Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In a Lawless Place

In Rio's Favelas, the militias founded to fight the drug gangs look increasingly like them:
In their current form, militias were established in Rio de Janeiro in the late ’90s and early 2000s, under the pretext that they were protecting residents from drug traffickers. Although more civilians are joining, the militias have been dominated by active-duty and retired police officers, who essentially assume control of suburban slums, or favelas, under the guise of defending them.

Once they have a foothold in the community, militia members extort money from residents and shopkeepers (in other words, they demand payments that are partly for protection against themselves). They also control local unlicensed public transportation, since city buses are scarce or nonexistent in remote areas. They offer illegal internet and television connections, charge commissions on real estate deals, and control the supply of gas and water. In the Gardênia Azul favela, for example, militia members collect money from street vendors and even popcorn carts.

It’s a kind of mafia, with Brazilian peculiarities.

One of them is irony. After careful deliberation with their accountants (at least that’s what I imagine), and in the name of business diversification, some militias have entered the field of drug trafficking. Others have decided to work with their former rivals from drug gangs, selling them weapons and recruiting members from their ranks. In 2015, according to the newspaper O Dia, a militia “sold” the area of Morro do Jordão to a drug gang for three million Brazilian reais, or about $800,000. So much for the righteous excuse of vigilante justice.

According to the news website G1, two million people in the Rio metropolitan area live in territories controlled by militias. A 2013 academic report concluded that of the roughly 1,000 favelas in the city, 45 percent are controlled by militia organizations and 37 percent by drug gangs. The main difference is that police brutality is less common in militia-controlled neighborhoods, probably because those groups have strong ties to the official state security apparatus.
Where government cannon maintain order, somebody else will. And it is just a libertarian fantasy that unofficial police forces would be less burdensome than the official kind.

Incidentally, Rio's most powerful militia is called the "Justice League."

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Excavating Babylon

Instead of whatever it was I should have been doing, I spent about three hours this afternoon learning about the excavation of Babylon. I got curious about this because I was looking for reconstructions of ancient cities, and those of Babylon all look pretty much the same.

Here is a nice one by Rocío Espín Piñar. These paintings all look the same because they all follow the original reconstructions made by the director of excavations at the site from 1900 to 1917, Robert Koldewey of the German Oriental Society.

You can get a good sense of Koldewey and his work from a semi-popular book he wrote after the 1912 excavation season, which was quickly translated into English and more recently put online for free. The Excavations at Babylon, translated by Agnes Sophia Griffith, is not a particularly exciting book, but it is concise, well illustrated, and remarkably clear. There are many wonderful plans, like this one of the Southern Citadel.

Koldewey did a good job of telling us both what he thought his team had discovered and how certain he felt about it. Case in point: he identified a building that he thought might be the Hanging Gardens, but admitted this was mainly because the building was unique and he hadn't found anything else that might be the Hanging Gardens. Archaeologists now think it was a granary, and I subscribe to the theory that puts the Hanging Gardens at Nineveh. Koldewey published this photograph of an assortment of small figurines of apes, which says were very common finds in residential districts, while freely admitting that he had no idea what they represented.

While Leonard Woolley's work at Ur is most famous for the artifacts he uncovered, and Henry Layard's at Nineveh is know for the stone reliefs and sculptures, Koldewey's Babylon is known mainly for its architecture.

But then Babylon was a truly extraordinary city. The circumference of its walls was 11 miles (18 km), and this was no simple, single wall; behold Koldewey's diagram of the defenses. The most massive wall was 72 feet (22 m) thick. To excavate this vast site Koldewey employed 250 laborers and a dozen surveyors, and they worked most of the year, not some quick field season.

One of the discoveries Koldewey made was that shifts in the Euphrates River and a rise in the water table meant that the lower levels of Babylon are now under water; notice the water in the bottom of this excavation. Because of that the early Babylon of Hammurabi is still unknown. Across most of the site Koldewey's team reached only the last period of the city's glory, when it was the capital of what we call the Neo-Babylonian Empire. This was the age of Nabopolassar (reigned 626–605 BC) and his famous son, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562). A few finds were made in residential neighborhoods reaching back to 1400 BC, but in the public areas it's all Neo-Babylonian.

We know a remarkable amount about this period. We have several different semi-official chronicles that give us the view of the ruling families, and also a strange class of courtly tales scholars call "novels" that provide fascinating details about the private lives of kings and queens. (The account of Kings David and Solomon in the Bible is one of these.) There are also tens of thousands of clay tablets, many of them from courts and temples but others from merchants and private schoolmasters. We have thousands of inscriptions. And we have Koldewey's archaeology. Above, reconstructed tile panel from Nebuchadnezzar's throne room.

Conveniently for us, ancient Mesopotamian kings liked to sign their building projects with stamped bricks and tiles; this one boasts of the great building works undertaken by Nebuchadnezzar. So we don't have to guess at who built which phase of the walls or which part of the palace, just dig out a few of the millions of stamped bricks.

This is how Koldewey was able to do such a great job of reconstructing the city that only a few details of his work have ever been questioned; mostly it was just a matter of moving massive amounts of rubble, mapping the walls, and reading the bricks. Above, plan of the sacred precinct, with the great ziggurat called Etemenanki, the Foundation Stone of Heaven and Earth.

Water tunnel. I shudder to think what it would take me to dig out such a tunnel with modern methods and safety standards.

Koldewey's book is of course mostly in black and white, but if you want color photographs of artifacts from Babylon you can find hundreds at the web site of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.


Like the famous onyx scepter and this tiny onyx turtle.

Glass flask.

Gypsum head of the Demon Pazuzu. Aren't you glad to know about the Demon Pazuzu?

Of course the most famous artifact from Babylon is the Ishtar Gate, shown here as it is reconstructed in Berlin. But that is such a complex tale that I will take it up in a separate post.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Yair Dvir, "Living Dead"

Dried chameleon corpse in the Israeli desert. From National Geographic.

Grand Expositions: Paris 1900

Of all the great World's Fairs, the most over-the-top may have been the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, intended to celebrate the achievements of the nineteenth century.

It was held in the same place as the more famous fair of 1889, which launched the great era of the fairs. So the Eiffel Tower, built in 1889, loomed over the site.

Notice the huge Ferris Wheel, introduced at Chicago in 1892 and a requirement thereafter.



What made the 1900 fair remarkable was the sheer exuberance of the architecture.

Consider the Chateau d'Eau, the Castle of Water, attached to the Electricity Exposition. This was Art Nouveau taken to its most Baroque extreme.

So much was spent that the fair lost money even though 50 million people attended.

The fair featured the assortment of technological marvels that made these fairs so famous; among other things the first talking movies were shown. (You can see clips at wikipedia.) Rudolf Diesel exhibited his famous engine, and the mass public got their first look at escalators. Campbell's Soup was awarded the gold medal that still appears on some of their labels; I hope it was for preservation technology, not taste. Nested Russian dolls were either (depending on who you believe) sold for the first time or introduced to the west.


But it is the mad richness of the buildings and their scultpures that lingers in the imagination.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Meanwhile in Japan

I give you the world's largest LEGO cherry tree:
At 14 feet tall and almost 5 feet wide, the incredible 3,333 kg (7,348 lb) piece . . . took over 6,500 hours to complete with 881,470 bricks. The impressive piece features a grassy base, large branches, a canopy with thousands of flowers, and even LEGO lanterns that illuminate the structure at night.
I am not sure if I am more puzzled by the act of investing 6,500 hours in a LEGO cheery tree or that I found this story at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Genius as Circumstance

Opera director Yuval Sharon responds to being named a MacArthur "genius" fellow:
I believe there is a way of thinking about genius that could powerfully encapsulate the creative process. It begins by no longer applying the term to individuals. If calling an individual “a genius” sounds pompous and grandiose, describing some thing as “genius” is commonplace. “That was a genius move,” I find myself saying too often for it to actually mean very much. Or, “I wasn’t crazy about the last season of Mad Men, but the final scene was genius.”

Moments, ideas, a single poem in a collection — a work of genius, no matter how individually wrought — is never the product of a single individual. We should stop thinking of genius as an attribute and instead start to think of it as a condition, a circumstance. . . .

When genius is considered circumstantial, it becomes contingent — precarious, rare, and magical. Nothing becomes predictable: genius is a river, and to ride it, we must build a vessel specific to the circumstances we find it in. . . .

This is genius as the spirit of circumstance — an environment, socially created, not an attribute of an isolated individual. I believe most artists who truly contemplate how and why they create ask themselves the question: “Does the work I do even belong to me?” Here I must think about Ortega y Gasset’s great study, Meditations on Quixote: “The reabsorption of circumstance is the concrete destiny of humanity […] I am myself plus my circumstance, and if I do not save it, I cannot save myself.”
And he sums up by quoting Miles Davis:
“So What” or “Kind of Blue” . . . they were done in that era, the right hour, the right day, and it happened. It’s over; it’s on the record.
Most people who have studied the history of art or literature have considered something like this. After all the genes of Italians in 1500 were not different from those of two centuries before or after, yet, boom, suddenly there was this astonishing generation of painters and sculptors. In Paris a forty-year explosion of creativity took art from the Academic through Impressionism, Art Nouveau, and Symbolism to Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstraction, a dizzying run that left artists and art lovers gasping. The leaders of these changes became as famous as any artists ever, but in some other time and place they might have been recreating the same frescoes on one church wall after another.

It's an ancient insight but bears repeating: any great achievement begins with catching the wave at just the right moment. Most of the power comes from the vast ocean and the globe-spanning wind; the individual creator can contribute only a few bits of foam.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Catonsville Nine

Fifty years ago today, on May 17, 1968, something happened in Catonsville.
The Catonsville Nine were nine Catholic activists who burned draft files to protest the Vietnam War. On May 17, 1968, they went to the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, took 378 draft files, brought them to the parking lot in wire baskets, dumped them out, poured over them home-made napalm (an incendiary used extensively by the US military in Vietnam), and set them on fire. Then they sang, prayed, spoke with reporters and waited to be arrested by the Baltimore County police.
The Nine were:
Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest
Philip Berrigan, a former Josephite priest
Br. David Darst, a De La Salle Christian Brother
John Hogan
Tom Lewis, an artist
Marjorie Bradford Melville
Thomas Melville, a former Maryknoll priest
George Mische
Mary Moylan
They were tried in Federal Court in Baltimore on October 5-9, 1968. Both pro- and anti-war demonstrators picketed outside the courtroom. They were found guilty of destruction of U.S. property, destruction of Selective Service files, and interference with the Selective Service Act and sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison. But their leader Father Berrigan went on the lam and for the next seven months kept showing up in various places around the country, preaching anti-war sermons, and then disappearing again. He was eventually arrested and served a year in prison.

The building that housed the draft office still stands next to our public library; my daughters took ballet lessons there. I remember the strange thrill I got when I realized that those events took place in the parking lot where I left my car every Saturday.
Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.

–Father Daniel Berrigan

Tobias Hägg, Torres Del Paine


Lots more of Hägg's beautiful work here.

A Wonky Comment on Lead in the Ice Core

All the media that pay attention to such things (NY Times, Science News) are covering some results from measuring the amount of lead in an ice core from Greenland, which the study's authors say traces out the history of lead production in the ancient world. They think they can see in this data several major historical events, such as the civil wars of the late Roman Republic and the crisis of AD 250-270. This is pretty cool science; I love the basic idea of studying ancient industrial production by measuring the residue of pollution. But there is something wrong with this study.

First, look how spiky their graph is. A certain amount of random variation is inevitable in any series like this, but why would samples from some years have ten times as much lead as the years before or after? Industrial production in the Mediterranean cannot explain this. So there is another variable at work.

Also, a simplified version of the graph shows that it traces the rise and fall of the Roman economy fairly nicely. But what is happening at the far right end? Granted the European economy might have improved under Charlemagne, but it did not get back to the level of AD 100. Not even close. This seriously raised my hackles and made me wonder what the heck is going on.

Fortunately the authors of the study provided us with an important clue in their Supplementary Material. On these three graphs the simplified ice core data is shown in red. The black line is data from three studies of lead in bog sediments. Notice that all three show the Classical expansion, but only the one at the top shows dramatic growth after 650 AD. That sample is from Flanders Moss in northern Scotland.

Aha! So the missing factor here is wind patterns. The graph we see from the ice core is a combination of at least two variables: how much lead the Romans were pumping into the air, and whether the wind was blowing toward Greenland. Lead concentrations rise in the Carolingian period not because of increased production but because the wind shifted and blew more often toward the North Atlantic. Of course there might be yet more variables, such as changes in refining techniques, or the seasonality of smelting work, or the location of active mines. But anyway there are at least two.

Notice that the bottom bog sample has much higher lead levels than the other two; as you might guess, that bog is in Spain, the epicenter of Rome's metal industries. And it traces out a graph that more closely matches my idea of lead production in the Mediterranean than the ice core graph does. Probably cost about 1% as much, too.

I don't want to seem too negative; the ice cores are a great resource and we should push them as hard as we can. But they don't reveal everything, and sometimes they can be misleading. I understand that a couple of well attested volcanic eruptions do not appear in the ice core data, presumably because weird wind patterns kept any detectable amount of their ash from reaching Greenland. In the case of lead from Classical and Medieval times ice core data clearly should not be used alone, but only in combination with other information. And people who publish about it should be a lot more circumspect and do less grandiose self-promotion; their data is nice but not as good as data from bogs produced by people nobody has ever heard of, whose results completely failed to make it into the news.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Marco Calderini, Garden of the Palazzo Reale in Turin, c 1900


Numbers about Dams

To appreciate how essential dams were in the nineteenth century, simply look at the 1840 U.S. Census: It found that almost every river had a dam, and many rivers had dozens. In total, the twenty-six states that made up the United States at the time had around 65,000 dams. With a population of only 17 million at that time, the United States had one dam for every 261 people.

– Martin Doyle, The Source: How Rivers Made America and America Remade its Rivers. Via Marginal Revolution.

William Broyles on Men and War

Famous 1984 William Broyles essay on war that Esquire is re-running:
Ask me, ask any man who has been to war about his experience, and chances are we'll say we don't want to talk about it--implying that we hated it so much, it was so terrible, that we would rather leave it buried. And it is no mystery why men hate war. War is ugly, horrible, evil, and it is reasonable for men to hate all that. But I believe that most men who have been to war would have to admit, if they are honest, that somewhere inside themselves they loved it too, loved it as much as anything that has happened to them before or since. And how do you explain that to your wife, your children, your parents, or your friends?

That's why men in their sixties and seventies sit in their dens and recreation rooms around America and know that nothing in their life will equal the day they parachuted into St. Lo or charged the bunker on Okinawa. That's why veterans' reunions are invariably filled with boozy awkwardness, forced camaraderie ending in sadness and tears: you are together again, these are the men who were your brothers, but it's not the same, can never be the same. That's why when we returned from Vietnam we moped around, listless, not interested in anything or anyone. Something had gone out of our lives forever, and our behavior on returning was inexplicable except as the behavior of men who had lost a great perhaps the great-love of their lives, and had no way to tell anyone about it.
And this:
War is an escape from the everyday into a special world where the bonds that hold us to our duties in daily life--the bonds of family, community, work, disappear. In war, all bets are off. It's the frontier beyond the last settlement, it's Las Vegas. The men who do well in peace do not necessarily do well at war, while those who were misfits and failures may find themselves touched with fire. U. S. Grant, selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis and then four years later commanding the Union armies, is the best example, although I knew many Marines who were great warriors but whose ability to adapt to civilian life was minimal. . . .

War is a brutal, deadly game, but a game, the best there is. And men love games. You can come back from war broken in mind or body, or not come back at all. But if you come back whole you bring with you the knowledge that you have explored regions of your soul that in most men will always remain uncharted. Nothing I had ever studied was as complex or as creative as the small-unit tactics of Vietnam. No sport I had ever played brought me to such deep awareness of my physical and emotional limits.
And finally:
But there are other, more troubling reasons why men love war. The love of war stems from the union, deep in the core of our being between sex and destruction, beauty and horror, love and death. War may be the only way in which most men touch the mythic domains in our soul. It is, for men, at some terrible level, the closest thing to what childbirth is for women: the initiation into the power of life and death. It is like lifting off the corner of the universe and looking at what's underneath. To see war is to see into the dark heart of things, that no-man's-land between life and death, or even beyond.

Nationalism in Eastern Europe

Ross Douthat has a long column this week on the opposition to European centralization that has cropped up all over the continent, but especially in the east. He quotes Branko Milanovic, a former World Bank economist:
When one draws a line from Estonia to Greece … one notices that all currently existing countries along that axis were during the past several centuries (and in some cases, the past half-millenium) squeezed by the empires: German (or earlier by Prussia) Russian, Hapsburg, and Ottoman. All these countries fought, more or less continuously, to free themselves from the imperial pressure … their histories are practically nothing but unending struggles for national and religious emancipation.
Douthat:
Most of these nations, Milanovic continues, experienced the events of 1989 primarily as a national liberation, and only secondarily as a victory for liberal principles over totalitarian or authoritarian alternatives. And the nation-states that emerged from ’89 tended to be ethnically homogeneous and proudly so, with their political independence and sense of shared identity inextricably linked.

So it should not be surprising that countries so recently emancipated would embrace the project of European Union liberalism only insofar as it does not seem to threaten either their long-traduced sovereignty or their just-reclaimed identity, and would be wary of a cosmopolitan vision that seems like it could dissolve what they so recently have gained.

As Marusic writes in his essay, from a liberal-cosmopolitan perspective that “sees 1989 primarily as an ideological triumph” for universal values, “much of the politics of the past 10 years in Eastern Europe can only be seen as backsliding,” with leaders like Viktor Orban “a symptom of political decay.”

But from the vantage point of those same countries, for whom independence itself feels hard won and precarious, it seems strange that they should be expected to surrender to a different form of empire just because it dresses its appeals in the language of universal liberalism — especially when the language has a distinctly German accent.
As I've said before, if liberalism is presented as a threat to national identity and local democracy, if it allies itself with bureaucracy and anti-democratic centralization, it will fail. Liberalism must be democratic first. It must speak of allowing people to choose their own destinies, not of imposed solutions. The massive reaction against over-reach in the European Union shows what will happen if liberalism loses touch with the people.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Is an Old Joke Sexual Harassment?

Conor Friedersdorf takes a deep dive into the latest blowup over sexual harassment allegations in academia:
Last month, during a conference for scholars who study international affairs, Simona Sharoni, a professor of women's and gender studies at Merrimack College, asked a crowded hotel elevator what floor everyone needed. Richard Ned Lebow, a professor of political theory at King’s College London, replied, “Ladies’ lingerie” (or, as Sharoni remembers it, “Women’s lingerie.”) Several people laughed. Was that sexual harassment?

Academics have been debating the question among themselves since last month, when Sharoni filed a formal complaint about the incident, triggering an investigation by the International Studies Association. The ISA would later conclude that Lebow must apologize in writing by May 15.

So far, he has refused.
Friedersdorf focuses on the rules the ISA has in place about sexual harassment and process that is supposed to resolve disputes, both which he finds lacking. Here is the ISA's definition of harassment:
Unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women. It may be related to age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion, nationality, or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or isolated. The key is that the actions or comments are experienced as demeaning and unacceptable by the recipient.
This is very different from the U.S. legal definition. Since this was not a "quip pro quo" act but one that might be litigated under a "hostile work environment" claim, the law says that the victim has to complain and ask for the behavior to stop before the case can merit legal action. The request can be made either to the harasser, to a supervisor, or to someone in human resources who is empowered to receive such complaints, but a complaint has to be made. By contrast the ISA's standard focuses exclusively on the feelings of the victim; if you feel demeaned, then harassment has taken place. But:
Yet there is a committee that investigates and decides. That implies some added threshold of reasonableness. But what standard is used to determine what qualifies? A reasonable-person standard? The individual standards of committee members? The standards of the average person in a given identity group? The standards of the most sensitive person who registers a formal complaint?

The code of conduct leaves all that uncertain.
And here we get into the whole "kangaroo court," "witch hunt" sort of thing. I would be willing to bet than any US court would toss this out in a heartbeat, because the rules as written make it impossible for people to know if they are following them. One of the basic principles of the old Common Law is that the law must be known and, to the extent possible given the difficulty of the subject, clear. A law based on someone else's feelings is not going to fly. Thus the importance in the law of making a formal complaint and asking that the behavior stop. (Again, that is not true for quip pro quo cases or cases involving violence, but it certainly applies to off-color jokes.)

Lebow has threatened to sue the ISA if they go ahead with sanctioning him, and I think they would be in legal jeopardy if he did.

But to get back to the case: here we have two people of very similar backgrounds, both white academics, members of the same association, both of whom claim to be feminists and strongly opposed to sexual harassment, and they are now involved in an ugly public dispute about what constitutes proper behavior in public,
Has it now become the job of our professional organizations to criminalize humor?
vs.
For years, the term “political correctness” has been used as the blanket excuse by those who refuse to rethink and change their racist, sexist and homophobic beliefs and practices. From inappropriate jokes in public spaces to unwanted sexual advances and assault, men in positions of power are outraged when they are being held accountable.
Anyone who thinks there is some easy way to resolve these problems has his or her head in the sand.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

John Charles Dollman

John Charles Dollman (1851-1934) was a British painter and illustrator. I discovered him through his illustrations of the Norse myths; this is Wolves Chasing the Sun and Moon.

Frigg Spinning.

The Ride of the Valkyries

Famine, 1904

I also found this painting interesting: The Unknown, 1912. By that time, it seems, consciousness of evolution had penetrated the British psyche to the point that a painter interested in myths was thinking in terms of myths about apes and fire.

This is by far Dollman's most famous work: A Very Gallant Gentleman, 1913. The scene is from Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expedition. Scott wrote in his diary:
At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn't go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag.

Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not - would not - give up hope till the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning - yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.
Oates' sacrifice did not help his companions; they were trapped by the blizzard and were all dead within a few days. But Scott's diary was found by a later expedition, and Oates' story became very famous.

Claude Francis Barry, "A War-Time Nocturne"

Tower Bridge, London, 1940

Korea News

North Korea Requests Commercial Routes to Seoul
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) announced earlier today that the Government of North Korea has sent a request to launch routes between Pyongyang and Seoul, the capital cities of North and South Korea, respectively.

This surprising move has come following several peace summit meetings between the North and the South in the last few weeks.

North Korea’s only carrier, Air Koryo, would be the airline to operate the routes between both cities. The carrier already serves three international destinations, including Beijing, Shenyang, and Vladivostok.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Old Meets New

The news from China:
The Chinese Academy of Sciences has apologized for a Taoist ceremony organized by construction workers that included the slaughter of a lamb to inaugurate the construction of a nuclear test reactor. Images showing a monk chanting while the lamb was killed sparked online controversy in China. The April ceremony marked the start of construction of a thorium molten salt reactor in north-central China, part of a 22-billion yuan (US$3.5-billion) project to be operated by the academy’s Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics. In a statement posted on its homepage on 30 April, the academy said it apologized because the ritual was “against the spirit of science” and that institute staff did not know the ritual was planned.

A Soldier Comes Home

Fresh from another six-month deployment to Afghanistan, John Q. Bolton reflects on the time he spent at home in Omaha:
Perhaps condescendingly, I felt most people back home were naïve or at least perpetually misinformed. Consideration or debate beyond the platitudes didn’t occur. No matter their education or worldliness, most Americans retain their supremely American-esque limited interest in politics and foreign and military policy. Much-needed realism, if not satire, is absent from our sacred military, because the public either regards it as sacrosanct or detestable. Worst of all, the public is apathetic about their military.

From otherwise considerate and intelligent friends and family I heard comments like “Hope your killing lots of those f–kers” and “Kick some ass over there,” despite the lack of any serious, let alone existential, threat to the American homeland posed by extremists in Afghanistan. Even well-meaning people, it seems, don’t want to understand what our policies hath wrought, at home and abroad.

Many consider it patriotism, but this feeling is specious, insipid, and self-destructive. Calls to “do something” ignore the two-fold genesis of terrorist threats against us: domestic instability in Islamic countries and American actions. The truth is that America is exhausting itself in internecine wars of choice across the greater Middle East—actions that exacerbate instability. War has bankrupted our nation during a time of effective peace, without any discernible threat comparable to the costs, though the media certainly doesn’t help the public see the threat clearly. The wars have also contributed to our fractured politics, as we ignore guns versus butter by using debt and conduct specious freedom versus security arguments.

America is “fast becoming a country undone by war.” As Christianity declines, Americans have chosen a less demanding, syncretic national religion: military hero worship. I’m not a hero, but I felt people wanted me to affirm their beliefs. Rather than turn a skeptical eye toward our militarized foreign policy, Americans seem determined to support the military regardless of cost or efficacy.

Cyberbullying Yourself

NPR:
According to a survey published late last year in the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens are bullying themselves online as a way to manage feelings of sadness and self-hatred and to gain attention from their friends. For the study, 5,593 middle and high school students from across the U.S., ages 12 to 17, completed a series of questionnaires that asked about their experiences with digital self-harm and cyberbullying.

"We were alarmed to learn that 6 percent of the youth who participated in our study engaged in some form of digital self-harm," says Sameer Hinduja, co-author of the study and a professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University. 
An example:
Child psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler of Denver says it's a growing problem among teens whom she counsels. One recent client, an adolescent girl, told Gonzalez-Ziegler that she anonymously cyberbullied herself because, as a gay teen, she felt vulnerable and exposed.
"She set up ghost accounts on Instagram and posted mean comments about herself, saying things like, 'I think you're creepy and gay' and 'Don't sit next to me again,' " Ziegler says.

"She said these things because she feared being mocked by her peers," the psychologist explains. "She thought their teasing wouldn't be so bad if she beat them to the punch."
I don't find this surprising at all. I remember learning back in high school psychology about the two types of hero fantasies, the conquering hero and the suffering hero. And while it's still hard to make yourself a conqueror, it is easy to become a suffering hero by conjuring up a crew of online bullies.

For an example of someone who made herself very popular (for a while) this way, see here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Folk Art from the Winterthur Museum

The Winterthur Museum in Delaware's Brandywine Valley has an amazing collection of Fraktur, that is, drawings on paper by Pennsylvania Germans. I found this one on pinterest with no source and eventually traced it back to Winterthur, which started me on this project. It is by Bernhard Misson, a fraktur artist and schoolmaster who taught in Bucks County. It dates to 1800-1825.

A work by the "Rockhill Artist," 1830-1850.

A baptismal certificate from 1798. Here you can really see that this tradition draws on medieval art, especially in the faces of the lions and the birds at the bottom. I suppose the influence came from church painting rather than manuscripts.

Anonymous, 1820-1840. I don't love the human figures in this naive style, and of course a lot of it is Christian and very didactic. But I love the color, the animals, and the abstract forms.

This is not fraktur but a fabric drawing, made with swatches of cloth, but obviously in the same tradition.

Not a tame unicorn. 1795-1830. Notice what the artist has done with the heraldic family tree.

Anonymous, 1800-1820. Many, many more in the museum's online collection.