July 18, 2013

QotD: It does, however, answer the question “can an orgy be tedious?”

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

We open to an orgy in a god’s sex cave.

No. Really.

Tannhauser, a bard in the Germanic middle ages, is the boy-toy of Venus, eternal goddess of hot sex that you thought would be totally worth all her baggage but in the long run isn’t. Remember the wisdom of the bros: even if he or she is literally an unearthly gorgeous sex god, somewhere there is someone who is sick of putting up with his or her bullshit.

Tannhauser and Venus are shacked up at Venus’ place, which with typical German lyricism is called “Venusburg.” Tannhauser and Venus are lounging in bed. They’re watching a dance/orgy/cage match among Naiads, Sirens, the Three Graces, fauns, satyrs, nymphs, Baccchantes, and cupids. No, really. I could quote the libretto I just linked, but even the description of this is abusively long. Wagner could have just said “enter the entire Monster Manual, which humps.”

That’s the ballet. There’s no dialogue, and it’s not Wagner’s best music, though it’s not terrible. It does, however, answer the question “can an orgy be tedious?”

Ken White, Popehat Goes To The Opera: Tannhauser”, Popehat, 2013-07-17

July 8, 2013

The return of the fickle finger of fate (non-humour category)

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:54

In sp!ked, Brendan O’Neill discusses the unlikely comeback of “fate”:

Fate is making a comeback. The idea that a human being’s fortunes are shaped by forces beyond his control is returning, zombie-like, from the graveyard of bad historical ideas. The notion that a man’s character and destiny are determined for him rather than by him is back in fashion, after 500-odd years of having been criticised and ridiculed by humanist thinkers.

Of course, we’re far too sophisticated these days actually to use the f-word, fate. We don’t talk about a god called Fortuna, as the Romans did, believing that this blind, mysterious creature decided people’s fates with the spin of a wheel. Unlike long-gone Norse communities we don’t believe in goddesses called Norns, who would attend the birth of every child to determine his or her future. No, today we use scientific terms to argue that people’s fortunes are determined by higher powers than their little, insignificant selves.

We use and abuse neuroscience to claim certain people are ‘born this way’. We claim evolutionary psychology explains why people behave and think the way they do. We use phrases like ‘weather of mass destruction’, in place of ‘gods’, to push the idea that mankind is a little thing battered by awesome, destiny-determining forces. Fate has been brought back from the dead and she’s been dolled up in pseudoscientific rags.

[. . .]

It’s hard to overstate what a radical idea this was at the tailend of the Dark Ages. It’s this idea that gives rise to the concept of free will, to the concept of personality even. And it was an idea carried through to the Enlightenment and on to the humanist liberalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the words of the greatest liberal, John Stuart Mill, it is incumbent upon the individual to never ‘let the world, or his portion of it, choose his plan of life for him’.

But today, in our downbeat era that bears a bit of a passing resemblance to the Dark Ages, we’re turning the clock back on this idea. We’re rewinding the historic breakthroughs of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and we’re breathing life back into the fantasy of fate. Ours is an era jampacked with deterministic theories, claims that human beings are like amoeba in a Petri dish being prodded and shaped by various forces. But the new determinism isn’t religious or supernatural, as it was in the pre-Enlightened era — it’s scientific determinism, or rather pseudo-scientific determinism.

December 30, 2012

Hugh Trevor-Roper on the “invention” of Scotland

Filed under: Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:33

In the Telegraph, Adam Sisman reviews a book by Hugh Trevor-Roper (an old article from 2008, but still of interest):

Trevor-Roper was repelled by Scottish nationalism’s appeal to atavistic tribal loyalties. He knew that historical myth, however innocently concocted, could have unforeseen, even pernicious, consequence; the romantic fantasies of Goethe and Wagner had fired the imagination of the Nazis.

Trevor-Roper believed that ‘the whole history of Scotland has been coloured by myth’, and he took it upon himself to address some of these myths in this book, largely written in the 1970s, but set aside while still in draft. His former pupil, Jeremy Cater, has skilfully edited the text and has added a useful foreword.

The Invention of Scotland identifies three overlapping myths that have shaped the self-image of that proud nation.

The first is the political myth of the ancient Scottish constitution: that pre-medieval Scotland had been governed by a form of limited monarchy. Time after time this anachronistic notion has been torpedoed; but after a while it has always resurfaced. To this day, the Declaration of Arbroath is brandished by patriotic Scotsmen as their equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence, albeit written in the 14th century.

[. . .]

The third myth is that of traditional Scots dress, which Trevor-Roper shows to have been got up, largely for commercial purposes, in the 19th century.

The kilt was devised by a Lancashire industrialist as a convenient form of dress for his Scottish employees; while the clan-based differentiation of the tartans was the invention of two brothers calling themselves the Sobieski Stuarts, who in 1842 published their Vestiarium Scoticum, an elaborate work of imagination which served as a pattern-book for tartan manufacturers.

[. . .]

A chapter entitled ‘The Coming of the Kilt’ traces what Trevor-Roper calls ‘the Highland takeover of Scotland’. In the 19th century ‘the apparatus of Celtic tribalism’ would be assumed by the Scots aristocracy, ‘those whose ancestors regarded Highland dress as the badge of barbarism, and shuddered at the squeal of the bagpipe’. The apotheosis of this tendency would come when George IV paraded in Edinburgh wearing a kilt of ‘Stuart tartan’: disguising himself, snorted Macaulay, ‘in what, before the Union, was considered by nine Scotchmen out of 10 as the dress of a thief’.

June 6, 2012

Cassy’s guide to naming spaceships

Filed under: History, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:13

You have to put a bit more thought into how you name your spaceships, people of the future!

Dear People of the Future,

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve just received a state-of-the-art spacecraft, and you’re probably about to take it on an extremely dangerous mission. Your journey may even concern the safety and continued survival of the human race.

But don’t worry! I’m betting your new ride is pretty sick. It’s probably got a warp drive and maybe a solar sail and lots of other technology I couldn’t even begin to understand.

At this point, you’re probably wondering: What should I name my spacecraft?

It’s good advice. Really. But I was surprised to find that there had been a USS Custer, a USS General Burnside, and even the USS Benedict Arnold.

H/T to John Turner for the link.

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