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July 2009

Friday Ephemera

Do you own an ICBM silo? // Silo makeovers. // USB-powered chainsaw. // A 3-D map of Hong Kong. (h/t, Coudal) // Could you make a toaster from scratch? // A chess set made of vacuum tubes. // Clothing made of leaves. // Origami dollars. // Socialist grades. // Hitchens on evil. // Unusually limber. // LCD monitor porn. It’s curved, it’s big and it’s $8,000. // Fancy a pair of toe shoes? // Modern mega-churches. // Deep zoom the Moon. // Someone didn’t like the Battlestar finale. // The SR-71 Blackbird. A piece of aeronautic art. (h/t, Maggie’s Farm) // More experimental aircraft. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Richard Cheese.


ABC’s Middle East correspondent Anne Barker visits Jerusalem and feels the presence of the numinous

Orthodox Jews are angry at the local council’s decision to open a municipal car park on Saturdays - or Shabbat, the day of rest for Jews. It’s a day when Jews are not supposed to do anything resembling work, which can include something as simple as flicking a switch, turning on a light or driving.

Some of you may recall this story involving strict observance of the Sabbath and some bothersome stair lights. The combination of self-inflicted debilitation and cosmic vanity is not without comic potential. What follows, though, isn’t quite so funny.

I was mindful I would need to dress conservatively and keep out of harm’s way. But I made my mistake when I parked the car and started walking towards the protest, not fully sure which street was which. By the time I realised I’d come up the wrong street it was too late.

I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest - in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats… As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the sound. Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me. I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting - on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms. It was like rain, coming at me from all directions - hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses. Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face. Somewhere behind me - I didn’t see him - a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me. […]

I was later told it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.

When people take it upon themselves to be aggressively offended on behalf of some hypothetical deity, this is rarely a good sign. (You’d think any deities that exist could take care of themselves, such being the nature of deity. And if these hypothetical beings have egos to bruise and a need for vicarious payback then I fear we’re all in trouble.) Electing oneself as a Local Agent of the Lord can easily lead to some fundamental confusion and a sense of grandiose entitlement: “His will is my will, therefore my will is His.” And when the alleged cosmic grievance extends to car parking and tape recorders, I think we can safely assume we’re in the presence not of the numinous but of mortal psychodrama. Being drunk on Jehovah’s breath is, if nothing else, a wonderful license to indulge those vindictive inclinations.

Via B&W.

Reheated (5)

For newcomers, three more items from the archives.

Freeloading and Snobbery

Arts establishment claims to be “suppressed,” sneers at the little people, demands free money.

I’m not convinced that the reduction of taxpayer subsidy for loss-making plays qualifies as “suppression.” And reluctant taxpayers please take note: Despite all the years of providing handouts, you’re now on the side of the oppressor.

Womanier Stuff.

The comedic potential of Women’s Studies newsgroups.

As a result of all this “questioning” and “confronting” of logic perhaps we can look forward to the first feminist computer, which will presumably operate on more “wholistic” non-logical principles. If such a device could be built, I’m confident it would generate answers that are ideologically agreeable, if not actually correct.


Atom bombs and Moon landings. The photographic essays of Michael Light.

One incidental detail… illuminates the unique comic potential of practical nuclear physics. Ted Taylor was a miniaturisation expert involved in many of the early atmospheric experiments. On June 5th, 1952, during the test explosion of a 14 kiloton device in the Nevada Desert, Taylor used a parabolic mirror to focus the bomb’s glare and light his cigarette.

Poke about in the greatest hits.

A Czar, You Say?

TDK thinks you may be interested in this:

Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.

Compulsory population control? Compulsory abortion? I’d have guessed that “concluding” such things, even in the passive voice, might hinder a person’s climb to a position of political influence.

Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods is a suggestion that seems to horrify people more than most proposals for involuntary fertility control. Indeed, this would pose some very difficult political, legal and social questions, to say nothing of the technical problems. No such sterilant exists today, nor does one appear to be under development. To be acceptable, such a substance would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: it must be uniformly effective, despite widely varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have no effect on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets, or livestock.

Perhaps you think such totalitarian musings would cast a little doubt on a person’s credibility. Apparently not

Related: Infestation.


Brace yourselves for some pure essence of Guardian, courtesy of Libby Brooks.

Amid the economic rubble, a revolution is being knitted.

I bet you weren’t expecting that.

Tactile and egalitarian, nourishing and slow, arts and crafts are enjoying a deserved revival in our recession-hit society.

The “nourishing” bit is a nice touch, implying as it does a wholesomeness and moral regeneration to offset all that “economic rubble” business. Yes, it’s true, home-made woollens will set us free and make us warmer, better people. Well, warmer possibly.

This week, the think-tank Demos published a collection of essays exploring the idea of “expressive life.” In the volume, US arts writer Bill Ivey - who coined the phrase - and Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, tease out the prospect of a rebirth of the arts and crafts movement as part of the search for quality of life in a post-consumerist, recession-hit society.

Post-consumerist? Really? Care to bet on that, Libby?

At a moment when laid-off bankers are testifying to the benefits of basket-weaving, a reversion to the reformist aesthetic of John Ruskin and William Morris can feel suitably corrective.

Oh, there’s more.

The reasons for this resurgence are not hard to fathom: we are producers frustrated with never seeing the end product of our efforts; consumers weary of being bullied into buying stuff we don’t need, that is badly made or doesn’t fit.

I’m all in favour of craft. For instance, a professional columnist concerned with her craft, or with basic competence, might hesitate before filing an article in which she baldly asserts that “we” are “frustrated” and “weary,” dressed in ill-fitting clothes, and worse, “bullied into buying stuff we don’t need.” Who is this presumed “we”? How does Libby know what you or I need, or want, or how “bullied” and “weary” we are, if at all? Alas, dear Libby doesn’t reveal the secret of her preternatural knowledge. She does, however, tell us,

You cannot Twitter a cushion cover.

Before delivering the obligatory moral punch line.

Crucially, craft is egalitarian. While some in the Labour party appear bent on resuscitating the canard of meritocracy, which divides the gifted few from the unexceptional mass, craft reminds us of the significance of equality of outcome, rather than of opportunity. Everyone shares the capacity to develop a skill, based on decent teaching, application and time - not raw talent.

Ah. There we go. Equality of outcome, rooted in a knitwear revolution. Any monkey can be taught to knit or whittle, apparently, and this is reassuringly egalitarian, and therefore good. All “we” need is teaching, no “raw talent” required. Raw talent - like its more evil relations, giftedness and genius – is by definition unequally distributed, conspicuous, and thus to be frowned upon. And if Libby should, God forbid, be knocked down by a bus, I’m sure she’d welcome treatment by a surgeon whose skills are, at best, unremarkable. 

Friday Ephemera

Ravishing bacteria. // What aliens are watching. // Make your own Klingon forehead ridges. (h/t, Candice) // The Kremlin, revealed. // The internet in space. // Michio Kaku’s cosmology cheat sheet. // The latest crop of rice paddy art. // Sheep crackers. // Dark Zoo. (h/t, Coudal) // Monochrome pigs. // Animals that glow. // A world of weeping. // Penthouse poverty. // In praise of the wheel. // Disney and Dali. // Building with glass. // Snowboarding, dude. // Bad movies of note. Flash Gordon, bad? (h/t, Things) // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Andy Bright

The Whale That Exploded

No, seriously. See for yourselves. 

I quote:

In January 2004, the carcass of a 50-ton sperm whale explodes in a Taiwanese city centre. [National Geographic Channel] examines the physics and the biology of this 100,000-pound animal whose body was destroyed by its own internal forces. On the way to Tainan University for research, the whale exploded due to volatile gas build up in the abdomen.

At this point, further comment seems unwise. It would only lead to jokes involving the ending of Watchmen and “volatile gas build-ups.”

Friday Ephemera

There’s something lurking in the sewer. Worms, apparently. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus) // Have you examined your ant lately? // Our insect overlords. // Challenging stairs. (h/t, Dr Westerhaus) // Art made from chewing gum. // Art made from bacon. // Bacon haikus. // Do you see blue and green? // Feats of skill and madness. (h/t, Coudal) // Edit solo. // The 50 greatest film trailers? // Destroying a planet isn’t as easy as you’d think. // Dioramas of Normandy, 1944. // The jellyfish are coming. // Fish sculptures. // Cat Ladies. // The CandyFab 6000. // A castle made of paper. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s the return of Señor Coconut

Every Bit as Hobbled

I’ve previously noted the tendency of some academic activists to indulge in wild overstatement, not least those entranced by the Holy Trinity of race, class and gender. As, for instance, when Barbara Barnett, a product of Duke’s infamous English department, claimed that, “20%–25% of college students report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape.” Barnett’s assertions were subsequently debunked by KC Johnson

Barnett… thereby [suggests] that college campuses have a rate of sexual assault around 2.5 times higher than the rate of sexual assault, murder, armed robbery and assault combined in Detroit, the U.S. city with the highest murder rate. For those in the reality-based community, FBI figures provide a counterweight to Barnett’s theories: not 20%-25% but instead around .03% of students are victims of rape while in college. Duke’s 2000-2006 figures, which use a much broader reporting standard than the FBI database, indicate that 0.2% of Duke students “report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape.”

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Christina Hoff Sommers spies more academic work in which accuracy appears peripheral to a political agenda:

Consider The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World (2008), by the feminist scholar Joni Seager, chair of the Hunter College geography department… One color-coded map illustrates how women are kept “in their place” by restrictions on their mobility, dress, and behavior. Somehow the United States comes out looking as bad in this respect as Somalia, Uganda, Yemen, Niger, and Libya. All are coded with the same shade of green to indicate places where “patriarchal assumptions” operate in “potent combination with fundamentalist religious interpretations.”

Seager’s logic? She notes that in parts of Uganda, a man can claim an unmarried woman as his wife by raping her. The United States gets the same low rating on Seager’s charts because, she notes, “State legislators enacted 301 anti-abortion measures between 1995 and 2001.” Never mind that the Ugandan practice is barbaric, that U.S. abortion law is exceptionally liberal among the nations of the world, and that the activism and controversy surrounding the issue of abortion in the United States is a sign of a vigorous free democracy working out its disagreements.

Among the scholarly lapses discussed is the following nugget, from Nancy K.D. Lemon’s Domestic Violence Law, which includes an historical perspective by Cheryl Ward Smith.

According to Ward Smith:

“The history of women’s abuse began over 2,700 years ago in the year 753 BC. It was during the reign of Romulus of Rome that wife abuse was accepted and condoned under the Laws of Chastisement... The laws permitted a man to beat his wife with a rod or switch so long as its circumference was no greater than the girth of the base of the man’s right thumb. The law became commonly know as ‘The Rule of Thumb.’ These laws established a tradition which was perpetuated in English Common Law in most of Europe.”

Where to begin? How about with the fact that Romulus of Rome never existed. He is a figure in Roman mythology - the son of Mars, nursed by a wolf. Problem 2: The phrase “rule of thumb” did not originate with any law about wife beating, nor has anyone ever been able to locate any such law. It is now widely regarded as a myth, even among feminist professors.

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