Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ellie Davies Photographs Fairyland

British photographer Ellie Davies (born 1976) spends her time in the woods, using "interventions" -- some physical, some digital -- to create photographs that suggest the fairy world is melding into this one.

From her series The Dwellings.

These are digitally modified using Hubble photographs, from her series Stars, 2014.

Theses and at top are from Between the Trees, 2014.

From Another Green World, 2013.

And two from Smoke and Mirrors, 2010 and 2013.

The Anxious Nation

More news this week about anxiety among college students:
Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.
Why would that be?
The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media.
Maybe, but I know anxious young people who had neither overprotective parents nor excessive academic pressure. So I puzzle over this.

I wonder if the gloomy atmosphere in the nation as a whole contributes. These days our whole politics seems based on scaring people about things beyond their control (terrorists, Obamacare, global warming); when was the last time anyone ran for office by saying that things are great? Whole subcultures have grown up around various paranoias, from vaccines to black helicopters; is that part of our anxiety? Or does that just provide a focus for nebulous fears that spring from the general disorientation of modern life?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

What Else?

What is the body?

What is love?

What is hidden in our chests?

What else?

--Rumi, "All Rivers at Once"
Translated by Coleman Barks


Catbird nest in the rose bush right outside our front door. The parents bolt off the nest every time we open the door, which can be quite startling.

Do the Poor Have it Easy?

Argh, this is a really discouraging. Here is a poll -- snipped in half and rearranged so you can read it at the scale Blogger allows -- showing American attitudes toward poverty, as determined by Pew. The second part is hardly surprising, since this difference has been one of the major left-right divides for centuries. I do find it interesting that young leftists ("next generation") are quicker to blame the poor for their problems than their elders; I have noticed that young people are in general quick to condemn others for their misdeeds, and little interested in explanations. I know I was like that.

The horror of this is in the first section. Poor Americans do not "have it easy." Poor Americans, in fact, have it very hard. Money makes life easier. Money can be substituted for effort in a million ways, and not having money means all sorts of extra trouble. Most especially, not having money causes anxiety, which as I regularly say is the besetting problem of poverty in the modern world. Poor people live ten years less than rich people because all the worrying they do wears ten years off their lives.

The root of all truly ethical behavior is compassion. If you think poor people have it easy, you simply lack understanding of their lives, and, I think, lack compassion for them. Is that Christian? Is that right?

What We're Sending to Europa

NASA has announced the instruments it plans to send to study Jupiter's moon Europa when it launches a spacecraft in that direction in the early 2020s. Like Saturn's moons Enceladus and Titan, Europa seems to have an enormous ocean sealed under its icy crust, kept warm by tidal forces. The instruments are:

  • an "imaging system," i.e., a camera;
  • radar calibrated to measure the thickness of the icy crust and the ocean underneath; 
  • sensitive magnetometers, also intended to study the crust
  • a "mapping imaging spectrometer" to study the chemical composition of the surface
  • a thermal imaging system to look for plumes of water erupting into space
  • an ultraviolet spectrograph to do the same, and to study the chemical composition of the plumes
  • a mass spectrometer to study the moon's extremely thin atmosphere;
  • a dust analyzer to study the composition of small particles ejected from the surface

The idea behind most of these instruments is that if Europa is regularly ejecting plumes of water into space, we can study the composition of its ocean by sampling those plumes, without having to drill through miles of ice. Two approaches are planned: to study gases released by the plumes as they dissipate into space, by flying through them; and to examine the surface hoping that deposits have been left there by the plumes. The fantasy would be finding organic molecules in the plumes that point toward life under the surface. But even if the ocean is sterile, it is still an alien ocean of unknown chemistry, so knowing what is in it would be cool.

A Walk Across Northwest Washington

I submitted a proposal today, an since the client's office was only eight blocks from my own I decided to walk it over rather than pay FedEx to do it. So, a brief tour of the sights between my office and theirs. Above, a doorway.

A lovely azalea.

Dragons at the American Microbiology Society.

Monument to Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homeopathy.

Daniel Webster glowers down from his monument, and rants to the Senate.


Proud to be a Democrat.

A bit of baroque.


A gate. And then back to work.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Creeping Liberalism

Gallup finds that over the past 15 years Americans have trended leftward on just about every social issue.

On the other hand there is still a broad streak of conservatism; consider that 29% of Americans don't think divorce is "morally acceptable," and 32% say the same about extra-marital sex.

The wide gap between acceptance of "suicide" vs. "doctor assisted suicide" is a bit of a puzzle. I imagine that most people are thinking, not about the presence of an MD, but whether we're talking about a dying person.

Auguste Ottin, Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea

Added to the Medici Fountain in Paris in 1866

Veni, Creator Spiritus

Blessed is He who came to Earth as a Bull
And ravished our virgin mother and ran with her
Astride his back across the plains and mountains
Of the whole world. And when He came to Ocean,
He swam across with our mother on his back.
And in His wake the people of the world
Sailed trafficking in salt, oil, slaves and opal.
Hallowed by His name, who blesses the nations:
From Europe, Dante and the Middle Passage.
Shiva his lieutenant, and by His commandment
Odysseus brought the palm tree to California,
Tea to the Britons, opium to the Cantonese,
Horses, tobacco, tomatoes and gonorrhea
Coursed by His will between Old Worlds and New.
In the Old Market where children once were sold,
Pirated music and movies in every tongue,
Defying borders as Algebra trans-migrated
From Babylon to Egypt. At His beck
Empire gathers, diffuses, and in time disperses
Into the smoky Romance of its name.
And after the great defeat in Sicily
When thousands of Athenians were butchered
Down in the terrible quarries, and many were bound
And branded on the face with a horse's head,
Meaning this man is a slave, a few were spared
Because they could recite new choruses
By the tragedian Euripides, whose works
And fame had reached to Sicily -- as willed
By the Holy One who loves blood sacrifice
And burnt offerings, commerce and the arts.

--Robert Pinsky
from his Selected Poems (2011), a book that contains many verses I found strangely stilted but much that I found delightful


David Brooks has been soliciting responses to the question, what is your purpose in life and how did you find it? He seems most interested in the people who have shunned big goals and focused on small things. This reminds me of one of the first things I put in my commonplace book, a line from John Wesley:
If one is to do good, it must be done in minute particulars.
Of the responses Brooks has received from readers, I like this the best:
I have always wanted to be effortlessly kind. I wanted to raise children who were kind. 
Thinking this over, I remember two compliments I have received in my life that I treasure above all the others:
You sure are a loyal friend.
I learn something from you almost every day.
Of such things is my own happiness made.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Worst Graphic Ever Produced

The mind boggles at the sort of person who thinks this is rational advice for life.

Just out of curiosity, why do you have to be paid for something for it to be a "purpose"?

And why "the world needs it"? What's wrong with supplying things that the world just wants, like music or blog posts?

And why can't you find meaning in something you're just ok at?

And no, I don't think this sort of thing is harmless; I think millions of people suffer real pain because their lives fall short of  this kind of exalted goal. I believe that happiness comes much  more from acceptance of reality than striving for the impossible. If you're one of the people who can get paid for pursuing your passions, great, go for it. But the rest of us need different ways of thinking about life.

A Victim of Violence, 430,000 Years Old

Here is the oldest human yet to be convincingly identified as the victim of violence from other humans. Those two wounds above the eye were caused by blows from a pickax or some similar implement, wielded by another person; that there are two implies intention. (A person might fall on a sharp rock, but probably not two sharp rocks one after the other.) The skull comes from a Spanish cave where it was intentionally buried around 430,000 years ago.

Etruscan Art, Part II: Classical and Hellenistic

In the classical period Etruscan art gradually merged with the broader tradition of the Greco-Roman world. After the Etruscan towns were absorbed by the growing Roman state in the 3rd century BCE, their art became only a local variant of Mediterranean styles. But much beautiful art was made in Etruria, so let us celebrate it. These are the famous winged horses of Tarquinia, a masterpiece of terracotta sculpture, c. 350 BCE.

The Etruscan and especially the people of Vulci were master metal workers, and their bronze cauldrons, mirrors and other objects were much sought after in Iberia, Gaul, and elsewhere. This is the handle from a bronze strainer, 5th century BCE.

Many frescoes painted in tombs survive from later Etruscan times; this is a particularly famous one showing a funeral dance.

Two warriors, c. 480-470 BCE.

Drinking cup showing a hippogriff.

The Etruscans kept up their artistic celebration of marriage; here is a Hellenistic version of the his-and-hers sarcophagus.

Painted ceramic nymph, 4th century BCE.

Handle of a bronze vessel in the form of a lasa nymph, c. 300 BCE.

These small urns for ashes were a major art form, and there are hundreds in museums around the world.

Balsamarium or perfume jar, c. 250 BCE.

More tomb dancers.

Solar god, c. 300 BCE.

Terracotta antefix or roofing tile.My post on older Etruscan art is here.