Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 31, 2015

Assorted Links

Glacier Peak 7137b

1. “Have Republicans Learned to Love the Berlin Wall?”: “Yes, you read that right. A former White House official and Reagan aide is demanding that Mexico maintain a Berlin Wall to keep its own citizens from escaping.”

2. Ann Althouse on the psychohistorical forces leading to Trump: “Consider whether Trump is revealing something that has long been true about the American presidency, that he is not such a great outlier. And I’m not just talking about Obama. I’m thinking about all the Presidents I remember in my lifetime. It’s a trajectory, and if you plot it out, you’d see that Trump is next. Trump is next, we are idiots, and we are screwed.”

3. On Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet.

4. The Wild Effect and the Pacific Crest Trail: “Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir about hiking the trail was published in the spring of 2012, and the film version starring Reese Witherspoon came out in December of last year. Before the book was published, about 300 people would take out permits to attempt the full hike, which usually takes four to five months. It’s not yet known how many will try this year, but estimates range from 1,600 to 3,000 — 10 times the number who tried before the book came out.”

5. Game of Thrones is planning on eight seasons.

Image Credit: Glacier Peak, Washington. Photo by Walter Siegmund, August 2003. Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | July 25, 2015

Saturday Link Collection

Walnut Street Bridge

So. What’s been happening since I more-or-less went into radio silence:

The UK election. A major earthquake devastated Nepal. ISIS, somehow, endures in Mesopotamia. The Greeks voted to reject proposed terms, and then, when the Powers That Be in Europe were unmoved, the Greek government and parliament accepted substantially the same terms (if not worse). The Affordable Care Act survived its latest litigated challenge. SCOTUS has made marriage equality the law of the land. The US Women’s National Team won the World Cup in spectacular fashion. New Horizons visited Pluto, successfully. The Iran deal. Charleston. Confederate flags have started coming down, even in South Carolina (I would not have predicted that).

And, a week-and-a-half ago, a man decided to shoot up my hometown, killing four marines and one sailor.

Some links for your consideration:

1. A good start: the president has commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent offenders.

2. Steve Saideman: not every threat is an existential threat.

3. “No matter what the parliament decides and whether Greece ultimately stays in the euro or leaves, Europe will pay a price down the road for such a vengeful act.”

4. A schematic guide to the Iran nuclear deal.

5. “No, it’s not your opinion. You’re just wrong.”

6. Frequently asked questions about visiting Japan.

7. An interview with Judy Greer.

8. Big changes are coming to Firefox, supposedly.

9. Sadly, Judge Richard Kopf has decided to stop blogging.

Image Credit: Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo by Zack Johnston, December 2, 2005. Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | July 15, 2015

Photo of the Day

Charon by New Horizons on 14 July 2015

Pluto’s moon Charon, as imaged by the New Horizons spacecraft, July 14, 2015.

I am told that the dark region toward the north pole of Charon has provisionally been designated Mordor.

Image Source: NASA via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | July 13, 2015

Getting Close!


Fig. 1: Pluto as imaged by the New Horizons spacecraft, July 7, 2015, at a distance of approximately 8 million km.

New Horizons Full Trajectory Sideview

Fig. 2: New Horizons trajectory through July 13.

Image Source: NASA via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 21, 2015

Sunday Link Collection

1. At Crooked Timber, Gabriel Winant writes about the waning value of democratic citizenship:

Citizenship is waning. There are the obvious, brutal signs of this: the police apparently have a free hand to kill and cage certain citizens, more or less as they see fit; the fiscal state is crippled by the ability and willingness of its wealthier subjects to refuse taxation; voters must now share political space with corporations, their new legal equivalents in significant elements of democratic life. In many places, especially poorer places like Greece and Detroit, unelected bureaucracies now explicitly overrule the will of electorates. Then there are the more paradoxical data points indicating the civic crisis. As the value of democratic citizenship declines, for example, those who still have it behave more defensively, throwing up border walls and voting for neo-nationalists. The deportee prison, the mass drownings in the Mediterranean, the rise of Golden Dawn, UKIP, and the National Front: these phenomena signal the dissipation of citizenship as much as the overweening power of the European Central Bank or the quasi-colonial occupation of Ferguson do. When your portion is diminishing, you want to ration it out more stingily. If you’ve only got a little at all, though, what do you do?

Please do read the whole thing.

2. How would Ulysses be received if it were first released today? (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

3. Noah Smith on the feminism of Mad Max: Fury Road.

4. Kelsey Snyder in Wired: Hollywood sets up its female superheroes to fail.

5. At Slate, Willa Paskin reviews Poldark: “Each episode of the series comes to resemble a procedural in the consistency of its beats: Poldark faces a setback, which he overcomes by throwing in not with his fellow gentleman but with the poor, achieving a near-happy ending. … Poldark has no patience for dramatic tension. It is always in a rush. It turns what should be a deliciously drawn-out love story into a fait accompli.”

6. How the Scooby Doo gang would dress throughout each decade of the 20th Century.

7. What is code?

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 18, 2015


Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought 200 years ago today.

In this post, Anderson pushes back against the popular/conventional assertion that Waterloo was one of the “Great” or Decisive Battles of history:

The battle was a famous victory, but TBA opines it was neither decisive nor particularly interesting. Napoleon was gambling that he could bloody the Allies’ noses so badly with a defeat in detail (i.e., defeating separated elements of their army) that he could negotiate a return to power. But the Allies were done with him, and had been since 1814. There is no plausible scenario where they would’ve accepted Napoleon’s return. Had he swept the field at Waterloo, another coalition army would have been put together.

Nor, close-run thing tho it may have been, was Waterloo a great battle as, say, Austerlitz was a great battle: a tactical masterpiece. For whatever reason, Napoleon’s tactical genius abandoned him, and he spent the day hurling troops into a frontal attack on a strong Allied (less than half British) position.

But mainly, this anniversary gives me an excuse to offer this xckd comic:

Image Credits: (1) Wikimedia Commons; (2) Randall Munroe, xkcd (CC BY-NC 2.5).

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 15, 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5


Game of Thrones wrapped up its fifth season Sunday evening.

The show had a strong finish for the season, but pacing was an issue all season long.* While the showrunners spent two full seasons developing plots adapted from the third volume of Martin’s series (A Storm of Swords), in season 5 they rushed through the material of two books in one season. This frantic pace meant that some plots were rushed — like the situation in King’s Landing, where the evolution of the Faith Militant and the rise of the High Sparrow did not have time to show the ominous, gradual, grassroots growth that shows in A Feast for Crows. And some plots were distorted and rendered unintelligible and meaningless by the process of condensation. The Dorne storyline was never my favorite storyline in the books, but the story on the page in A Feast for Crows was markedly better than what HBO delivered this season. The Sand Snakes fell flat, which is especially disappointing after Oberyn Martell (portrayed by Pedro Pascal) made such a splash in season 4. And whatever the weaknesses of the Dorne plot in the book, it is clear at the end that Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne, is a crafty man and most definitely has a larger plan, as much as Varys or Littlefinger. Basically none of that came across this season — which is almost a waste of an excellent actor.

On the plus side, almost everything having to do with the storyline at the Wall was executed very well.

Anyway, some linkage (SPOILERS at all the links):

1. Dave Schilling, Grantland: “My god, the Sand Snakes. Can we talk about this? Did the writing staff of Game of Thrones add a 12-year-old to the room? I was half-expecting Kevin Sorbo or Louis Gossett Jr. to show up for an episode as Doran’s plot device/bodyguard, which frankly would have been an upgrade. After 10 episodes, the Sand Snakes accomplished two things: helping their mom kill Myrcella and fulfilling HBO’s nudity requirement. That could have taken half of one episode. You could have even skipped the nudity, folks. When was the last time Game of Thrones was even remotely titillating? After the 500th sexual assault and the millionth beheading, I’d be more excited by Dennis Franz’s bare cheeks on a rerun of NYPD Blue than this show.”

2. Jamelle Bouie, on the penultimate episode of the season: “So, my entire thought while watching that scene in the fighting pits with the Sons of the Harpy was ‘I wish dragons existed during Reconstruction,’ since — in the context of Game of Thrones — the Sons of Harpy are basically the Ku Klux Klan, and a world where Union soldiers soared through the Louisiana bayou burning Klansmen is a good world.”

Read More…

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 13, 2015

Saturday Link Collection

1. The North-South Divide on Two-Parent Families. (H/T: Althouse.)

2. A proposed footbridge in London is inspiring outrage.

3. Note to self: if ever climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia, do not pose for semi-nude photos at the summit.

4. This interactive map shows when different buildings in Los Angeles were built.
(H/T: Erik Loomis, LGM.)

5. Guardian: “Secret Aid Worker: After years in the field, I worry I’ve lost my compassion.” (H/T: Chris Blattman.)

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | June 12, 2015

Yoga and The Faith

Yoga in King George Square Brisbane-01=

In early 1962, Thomas Merton wrote as follows, in an essay entitled “Christian Culture Needs Oriental Wisdom” (originally published in Catholic World 195 [May 1962], 72-79):

Does this mean that the suggestion given in our title is strictly true? Does Christian culture need Oriental wisdom? It would certainly be rash to state this without further qualification. Yet we may ask ourselves a few pertinent questions on the subject.

First of all, it is quite clear that no non-Christian religion or philosophy has anything that Christianity needs, in so far as it is a supernaturally revealed religion. Yet from the point of view of the “incarnation” of revealed Christian truth in a social and cultural context, in man’s actual history, we know how much Greek philosophy and Roman law contributed to the actual formation of Christian culture and even Christian spirituality. We know too with what breadth of view and with what lofty freedom the scholastic doctors of the thirteenth century made use of Aristotle and his Arabian commentators. It can certainly be said that if a similar use had been made of Oriental philosophy and religious thought from the very start, the development of Christianity in Asia would have been a different story. Our Western Christian thought and culture would also have been immeasurably enriched and deepened.

Have we not been too ready to dismiss Oriental philosophy without really attempting to understand it? Do we not still shrug it off with a few easy generalizations?

(A Thomas Merton Reader, 301-02.)

I thought about the above passage when I read, late last month, about the latest ecumenical efforts by Fabian Bruskewitz, retired Catholic Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska:

Retired Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz stirred up debate this month with a letter he wrote to Women of Grace, a Florida-based Catholic organization.

The organization wrote a blog post that says the letter advised “Catholics to steer clear of yoga because of its basis in Hinduism and to take up other methods of exercise that don’t place the faith in unnecessary danger.”

Women of Grace describes itself as Catholic apostolate “whose mission is to transform the world one woman at a time.” The organization lists Bruskewitz as a member of its board of directors.

See also here:

In his letter, he urged women to find other forms of exercise that do not jeopardize their faith. The issue with yoga is that it is based in Hinduism — a religion the Catholic church has called “incompatible to Christianity.”

That’s not to say all yoga enthusiasts embrace Hinduism — in fact most Americans taking part in yoga do it for the physical and mental benefits of stretching, breathing and meditating.

But still, practitioners say Hindu phrases such as “namaste” — commonly translated: “the light within me bows to the light within you” — they assume poses with names like sun salutations and warrior, which have deep roots in the Hindu faith.

Uh-huh. And that led to this: “Hindus have asked the Vatican to discipline retired Lincoln Diocese Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz for telling Catholics that doing yoga could lead to serious sin. In a statement issued Friday morning, Hindu cleric Rajan Zed urged Pope Francis to discipline Bruskewitz for the unnecessary condemnation of yoga. …”


And then, on a related note, there’s this: “Is Yoga Religious? In India, It’s a Vexed Question” (H/T: Althouse):

Senior Muslim leaders in India are unhappy that some state governments are giving children compulsory lessons in yoga, which they say involves some practices contrary to Islamic beliefs.

Leaders say the practice of “surya namaskar” or sun salutation – a series of poses – goes against Shariah or Islamic law, which doesn’t allow Muslims to bend before anyone other than Allah, or God.

“We don’t believe in praying to the sun,” said Mohammad Abdul Rahim Quraishi, spokesman for Lucknow-based All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Yet, Mr. Quraishi said that schools in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have made yoga sessions compulsory, and the lessons include “surya namaskar”. He said that the sessions also require chanting of the word “Om” or other Sanksrit verses or shlokas, which he believes are connected to Hindu religion.

“They are trying to impose Hindu religion. On that, we have objection,” Mr. Quraishi said.

Over the weekend, the Muslim Law Board said it would constitute an action committee to look into whether compulsory yoga teaching at schools violates Indians’ constitutional rights, said Mr. Quraishi.

India’s ruling Bharaitya Janata Party says yoga is a secular activity. Yoga “is a science that deals with the well-being of the human mind and body,” said BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli. “There is no religious angle to this at all.”

I wish that I had more to say about all of this, but the whole controversy just leaves me…speechless.

So, offered without further comment.

Namaste, y’all.

Image Credits: (1) Yoga in King George Square, Brisbane. Photo by John, July 2013. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. Source: Flickr. (2) Photo by Matt Olsen, May 2008. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license. Source: Flickr.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | June 10, 2015

Book Reviews

1. At Howl at Pluto, LFC reviews Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives, by James Turner Johnson: “Johnson is an expert on ‘the just war tradition,’ and in Sovereignty he considers the co-evolution of ideas about sovereignty and just war. Indeed the book probably should have been called something like The Just War Tradition and Sovereignty, since that would have more accurately indicated its contents than the title it actually carries.”

2. In the NYRB, Cass Sunstein on Friedrich Hayek on John Stuart Mill: “Hayek died in 1992, but the University of Chicago Press is continuing with a multivolume edition of his collected works. Readers are discovering essays by Hayek that were never published, were not easily available, or were not widely known. What would Hayek have to say about a great champion of liberty, in some ways his intellectual ancestor, who ended up embracing socialism? How stunning, then, to find that the volume has only a few snippets on that question. Instead it largely consists of a book, first published in 1951, that grew out of an enormous, uncharacteristic, and somewhat obsessive undertaking by Hayek, which was to assemble what remains of the correspondence between Mill and his eventual wife, Harriet Taylor (one or the other destroyed numerous letters, probably including the most interesting), and to use it as the basis for a narrative account of their mysterious love affair.” (H/T: Althouse.)

3. In the LA Review of Books, Andrew Heisel reviews Brett Martin’s Difficult Men: “Discussions of the new golden age usually just translate the standards of the higher arts into this besmirched sphere. Hence the medium is often called the new film or the new novel. The first golden age was 1950s teleplays. Neither Martin’s new book nor the critics of the time included I Love Lucy. The second golden age, first described in a 1997 book by Robert J. Thompson, lasted from 1978 to 1994 but omits Taxi, The Cosby Show, and other sitcoms. Instead, Thompson focuses on dramas with lower ratings and less staying power like Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and China Beach. Likewise, while comedies have drawn much attention from critics in recent years, think pieces about the present golden age rarely mention them except in passing. (It’s telling that light-on-laughs Louie is the most revered one.) And though a BuzzFeed piece recently knocked The New York Times’ TV critics for “resistance to seeing value in the popular,” the highest rated programs of this era—like NCIS and Two and a Half Men—are almost universally ignored in these discussions. But sometimes the point is less the validity of the ‘golden age’ claims than what they say about the speaker. To be fair, many TV critics now only use the phrase in scare quotes, and some, like Slate’s Willa Paskin and Todd VanDerWerff, formerly of The A.V. Club, fully recognize how the term can limit approaches to the medium and want to put it to rest. It’s actually a little surprising the term could still have such restrictive power anyway. At this point, it is nearly drained of all former associations. The final triumph against the past has been to rewrite the very term by which it was appreciated, to make “golden age” a mere replacement for ‘really good.'” (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

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