical supporting evidence.
Of the 413 Darwin Award nominations, 332 were independently verified and confirmed by the Darwin Awards Committee. Of these, 14 were shared by male and female nominees—usually overly adventurous couples in compromising positions—leaving 318 valid cases for statistical testing. Of these 318 cases, 282 Darwin Awards were awarded to males and just 36 awards given to females. There is a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners (see figure⇓). Males thus made up 88.7% of Darwin Award winners, and this sex difference is highly statistically significant (χ2=190.30; P<0.0001).

As good scientists, the researchers note the limitations of their study.
However, this study has limitations. One of the weaknesses is the retrospective nature of the data collection. One alternative explanation for the marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners is that there is some kind of selection bias. Women may be more likely to nominate men for a Darwin Award, or there may be some selection bias within the Darwin Awards Committee. In addition, there may be some kind of reporting bias. Idiotic male candidates may be more newsworthy than idiotic female Darwin Award candidates.
They conclude:
While MIT provides a parsimonious explanation of differences in idiotic behaviour and may underlie sex differences in other risk seeking behaviours, it is puzzling that males are willing to take such unnecessary risks—simply as a rite of passage, in pursuit of male social esteem, or solely in exchange for “bragging rights.” Northcutt invokes a group selectionist, “survival of the species” argument, with individuals selflessly removing themselves from the gene pool. We believe this view to be flawed, but we do think this phenomenon probably deserves an evolutionary explanation. Presumably, idiotic behaviour confers some, as yet unidentified, selective advantage on those who do not become its casualties. Until MIT gives us a full and satisfactory explanation of idiotic male behaviour, hospital emergency departments will continue to pick up the pieces, often literally.
I find it hard to believe that the researchers failed to illustrate their results with compelling video evidence.

Why women live longer than men.

via Gfycat

Double click to enlarge.

And what about this documentary video from an anthropological field study of male behavior in upper education circa 1978?

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Bluto's Big Speech
from Animal House

Bluto: Hey! What's all this laying around shit?

Stork: What the hell are we supposed to do, ya moron?

D-Day: [to Bluto] War's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.

Bluto: What? Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!

Otter: [to Boon] Germans?

Boon: Forget it, he's rolling.

Bluto: And it ain't over now. 'Cause when the goin' gets tough...

[thinks hard of something to say]

Bluto: The tough get goin'! Who's with me? Let's go!

[Bluto runs out, alone; then returns]

Bluto: What the fuck happened to the Delta I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you're gonna let it be the worst. "Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble." Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I'm not gonna take this. Wormer, he's a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer...

Otter: Dead! Bluto's right. Psychotic... but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part!

Bluto: We're just the guys to do it.

D-Day: [stands up]

Boon: [stands up] Let's do it.

Bluto: [shouting] "Let's do it"!

She therefore made no enemies

Miss Snooks, Poetess
by Stevie Smith

Miss Snooks was really awfully nice
And never wrote a poem
That was not really awfully nice
And fitted to a woman,

She therefore made no enemies
And gave no sad surprises
But went on being awfully nice
And took a lot of prizes.

Mississippi Squirrel Revival

Double click to enlarge.

Mississippi Squirrel Revival
by Ray Stevens

Verse 1

Well when I was kid I'd take a trip
Every summer
Down to Mississippi
To visit my granny in her ante bellum world
I'd run barefooted all day long
Climbing trees free as a song
One day I happened catch myself a squirrel
I stuffed him down in an old shoebox
Punched a couple holes in the top and when Sunday came
I snuck him into church
I was sittin way back in the very last pew
Showin him to my good buddy Hugh
When that squirrel got loose
And went totally berserk!

Well what happened next is hard to tell
Some thought it was Heaven others thought it was Hell
But the fact that something was among us
Was plain to see

As the choir sang "I Surrender All"
The squirrel ran up Harv Newlan's coveralls
Harv leaped to his feet and said
"Somethin's got a hold on me! YEOW!"


The day the squirrel went berserk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pascagoula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
They were jumpin pews and shouting Hallelujah!

Verse 2

Well, Harv hit the aisles dancin' and screamin'
Some thought he had religion
Others thought he had a demon
And Harv thought he had a weed eater loose in his Fruit-Of-The-Looms
He fell to his knees to plead and beg
And the squirrel ran out of his britches leg
Unobserved, to the other side of the room

All the way down to the amen pew
Where sat Sister Bertha better-than-you
Who'd been watchin' all the commotion with sadistic glee
But you should've seen the look in her eyes
When that squirrel jumped her garters and crossed her thighs
She jumped to her feet and said "Lord have mercy on me"
As the squirrel made laps inside her dress
She began to cry and then to confess to sins that would make a sailor blush with shame
She told of gossip and church dissension but the thing that got the most attention
Was when she talked about her love life
And then she started naming names!


The day the squirrel went berserk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pascagoula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
They were jumpin pews and shouting Hallelujah!

Verse 3

Well seven deacons and then the pastor got saved
And 25,000 dollars got raised
And 50 volunteered for missions in the Congo on the spot
And even without an invitation
There were at least 500 rededications
And we all got re-baptized whether we needed it or not

Now you've heard the Bible stories I guess
Of how He parted the waters for Moses to pass
All the miracles God has brought to this ol' world
But the one I'll remember to my dyin day
Is how he put that church back on the narrow way
With a half-crazed Mississippi squirrel

The day the squirrel went berserk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
Of that sleepy little town of Pascagoula
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
They were jumpin pews and shouting Halelujah!

It was very difficult to make him work but to get him to tell the truth was well-nigh impossible

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Insofar as readiness for war was concerned, the regime was personified by its Minister for War, General Sukhomlinov, an artful, indolent, pleasure-loving, chubby little man in his sixties of whom his colleague, Foreign Minister Sazonov, said, “It was very difficult to make him work but to get him to tell the truth was well-nigh impossible.” Having won the Cross of St. George as a dashing young cavalry officer in the war of 1877 against the Turks, Sukhomlinov believed that military knowledge acquired in that campaign was permanent truth. As Minister of War he scolded a meeting of Staff College instructors for interest in such “innovations” as the factor of firepower against the saber, lance and the bayonet charge. He could not hear the phrase “modern war,” he said, without a sense of annoyance. “As war was, so it has remained … all these things are merely vicious innovations. Look at me, for instance; I have not read a military manual for the last twenty-five years.” In 1913 he dismissed five instructors of the College who persisted in preaching the vicious heresy of “fire tactics.”

Sukhomlinov’s native intelligence was adulterated by levity to cunning and cleverness. He was short and soft, with a catlike face, neat white whiskers and beard, and an ingratiating, almost feline manner that captivated those like the Czar whom he set himself to please. In others, like the French ambassador, Paléologue, he inspired “distrust at first sight.” Ministerial office, both appointment and dismissal, being entirely at the whim of the Czar, Sukhomlinov had won and kept himself in favor by being at once obsequious and entertaining, by funny stories and acts of buffoonery, avoidance of serious and unpleasant matters, and careful cultivation of “the Friend,” Rasputin. As a result he proved immune to charges of corruption and incompetence, to a sensational divorce scandal, and to an even more resounding spy scandal.

Smitten in 1906 by the twenty-three-year-old wife of a provincial governor, Sukhomlinov contrived to get rid of the husband by divorce on framed evidence and marry the beautiful residue as his fourth wife. Naturally lazy, he now left his work more and more in the hands of subordinates while, in the words of the French ambassador, “keeping all his strength for conjugal pleasures with a wife 32 years younger than himself.“ Mme. Sukhomlinov delighted to order clothes in Paris, dine in expensive restaurants, and give large parties. To gratify her extravagances Sukhomlinov became an early and successful practitioner of the art of the expense account. He charged the government traveling expenses at the rate of 24 horse versts per diem while actually making his tours of inspection by railroad. Netting a lucrative balance, augmented by inside knowledge of trends on the stock market, he was able to bank 702,737 rubles during a six-year period in which his total salary was 270,000 rubles. In this happy exercise he was aided by an entourage who lent him money in return for military passes, invitations to maneuvers, and other forms of information. One of them, an Austrian named Altschiller who had supplied the evidence for Mme. Sukhomlinov’s divorce and who was received as an intimate in the Minister’s home and office where documents were left lying about, was revealed after his departure in January 1914 to have been Austria’s chief agent in Russia. Another was the more notorious Colonel Myasoedev, reputed to be Mme. Sukhomlinov’s lover, who though only chief of railroad police at the frontier was possessor of five German decorations and honored by the Kaiser with an invitation to lunch at Rominten, the imperial hunting lodge just over the border. Not surprisingly Colonel Myasoedev was suspected of espionage. He was arrested and tried in 1912, but as a result of Sukhomlinov’s personal intervention was acquitted and enabled to continue in his former duties up to and through the first year of the war. In 1915, when his protector had finally lost office as a result of Russian reverses, he was rearrested, convicted, and hanged as a spy.