Category Archives: History

Your Morning Cup of Links

People are trash. I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie or play and someone wasn’t talking or looking at their phone. What happened to manners?

The surprising joy of Stranger Things: “But the nostalgia of Stranger Things isn’t just for an era, really: It’s for a feeling. That feeling is intimately connected, weirdly enough, with bicycles — and, by extension, the reckless sort of freedom rarely found in childhood today.”

On the same subject:

It’s the same reason everyone loves “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” but merely appreciate “Citizen Kane.” Rick Blaine and George Bailey make us feel things. They help us see in the most basic way that altruism is a fundamental part of life, that giving ourselves makes us more complete. Our country seems more divided every day. And then out of nowhere comes this weird little show. And it doesn’t divide us. It isn’t controversial. It’s just nice. It’s about things we can all agree on. It could not have come along at a more perfect time. For that reason, it doesn’t matter if it ages well. Sometimes things need to be of their times. And sometimes the best way to serve our times is to tell a story that happened a long, long time ago in a decade that seems far away.

How a trove of Nazi art wound up under lock and key on an Army base in Virginia

What’s beneath New York City? Nobody knows.

The marvels of British realist painting

The man who studied the sun’s puzzling heat

Tom Ricks on revising his book on Churchill and Orwell

The lost pleasure of reading aloud

Why do people hike?

What to do with Heligoland?

What was Edgar Degas like?

How smartphones have ruined the museum experience

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Filed under Art, History, Literature, TV/Movies, Uncategorized, Unusually Stupid Primates

Your Morning Cup of Links

Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

What unbelievable idiocy

Was Billy Budd black?

The decline of the American laundromat

Lost J.M. Barrie play to be published

This. Every perfect word of this essay.

White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment. The manners of the white underclass are Trump’s — vulgar, aggressive, boastful, selfish, promiscuous, consumerist. The white working class has a very different ethic. Its members are, in the main, churchgoing, financially prudent, and married, and their manners are formal to the point of icy politeness. You’ll recognize the style if you’ve ever been around it: It’s “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” but it is the formality of soldiers and police officers — correct and polite, but not in the least bit deferential. It is a formality adopted not to acknowledge the superiority of social betters but to assert the equality of the speaker — equal to any person or situation, perfectly republican manners. It is the general social respect rooted in genuine self-respect. Its opposite is the sneering, leveling, drag-’em-all-down-into-the-mud anti-‘elitism’ of contemporary right-wing populism. Self-respect says: “I’m an American citizen, and I can walk into any room, talk to any president, prince, or potentate, because I can rise to any occasion.” Populist anti-elitism says the opposite: “I can be rude enough and denigrating enough to drag anybody down to my level.” Trump’s rhetoric — ridiculous and demeaning schoolyard nicknames, boasting about money, etc. — has always been about reducing. Trump doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to duke it out with even the modest wits at the New York Times, hence it’s “the failing New York Times.” Never mind that the New York Times isn’t actually failing and that any number of Trump-related businesses have failed so thoroughly that they’ve gone into bankruptcy; the truth doesn’t matter to the argument any more than it matters whether the fifth-grade bully actually has an actionable claim on some poor kid’s lunch money. It would never even occur to the low-minded to identify with anybody other than the bully. That’s what all that ridiculous stuff about ‘winning’ was all about in the campaign. It is might-makes-right, i.e., the politics of chimpanzee troupes, prison yards, kindergartens, and other primitive environments. That is where the underclass ethic thrives — and how “smart people” came to be a term of abuse.

The populist Right’s abandonment of principle has been accompanied by a repudiation of good taste, achievement, education, refinement, and manners — all of which are abominated as signs of effete “elitism.” During the Clinton years, Virtue Inc. was the top-performing share in the Republican political stock exchange. Fortunes were made, books were sold by the ton, and homilies were delivered. The same people today are celebrating Donald Trump — not in spite of his being a dishonest, crude serial adulterer but because of it. His dishonesty, the quondam cardinals of Virtue Inc. assure us, is simply the mark of a savvy businessman, his vulgarity the badge of his genuineness and lack of “political correctness,” and his pitiless abuse of his several wives and children the mark of a genuine “alpha male.” No less a virtue entrepreneur than Bill Bennett dismissed those who pointed out Trump’s endless lies and habitual betrayals as suffering from “moral superiority,” from people on “high horses,” and said that Trump simply is “a guy who says some things awkwardly, indecorously, infelicitously.”

The problem, in Bennett’s telling (and that of many other conservatives), isn’t that Trump is a morally defective reprobate but that he is aesthetically displeasing to overly refined “elitists.” That is a pretty common line of argument — and an intellectual cop-out — but set that aside for the moment. Let’s pretend that Bennett et al. are correct and this is simply a matter of manners. Are we now to celebrate vulgarity as a virtue? Are we to embrace crassness? Are we supposed to pretend that a casino-cum-strip-joint is a civilizational contribution up there with Notre-Dame, that the Trump Taj Mahal trumps the Taj Mahal? Are we supposed to snigger at people who ask that question? Are we supposed to abandon our traditional defense of standards to mimic Trump’s bucket-of-KFC-and-gold-plated-toilet routine? Ludwig von Mises was as clear-eyed a social critic as he was an economist, and he noted something peculiar about the anti-Semitism of the Nazi era: In the past, minority groups were despised for their purported vices — white American racists considered African Americans lazy and mentally deficient, the English thought the Irish drank too much to be trusted to rule their own country, everybody thought the Gypsies were put on this Earth to spread disease and thievery. But the Jews were hated by the Nazis for their virtues: They were too intelligent, too clever, too good at business, too cosmopolitan, too committed to their own distinctness, too rich, too influential, too thrifty.
Our billionaire-ensorcelled anti-elitists take much the same tack: Anybody with a prestigious job, a good income, an education at a selective university, and no oxy overdoses in the immediate family — and anybody who prefers hearing the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center to watching football on television — just doesn’t know what life is like in “the real America” or for the “real men” who live there. No, the “real America,” in this telling, is little more than a series of dead factory towns, dying farms, pill mills — and, above all, victims. There, too, white people acting white echo elements of hip-hop culture, which presents powerful and violent icons of masculinity as hapless victims of American society.

Feeding such people the lie that their problems are mainly external in origin — that they are the victims of scheming elites, immigrants, black welfare malingerers, superabundantly fecund Mexicans, capitalism with Chinese characteristics, Walmart, Wall Street, their neighbors — is the political equivalent of selling them heroin. (And I have no doubt that it is mostly done for the same reason.) It is an analgesic that is unhealthy even in small doses and disabling or lethal in large ones. The opposite message — that life is hard and unfair, that what is not necessarily your fault may yet be your problem, that you must act and bear responsibility for your actions — is what conservatism used to offer, before it became a white-minstrel show.

Recovering the Black Prince

How a French juggler and unicyclist helped create the Information Age

Inside the Rand Corporation’s art collection

A new explanation for ball lightning

Unity is overrated

The Republican party is either going to be a political outfit that supports free trade or it isn’t. The Republican party is either going to be a political outfit that supports free speech or it isn’t. Republicans will throw in their lot with Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan, or they will throw in with Putin, Le Pen, and Götz Kubitschek. The Republican party is either going to remember “When Character Was King” or it is going to forget all that happy talk about “family values” and make its peace with habitual dishonesty, adultery, and betrayal — so long as those things go along with winning elections. Which they very well may, but the Republicans will have to do it without my vote. Party unity is not desirable when it means uniting with undesirable elements, people, and ideas. There isn’t any common ground to be had between classical liberals (we call them ‘conservatives’ in the United States) and the blood-and-soil tiki-Nazis of Charlottesville.

All this talk of “unity” — by which Bannon et al. mean obedience to a mere politician — is creepy. It is also distinctly un-American, as indeed is the alt-right at large, which turns its eyes not to Plymouth Rock or Philadelphia but to nationalist figures and fascist movements in Europe. “Support the president!” has become a moral imperative for some Republicans, who have descended into the classical error of conflating loyalty to the nation and loyalty to its political leader. That isn’t patriotism — it is cultism, and a creed of serfdom…One of the great ironies of our times is all the current complaining about professional athletes’ kneeling from men and a movement determined to live on their knees — in the name of “unity.”

X-ray music

Measuring ripples in space and time

Today in “Things that shouldn’t need to be explained but do because of Trump”:

We cannot place the burden on a Gold Star family to respond appropriately to a president. The burden is on the president to respond appropriately to the Gold Star family, and if there is any concern that the president compounded their pain, then the president’s response should be simple: “I’m sorry. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. Please forgive me.” I fear that we won’t see that kind of humility for perhaps the next seven years. But we’ll need to see it again. We must see it again…And unless we the people demand better from our leaders, we will share the blame.

Yemen reels under weight of brutal cholera outbreak

Oh come on people

What a dumb time to be alive. It’s almost as if there’s a complaint ready for every course of action because the aim is to be upset. Halloween costume hot takes make me grateful I live in a country where all other problems have been solved.

The original article, written by Sachi Feris, discusses how her white daughter was torn between dressing as Elsa, from Frozen, or the titular character from Moana. Feris expresses concern that while an Elsa costume might reinforce notions of white privilege, dressing up as Moana is essentially cultural appropriation — the act of reducing someone’s culture to stereotypes, and thereby belittling it. Though Feris puzzles over how one might wear a Moana costume respectfully, she ultimately decides it just isn’t a good idea.

How the ancient Greeks saw color and what this tells us about their world

Why everyone is flocking to Serbia’s brass-band festival

Finland’s screwy sports

Andy Warhol’s Catholicism

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Filed under Around the World, Art, History, Music, Politics, Science, Uncategorized

Your Morning Cup of Links

MFA Boston receives its largest gift of European paintings ever

When Beethoven met Goethe

8 things you should know about da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi,’ his Holy Mona Lisa

Paintings hung above eye level judged aesthetically superior

“The case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.”

Trump’s empty culture wars

“About that fourth tax bracket”

McHealthcare Deluxe 

Trump vs. the First Amendment

The Third Reich and “World Ice Theory”

A marvelous new translation of a Middle English masterpiece

Can alcohol fuel creativity?

What happened to the literary Midwest?

Christ in the Garden of Endless Breadsticks

Out for Young Blood

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Filed under Art, Guns, History, Literature, Politics, Science, Uncategorized

Afternoon Links

Can poetry change your life?

Sam Haselby writes about the 19th-century interest in the beauty of the soul and what it can teach us today

“It’s Trump vs. the NFL, and we’re all losers”

Beautiful and holy: The case for the traditional Latin Mass

James Madison weeps

Make America Normal Again: “If you’re an NFL fan, you can only be aghast at what Trump has done. His side — our side, the side that said you shouldn’t insult the flag because of the mistakes made by some police officers — was winning. All Trump had to do to secure this small but important victory was keep his mouth shut.”

“too many in our polarized nation have lately developed a disturbing habit of zealously defending the free speech of people they like while working overtime to find reasons to justify censoring their ideological enemies

The president’s intervening smacks of governmental overreach. Imagine the conservative response, for example, if President Obama had suggested that Tim Tebow be fired for kneeling in prayer before games…Before the NFL, the media, and Trump polarized the nation and decided that their own political and financial gain was more important than the separation between sports and politics, there was a relative consensus on these issues: Protesting the anthem and the flag is stupid, but players should be allowed to do it unless team owners feel like firing them. Now that consensus is gone. Anyone who says protesting the anthem is dumb is now labeled a knee-jerk jingoist with a Trumpist streak; anyone who says firing anthem protesters is dumb is now labeled an anti-American sympathizer.”

Victorian women translating Greek

A day in the life of a Hollywood dialect coach

Congress does what it does rather well actually

The return of the sacred in classical music

Fueled by demand from gulf states, Italian marble is booming.

Marriage matters

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Filed under History, Music, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized

Your Morning Cup of Links

“But what really works about Houston — and about America — is that line of guys saying, ‘I have a bass boat, a raincoat, and some rope — what can I do to help?’ There’s no army in the world that can replace that, and no amount of treasure that can buy it.”

The American Genius of Twin Peaks“But for all its ethereal whooshing and surrealist impressionism, this season of Twin Peaks is some of Lynch’s most grounded, humane, and contemporary work.”

Surfing religiously

Correct

My alma mater’s handling of its symbols has just been embarrassing.

LMAO

Four art biographies to read this autumn

Bacon’s lost pope

A delightful and affectionate history of the American cocktail (which the government almost killed)

A new collection of letters between Tolstoy and his wife, Tolstaya, casts light on the couple’s difficult and complex relationship

Does this mark the end of Spain’s three-hour lunch breaks?

How Artsy convinced galleries to sell fine art online

The drawings of the Old Masters

The Negroni fools no one – it’s easy to make and contains nothing but booze”

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Filed under Art, History, Politics, TV/Movies, Uncategorized

Your Morning Cup of Links

JFC. Can people just do the plays the way they’re written? Is that so hard? It makes no sense to have a female Henry V. None. It’s absurd. “Let’s make a movie about Queen Victoria in which she’s a dude,” said no one ever. You know why no one has ever said that? BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING RETARDED.

Unbelievable

Netflix, heir to Dickens?

Important journalism here by Matt Labash. A must-read.

An alternative history of jazz

Handwritten letters are the best

Unbelievable. Say goodbye to Gone With The Wind. What a dumb time to be alive. 

Wut #TheWorstGeneration

Yes. The main reason to like Taylor is that she’s smart enough to do the one thing no other entertainer will do: just shut the fuck up with your opinions and perform for us. That’s all we really want. I don’t want to know what you think about anything.

It’s amazing to me that this needs to be explained but Leftists are dumb.

Sheriff Joe is a terrible human being. Stop pretending otherwise.

First Amendment Protects Cinema’s Right to Show Unicorn Masturbation Scene While Serving Alcohol, Says Judge.” Well I should hope so.

“Does anybody understand what these New Trumpers think they’re achieving?”

What a dumb time to be alive

Does physical labor have a future and is anything lost if it doesn’t?

A brilliant history of U.S. Special Ops

A look at the life and work of American poet A.R. Ammons

Revisiting the phenomenon of Gef, the talking mongoose

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Filed under History, Politics, Uncategorized, Unusually Stupid Primates

Afternoon Links

This is so good:

What does an angry white boy really want? “A girlfriend,” comes the mocking answer, and there’s probably more to that than mockery. The proprietor of one of the nation’s premier websites for neo-Nazi knuckleheads advised his colleagues in Charlottesville that, after the protest — which included a murder — “random girls will want to have sex with you.” I ran this proposition past a few random girls, and I suspect that the apfelstrudelführers are going to go home disappointed. There are many shades of white, and Mom’s-basement white is the least popular crayon in the box.

The angry white boys do not have a serious political agenda. They don’t have any straightforward demands like the Teamsters or PETA do, and they do not have a well-developed ideological position like the Communists do, though it would be inaccurate to say that they lack an ideology entirely. Their agenda is their anger, an anger that is difficult to understand. Middle-class white men in the United States of America in anno Domini 2017 have their problems, to be sure. Life is full of little disappointments. But their motive is not to be found in their exterior circumstances, which are pretty good.

Maybe too good: A great many of these young men have an interest in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology — they like to think of themselves as “alpha males,” as though they were living in a chimpanzee troop — but it never occurs to them to consider their own status as rejects and failed men in that context. Online fantasy lives notwithstanding, random girls do not want to have sex with them. How do we know this? Because they are carrying tiki torches in a giant dork parade in Charlottesville. There’s no prom queen waiting at home. If we credit their own sociobiological model, they are the superfluous males who would have been discarded, along with their genetic material, by the pitiless state of nature. The fantasy of proving that they are something else is why they dream of violence and confrontation. They are the products of the soft liberal-democratic society they hold in contempt — and upon which they depend, utterly. James Alex Fields Jr. is angry at the world, and angry at his mother, probably for the same reason.

What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians — may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.

I agree, in part, with all of these pieces on the Confederate statue issue…

First, at The Federalist:

The statue and the name should remain, not because they represent a history and heritage worth celebrating, but because they represent the history and heritage we have. It is not uplifting or inspiring, but haunting. And that is the point. Lee’s cause is an everlasting stain on this country’s history. It is not to be romanticized, but it must be remembered. Our rejection of it does not erase its existence or change the fact that we must deal with its aftermath. What one should see in a statue of Lee is a ghost: a remainder from a past we cannot banish. It is important to remember that we live in a country built by strife and bloodshed, as well as hope and prosperity. That is the value of a Lee monument in a society that has largely rejected him: to remember he existed, remember his mistakes, and preserve that memory to avoid repeating it. Having it in a public space can be a reminder that this sordid history is still with us, no matter how we try to bury it.

It is important for everyday people, most of whom try to be decent as well, to remember Lee—not as a hero, but as a man who devoted himself to the wrong ideals and, whatever sort of individual he may have been, found himself on the wrong side of one of the most decisive and morally laden moments in history. Instead of tearing down the monuments that stand in his name, we should build more right next to them and remind ourselves not only of the man but also of the trail of suffering and dead his decision to fight for the Confederacy left in its wake. Accompany his statues with displays that affirm the great service his defeat did to this country, and pay tribute to the progress made possible by it and the people who overcame the challenges he left behind.

These lessons shouldn’t be confined to museums. We have to make people confront it in their daily lives. That, after all, is where the past still confronts us and where our takeaways from his life’s story have their impact. The white-nationalist mobs who see Lee as a hero of Western civilization are proof themselves that the true lesson of Lee and his legacy still needs to be taught—evidently, some of us aren’t getting it.

Next, from Rich Lowry:

Some discrimination is in order. There’s no reason to honor Jefferson Davis, the blessedly incompetent president of the Confederacy. New Orleans just sent a statue of him to storage — good riddance. Amazingly enough, Baltimore has a statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the monstrous Dred Scott decision, which helped precipitate the war. A city commission has, rightly, recommended its destruction.

Robert E. Lee, on the other hand, is a more complicated case. He was no great friend of slavery…After the war, he accepted defeat and did his part to promote national healing. Yet, faced with a momentous choice at the start of the war, he decided he was a Virginia patriot rather than an American nationalist…He betrayed the U.S. government and fought on the side devoted to preserving chattel slavery…Lee himself opposed building Confederate monuments in the immediate aftermath of the war. “I think it wiser,” he said, “not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavoured to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”

And from Kyle Smith:

Even if taking down the statues is a good idea, this isn’t the moment to do it. Emotions are running hot. When a mob is in a frenzy, maintain order until tempers cool. Don’t give it space to destroy. Rich believes that the statues need to go because they are becoming “rallying points for neo-Nazis,” but I can’t believe that the white supremacists, small and feeble as their movement is, would disappear if all of the old Confederate statues were taken down. If anything, that would give them a fillip of energy, a recruitment tool. The best response to white supremacists is to let them march and let them speak — then ridicule and marginalize them. This isn’t hard: They’re already ridiculous and marginal. Civil War statues may be beloved by white supremacists, but they are a kind of speech, and the antidote to bad speech is more speech. Don’t care for a statue of Robert E. Lee? Fine. I don’t either. Let’s recontextualize it. Let’s put up a statue of Harriet Tubman next to it. History is an ongoing discussion.

Bottom line: These decisions cannot be allowed to be made by a mob and a distinction needs to be made between actual monuments to the Confederacy and statues that are not monuments to the Confederacy (i.e. the Castleman statue in Louisville). But that would require thought and mobs are unthinking, so here we are, in an unnecessary situation where everyone is pissed. I believe the conservative instinct is the answer here: Do nothing. Let it be. As usual, Kevin Williamson says it best:

Many of the monuments and statues now being abominated and disassembled were not erected in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but some years after, often in reaction to such modest advances in the political and social condition of African Americans as the early 20th century produced. Some were nothing short of consecrated shrines to white supremacy erected to Southern political powers in league with such miscreants as the Ku Klux Klan. To the extent that today’s reaction against these monuments is in essence Democrats cleaning up their own mess, there is some justice to it. But there would have been some justice to it in 1938 or 1964 as well. The current attack on Confederate monuments is only another front in the Left’s endless kulturkampf.

We should not, in any case, accept the fiction that what is transpiring at the moment is a moral crusade rather than political opportunism…The older and wiser cultures learn to absorb, to repurpose, and to allow the patina of age to cover up the lingering pangs of historical wrongs. Which is good: You cannot walk 25 feet in Rome without seeing a monument associated with some ancient horror or a statue of some god-awful emperor, but it would be a shame if they’d all been knocked down for political or moralistic purposes. And not all of these are important works of art: Some of them are simply old.

Keeping non-whites in a state of panic and agitation is necessary to Democrats’ political aspirations…The Democrats’ motives here are tawdry and self-serving, for the most part. As cheap and silly as Southern sentimentality can be, the desire to reduce and humiliate one’s fellow citizens is distasteful. We would all do better to take Abraham Lincoln’s advice: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”…What ought conservatives to do? They should listen to the oldest and most widely applicable of all the councils of conservatism and do — exactly — nothing. The ancient conservative bias in favor of inertia here points toward the wiser course…In the words of the conservative philosopher Paul McCartney: Let it be. Republicans were on the winning side of the Civil War the first time around. There is no need to join the losing side after the fact.

Yes

Do you have what it takes to be a sommelier?

Why I have special contempt for the “at least Trump fights!” people: “The real threat to traditional conservatism is the mindset that made it possible to form even a theoretical alliance with the alt-right in the first place: the idea that winning and fighting are self-justifying.”

A new history of the Donner party

Jonathan Meades reviews an anthology of Hipgnosis’s vinyl cover art

The day you discover Jane Austen is a great day.

A walking tour of London’s forgotten libraries

A history of plywood and how it helped the Allies win WWII

Earliest known mosaic of Jonah and the whale discovered in Israel

What libraries lost when they got rid of card catalogs

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