You learn something new every day

I am trying hard to keep all politics out of this blog, but this bears notice given the source.

In a withering critique of his fellow Republicans, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says in his memoir that the party to which he has belonged all his life deserved to lose power last year for forsaking its small-government principles.

In “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,” published by Penguin Press, Mr. Greenspan criticizes both congressional Republicans and President George W. Bush for abandoning fiscal discipline.

Mr. Greenspan, who calls himself a “lifelong libertarian Republican,” writes that he advised the White House to veto some bills to curb “out-of-control” spending while the Republicans controlled Congress. He says President Bush’s failure to do so “was a major mistake.” Republicans in Congress, he writes, “swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose.”

Via the Wall Street Journal.


You learn something new every day

Hey, someone finally said it!

From the New York Times:

Nationally… more than one third of mortgage holders — 37 percent, up from 35 percent in 2005, or a rise of more than 1.5 million households — spent at least 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs, the level many government agencies consider the limit of affordability.

“Maybe it all means that housing is not as smart an investment for as many people as we thought,” said Matt Fellowes, a scholar in metropolitan policy at the Brookings Institution. “Stocks perform better than houses over time. Maybe the American dream should be building wealth in general, not building a certain type of wealth, which we see is narrow and dangerous.”


Hey, someone finally said it!

Quote of the week, bonus edition: The Panic of 1907

From the new book The Panic of 1907, about the great banking panic of 1907, by Robert Bruner and Sean Carr, page 2 (!):

To understand fully the crash and panic of 1907, one must consider its context.

A Republican moralist was in the White House.

War was fresh in mind.

Immigration was fueling dramatic changes in society.

New technologies were changing people’s everyday lives.

Business consolidators and their Wall Street advisers were creating large, new combinations through mergers and acquisitions, while the government was investigating and prosecuting prominent executives – led by an aggressive young prosecutor from New York.

The public’s attitude toward business leaders, fueled by a muckraking press, was largely negative.

The government itself was becoming increasingly interventionist in society and, in some ways, more intrusive in individual life.

Much of this was stimulated by a postwar economic expansion that, with brief interruptions, had lasted about 50 years.

Bring, then, a sense of irony informed by the present to an understanding of 1907.


Quote of the week, bonus edition: The Panic of 1907

Armenian Manuscript

manuscript in armenian script


aremenian manuscript


armenian illuminations


illuminated manuscript


armenian manuscript page


12th cent. manuscript page


manuscript illuminations


4 illuminated miniatures


medieval manuscript


manuscript - armenia


manuscript


illuminated page


illuminated page


Lviv manuscript detail


detail from medieval manuscript


2 illuminated manuscript details

You will be doing yourself a favour by clicking to enlarge these images - the detail is exquisite (the manuscript measures 32cm x 30cm [13 x 12 inches]).

This late 12th century illuminated manuscript in Armenian script is online in the Digital Library of Poland. [or: direct link to 800+ thumbnails = big pageload] {Thanks to Tomasz for the translation help!}

Whilst this exceptional Gospel work is in the Armenian language, it was actually produced in a Lviv scriptorium (in the west of modern Ukraine, not too far from the Polish border) in 1198. [modern Armenia is on the opposite side of the Black Sea] [wikipedia: Ukraine, Armenia, Lviv]

The complex history of the region is fairly baffling - the Kingdom of Armenia (which was the Kingdom of Cilesian Armenia at the time the manuscript was produced) never extended further west than the eastern side of the Black Sea as far as I can tell. Conflating language and country perhaps? Please enlighten me via a comment or email.

I feel fairly confident that this work is known (at least in Germany) as the Lemberg Gospel (Lemberg was the German name for Lviv). The manuscript was rediscovered at the end of hostilities in 1945. [Das Lemberger Evangeliar - translation]

Ornamental Arts in Armenian Manuscripts is an excellent site from Hayknet which is associated with the Yerevan Academy of Fine Arts and has a large gallery of manuscript decoration motifs and if I’m understanding correctly, plates 41-45 are indicative of the style of the probable illuminator of the Lemberg Gospel (Grigor). [see the essay]
Armenian Manuscript

CHEERLEADERS FOR MODERATION

You will be tempted to skip over this post because it has the word “moderation” in the title, and instead search for a blog with “wild extremism” in the title. Moderation just ain’t as much fun.

You should resist that temptation, at least for a few paragraphs.

We tend to bristle at anything smelling like censorship or restraint. Moderation is contrary to the freedom that all artists crave, even when they have no important use for it.

I chatted in a recent post about the
Futurist Manifesto which ushered in the art of the 20th century:

We must break down the gates of life to test the bolts and the padlocks….Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry…To admire an old picture is to pour our sensibility into a funeral urn instead of casting it forward with violent spurts of creation and action…. We want to demolish museums and libraries [and] fight morality… .
True to this theme, much of 20th century culture grew up worshipping novelty and extremism above lasting value that required patient consideration.

People who focus on what is new and hot often develop short attention spans. They lose patience for moderation, nuance and context. But the old masters recognized that moderation is all there is. As Shakespeare exclaimed, everything is a matter of degree:

Take but degree away, untune that string, and hark, what dischord follows! Each thing meets in mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores And make a sop of all this solid globe
In this painting by Vermeer, the girl’s earring is not extremely white nor is her eye extremely dark. Viewed in isolation, both colors are quite moderate.



Yet, both colors seize your attention because Vermeer has placed the light earring against a dark shadow and the dark eye against light skin. That’s the way to achieve real highs and lows. In art and in life, context is everything.

The metaphors of extremism in art and sex are are lovely and alluring; imagine a painting made up of nothing but highlights, or a state of perpetual ecstasy without all those boring parts in between! But as George Eliot warned, “all of us get our thoughts entangled in metaphors and act fatally on the strength of them.” Pornographers and artists who need to chase novel forms of licentiousness inevitably become colossal bores.


Those who say “I’ll try anything once”
Seldom try anything twice
Or three times
Arriving late at the Gate of Dreams Worth Dying For.

—Carl Sandburg




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CHEERLEADERS FOR MODERATION

Paper Gods

folk devil god

Zhong Kui



chinese calendar of gods

Da Zhonghua Minguo ba nian Zaojun zhi shen wei



zhong shen - colourful folk figures

Zhong shen



votive realm of gods

Guansheng Dadi



chinese folk god woodcut

Hu fa Weituo zun shen



bright coloured menshen folk god

Menshen



stylised folk figure on horseback

Menshen



chinese folk god and attendants

Caishen



angry folk god scaling wall

Fu zai yan qian



chinese male folk figure holding scroll

Fu zi tian lai



male god and attendants

Ganying Yaowang



2 chinese folk religion scenes

Guang han gong



Ancient folk religions of China include elements of Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, ancestor veneration as well as mythological deities and astrology. Worship of the hundreds of Gods and Saints is regarded as complementary rather than conflicting with a person’s chosen religion.

The ubiquitous public face of Chinese folk religions are the New Year’s woodblock illustrations (‘nianhua’) which have been produced for more than a thousand years. These (generally) inexpensive prints are said to bestow luck on the household or ward off evil spirits and are either displayed prominently throughout the year and then burned and replaced, or are burned as part of ceremonial practices on auspicious dates.

The longer lasting prints (usually the more elaborate and colourful) are conspicuously displayed on the front, back and bedroom doors, in the household shrine and in the kitchen (the ‘stove God’), often in association with a calendar.

Anne Swann Goodrich (1895-2005) became entranced by the paper folk art traditions when she worked as a missionary in (the then) Peking. In 1931 she bought the whole colletion of ‘nianhua’ available from a print shop and spent much of the rest of her life studying the history and meaning behind the paper art forms. Her collection was donated to Columbia University sixteen years ago and represents a snapshot in time of the printing styles and imagery that constituted the popular visual culture of 1931 Peking.


Paper Gods

Film noir pencils

Barton Keyes to Walter Neff:

“A desk job. Is that all you can see in it? Just a hard chair to park your pants on from nine to five. Just a pile of papers to shuffle around, and five sharp pencils and a scratch pad to make figures on, with maybe a little doodling on the side. That’s not the way I see it, Walter. To me a claims man is a surgeon, and that desk is an operating table, and those pencils are scalpels and bone chisels. And those papers are not just forms and statistics and claims for compensation. They’re alive, they’re packed with drama, with twisted hopes and crooked dreams. A claims man, Walter, is a doctor and a blood-hound and a cop and a judge and a jury and a father confessor, all in one.”

Double Indemnity (1944), screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler

A related post
The dowdy world on film
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Film noir pencils

Everything I always wanted to ask about Grape-Nuts



My son Ben gave me the above advertisement, which he found at a garage sale. (Thanks, Ben!) The plastic sheet that protected the ad is labeled 1920s. I have a bowl of sturdy, appetizing Grape-Nuts almost every morning, so this ad has found a good home.

I’m wondering: this scene carries a sexual implication, doesn’t it? The locked eyes seem to bespeak a desire for more than cereal. But does “Only time for Grape-Nuts” mean that there’s no time for more than breakfast, or does it mean that time already spent in the bedroom has left no time for a more elaborate breakfast? It’s possible of course that this ad might only be a comment on modern times and the death of cooking. The locked eyes though suggest more.

And who are these people anyway? Are they both headed off to work? (Would a woman have dressed in this way around the house?) If the couple are a husband and wife, why is he dressing next to what looks like a single bed? And why is his coat hanging on a chair?

[Readers of a certain age will recognize in this post’s title a play on the title of David Reuben’s book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1969).]

Related posts
Alkalize with Alka-Seltzer
“Radios, it is”
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Everything I always wanted to ask about Grape-Nuts

The Braindead Megaphone

Design by Rodrigo Corral


George Saunders’ first collection of essays is out, and before you say “What the HELL is that?”, read something that Saunders wrote on his Amazon.com blog:

“The central premise of the title essay in my new book, The Braindead Megaphone, is this: Our cultural discourse is being dumbed-down by mass-media prose that is written too quickly, and therefore fails to due justice to the complexity of the world.”

And now think about the latest newscast you watched and tell me that this design doesn’t hit all the right notes: ugly graphics, interchangeable talking heads, and most importantly, a real schizoid aesthetic that speaks directly to the way news is created and reported.

Thanks, Austin, for sending this in.

Buy this book from Amazon.com
The Braindead Megaphone

Begin YOUR happiness project! Need help getting started? Write a list of happiness commandments for yourself.

TencommandmentsA few weeks ago, I posted about my epiphany that EVERYONE should have a happiness project. Join in! Start your own!

I need to figure out some systematic way to address this topic, but until I do, I think I’ll just throw out some provocative suggestions to get people thinking.

One of the most difficult – and most helpful and fun – challenges I undertook in my happiness project was coming up with my list of Twelve Commandments. I should do a series of posts explaining the significance of each one, because a few are a bit cryptic, but for me, they are all extraordinarily meaningful:

1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act as I would feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out.
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

So, for your happiness project, come up with your own set of commandments.

A reader wrote that she was trying to come up with her own set, but it kept turning into a to-do list. I had the same problem. Remember, this isn’t a place for things like “Put your keys away in the same place every night.” But maybe that resolution fits into a larger self-command you’d like to observe.

For inspiration, here are some examples.

The first is from Howell Raines’ Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis.

Rule One: Always be careful about where you fish and what you fish for and whom you fish with.
Rule Two: Be even more careful about what you take home and what you throw back.
Rule Three: The point of all fishing is to become ready to fly fish.
Rule Four: The point of fly fishing is to become reverent in the presence of art and nature.
Rule Five: The Redneck Way and Blalock’s Way run along the same rivers, but they do not come out at the same place.

Here are two sets emailed to me from readers (who want to be anonymous):

1. Say yes.
2. Don’t keep score.
3. No fear.
4. Give without limits or expectations.
5. Take it in.
6. Expect a miracle.
7. Play the hand I’m dealt.
8. Recognize my ghosts.
9. Be specific about my needs.
10. React to the situation.
11. Keep proportion.

1. Overcome obstacles—you cannot overcome every obstacle but you can overcome more obstacles than you think, if you just persevere
2. Spend more—life is short, you have a tendency to hoard things (money, time), and you cannot take them with you when you go, so spend them while you can
3. Do what matters—resist the temptation to do something easy but forgettable or meaningless and instead do things that matter, even if they are more difficult; make memories
4. Pay attention—deadlines, politics, relationships, names, birthdays, what people are most proud of, their favorite things/activities, and especially their life dreams
5. Stay calm—unless you are seeking thrills and excitement (e.g. skydiving), stress kills and soothing attracts; you and your relationships will live longer if you stay calm
6. Empathize—put yourself in the other person’s shoes; resist the temptations to: argue, criticize, or complain, focus on yourself and not others, forget people’s names, deny your mistakes, boast of your successes and other’s failures, fail to reward those who do good by you
7. Get outside—almost everything feels better with sunlight on your skin
8. Get physical—being physical, whether in athletics or relationships, is a supreme source of joy
9. Do it now—life is short; procrastination will ruin the little life you have; fear it accordingly
10. Take care of yourself—if you value something, take care of it, and other people will notice
11. Believe you are the prize—confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy, neediness is unattractive, and pride is not a sin
12. Be classy
13. Experiment—get out of the rut; boredom will kill you and your relationships
14. Feel the danger—many dangers (saturated fat, drunk driving) don’t feel dangerous until it is too late
15. Don’t pick—often one must leave well enough alone: acne, wounds, other people’s flaws and mistakes, topics of conversations that other people don’t want to talk about, these are things that should be left alone—despite the most burning desire you have to reopen them; let people cool down and things might heal themselves

One thing that interests me is how distinct these lists are. The commandments give a powerful sense of each writer’s character and of the kinds of challenges he or she faces.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post some tips on creating your own set of happiness commandments.

*
There’s an interesting post on LifeRemix today, 20 Simple Ways to Become a Bookworm. There’s a lot of great information there, resources that I didn’t know about, and I’m a real book addict. As for reading more, the most important things is – remember, it’s supposed to be FUN! I just found a new great book on St. Therese, and I’m amazed at how quickly I’m making my way through it.

*
New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.


Begin YOUR happiness project! Need help getting started? Write a list of happiness commandments for yourself.

Holy Nuts, Batman! This is The Worst Fucking Thing Ever!

My wife, my own wife sends me – THIS! MEIN GOTT!

It’s not work safe – it’s not safe-safe! Hide the children – I am serious, store them somewhere! It’s the worst fucking thing ever!

Just look at it. I did, and I lived to post about about it. Although I really don’t feel so very well now.

Anyway, look at it.

Then look at it again, it gets worse.

A third time, and it gets even WORSE.

You know it’s bad when I use ALL CAPS. You know this is true. Because it is.

Not only that – It’s the worst fucking thing ever! 


Holy Nuts, Batman! This is The Worst Fucking Thing Ever!

Utnapishtim's word-processor



[IBM Displaywriter disk, circa 1984, 8" square.]

Talking with my students about the ancient Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh leads to all sorts of thoughts about impermanence. (The great truth of the story, expressed by the mysterious Utnapishtim, is that “There is no permanence.”) I like pointing out to my students that the tablets holding the Gilgamesh story are still readable (or at least largely readable) to anyone who can read cuneiform script. Also readable, a page from a 13th-century Book of Ezekiel that I bring into class (given to me by a friend who was divesting himself of his belongings). But the circa-1984 disks that hold the text of my dissertation (on E.D. Hirsch, Stanley Fish, and J.L. Austin, if you’re wondering) have been useless to me for many years — except for display purposes during discussions of impermanence.

I wrote my dissertation with Faber-Castell Uniball pens and legal pads bearing the imprint of the Boston University Law School (the ultra-wide left margin was great for revision; I’ve never seen such pads since). I made reading copies for my committee with a Panasonic electronic typewriter. And I produced the final text with what was then called a “dedicated word-processor,” an on-campus IBM Displaywriter.

Here’s a partial description of the machine:

IBM’s Office Products Division announced the Displaywriter in June 1980 as an easy-to-use, low-cost desktop text processing system. The Displaywriter System enabled operators to produce high quality documents while keying at rough draft speed. Users could automatically indent text, justify right margins, center and underscore. They could also store a document and recall it for review or revision, and could check the spelling of approximately 50,000 commonly used words. While these features are taken for granted in the post-PC era, they were novel for a time when most documents were created, formatted and revised on manual or electric typewriters.

The Displaywriter’s “intelligence” came in 160K, 192K or 224K bytes of memory. Single diskette drive diskette units with a capacity for approximately 284,000 characters of information were available. As requirements increased, customers could upgrade to a dual drive diskette unit… .

A basic system — consisting of a display with a typewriter-like keyboard and a logic unit, a printer and a device to record and read diskettes capable of storing more than 100 pages of average text — cost $7,895 and leased for $275 a month.
The disks (diskette seems coy, considering the size) went into a toaster-like drive (to the right of the CPU, monitor, and keyboard in this IBM photograph). Yes, that’s a disk drive, at least 12" wide (and that’s the printer to its right).



I knew a guy who was doing word-processing full-time in downtown Boston in 1984. His dream was to buy a Displaywriter of his own and freelance. I hope he was saving slowly enough that he saved himself a lot of money.
IBM Displaywriter (IBM)
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Utnapishtim's word-processor