Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Remember the Alamo

Have a look at this interesting post in Borderland Stories about the famous battle that led to the creation of an "American Texas."

Friday, October 27, 2023

My review of Ralph Moffat's Medieval Arms and Armour (from the Medieval Review)

Ralph Moffat, Curator of European Arms and Armour at Glasgow Museums and editor of this sourcebook, states that it is “born of a lifelong passion for medieval arms and armour.” This is clearly the case. And many other scholars are going to find this reference work a delight.

When I say “scholars” in this context, I mean anyone interested in understanding the military tools that held a central place in the lives of medieval rulers and their followers. Scholars of medieval arms and armour include academics trained in military, literary, art and gender history, but also (as the Boydell Press blurb says) crafters, martial artists, and living history practitioners. Members of the latter groups rarely if ever come out of specialized programs in academic institutions. Yet they have an intimate knowledge of materials and techniques that, historians working in material science apart, few more conventional academics have the opportunity to acquire. Similarly, those who have studied arms and armour in a living historical context sometimes have very limited training in traditional academic disciplines.

So, scholars working on arms and armour constitute at best a scattered community using a variety of approaches to deal with what is really a vast field. Moffat’s project is to create “a working vocabulary” or more than one since this book is only volume one of a greater project. (Unfortunately, there is no hint how many volumes there will be.) 

... The book is organized into four sections, plus a bibliography and index. >First, there are thirty-three pages of prefatory material--lists of illustrations and documents, the preface proper, acknowledgements, “Using the Sourcebook” (how various problems in the history of armour can be approached), “English Pronunciation” (a guide to users unfamiliar with fourteenth-century English), and “Towards a Working Vocabulary” (see below) Secondly, Part I alsp includes the introduction to the Sources, including both textual and material sources. It discusses the characteristics of the various sources, such as documents, armour, and weapons.

Part II includes transcriptions and translations of many documents and excerpts of documents in which the arms are mentioned, such as wills, inventories, and challenges to single combat.

Finally, the volume has an illustrated glossary.

This list of lists may seem to be disorganized, but there is a clear logic to Moffat’s work. The section titled “Towards a Working Vocabulary” in the prefatory material could be the title of the whole book. He recognizes that the simplest and perhaps the most common use of the book will be to look up individual terms in the illustrated glossary. But many other uses are possible. Moffat has written this book to make it easy to connect terms to the different types of evidence for their appearance and the context in which they appear.

Thus if a reseacher runs across the obscure term “gadelings,” Moffat not only cites theChronicle of Geoffrey le Baker where “gadelings” occurs in an account of a duel (rendered in the original Latin and in translation) and to figure 5, the effigy of the Black Prince, which shows spikes on his gauntlet.

The inclusion of both original texts and translations in the Documents section makes the book far more valuable than if the source material had been presented only in one language. Some of the most difficult documents are inventories and similar lists. Without Moffat’s translations, or without the source material in the original languages, these documents might remain a closed book to many. Moffat’s presentation will open up this challenging material to a much wider audience.

The vast bibliography--reaching back to the nineteenth century--and the well-organized index make this sourcebook more useful than if the editor had not been so thorough. Moffat wants to reach as many arms and armour scholars as he can. One expects that many individual researchers will find this book a necessity, but also that many academic and public libraries will find it a valuable addition to their reference collections.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Umair Haq is back!

 I have been following Umair Haq off and on for quite a long time.  I say off and on because when he went beyonda paywall for a while, I couldn't justify the expense, small as it was.  It seems that he has emerged, with a new blog called The issue. Check it out.  Not that you will find it comforting or hopeful. 

 Here is a large excerpt of the current post.

Now let's come back to America. It's problem, The Fundamental Nuclear Bomb of Stupidity that's ripping it apart, is simple. Neither side is for universals. But what happens when that's the case? A Race to the Bottom explodes, which the fanatics are going to—inescapably—win, and I'm going to shortly explain why.

One party wants no universals of any kind, anywhere, whatsoever, period, full stop. In more and more extreme ways, in fact. The GOP—we know that, but let's refresh our memories,

Remember Reagan? The "Reagan Revolution" was one of history's most foolish agreements, choices, movements. It was basically the choice not to have universals—"I won't pay for those dirty peoples' healthcare!" Great, guess you like not having much yourself. That line of thinking never went away. It's all the modern GOP has ever been about. It's couched in nonsense like "fiscal responsibility," but any garden-variety economist can tell you, these days, that genuine fiscal responsibility is investing in universals, so living standards rise, and there's more of a surplus, which yields greater levels of investment still—the European Miracle.

That line of thinking in America has never changed. Not one iota, not one inch. The American right has always been against universals, full stop. What's happened is that those who are against universals have become willing to be more and more extreme in their fanatical pursuit of...not allowing any, ever, period, full stop. So Ronald Reagan did his corny aw-shucks grin, to sell it gently. Then along came Newt Gingrich, who couched it in abstruse, crackpot theories, which at least sounded impressive, to lay people.

But now? That road's been trodden. And all that's left are the hardcore extremists. Who don't care about persuasion. They're happily willing to resort to coercion, instead. So now it's not Reagan selling a message to the masses, it's the fanatical, neofascist wing of the GOP...trying to shut down the government...and damn the consequences...and when they couldn't do that...they ransacked their own party's leadership...to paralyze it anyways.

All so that there'll never be universals in America. Ever, period, full stop.

Now. That's half the story—perhaps the more important half, but still, only half. The other half?

The other side in America...doesn't want universals, eitherThis is what people mean when they say that America has "two right wings," and they're not wrong.

Think of the Democrats. Sure, they've made progress in the last few years, but it's not paradigmatic progress, as in, their foundational beliefs still haven't changed. And chief among those foundational beliefs is the notion that Americans shouldn't have universals...too. They don't want Americans to have...universal healthcare...retirement...college education...anything. Certainly not anything remotely approaching Canadian or European levels of modern social contracts.

So in America, there are two sides of politics...which, in reality...agree, philosophically, in a primary and fundamental way. This society is not to have universal...anything.

And that's why America's ungovernable. Because what happens next is a Race to the Bottom. Did you see how yet, or not? Let me spell it out, because I know it's still abstract.

What is the governance of an organization, anyways? Any organization, from a corporation to a...country? It's about universals.

Imagine that if I were the CEO of a company, and I suddenly said, hey, these guys don't get a salary anymore. And you guys? No bathrooms for you. Oh, and you over there? Sorry, you don't get pens, pencils, paper, laptops, and phones. That'd be ridiculous, right? People would walk, and my company would crater. So even running something as elementary as a company is about the administration of universals. What "managers" are there to do is decide who gets a little bit more, sometimes a lot, and who, less—but they don't decide that suddenly, hey, you get nothing. If they did that, even companies would collapse, in microseconds.

Now that you get that, imagine societies, which are much more complex and sophisticated. Have that many more moving parts, goals, purposes, people.

What do you do...if...you've already decided...that there are to be no universals?

There's nothing left to do.

Except squabble and bicker. Over who doesn't get what.

Endlessly. Over and over again. Pointlessly. And who wins that game? The loudest, angriest, and most extreme—by definition.

But proper administration, management, as in, the real thing? You've ruled it out from the very beginning. You've decided that there isn't really anything to govern or administrate. No universals, no rights, no institutions, no systems. Sure, America has government agencies, some, anyways, but increasingly, they're wracked by chaos and dysfunction, precisely because they're always being ripped apart by precisely the folly above. When you decide that there are to be no universals, the task of management or governance is rendered...futile...to begin with, because that's it's point.

So what's left? What happens, in that vaccum? Well, like I said, all you do is squabble over who doesn't get what, instead of administrating stuff that everybody does. That's Level One Dysfunction, and it's permeated America for decades now.

Level Two dysfunction is worse. The belief hardens and becomes invisible, and nobody even remembers the point of governance or management anymore, which is to administer universals, not just squabble over who doesn't get them. This is why America's discourse, its newspapers, media, pundits, etcetera, is/are so painful to read, watch, hear, listen to, why it's way of thinking, seeing, understanding is a laughingstock around the globe by now, stereotyped as dysfunctional. At Level Two, ideology conquers reality, and nobody even remembers universals, except maybe a Bernie Sanders, being politely ignored by everyone with a degree from an Ivy League university and an office on K Street.

Level Three? Think about what happens when all that's left is to squabble over who doesn't get what, instead of actually governing, which is administering universals. When that's all that's believed to be possible, right, just, fair, because now, reality's left the building? Who's going to win that fight? The lunatics are.

Why? Because they shout the loudest, because they're the angriest, because...it's an unfair fight, a fight of Most Stupid against Slightly Less Stupid. Most Stupid and Angry will always win the fight of Nothing Matters and Nobody Should Have It Anyways. Let me explain.

If you believe that there shouldn't be a thing, in this case, universals, and the other side also believes it, then...what are you even fighting over? Just who doesn't get it, basically. But the most extreme side will always win, because you both believe it shouldn't exist. The fight is rigged to begin with. So there you are, bargaining nicely, saying, OK, we also believe that people shouldn't have this. The other side, meanwhile, is willing to crash and burn everything from government to the marble Congress is made of itself, so that people will have even less of it.

See what I mean? This isn't really a "fight" at all. It's...a race to the bottom. And in that race, the one who's willing to get the dirtiest, the dumbest person, willing to drown themselves in muck, the most blind, who won't care one whit about kind of toxic waste they're about to leap into...they're going to win

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

I’m not willing to bend the knee, and those that are should move to Russia.

That's Dylan Combellick speaking, in his post Questions Russian Apologists Can’t Answer.  He answers only some of the stuff I have been exposed to lately.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

The changing shape of education?

 Another exciting article from the Guardian!

...much of our thinking is the result of successive cultural software upgrades; of thousands of years of evolving knowledge, skills and ways of thinking passed down through generations.

Take numbers. Our ancestors had a limited counting system, just as some small-scale societies do today. They counted 1, 2, 3 … and then “many”. Those that went further used stones, notches or body parts, but these systems don’t make the concept of zero obvious, let alone negative numbers, despite their usefulness in all sorts of calculation.

Then, in the 17th and 18th centuries, a new concept was developed – the number line, with digits arranged in sequence, horizontally. Moving from objects in front of us to positions in space made both zero and negative numbers more intuitive and teachable, even to young children. A world of complex arithmetic was opened up...

In the 1980s, intelligence researcher James Flynn noticed that IQ test scores were increasing over time. This became known as the Flynn effect. As schools got better and became accessible to more and more people, average IQ increased. Our societies reflected this new baseline: even entertainment became more complex. Think of the “Wham, Bam” Batman of the 1960s compared with the Dark Knight of the 2000s. Today’s lowest-brow TV has more characters and more convoluted storylines than anything our parents watched. But then progress stopped...

The Flynn effect has plateaued in the developed world. Innovations in education have stagnated. Schools remain fossils from a world before the internet and certainly before AI. In Britain, Venki Ramakrishnan, the head of the Royal Society, described Britain’s A-level system in which most students take just three subjects as no longer “fit for purpose”. Such systems, sculpted for an industrial society, falter in the face of a postindustrial, information economy. Schools were built for a world before the vast library of human knowledge became instantly accessible at our fingertips, through the computers on our desks and smartphones in our pockets.

Paradoxical as it may seem, plagiarism might be the answer. Plagiarism is how Estonia went from being a country where only half of households had access to a telephone in 1991 to one whose students top the western world in the OECD’s Pisa tables in mathematics, reading and science, beating the rest of Europe, the US, UK, Canada and Australia. It also has the highest number of $1bn startups per capita in the world. It has achieved this while spending far less per student than the OECD average...

See the Guardian for details and the argument! 


Friday, September 08, 2023

Good news about climate change and green energy?

Noah Smith of Noapinion is an interesting economist who makes his arguments based on numbers, numbers, numbers. And graphs. Maybe more than other economists who use numbers and graphs. Today e says the explosive growth of solar and battery power sources means that "our climate debates are out of date." There is lots of climate bad news -- ask Maui, Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories -- but Smith offers a set of numbers that provides reason for some optimism: the plunging cost of solar energy and battery power, and the dramatic growth of new energy sources around the world. Political regimes and private industry of different colors (Texas! California! China!) are piling into this area because MONEY TALKS. Have a look at his arguments and numbers here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Salman Rushdie, Jack Vance, and magic realism

I finally finished Salman Rushdie's novel The Enchantress of Florence and boy, what a read it is. The Scotsman quite accurately says
this book would do instead of food and drink.Everything you need is in there.
In fact, I found it extraordinarily rich. As in the case of a very few books I have read, I often stopped in amazement at how much story Rushdie crammed into a paragraph, a half-paragraph, or a bit more. The Enchantress was sometimes (too?) rich. At least, I often stopped, put the book down and did not pick it up again. Was The Enchantress a too rich dessert? Rather, I think that it was made up of so many threads that it was hard to find my place.

Is this a flaw in the book? I would point instead to another feature of the book, its vast scope. The tale stretches from Medici Florence to Delhi in the time of Akbar, the Mughal emperor who tried to an established, tolerant religion in his huge empire. Rushdie describes Akbar's line of thought in great detail. More: he does much the same for Akbar's male friends. And he does as much for the ladies -- several of whom wield mighty influence behind and before the throne, even though some of them are dead. Geography (this is the age of discovery) likewise is as important as character.

Rushdie clearly was fascinated by the era, the cultures, the debates, and he wants his readers to be fascinated, too. He may have thought, if anyone asked, "Mr. Rushdie, is this a novel or a history?" that he could hardly answer. (Would he have better luck answering if he and his interlocitur were discussing Greek literature of the 2nd century CE?) His desire to have his reflections on the history of Hindustan and Renaissance Italy taken seriously shows up in his four-page bibliography (a good one) and his concluding offer to correct any errors in citation.

As I was finishing up the book I was beginning to think how embarrasing my comparison of Rushdie to Jack Vance was. But then I picked up Vance's Showboat World and immediately saw why I had made the comparison and why it was not ridiculous after all. Vance and Rushdie have written magic realism (or science fiction and fantasy, let's be honest). Their novels often involve long journeys through exotic and mundane landscapes. Their characters often sadly reflect on the peculiar customs of the people they meet. The big difference between the two is that Rushdie anchors his tales in reality (you could call The Enchantress history)while Vance just makes things up (his glory).

Yes, Rushdie is the better writer, but Vance is his cousin.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Houston schools don't need libraries -- Boko Haram, Texas style

I was reading about the military coup in the west African State of Niger, and ran across a reference to Boko Haram, a Islamist terror organization that has been making trouble for years now in that region. I have often thought Boko Haram deserves a prize for honesty in extremist politics for the name (which, admittedly, is not its official name). Haram is derived from Arabic and can mean forbidden, corrupt or bad. Boko is from Hausa, a major West African language and now means something like Western Civilization (which is bad).

But look at the word boko. Doesn't it just scream to be translated as "book?" It's not like people in Nigeria, a major center of Boko Haram, aren't familiar with English.

Maybe this is just a fantasy, one if those coincidences common in language studies. No, Hausa is not related to Basque, or Sumerian.

If Boko Haram gets a rather ironic prize for its informal name what do these Houston school boards deserve:
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Students at dozens of Houston ISD schools will return in a few weeks without librarians and to former libraries that have been converted into disciplinary spaces. New Superintendent Mike Miles announced earlier this summer that librarian and media specialist positions would be eliminated at the 28 original schools being overhauled under his reform program, New Education System (NES). Both the librarian and media specialist positions are similar, but librarians typically have an advanced degree in library science. HISD said the 57 additional schools that opted into NES will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. "We understand the significance of certain programs associated with libraries and will strive to maintain those valuable offerings," the statement said.</blockquote> See the bold line above for the key sentence.

Friday, June 30, 2023

Robert Reich, well-known political insider, says "Run for office? No thanks!"

Many of you readers have probably thought about this. I have too. But this brought into focus an important aspect of democratic politics that often doesn't get discussed.

I've included some big excerpts from this piece, but I urge you to read the whole thing:
Friends, Several of you have written asking if I might consider running for office. Well, I have an announcement to make. Brace yourselves. I’m not running — for president or anything else. I’ve run once before (for the Democratic nomination for governor of Massachusetts in 2002) and learned I don’t have what it takes. Before I ran, I thought I knew everything there was to know about getting elected — which made me think I could get elected, too. I’d been involved in dozens of campaigns. I’d advised candidates running for governor, senator, and president. I’d worked for three presidents. I was wrong. It takes several unique personality traits to successfully run for a major public office. I don’t have them

First, you need to be sufficiently narcissistic to be able to sell yourself to voters (and anyone you need to help bankroll your campaign). In 2002, so many Massachusetts residents urged me to run that I thought voters (and funders) would flock to me once I announced. But the moment I said I was actually running, the burden of proof instantly shifted onto me. Even my most ardent supporters wanted to know: What made me think I would be a good governor? Many of the people who I assumed would be generous with their dollars in support of my campaign became skinflints overnight. Sure, I could promote policy ideas — I’d done it all my life — but I was terrible at promoting myself. It felt excruciatingly embarrassing. Telling complete strangers why they should be enthusiastic about me made me want to crawl into a hole and disappear. Dialing for dollars was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had.

Donald Trump is a masterful self-promoter because he’s a pathological narcissist. He boasts about himself nonstop and has probably done so since he was an infant. No matter that his bragging requires dangerous lies, vile smears, law-breaking, and a grandiosity that would cause normal people to cringe; he does it all without moral constraint. It’s all he does. He’s the extreme. But you’ve got to be big on self-promotion to get anywhere in electoral politics.

Second, you need to be wildly extroverted. By this I mean you get more energy out of every encounter with a total stranger — every handshake, pat on the back, morsel of conversation — than the energy you lose in such an encounter. So by the end of a day of such encounters, you end up more energized than at the start. Bill Clinton lived off this contact energy...

Third, you need to be a method actor. You have to be able to will yourself into feeling whatever a situation demands, so you come off as authentic. Ronald Reagan was a master of method acting, presumably because it had been his career before politics. Clinton was almost as good. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, far less so. Trump is fairly good at this. Richard Nixon and George W. Bush were lousy method actors; even when they told the truth, they seemed to be lying.
Lots more good stuff in the original post!

Monday, June 26, 2023

Mars is Heaven: an interesting discussion

 Matt Taibbi and Walter Kirn start by talking about Ray Bradbury's classic story "Mars is Heaven" and go off in all sorts of interesting directions.  A sample:

Walter Kirn: Here’s the reason why witch trials, panics and spy hunts are perpetually amusing, especially to the Puritan who has traditionally repressed his sexual drive and needs other forms of entertainment: they are fun. Let’s think back to the experience of a little kid at the time of the Salem witch hunts. You got to peek through people’s windows. You got to gossip about their liaisons in the woods. You got to run around. You were a junior detective, and everybody turns into a junior detective in a witch hunt or a moral panic. Everybody gets to turn somebody in, find a clue, overhear a damaging conversation. And then there are the punishments and the hangings that ensue. There are the trials themselves. And that general air of intrigue and excitement that replaces maybe an inadequate sexual life, or a lack of accomplishment, or even maybe failure of other ambitions.

So witch hunts are fun and Puritans know that, and they’re especially fun for them. And so why not have a permanent ongoing top to bottom all the time, completely justified in the name of anti-racism or anti anti-feminism – it’s not fair that they should be these periodic things that happened only in the 1950s, and then again now. They should happen every day from morning till night. There should be the opportunity to turn somebody in, discover guilt, sneak around, get concealed information, and also then watch on a sort of lag the people who got turned in last week get their punishment. And so witch hunt nation is fun nation. They call it a panic because it’s named after the god Pan, and what’s the god Pan? The god of fun.

Some quick reflections:  That this discussion of a 1948 story is taken so seriously in 2023 underlines something I've often thought, that sf, even if it is overrun by stories of superheroes and supervillains blowing up planets and time-travel paradoxes, is often more relevant than "realistic," mainstream fiction, even the stories of superheroes etc.  Are there superheroes?  Well, noone can doubt that there are supervillains. </p>

Taibbi and Kirn are fascinated by the power of the image of Puritan New England.  I find it a bit much.  I wonder if they have read Kim Stanley Robinson's three books, Red  Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars.  I consider them taken together to be the masterpiece of the American Utopian tradition in science fiction, the grown-up, updated version of Robert Heinlein's juvenile novel Red Planet.  Which was written about the same time as "Mars is Heaven."  Heinlein has been scarily prescient more than once: His Starship Troopers inspired the excellent response, Joe Haldeman's Forever War, whose title has long ago become part of ordinary discourse.  And Heinlein back in the 40s wrote, in Revolt in 2100 a picture of a successful Trumpist/Fundamentalist regime (and the revolution that overthrows it).

I've picked some nits but I recommend Taibbi/Kern nonetheless.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

There's a lesson here somewhere

 A headline from a Washington Post site:

Cash-strapped Taliban selling tickets to ruins of Buddhas it blew up.

Here's a shocker -- Landlord kills tenants who asked for repairs

The Maple (a Canadian progressive newsletter) directed  me to this under-reported story:

On Saturday, a landlord in Hamilton, Ont., shot and killed his two tenants who had approached him asking for repairs to be made to their unit. He took aim at them and fired his gun as they were fleeing from the home. A few hours later, police shot and killed the landlord following a standoff at the house, in which the landlord and the tenants had both lived in.

There is much more about the pressures on renters in Ontario and the rest of the country, but this is the heart of it.

Now I am no Marxist but an over-used phrase is appropriate here:  class warfare.  The rest of the Maple report refers to the large number of landlords who sit in the Canadian Parliament and the great advantages that landlords have in disputes, even when tenants exercise their right to appeal what they think are unreasonable rent increases,  The article goes in some detail about both topics.

Last year a trucker-led march  (the "Freedom Convoy") besieged the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa protesting masking policies meant to control the spread of COVID.  Others blocked the most important border crossing (Windsor-Detroit).  This march did not get a lot of sympathy from the population at large,  in part because the truckers were unbelievably rude.  Their main tactic was honking their horns day and night for weeks, making the lives of people who live in downtown Ottawa hellish.  The protesters claimed to be (or at least represent) the people but harassed people using the streets or going in and out of their homes.  Their "power" went to their heads and the way they used it

Since the Convoy I have a vision of another march:  the Rent March. There are far more people suffering from impossible rent increases and the impossibilities of buying a house than there are anti-vaxxers.  Many people have to choose between rent and food.  If they got organized and marched on Queen's Park (how people refer to Ontario's provincial parliament), it might be a very large march indeed.  Maybe this seems unlikely, but the pressure is building up.

Oh, yes. After the landlord had killed his tenants, the police showed up and tried to arrest him. Their efforts were in vain, and they shot and killed him.  If this was the initial skirmish of class warfare, nobody won.




Saturday, June 03, 2023

Are we worse off than Bronze Age peasants? Maybe.

Indrajit Samarajiva (indi.ca)is watching How to Get Rich on Netflix:

Americans think they’re kings, but they’re really a nation of debt peons. They have even less hope of amargi (return to mother, or debt forgiveness) than a Bronze Age slave. Those poor saps at least got debt relief every new ruler or so. Westerners live under one constant regime of usury and all they can choose is the color, red or blue.

All of this is outside the ambit of Ramit’s show, and that’s fine. I wanted to hate the show because A) the title and B) because most popular media about ‘personal finance’ makes it all about personal responsibility for what is fundamentally societal failure.

There’s one season where a young, orphaned man (Frank) in $200,000 of student loan debt is going through a pile of snail mail that he’s been afraid to open. It’s people offering him loans, credit cards, and various forms of debt. This is just a motherless child that is constantly preyed upon by rich usurers, and he’s expected to think his way out of it, and bear the burden of failure alone?

The very existence of student loan debt is crazy, the idea is that someone at 17 or 18 makes this decision that makes them a debt slave for life? It’s entrapment. In the Bronze Age children were taken into slavery for debts and we think that awful, but that’s what the American education system has become. And in the Bronze Age they at least got amargi now and then, debts were forgiven. Today the average American dies in debt, and then the usurers come and prey on their children. It’s no land of the free. It’s a nation of debt slaves with strong mythology, that’s all.

I say that it’s fine for the show to not address this, because Ramit’s general point is A) about just helping these people and B) helping them talk about money with each other. One couple remarks that they didn’t think this would be couples counseling, but it really is. Money (and financial ‘infidelity’) is one of the biggest pressures in marriage and money can be very difficult to talk about. I am much poorer than my wife and this used to be a problem until we had health problems that put everything in perspective. But we still struggle to talk about money without getting huffy. Whereas we have a culture of sharing to fall back on, what I observe on the show is that western couples have it twice as hard.

Within marriages they have separate finances, where one couple is earning $150,000 and the other hustling for $30,000 and they still split the bills. Or where one is drowning in debt that the other could pay off and they just don’t

People have so internalized capitalist individualization that it has consumed the very idea of marriage and family. People live in what looks like families, but maintain the rigid division of capitalism within their own households. And they carry so much shame with them about money that it gets in between what should be a sacred bond.

One gay man within a marriage said that he felt like he wasn’t contributing, and refused to take help by saying it was better for him to ‘learn’ by paying usurers. It’s sad how much people have internalized systemic abuse. They’re victims of predatory money lenders who think it’s their fault. Another couple — also making $150,000 plus — frets about being able to ‘retire’ their house-cleaner mother who’s still working two jobs well into old age. She came from Colombia to find a better life for her family, and this is somehow it. That man says he was ‘lucky to be born here’, but was he? This is the traumatized tale of the immigrant, where America and the historical White Empire destroys countries, and then the scattered refugees are supposed to be thankful for the opportunity to serve as debt slaves within Empire’s household. People always talk about migrating for a ‘better life’ but the real question is why was life made so bad that they had to move in the first place.

Now this son of an immigrant takes a month-long Italian vacation after promising his mother she could retire in two years. But as Ramit told him, he could retire her now. The toxicity of the individual is such that he’d rather go on vacation and buy a multi-family investment property than let his mother move in and take care of her.

I feel inclined to judge him, but after watching the show I actually don’t. He is just prey to a bad culture, not a bad person. The family has been destroyed so thoroughly in the West that even filial piety is considered another consumer choice, not a dharmic duty. What a deeply fallen world.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Robin Hood (1922)

Paul Halsall, a benefactor of humanity, has updated the list of medieval movies he long ago posted at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The updated version is a lot bigger than the original and very well organized.

One particular listing caught my eye: the one for Douglas Fairbanks' lavish version of Robin Hood. Fairbanks was not only the star, but the producer and the chief scriptwriter:and the full title of the movie is Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood. The movie is out of copyright and this allowed someone to post it on YouTube.

I don't know what I expected I would think of the movie, but I was surprised how easy it was to like it as sheer entertainment. My wife, watching the film out of the corner of her eye, had the same reaction. It was not "good for 1922," but "good."

But regarding it as an artifact of 1922, it was very interesting. The movie had an estimated budget of about a million US dollars (how much would that be to day -- a billion?) which made even Fairbanks consider abandoning it at one point. I have to wonder how long he considered this: fifteen minutes? fifteen seconds? This was his baby!

You can certainly see where the money went. Castles are a visual theme and they are very impressive -- huge -- and probably bigger than any real 12th century castles west of Constantinople. How did they build them, and the interior palace interiors? There are a vast number of courtiers and ladies or maids, all in reasonably authentic or at least evocative and very decorative costumes. I have the feeling that the costume budget might have been enough to break the bank (:-)! Do have a look!

American politics on the state level

I'm guessing that my readers don't pay much attention to the politics of the various states of the USA. It's a safe guess since hardly anyone does. If you are an American, you can test this proposition by answering this question: who is the attorney general of your state? Then reflect on the fact that even if you are not a Texan, the attorney general of Texas may have a big effect on, say, abortion law in your state.

If you want to understand the role of the states in current American politics, let me recommend a podcast from Talking Points Memo, Laboratories of Democracy? .I consider Josh Marshall, the creator of TPM, one of the best informed and smartest political commentators around. I particularly value his historical knowlege and his willingness to compare developments and institutions around the world. This makes him a better historian of American democracy.

Yes, he is more than a journalist.

Jacques le Goff on history

The extraordinary French historian Jacques le Goff has died at the age of 90 (which age no longer seems as old as it did only a decade or so ago).

I have nothing original to say about his life and work, so I will leave that task to those who know him and it better. You can see an obituary at Medievalists.net. href="https://www.medievalists.net/2014/04/jacques-le-goff-passes-away-age-90/"

. The obituary includes a quotation from Le Goff on what historians (should) do. This is not particularly original but makes some good points very briefly. I occasionally want to point people with naive views of history to something better, and sure enough, here it is.

“History is not given, history is constructed by the historian. But the historian cannot do just anything. He must make his construction with the aid of materials, documents. I have personally adopted Michel Foucault’s position that documents are not innocent. Documents have been made to impress, to form thinking, they are what you might call monument/documents.

We must maintain toward these monument/documents a critical spirit; but if this critical spirit leads to a purely deconstructive “shredding” of what is being set out before us, we lose ourselves in an intellectual anarchy from which nothing good can emerge.

So I think that not only is it necessary that we be moored to documents, I think we must also remind ourselves that historical truth is not one. It is not clear. We no longer believe, like Ranke, that we can recount things such as they really happened, such as they were. But if we don’t believe that there is a historical truth, even if we approach it only through interpretations and approximations, then history, which has made a meritorious effort to be scientific… then we historians may just as well resign ourselves to writing historical novels.”

– Jacques le Goff, in an interview with Historical Reflections from 1993.