Monday, December 30, 2019

The Most Devastating Cyberattack

Tim Kreider:
I’ve often thought that the single most devastating cyberattack a diabolical and anarchic mind could design would not be on the military or financial sector but simply to simultaneously make every e-mail and text ever sent universally public. It would be like suddenly subtracting the strong nuclear force from the universe; the fabric of society would instantly evaporate, every marriage, friendship and business partnership dissolved. Civilization, which is held together by a fragile web of tactful phrasing, polite omissions and white lies, would collapse in an apocalypse of bitter recriminations and weeping, breakups and fistfights, divorces and bankruptcies, scandals and resignations, blood feuds, litigation, wholesale slaughter in the streets and lingering ill will.
This is from "I Know What You Think of Me," an essay that has become very famous in certain internet circles because of this passage:
Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom. There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.
Which has led to all sorts of responses like this:

We Are Helping the Poor

Interesting chart from Kevin Drum showing that if you take government help into account – Medicaid, Food Stamps, the EITC – the incomes of poor Americans have risen much more than those in the middle. From his post on his best charts of 2019.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Today's Place to Daydream about: The Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides are a chain of wind-swept islands that stretch for 130 miles (210 km) off the northwest coast of Scotland. Fifteen of the islands are inhabited, with a total population of about 27,000, and there are dozens of uninhabited islands. A majority of the inhabitants speak Gaelic. The main islands are Barra, North and South Uist, Harris, and Lewis. Yes, that's a picture of Scotland, to be specific the Island of Lewis, with sweeping sand beaches and turquoise water. Too bad it's probably freezing.

Map showing the shape of the islands, and how exposed they are to Atlantic swells and storms. The motto of the local tourism board is "Experience Life on the Edge." The oldest evidence of human presence on the islands dates to Mesolithic times, around 6500 BC, which is like the rest of Scotland. To me this shows how restless and adventurous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers could be; they just kept going until the ocean stopped them.

The islands are a famous spot for walking, if you don't mind rough weather. You are warned that
Some of terrain is as rugged as anywhere else in Scotland and the weather here in the Outer Hebrides is famously changeable – very often, you will experience all four seasons in one day.
The picture shows a view from the Clisham Horseshoe, a 9-mile (15 km) route on Harris which this web site says is one of the ten best hikes in the British Isles.

There is a trail that runs the length of the island chain, called the Hebridean Way: 156 miles (250 km), 10 islands, 6 causeways and 2 ferries. There is also a biking trail that runs the same distance along a somewhat different route.

The Hebridean Way begins on Vatersay, a small island at the southern end of the chain. On Vatersay it passes several bogs, like this one full of Bog Bean. Besides the changeable weather the islands are also famous for midges.

On Vatersay you pass by the first evidence of the ancient past, stone round house foundations dating to the Iron Age.

The trail crosses a causeway to Barra and passes by Kisimul Castle, built in the 1400s. From the 700s to after 1200 the island was dominated by Vikings, sometimes part of the Kingdom of Mann. In the 1200s the kings of Scotland got control of the area, and it later became part of the Lordship of the Isles. The MacDonalds granted this stronghold to the MacNeils, who held it through the 15th and 16th centuries. They were great pirates and often preyed on English shipping, especially in the time of Elizabeth I, when they supported the Spanish cause in the war of the Spanish Armada.

From Barra you catch a ferry to Eriskay and then cross a causeway to South Uist. Here the scenery is spectacular, with both high hills and sweeping beaches.

Historic sites abound, from ruined castles and monasteries to standing stones to the Bronze Age Site of Cladh Hallan, where strange mummies were found composed of parts from several different people. In the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries the islands were troubled by murderous clan warfare involving characters with names like Black Archibald, Donald the Hunchback, Donald Gorm and Donald Gormson. These feuding islanders caused so much trouble that at one point Mary of Guise, Regent for Mary Queen of Scots while she was in prison, issued "Letters of Fire and Sword" to two Scottish Earls, calling on them to exterminate all the clan leaders of the Uists. They endured, though, until they were finally put down in the aftermath of Bonnie Prince Charlie's 1745 rebellion. Over the century after that defeat thousands of islanders left, some heading to Glasgow, others to North America or Australia.

One  crosses by causeway to North Uist, and then by ferry to Harris. Harris is the most mountainous part of the Hebrides, with thirty hills rising to over 1,000 feet (300 meters).

Harris is best known as the place where Harris Tweed is made. These days the wool comes from the mainland, but it is still prepared, dyed, and woven on Harris using traditional methods. The dyes are made locally from plants that include lichen, seaweed, nettle, bog myrtle and iris.

The most famous church in the islands is St. Clement's in Rodel.

The outside is nothing special but the interior includes some wonderful tombs, like this one of Alasdair MacLeod, from 1528.

Detail. The figure at the top left is the Virgin Mary, and next to her, holding a skull, is St Clement. To the right is a galley under sail. St Michael and the Devil weigh the souls of the dead, next to the Latin inscription which translates as: "This tomb was prepared by Lord Alexander, son of William MacLeod, Lord of Dunvegan, in the year of our Lord 1528".

Beyond Harris is Lewis, actually part of the same island but connected only by a narrow spit. Lewis is geologically quite different, low and flat rather than hilly.

Lewis is home to yet more wonderful monuments, most famously the standing stones of Calanais.

There is a wonderful Pictish broch from the first century AD, known as Dun Carloway.

At Garenin you can visit a small village of restored "Blackhouses", as the traditional stone houses of the islands are called.

The Hebridean Way takes you to Stornaway, with 8,000 people by far the largest town in the islands. Here many people stop and catch the ferry back to the mainland.

Others continue on to the Butt of Lewis at the islands' far northern tip, where there is a famous lighthouse. You have come a long way by this point, however you are travelling, but you have seen wonderful things.

Friday, December 27, 2019

A Year of Haruki Murakami

A few years ago I read a novel by Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which I rather enjoyed. Then this year I found myself on a sort of Haruki Murakami binge, reading or listening to five more novels (A Wild Sheep Chase, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Dance, Dance, Dance, and Killing Commendatore) and three novellas (Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, and After Dark). You may be thinking, "Wow, you must really love Haruki Murakami," but that isn't quite true. I like Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work. But what really kept me coming back all year is puzzlement over how a strange, idiosyncratic writer who violates every rule ever set down for creating best sellers has been so consistently successful. How can one get rich and famous writing books with very little sex or violence and hardly a moment of suspense or tension?

Haruki Murakami was born in 1949, the son of two literature professors and grandson of a Buddhist priest. His father had fought in Manchuria during the Russian offensive of 1945 and was psychologically scarred by the experience. In 1974, after graduating from college, Murakami founded a jazz club which he ran with his wife for seven years, until he was struck with a sudden inspiration to write. He is much involved with western culture, especially music and literature, and he is more likely to mention Coltrane, Mozart or Tolstoy than any Japanese cultural figure. He speaks fluent English and has personally overseen the English translations of his works, as well as translating several English novels in to Japanese. It took him only a few years to become a successful writer, and for the past 25 years he has been by far the most successful Japanese novelist; one of his books sold a million copies in the first week after its publication.

The typical Murakami narrator is a Japanese man who completely lacks the career ambition that defines conventional Japanese masculinity. He is a small-time artist or would-be writer or owns a small translation business, or perhaps he works in some support role like researcher for a law firm. As the story begins he may not be working at all, because he has lost his job or quit in disgust or lost his wife and gone off on a months long camping trip to think things over. So he spends a lot of time puttering around his house or apartment, cooking, cleaning, running errands. Often he has a wife who is much more ambitious and careerist than he is, who may or may not be having affairs with more handsome, more ambitious men. He has been tangentially involved in the protests and radical movements that swept Japanese universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but he has no politics to speak of beyond a vague dissatisfaction with Japan as it is. In the first two novellas he is something of a wit and a jerk, but after that he is consistently a really nice guy, considerate of others, determined to do the right thing. What he is doing while everyone else is working or romancing is trying to figure out who he is. This is, to me, the defining thing about Murakami's writing, the relentless quest for self-understanding.

Murakami is often classed as a writer of "magical realism." There are certainly things in his books that transcend the laws of physics as generally understood, but these are very limited and operate mostly within people's minds. I have thought at times that Murakami's world is a lot like that of the National Enquirer. There are cursed houses where everyone commits suicide, cursed families where everyone meets a bad end, significant dreams that predict the future or guide us through it, visions that convey profound things about our lives, mediums or "sensitives" who feel things others cannot. There is also a sort of shamanistic other world where psychological events and forces take physical form, and characters hold important conversations with spirit guides or do battle with sinister spiritual enemies. The "reality" of these events in the other world is open to question, and often the narrator is not sure if he is dreaming or not. And anyway these otherworldly events are not relevant to anyone else, but are exclusively part of his own quest for meaning. (Except, sort of, in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles.)

A typical Murakami plot goes something like this, abstracted from A Wild Sheep Chase: the narrator, recently divorced, bored with running his small advertising business, receives a letter in the mail from an old friend who disappeared some years before. The letter contains a black and white photograph of sheep grazing in a mountain meadow, completely innocuous looking, and a request that he use it in something. So he puts the photograph in a brochure for a life insurance company. Immediately, crazy things start to happen. He is contacted by the private secretary of a secretive political figure who seems to control all of Japan from behind the scenes, and who has had visions of exactly the sheep in that photograph, which incidentally are a breed never raised in Japan, which launches the narrator on a journey that is partly in search of sheep but mostly of himself. Etc. To a remarkable extent, nothing much happens, certainly nothing conventionally exciting. People talk and think and dream. They travel around Japan, but their travels are mostly just strings of hotels, restaurants, and conversations. In the end the reader is generally left wondering whether any of the questions that drive the narrator's quest have been or ever will be answered.

Certain things come up over and over again. Wells, especially dry wells, in which a character may spend many hours of self-reflection; teenage girls who ask brutally frank questions about sex and adult life in general; mysterious millionaires who drive British cars; western jazz and classical music; memories of World War II, especially echoes of atrocities committed by and against Japanese soldiers; hotel corridors; intense sexual dreams; characters obsessing over how boring or weird or ugly their names are.

To get back to where I started: what makes Murakami so popular? Partly it must be his style, which is charming and quirky, full of amusing little asides. But I think the key is the celebration of self-exploration. Japan seems to be full of people who resent or resist the pressure toward conformity and careerism, and Murakami's characters are collectively the patron saint of Japanese anti-conformism. People read him to see self-exploration and self-understanding portrayed as the most important things we can do. The message does not seem narcissistic because Murakami's characters are anything but self-involved; they are the kind of people who haven't sorted out what they want because they work so hard at taking care of others. They are loyal friends, loyal spouses. The crisis that launches their exploration often begins when someone else abandons them, leaving them to wonder what they should have done differently. They bumble around, trying to be good, trying to do the right thing, trying to figure out both the strange events unfolding around them and their own place in the universe. Told in the right way, with the right voice and the right amount of quirkiness, this seems to be a winning formula.

If you are curious about Murakami, I recommend starting with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. This was my favorite so far and best explains the place of the shamanistic other world in Murakami's view of human life. If you have a taste for science fiction you might try Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is quite different from the others I have read. It interweaves two plots, one a strange near-future sci-fi story featuring a mad scientist, the other a fantasy set in a very small, fairy tale sort of universe; the two plots come together and force the narrator to choose what sort of life he wants, and under what circumstances he considers life worth living. If you prefer fiction without any magical elements Murakami's first two novellas have been published in a volume titled Wind/Pinball, and I thought them quite fine.


Jonathan Rauch on why we are seeing a surge in angry political polarization now:
One of the most important characteristics of this "new" form of polarization is that there is nothing new about it. Tribalism has been the prevalent mode of social organization for all but approximately the most recent 2% of years that humans have lived on the planet. What needs explaining is, first, why it should be asserting itself so powerfully now after decades of relative dormancy, and, second, why our standard means of containing it seem to be failing.

As to the first question — why so much tribalism right now? — the causes are, as social scientists say, overdetermined. There is no shortage of reasons why public demand for extreme polarization might have increased. Among those commonly cited is the decline of civic organizations like unions and clubs, which has reduced individuals' sense of connectedness and agency, impelling people toward connectedness through identity and tribe. Stagnant wage growth for the less-educated causes disappointment and resentment, creating openness to demagoguery. The declining hold of organized religion and especially the collapse of mainline Protestant denominations have displaced apocalyptic and redemptive impulses into politics, where they don't belong. Identity politics on the left and market fundamentalism on the right erode the feeling of shared citizenship and identity. Changing demographics and high penetration by immigrants inspire fears of economic and cultural displacement among whites. The decline of traditionally masculine jobs and social roles leaves working-class men feeling emasculated and marginalized. The fragmenting of media isolates us in our separate information bubbles. Algorithmic social-media platforms provide a lucrative business model for viral outrage. The flowering of lifestyle diversity and consumer choice makes social differences more blatant.

It is impossible to know just how to evaluate the relative or absolute merits of those and other contributors to tribalization. Take your pick and add your own. The common theme, in any case, is that humans were designed for life in small, homogeneous groups where change was slow and choices were few. So if we find ourselves living in large, heterogeneous populations with fast-paced change and a bewildering array of choices, we may be more apt to build a tribal cocoon for ourselves: a form of emotional rescue that partisan polarization can provide if more pro-social ways of connecting fail.

Links 27 December 2019

Excavation photo from Uruk, 1929

Brief video explaining NASA's Artemis program to return to the Moon. Personally I have a "been there, done that" attitude toward the Moon, but NASA insists this is the way to get to Mars.

List of the twelve best social science studies of the 2010s, with summaries. Recommended.

Louisiana Church Filled a Plane With Holy Water and Blessed a Whole Community.

Tyler Cowen's list of ways to avoid becoming a bland conformist.

Pictures of Nagoro, the nearly abandoned Japanese village where a resident has made dolls to replace the missing people. Wikipedia article here.

The many symbolic uses of French roundabouts: “Roundabouts have become the focal point that symbolizes, to the point of caricature, everything else’s flaws.”

Food delivery and "ghost kitchens" in New York.

British Museum blog post with many images from their big exhibit on the Myth of the Trojan War.

A roundup of 2019's most amusing scathing book reviews.

A strange book excerpt on Magic Hats.

An interesting look at polarization in the US: not so much ideological as emotional.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Reno City

Reno City was a mostly working class, mostly African America community in the District of Columbia that grew up after the Civil War and was eventually swept away to make room for upscale development. The name comes from Fort Reno, part of the Civil War defenses of Washington. The fort is shown above on one of my favorite DC maps, created by a War Department cartographer who drew the new forts and the road that connected them onto the best prewar map of the District, published  by Boschke in 1861. At the end of the war a settlement of black refugees or "contrabands" grew up southeast the fort, which seems to have been the nucleus of the eventual settlement.

However, this is actually hard to document, because maps made between 1865 and 1890 show very few people living in the area. Above is the location of Reno City shown on the 1874 Hopkins map, with only a few names listed, and we know that the Dovers were well-off white folks.

But the plan for Reno City already been hatched, as this 1870 plat shows. The school shown at the nearby intersection ("S.H.") was an African American school. So there were black folks living in the area. Plus, it seems unlikely that developers would have planned what became Reno City unless they knew there would be demand for the small houses and lots they envisaged for the property.

This 1891 map shows the street plan as it had developed by then. Maps do not show houses on most of the lots until later, though, so the neighborhood was built up gradually over time.

A detailed map from 1907 showing the houses that had been built by then, along with the reservoir that had been built within the old fort, using parts of the earthworks.

But even before the community reached its peak, forces began to gather bent on its destruction. In 1870 when Reno City was first imagined this was a rural area, the land not much valued. If you look back at the 1891 map you see that by then things were changing. A streetcar ran up Wisconsin Avenue from Georgetown, American University had been founded, and the vacant land in the area mostly belonged to developers like the Chevy Chase Land Company. Reno City, with its small frame houses on small lots (shown above in 1935), occupied mostly by African Americans, came to be seen as an obstacle blocking the development of northwest Washington, DC as an upscale community. Who wanted to live next to that riffraff?

So plans were set in motion to remove them. As this news story from the Evening Star of August 28, 1924 says, the DC surveyor had recommended condemning the whole place to make room for schools, an expanded reservoir, and a park. Because, he says,
In its present state the Reno subdivision is objectionable and a "blight" upon the locality because it is out of harmony with the highway plan and will preclude its development in an orderly and comprehensive manner. 
The result was a series of land grabs, as mapped here by a local historian. By 1951, everyone was gone.

You don't have to imagine that the DC surveyor was in the pay of the Chevy Chase Land Company; this problem is much deeper and more insidious than that. In the US local governments are still largely funded by property taxes, and at that time they were almost entirely funded by property taxes. This means that to have money for things like schools, roads, water, and sewers, communities need valuable property within their borders. Back then, and still today, poor people are usually a loss for communities, because they cost more in services than their land pays in taxes. Just a few years ago there was a move in Prince William County, Virginia, a DC suburb now much like Chevy Chase was in 1924, to ban the construction of townhouses because the residents of town houses cost the county too much money. Race was an additional factor in 1924 and still is today; one reason the existence of Reno City was blocking upscale development was that so many residents were black, and one reason many folks in PW County want to stop townhouses is that many who buy them are immigrants. But the basic arithmetic of taxes and spending drives city managers in that direction, and also provides a perfect cover for racism when one is needed.

It could be argued, and was, that the "sensible" thing for the city to do was to evict the residents of Reno City, promote the construction of wealthy neighborhoods round-about, and use the money to provide better services for poor folks in other parts of the city. Of course, the residents of Reno City did not see it that way. They protested, and by 1941 the NAACP protested with them. But to no avail; the stars of property speculation, the city's need for revenue, white power, and progress had aligned against them, and so they had to go.

Evangelical Fear of Atheist Power

Evangelical Protestants in America really do fear that they would lose their rights under a non-religious government:
We found that 60 percent believed that atheists would not allow them First Amendment rights and liberties. More specifically, we asked whether they believed atheists would prevent them from being able to “hold rallies, teach, speak freely, and run for public office.” Similarly, 58 percent believed “Democrats in Congress” would not allow them to exercise these liberties if they were in power.
Incidentally it is true that many Americans want to strip each other's rights; for example, a large group (the numbers are presented in a confusing way) would deny white supremacists the right "to give speeches in the community, teach in public schools, run for public office and other liberties."

This study's authors go on to say that while some atheists and progressives do want to deny political rights to Evangelicals, that number is smaller than the number of Evangelicals that want to deny rights to atheists. Evangelical fear of progressive power, they write,
comes from an inverted golden rule: Expect from others what you would do unto them. White evangelical Protestants express low levels of tolerance for atheists, which leads them to expect intolerance from atheists in return.
I suspect that this is true, if you simply ask atheists about firm believers; the "leave them alone in their silly attachment to the Iron Age" attitude is common among the atheists and agnostics I know.

But I suspect that you might get a very different answer if you asked progressives instead about tolerance for people who think homosexuality is evil. I am quite certain that most progressives and atheists don't want people who believe homosexuals are all going to hell to teach school, and you can, in fact, get fired from teaching public school for saying this to you students. People who are tolerant of religion in a vague, general sense may nonetheless be very intolerant of many beliefs actually held by religious believers.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Votive Deposit from Bronze Age Denmark

From The History Blog:
An archaeological survey at the site of a planned gravel pit expansion in Kallerup, Denmark, this February unearthed an exceedingly rare grouping of Bronze Age artifacts: a man wearing a horned helmet, a large ceremonial axe and two horse-headed snake figures. They were made of bronze about 3,000 years ago.
The figure has two faces, Janus-like, and is unique in Danish archaeology. It is fitted with a slot for a pole in the bottom, perhaps for carrying it in processions.

Continuing to explore the site, the archaeologists found more objects, so they just dug up the whole block of soil and took it to their laboratory for careful excavation.

Where they exposed this amazing ceremonial ax. What a wonderful array of stuff.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Why America Can't Build New Infrastructure, Continued

Mark Dunkelman thinks the reason nothing can be built in America is a reaction by progressives against the sort of neighborhood-bulldozing projects epitomized by Robert Moses and the freeways he build around New York:
Since the mid-1960s—really since the opening of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island—no major new piece of public infrastructure has been built within the five boroughs of New York City. 
A few things have been built or rebuilt, says , but
those changes are a pittance of what New York once built year upon year, and just a fraction of the public infrastructure a booming city demands. The subway system is falling apart. Entire neighborhoods are transit deserts. Century-old tunnels that connect New York and New Jersey are beginning to fail.

Why aren’t there new subway lines connecting impoverished corners of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens? Why does freight traveling from New Jersey to Long Island travel by truck across Manhattan and not by rail? Why does the Port Authority Bus Terminal languish amid calls for an upgrade? Why does luxury housing sprout like weeds while institutions that serve the middle and working classes are left to languish? Why, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a letter to Gov. George Pataki in 1995, does it seem as though America has “lost the touch for famous things”?

Penn Station, like so much of the region’s infrastructure, remains in tatters today not because men like Robert Moses are no longer on the scene, but because the system in which Moses operated has been replaced by an entirely new, and remarkably dysfunctional, architecture. Beneath America’s deep frustration with government is something else: a deep-seated aversion to power. Progressives resolved decades ago to prevent the public from being bulldozed by another Robert Moses—and the project to diffuse power to the public has succeeded. But the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. The left’s zeal to hamstring government has helped to burnish the right’s argument that government would mess up a one-car parade. The new protections erected to guard against Moses’ second coming have condemned new generations to live in civic infrastructure that is frozen in time.
My experience working on major highway and transmission line projects tells me that this is partially correct; it is hard to build things because we have made the system more democratic, and people don't want anything built near their homes. To build any new project -- for example, Delaware SR 1, the limited access highway from I-95 to the beaches, or the major power lines I worked on up and down the Appalachians -- takes decades of high-level political pressure.

But Dinkelman overlooks other parts of the problem. One of these is that any major infrastructure project attracts dozens of add-ons only tangentially if at all related to the core proposal -- for example, utility upgrades, improvements to nearby roads, beautification of nearby eyesores -- which lead to more delays and higher costs. I suppose this could be another facet of the same problem, that is, since it is so difficult to get any infrastructure project built, people try to attach their own pet projects to one that looks like it might actually be funded and pushed through. But it is one reason the cost of so many projects balloons, which is a major factor driving public cynicism.

There is also money. The cost to build any new infrastructure in the US is higher than in Europe or Japan, far higher for rail projects. The badly needed new rail tunnel under the Hudson River is projected to cost $5.5 billion, a figure that led Governor Chris Christie to kill it the last time it came close to approval. (In a good example of my last point, the tunnel had at one point gotten folded into a complete redo of transportation routes across the whole region with a price tag of $14 billion.) The years of delay created by weak political authority do contribute to higher costs, but this is a mutually reinforcing relationship, in that high costs give stakeholders another reason to oppose building. Cost in itself really is a problem; California would certainly build its high-speed train line if they could afford to.

But anyway Dinkelman's essay is a great look at one part of a very serious problem we face, and which I think feeds the overall cynicism and negativity of the American scene.

Russian Troublemaking in Star Wars Fandom

This amused me:
A recent study by Morten Bay, a University of Southern California digital media researcher, revealed that over 50 percent of the venom directed on Twitter at Rian Johnson, director of “The Last Jedi,” came from the same sources as Russian election meddling.

Using the analytical tools that other technologists deployed to uncover Russian influence during the 2016 election, Mr. Bay found that “bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists” were using the “Star Wars” debate “to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality” and that “a number of these users appear to be Russian trolls.” So it seems that it was political operatives, not fans, who were denigrating the movie and fomenting some of the virulent racism and misogyny against its cast.

Using “Star Wars” as the vehicle was a canny move by the trolls. Fans, like the American electorate, are polarized and angry. Online and in real life, they scream at one another about how Luke Skywalker would really behave decades after finding out that his dad was Darth Vader.
It also makes me wonder: suppose making Americans hate each other really is a goal of Russian policy. Would stirring up trouble among Star Wars fans be a good strategy? Or are we better than that at separating entertainment from politics? Personally I suspect it would be a powerful tactic.

On the other hand, is dividing Americans really useful for Putin? In the short term it may have helped a little bit to elect Trump, but I would worry that in the longer term it might create incentives for a future leader to lash out at Russia to cement his or her position.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Unbuilt Monuments of Nineteenth-Century France

These plans for unbuilt monuments come from Archi/Maps, a wonderful web site. The plans were recovered from the archives of Parisian printing firm of E. Le Deley. They are by various architects, usually identified only by last name. Above is a plan for a "Monumental Necropolis" by Quatesous, a person Google does not recognize, 1883.

A gigantic monument to Joan of Arc by Emanuel Pontremoli, 1890.

A parliament building by Huguet, another mystery man.

Temple to the Sun by Gerhard, 1865.

And an Athenaeum by Henri Paul Nénot, 1877.