Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 30, 2015

Monday Link Collection and Assorted Thoughts

Tataouine by night

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must stop ISIS before they get there.”

1. The Tunisian government would like to reassure Star Wars fans that ISIS has not occupied Tatouine.

2. It seems that Idris Elba may be playing a Klingon antagonist in the next Star Trek movie. Cool.

3. Steven Spielberg is “on board” to film an adaptation of Ready Player One.

4. An article on an 1871 expedition that helped decide the location of the Panama Canal.

Ugandan fishing boats

5. In East Africa, too many fishermen are chasing too few fish in Lake Victoria: “In the 1970s there were 50,000 fishermen and 12,000 fishing boats on Lake Victoria. Today, according to the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO), the body charged by the East African Community with safeguarding the lake’s future, over 200,000 people fish from 60,000 boats, with more than 2,000 new vessels appearing on the lake every year.”

6. In 1902, Jack London decided to check out the working class slums of the East End of London, England. What he found he described as “a vast shambles,” a “human hellhole,” and “a huge killing-machine.” The book that London wrote about his experience — The People of the Abyss — appeared in 1903. Michael Caines has reviewed the book for the TLS. (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

Crater lake oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon. This is not a radioactive lake. But the Chagan Lake is also a crater lake.

7. About American and Soviet attempts to use nuclear weapons for peaceful projects, like building reservoirs:

In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States attempted to improve the image of nuclear bombs by using them for public works. This went about as poorly as you’d suspect.

It was called Operation Plowshare. Nuclear bombs were tested to see if they could excavate large caverns inside mountains, produce steam power, or clear rough terrain to make highways. The vast amount of radiation, and the fact that underground caves would stay boiling hot for months after the explosion, made excavation impracticable. When the government tried boiling underground water for steam power, they got steam, but they didn’t always have a good way to channel it. Random patches of the ground nearby would explode outward, venting radioactive steam.

The Soviet Union was thinking along the same lines as the United States. They designated a nuclear testing site (without regard for nearby cities full of people, of course) and tested various aspects of nuclear bomb. They bombed the Chagan river, for example, as a way of testing whether nuclear bombs would be a good way to make reservoirs. They got a lake, all right, but it was an irradiated lake that is still not safe to swim in.

8. Alice Kaplan on contemporary treatments and evaluations of Albert Camus.
(H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

9. I think the current (sixth) season of Archer is pretty good — if nothing else, a marked improvement over the somehow strained and largely forgettable fifth season.

10. The Americans continues to be excellent. The pacing, between episodes and even more so within episodes, has been weird — in part, I think, to keep viewers off balance. (I seem to recall The Sopranos doing something similar much of the time.) A few weeks ago, the lead characters watched as one of their allies executed an enemy agent by dousing him in gasoline and setting him on fire — and I remember thinking that the camera stayed on the burning man for several seconds longer than would have been the case in most US TV shows. It was intense, especially for basic cable. I for one applaud the showrunners for being willing to take risks.

~ ~ ~

Programming Note: blogging will be light for the next month or so.

Image Credits: (1) View of Tataouine, Tunisia, by night. Photo by Averater, December 2012, and used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Fishing boats at Ggaba Landing Site, Lake Victoria, Uganda. Photo by sarahemcc, August 2006, used under a CC BY 2.0 license, via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Crater Lake, Oregon. Zainubrazvi, July 2006, and used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 30, 2015

Random Art Blogging, van Gogh Edition

Vincent Willem van Gogh 113

Vincent van Gogh, Souvenir de Mauve, 1888.

Today is Vincent van Gogh’s birthday! He was born on today’s date in 1853.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 28, 2015

On Appalachia, the Civil War, and States That Might Have Been

Last month I finished James McPherson’s Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief, about which more in a later post. Today, I just wanted to highlight one passage that struck me (p. 172):

Following the defeat at Gettysburg and the loss of Vicksburg, morale plunged and cries for peace arose in parts of the Confederacy, especially North Carolina. The western part of that state, like East Tennessee and the portion of Virginia that became West Virginia, had contained many Unionists in 1861. And the rest of North Carolina perhaps included more reluctant rebels than any other Confederate state.

We shouldn’t read too much into this (in the same paragraph, McPherson notes that the governor of North Carolina, Zebulon Vance, was “a loyal Confederate,” and Vance did win reelection in 1864), but this portion of the book triggered a line of thought. We know that the western counties of Virginia voted to secede from Virginia after Virginia voted to secede from the Union, and those western counties went on to become the state of West Virginia, which endures to the present day. Along similar lines, I have heard and read that East Tennessee almost seceded from Tennessee.

It seems to me that the Feds missed an opportunity here to redraw some state lines. (OK, the Feds missed a lot of opportunities in the closing phases of the Civil War, and in Reconstruction, and following Reconstruction… but I’m focusing here on one particular missed opportunity.) We could have combined East Tennessee and western North Carolina into a new state — sort of a super-amped revival of the State of Franklin, say. Or call it the State of Appalachia. I’m envisioning a state that encompasses, basically, everything east of the Cumberland Plateau and west of, perhaps, Charlotte — which would encompass the metropolitan areas of Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Asheville, along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a Cherokee reservation, and some other stuff.

My thoughts wandered along these lines in part because, in multiple ways, East Tennessee has much more in common with western North Carolina than with West Tennessee. In my experience, at least, Knoxville has always seemed closer, culturally, to Asheville than to Memphis. For its part, Memphis probably has more affinity with Jackson, MS, or maybe even with Baton Rouge, than with Knoxville or Chattanooga. YMMV.

(Nashville is its own little anomaly. The last time I was in Nashville, I saw a White Castle. I wasn’t even sure I was still in the South.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 26, 2015

Poem for the Day

Arthur Hugh Clough, “Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth”:

Say not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke conceal’d,
Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!

I believe Clough wrote this poem shortly after witnessing the failure of several of the revolutions of 1848.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 24, 2015

Tuesday Art Blogging

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes 093

Francisco Goya, Still life with fruit, bottles, breads, circa 1824-26.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 22, 2015

Sunday Link Collection

1. Alex Tabarrok on the California water shortage. See also Erik Loomis.

2. Looking back at the decisions leading up to the introduction of U.S. ground forces in a combat role in Vietnam, fifty years ago this month.

3. “SF Archdiocese Apologizes For Water System To Repel Homeless”: “Saint Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco will dismantle a system that pours water on entrance areas of the church frequented by homeless after receiving a formal notice of violation from the city. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Archdiocese has apologized for the ‘misunderstood’ and ‘ill-conceived’ effort to keep homeless out of alcoves used to enter and exit the church.” (H/T: Ann Althouse.)

4. A Russian immigrant on watching The Americans. (H/T: Will Truman.)

5. A fox village, in Japan.

Ars Technica reports on an interesting study of the “fine-scale genetic structure of the British population.” On their methods:

Obviously, people in the UK these days don’t always stick around where they were born, so people in a given region don’t necessarily share ancestry. But, if you can find people whose ancestry is closely tied to a particular region, it becomes possible to approximate what genomes would have been like a century ago, before people could move around so easily.

A paper published in Nature this week analyzed the genomes of 2039 people whose grandparents were all born within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of one another. This effectively meant that the researchers were sampling the genomes of the grandparents, whose average birth year was 1885 and who obviously had strong ties to a region. This allowed the researchers to investigate the genetic structure of the UK population before the mass movements of last century.

The researchers (mostly British and Australian) identified 17 “distinct clusters.” Also, “there was no identifiable, general ‘Celtic’ group. Samples from Orkney, Wales, Cornwall, and Devon were distinct from the rest of England and Scotland, but didn’t cluster together in any way. The Welsh populations show a stronger link than other groups to the first settlers of Britain after the last Ice Age.” And: “What was unexpected was the lack of clear evidence of Danish Viking occupation, which suggested that the Vikings didn’t mix much with the local population. While Orkney (part of Norway until 1472) showed a clear Norse genetic stamp, this didn’t show up much in the rest of the UK population.”

Cool map at the link.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 18, 2015

Random Art Blogging

Pieter Fransz. de Grebber 001

Pieter Fransz de Grebber, Elisha refuses the gifts of Naaman, 1637.

Context: 2 Kings 5:15-17.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The title of this post comes from Patrick’s “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus,” a furious open letter that Patrick wrote to the people of Britain after British slavers under Coroticus raided Ireland, carrying off in slavery some Irish Christians that Patrick had confirmed the previous day. From the letter:

I myself have composed and written these words with my own hand, so that they can be given and handed over, then sent swiftly to the soldiers of Coroticus. I am not addressing my own people, nor my fellow citizens of the holy Romans, but those who are now become citizens of demons by reason of their evil works. They have chosen, by their hostile deeds, to live in death; comrades of the Scotti and Picts and of all who behave like apostates, bloody men who have steeped themselves in the blood of innocent Christians. The very same people I have begotten for God; their number beyond count, I myself confirmed them in Christ.

The very next day after my new converts, dressed all in white, were anointed with chrism, even as it was still gleaming upon their foreheads, they were cruelly cut down and killed by the swords of these same devilish men. At once I sent a good priest with a letter. I could trust him, for I had taught him from his boyhood. He went, accompanied by other priests, to see if we might claw something back from all the looting, most important, the baptized captives whom they had seized. Yet all they did was to laugh in our faces at the mere mention of their prisoners.

Because of all this, I am at a loss to know whether to weep more for those they killed or those that are captured: or indeed for these men themselves whom the devil has taken fast for his slaves. …

Because of this, let every God-fearing man mark well that to me they are outcasts: cast out also by Christ my God, whose ambassador I am. Patricides, they are, yes and fratricides, no better than ravening wolves devouring God’s own people like a loaf of bread. …

From a post that I wrote two years ago:

When we look at ancient sources, the silence or acceptance regarding slavery seems depressingly universal, a broad darkness. In that darkness, Patrick’s letter is an early and lonely light. He truly was a voice crying out in the wilderness, practically alone.

So here’s to Saint Patrick, archbishop, missionary, visionary, one of the first to raise his voice against the international slave trade.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 14, 2015

Assorted Links, Pi Day Edition

Happy Pi Day!

Some links for your consideration:

1. Dan Drezner is not impressed with Captain Kirk.

2. We really don’t need a sequel to Blade Runner, right?

3. Whales on the Wrong Side of the World.

4. From Megan McArdle: recipe suggestions for Pi Day.

Updated to add: 5. The Techniker has been informed.

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