Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Neolithic Burial Tomb from Brittany, 3500-3000 BC

Bryn Celli, Anglesey

You probably know that the Neolithic people of far western Europe buried their dead in large group tombs. After all some of them are very famous, like Maeshowe and Newgrange. However, all of those huge mounds were looted long ago and the bones scattered, so we actually don't know very much about the burials they once held. We usually can't tell how the skeletons were deposited, what sort of grave goods accompanied them, over what period of time each chamber was used, how the people were sorted into different groups, all the things we would like to know about Neolithic burial practice. After all those tombs were the greatest monuments of the age and took immense labor to build, so knowing how they were used would tell us much about what those people most valued.

This explains the excitement that has greeted the excavation of a Neolithic chamber tomb in Brittany. (French  report from INRAP here, English from The History Blog here.) This picture shows the overall layout of the tomb, which was excavated into soft chalk rock.

At least 50 people (based on the number of skulls) were buried in this underground chamber, in two layers; bottom layer is directly above, top layer above that.

The really interesting results will come with DNA and other scientific analysis of the bones. We may learn how closely these people were related, how many were foreigners, how healthy they were, what they ate, how many died by violence. But meanwhile we have this pictures of grave goods, some predator's canine tooth  pierced for stringing, and a necklace of limestone beads.

If the burials are a good indication, this society ought to have been much different from later European civilizations. These were communal tombs, apparently used by whole communities, with little evidence of a noble class. So far it seems that this really was a much less unequal society than what came later, and scientific study of enough burials might help prove that was the case.


And little he knew of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man’s thought for the wonder of later years, and tell of happenings that are gone clean away, and be a voice for us out of the dark of time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries, even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills.

–Lord Dunsany

Friday, November 29, 2019

Joseph Chinard

Joseph Chinard (1756-1813) was a French sculptor who lived through the most tumultuous period of his country's history, and I am fascinated both by his art and the way he prospered through revolution and counter-revolution alike.

The Getty:
In a biography of Joseph Chinard read to the Academy of Lyon a year after his death, a local historian reported that the sculptor's first attempts at art were confections made for the local bakers and candymakers in Lyons. Whether this legend is true or not, it speaks to the qualities of intimacy, delicacy, and refinement for which Chinard's work was so admired. He received his first formal training at a free, government-supported art school in Lyon and later studied in a workshop. From 1784 to 1787 he worked in Rome, sending back to Lyon copies of antique works to fulfill commissions from the local bourgeoisie and nobility. During this period, he won the first prize in sculpture from the Accademia di San Luca, a rare accomplishment for a foreigner.
Above and top show an unfinished marble version of the sculpture that won him the prize, Perseus Freeing Andromeda, 1791.

And then of course came the Revolution. Such times:
In 1791 he departed again for Rome with various commissions, including candelabra bases for the merchant van Risambourg representing Apollo Trampling Superstition and Jupiter Striking Down Aristocracy. The terracotta models for these were seen as attacks on religion and led to his arrest in September 1792. Imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo, he was released and expelled from Rome in November. Back in Lyon Chinard received a hero's welcome; but, ironically, works he designed soon thereafter for his native city's Hôtel de Ville were perceived as counter-revolutionary. As a result he was denounced and imprisoned in October 1793. 
Portrait of an Unknown Revolutionary, 1795, now in the Met. The force of this work comes from portraying an anonymous, informal, hip, possibly radical young man with trendy hair in a severe classical style. Chinard is generally classed as a neoclassical sculptor, but a work like this shows a much more personal and immediate touch.

Despite having already been jailed by both sides and repeatedly denounced by partisans of both for secretly favoring the other, Chinard continued to thrive as an artist. Jailed by both sides, but also hired by both sides. (Portrait of an Unknown Woman, now in the Louvre.)

Chinard prospered under the Napoleonic regime and completed many fine busts of elite French men and women. I love this one, Vincent de Margnolas, 1809 - what a dandy.

Bust of Madme de Verninac as Diana, 1800-08.

A terracotta portrait of Madame de Recamier, whom Chinard sculpted several times. In the Getty.

General Joseph Piston, 1812.

So Chinard went on with his work, sculpting religious and classical scenes in Rome, young revolutionaries under the Convention, generals under Napoleon. Keep pushing on, as they say. (The Artist's Wife, 1803)

Hopes for Childlren

Gideon Lewis-Kraus:
To spend time with a child is to dwell under the terms of an uneasy truce between the possibility of the present and the inevitability of the future. Our deepest hope for the children we love is that they will enjoy the liberties of an open-ended destiny, that their desires will be given the free play they deserve, that the circumstances of their birth and upbringing will be felt as opportunities rather than encumbrances; our greatest fear is that they will feel thwarted by forces beyond their control.
This resonated very strongly with me, and made me wonder if this defines the modern condition as well as anything else.

Links 29 November 2019

Lourdes Sanchez, Medusa

David Brooks thinks the populist revolts of the past decade are giving way to a wave of middle class revolts against the populists.

Trigger warnings may be the polite thing to do, but there is no evidence that they actually reduce psychological trauma.

Is a new iron curtain rising between the US and China?

Caste is still very powerful in India: "I show that 43% of workers refuse to spend ten minutes working on tasks associated with other castes, even when offered ten times their daily wage."

Thinking like an Evangelical.

A little review of Transcranial direct Current Stimulation, that is, zapping your head with 0.002 amperes of electricity, which some people think might make us smarter and happier and others roll their eyes at.

Mr. Rogers and the dark emotions of children.

Will AI reinforce or undermine authoritarian states?

Jonathan Haidt ponders how to improve social media.

Dianna Wood power-washes drawings onto dirty driveways.

Selling a farm that has been in the family for 240 years.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Itinerant Traders of London, 1804

Some illustrations and captions from William Marshall Craig’s 1804 Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume with Notices of Remarkable Places given in the Background. Many more at Spitalfields Life.

Baking and boiling apples are cried in the streets of the metropolis from their earliest appearance in sumer throughout the whole winter. Prodigious quantities of apples are brought to the London markets, where they are sold by the hundred to the criers, who retail them about the streets in pennyworths, or at so much per dozen according to their quality. In winter, the barrow woman usually stations herself at the corner of a street, and is supplied with a pan of lighted charcoal, over which, on a plate of tin, she roasts a part of her stock, and disposes of her hot apples to the labouring men and shivering boys who pass her barrow.

Brick Dust is carried about the metropolis in small sacks on the backs of asses, and is sold at one penny a quart. As brick dust is scarcely used in London for any other purpose than that of knife cleaning, the criers are not numerous, but they are remarkable for their fondness and their training of bull dogs. This prediliction they have in common with the lamp lighters of the metropolis.

Doormats, of all kinds, rush and rope, from sixpence to four shillings each, with table mats of various sorts are daily cried through the streets of London. (The equestrian statue in brass of Charles II in Whitehall, cast in 1635 by Grinling Gibbons, was erected upon its present pedestal in 1678)

Bellows to mend. The bellows mender carries his tools and apparatus buckled in a leather bag to his back, and, like the chair mender, exercises his occupation in any convenient corner of the street. The bellows mender sometimes professes the trade of the tinker. (Smithfield where the great cattle market of London is held, on which days it is disagreeable, if not dangerous to pass in the early part of the day on account of the oxen passing from the market, on whom the drovers sometimes exercise great cruelty.)

Green Hastens! The earliest pea brought to the London market is distinguished by the name of “Hastens,” it belongs to the dwarf genus and is succeeded by the Hotspur. This early pea, the real Hastens, is raised in hotbeds and sold in the markets at the high price of a guinea per quart. The name of Hastens is however indiscriminately used by all the vendors to all the peas, and the cry of “Green Hastens!” resounds through every street and alley of London to the very latest crop of the season. Peas become plentiful and cheap in June, and are retailed from carts in the streets at tenpence, eightpence, and sixpence per peck.

Thanksgiving Considered as History

Charles Blow has a column today trashing Thanksgiving, which I will let stand in for all the others I have read over the years. Surely you have all seen this sort of thing before. The basic argument is that rather than being a feast of friendship, the original Thanksgiving meal was at best a pause in the ongoing conflict between English and Native Americans and at worst a ruse to lull the Indians into trusting their perfidious enemies, and that furthermore the Natives provided most of the food, which is just one example of how they foolishly helped the people who ended up destroying them.

It is certainly true that over the long term relations between Indians and New Englanders went from difficult to terrible, leading eventually to the cataclysm of King Philip's War (1675-1678), when the New England tribes were effectively destroyed.

Is that any reason to shun what was, so far as we can tell, a genuine attempt to improve relations? The actual story of Thanksgiving, at least as our English sources tell us, is that after two years of starvation the Pilgrims finally managed a decent harvest. Their first impulse was to offer thanks to God in a ritual of Thanksgiving, and their second was to invite their sometimes friends, the Wampanoags, to take part with them. No doubt it was a fraught occasion, since everybody on both sides knew that they had come close to war before and might end up killing each other in the future.

But while that seems shocking to us, it was the norm for most humans across most of history. People lived in small communities surrounded by other small communities with whom they might well fall into conflict. This is precisely why they developed this repertoire of strategies for furthering peace, like inviting a neighboring group to a Thanksgiving feast. There was a term in English for such an occasion, "loveday." The Wampanoags surely understood what was going on, because Native Americans had their own very similar set of rituals for making or reinforcing peace. In fact they had feasted with the leaders of Massachusetts in March of that same year to seal a treaty of mutual defense between the two groups. (See the picture above.)

The political background to that first Thanksgiving is this: after his tribe had been devastated by smallpox. the Wampanoag leader Massasoit feared that he might be attacked by his long-term rivals, the Narragansetts. So he pursued friendship with the Pilgrims, among other things supplying them with large amounts of food during their first winter. He was not acting from kindness, but from strategic calculation. It worked, too, leading as I said to a formal treaty that endured for 40 years.

Here's a good example of how Charles Blow and all those of similar mind insist on misreading the events of 1621:
After the visits to the New World by Samuel de Champlain and Capt. John Smith in the early 1600s, “a terrible illness spread through the region” among the Native Americans. . . . King James’s patent called this spread of disease “a wonderfull Plague” that might help to devastate and depopulate the region. Some friends.
"Wonderful," though, did not mean then what it means now. Like "awesome," it had no positive connotations, but referred to events that manifested the will of God in a vast and mysterious way. The Europeans had no more idea why plagues were killing the Indians than the Indians did. As they did with all events beyond their comprehension, they chalked the great dying off to the mysterious will of the Almighty, and then asked what this awesome sign might mean. Some of them thought it meant God wanted them to settle the New World and was clearing the Natives out of the way to encourage the program, but others were less sure. King James' original charter for Massachusetts actually has more to say about the Indian dying:
Within these late Yeares there hath by God's Visitation reigned a wonderfull Plague, together with many horrible Slaugthers, and Murthers, committed amoungst the Savages and brutish People there, heertofore inhabiting, in a Manner to the utter Destruction, Devastacion, and Depopulacion of that whole Territorye.
Which is true; Native Americans had been engaged for half a century in horrific warfare against each other. This did have something to do with the arrival of Europeans, in at least two ways: first, the diseases that devastated some communities upended the political balance. Second, the Natives sought to control the very valuable fur trade with the Europeans. When the Five Nations Iroquois realized that the Mohicans were trying to cut them off from the trade with the Dutch at Albany, they waged genocidal warfare until the Mohicans had been destroyed. Which is why there was a "Last of the Mohicans," and why leaders like Massasoit sought out the friendship of Europeans.

While the overall scene in the North America of 1620 was disturbed and violent, little of that can be laid on the doorstep of the Plymouth Colony, and the original Thanksgiving was one of the more pleasant incidents of that age. If we're going to choose a particular day for offering thanks, why not a day of peace and mutual respect between Europeans and Native Americans? Seems perfectly appropriate to me.

Which gets me to my real beef with Charles Blow and that whole school of hating on the past. What's the point? The goal of woke history seems to be to get white people to feel bad and non-white people to feel angry, and I want to ask in the most serious possible way whether that is a good idea. Yes, triumphal "America is the greatest place ever and has never done any wrong" history is annoying and wrong. European Americans have done plenty of wrong. But in my experience, making people feel bad about who they are is not a good strategy for promoting kindness and cooperation. White Americans are not going to disappear, so the future of our nation requires that white and non-white Americans get along. Anger and hatred, I submit, are not the way to achieve this, whether directed at others or at ourselves.

Some people like dwelling on the worst things about our past. I, while knowing all about the bad parts, prefer to dwell on the good. Which is why I am off now to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Today's Place to Daydream About: Thebes, Egypt

Thebes – the name conjures up ancient Egypt for me like no other. It was not the greatest city of Egypt or the oldest, but its temples have a unity of shape and theme that makes them seem to stand for the whole of that vast epoch, for after all the ancient Egyptian kingdom lasted for a longer time than all the centuries since its end.

Thebes began as a temple complex on the east bank of the Nile, in the city today known as Luxor. Thebes is a Greek rendering of its name, which in ancient Egyptian was ipet resyt, "the southern sanctuary." From before 3000 BC it was a center for the worship of the god Amun, and it was sometimes known as Pa-Amun. The Hebrew prophets referred to it several times under the name of No-Amon.

The glory days of Thebes came under the New Kingdom (c.1570-c.1069 BCE), when it served as the kingdom's capital. Here ruled some of the most famous Egyptian pharaohs: Amenhotep III, Thutmose I, Hatshepsut, Seti I, Ramesses II -- Ramses in the old style -- Akhenaten, Tutankhamun.  The place goes by several names, so let me clarify: Luxor is the modern city, Thebes the ancient city, Karnak the great temple complex at its center.

It is these temples with their lotus capitals that most mean "Egypt"  to me, not the pyramids.

These temples were vastly wealthy. One pharaoh, Ramesses III, gifted them with estates worked by 86,000 slaves.

Plan of the main temple complex and reconstruction by J.C. Golvin. At its peak around 1400 BC the place had 80,000 inhabitants and may have been the largest city in the world.

On the opposite bank of the Nile is the great necropolis known as the Valley of the Kings.

There are so many spectacular tombs and paintings that no one gets a chance to see them  all.

The city declined after the end of the New Kingdom and it was savagely sacked by the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal in 666 BC. By Roman times it was mostly a ruin.

Luxor was visited by tourists in Hellenistic and Roman times, but the business really got going when steamers began ascending the Nile from Cairo in the 1840s.

Thomas Cook got his start as a travel agent leading tours to Egypt; this is one, shown at Karnak. It is true that Egypt is a political disaster and terrorism a problem, but surely the troubles you would face now are less than those faced by travelers in the 1890s. So go. And if you can't go, send your imagination there, and walk among the temples and the tombs with me.

New Data on Rising Death Rates in the US

Study of census data from 2010-2017 suggests that deaths in the 25-64 age group have risen for the country has a whole, not just one group:
According to the new study, the death rate from 2010 to 2017 for all causes among people ages 25 to 64 increased from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 348.2 deaths per 100,000. It was clear statistically by 2014 that it was not just whites who were affected, but all racial and ethnic groups and that the main causes were drug overdoses, alcohol and suicides.

“The fact that it’s so expansive and involves so many causes of death — it’s saying that there’s something broader going on in our country,” said Ellen R. Meara, a professor of health policy at Dartmouth College. “This no longer limited to middle-aged whites.” . . .

Dr. Woolf said one of the findings showed that the excess deaths were highly concentrated geographically, with fully a third of them in just four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana.
The only states where the death rate actually fell were California and Wyoming.

Statistically this has two components: the rising death toll of suicide and drugs, and a slowing in the decline of the death rate from heart disease, cancer, and vehicle accidents. If the death rate for those causes had continued to fall at the rate we saw from 1950-2000, that might have outweighed the increase in "deaths of despair." But the general medical progress we got used to has been slowed by many changes, including increased obesity, diabetes, and distracted driving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Mummified Lion Cubs

A group of five mummies from Bubasteion necropolis in Saqqara, Egypt have been identified as lion cubs.They date to between 664 and 525 BC.

Controlled Burn, Manassas, Virginia

Anybody have a clue what that nest could have been? They seemed like bird eggs, hard rather than leathery, and they were about the size of small hen's eggs.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

What's the Deal with Susan Sontag?

The publication of a new biography put Susan Sontag (1933-2004) in all the literary magazines last month, and caused me to wonder again, who the heck was she? What did she do? How did she get famous?

My first thought was to dismiss her as just another narcissistic celebrity – an intellectual celebrity, true, but so far as I knew without anything special to say. And then I thought, how much Susan Sontag have you actually read? This stopped me, because while I had a vague memory that I had read some of her essays a long time ago I was not even sure of that, and I certainly had not read any of her books. So I thought that before I wrote anything dismissive about someone so highly regarded I ought to take another look.

I started by listening to The Volcano Lover, her 1992 novel that gets described all over as an “unlikely” or “surprise” best-seller. This is an interesting book, and I enjoyed it, but it is not much of a novel. The best parts are either historical, for example her account of the 1799 revolution in Naples, which briefly installed a pro-French regime called the Parthenopean Republic, or little essays, especially one on the mindset of the collector. Reading more about Sontag I learned that she longed to be a famous novelist and bitterly resented that serious literary people never liked her novels as much as her essays. (Terry Castle, on The American: “Has any other major literary figure written such an excruciatingly turgid book?”) But listening to The Volcano Lover I quickly learned why. Sontag cannot tell a human story; a political one, yes, but not one about people. She also seems to be such an intense rationalist that she has a weak grip on emotion. Her writing is clear but completely lacks the lyricism that one expects at least glimpses of in any work of fiction; she admires no sunsets, is swept away by nothing.

According to the back cover, this book tells the story of the famous affair between Admiral Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton, but this is only partially correct. The affair fills only the last third or so of the book. Most of what comes before focuses on Lady Hamilton's husband, Sir James Hamilton, who was for 37 years the English ambassador to the Court of Naples. Sontag is not very good at describing passionate love but she paints a remarkable portrait of Sir James, who was best known as a collector of Italian art and ancient Greek and Roman artifacts and for being the world’s foremost volcanologist. I also liked her Lady Hamilton, but I imagine many women would not. Lady Hamilton’s undoubted talents (for example, she quickly learned French, Italian, and the Neapolitan dialect as an adult) are downplayed in favor of meditating on what a warm-hearted creature of emotion she was, who captivated men largely because she exactly fit their stereotypes of what a woman should be. Sontag has a lot to say about the differences between women and men, and you get the feeling that she always, always identifies with the male half of these dichotomies.

The worst character in The Volcano Lover is Sontag’s Horatio Nelson. He comes across as just another ambitious man on the make, climbing his way up through the Royal Navy as he might through a big bank. And maybe there was some element of that in Nelson’s character. But it is impossible to imagine Sontag’s Nelson standing on the deck amidst the carnage of a Napoleonic naval battle, calmly issuing orders in what one observer described as “a joyous state of ecstasy.” Nelson took risk after risk with both his commands and his person in an almost desperate search for “glory,” one of his favorite words: “I am envious only of glory; for if it be a sin to covet glory I am the most offending soul alive.” Some who knew Nelson thought he believed he was fated to die in battle, and in fact he kept going back into the maelstrom again and again, losing an eye, losing an arm, until finally he was shot down at his post in the midst of his greatest victory. His Viking attitude toward battle and death seems to have completely eluded Sontag; I had the impression that she simply could not imagine such a thing, and she certainly lacked the words to convey it.

But anyway Sontag’s reputation rests, not on her widely dismissed novels, but on her essays. The most famous, Against Interpretation, can be found at the link, and I highly recommend it. It is short, clear, boldly written, and (I think) entirely correct. Sontag takes on the habit of “explaining” art by insisting that it is really “about” something else, as we used to get from Marxists or Freudians and now get from identity theorists:
Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. 
Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world—in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is to turn the world into this world. (“This world”! As if there were any other.) The world, our world, is depleted, impoverished enough. Away with all duplicates of it, until we again experience more immediately what we have.
It is not particularly original, since artists have been complaining about their interpreters since at least the time of the Romantic poets, but it is quite fine.

Sontag’s other famous essay is “Notes on Camp”. The essay is about two things, the “camp” attitude toward art, and the worldview of New York homosexuals in the 1960s:
To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization. To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized – or at least apolitical. . . . Camp art is often decorative art, emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content. . . . Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style – but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not.
I would say this is another very fine essay. It lacks the clear, tight argument of “Against Interpretation,” but the subject matter hardly lends itself to logical rigor.

It is also an introduction to Sontag’s place in gay culture. Sontag never “came out” and hated to be called a lesbian, but her marriage to a man was a total failure and thereafter she had a series of passionate relationships with women. When she emerged onto the New York scene in the 1960s nobody thought it strange that she was quiet about her sexuality, but by the 80s people began to comment. She lost several gay friends when she wrote a book about AIDS without revealing her sexuality. People determined to interpret her career (in exactly the way she warned against) put a lot of emphasis on her position as a closeted gay woman who even in private was never comfortable with a gay identity.

I could go on, but the other essays I have found are much in the same vein: quite good but not, to me anyway, particularly revelatory or ground-breaking. (Her short New Yorker piece on 9-11 is also online, and given another glimpse of her style.) This leads me to think that the real source of Sontag's fame was not her writing but the impact of her personality on people she met. She was, everyone agreed, brilliant, with lightning-quick thought backed by extraordinary reading in literature, criticism, history, and philosophy. She loved opera, especially obscure operas hardly anyone has ever seen performed, but she also loved contemporary music and movies. In explaining her ideas she might reference anything from Aristotle to the latest Hollywood romance. But what really struck people was her brash, almost abrasive cool; one friend said that at her core was an “adamantine hardness.” In conversation she made no concessions to femininity, but went at her interlocutors in a way that struck everyone as male. Lauren Elkin:
Sontag had no time for the kind of faux humility that women are conditioned to perform anytime anyone shows interest in what we do. She gave no fucks, in the lingo of the internet, a particular patois she did not live to see.
Her masculine toughness made a striking contrast to the century's most famous female novelists and poets, who had made almost a cult of sadness and weakness. Leslie Jamison: :
I found myself increasingly drawn to Susan Sontag as a psychic opposite to the sad-lady sirens I’d worshiped. Sontag was rigorously impersonal in her approach, stubbornly un-fragile, stoic in her persona on the page. She’d written an entire book about cancer (“Illness as Metaphor,” 1978) without once mentioning she’d had it. Her restraint — her refusal to display her intellect through the portals of her wounds — loomed large in my mind as a kind of stylistic superego, reprimanding me for relying on the easy crutch of vulnerability, for peddling the soft tissue of the personal.
Sontag made such an impression on people that several of them wrote memoirs about their friendships with her, a couple of them book length.  People agreed that she was a “great” person, a word that comes up again and again. On the other hand, all of those memoirs end in disappointment; Sontag's narcissism kept her from being a reliable friend, or any other sort of stable presence in another's life. Terry Castle:
No doubt hundreds (thousands?) of people knew Susan Sontag better than I did. For ten years ours was an on-again, off-again, semi-friendship, constricted by role-playing and shot through in the end with mutual irritation. Over the years I labored to hide my growing disillusion, especially during my last ill-fated visit to New York, when she regaled me – for the umpteenth time – about the siege of Sarajevo, the falling bombs, and how the pitiful Joan Baez had been too terrified to come out of her hotel room. Sontag flapped her arms and shook her big mannish hair – inevitably described in the press as a ‘mane’ – contemptuously. That woman is a fake! She tried to fly back to California the next day! I was there for months. Through all of the bombardment, of course, Terry. Then she ruminated. Had I ever met Baez? Was she a secret lesbian? I confessed that I’d once waited in line behind the folk singer at my cash machine (Baez lives near Stanford) and had taken the opportunity to inspect the hairs on the back of her neck. Sontag, who sensed a rival, considered this non-event for a moment, but after further inquiries, was reassured that I still preferred her to Ms Diamonds and Rust. 
Oh, the pettiness of the celebrity narcissist. And the strangeness:
She’d been telling me about the siege and how a Yugoslav woman she had taken shelter with had asked her for her autograph, even as bombs fell around them. She relished the woman’s obvious intelligence (‘Of course, Terry, she’d read The Volcano Lover, and like all Europeans, admired it tremendously’) and her own sangfroid. Then she stopped abruptly and asked, grim-faced, if I’d ever had to evade sniper fire. I said, no, unfortunately not. Lickety-split she was off – dashing in a feverish crouch from one boutique doorway to the next, white tennis shoes a blur, all the way down the street to Restoration Hardware and the Baskin-Robbins store. Five or six perplexed Palo Altans stopped to watch as she bobbed zanily in and out, ducking her head, pointing at imaginary gunmen on rooftops and gesticulating wildly at me to follow. No one, clearly, knew who she was, though several of them looked as if they thought they should know who she was.
How is it that we take such people seriously? Do they really have something to offer, their work or their talents or what have you, that excuses their absurdity? Or do we secretly envy them their self-involvement, their insistence on caring only about their own desires in a way that the rest of us cannot? I wonder.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Parenthood and Crime



Graphs showing that both mothers and fathers commit many fewer crimes in the three years after a birth than in the three years before. At first I was amazed that women 8 months pregnant commit crime at a detectable rate, but then I read the fine print and saw that the numbers include drug crimes and DUIs. The effect is larger than the estimated effect of a 20-year prison sentence.

Via Marginal Revolutions

Links 22 November 2019

Embroidered cloth from San Nicolás, Mexico.

The crazy story of a possibly fraudulent Indian prince whose family lives in an overgrown ruin.

Ways to reduce the staggering CO2 admissions from making concrete.

Small town football in the concussion era.

Two bits of energy news: Pennsylvania's largest coal-fired power plant is closing, and German steelmaker Thyssenkrupp has demonstrated making steel using hydrogen as fuel, without coal.

Rediscovering Sci-Fi and Fantasy writer John M. Ford. I can't remember ever reading him; anyone know his work and have an opinion?

How Chilean protesters took down a drone with ordinary laser pointers.

The Cult of the Literary Sad Woman. Recovering alcoholic Leslie Jamison ponders all the sad women of modern literature – Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Plath – and wonders how to get beyond all that.

An argument that Trump's pardons encourage war crimes.

The problem with impeaching Trump by secret ballot: it would further undermine trust in government.

Massive cache of documents reveals much about what Iranian intelligence services are doing in Iraq.

BallerBusters, an  Instagram account that busts self-proclaimed business gurus who pose with rented jets and the like.

Tesla announces a new factory in Germany. Not, you will note, some place with cheap labor or weak environmental regulations.