Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Markenfield Hall

Markenfield Hall is a fourteenth-century manor house in the West Riding of Yorkshire, not far from Fountains Abbey.

Archaeology suggests that the oldest stonework in the castle dates to the mid 1200s. But the main episode of buiding took place in the 1310s when the manor belonged to John de Markenfield, a canon of Ripon Cathedral and a high official under Edward II. Markenfield obtained the necessary royal license to fortify ("crenellate") his house in 1310.

The Markenfields remained an important family of the borders for 250 years; a Markenfield fought for Richard III at Bosworth Field and another for Henry V at Agincourt.

The Markenfields finally fell in the sixteenth century because of their devotion to Catholicism. They joined the Pilgrimage of Grace, a Catholic rebellion against Henry VIII in 1536. One of the leaders was Robert Aske, brother-in law to the Sir Thomas Markenfield of the time. Henry suppressed the revolt and Aske lost his head at Clifford's Tower in York, but the Markenfields survived.

They did not learn the lesson, however. Displayed in the Markenfield chapel is a replica of a famous relic, a banner bearing the Five Wounds of Christ, which in the sixteenth century had become a Catholic symbol. On 20 November 1569 a crowd of northern Catholics gathered in the courtyard of Markenfield, heard mass, and then, flying the five wounds banner, set out for London to cast down Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne in her stead. This revolt was simply called The Rising. It, too, was defeated, and this time Sir Thomas de Markenfield fled the country with a price on his head. The estate was seized for High Treason and granted to one of Elizabeth's favorites, Thomas Egerton, Master of the Rolls.

Egerton never lived at Markenfield, and for the next two hundred years the manor was leased to tenants. In 1761 Fletcher Norton, 1st Baron Grantley bought the house, replaced the roof of the Great Hall and generally put the place in order again.

The house has descended through the family to the 7th Baron Grantley, who began a restoration and modernization project in 1980. Today the house still belongs to the family but it is open to the public for two months a year.

It is also advertised as a wedding venue under the name of Moated Medieval Manor House Markenfield Hall.

What a remarkable place, and to think that despite being an expert of sorts on the reign of Edward II I never heard of it until today.

Simone Weil

There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that... or: There is capitalism in so far as... The use of expressions like "to the extent that" is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.

Revolution does not necessarily correspond to a higher, more intense and clearer awareness of the social problem. The opposite is true. . . . In the torment of civil war, principles lose all common measure with realities.

More here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

In Japan, the Kei Truck Garden Contest

Not sure how this started, but it is now an official event sponsored by the Japan Federation of Landscape Contractors. Like bonsai gardens on wheels. Fascinating.

Amazon in Queens and Arlington, Virginia

In announcing that it will create major corporate centers in Queens, New York and Arlington, Virginia, each with 25,000 employees, Jeff Bezos said,
These two locations will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come.
The rationale for this whole exercise was that Amazon plans to grow at a rate that they think will outstrip the supply of skilled labor in Seattle, and the deciding factor in picking these locations was that they think they can hire thousands of programmers and other professionals to work in them. (Well, there was also the billions in tax incentives, but mostly likely all the cities and states on their list made similar offers.)

And this explains why around the world mega-cities continue to swell while smaller cities languish. Companies headquartered in smaller cities -- Kellogg's, Corning -- have terrible trouble recruiting executives, largely because executives are married to other professionals who can't find jobs in a small place. The way for big corporations to thrive is to locate themselves where there are lot of educated workers to choose from.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Greek Pots

From a recent sale at Gorny und Mosch. I particularly like this lekythos – a vessel used to pour funeral libations which was then usually put in the tomb, which is why we have so many.

Not Much Interest in the Economy

Robert Samuelson:
One lesson of the midterm elections is that economic growth is losing its power to unite the country and to reduce explosive conflicts over race, religion, ethnicity, immigrant status and sexuality. . . .

Despite many problems, the economy in 2016 seemed strong enough to put Hillary Clinton in the White House. When voters went to the polls, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, annual inflation was only 1.7 percent and median household income had increased 5 percent in 2015 from 2014. Nope, not enough.

Similarly — and despite the usual midterm bias against the party of the incumbent president — the economy seemed healthy enough to help Republicans retain control of the House in last week’s election. Unemployment was lower than in 2016 (3.7 percent), inflation was only a tad higher (2.3 percent). Median income has continued to advance. Nope, not enough.
It does strike me as interesting that the economy did not help Republican more this time, but that is hardly new: Nixon beat the sitting vice president in 1968, a year of economic boom, because the Vietnam War and cultural upheaval overwhelmed economic concerns. Which makes me wonder: what is it about our time that is intensifying political divisions? We have no issue like the Vietnam War to fuel the fires, but partisan hatred seems to be at record levels.

Some liberals think the underlying issue is white angst about becoming a minority, exacerbated by having a black man in the White House. I remain unconvinced; it just doesn't seem to me that racism is any worse than it has been throughout my lifetime. There is certainly economic uncertainly and unfairness, but, again, this does not seem to me to have gotten worse, and if this were the driver you would think our current economic boom would help.

I keep going back to the intense, widespread anxiety that seems to pervade our society. I find this deeply mysterious; I just can't see any reason why more people should be crippled by anxiety than ever before. If somebody figured out that the cause was some ubiquitous chemical, I would not be surprised, because nothing else makes sense to me. But wherever it comes from I think that when added to our already existing partisan divides over race, sex, sexuality, the economy and so on the result is the level of hate and fear that we suffer from now.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Face-Deer Coins from 9th-Century Denmark

Danish archaeologists recently unearthed a hoard of 172 "Face-Deer" coins like this one in a bog, after one had been found by a metal detectorist. They date to the first half of the ninth century AD, when King Gudfred and his sons reigned. (These were the first kings of Denmark mentioned in reliable sources, because they warred against Charlemagne.) Until this hoard was found only 11 of these coins were known.

What weird designs.

Via The History Blog

Reading the Riot Act

The Riot Act of 1714 provided that if English authorities encountered any group of more than 12 persons they thought looked like a riot they could order those people to disperse, and anyone who did not could be charged with a felony.

The actual proclamation they read out went like this:
Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the Act made in the first year of King George the First for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies.

That was called "reading the riot act."

Imagined Ruins

Architectural capriccios from the "Italian School," 18th century.

Friday, November 9, 2018


Door lintel from Hatra in northern Iraq, 2nd-3rd century AD

November 9 in German History

On November 9, 1848, agitator for democracy Robert Blum was executed by a firing squad in Vienna; to many this seemed like the final dashing of hopes for revolutionary change across Germany in 1848.

On November 9, 1918, the last Hapsburg emperor abdicated as Austria-Hungary disintegrated around him.

On November 9, 1938, Nazi party thugs unleashed the violent assault on Germany's Jews that we know as Kristallnacht.

On November 9, 1989, an East German news anchor mistakenly announced that the government had lifted the ban on travel to the west, effective immediately. Berliners rushed to the wall and began to tear it down, an event that was both a transformational political act and one of history's greatest street parties.

Via David Frum

Religion and Adolescent Depression

The latest study:
Depression is the leading cause of illness and disability in adolescence. Many studies show a correlation between religiosity and mental health, yet the question remains whether the relationship is causal. We exploit within-school variation in adolescents’ peers to deal with selection into religiosity. We find robust effects of religiosity on depression that are stronger for the most depressed. These effects are not driven by the school social context; depression spreads among close friends rather than through broader peer groups that affect religiosity. Exploration of mechanisms suggests that religiosity buffers against stressors in ways that school activities and friendships do not.
The key finding:
…a one standard deviation increase in religiosity decreases the probability of being depressed by 11 percent. By comparison, increasing mother’s education from no high school degree to a high school degree or more only decreases the probability of being depressed by about 5 percent.
It seems obvious to me that religious arose as a way to cope with terrible feelings: grief, rage, anxiety, depression. So it makes sense that religious people would be happier. On the other hand the effects you see in a broad societal analysis are not this big; religious adults are (from what I have read) only slightly less likely to be depressed than non-believers.

I wonder if the particular mental and emotional tasks of adolescence magnify this effect. I remember as a young teenager being really, really freaked out by the thought of my own death and non-existence, and by the thought that everyone around me would also die. Now I am not nearly so bothered by these ideas. So maybe the intense emotionality of teenage thinking about the world makes the support of faith particularly valuable.

Moderation Wins

Moderate Democratic candidates were the big winners of swing congressional districts in the 2018 midterm elections, flipping most of the 28 key House districts from Republicans’ control and winning key gubernatorial races, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Illinois. Democrats’ net gain in the House was 26 seats.

Progressive candidates flipped few of those seats. For the most part, the biggest upsets for the left occurred during the summer primaries; most of those districts were already blue and primed to elect Democrats. Many of the left-wing candidates who tested the theory of turning out their base, even in more conservative districts, lost on election night.

Toshiyuki Enoki

Japanese artist, born 1961.

What Can We Change about our Identities?

69-Year-Old Dutch Man Seeks To Change His Legal Age To 49

Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old motivational speaker from the Netherlands, has petitioned a court for permission to change his legal age — by altering his birth certificate to show he was born 20 years later than he really was.

Ratelband argues that he feels two decades younger than he actually is — doctors told him he has the body of a younger man, he says. While in most cases that compliment is rhetorical, Ratelband is taking a more literal approach. He also says having a younger age on paper would give him a boost in life and on dating apps.

He presented his argument before a judge on Monday.

According to the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, or AD, Ratelband told the court he would be happy to delay his pension benefits for 20 years, as a logical extension of his age change.

The judge expressed some skepticism but also noted that changing the sex on a birth certificate, as transgender people have the right to do, once was impossible and is now allowed.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Figurative Art 40,000 Years Old

This crude drawing of a deer or wild cow was found in a limestone cave on Borneo. It was dated by uranium-thorium dating of the "flowstone" that had accumulated on top of it to 40,000 years ago.

This makes it for now the earliest work of figurative art known; everything older is an abstract assemblage of lines. (Yes, so far as we know abstract art comes before figurative.) I don't take this literally, though. Uranium-thorium dating is better for stuff a million years old than anything this young, and the layer of stone they are dating is very, very thin – after all, you can see through it – which makes it hard to be certain you have an uncontaminated sample. So I take the date as an indication rather than a hard number. Plus, the record for oldest cave painting keeps being broken  every year or so as this technique becomes more common, and there are now several examples more than 30,000 years old. Some people think it is interesting that half come from Europe and half from Indonesia, but I suspect that is just an artifact of preservation conditions. Surely the making of figurative art goes back at least to 60,000 years ago when other signs of full modern human behavior start to show up regularly in the archaeological record

The Short, Hungry Life of the Moneen Cave Boy

Back in 2011 a skeleton was found in a cave near the village of Ballyvaughan in County Clare, Ireland. The burial was intensely studied and the results have now been published. The skeleton was so short, a hair over 4 feet, that the excavators thought it was a young child. Analysis of the teeth, however, showed that it was a teenager of 14 to 16. This was short even for the time, a size more typical for an 11-year-old. A close look at the bones revealed that this child had suffered from severe malnutrition and repeated bouts of near starvation. DNA analysis showed that this was a boy. Radiocarbon dating pointed to a time of death between 1520 and 1670; the excavators think he might have died during the Commonwealth, 1640-1660, when Clare was the scene of repeated fighting and several recorded famines.

Study leader Dr. Marion Dowd:
We found the remains within a small rectangular niche in the wall of the cave. It was a small space, just about big enough for a teenager to crawl into. The position of the bones suggests the boy curled up in this small space and died there, alone in the cold. There is no evidence that this was a murder victim or a corpse that had been hastily disposed of in the cave. It seems likely, based on the present evidence, that the boy was sheltering in the cave. He may have been crossing Moneen mountain; he may have been fleeing a battle or attack; or he may have been herding sheep in the uplands. Whatever the case, it seems he dropped through the narrow opening in the cave roof, crawled into the niche in the cave wall, and died there unbeknownst to his family or community. All in all, the excavation provided a very poignant insight into a life that was harsh and ended tragically for this boy in the not too distant past.

Who Writes what you Read on the Internet

From the SlateStarCodex Reddit, an explanation of why Most of What You Read on the Internet is Written by Insane People:
I found one Amazon reviewer with 20.8k reviews since 2011. That's just under 3,000 reviews per year, which comes out to around 8 per day. This man has written an average of 8 reviews on Amazon per day, all of the ones I see about books, every day for seven years. I thought it might be some bot account writing fake reviews in exchange for money, but if it is then it's a really good bot because Grady Harp is a real person whose job matches that account's description. And my skimming of some reviews looked like they were all relevant to the book, and he has the "verified purchase" tag on all of them, which also means he's probably actually reading them.

The only explanation for this behavior is that he is insane. I mean, normal people don't do that. We read maybe 20 books a year, tops, and we probably don't write reviews on Amazon for all of them. There has to be something wrong with this guy.

So it goes with other websites. One of Wikipedia's power users, Justin Knapp, had been submitting an average of 385 edits per day since signing up in 2005 as of 2012. Assuming he doesn't sleep or eat or anything else (currently my favored prediction), that's still one edit every four minutes. He hasn't slowed down either; he hit his one millionth edit after seven years of editing and is nearing his two millionth now at 13 years. This man has been editing a Wikipedia article every four minutes for 13 years. He is insane, and he has had a huge impact on what you and I read every day when we need more information about literally anything. And there are more like him; there is one user with 2.7 million edits and many others with more than one million. . . .

If you consume any content on the Internet, you're mostly consuming content created by people who for some reason spend most of their time and energy creating content on the Internet. And those people clearly differ from the general population in important ways.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Election Day Sunset in Catonsville

Seeing this at around 5:30 PM I thought, "Wow, that's beautiful. On the other hand it's a sunset. What is the omen here? I need to consult an oracle."

The Virgin of Quito

Figurine by an unknown artisan, after an 18th-century sculpture by Bernardo Legarda.

Still Divided in America

The split election result seems to me to perfectly illustrate our national condition. Democrats won the House by taking suburban districts where many people, especially women, find Trump appalling; Republicans expanded their advantage in the Senate by winning big in rural areas and across the South. Many races were decided by one or two percent; 49.6 to 48.4 for governor of Wisconsin, 50.7 to 49.3 for the hotly disputed House seat in Charleston, SC.

We are closely divided. We are also charged up about it; preliminary counts show that 114 million people voted, up from 83 million in 2014.

Considering that the economy is booming like it hasn't since 1999, this is an impressive win for the Democrats. But it may actually be the best possible result for Republicans other than Trump himself. Holding the Senate means they can continue to appoint conservative judges. Losing the House means they cannot advance any legislative agenda, but really with their tax cuts in place they had no agenda to advance, so that hardly matters. Trump can "triangulate" like Bill Clinton, claiming credit for successes while blaming Democrats in the House for anything that goes wrong. The only danger for Republicans in this scenario is that, unable to pass liberal bills, House Democrats will throw their energy into investigating the many scandals of Trump and his people, and that something really bad will turn up.

The election provided more examples of people who vote for Republican candidates but for Democratic issues. For example, big increases in the minimum wage passed in Missouri and Arkansas. Even more interesting to me is that despite a hard Trumpian turn in Florida the electorate rescinded the state's lifetime ban on felons voting; can anybody explain that one?

And once again we see that in America extremism is a dangerous game. The Democrats won the governorship in Kansas, the homeland of "what's the matter with Kansas?", not because the people are any more liberal but because the Republicans simply pushed conservatism too far.

My forecast: many more years of ugly division and partisan struggle.

Larry Hogan's Re-Election and the American Electorate

Among the least surprising results in yesterday's election was the easy re-election of Maryland's governor Larry Hogan. Hogan is a Republican in a very Blue state, and he faced a credible opponent in NAACP president Ben Jealous, but he got 56.2% and that was closer than a lot of people expected.

I think this says something important about American politics. Voting for president seems to get people passionate about abstract issues like "Change" or "Make America Great Again" and especially about our personal visions for the nation. It often seems that what the government actually does plays little part.

Gubernatorial races seem in contrast to be much more about what people what from their governments, so they seem to me to tell us more about the sort of government people want. What people in Maryland seem to want is strong civil rights protections for minorities and gay people – Hogan repeatedly stressed his support for the state's strong civil rights laws while campaigning and in office has left the state's professional prosecutors and regulators alone to enforce them – but otherwise just a government that runs smoothly and efficiently, without raising taxes. Ben Jealous has what Matt Yglesias called "the most serious and well-considered version of a Medicare-for-all plan that I’ve seen," but this has absolutely not caught fire except among the very liberal, and even in Maryland the very liberal are a distinct minority.

You may recall that a few years ago Vermont Democrats did try to enact a Medicare for all plan but there was a rebellion over the proposed tax increases – which experts said were still enough to really fund it – the plan was abandoned, and although Vermont went very strongly for Hillary in 2016 they also elected a Republican governor who ran mostly on his opposition to the health care plan and taxes in general.

Despite what Bernie and his allies keep saying, I see no evidence that there really is support in America for Social Democracy. What the majority even in Vermont and Maryland seems to want is as little change as possible.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018