Grim's Hall BC Followup

Grim's Hall Book Club: Next Work

When I first proposed the concept for the club, I had intended that the second book would be Nelson Lee's Three Years Among the Comanches. I haven't been able to find an etext version of that, however, and I'd like to try to maintain as much of the club as free and readily accessible online, to ensure we can all participate.

When we discussed it last, several of you endorsed Plutarch, and several Chaucer. I'm going to tap Eric to try to pull a few selections from the works of Plutarch online -- it's a very long work taken as a whole, but Eric's expertise in these things Roman will serve us well.

While he's doing that, why don't we go ahead and do a couple of the Canterbury Tales? Based on our recent discussion of Chaucer, I'd like to do The Franklin's Tale and The Wife of Bath's Tale. These are not so very long -- we won't need weeks to read them -- so why not try to aim for those for next week, i.e., a week from this Sunday?

Following that, we'll tackle Plutarch, if Eric has prepared for us a good selection of lives to consider.

A Clash of Foodstuffs

A Clash of Cultures:

Mr. Brooks says the Tea Party members are "Wal-Mart Hippies." I take it he thinks that's a clever line, because I heard him repeat it while watching that clip from the Colbert show a few days ago.

So, what does it mean to shop at Wal-Mart?

In the grocery section of the Raynham supercenter, 45 minutes south of Boston, I had trouble believing I was in a Walmart. The very reasonable-looking produce, most of it loose and nicely organized, was in black plastic bins (as in British supermarkets, where the look is common; the idea is to make the colors pop). The first thing I saw, McIntosh apples, came from the same local orchard whose apples I’d just seen in the same bags at Whole Foods....

I started looking into how and why Walmart could be plausibly competing with Whole Foods, and found that its produce-buying had evolved beyond organics, to a virtually unknown program—one that could do more to encourage small and medium-size American farms than any number of well-meaning nonprofits, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with its new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign. Not even Fishman, who has been closely tracking Walmart’s sustainability efforts, had heard of it. “They do a lot of good things they don’t talk about,” he offered.
Mr. Brooks is also wrong to say that the Tea Party has a 'mostly negative' agenda: it actually has a positive document that explains precisely how it wants the government to function. It's called "the Constitution of the United States." The thing is, these crazy Tea Party people take it seriously -- they really want the government to function just that way, Tenth Amendment and everything.

Jews/Tolkien Redux

Other Writers on the Jews and Tolkien:

We discussed this issue a few days ago. The main thing seemed to me that the Jews aren't really bothered by "medieval" swords' having been borne against their ancestors, but rather by what their ancestors did with swords during Israel's heroic age. After the Holocaust, their own heroic tradition must seem alien and alienating; whereas Tolkien's tradition, because it was the root of Just War theory and the idea that heroes should protect noncombatants, would only make more sense after World War One and Two.

A few more writers have considered the question since, and some of them (not really Wonkette) have serious thoughts about the issue.

Gene Expression challenges the assertion that Jews don't write fantasy:

Is Christianity fundamentally more comfortable with the pagan than Judaism, as the author above asserts? I doubt it. The basics of Northern fantasy draw from a rich peasant cultural folk tradition which the Christian church ignored at best, and attempted to suppress at worst. The tradition was most robust in the regions which were Christianized last, so that relatively thick cultural memory remained from which to draw during the 19th century Romantic revival of national traditions. It is notable that Ireland in particular in the British Isles preserved its own mythic tradition; I chalk this up to the indigenous origins of Christianization, so that the culture-bearers of the past were not superseded by missionaries who dismissed the indigenous stories as being part & parcel of the pagan intellectual edifice. Tolkien was in part trying to create an Anglo-Saxon mythic cycle from fragments such as Beowulf and Scandinavian analogs. The Irish have no need of reconstruction. Culturally the Jews are very distant from their peasant origins, and naturally much more detached from their pagan past than Northern Europeans. For the past 1,000 years Ashkenazi Jews have been an urban minority, as insulated from the world of faerie as Christian priests. No wonder that Jewish authors, such as Neil Gaiman, draw upon Northern motifs. How popular is urban fantasy as a distinct genre anyway?

Russ Douthat of the New York Times asks why Jews would want a Jewish Tolkien at all.
But once you add up these insights, they jostle uneasily with Weingrad’s professed desire for a Jewish Tolkien, or a Jewish Lewis. What he seems to have demonstrated is that modern fantasy depends on Christianity, or at least a Christian-pagan synthesis of some kind, for its forms, conventions, and traditions. This suggests that you could write a novel that embodies a kind of Jewish critique of fantasy — in much the same way that China Miéville’s novels are a kind of Marxist critique of Tolkien, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Mists of Avalon” was a feminist critique of Arthurian-based fantasy, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is an atheist’s critique of C.S. Lewis, and so on. (And indeed, Weingrad’s essay reads Lev Grossman’s new novel “The Magicians” as a kind of crypto-Jewish critique of Narnia and/or Harry Potter.) But the genre itself will remain irreducably Christian, and a truly Judaic fantasy would have to belong to, or invent, a different genre altogether.
Those two posts seem to run straight at each other! So-called "urban fantasy" is a new idea, actually; we used to call that genre "horror," because it was meant to be horrible. Lately it has become fashionable not to dread vampires, but to envy them. The werewolf was supposed to be a symbol of what it would be like for man to lose his humanity, and be turned back into a beast without reason or self-control. It has been converted, lately, a symbol of what it might mean for a man to be more in harmony with nature. Today we are asked to imagine the joy of running down a deer under a full moon, and drinking its blood.

(Mark will thank me for not quoting Chesterton here, on nature religions: "A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty. He washes at dawn in clear water as did the Wise Man of the Stoics, yet, somehow at the dark end of the day, he is bathing in hot bull's blood, as did Julian the Apostate.")

That's fantasy, perhaps, but it's not heroic fantasy. It is the notion of heroism that bothers. It is interesting that so many would rather be monsters than dare be heroes. That says much about how difficult it is to be a hero, and how very difficult to believe in one.

It is harder, I think, for some people to believe in heroes than vampires. That is true even though they might meet a hero in the street, while vampires do not exist.



When we lived in China, there was a theme park near Hang Zhou that was called "Americaland." It was supposed to be a place you could visit to see what that strange place called America was like. No one would ever give us directions as to how to get there, probably embarrassed about what the stereotypes would reveal.

It's not only the Chinese who have these dreams:

Americaland is real place for British writers, it is built from thousands of fragments of American TV, films, music, comics and other cultural artefacts. It’s a place filled with 1950’s dinners and long desolate highways among other things. And its just as imaginary as a Britain filled with red telephone boxes and bowler hatted business men.
And Swedes! I somehow entirely missed this band called "the Rednex," whom I found tonight entirely by accident while searching for a traditional tune. They are nothing except a Swedish projection on American mythology, especially the mythology of the West.

(The underlying tune is "Orpheus in the Underworld," which was used in Can-can shows across the West.)

(Note the rifles and dog sleds!)

This is a little bit shocking, like discovering that you've been made into a god by superstitious islanders in the South Seas.

A fertility god, at that!


ARMA Art, I:

The ARMA has quite a gallery of Medieval and Renaissance art associated with questions of battle. Here is one:

The clear effect of even single-hand sword blows against steel helmets. In the center a sword splits the top of a helm from behind. On the right two swords hack into the sides of helmets while a spiked mace delivers a crushing blow. Notice also the portions of each sword (their center-of percussion) that does most of the striking is invariably the last third to second-half of blade. One rider in the center has an arrow in his cheek that appears to have hit behind his mail coif. On the lower right, a long axe cuts powerfully against a rider’s neck and back of the head, pulling him off his mount. On the ground one fallen fighter has deep shoulder and head wounds while another has a deep cut on the neck. Four different types of helmet are visible. All the shields appear to be medium sized flat heaters. From the gruesome Maciejowski Bible, c. 1250.

Father Sends

My Father Sends...

...a story about a cowboy.

A cowboy from Texas attends a social function where Barack Obama is trying to gather support for his Health Plan. Once he discovers the cowboy is from President Bush's home area, he starts to belittle him by talking in a southern drawl and single syllable words.

As he was doing that, he kept swatting at some flies that were buzzing around his head. The cowboy says, "Havin' some problem with them circle flies?"

Obama stopped talking and said, "Well, yes, if that's what they're called, but I've never heard of circle flies."

"Well, sir," the cowboy replies, "Circle flies hang around ranches. They're called circle flies because they're almost always found circling around the back end of a horse."

"Oh," Obama replies as he goes back to rambling.

But, a moment later he stops and bluntly asks, "Are you calling me a horse's ass?"

"No, sir," the cowboy replies, "I have too much respect for the citizens of this country to call their president a horse's ass."

"That's a good thing," Obama responds and begins rambling on once more.

After a long pause, the cowboy in his Texas drawl says, "Sure is hard to fool them flies, though."

Chivalry & Solidarity in Game Theory

"Chivalry & Solidarity in Ultimatum Games"

An interesting game theory experiment from 2001 appears to show that women find it very easy to come to agreements with other women; but men are far readier to accept offers from women than from other men. The two effects are noteworthy, though painting the woman/woman effect as "solidarity" seems a bit odd. It's more likely that they understand each other, and have similar desires to come to agreement; whereas men, who understand each other, want to compete.

By the same token, "chivalry" is the wrong term here; this tendency describes all men who participated. It would have been very great good luck to gather only chivalrous men into the study!

When a woman is his partner in the game, however, a man becomes much less competitive: he is ready to accede to her requests almost at the same rate that women agree to accept/agree with either men or mixed groups. Men facing other men, however, accept offers only if they are much more generous.

The graph on page 184 is the main thing, I think. It shows that actual results are fairer in men/men pairings; but agreement is far more common in female/female pairings. That may mean that women are more interested in agreement than fairness (or gain); but it also may mean that men are more willing to resist authority if they feel it is not treating them fairly. After all, the proposer is in the position of authority where the resource division is involved; all the respondent can do is accept or reject the proposal. Men would rather punish unfair actors than seek agreement, even if that means gaining nothing rather than gaining an unfairly small amount.

Unless, that is, they are receiving the proposal from a woman: then, they're much readier to be treated unfairly!

Another way of saying that, though, is that they are more willing to accept female authority -- fair or unfair -- than they are to accept unfair male authority. From another man, they will only accept fairness.

This only treats initial acceptance, of course. One might later resent being treated unfairly, even if this proves that -- in some cases -- one is readier to be treated unfairly. It's also interesting that both men and women are readier to be treated unfairly by women than by men.

The Cathedral of Dawn:

A find in archæology is startling because of its age, but not because of its purpose.

[U]nder our feet, according to archeologist Klaus Schmidt, are the stones that mark the spot—the exact spot—where humans began that ascent.

Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn't just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago—a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture—the first embers of civilization....

Göbekli Tepe—the name in Turkish for "potbelly hill"—lays art and religion squarely at the start of that journey.
This we have heard before, and wisely.
Even in trying to prove that religion grew slowly from rude
or irrational sources, they begin their proof with the first men
who were men. But their own proof only proves that the men
who were already men were already mystics. They used the rude
and irrational elements as only men and mystics can use them.
We come back once more to the simple truth; that at sometime
too early for these critics to trace, a transition had occurred
to which bones and stones cannot in their nature bear witness;
and man became a living soul.


The modern man looking at the most ancient origins has been
like a man watching for daybreak in a strange land; and expecting
to see that dawn breaking behind bare uplands or solitary peaks.
But that dawn is breaking behind the black bulk of great
cities long builded and lost for us in the original night;
colossal cities like the houses of giants, in which even
the carved ornamental animals are taller than the palm-trees;
in which the painted portrait can be twelve times the size
of the man; with tombs like mountains of man set four-square
and pointing to the stars; with winged and bearded bulls
standing and staring enormous at the gates of temples;
standing still eternally as if a stamp would shake the world.
The dawn of history reveals a humanity already civilized.
Perhaps it reveals a civilisation already old.
There are a few men who have seen so clearly as to be able to predict both the future and the past. Chesterton was one.

(H/t: Lars Walker.)


"That Bull Wouldn't Hurt A Kitten."

It's part of the honor of those who work with large and powerful animals that there is a certain danger in the work. Frequently we play that down, amused at those less experienced with the creatures' strength and willfulness; but the danger never passes.

Ricky Weinhold, of Reinholds, was attacked Saturday by a 1-ton bull on a farm where he leased barn space in Wernersville, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Berks County Deputy Coroner Terri Straka said. The son of the farm's owner found his body Sunday in an outdoor pen.

The property owners had encouraged Weinhold to get rid of the bull, Straka said. She said the same animal believed responsible for the weekend attack rammed Weinhold last summer, breaking several of his ribs.

"He's been known to be temperamental," Straka said. "The property owners just didn't trust him. They told Ricky, 'This bull has got a bad disposition."'
Well, bulls are dangerous. Mr. Weinhold doubtless knew that, and gloried in what he did. Anyone might die in a conflict with a bull, and all must die sooner or later. At least here is a man who lived.

All of which reminds me of a story. It is meant with no disrespect, told in this context. As I said, it is the essentially dangerous nature of the bull that makes it honorable to deal with bulls; so this story is no insult, but a blessing.
A Federal officer stops at a ranch in Montana, and talks with an old rancher. He tells the rancher, 'I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs. The old rancher says, 'Okay, but do not go in that field over there.'

The officer verbally explodes saying, 'Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me.' Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removes his badge and proudly displays it to the farmer. 'See this badge? This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish...on any land. No questions asked or answers given. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand?'

The old rancher nods politely, apologizes, and goes about his chores. A short time later, the old rancher hears loud screams and sees the officer running for his life chased close behind by the rancher's prize bull. With every step the bull is gaining ground on the officer, and it seems likely that he'll get "horned" before he reaches safety.

The old rancher throws down his tools, runs to the fence and yells at the top of his lungs..... "Your badge! Show him your badge!"
Of course, in real life a Federal officer needs a warrant as well. Not, that is, that bulls are any more impressed with the one than with the other.