Humanities

The Cheap, Tawdry Trump Era

The White House in the Trump Era.jpg

This is the emblem of the Trump Era, writ large and laid out on a fine table in the White House.

Cheap, disposable piles of garbage food, set out in the midst of American History.

Imagine, if you will, the White House during the Kennedy years, presented in this fashion. Oh, I’m sure they had hamburgers in the White House, but not like this (but, really, did they? I have no idea). This is such an abomination.

I would imagine there have been many formal meals served here, and some informal ones. I can imagine what this room was decorated like during the Coolidge years or during the presidency of William McKinley. Would it have been adorned with such slop? Probably not.

Think of all the history that this particular room has seen over many, many decades. This is where Eisenhower, both Roosevelts, Lincoln himself (you see him on the wall, and you can imagine the laughter), and a whole host of founding fathers, lived their lives and conducted themselves. You can see the ghosts in the corners, just staring at the debacle of the Trump era. Even Andrew Jackson would have been appalled by how flinty and demeaning this food would look to visitors. He threw open the doors and let the common people stomp through the whole house, of course, but would he have served something so demeaning? Ah, no.

Nothing is more Trump than a priceless wooden table covered in pyramids of cold fast food containers, rotting at room temperature. Nothing is symbolizes the Age of Trump better than a squishy, tartar sauce drowned fish patty in a stale bun.

Trump is the president who thought that the best he could do was serve his fellow Americans a shit sandwich. What a fiasco.

Wolves Hunt Fish

Wolf Eating a Fish.jpg

This is remarkable:

In another stunning revelation of wolf behavior from Voyageurs National Park, researchers Thursday announced they have confirmed park wolves hunting for and eating fish out of streams as a regular part of their diet.

The researchers released the first-ever video of wolves eating freshwater fish, and said GPS data shows one pack spent about half their time during several weeks in April and May "hunting" in creeks for spawning suckers and northern pike.

The revelation comes just one week after the News Tribune first reported the same researchers confirming wolves spent weeks on end in blueberry patches, eating blueberries at peak summer ripeness. The same researchers also are the first to document wolves' consuming large numbers of beaver, when the animals are available in summer months, and that wolves will leave deer and moose alone if they can get beaver as meals.

There's some speculation that the wolves focus on beavers — and maybe now on fish — has helped keep the park's moose population stable at the same time moose numbers have crashed across most of their Minnesota range.

The Voyageurs Wolf Project, a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park, has followed GPS-collared wolves from over seven different packs since 2015. The fish revelations were recently published in the journal Mammalian Biology.

Using GPS collars, the team collects location data from wolves every 20 minutes. That data reveals not just wolf behavior but also pack territory boundaries.

Researcher Tom Gable first noticed the wolf-fish interaction in April, 2017, when he hiked to a creek where GPS data showed one of the collared wolves was spending a lot of time. "As I approached the area, I briefly saw a wolf trying to catch a fish before it ran into the woods," Gable said. He then found fish remains and wolf tracks scattered along the creek.

The image above is a trail camera capturing a wolf in the process of stalking and removing a fish from a creek. This is the first time we have acquired scientific proof that wolves take fish out of the water. Up to this point, no other proof existed.

Given all of the work that has been done to study and conserve habitat for wolves, it is without question a major scientific discovery that, in the context of our current disinterest in preserving our planet, renders it tragic in a way. We are watching the slow-motion destruction of the planet and we are entertained by foolishness and the utterly crass. A handful of people remained dedicated to figuring out how the world works and we owe them a huge debt.

The Lawlessness of Modern Russia

Is there anything in Russia that is not being stolen, looted or turned upside down for spare change?

Mikhail Novikov, a deputy director in charge of construction at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has been placed under house arrest on charges of suspected fraud.

Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court ruled on 29 March that Novikov is to be held under house arrest until 23 May. In January, the Hermitage acknowledged in a statement that investigators from the Federal Security Service, a successor agency of the KGB, had been conducting “operational procedures” at the museum’s Staraya Derevnya restoration and repository centre. Some commentators had speculated that the searches were a reprisal for criticism by Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage, of the handover by the local government of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, now run as a museum, to the Russian Orthodox Church.

On Wednesday, Russian media reported that Novikov's case was connected to a larger case of over Rb100m in embezzled funds during major Russian Ministry of Culture restoration projects that has already landed Grigory Pirumov, a former deputy culture minister, in jail.

Since the rule of law really does not exist in Russia, you have to ask one question. Did they really steal the money or did they fail to bribe the right people while they were stealing the money?

Never mind the arts, of course. When all is said and done, we'll be lucky if there's anything left.

Disney's Cinderella Castle in Legos

This is pretty neat:

After news leaked yesterday, Lego Group today confirmed a huge 4,000 piece Lego replica of its iconic Disney Resort Cinderella Castle: set 71040 Disney Castle.

Having been impressed by the Lego Nexo KnightsLego Ninjago and Lego Minecraft at New York Toy Fair I had thought I was all up to date with what Lego had in store for us this year. Then today they reveal this huge replica set of the Walt Disney DIS +0.34% World Resort Cinderella Castle. Standing at over 29” high and 17” wide this is a monster build, but the size means it can do much more than reproduce the original’s architecture and silhouette. 

I prefer the original, photographed in 2011 at Legoland Ulm:

The image above does not do the display justice. It is the Neuschwanstein Castle rendered in Legos, and it looks amazing in person. This was the standard Lego village display (everything glued down, don't touch, etc.). 

Now, if they were to release a version of THAT thing, it would likely top 10,000 pieces and cost quite a bit of money.

Put an End to the Daily Show Already

Really, really remarkable:

This is an election year in which a racist billionaire and a democratic socialist, both prone to rants, are somehow viable candidates for their respective parties’ nominations. This is exactly the kind of news cycle that makes for great political satire. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Trevor Noah should be having a season for the ages. So why isn’t it? How did this program go from being one of the most vital things on television to being a pleasant also-ran? Slate’s TV criticWilla Paskin has been pondering this state of events, and she delivers her verdict in an editorial called “Why Are Americans Ignoring Trevor Noah?” As that title indicates, Paskin lays the blame for The Daily Show’s slide into irrelevance at the feet of the show’s current host, Trevor Noah, who has perhaps overcompensated in his efforts to distinguish himself from his cranky, deeply committed predecessor, Jon Stewart. According to Paskin, Stewart “turned himself gray trying to rain sanity, silliness, and outrage on the hypocrisy, mendacity, and idiocy that is our political discourse.”
But Noah is a different kind of comedian and a different kind of host, and under his leadership, The Daily Show has been aiming for young male viewers who are not particularly well informed or even that concerned about current politics. Paskin argues that the affable, breezy Noah is not capable of the kind of sharp political satire currently being produced by more experienced TV hosts like Larry Wilmore. Here, she unfavorably compares The Daily Show’s funny but disposable take on the Flint, Michigan water crisis to The Nightly Show’s more cutting commentary on the same events. To be fair, Paskin admits that Noah is still learning the ropes: “The four months Noah has been in charge of The Daily Showis nothing.” But the article does express some real concern that the show has become neutered at the worst possible time. “You still may laugh,” Paskin writes, “but an inessential Daily Show is a real loss.”

At some point, we're going to find ourselves in Springtime and the Daily Show will continue to be completely irrelevant to the political discussion in the United States of America. An executive at Comedy Central will snap his or her fingers and come to the realization that they picked a good guy to follow Jon Stewart. They just didn't pick the right guy.

This summer, someone will hand Stewart a big bag of money. Come back for the election, they'll say. Will he take the bag of money and slide back into the chair while they look for a real replacement? I have no idea. But if they want to make The Daily Show relevant again, they'll have to bring back Stewart so that he can restore the show to some semblance of watchable again, and they'll have to find the right host to take over permanently. If they don't find that person, and, really, it should have been Samantha Bee, then just end the thing already. Comedy Central screwed up, big time.

Trevor Noah was the right pick in every sense of the word, except one. He had no idea what makes the Daily Show essential to American political discourse.

You're Not Buying Anything


And not just because David Bowie died. No, the Humanities are in decline because people have stopped engaging with the culture beyond a technical interface. Books, films, music--the blockbusters remain but the artists scratching out there on the edges are further and further away from making a living in the arts.

Out of all of these things, there's only one thing I haven't purchased in the last year, and that would be a lottery ticket. I don't know why people fall for a regressive tax. And what would you do with all of that money? It would ruin your life in a matter of months, which has been proven time and again.


A Revolution in Late Night Television

What you are witnessing is the beginning of a new era in Late Night television--an era where bullshit and sarcasm and snark are no longer the currency of the medium:
Vice President Joe Biden gave a moving interview to comedian Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show" on Thursday, expressing his uncertainty about whether he's emotionally prepared to run for president after the death of his son this past year. "I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there," he told Colbert. "I'm being completely honest." Biden, still reeling from the death of his eldest son, told Colbert any man or woman running for president should be able "to give 110 percent of who they are," but that he wasn't sure he could make the commitment just yet.
That's the news of what happened--the part that will get reported on by the diligent stenographers of the working press in Washington D.C. What you won't hear is enough about the context of how Stephen Colbert got Vice President Joe Biden to make news today.
Colbert brought out his guest after making fun of the Republicans running for president, and he threw in a Hillary Clinton joke to make it fair. But, really, he mocked the hell out of Donald Trump once again. And once that was over, Colbert went into another segment and separated himself from the entirety of late night television as a medium. He demonstrated that not only is he there because of what he can do but how he is going to do things differently. This is nothing short of a transitional moment if not a cultural shift away from smartassery and insincerity.
Colbert made small talk for a few moments and then went right to the Beau Biden question. He stopped the comedy and he stopped the laughter in order to get Joe Biden to talk about his late son. There's no getting around it--Biden knew that they were going to get serious and there's no question of an agreement to talk at length about suffering and loss. But this is the first guest segment on a late night talk show. A show that is on its third episode. This is where you get a big laugh or throw it to a pre-recorded snippet designed to promote a movie or a show. You go for momentum and rollicking fun, right?
Nope. This is not where you talk about how the Vice President of the United States of America is dealing with the loss of his son and the continuing heartache over losing his wife and daughter in the early 1970s. The downshift may have thrown people off, but there's no getting around the fact that Biden made news and Colbert conducted a near flawless interview with someone over a serious subject. It's impossible to know how many people will be reached by this interview, and I suspect it will play a huge role in Biden's evolving story. It will signify for many the direction in which Colbert has planned to take his show.
And, what's more, there was a concerted effort to reach out to people in the audience and at home. It was an attempt to recognize loss and deal with that in a cathartic way. When's the last time you saw someone on television do something cathartic that didn't involve shooting bullets into a corpse? 
Who does this? Can you see Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon doing this? I can't. Sorry, they are both very talented men. I think Kimmel has a great take on Johnny Carson's skepticism and I think Fallon is ten times better than Jay Leno. But Colbert is fifty times better than all of them put together and at least eight times better than David Letterman. Do the math! I can't.
I can't stress this enough--no one does this anymore. This is where Colbert bonded with the Vice President over the loss of his own father and brothers. This is where you saw that the game is about to change and where people are going to bond with Colbert and follow his show for a long time to come. He brought his audience with him, and he's going to add people right and left. It's not enough to entertain anymore--you have to reach people and show them that you're in tune with how the world works. It was a powerful interview and if you have a chance to see the whole thing, you'll see laughter and tears in one place, a rarity nowadays.
And to see such an open and frank discussion about faith--religion--on television without it being used as a weapon against gay people or against minorities is the revolution at work. I mean, you gotta watch this for yourself [no direct link yet, but this is the Colbert site] to see what I mean and you can probably explain the cultural importance of this better than I could, but, wow.
Just, wow.

Hating Zooey Deschanel


With Gawker seeming to dominate the news this week, I thought I would dig up this rusty, worn-out old post about how they have relentlessly targeted Zooey Deschanel and serve it up like something I just found.
Even today, whenever Gawker posts about Deschanel, I usually just ignore it. However, in the comments, people are basically calling out the site and pointing out that bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have similar bans on the use of phones. So, you know, blog fail or whatever.
This is the 'mean girls' aspect of Gawker that doesn't get enough attention. Why do they go after people like Deschanel and why is it newsworthy? She's a celebrity, she can probably handle a fair amount of attention, but Gawker usually goes above and beyond normal decency. We saw that last week and I think we'll see it again unless someone dismantles Gawker and fires everyone.
The gist of my original post centered around trying to get people to watch the show instead of taping it on their phones. Artists have begun trying to separate fans from their phones and from the practice of holding this rectangular plastic thing in front of them so that they can claim to have watched the show in person. How that translates into an experience is beyond my grasp. Why not enjoy what you are seeing without worrying about your phone?
If you have to record something just to remember it, your mind is already gone.

The Art of Runic Cipher

Kiss me.
That's what one Viking said to another, in code, with runes. And, in the process of figuring all of this out, we find a universal truth in communication and in human interaction--nothing changes. Simple emotions and sentimental ideas worked a thousand years ago and they work today.
The
is actually fairly easy to understand. The complexity comes from not having a complete picture of how to break it out:
It's a substitution code that can be easily broken if you know the sounds of the letters. This is one of the most common ciphers, and it's not uncommon to find these forms of communication in old or ancient texts. I think what made it difficult to break was the fact that we don't converse in the language anymore.

Auldbrass




Joel Silver has saved something remarkable, and it is called Auldbrass.

With the aid of documents from the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, the Avery Architectural Library of Columbia University, and other sources, and with the help of contractors and descendants of people who had worked and lived on the site, Silver aimed to not only restore Wright's vision but complete it.

Auldbrass is the Southern Plantation designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was allowed to fall into disrepair and it has now taken Hollywood producer Joel Silver 30 years to fully restore.

What I find interesting about Wright's project is that he didn't just build the house--he designed the furniture that went with it. Those pieces have been restored or replaced to specification as well. And Wright was motivated by one purpose--to design a plantation that would run counter to the architectural domination of previous designs and build something that did not command obedience or fear.

Save Your Own Treasures



None of this belongs to the West. And yet, you'd think it did:

ISIS' seizure of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra early Thursday intensified fears that the 2,000-year-old site's archaeological treasures would become the latest to face destruction at the hands of militants.
The extremists' wanton carnage has also reignited debate about whether precious relics are best housed in their country of origin or stored — and in some cases protected — in overseas museums.
Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim warned Wednesday that Palmyra looked likely to suffer the same fate as Nimrud in northern Iraq, the 3,000-year-old city which was bulldozed by insurgents in March as part of a campaign to eliminate relics that they consider heretical.

The destruction of history is tragic in and of itself, but the loss of life even more so. We lose sight of that fact when we bemoan the loss of a pile of ancient stones and ignore the slaughter of thousands. The misery of the Syrian people is more important than any historical site. And yet, as far as Iraq and Syria are concerned, these are matters of self pride and self-survival. If they truly want to stop the looting and the destruction, they're going to have to do it for themselves. We cannot send 25,000 troops and do it for them and we should get out of the nation building business.

If the Syrian and the Iraqi people, who number in the millions, can't figure out a way to solve their internal problems and protect their own cultural heritage, then there's nothing that can be done for them. This is the moment where they need to build their own nations on a foundation of not tolerating this way of life. They have to reject the ideology of ISIS and the creation of a civilization that would, effectively, take tens of millions of people back into the Middle Ages.

The U.S. interference in Iraq unleashed these forces, but their essential root was in the original Ba'ath party infrastructure left over from the Iraq War. These are the decision makers, using money from their backers, to drive the destruction of people, property and infrastructure. This is a clash of haves and have-nots--at no point have the people been allowed to profit from or have any pride in the treasures now being ground under the bulldozers. What connection would they have with sites that ended up in their laps because the borders of their countries were drawn by British diplomats?

The mistaken belief that deposing Saddam Hussein would lead to stabilization turned out to be wrong. But re-invading Iraq and then invading Syria would just compound the problem. These are Iraqi and Syrian problems, and they are driven by proxy interests in Iran and Saudi Ara bia.

Someone has made up their minds to tear the region apart and blame it on Israel and America. There is nothing in the Middle East worth the life of a single American service member, and there never was. The people have to save their treasures and I believe they can if they want it badly enough.

Hollywood and Middle America


The movie business is designed to sniff out dollars. It chases money better than any other industry in America. When something works, Hollywood runs it down and shakes coins out of it and then abandons the carcass as soon as there's no more cash. The next 18 months are going to be strange because the films that just made some money are going to dictate what you will see from here on in until another shift or change happens in the culture.

Hollywood just made a ton of money by putting out a film that appeals to conservative, pro-military Middle Americans. This is an audience for which the coastal enclaves (with their Fifth Columnists, of course) have a special kind of contempt. No one makes a movie that will play in rural Mississippi unless it has Transformers or Super Heroes in it, and, even then, the audience they're chasing is young, Asian and male.

Someone is going to make another version of American Sniper, and then there will be a half dozen knockoffs or films of a similar nature. They will chase the rapidly evaporating movie patron until there's nothing left of the industry. They'll do that because someone will wisely figure out that they can put on a television show that appeals to this audience and make bank.

Laugh At Me, Will You?


I can respect the fact that people want to control their schools at the local level. If it is the will of the community to celebrate ignorance and eliminate critical thinking from education, be my guest. I don't have to live in your town, so it really does not affect me one way or the other. A fear of history and of what America has been can turn even the staunchest patriot's stomach. I mean, good God, man. We once took a massive population of Native Americans and force marched them to a hellhole called Oklahoma and...and...

Oh, this is in Oklahoma? Someone should have said something.

Anti-intellectualism starts down a long and interesting path. Soon, it becomes all too apparent that the works of the old masters are full of perversions and the kinds of filth not suitable for public display. All of those passionate paintings? They need to go. Replace them with landscapes and pictures of rotting fruit.

The "false wall" separating the church from the state isn't false at all. It's very real. It was put there for the purpose of keeping yahoos like Oklahoma Representative Dan Fisher from doing stupid things to the local schools (that was the original intent of the Founding Fathers--stop the yahoos!) and ruining them for future generations.

Imagine what will happen when a kid from Oklahoma shows up at a university where they actually teach things to young people and that kid sits down in History 101 and answers "Jeebus" when the question posed was, "who ordered the Trail of Tears March?" That kid is going to be laughed out of college and will have to return to Oklahoma, flat busted broke and incapable of functioning in a polite society.

Damn, what a waste. And that kid won't be able to get a job so they'll have to look around, maybe start a bug killing' business or a massage parlor or maybe--just maybe--have to run for office by claiming that Jeebus is the Answer. In Oklahoma, that kid will be governor by sundown on a ticket like that. Laugh at that, you Godless libs.

Sure enough, Governor kid shows up in Washington D. C. and won't have any idea who did what and why is that building over there and how come this is how you get a bill passed and where's my money and then they'll laugh, just like they laughed in college.

Next thing you know, Oklahoma is seceding from America and we've got another Civil War on our hands. Oh, won't someone think of those poor kids being made stupid?

Stolen Heritage


The Elgin Marbles are back in the news for another round of handwringing and complaining.
The Greek prime minister has said the British Museum's decision to loan one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia is "an affront" to the Greek people.
Antonis Samaras added: "We Greeks are one with our history and civilisation, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded."
He said Britain's view that the marbles could not be moved was now invalid.
A depiction of the river god Ilissos will go on show in St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.
It is due to remain on display in the Russian city until mid-January.
The work is one of a number of relics acquired [a fantastic euphemism for stolen, as usual] by Lord Elgin in Athens in the early 19th Century, now known collectively as the Elgin Marbles.
Ownership of the artefacts, once part of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple, is disputed by Greece.
It maintains that Lord Elgin removed them illegally while the country was under Turkish occupation as part of the Ottoman Empire. The items have remained in the British Museum ever since.
Yes, I think we can all agree that the old British Empire stole whatever it wanted just like everyone else. No, there really is no compelling case for not returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

I can see the reasoning behind these arguments, but if you're going to be a purist about this sort of thing, then the museums of Europe need to be emptied of everything they contain.

I remember visiting the Baden State Museum in Karlsruhe, thinking that I would see a lot of German artifacts. And you can certainly see some of that, but what you will also see are numerous artifacts looted from around the world, either "borrowed" or "acquired" the way everyone else used to do it--through war or conquest, and usually both and almost always waged with a heavy hand against anyone who dared lay claim to a cultural treasure.

Honestly, why would a museum in Baden-Württemberg feature all of those Egyptian and Greek artifacts if they hadn't already been loaded into wagons or onto horses centuries ago and stolen? If you send back the Elgin Marbles, I think you have to send back all of the pottery as well. And then and only then can we talk about the removal of human remains.