Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Getting the Look

From the Times:
One in three South Korean women have undergone cosmetic surgery between the ages of 19 and 29, a Gallup Korea poll has found — a trend that mirrors the narrow beauty standards epitomized by K-pop stars.


Interesting news from Syria, where two American women who joined the Islamic State say they made a horrible mistake and want to come home:
That was more than four years ago. Now, after being married to three Islamic State fighters and witnessing executions like those she had once cheered on social media, Ms. Muthana says she is deeply sorry and wants to return home to the United States.

She surrendered last month to the coalition forces fighting ISIS, and now spends her days as a detainee in a refugee camp in northeastern Syria. She is joined there by another woman, Kimberly Gwen Polman, 46, who had studied legal administration in Canada before joining the caliphate and who possesses dual United States and Canadian citizenship.

Both women, interviewed by The New York Times at the camp, said they were trying to figure out how to have their passports reissued, and how to win the sympathy of the two nations they scorned.

“I don’t have words for how much regret I have,” said Ms. Polman, who was born into a Reformed Mennonite community in Hamilton, Ontario, to an American mother and Canadian father and who has three adult children.

Ms. Muthana said, “Once I look back on it, I can’t stress how much of a crazy idea it was. I can’t believe it. I ruined my life. I ruined my future.”
These two women are just a small part of a big problem, what to do with hundreds of westerners who went to fight for the Islamic State. My inclination is to be merciful. I doubt there are many people among this group who don't regard the whole affair as a disaster at the least, and from what I read many have sincerely turned against the ideology that once inspired them. What better way to inoculate our societies against fundamentalism than people with first-hand experience of what a nightmare it was in practice?

I suppose there is a danger that some remain faithful, but given how comprehensively the Islamic State has been defeated I don't see them as a threat. If they wanted to be martyrs they would be dead by now, rather than languishing in refugee camps. Maybe in twenty years some will start to remember their jihadist days as a grand adventure and encourage young relations to follow in their footsteps, but I think that is a small risk and I am willing to take it in the name of mercy and reconciliation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Statue of the Lector Priest Kaaper

Old Kingdom, 5th Dynasty, ca. 2494-2345 BC. This statue is made from sycamore wood, eyes made from rock crystal rimmed with copper.

The statue was recovered from Kaaper's tomb, a Mastaba in in North Saqqara.

It was excavated by French archaeologist Auguste Mariette around 1860. According to his account, an unpopular mayor in the village had died, and when the local workmen looked into the eyes of this statue they believed that he had returned. Thus, Mariette dubbed it the Sheikh el-Balad, The Headman of the Village.

Coal Still Losing in a Rout

The latest news in the War on Coal is that despite the president's best efforts, the TVA voted to close two more coal-fired power plants by 2023. Both plants are 50 years old and it will cost the TVA $320 million less to get the energy from natural gas and renewables than it would to upgrade those old plants. The math is simply inescapable.

Since Trump's election the pace of coal plant closures has actually increased:
In total, more than 23,400 MW of coal-fired generation were shut in 2017-2018 versus 14,900 MW in 2009-2012.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Illustrations of Goethe's Faust

Goethe's Faust has been published in hundreds of editions in all the European languages, many of them illustrated. So there is a very rich store of pictures to go with his story. Which I have only read in German, as a college sophomore, barely understanding what was happening, so I couldn't tell you what most of these show. (Richard Westfall, Faust and Lilith, 1831)

Different versions of Faust's Dream, from top to bottom: August von Kreling, 1877; Eugène Delacroix, 1828; Carl Gustav Carus, 1851.

Faust in his Study: Ary Scheffer, 1831; August von Kreling, 1877; Carl Gustav Carus, 1851.

Faust and Mephistopheles: Harry Clarke, 1925; Anton Kaulbach, 1900; Maurice Boutet, 1878.

Old Faust, Salvador Dali, 1968

Faust and Marguerite, Harry Clark, 1925

Mephistopheles: Eugène Delacroix, 1828; Eduard von Grützner, 1895


Amusing internet exercise in which people cutely summarize their graduate work. Some are posted with the actual thesis titles, others not. Examples:

Either they’re lying, I’m lying, or we need a better model.
Psychology, Yale University.

Fishing isn’t sustainable because we catch too many fish.
History of Science, Harvard

I tried to stress out invertebrates but couldn’t; they had already lived a stressful life.
Environmental Toxicology, King’s College London

If you give people controls, they can adjust things
Audiology, San Diego State University

“A comparison of self-adjusted amplification settings vs current hearing aid settings of experienced hearing aid users”

Brain Maps: the only kind where you don’t find anything
Biomedical Informatics, Stanford University

Nazi Science Was Bad and They Should Feel Bad: A Review
Forensic Archaeology, Nottingham Trent University

Heute Kühe, Morgen die Aurochs: A Critical Study of the Work of the Heck Brothers

Rich people liked to buy and look at fancy things.
History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

I studied a protein for 4.5 years nobody ever studied before. Now I know why.
Biochemistry, University of Hohenheim

Turns out teenagers don’t trust their teachers no matter how much you make them meditate
Educational Science, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Comparing and strengthening compassion, trust and motivation in adolescent students through compassionate meditation

I asked some farmers what they thought was important about farming. Turns out, it depends.
Sociology, Warren Wilson College

Becoming a Farmer: the Political and Ideological Priorities of First-Generation Farmers

Reading these has led me to wonder how I would summarize my own thesis. Maybe,

Medieval justice: hang the homeless criminals, lecture the ones with homes and tell them to look after each other better.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Gaming Lions

Ivory Board Game Pieces, Early Dynastic Period, ca. 3100-2890 BC.

This game is known to moderns as The Coil, because it seems to have been played on a round board that took the form of a coiled snake. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. From Egypt Museum.

New Discoveries in Pompeii

For the most part Italian archaeologists have stopped uncovering more of Pompeii, since they can't properly manage what they have already unearthed. The discoveries I have reported on here have mostly been in areas of the city uncovered long ago, made by digging a little deeper to find things already buried before the eruption.

But over the past decade the site's managers have grow concerned about one part of the city, where heavy rains were eroding soil from unexcavated houses and threatening their contents. So they obtained a large grant from the European Union to undertake new excavations. 

So far the most spectacular finds have been in one house, two rooms with frescoes they call the Leda Bedroom and the Narcissus Alcove. Amazing that the paint should be so bright after nearly 2000 years.

This lararium was found in a house not far away.

Another grimly fascinating discovery was made in the Stable of Civita Giuliana, where archaeologists have uncovered three horses who were killed and buried in elaborate military harness. I suppose they were being readied for an escape that came too late.

Geoffrey Bawa

I've read in several places that modernism looks better in the tropics than under Europe's so-often-gray skies, so I suppose it is a widespread sentiment. So let's look at one of the most famous exponents of Tropical Modernism, Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003).

Bawa was Eurasian, English and Indian Muslim on one side, German, Scottish, and Sinhalese on the other. His father was a successful lawyer under the British colonial regime, and he sent his son to Cambridge and then to the Middle Temple to study law. Bawa was admitted to the English bar in 1944, which makes me wonder; why were British law schools still graduating students in 1944? Were barristers needed for the war effort? Anyway Bawa practiced law in England and then after the war traveled on the continent and thought about settling in Italy before returning to Colombo in 1948.

In Sri Lanka Bawa practiced law for a while and bought an abandoned rubber estate that he named Lunuganga or Salt River. He lived there part time for the rest of his life, always tinkering with the buildings and the gardens. This gate house is his design.

By 1950 Bawa had grown dissatisfied with the law and decided he wanted to be an architect instead. So he apprenticed himself to one of Sri Lanka's leading architects, H. H. Reid. Reid promptly died, and Bawa went back to Britain in search of training. After spending a year at Cambridge, he enrolled as a student at the Architectural Association in London, graduating in 1956. In 1957, at the age of 38 he returned to Sri Lanka and took over what was left of Reid's practice. He was joined in the practice by Danish architect Ulrik Plesner, and the two designed many buildings together. This hotel shows one trick Bawa employed several times in his career, designing a fairly simple modernist structure and then allowing Sri Lanka's luxurious vegetation to cover the whole thing in greenery.

What strikes me is the fusion of modernism with what I think of as British or Dutch colonial architecture with modernism and a Buddhist aesthetic. Here are two views of Sri Lanka's parliament building.

Entrance to a cafe in Colombo.

 Two very different hotel lobbies.

Bawa had a thing for staircases; in fact I discovered him from a feature on ten of his best staircases at Dezeen.

A pavilion.

An observation tower. Below, views of the estate at Lunuganga.

Ghost Apple

These form when the temperature is just right for the slushy apple to thaw and drain away but the pure ice shell to remain. Via This is Colossal.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Tyler Cowen Interviews Jordan Peterson

The conversation starts with Jordan Peterson's collection of Soviet propaganda, mostly bought off eBay.
COWEN: What’s the main thing you learned over the years, living with those works, viewing the propaganda, thinking about it every day, every night?

PETERSON: Art wins.

COWEN: Art wins over propaganda. Why?

PETERSON: All the time, yeah. Nothing wins over art. Nothing is powerful enough to stand in the way of art. Whatever artistic merit the canvases have stays as a permanent part of them, and the propagandistic aspect disappears as the context — the political context — disappears. All that’s left, in some sense, is the pure art and the craftsmanship. At some point, some of the paintings I have are just very realistic renditions of working-class people. All the propaganda is disappearing, so it’s very interesting to have those artifacts around.
And this:
COWEN: What should we learn from Tolkien?

PETERSON: Go out and confront your dragons.

COWEN: What should we learn from Harry Potter?

PETERSON: Voluntary death and rebirth redeems.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Runaway Nun

William de Melton [Archbishop of York] to the Dean of Beverly greetings. A scandalous rumor has reached us saying that Joan of Leeds, a nun at the Cloister of St. Clements in York, has impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex out of a malicious mind. . . Simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place and, in a cunning, nefarious manner … having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order. Therefore let her and her known accomplices be excommunicated etc.

--18 August 1318

From the Registers of the Archbishop of York, via The History Blog

David Brooks on life in your 20s

Question from interviewer Tyler Cowen:
Why have so many young men stopped even looking for work? What has happened to aspiration in our culture?
After floundering around for a bit, David Brooks starts on this:
After I missed the Trump thing so badly, I traveled around the country for 18 months, and I’m still doing it and always talking to Trump voters and other voters. The amount of wounding and amount of sense of betrayal, high levels of distrust, high levels of feeling “Everyone else is getting ahead and I’m falling behind,” I found especially for young people in their 20s, even people with sterling educations.

The 20s have become for many a brutal time, that they don’t quite know what their purpose is in life. They don’t quite have the skills to get out of the wide-open options. They’re afraid of closing off options because they’re not really quite sure who they are. We’ve produced a society that’s made being 25 phenomenally difficult, in part because you’re in the most supervised childhood at human history until 21, and after that, you’re released into the complete void.

We’ve produced a society that’s made being 25 phenomenally difficult, in part because you’re in the most supervised childhood at human history until 21, and after that, you’re released into the complete void.

You’re not going to get married for another 12 years. You’re not going to settle into your career. I’ve come to notice it in my students. I’ve come to call it the Telos Crisis, the loss of sense of purpose. When you get the setback in your mid-20s, you don’t quite know where your life is, you haven’t discovered it, you haven’t found some calling that just seizes you, and it can be pretty rough.

Nietzsche has a phrase: “He who has a why to live for can endure any how.” That if you know what your long term is, then you can endure the setbacks, but if that hasn’t become clear to you, then the setbacks are super hard. And I noticed it in the rising depression rates, the rising mental health problems, the rising suicide problems. We’ve sort of left people in a very unstructured experience after age 21.

I just gave this commencement talk at Butler University, couple days ago. And commencements are happy, and I was like, “Your life is going to suck in three years.” . . .

I’m not sure that was the right spirit for that occasion.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill House near London  was built by Horace Walpole starting in 1747, one of the first works of Neogothic architecture. Walpole was the third son of Robert Walpole, who is generally considered Britain's first Prime Minister. The father arranged a couple of cozy sinecures for his son that allowed him to spend his life on artistic pursuits.

Most notably Horace wrote The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel.

He designed this summer house with the help of two friends, John Chute and Richard Bentley; collectively they called themselves the Committee of Taste. The Committee clearly looked into every detail of the structure, including these chimneys.

I love the interiors because they are so restrained; this is domestic Gothic, appropriate for a house rather than a cathedral.

My elder daughter and I are thinking of organizing our own Committee of Taste, but sadly I think little produced in our own time would meet our standards. Since no relative thought to arrange any cozy sinecures for us, we lack the resources to build our own mansions that would. But at least we can enjoy Walpole's creation.