Saturday, July 29, 2017

Oswald Achenbach

Oswald Achenbach (1827-1905) was a German painter long associated with the city of Dusseldorf and its academy. Oswald's older brother Andreas was also painter, but they came from an unlikely family to produce two successful artists. They had eight brothers and sisters and their father was a wandering artisan who at various times worked as a brewer, vinegar maker, bookkeeper, and cook.  (Plaza of St. Peters by Full Moon, 1880)

Oswald entered the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf at the age of eight, even though the academy supposedly only took pupils over 12. Perhaps his older brother's successful career at the school persuaded the professors to give his little brother a try. (Castle San Angelo, Rome)

After that there is nothing remarkable about Achenbach's career: graduated from the academy, traveled to Italy, started to sell paintings, became in (1860) a professor himself. (Procession to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracaeli, Rome)

I suppose he must have spent much of his later life in Italy, because just about all the paintings I have found are of Italian scenes. (Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, 1886)

His favorite places were Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast. (Marketplace in Amalfi, 1876)

I find these delightful. (Arch of Titus, Rome, 1880)

And the best part is I can't recall ever hearing of Achenbach until today. I love discovering new artists. (In the Park of the Villa Borghese, 1886)

Fireworks in Naples, 1875.

Via Appia with the tomb of the Caecilia Metella, 1886

Bernhard Hoetger, Tree of Life

Made for the facade of Haus Atlantis in Bremen, Germany, 1931. It depicts the "Savior of Atlantis," combining attributes of Jesus and Odin. Destroyed by bombing in 1944. Most of the rest of the house survived and after the war the facade was rebuilt to look as un-Nazi as they could imagine.

Rules for Women Bicyclists, 1895

Strange list of "Don'ts" from the Unique Cycling Club of Chicago:
Don't be a fright.
Don't faint on the road.
Don't wear a man's cap.
Don't wear tight garters.
Don't forget your toolbag
Don't attempt a "century."
Don't coast. It is dangerous.
Don't boast of your long rides.
Don't criticize people's "legs."
Don't wear loud hued leggings.
Don't cultivate a "bicycle face."
Don't refuse assistance up a hill.
Don't wear clothes that don't fit.
Don't neglect a "light's out" cry.
Don't wear jewelry while on a tour.
Don't race. Leave that to the scorchers.
Don't wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
Don't imagine everybody is looking at you.
Don't go to church in your bicycle costume.
Don't wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
Don't contest the right of way with cable cars.
Don't chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
Don't wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
Don't ask, "What do you think of my bloomers?"
Don't use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
Don't go out after dark without a male escort.
Don't go without a needle, thread and thimble.
Don't try to have every article of your attire "match."
Don't let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
Don't allow dear little Fido to accompany you.
Don't scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
Don't discuss bloomers with every man you know.
Don't appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
Don't overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.
Don't ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman.
Don't try to ride in your brother's clothes "to see how it feels."
Don't scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
Don't cultivate everything that is up to date because you ride a wheel.
Don't emulate your brother's attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.
Don't undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily.
Don't appear to be up on "records" and "record smashing." That is sporty.
What do you suppose the forbidden "bicycle face" looked like?

Via Lists of Note

Update: That dreaded Bicycle Face seems to have been quite a topic of debate:

Ottoman Bird Palaces

These elaborate bird houses were built throughout the Ottoman Empire from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth. These examples are all in modern Turkey. Most are attached to the walls of grand private houses. Via This is Colossal.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Burghead and its Bulls

Burghead was once the largest known Pictish fort, an impressive earthwork covering much of this peninsula on Scotland's north coast. It was probably the royal seat of the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu.

Then in the early nineteenth century a town was built here, probably to house some of the thousands of cotters being cleared from the Countess of Sutherland's massive estates. In the course of building the town, most of the fort was destroyed. But some salvage archaeology done over the course of the nineteenth century as the place expanded led to many discoveries, including more than two dozen of these lovely tablets known as the Burghead Bulls. Six still survive; this one is in the British Museum. Nobody knows what the bulls represent; perhaps this was the emblem of the ruling house.

Recently there has been more archaeology in Burghead, and it has led to some good results. Among other things the investigators think they have identified a long house dating to the 9th century, perhaps the hall of a Pictish king.

It is always a mistake to assume that later construction has destroyed archaeological sites; sometimes the destruction is thorough, but more often much has been buried and survives. After all remains of Roman London have been found among the City's office towers, and traces of 17th-century New Amsterdam in downtown Manhattan.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Population Continuity and Ancient Canaan

Much of the news about ancient DNA has been about radical discontinuities: the replacement of people by invaders and so on. But DNA from five skeletons excavated in ancient Sidon, Lebanon, dating to around 1700 BCE, is remarkably like that of current Lebanese. The investigators posit that 90 percent of contemporary Lebanese genes come from ancient Canaanites.

Of course this is just one study, but it supports other evidence that the populations of the Middle East have been quite stable since the spread of farming. This goes against the idea one can get from the Old Testament that the Israelites exterminated the Canaanites, or at least did great slaughter among them.

Meanwhile in Finland

The Finns have moved on from traditional high-powered sports to crazy local creations, like Swamp Soccer:
The genesis of swamp soccer was in 1998, when creative town officials in Hyrynsalmi cooked up a festival-like event that would make use of the area’s vast swamplands. Thirteen teams showed up for the first tournament. Since then, the competitive field has grown to about 200 teams.

The recent matches — six-on-six, with 10-minute halves — were played on 20 fields of varying squishiness, spread out over 50 acres of swamp. Finnish rock echoed through the woods.

People striding on seemingly firm ground would disappear suddenly into the soft earth, as if descending a stairway. Some tottered on their hands and knees, like babies. Others stood still, until they were waist-deep in muck. The scores were generally low. Many of the players were drunk.

It’s hard to imagine an uglier version of the Beautiful Game.

“You play, you lose, you win — no one cares,” said Sami Korhonen, 25, of Kajaani, who was playing in the tournament for the ninth time. “The whole game is so tough, you’re totally wiped out when you’re done.”
And many others: hobby horse riding, sauna sitting, mosquito killing, air guitar contests, and wife carrying, in which the winner received the wife's weight in beer.

Personally I think this is much healthier than getting obsessed about the doings of millionaire professionals. Sport is supposed to be fun.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sperm Counts Really are Declining

Major new meta-analysis of sperm counts worldwide find the same thing as earlier studies:
After adjusting for factors like the subject's age and time without ejaculation, they found that the sperm concentration in western men has fallen from an average of 99 million per milliliter in 1973 to 47.1 million per milliliter in 2011—a 52.4 percent drop. Total sperm counts, or the number of sperm in an entire sample, fell by almost 60 percent. Yet similar drops were not found in the non-western samples.
This isn't anything like a crisis yet, since 47 million per milliliter is still quite fertile. But what is causing this? And will the trend continue?

Deborah Gans and Kiki Smith, Window for the Eldridge Street Synagogue, NYC

Completed in 2010.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sylvain and Ghyslaine Staƫlens, Cavalier

2015. Via Cavin-Morris Gallery.

Nicolas Berdyaev's Amazing Footnote

From The Divine and the Human, English Translation 1949, p. 6
Only the second interpretation is worthy of God and worthy of man. Here too there ought still to happen an immense change in the knowledge of God, a change which will be an emancipating change. Man does not easily awaken from his ancient nightmares in which the ego has tyrannized over both himself and God; and hence the crucifixion of God. The ego has been a fatality both for the human self and for God.1  . . .
1This was once revealed to me in a dream.
2See R. Otto, Das Heilige. He has some interesting thoughts about the moralization, rationalization, and spiritualization of sacred things.

Jonathan Swift on Growing Old

Jonathan Swift wrote this list in his journal in 1699 at the age of 32:
When I come to be old.

Not to marry a young Woman.
Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, etc.
Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
Not to be covetous.
Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
Not to talk much, nor of my self.
Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, etc.
Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
Not to be positive or opiniative.
Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.
The Latin means, more or less, that heirs hate and shun their benefactors.

Via Lists of Note.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Seal Who Makes Noises

This video made my whole family collapse in giggles.

The Democrats' "Better Deal"

The Democratic Party has announced a semi-populist new platform they're calling the Better Deal. So far there are three planks:
  • Tough anti-trust enforcement;
  • Fighting high prices on prescription drugs;
  • Create 10 million jobs through a $275 billion infrastructure program and "targeted tax breaks" rewarding companies that create high-wage jobs
I'm all for the first two items, and I support more infrastructure spending. But I think targeted tax breaks are a sham; if you want to cut corporate taxes, just cut them, don't add a hundred pages of new regulations.

On the whole I think this is ok, but not particularly inspirational. To make this good politics there would have to be more specifics: what monopolies are we taking on? What is the strategy for cutting drug prices, and how would people benefit? What are we going to build?

The Conception of Alexander the Great

Conception of Alexander the Great, Les faize d'Alexandre (translation of Historiae Alexandri Magni of Quintus Curtius Rufus), Bruges ca. 1468-1475. Poor Philip is so left out.

British Library, Burney 169, fol. 14r

San Pietro extra Moenia, Spoleto, Italy

The church of St. Peter outside the Walls near Spoleto was built in the 11th century. This spot had long been a cemetery, and a shrine in the cemetery held what were said to be St. Peter's chains. (Photo by Paolo Monti, 1967)

View of the church from a distance. The old church was burned in 1329 during one of those endless fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and it was then rebuilt. The interior was completely remodeled in the 17th century. But the sources I have found say that the facade is "an almost completely intact example of the Umbrian Romanesque style."

The famous facade.

Details. Top to bottom: Jesus, from the water, speaks to his apostles; the torments of hell; a lion gnaws on a fallen gladiator; a peasant plowing with two oxen; a mother antelope saves her kid from a snake; scenes from the life of Jesus.

Dutch Students and Weed

The latest study:
For decades, marijuana use and sale had been legal in the Netherlands and could even be purchased at coffee shops and cannabis shops around the region, which led to a massive increase in drug tourism — people coming to the Netherlands with the intention to purchase or use pot. In time, the city of Maastricht saw its crime rate triple compared with that of cities further from the border. To curb the drug tourism problem (mostly coming from, as the study authors write, “bad tourists” from France and Luxembourg), cannabis shop owners in 2011 issued a “partial prohibition” policy change, which only allowed people from specific nationalities to buy cannabis on their premises. Interested customers had to present a valid Dutch, German, or Belgian ID to be granted entry to a cannabis shop.

This policy created a unique situation, the study authors write, where students at the university could be separated into groups — those that could legally obtain marijuana and those that could not — and their academic performance could be measured. They concluded that students who could no longer legally buy cannabis increased their grades substantially — particularly in classes that required more math or numerical knowledge.
I can think of many problems with this study, the first of which is that foreign students in the Netherlands may well be particularly interested in legal weed, so they may not be the best group on which to perform such a study. But my general impression of my children's generation is that marijuana is considered among them the drug of slackers, avoided by kids with any ambition.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mt. Desert Isle 2017

Images from my vacation in one of my favorite places. We had four days of perfect weather – the chief risk of a Maine vacation is that it might be cold and rainy the whole time, even in July – we kayaked out to see the seals, we hiked up mountains, we played by the shore.

And now I am home, ready for the rest of my life to resume.