Friday, May 31, 2019

Viking Boot

Leather boot from Viking York, c. 1000 AD. This would be that "boot, low, soft" you can buy in Dungeons and Dragons.

The Poetry Lover

I have read your poems with my door locked late at night and I have read them on the seashore where I could look all round me and see no more sign of human life than the ships out at sea: and here I often found myself waking up from a reverie with the book open before me. I love all poetry, and high generous thoughts make the tears rush to my eyes, but sometimes a word or a phrase of yours takes me away from the world around me and places me in an ideal land surrounded by realities more than any poem I ever read.

— Bram Stoker, from a letter to Walt Whitman; Feb. 8, 1872.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

More on Old Plant Remedies and Modern Bacteria

Interesting bit of lore:
During the height of the Civil War, the Confederate Surgeon General commissioned a guide to traditional plant remedies of the South, as battlefield physicians faced high rates of infections among the wounded and shortages of conventional medicines. A new study of three of the plants from this guide—the white oak, the tulip poplar and the devil’s walking stick—finds that they have antiseptic properties.

Scientific Reports is publishing the results of the study led by scientists at Emory University. The results show that extracts from the plants have antimicrobial activity against one or more of a trio of dangerous species of multi-drug-resistant bacteria associated with wound infections: Acinetobacter baumannii, Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae.
I wrote about this general topic before, apropos of some Anglo-Saxon remedies. Bacteria evolve very fast, so they can quickly acquire resistance to compounds they encounter. But maybe if we stop using some treatment they can just as rapidly lose their resistance to it. So maybe compounds that were found ineffective during the early twentieth century when doctors got serious about scientific testing, might have worked at some time in the past, and maybe they will one day work again.

Siberian Shaman with a Cloak of Bird Beaks

Archaeologists in Siberia have excavated the burial of a man who went into the ground wearing a cloak made of bird beaks. A section of the cloak is preserved below his left hand in this photo. Mor was piled into a pillow behind his head.

Detail of the beaks; analysis is not complete but they look like herons or cranes. This is one of the most shamanistic things I have ever seen. Via The History Blog.

Hilma af Klint

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a Swedish artist deeply into Spiritualism, which inspired her to become a pioneer of European abstract art.

Klint received a traditional artistic training at the Swedish Royal Academy and painted traditional sorts of things, especially flowers and landscapes. But realistic painting was far removed from her main interest, spiritual exploration:
In 1879, at the age of 17, she participated in Spiritist séances, wherein participants attempted to make contact with the dead, and she became a member of the Spiritist Literature Association. The following year, her younger sister, Hermina, passed away, and af Klint tried to communicate with her deceased sibling. Soon after, the artist left the Spiritist movement, feeling it provided a mere shortcut for people to gain information that they were not yet ready to receive.
She then joined a series of organized spiritual movements: Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy. But her most profound experiences came within a smaller circle:
In the 1890s, af Klint began meeting regularly with four other women who shared her beliefs; together, they called themselves The Five. As Bashkoff explains in the catalogue for the Guggenheim exhibition, “The Five believed that they communicated with and received messages from beings of higher consciousness by entering trance states or using a psychograph (a tool used to record psychic transmissions).” During these meetings, an otherworldly “guide” instructed af Klint to design a temple connected by a spiral path, and commissioned her to make paintings for this temple. The 193 works that af Klint created in the subsequent years are collectively known as The Paintings for the Temple. 
She claimed that she made some of these paintings according to explicit instructions from a spiritual being she called Amaliel.

This altarpiece was intended for Rudolf Steiner's Goetheanum in Switzerland.

Af Klint never showed this work in her lifetime, and her will specified that it be kept hidden for 20 years after her death. As it happened it was not until 1984 that any of these were exhibited at a small museum in Sweden.

From there her fame grew steadily, culminating in a major show at the Guggenheim in New York last year. Modern art types are mainly impressed that she painted fully abstract works years before Kandinsky et al. got famous for them.

Which probably would have driven her to despair; I mean, she wasn't interested in artistic fame or being first at anything, she wanted to access the spirit realms.

But I guess that's how things go in the modern world.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Japanese Lacquer Coffer, c. 1600

The American Army in the 21st Century

On the back of an M1 Abrams tank there is a little telephone in a box tapped into the crew’s intercom; it’s called a grunt phone. I’ve never been as scared as I was the times I had to run to that grunt phone, bullet impacts dancing on the tank’s armor, their ricochets flashing like fistfuls of thrown pennies. I needed to get on the grunt phone to tell the tanks where to shoot. The tank crew would listen to music on their intercom, so if no one was talking you’d hear pop songs when you held the handset to your ear. The tankers I worked with liked Britney Spears. The squat crew chief, who looked like he was born to fit inside of a tank, told me that he played the music because it helped everyone in the tank stay “frosty.”

–Lieutenant Elliot Ackerman on the Battle of Falluja, 2004.

This is actually a gripping little account of the fighting in Falluja, but it was the tankers listening to Britney Spears that weirded me out the most.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Tapestry of Thrones

In the Ulster Museum, modeled of course on the Bayeux Tapestry. This video has the first seven seasons, of which this is only a small sample.

More on Education Costs

Alex Tabarrok and Eric Helland take on the question of why education costs keep rising:
The most popular explanation why the cost of education has increased is bloat. Elizabeth Warren and Chris Christie, for example, have both blamed climbing walls and lazy rivers for higher tuition costs. Paul Campos argues that the real reason college costs are growing is “the constant expansion of university administration.” Redundant administrators are also commonly blamed for rising public school costs.

The bloat theory is superficially plausible. The lazy rivers do exist! But the bloat theory requires longer and lazier rivers every year, which is less plausible. It’s also peculiar that the cost of education is rising in both lower and higher education and in public and private colleges despite very different competitive structures. Indeed, it’s suspicious that in higher education bloat is often blamed on competition–the “amenities arms race“–while in lower education bloat is often blamed on lack of competition! An all-purpose theory doesn’t explain much.

More importantly, the data reject the bloat theory. Figure 8 shows spending shares in higher education. Contrary to the bloat theory, the administrative share of spending has not increased much in over thirty years. The research share, where you might expect to find higher lab costs, has fluctuated a little but also hasn’t risen much. The plant share which is where you might expect to find lazy rivers has even gone down a little, at least compared to the early 1980s.
In other words there is some increase in administrative costs, but they are rising at the same rate as the cost of instruction and remain a small part of the overall picture.

The only explanation for which they find evidence is Baumol's Cost Disease, a theory that says as most of the economy becomes more labor efficient, costs in areas where labor does not become more efficient rise exponentially. Since education is done at the same ratio of teachers to students, the cost goes up every year.

I find this significant because Tabarrok at least is a libertarian prone to blaming bureaucracy for everything, so if he find that administrative bloat can't explanation rising college costs, I tend to believe him.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Imagining Ancient Cities

Ur, circa 2100 BC. Every time I try to trace this back to its source I end up at a university site to which I can't get access, so it will have to remain anonymous for now. This seems to be a common problem with older reconstructions like this one, or at least I keep having it.

Knossos, c. 1700 BC, Sir Arthur Evans.

Thebes, c. 1400 BC, by J.C. Golvin. Golvin is a professional recreater of the ancient and medieval worlds and his wonderful web site has dozens of examples. I could have done this whole post with his work but I didn't want to steal too much of it.

Nineveh, circa 650 BC by Henry Layard, 1849.

Babylon c. 570 BC by Rocío Espín Piñar, following the work of Robert Koldewey, 1900-1917.

Persepolis c 500 BC by Charles Chipiez, c. 1880.

The Acropolis of Athens, c. 410 BC, by Leo von Klenze, 1846.

Alexandria, with the Lighthouse, c. 250 BC. Engraving by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, 1720.

Punic Carthage by J.C. Golvin.

Port of Appollonia, Libya by J.C. Golvin.

Jerusalem with Herod's temple, by James Tissot, 1886.

Ancient Rome, photo of the 4,500-square foot model by Italo Gismond.

Rome, 180 AD, from the movie Gladiator.

Constantinople under Justianian I, by Antoine Helbert.

Angkor Wat, AD 1200, by Bruno Levy

Tenochtitlan, Mexico, AD 1500, by Ignacio Marquina.

Childe Hassam

Childe Hassam (1859–1935) was one of the founders of American Impressionism. Once very famous, his paintings collected by all the top museums, he has lately nearly disappeared from the big time art world. However he remains popular with the studios that will repaint classic works for your living room (Moonlight, 1992)

Hassam was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a descendant of early settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His family wanted to send him to Harvard, as befitted his ancestry, but he noticed that they had fallen on rough times financially so he decided to get a job to help out. He worked as an accountant for the publishers Little, Brown & Company and in his spare time studied engraving and painting. This is one of the few paintings I have found from his pre-Impressionist days, Rainy Day, Boston, 1885.

In 1882 Hassam set himself up as a freelance illustrator and also began selling paintings; he had his first solo show in 1883. By 1886 he was quite successful. This, Boston Common at Twilight (1885), was his first painting to draw big time attention – it is now in Boston's MFA – and it shows the first stages of his move toward Impressionism.

In 1886 the newly married Hassam moved to Paris to continue his artistic studies. He first enrolled in the Académie Julian, but they were still teaching precise academic painting, not the Impressionism that had captivated him, so he quickly dropped out and continued his studies on his own. (View in Monmartre, 1889)

In 1889 Hassam returned to America. He thereafter divided his time among the age's great cities – New York, Boston, and Philadelphia – and rural retreats, especially to the Maine coast. It was his cityscapes that especially made his reputation, and many New Yorkers in particular considered him the greatest painter of their city. (Snowstorm in Madison Square, 1890)

Washington Arch, Spring, 1893

Coast Scene, Isle of Shoals, 1901, now in the Met.

In 1918 Hassam did a series of paintings of the flags hung up in New York to celebrate the end of World War I. These were so popular that he eventually painted dozens to meet the demand. They are now called his "flag paintings." Barack Obama had one hanging in the Oval Office for a while. (Avenue of the Allies, 1918)

But I was moved to write about Hassam by his gardens, always my favorite Impressionist subjects. Celia Thaxter's Garden, 1890, and detail. Also in the Met.

The Water Garden, 1909.

Afternoon Sky, Harney Desert, 1908. Looking at this, you can see why so many people buy reproductions of his work to hang in their houses. Lovely.