Thursday, November 30, 2006

The chompiest fish ever: "Dunkleosteus was able to devour anything in its environment."

Also, new understanding of the workings of the Antikythera Mechanism. Please give us a working replica and a virtual online version with explodable innards.

Update: As to the latter, Reid Farmer has more and better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I have apparently managed to set my spam filtering backwards, meaning that everyone I want to get mail from has been blocked. Apologies, all, and things should have been set aright now.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Recommended: Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle.

As Convent Garden's stagehands are alleged to have protested, though rocks were in their contracts, "Them's not ordinary rocks, them's Wagnerian rocks."

Some things are so appalling they must be immortalized, that we may be an object of fear and pity for future generations. Seen on the way home from Thanksgiving:

Ah, the essence of hunting, the champagne air of Autumn, the healthy meat, morning frost, well-heeled guns and well-oiled dogs, the family fifth wheel! Note the fawn with spots still on it: should someone inform the earnest bowmen that their tags don't count on those?

The season of cold fits and Agues is upon us, so let us offer our readers Cures and Medicines from the Caucauses:
The most usual Cure for Agues in this Country [Georgia] is to make Plaisters of the Fat of a Sheeps Rump, Cinamon, Cloves and Cardamomes, and all the time of the cold fit to lay these Plaisters upon the Forehead, Stomach and Feet. When the hot fit is over, take off those Plainters and lay on others, made of the Leaves of Chihory, Plantain, and the Herb call'd Solanum or Nightshade, afterwards they take a Sucking-Pig, cut in two and clap it to the Feet. All which time the Patient is fed with Bread and Cream of Almonds, eating nothing that is boyl'd.

-- The Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East-Indies (1686), quoted in The Georgian Feast

I believe Mr. Bodio receiv'd a similar Treatment in his Voyages to Kazakh Tartary, tho' in his Case involving Slabs of Horse-Flesh, which Procedure was successful.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What have I been doing lately? Well, I climbed some bloody good mountains recently, which I've written up on SummitPost. Lots of pictures: I'd post them here were it not for Blogger's limitations.

While we're on the subject, here's one of the better bits of mountain poetry I've read, though the Taoist visions do become a tad heavy. Dreaming I Roamed on TianMu Mountain by Li Bai (701-762):

A seafaring visitor will talk about Japan,
Which waters and mists conceal beyond approach;
But Yueh people talk about Heavenly Mother Mountain,
Still seen through its varying deeps of cloud.
In a straight line to heaven, its summit enters heaven,
Tops the five Holy Peaks, and casts a shadow through China
With the hundred-mile length of the Heavenly Terrace Range,
Which, just at this point, begins turning southeast.
...My heart and my dreams are in Wu and Yueh
And they cross Mirror Lake all night in the moon.
And the moon lights my shadow
And me to Yan River –
With the hermitage of Xie still there
And the monkeys calling clearly over ripples of green water.
I wear his pegged boots
Up a ladder of blue cloud,
Sunny ocean half-way,
Holy cock-crow in space,
Myriad peaks and more valleys and nowhere a road.
Flowers lure me, rocks ease me. Day suddenly ends.
Bears, dragons, tempestuous on mountain and river,
Startle the forest and make the heights tremble.
Clouds darken with darkness of rain,
Streams pale with pallor of mist.
The Gods of Thunder and Lightning
Shatter the whole range.
The stone gate breaks asunder
Venting in the pit of heaven,
An impenetrable shadow.
...But now the sun and moon illumine a gold and silver terrace,
And, clad in rainbow garments, riding on the wind,
Come the queens of all the clouds, descending one by one,
With tigers for their lute-players and phoenixes for dancers.
Row upon row, like fields of hemp, range the fairy figures.
I move, my soul goes flying,
I wake with a long sigh,
My pillow and my matting
Are the lost clouds I was in.
...And this is the way it always is with human joy:
Ten thousand things run for ever like water toward the east.
And so I take my leave of you, not knowing for how long.
...But let me, on my green slope, raise a white deer
And ride to you, great mountain, when I have need of you.
Oh, how can I gravely bow and scrape to men of high rank and men of high office
Who never will suffer being shown an honest-hearted face!
--Trans. Witer Bynner
Courtesy of John Derbyshire

We're off. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In 1934, a Nazi expedition got itself in trouble on Nanga Parbat. Still high on the mountain, the Germans put on their skis and left, abandoning both their Sherpas and an injured teammate. This barbaric callousness was redeemed by the Sherpas, who in the ‘30s were not yet the culture of legendary alpinists that they are today. They and the German made it back to basecamp alive. It’s an inspiring story.

Not so inspiring is the story of David Sharp, who in 2006 had his last words captured on film high on Mount Everest. The filmmakers lacked skis and spoke a different Germanic language, but they followed in the footsteps of their spiritual ancestors in mountaineering: they took their film and left.

If any of our readership is sufficiently TV-literate to be checking out the Discovery Channel’s new Mt. Everest show, which premiers tonight and which I will not link, you should read this resounding excoriation from I knew that many people walked past David Sharp, spoke with him and left him to die in the snow. I was unaware that some of his last words were filmed by this crew, a clip you will not see tonight, nor likely ever. The linked article is admittedly biased, and legitimate rebuttals could be made to some of its assertions. However, the main point definitely stands. This team had the material resources to get a film crew up there, but lacked the moral resources even to consider helping a human being get down. It can be done. It would even have made some remarkably inspirational television. Skip Discovery’s Everest conga-line circus: your soul would be better off watching South Park reruns. Or you could read Tigers of the Snow, learn about the Nazis’ inhuman callousness towards their sherpas and wonder why modern climbers can’t do any better.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The DOCETAE tell us
That salvation came cheap:
That Christ did not suffer
Nor bright Mary weep;
His Cross was a stage prop
His death but a sleep.
False doctrine thus sown,
Damnation they reap
Lamenting their falsehoods
In Beelzebub's keep.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Operatic comedienne Anna Russell died recently. NPR has a story which contains the following gem of a quote, on the physiognomic necessities of singers:
You're better off with resonance where your brains ought to be. The rest can be fed into you unless you're retarded. I've known a lot of quite successful singers who are quite retarded.
You'll also hear a marvellous bit of one of her Gilbert & Sullivan parodies. For more of the like, watch this.
Terry Teachout has an interesting re-examination of the life and works of composer Malcolm Arnold. I am certainly sympathetic to claims that the man's works may have been unjustly savaged by critics who were devoted to the dogma of the death of tonality. Mr. Teachout's opinion is high enough that I may have to give Arnold's Fifth a listen.
Speaking of cryptozoology, Terrierman's Jack Russells caught El Chupacabra.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cephalopod Attack: more information, and pictures, please!
Meanwhile Mike Golding, the leading Brit in the race, was also in a good mood this morning despite an incident with a giant squid, which has covered his hull and the lower part of his sails in ink. Mike Golding commented: "The decks and even the foot of the head sail were covered in what looks like squid ink and there's an awful lot of it. It looks like it was shot from ahead. Whatever it was, it was pretty big, but I'm not worried - I'm bigger!"
Thanks Deep Sea News.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I was going to post on The God Delusion, and then I wasn't, and then Steve mentioned Dawkins peripherally, and I thought I should say something myself.

Posting on the book seems to require little explanation; it's a decent book, and certainly succeeds in "consciousness-raising" or what have you--getting people's backs up, more or less. But it's strangely at right angles to the actual problems and questions of theism, let alone religion. I don't really need a new critique of Aquinas' five ways, and if I did I'd go elsewhere. Dawkins' misunderstanding of some fundamental tenets of theology leads to some amusing statements.

This is not to say that he hasn't a point. He has an enormous number of them, but he makes so many so loudly that catching the babies in this sea of bathwater is no easy task.

So much for saying something. As for not saying something: reading the book I started thinking about Richard Dawkins. What sort of e-mails he must get, the sort of horrible Case for a Creator nonsense he must hear day in, day out until frankly you could just shoot somebody. Heaven knows I feel that way often enough. So I decided that, since the book isn't for me anyway, I didn't have anything to add to the discussion. Richard Dawkins must be very tired. He's become a sort of avatar of atheism, and if that isn't an unpleasant irony I don't know what is. I repent of the petty nastiness back during the introduction of "bright", and I look forward to his next book on evolution and biology.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nattering CATHARS whom
France and the Low Countries
Hosted for centuries
Much to their shame

Prattle of dualist
Christ was a phantom or
So they would claim.


XENOPHYSITE we name such men
As think God quite beyond all ken;
They question holy revelation
With anaphorists' argumentation;
Conclude that Christ was but a man,
And thus deny His heav'nly plan.
They are quite rightly burned alive
That such a creed may never thrive.


Per request from La C.C., 'M' shall not be 'Monophysite'. Also, I know that the double dactyl is not, strictly speaking, such.