Quotulatiousness

March 23, 2015

“You’re doing it wrong!”

Filed under: Humour,Media,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

James Lileks on the omnipresent stories headlined like this: “Respiration: you’re doing it wrong”.

If there’s one thing that makes me want to go all Cagney and push a grapefruit in the Internet’s face, it’s the phrase “You’re Doing It Wrong.” It’s been a popular cliché with tiresome, bossy millennials for a few years, and every week brings more news of things you have performed incorrectly. These are never important things. One doesn’t read YOU’RE UNBLOCKING THAT CLOGGED ARTERY WRONG. It’s always “Putting cans in the fridge: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG,” written in the tone of someone standing behind you with corn-chip dust on his shirt and beard, smirking because you totally don’t know that putting the cans upside down recirculates the carbonation. Moron.

The other way to write the headline is helpful: Here’s a smart new way to do something you do all the time. (Such things are called “life hacks” by people who were not slapped enough by their editors in front of everyone.) But it’s not enough to find a new way; the old way has to be WRONG, and YOU are WRONG for DOING IT. This leads the author’s peers to find something else that everyone is doing wrong, and crow about it on some website that summons buzz and infuses the most banal innovation with virulence. How’s that piece about how everyone’s buttering their toast wrong doing? Forty-six thousand shares! Toast-buttering will never be the same!

This is why many adults read the stories of overeducated millennials stooped with college debt working crap jobs and writing piecework blather for fizzy websites, and are not overly burdened by pity.

Changing Times – Railroads & Canals I IT’S HISTORY

Filed under: Britain,Economics,Railways,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Mar 2015

It certainly is no big deal to have a small cruise along the canals or ride a train. But what is essential infrastructure today had to be invented out of necessity in the late 18th and early 19th century. In our new episode Brett tells you everything about canals and railways and how they changed the way we transport things.

QotD: Simla

Filed under: India,Media,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It was a glorious spot then, before Kipling’s vulgarians and yahoos had arrived, a little jewel of a hill station ringed in by snow-clad peaks and pine forests, with air you could almost drink, and lovely green valleys like the Scotch border country — one of ‘em was absolutely called Annandale, where you could picnic and fête to heart’s content. Emily Eden had made it the resort in the ’30s, and already there were fine houses on the hillsides, and stone bungalows with log fires where you could draw the curtains back and think you were in England; they were building the church’s foundations then, on the ridges above the Bazaar, and laying out the cricket ground; even the fruits and flowers were like home — we had strawberries and cream, I remember that first afternoon at Lady Sale’s house.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

March 22, 2015

National Review columnist says Obama is right and his critics are wrong … about the TPP negotiations

I’m a very strong free-trader, but what I’ve heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations makes me feel that it’s less to do with any kind of free trade and much more to do with “managed” trade, where favoured companies get sweetheart deals and cronies get their cut of the action. In spite of that, National Review‘s Kevin Williamson says we should all hold our noses and follow behind President Obama and sign the TPP so we can find out what’s in it, so everyone can get their free unicorn … or something:

If there were $3 trillion sitting on the sidewalk, would you stoop to pick it up? That is the main question facing advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed treaty to liberalize trade and investment among a dozen nations including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, and Japan — and the trade-and-investment accord’s antagonists, too.

“The first thing you need to know is that almost everyone exaggerates the importance of trade policy,” writes TPP critic Paul Krugman in the New York Times. That may seem a strange sentiment for a man who won the Nobel Prize in economics (*) for his work on trade — perhaps the Sveriges Riksbank exaggerated the importance of trade economics? — but Professor Krugman has a point. The effects of large-scale international accords in trade and other economic areas are difficult to forecast, and such deals interact with other economic realities in ways that are not always entirely obvious. When NAFTA was under consideration, we were warned about that infamous “giant sucking sound” by Ross Perot and other protectionists, while the free-traders predicted that the accord would prove a massive boon to the U.S. economy, as well as to those of Mexico and Canada. The reality, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office and others, is that NAFTA has had a small positive effect on U.S. economic growth. Human progress is made up mostly of small positive effects. Beware policymakers offering dramatic promises: As Daniel Hannan points out, those advocating the adoption of the euro promised that it would add 1 percent GDP growth to each participating nation in perpetuity and that it would also provide a check on political extremism — wrong and wrong.

The dispute over TPP finds Barack Obama at odds both with congressional Democrats and with progressive activists, and making uncomfortably common cause with the most reliable partisans of free trade: most everybody who hates his guts.

Some Republicans have reservations about investing the president with “fast track” authority — meaning that he would be empowered to negotiate a deal that would then get a simple yes/no vote in Congress, which turns out to have a say in international affairs after all — because they are mindful of this imperial president’s habitual infliction of violence on the Constitution and of his seething contempt of the legislative branch in which he served for approximately eleven minutes. But it is unlikely that Republicans will in the end say no to a trade deal.

Professor Krugman’s case against TPP is, in brief, “meh.” He offers very little in the way of substantive criticism of the proposed accord, instead pooh-poohing it as modest, something that might add no more than 0.5 percent, and probably not even that, to the incomes of the participating nations. Those nations represent more than one third of the world’s economic output, though. Brad DeLong of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth addresses Professor Krugman’s sniffing directly: What if the additional growth were only half that 0.5 percent number? “In a Pacific region whose GDP is now approaching $30 trillion/year,” he writes, “that is $75 billion/year. Capitalize that at 4 percent/year and we get a net addition to world wealth of $3 trillion. That is indeed a very small number relative to the wealth of the world both now and discounted into the future. But that is a rather large number compared to other things the U.S. government might do this year. So why not grab for it?”

A different interpretation of the Battle of Bosworth

Filed under: Britain,History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Telegraph, Chris Skidmore looks at the end of the Battle of Bosworth in the light of the injuries suffered by King Richard:

Richard III’s body was discovered among the dead strewn across the battlefield, “despoiled to the skin” and “all besprung with mire and filth”. It was hard to believe that this naked and bloodied corpse had once belonged to a king. Still Richard III’s body had one final journey to make. After “many other insults were heaped upon it”, one chronicler reported how “not very humanely, a halter was thrown round the neck, and it was carried to Leicester”. With “nought being left about him, so much as would cover his privy member”, the last Plantagenet king was trussed up on the back of a horse, “as a hog or another vile beast” to be brought into the town “for all men to wonder upon, and there lastly irreverently buried”.

The new king — Henry Tudor, now crowned Henry VII — had good reason to put Richard’s body on display. Few could believe that Richard was dead, much less that a Welsh rebel who had landed on the tip of Wales two weeks earlier, leading an army of a few thousand men, mostly French mercenaries, had defeated a reigning king. Only hours earlier, Richard had led his army of 15,000 men, the largest army ever assembled “on one side” that England had ever witnessed, into battle against a rebel army barely one third its size. Bosworth, quite simply, was a battle that Richard should never have lost. Why did it go so badly wrong?

Treason, without a doubt:

With the collapse of his vanguard, Richard would have expected that his rear-guard, led by Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland, to provide re-inforcements. Instead the earl did nothing. One chronicler was insistent that ‘in the place where the earl of Northumberland was posted, with a large company of reasonably good men, no engagement could be discerned, and no battle blows given or received”. Northumberland, Jean Molinet observed, should have “charged the French” but instead “did nothing except to flee, both he and his company, and to abandon his King Richard” since he had already agreed a secret pact with Henry Tudor.

Northumberland was a northern lord whose own power had diminished over the past decade as a result of Richard’s rise to power. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain from abandoning his king. Other reports from the battlefield suggest that Northumberland may have not only left Richard to his fate, but actively turned against him and “left his position and passed in front of the king’s vanguard”, at which point, “turning his back on Earl Henry, he began to fight fiercely against the king’s van, and so did all the others who had plighted their faith to Earl Henry”. If this were the case, it would explain why Richard had been heard “shouting again and again that he was betrayed, and crying ‘Treason! Treason! Treason!’”

Not just treason, but double treason:

The “first onslaught” of Richard’s attack saw some men surrounding Tudor been killed instantly, including Henry’s standard bearer, William Brandon, standing just feet away. It seemed that victory was now in Richard’s grasp. Not only had some of Henry’s men chose to flee, his standard had been ‘thrown to the ground’. Henry’s own men were ‘now wholly distrustful of victory’. Richard’s frenzied energy seemed to be turning the tables, as the king “began to fight with much vigour, putting heart into those that remained loyal, so that by his sole effort he upheld the battle for a long time”. It was at this point that Sir William Stanley, having sat out the battle on its fringes, sent orders for his forces, numbering perhaps 3,000 men, to crash into the side of Richard’s detachment, taking Tudor’s side. Richard stood no chance. He was swept off his horse and into a marsh, where he was killed, “pierced with numerous deadly wounds” one chronicler wrote, “while fighting, and not in the act of flight”.

Update: Maclean’s has a long article up on the Canadian connections to Richard III.

Neil Young “From Hank to Hendrix”

Filed under: Cancon,Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

QotD: Conveying useful information

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I wish to be equally frank with the reader of this book. I wish here conscientiously to let forth its shortcomings. I wish no one to read this book under a misapprehension.

There will be no useful information in this book.

Anyone who should think that with the aid of this book he would be able to make a tour through Germany and the Black Forest would probably lose himself before he got to the Nore. That, at all events, would be the best thing that could happen to him. The farther away from home he got, the greater only would be his difficulties.

I do not regard the conveyance of useful information as my forte. This belief was not inborn with me; it has been driven home upon me by experience.

In my early journalistic days, I served upon a paper, the forerunner of many very popular periodicals of the present day. Our boast was that we combined instruction with amusement; as to what should be regarded as affording amusement and what instruction, the reader judged for himself. We gave advice to people about to marry — long, earnest advice that would, had they followed it, have made our circle of readers the envy of the whole married world. We told our subscribers how to make fortunes by keeping rabbits, giving facts and figures. The thing that must have surprised them was that we ourselves did not give up journalism and start rabbit-farming. Often and often have I proved conclusively from authoritative sources how a man starting a rabbit farm with twelve selected rabbits and a little judgment must, at the end of three years, be in receipt of an income of two thousand a year, rising rapidly; he simply could not help himself. He might not want the money. He might not know what to do with it when he had it. But there it was for him. I have never met a rabbit farmer myself worth two thousand a year, though I have known many start with the twelve necessary, assorted rabbits. Something has always gone wrong somewhere; maybe the continued atmosphere of a rabbit farm saps the judgment.

We told our readers how many bald-headed men there were in Iceland, and for all we knew our figures may have been correct; how many red herrings placed tail to mouth it would take to reach from London to Rome, which must have been useful to anyone desirous of laying down a line of red herrings from London to Rome, enabling him to order in the right quantity at the beginning; how many words the average woman spoke in a day; and other such like items of information calculated to make them wise and great beyond the readers of other journals.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

March 21, 2015

Who was Sappho?

Filed under: Europe,History,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn discusses our evolving views of the poet Sappho:

One day not long after New Year’s, 2012, an antiquities collector approached an eminent Oxford scholar for his opinion about some brownish, tattered scraps of writing. The collector’s identity has never been revealed, but the scholar was Dirk Obbink, a MacArthur-winning classicist whose specialty is the study of texts written on papyrus — the material, made of plant fibres, that was the paper of the ancient world. When pieced together, the scraps that the collector showed Obbink formed a fragment about seven inches long and four inches wide: a little larger than a woman’s hand. Densely covered with lines of black Greek characters, they had been extracted from a piece of desiccated cartonnage, a papier-mâché-like plaster that the Egyptians and Greeks used for everything from mummy cases to bookbindings. After acquiring the cartonnage at a Christie’s auction, the collector soaked it in a warm water solution to free up the precious bits of papyrus.

Judging from the style of the handwriting, Obbink estimated that it dated to around 200 A.D. But, as he looked at the curious pattern of the lines — repeated sequences of three long lines followed by a short fourth — he saw that the text, a poem whose beginning had disappeared but of which five stanzas were still intact, had to be older.

Much older: about a thousand years more ancient than the papyrus itself. The dialect, diction, and metre of these Greek verses were all typical of the work of Sappho, the seventh-century-B.C. lyric genius whose sometimes playful, sometimes anguished songs about her susceptibility to the graces of younger women bequeathed us the adjectives “sapphic” and “lesbian” (from the island of Lesbos, where she lived). The four-line stanzas were in fact part of a schema she is said to have invented, called the “sapphic stanza.” To clinch the identification, two names mentioned in the poem were ones that several ancient sources attribute to Sappho’s brothers. The text is now known as the “Brothers Poem.”

Remarkably enough, this was the second major Sappho find in a decade: another nearly complete poem, about the deprivations of old age, came to light in 2004. The new additions to the extant corpus of antiquity’s greatest female artist were reported in papers around the world, leaving scholars gratified and a bit dazzled. “Papyrological finds,” as one classicist put it, “ordinarily do not make international headlines.”

But then Sappho is no ordinary poet. For the better part of three millennia, she has been the subject of furious controversies — about her work, her family life, and, above all, her sexuality. In antiquity, literary critics praised her “sublime” style, even as comic playwrights ridiculed her allegedly loose morals. Legend has it that the early Church burned her works. (“A sex-crazed whore who sings of her own wantonness,” one theologian wrote, just as a scribe was meticulously copying out the lines that Obbink deciphered.) A millennium passed, and Byzantine grammarians were regretting that so little of her poetry had survived. Seven centuries later, Victorian scholars were doing their best to explain away her erotic predilections, while their literary contemporaries, the Decadents and the Aesthetes, seized on her verses for inspiration. Even today, experts can’t agree on whether the poems were performed in private or in public, by soloists or by choruses, or, indeed, whether they were meant to celebrate or to subvert the conventions of love and marriage. The last is a particularly loaded issue, given that, for many readers and scholars, Sappho has been a feminist heroine or a gay role model, or both. “As far as I knew, there was only me and a woman called Sappho,” the critic Judith Butler once remarked.

British journalist mourns the loss of innocence in model railway layouts

Filed under: Britain,Railways — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

From the tone of Mr. Simkins’ “shocked-and-horrified” tone, I can only assume he’s been in a coma since roughly 1967:

HO scale nude figures

I’d always considered the world of model railways to be the last surviving example of a rose-tinted Britain that no longer exists. Enthusiasts of this quaint and captivating hobby invariably seem to use 1950 as their cultural template when designing their layouts.

In the real world it may all be Pendolino trains, gleaming concourses in steel and glass, and rail replacement bus services; but in model railwayland you’d always find puffing steam trains barrelling along in front of an idealised balsawood countryside that was never far from Adlestrop.

And therein, of course, lay their charm. Whenever I visited an exhibition I always revelled in the tiny trackside details as much as the engines themselves: the miniature sheep, the artificial grass, the miniature coal lorries waiting at the level crossing, and the old-fashioned station platforms.

Best of all, I loved the human figurines awaiting the arrival of the train they’re destined never to board. In the world of model railwayland, fashion as well as technology seemed to have stopped around the end of rationing, with each tiny passenger clad in pleated skirts or duffel coats.

But now an enterprising model railway emporium in Devon is set to shatter this cosy fictional world. Buffers of Axminster is selling a new range of steamy miniature figurines to reflect the laid-back (literally in some cases) attitudes and cultural mores of modern Britain.

They may be new to Mr. Simkins, but scale figures of nudes have been available as long as I can remember (although North American ads for them had to be careful not to expose too much scale detail, for fear of offending the postal authorities…)

H/T to Elizabeth for the link.

I know several people who’d want one of these

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Want a new exotic toy to show off to your buddies after you say “Here, hold my beer”? How about a personal flamethrower?

Personal flamethrower 1

Personal flamethrower 2

Personal flamethrower 3

QotD: The modern snob

Filed under: Europe,Quotations,Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Walking through Amsterdam recently, a paradox that I had long noticed in an inchoate way formulated itself clearly in my mind. It was this: A century ago, there would have been one clothes shop for every hundred well-dressed people. Nowadays there is one well-dressed person (if that) for every hundred clothes shops. What accounts for this strange reversal of ratios?

Beyond the fact that clothes are now mass-produced rather than made individually, there is an act of will involved. Practically everyone now dresses not merely in a casual way, but with studied slovenliness for fear of being thought elegant, as elegance is a metonym for undemocratic sentiment or belief. You can dress as expensively as you like, indeed expensive scruffiness is a form of chic, but on no account must you dress with taste and discrimination. To do so might be to draw hostile attention to yourself. Who on Earth do you think you are to dress like that?

[…]

Modern scruffiness, then, is a manifestation of egotism. Outside one of the shops in Amsterdam was a large plasma screen showing models wearing the kind of clothes to be had within. They were precisely the insolently ragged clothes that the great majority of people in the street were wearing anyway. This was a form of flattery of the public, for it implied that its members had nothing to aspire to in the matter of dress higher than that which they themselves were already wearing — that in the matter of appearance they had already reached acme of the possible.

There was yet more. The models, in their T-shirts, baseball caps, sneakers, and so forth, as uniform as any army, walked with the kind of vulpine lope that one associates with the less law-abiding young males of the American ghettoes. But even more striking was the expression on their faces, which were cachectic in the case of the women, androgynous in the case of men: a fixed, determined, humorless stare that indicated a hatred of the world and all that was in it, including their fellow-beings. If one saw such a person at a social event, one would go to some effort to avoid or to flee or not to talk to him or her. The models’ faces were vacantly earnest, as if they wished for annihilation of everything around them for some personal reason, no doubt trifling.

This is the first age in which people do not dress to please others, but dress to displease others, to make sure that everyone knows that I’m not going to make any effort just for you. And this, no doubt, is because I am as good as anyone in the world, bar none: His Majesty, myself. And what starts out as an attitude becomes an unexamined and ingrained habit.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Slobbery as Snobbery”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-15.

March 20, 2015

A Slice of The Pie – Splitting Up The Middle East I THE GREAT WAR Week 34

Filed under: Britain,Europe,History,Middle East,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 19 Mar 2015

Even though the Entente offensive near Constantinople didn’t really take off yet, the allied powers were already dreaming about splitting up the Ottoman Empire between themselves – and even promised territory to other nations. In the meantime, Austria-Hungary started its third offensive in the Carpathians to free the besieged army in Galicia.

Epigenetic researchers – “We can double the size of these bugs!” Everyone else – “No, thanks. We’re good.”

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Science can be a great source of fascinating experiments. Doubling the size of insects is perhaps not the best way to advertise your particular speciality, however:

Florida carpenter ants

Researchers have changed the size of a handful of Florida ants by chemically modifying their DNA, rather than by changing its encoded information. The work is the latest advance from a field known as epigenetics and may help explain how the insects — despite their high degree of genetic similarity — grow into the different varieties of workers needed in a colony.

This discovery “takes the field leaps and bounds forward,” says entomologist Andrew Suarez of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who wasn’t connected to the study. “It’s providing a better understanding of how genes interact with the environment to generate diversity.”

Ant nests have division of labor down pat. The queen spends her time pumping out eggs, and the workers, which are genetically similar sisters, perform all the other jobs necessary to keep the colony thriving, such as tending the young, gathering food, and excavating tunnels. Workers in many ant species specialize even further, forming so-called subcastes that look different and have different roles. In Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus), for example, workers tend to fall into two groups. Minor workers, which can be less than 6 mm long, rear the young and forage for food. Major workers, which can be almost twice as long, use their large jaws to protect the colony from predators.

A team from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, suspected that the mechanism involves DNA methylation: the addition of a chemical to DNA. Genome sequencing and other methods suggest that these physical differences don’t usually stem from genetic differences between individual ants. Instead, environmental factors help push workers to become majors or minors — specifically, the amount of food and coddling that young ants receive. But just how do these factors change the size of ants?

A new 12-step program … to turn yourself into a wine snob

Filed under: Humour,Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Carolyn Evans-Hammond on the fastest way to become the person everyone else in the restaurant (or at the party) just despises:

  1. When tasting a wine over $50, always use the phrase, “excellent value.”
  2. Make sexual allusions to describe wine, especially when talking to a member of the opposite gender. Tight, muscular, voluptuous, hard, long. You get the idea. Best done while making soft moans before and after the sentiment.
  3. When at a restaurant, grill the wine waiter about the wines. Ask how a certain bottle is “showing”, whether it’s fruit forward or restrained, and whether the Champagne on the list has undergone malolactic fermentation.
  4. Bring a bottle of wine to a party already decanted, and tell the host you’d like it poured at a precise temperature.

QotD: Power in sexual relationships

Filed under: Quotations,Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The reproductive instinct (sex instinct) and the nurturing instinct (caring for the brood) are social drives, as we have said, in contrast to the instinct of self-preservation, which focuses on one’s own person, while the two first-named, focusing on another person, make us dependent upon that person and vice versa. The reproductive instinct and the nurturing instinct, therefore, are the key to power and powerlessness.

Power consists in making oneself the goal of another person’s social instincts, without seeking to satisfy one’s own social instincts through him. The other then does everything one asks. Powerlessness consists in wanting or having to satisfy one’s social instincts through another person whose social instincts one has not succeeded in concentrating on oneself — one then does everything the other asks. According to whether one has made someone dependent upon oneself for the satisfaction of one or both instincts, one controls that person partially or wholly, has partial or absolute power over him. (We are referring to biologically determined power; psychologically conditioned power will be dealt with later on.)

To know which of two people has the upper hand, then, one merely needs to know which member of the couple is in a position to manipulate the sex or nurturing instinct of the other. The same is true for the relationship between groups, classes, races, religious communities, generations and clans. It is whichever has the leverage, the favorable starting point or whatever it takes to concentrate the other’s social instincts upon himself, while remaining emotionally uncommitted. Since the most important social instincts involve sex or nurturing the brood, sex and parentage are the basic areas in which the question of power arises. Real power over another person — paradoxical as it may sound — is held by protégés and sex objects only. There is also the kind of power that depends on force, or physical strength. Where there is superior force, I serve under constraint; where there is power, I serve willingly. An adult of my own sex, a social class, an alien race, a political body can at most force me to submit i.e. only by superior physical pressure. But real power is held by whomever I want or need to satisfy my basic social instincts, even if that person is incomparably weaker than I am — I would be bound to do willingly whatever he/she asks. To rule effectively, it is power we need; force is second rate by comparison and far from equally compelling.

Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.

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