Tex Updates

UPDATE: Elise reports hearing from Tex. She & house are ok.

Friday 1728 Romeo: Tex reports internet down, power and other comms still up. Wind moderate.

Friday 2100 Romeo: Tex wrote to say that the worst of the storm would make landfall just west of her, which is of course the worst case. As of 1930 she was still receiving messages, but has since gone quiet. It may be that the atmospheric disturbance is too great right now.

"" 2200 R: Radar shows she was right. The red wall of the eye is lashing them now, with landfall just west. No comms still, but that is to be expected under the circumstances.

Saturday 1244 R: Still nothing from Tex. My phone still says that the last message delivered/read was yesterday at 1930, so probably cell networks are just down. Local firefighters were holding at the station because it was too dangerous to move, but the station stayed up. There are reports of buildings that didn't, or didn't quite, but they sound institutional so far. A well constructed house had a better chance.

Babylonian Trig

Mathematicians have finally figured out an ancient set of carvings. Turns out, the Babylonians were very solid on their trigonometry.
The true meaning of the tablet has eluded experts until now but new research by the University of New South Wales, Australia, has shown it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, which was probably used by ancient architects to construct temples, palaces and canals.

However unlike today’s trigonometry, Babylonian mathematics used a base 60, or sexagesimal system, rather than the 10 which is used today. Because 60 is far easier to divide by three, experts studying the tablet, found that the calculations are far more accurate.

“Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles,” said Dr Daniel Mansfield of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNSW Faculty of Science.

“It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius. The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry.
The ancients in general were better at math than we understand them to have been. We have forms of math they didn't have, but they had forms we have lost or abandoned, and sometimes they end up enabling pretty sophisticated mental work. In this case, it looks like the ancient Babylonians invented a form that was actually better than anything that has replaced it.

Of course, invention in Iraq did not end with ancient Babylon.

A Confederate Without Monuments

An interesting counterexample: a favored deputy of Robert E. Lee's who is largely uncelebrated in statuary. Why?
Senator William Mahone was one of the most maligned political leaders in post-Civil War America. He was also one of the most capable. Compared to the Roman traitor Cataline (by Virginia Democrats), to Moses (by African American congressman John Mercer Langston), and to Napoleon (by himself), Mahone organized and led the most successful interracial political alliance in the post-emancipation South. Mahone’s Readjuster Party, an independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats that was named for its policy of downwardly “readjusting” Virginia’s state debt, governed the state from 1879 to 1883.

During this period, a Readjuster governor occupied the statehouse, two Readjusters represented Virginia in the United States Senate, and Readjusters represented six of Virginia’s ten congressional districts. Under Mahone’s leadership, his coalition controlled the state legislature and the courts, and held and distributed the state’s many coveted federal offices. A black-majority party, the Readjusters legitimated and promoted African American citizenship and political power by supporting black suffrage, office-holding, and jury service. To a degree previously unseen in Virginia, and unmatched anywhere else in the nineteenth-century South, the Readjusters became an institutional force for the protection and advancement of black rights and interests....

The Readjusters lost power in 1883 through a Democratic campaign of violence, electoral fraud, and appeals to white solidarity. While Democrats suppressed progressive politics in the state, other groups of elite white Virginians worked fast to eradicate the memory of Virginia’s experiment in interracial democracy.
Like the United Irishmen's union of Protestant and Catholic in 1798, it's one of history's tragic missed opportunities.

Fellow Southerners, Rejoice!

New York City's Saturday Night Live has deigned to allow us to feel pride in some features of our heritage. The following are authorized:
They got rocking chairs on big porches. They got the friedest food you ever tasted. They got cheap cigarettes. They got cute nicknames like Scooter, June Bug, Colonel Poopy Conner,” she said. “They got big fat guys in tiny little ties, and got drive-though liquor stores.
Be sure to conform to these offensive stereotypes regional norms in order to secure that crucial approval from our Northern neighbors.

It's on


On the return of the Red Guards.

The end of drought

If you start to hear "Rockport" or the "Lamar Peninsula" on the national weather, think of us.  We're just north of Corpus Christi and looking to be in the direct path of whatever Harvey develops into.

The storm having strengthened overnight, we bit the bullet and decided to put up the storm shutters.  We'd waited so late that I almost didn't bother calling our window guys and asking if they could fit us into their schedule to help us with installation, but to my undying amazement, the owner answered the phone right away and in response to my tentative question hesitated, then said, "Well, I don't know.  We couldn't get out there before this afternoon."  This afternoon?  Yeah, that would be . . . fine.  (I picture Goldie Hawn's character in Overboard sniffing, "I almost had to wait.")

Having become so much more fit in the last two years, I'm not having any trouble carrying the dozens and dozens of heavy aluminum interlocking corrugated panels up from the garage to the porch on the main living floor, but it's a much trickier business getting the panels installed on the third-floor bedroom windows, which can worked on only from the shed roof over the porch 20 feet in the air.  There are also approximately one million little butterfly nuts to screw in even for the windows that are easily accessible from the porch on the main living floor, so I'll be very glad of the help when they arrive.

I don't know if we're looking at a bit of a blow or a big one, or whether it will be a bit of rain or 20+ inches.   For my own sake, I hope for 20 inches, but I know that will create a hardship for others in this area.  For me, it would just fill up my poor pond for the first time in a couple of years.

We've nearly finished putting everything in the garage that would be likely to become a projectile:  a clean sweep fore and aft.  If there are high winds, we have only tree limbs to worry about, and that's as it may be.  Our propane tank is full; we've tested the generator.  We have 20,000 gallons of fresh water in the cistern.  Despite the worsening forecasts, I expect this to be a small to medium storm, not a big monster.  Nevertheless, it's starting to look like Allison, which drifted over Houston in about 2000 and wandered around for a week without major steering currents, dropping truly amazing amounts of rain. Being flat as a pancake, this area holds up well under huge rainfalls, so although some houses will inevitably take on water, at least it won't be a dangerous current.

How To Thank a Firefighter

A farmer in England knows how.
Firefighters in Wiltshire, England rescued 18 piglets and two sows from a barn that was going up in flames in February, according to the BBC. The fire ended up consuming 60 tons of hay. Six months later, the farm gave the firefighters sausage made from the pigs to thank them.

“I’m sure vegetarians will hate this,” said Rachel Rivers, the manager of the farm where the pigs were saved.

Rivers and farm owner Canon Gerald Osbourne defended the gift, saying raising and slaughtering livestock is their livelihood.

“I gave those animals the best quality of life I could ever give until the time they go to slaughter and they go into the food chain,” Rivers said, adding that “you do feel sad at the end of it.”

The firefighters, who barbequed the sausage, didn’t seem to mind. They called the meat “fantastic.”
I imagine it was. There's a great butcher shop not far from here where we get fresh sausage on a regular basis. It never disappoints.

This Day A.D. 1305

"I can not be a traitor, for I owe him no allegiance. He is not my Sovereign; he never received my homage; and whilst life is in this persecuted body, he never shall receive it. To the other points whereof I am accused, I freely confess them all. As Governor of my country I have been an enemy to its enemies; I have slain the English; I have mortally opposed the English King; I have stormed and taken the towns and castles which he unjustly claimed as his own. If I or my soldiers have plundered or done injury to the houses or ministers of religion, I repent me of my sin; but it is not of Edward of England I shall ask pardon."
Requiescat in pace Sir William Wallace.

Think "Bruce," not "E"

ESPN is getting a lot of well-deserved flack after pulling a reporter of Asian heritage from a UVA football game. His name, as I'm sure you've heard, was Robert Lee.

S. E. Cupp says this should be taken to settle the monuments debate.

Or maybe it's just getting going.
Ghana has said it will remove a statue of Mahatma Gandhi from a university campus in the nation’s capital where it had sparked protests over the leader’s allegedly racist attitudes....

The petition, which had more than 1,700 supporters on Thursday, cited letters Gandhi wrote during his time in South Africa as evidence that he advocated for the superiority of Indians over black Africans. It also took issue with his use of the derogatory term kaffir to refer to native Africans and criticized the lack of statues of African heroes and heroines on campus.
It's ironic to see a Hindu guru from India roped up for using a slur that originates from Muslim criticisms of those who reject Islam. But of course there are plenty of reasons to criticize Gandhi; it's just that he's a kind of secular saint (who wasn't, himself, at all secular) to the very sort of American who wants to pull down other monuments.

Still, whether it's winding down or just getting started remains to be seen.

The Hate Goes To Eleven

As longtime readers know, I always prefer to read transcripts of speeches instead of listening to them. Many rhetorical tricks don't work as well in print as in voice, and you can get a better feel for the strength of the argument by reading it instead. It was tough to find one today! There are lots of articles about how bad the speech was, about how crowds were light and drifted away during the speech, about how James Clapper questioned the President's fitness to serve after hearing it, but transcripts are thin on the ground.

I finally did locate one. Normally these things are simply titled, "Transcript of [Whoever's] Remarks." This time, the transcript was titled: "President Trump Ranted For 77 Minutes in Phoenix. Here’s What He Said."

It was only by reading the transcript that I discovered, left out of all of the media coverage, that Alveda King was there. With a little more research, I discovered that she wasn't just there present, but had a speaking role in the form of providing a long opening prayer.

That's the sort of thing I'd have thought highly relevant, given the recent weeks of concern about whether or not the President supports white supremacists. I'd have expected to have seen it mentioned more prominently in coverage of the speech.

Our Secretary of Defense

Reagan made the same point, without the language that some are objecting to in Mattis' statement. I suppose it's fair enough to say that it's possible to make the point without the language; but maybe America needs to hear that kind of language from a guy like Jim Mattis more than we used to do.

Bad Day for BLM

Not guilty on almost all charges for the Bundy crew, with a few that the jury refused to decide one way or the other.

Beer Muscles

A strongman competition that looks like a good time. I understand there will be beer for drinking, too.

The Anti-Free Speech Strategy

It's all part of a grand design, writes an academic in the pages of the Washington Post:
Here’s the dilemma college presidents face in the fall: Either uphold free speech on campus and risk violent counterprotests, or ban conservative provocateurs and confirm the “freedom of speech” crisis on campuses. Either way their institution’s legitimacy is undermined.

This impossible dilemma is no accident. It has been part of a strategy, deployed first by conservatives and perfected by the alt-right.
Brilliant! How did they ensure the risk of violent counterprotests?

The whole thing urges a rethinking of "free speech absolutism." If I were the editor of the Washington Post, I would have declined to print it. Ordinarily, I would have explained, my paper was so committed to free speech that we would publish the ideas even of those hostile to the most basic American values. But in this case, the dangers associated with her point might be best illustrated by example.

The Feminization of Christianity

That is the title of a longer essay at The Art of Manliness, the essay being written by Brett & Kate McKay. There's no problem (I would think) with there being feminine forms of Christianity, as half of humanity is female and the faith is not only for men. The problem, the authors suggest, is that Christianity has become so feminine that it is no longer attractive to men -- which means that men don't go to church, and that the culture as a whole shifts away from Christianity.

They say the seeds for this transformation lay in the High Middle Ages:

[I]n the Middle Ages, female mystics, following the lead of Catholic thinkers like Bernard of Clairvaux, began developing an interpretation of the bridegroom/bride relationship as representing that which existed not only between Christ and the collective church, but Christ and the individual soul. Jesus became not only a global savior, but a personal lover, whose union with believers was described by Christian mystics with erotic imagery. Drawing on the Old Testament’s Song of Songs, but again, using it as an allegory to describe God’s relationship with an individual, rather than with his entire people (as it had traditionally been interpreted), they developed a new way for the Christian to relate to Christ – one marked by intimate longing.

For example, the German nun Margareta Ebna (1291-1351) described Jesus as piercing her “with a swift shot from His spear of love” and exulted in feeling his “wondrous powerful thrusts against my heart,” though she complained that “[s]ometimes I could not endure it when the strong thrusts came against me for they harmed my insides so that I became greatly swollen like a woman great with child.”

The idea of Christian-as-Bride-of-Christ would migrate from Catholicism to Protestantism, and be picked up even by the dour Puritans who journeyed to American shores. Mather himself declared that “Our SAVIOR does Marry Himself unto the Church in general, But He does also Marry Himself to every Individual Believer.” Mather’s fellow Puritan leader, Thomas Hooker, preached that:
“Every true believer . . . is so joined unto the Lord, that he becomes one spirit; as the adulterer and the adultresse is one flesh. . . . That which makes the love of a husband increase toward his wife is this, Hee is satisfied with her breasts at all times, and then hee comes to be ravished with her love . . . so the will chuseth Christ, and it is fully satisfied with him. . . . I say this is a total union, the whole nature of the Saviour, and the whole nature of a believer are knit together; the bond of matrimony knits these two together, . . . we feed upon Christ, and grow upon Christ, and are married to Christ.”
That which was present at the founding of the country, grew to become part and parcel of American Christianity, especially its evangelical strain, and continues to play a significant role in influencing the language and ethos of the faith today.

In Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow points to examples of how the bridal imagery born in the Middle Ages continues into the modern age, citing books with titles like Falling in Love With Jesus: Abandoning Yourself to the Greatest Romance of Your Life, and authors who “vigorously encourage women to imagine Jesus as their personal lover”:
“One tells her readers to ‘develop an affair with the one and only Lover who will truly satisfy your innermost desires: Jesus Christ.’

Another offers this breathless description of God’s love: ‘This Someone entered your world and revealed to you that He is your true Husband. Then He dressed you in a wedding gown whiter than the whitest linen. You felt virginal again. And alive! He kissed you with grace and vowed never to leave you or forsake you. And you longed to go and be with Him.’”
While much of what Murrow calls “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend imagery” is directed at women, Murrow believes it has become suffused throughout the entire faith, and “migrate[d] to men as well.” “These days,” he writes, “it’s fairly common for pastors to describe a devout male as being ‘totally in love with Jesus.’ I’ve heard more than one men’s minister imploring a crowd of guys to fall deeply in love with the Savior.’”
I know quite a bit about the expressions of Christianity in the High Middle Ages, and I'd have to say that this was at that time very much an undercurrent of the faith. The roots may lay there, but that isn't how you see the faith being portrayed in either the scholarly writing of churchmen, or else the popular songs and tales of the era. It could be that they are right that this undercurrent informed a major shift in later periods, of course.

Still, in the Middle Ages, the eroticism of the faith is as likely to provide an erotic attraction for men as well as for women. As late as The Faerie Queene, the church-as-bride metaphor was being employed in a kind of dual way: Una symbolizes the church that is the bride of Christ, but Una herself weds to St. George as his reward for his dragonslaying virtue. The Grail Maiden, daughter of King Pelles, ends up seducing Lancelot (right after he too slays a dragon; Elaine only later marries him) and being the mother of Galahad (who fulfills the Grail quest through chastity, not eroticism). Lancelot is chosen by God to father Galahad on Elaine, according to the story, because he (like St. George) is a living flower of valorous knighthood. Service to God and erotic success are linked for men in these stories. Living out the noble virtues honored by the faith makes one worthy of love and beauty, which will be put by God to further service through the stability of one's marriage and the fates of one's children.

Thus, if the Bride of Christ narrative was as important for female mystics as the authors imply, that only creates parity, not a "feminization" of Christianity in the High Middle Ages. One might, of course, question whether or not eroticism is really even appropriate as a religious motivation; but whether it is or is not, it certainly was not an exclusively female (let alone 'feminizing') one. It was a regular justification for the most manly of the virtues (though note that, in The Faerie Queene, there is a female knight exercising these mostly-manly virtues; and there is at least one in the older Arthurian corpus as well).

As for their later periods, I am less well placed to provide a useful critique.

Eclipse Glasses

I rode up into the totality footprint yesterday. It was really something. I'm glad that America had a moment of something special that we could all do together, even if for most of the country it was only a partial eclipse.

In the aftermath, you may have some of these special sunglasses people bought to watch the thing. Instead of throwing them away, send them to this group that wants to stockpile them for kids in South America next year. Why not? It won't cost but a postage stamp, and you probably won't need them again.

Is the Field of Medieval Studies Adequately Diverse?

There has been a raft of articles and petitions on the topic recently.

What I don't find in any of them are statistics to back up the assertion. That's odd: there's a similar debate in philosophy, and I know that the numbers there are roughly 70/30 male/female. "Medieval Studies" as such doesn't exist in a lot of places; it's often a subset of the language studies (e.g., readings of Middle English are done in the English department; the languages of Oc and Oui in the French department, etc). Language studies are dominated by women, and have been for decades. (Link is to the graph for English studies, but the trend holds in general for language departments.) It could be that women are more inclined to study contemporary literature instead of dead versions of the language, of course; I don't have statistics on that, but it's a possibility.

Alternatively, it can be done in the History department, where women are rapidly approaching the majority but are still not quite there. Nevertheless, women don't have to be in an absolute majority for the field to be adequately diverse: if women earned 45% of doctorates in the field rather than 51%, that would simply counterbalance the language fields where women earn north of 60% of doctroates.

So I'd be a little surprised to learn that there is a significant lack of diversity on the male/female axis. What about ethnicity?

Again, philosophy is said to have a diversity problem because under 25% of degrees are earned by ethnic or racial minorities of any kind. It's about the same for English literature degrees. You might think that people are most likely to study their own language's literature than to learn a foreign language well enough to appreciate its literature in the original. But actually whites are more likely to pursue a degree in other languages, too. Partly this may be because language degrees are chiefly valuable economically to translators, so that if you want to be a translator and you aren't bilingual, you'd be the sort to seek a degree; someone who already speaks a foreign language plus English would be more likely to pursue an actual degree in some other field. Those aren't the people we're interested in, though; we want to know who studies the medieval version of the language, not the contemporary one.

History degrees are even lower: only 18% of such degrees are awarded to minorities of any kind that is measured. Of course, again, we don't have figures on medieval history particularly.

If there is a disparity, what would likely explain it? The articles suggest it is a kind of prejudice for a world that is more Christian and whiter. But there are other factors that could be at play:

1) A Medieval Studies degree is a luxury good, and a medieval language degree even moreso. Unlike philosophy degrees, the training for which has very wide application in terms of problem solving, a degree in Middle English trains you to teach Chaucer and Malory, and a few other less-well-known figures. Electing to invest in such a rarefied education may not seem like a good option to a larger percentage of people from ethnic minority groups, who may be more likely to be struggling to find a place for themselves and their families than secure enough to chase after that one job in a million teaching Chaucer.

2) People tend to be interested in history insofar as they feel connected to it. If you are of Scottish extraction, you may be more interested in Scottish history than someone who is Chinese. Medieval history is chiefly European, and thus it wouldn't be too surprising if people of European extraction were the ones most often drawn to it. But that only means "white people" in the American sense; in Europe, where I would expect Medieval History and Language to be much larger fields given the direct access to the primary sources, there would be plenty of diversity in the sense of "white people" breaking down into Germans, French, Spaniards, etc.

3) A lot of the love of the medieval period comes from literature: Tolkien, the stories of King Arthur and his noble knights, Ivanhoe. Who reads this stuff? Maybe that's a clue to who develops a love for the field. These things have been taken off the curricula of high schools, just because the literature field is seeking diversity in what they expose kids to. That means that people have to seek these things out on their own, and who does that? As above, "people tend to be interested... insofar as they feel connected to it."

My guess is that there might well be a lack of ethnic diversity in the various American fields that get roped together as Medieval Studies; there probably is perfectly adequate sexual diversity, and in Europe diversity is what I would expect to be the case unless we insist on reading all the Germans and French and so forth as simply "white." If it's a problem, I doubt it can be solved by conferences, however. You're going to have to change the economic incentives, plus get more people to read the literature that causes you to love the period. That means altering high school curricula again. Are people seeking greater diversity likely to want to make that trade? It would mean exposing a very large number of Americans to less diverse readings in high school, in the hope of attaining a larger still-very-small number of American Ph.D.s in Medieval History from non-white backgrounds. If diversity is the goal, I'm not at all sure that's a good trade.