Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Economic Impact of Culture Can Be Overrated

While Mitt Romney's remarks at a fundraiser in Jerusalem on July 30th were not his finest hour, they do raise an interesting question about the contributing factors in economic development:

I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States. I noted that part of my interest when I used to be in the world of business is I would travel to different countries was to understand why there were such enormous disparities in the economic success of various countries.

I read a number of books on the topic. One, that is widely acclaimed, is by someone named Jared Diamond called ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ which basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth. And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here. And likewise other nations that are next door to each other have very similar, in some cases, geographic elements. But then there was a book written by a former Harvard professor named ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.’ And in this book Dr. Landes describes differences that have existed—particularly among the great civilizations that grew and why they grew and why they became great and those that declined and why they declined. And after about 500 pages of this lifelong analysis—this had been his study for his entire life—and he’s in his early 70s at this point, he says this, he says, if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference.

And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place. I’m told in a Sunday school class I attended— I think my son Tagg was teaching the class. He’s not here. I look around to see. Of course he’s not here. He was in London. He taught a class in which he was describing the concern on the part of some of the Jews that left Egypt to come to the promised land, that in the promised land was down the River Nile, that would provide the essential water they had enjoyed in Egypt. They came here recognizing that they must be relied upon, themselves and the arm of God to provide rain from the sky. And this therefore represented a sign of faith and a show of faith to come here. That this is a people that has long recognized the purpose in this place and in their lives that is greater than themselves and their own particular interests, but a purpose of accomplishment and caring and building and serving. There’s also something very unusual about the people of this place. And Dan Senor— And Dan, I saw him this morning, I don’t know where he is, he’s probably out twisting someone’s arm—There’s Dan Senor, co-author of ‘Start-up Nation,’ described— If you haven’t read the book, you really should— Described why it is Israel is the leading nation for start-ups in the world. And why businesses one after the other tend to start up in this place. And he goes through some of the cultural elements that have led Israel to become a nation that has begun so many businesses and so many enterprises and that is becomes so successful.

Daniel Drezner disagrees:
The kind of gaps in economic output that Romney likes to stress are of so recent a vintage that institutions are the more likely driver of what's going on than culture. One can't assert, for example, that culture explains why South Korea is outperforming North Korea or why West Germany was more prosperous than East Germany.

Indeed. Or why the West Bank is so much poorer than Jordan, and even more so, than Lebanon. But read the whole piece.

Democracy in America is also unimpressed. Read that too.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Airdropped Stunt Queen

If you have a monarchy willing to airdrop a stunt queen from a helicopter at the Olympics because it's funny, then you've got a pretty good monarchy.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Gift from the Culture....

....that is Britain. The 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies brilliantly followed the old vaudeville rule: never follow a banjo act with another banjo act. The 2008 Peking Olympics ceremonies were a massive and expensive spectacle, with reportedly over 15,000 performers and a cost of $100 million. Danny Boyle responded with "and now, time for something completely different."

Hello. Welcome to London. We're Britain, the nation that brought you Shakespeare and William Blake and "Jerusalem" and James Bond and Harry Potter, the Beatles and Sex Pistols and the Eurythmics. And Mary Frikkin' Poppins. Hope you enjoyed them.

And the industrial revolution. The part of Isambard Kingdom Brunel will be played by Kenneth Branagh.

The Union flag will be carried by the members of the British Armed Forces, the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. You may remember them from their roles in beating Napoleon and Hitler.

Did I mention self-deprecating humor? Rowan Atkinson will assist in a performance of Chariots of Fire and our queen, who is a Good Sport, has consented to be the punch line of her entrance tonight.

One other thing: tonight we celebrate our legacy of protest and dissent with suffragettes and Jarrow marchers.

Legacy of protest and dissent: we're proud of it.

Enjoy the show.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Weaselicious: Ideal Female Beauty in the 15th Century

Lower Rhine Master, Love Magic 1470-1480

Hugo and Jan van Eyck, Eve, The Ghent Altarpiece 1425-1432

Small breasts and a rounded belly.

I'm reminded of Chaucer's Alisoun in The Miller's Tale:
As any wezele hir body gent and smal

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride: 1951-2012

She led an admirable life. The first female astronaut, she could have lived on that fame for a lifetime. She did not. She gave good service on the Rogers Commission investigating the Challenger disaster and even more so on the Augustine Commission, which often referred to her "Sally Charts".

She also worked to promote K-12 interest in space and science.

It was a full life, and too short.

We were fortunate to have her, and fortunate to live at a time in history when we can talk of a 61 year old ex-astronaut dying too young.

Breast Sacks and Medieval Ideals of Female Beauty

The Fall of Adam Hugo van der Goes

Henri de Mondeville wrote in his Cyrurgia (1306-1320)
Et aliquae mulieres non potentes aut non audentes habere cyrurgicum aut nolentes suam indeoentiam revelare faciunt in camisiis suis duos saccules proportionales mammillis tamen breves et eos imponunt omni mane, postmodum quantum possunt, eos stringunt cum fascia competenti. Et aliae, sicut illае de Montepessulano, cum strictis tunicis et laqueis ipsas stringunt, non stringentes muliebria, quamvis sit ibi majas periculum, attendentes propter casus fatuitos et diurnos, quod non faciunt anni quod facit una dies, et ideo faciunt suas tunicas inferios laxiores.

Some women, unable or unwilling to resort to a surgeon, or not wanting to reveal their indecency, make in their chemises two sacks proportioned to their breasts, but shallow, and they put them on every morning, and compress them as much as they can with a suitable bandage. Others, like the women of Montpellier, compress them with tight tunics and laces...

This passage immediately follows his discussion of medicines, such as topically applied rosewater and vinegar, for women who wanted to reduce the size of their breasts. Unlike 21st century surgeons, he does not discuss enlarging them.

Hugo van der Goes' Eve, shown above, shows a common medieval ideal of female beauty; pert, modestly sized breasts, a slim body and a rounded belly.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Medieval Bras: Lacy Lingerie of 15th Century Germany

Four 15th century bras were excavated at Lengberg castle in the East Tyrol in 2008. All had shaped cups, and one was strikingly modern in appearance, so much so that that the find was only published recently, after carbon dating confirmed that it was 15th century in origin and not a 1950s Maidenform longline introduced as a prank by a whimsical field worker.

They were decorated with needle lace. Previously, true needle lace was thought to have appeared in the early 16th century. This find pushes the origin earlier.

That's one of the delights of history and archaeology. Every new day has the potential for a new find or new research to change our understanding of the past.

And push back the dark.

Also, we get to discuss lacy undergarments. For science!

Or perhaps not.  What survives looks like a bra, but it seems plausible  that what survives is only the surviving upper part of a sleeveless fitted shift.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Eerie Prescience of the Elite Liberal Media

Have you heard this new movie, the Batman movie, what is it, The Dark Knight Lights Up or whatever the name is. That's right, Dark Knight Rises. Lights Up, same thing. Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in The Dark Knight Rises is named Bane, B-a-n-e. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran and around which there's now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time. The release date's been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire breathing four eyed whatever it is villain in this movie is named Bane?

So Rush Limbaugh speculated on his July 17, 2012 broadcast. Bane first appeared in the comic in 1993, broke Batman's back in 1997, and appeared repeatedly in the animated series, video games and the 1997 Batman & Robin (Although forgetting anything you ever knew about that one is understandable. I wish I could.)

So, it would appear that the best and simplest explanation of the above is that liberals are so reckless in their pursuit of victory in this election that they would violate causality itself. Just as they did when they planted the Obama birth announcements in both Honolulu newspapers in 1961.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some Study That I Used to Know

This made me laugh. In which the Gotye parody's former high school teacher becomes justifiably annoyed. And naked.

When I was in high school I hated being made to learn Latin, which I was sure would be useless. And now I use it regularly.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Shipping News: Sarastro and the Queen of the Night

Shipping, thought to derive from "relationshipper" is something that happens when a fan looks at a work of fiction and sees a relationship, almost always romantic or potentially romantic, that isn't explicitly present in the original work.

I first encountered The Magic Flute in Bergman's 1975 film version, in which Pamina is spirited away from her vengeful and imperious mother, the Queen of the Night, by her father, the kindly Sarastro.

It's a wonderful, magical production.

I only recently discovered that almost none of this back story was in the original libretto. Pamina was abducted by Sarastro, but there was no indication that he was her father, or that, as follows from that implication, that he and the Queen of the Night once had a history together. In the original libretto Sarastro explicitly isn't her father. At least, he isn't her father according to the Queen of the Night, who is a knife-crazy vengeful psychomom and not necessarily a reliable narrator.

So Bergman the Mozart fan shipped Sarastro and the Queen of the Night. And it works, dramatically, better than canon.

In the original, Sarastro simply abducts Pamina because her mother, a powerful sovereign, is an unfit parent. And she wants Pamina to kill Sarastro because he was given a magical MacGuffin, a sun-disk amulet, by Pamina's father, and she needs it very badly. It is, in the original libretto, the reason why, having gotten into the same room with Pamina, she doesn't just take her with her when she leaves.

Writing that reminds me again why Schikaneder's mad librettist skills are usually mentioned last in his list of lifetime achievements.

Branagh bought into the same idea. Sarastro and the Queen of the Night were once, well, more than friends.

As emotionally and dramatically effective shipping goes, it ranks with James Goldman's shipping Robin Hood with the Pryoresse of Kyrkely.

How to Use a Venn Diagram

Like this. Or this. Or this.

Not this.

It's like they don't care about the nerd vote at all.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Practice Longswords

A useful post on practice longswords, both extant and in iconography. My thanks to Hugh Knight for spotting this.

However, only 15-18 are known to be preserved in various collections and for this very reason, we would like to ask for your help in locating more of these swords! We need to pool and organize our resources so we can contact as many museums and collections as possible. We need to do this in an organized manner so we don’t all rush to the same museum bombarding them with email. Preferably we should also get people to take responsibility for investigating what is in their own country, since that makes communication so much easier.

If you would like to join us in this project, then please contact me at contact@hroarr.com

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Lincoln on July 4th

From Lincoln's Speech on July 10, 1858:

Now, it happens that we meet together once every year, sometime about the 4th of July, for some reason or other. These 4th of July gatherings I suppose have their uses. If you will indulge me, I will state what I suppose to be some of them.

We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

Now, sirs, for the purpose of squaring things with this idea of “don’t care if slavery is voted up or voted down” [Douglas's "popular sovereignty" position on the extension of slavery to the territories], for sustaining the Dred Scott decision [A voice---"Hit him again"], for holding that the Declaration of Independence did not mean anything at all, we have Judge Douglas giving his exposition of what the Declaration of Independence means, and we have him saying that the people of America are equal to the people of England. According to his construction, you Germans are not connected with it. Now I ask you in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and endorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government into a government of some other form. Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices---"me" "no one," &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of "no, no,"] let us stick to it then [cheers], let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.]

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Likely Voters: Carter Better President than Obama, also, Clinton Better President than Jefferson

Well, it seems to be a good thing that likely voters don't have to choose between Carter and Obama or Clinton and Jefferson. Because they seem to be astoundingly bad at cross-temporal comparisons.

Yet another reason to prefer a republic to a democracy.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Spanish Chronicle: Juan de Merlo Conquered at Arras

Interestingly, a Spanish Chronicle of 1503 reports that Juan de Merlo "conquered an important knight named Mosior de Charni" at Arras. This was almost certainly his fight against Pierre de Bauffremont, lord of Chargny at Arras in 1435.

The Burgundian chronicler Monstrelet reported the fight was a draw. He was probably biased in favor of the home team, but had much better access to eyewitness accounts than a chronicler in Spain, who would have his own bias.

It's an interesting question. What tale did Juan de Merlo tell when he returned home, and how close was it to an impartial account of what actually happened on the field?

Rules for German Foot Tournaments at the Barriers: 1596

Sketch of Elizabethan sword combat at the barriers, with the handy baskets of swords you'd expect if you were trying to break as many as you could.

Rules for a foot tournament at Kassel in 1596, as well as a description of one in Stuttgart have been posted on the Hans Talhoffer site. The main scoring mechanism was the number of lances or swords broken in the approved manner.
And because all thrusts and strikes with the lance and the sword should be aimed and executed to the head as the noblest part of the body, no one should earn any reward, who does not break his lance with a free thrust, but holds his arms next to the body while running against each other, or who does break his lance entangling his opponent.

As in the barriers rules, attributed to Tiptoft, but probably 16th c., blows below the belt, dropped weapons, and gripping the barrier are all penalized. In addition, breaking the weapon other than on the opponent, or breaking a sword by striking with the flat “shall have no reward” Fair and reasonable.
Everybody should take and draw his sword without a helper. Who uses his sword with both hands, or puts a hand on the barrier to help himself, shall have no reward, but changing the hands while striking is allowed.

Those who get so near to the barriers that their body touches it, and those who stand too far away from it, not as is right and proper, when they should perform their thrusts and strikes as required, shall withdraw without reward.

Who steps back with both legs or redraws head and body as in fear, and wants to dodge the thrust or strike, shall earn no reward.

Those who have been in recreations of this sort of fight will recognize the necessity of preventing participants from using their opponent's inability to follow then to retreat to artificial safety.
Who bolts into the sword of the opponent or holds it, and who picks up the other’s strikes, shall earn no reward on this day.

Who is pushed with the lance or stroked with the sword down to earth shall not be permitted to continue the tournaments on this day. He, who had been pushed down or had been fallen shall not have an account of his thrusts and sword strikes, they do not count.

Chivalry Quest

In which credulous squidlike aliens attempt to recreate the Middle Ages based on YouTube videos of SCA events.

"They're not all "historical documents." Surely, you don't think people actually die in Crown Tourney..."

"Those poor people."