Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Whisperer in Darkness movie, complete with trailer. I'm not sure how it will hold up over feature length, but I like the black and white B-movie approach.

Update: Isolated population of Antarctic microbes form five-story waterfall of blood-red ooze. Sounds like the place to look for albino penguins. Ëa! Ëa! (Credit to Jack for this one.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wow, we just passed fifteen-hundred posts. This is 1,503. Hooray us!
The technology of Antarctic research stations

Cool! But we all know that the best part of Antarctic research is bringing your tuxedo.
Is opera to blame for country music?

By the early 1880s, Knoxville was hosting extravagant “Music Festivals,” held every spring. Touting itself as “the little Paris of the United States,” Knoxville emphasized European opera above all else, concentrated around Staub’s Opera House, which was on the southeast corner of Gay Street and Cumberland. Significant stars of opera and classical music from New York, Philadelphia, and Boston would take the train to Knoxville for a pleasant weekend of music, some of it outdoors at Chilhowee Park. Even if Knoxvillians didn’t always have the patience for a whole opera—these festivals were mostly composed of portions of operas, individual arias and acts—they loved the singing, and turned out in the thousands.

Knoxville’s music festivals may have left a surprising and thoroughly unintended legacy.

Some older Knoxvillians were skeptical of the Music Festival. Back then, opera was believed to inflame the passions of hot-blooded youth, and they weren’t crazy about their youngsters putting on European airs. In May, 1883, some older folks staged a sort of anti-opera counter festival, featuring some down-home fiddle music on an afternoon at Staub’s when there were no sopranos scheduled. It’s the earliest example of country music being played on a public stage I’ve been able to find.
Opera has some surprising roots out here in the "deserts of Louisiana" (as the Manon Lescaut libretto puts it). The first performances of Lohengrin in the New World took place in the German country of Texas, for instance. And I'm always delighted when I float by Jenny Lind Rock, one of the enormous cliff walls at the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers, a place famous for its echoes. Lind's 1850 tour of America was almost a Beatlemania level sensation (Berlioz has an entertaining passage about it in Evenings with the Orchestra). Decades later, Pat Brown, a hermit dwelling in a cave near Echo Park, told acquaintances that he had a pet mountain lion who would scream from the echoing clifftop:
"Pat claimed that the lion would come out upon a high cliff and scream in answer to his yell," said Mr. Barber, "and old Pat would say, 'that sound is sweeter than any Jenny Lind ever sang.'" Old residents of the Brown's Park country still call this cliff Jenny Lind Rock.
While we're on these subjects, Mrs. P and I watched La Fanciulla del West a while back, Puccini's opera set amongst the 49-ers of California. Act I is a little slow, and the end is pretty maudlin, but Act II is classic lurid, blood-dripping, rip-roaring Puccini. I'd love it if the Santa Fe opera would adapt it to be set in, say, Madrid, New Mexico, but the drunk Indian characters probably preclude the possibility, alas.

(A hat tip to Professor Reynolds)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Great. Just great: Armed pot growers in the high desert of Oregon. The region has a grand tradition as outlaw country, but this isn't exactly in keeping with the Claude Dallas mystique. Can we please legalize the stuff before all our public lands off the big tourist trails are thus infested?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

The summer of the year 1783 was an amazing and portentous one, and full of horrible phaenomena; for besides the alarming meteors and tremendous thunder-storms that affrighted and distressed the different counties of this kingdom, the peculiar haze, or smokey fog, that prevailed for many weeks in this island, and in every part of Europe, and even beyond its limits, was a most extraordinary appearance, unlike anything known within the memory of man. By my journal I find that I had noticed this strange occurrence from June 23 to July 20 inclusive, during which period the wind varied to every quarter without making any alteration in the air. The sun, at noon, looked as blank as a clouded moon, and shed a rust- coloured ferruginous light on the ground, and floors of rooms; but was particularly lurid and blood-coloured at rising and setting. All the time the heat was so intense that butchers' meat could hardly be eaten on the day after it was killed; and the flies swarmed so in the lanes and hedges that they rendered the horses half frantic, and riding irksome. The country people began to look with a superstitious awe, at the red, louring aspect of the sun...

--Gilbert White, recalling the effects of the 1783 eruption of Laki on England
While we're all fascinated by the current eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (great pictures!), spare a moment to contemplate Laki in 1783. 20% or more of Iceland's population died of famine, a cloud of poison gas hung about Iceland and Europe over a brutally hot summer, and the following winter was frigid across Europe and America. Puts all those delayed flights in perspective, doesn't it? If Eyjafjallajökull keeps belching, it'll be interesting to see if there are climatic effects, or at least good sunsets.

Of course, it might trigger Katla. Interesting Katla fact:
At the peak of the 1755 eruption the flood discharge has been estimated at 200,000–400,000 m³/s [that's cubic meters! --ed.]; for comparison, the combined average discharge of the Amazon, Mississippi, Nile, and Yangtze rivers is about 266,000 m³/s.
Hat tip: Sailer.
Man charged with assault and battery after allegedly using a 4 foot long ball python as a weapon.

Bastard. Python abuse would be a much more apt charge. If you're going to use a snake as a weapon, a ball python is an exceedingly poor choice, as they're generally frightened of absolutely everything except mice and dark places. If you have to pinch the snake's head to get it to open its mouth, you're really barking up the wrong tree. This guy should have a Burmese: for one thing, it might eat him.
Counting to five-ish.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Challenged by Peculiar, I have no choice but to respond. No promises of anything high, or even middle brow.

Natalie Babbitt, The Search for Delicious. When I got older I could identify the emotion this book brought over me as nympholepsy, an affliction I have yet to recover from. It's about magic, and nature, and how we abandon them.

William Faulkner, The Reivers. My favorite novel. Unflinching sacrifice of our innocence.

Homer, The Iliad. Is this cheating? I don't care. Rage is our first word. I will say that jack's senior essay helped me understand it quite a bit more deeply than I could have on my own.

Epictetus, Discourses.
Do you then show me your improvement in these things? If I were talking to an athlete, I should say, "Show me your shoulders"; and then he might say, "Here are my halteres." You and your halteres look to that. I should reply, "I wish to see the effect of the halteres." So, when you say: "Take the treatise on the active powers, and see how I have studied it." I reply, "Slave, I am not inquiring about this, but how you exercise pursuit and avoidance, desire and aversion, how your design and purpose and prepare yourself, whether conformably to nature or not. If conformably, give me evidence of it, and I will say that you are making progress: but if not conformably, be gone, and not only expound your books, but write such books yourself; and what will you gain by it?
Sheri S. Tepper, Beauty. Hard for me to go back to this one, but I read it perhaps twenty times when I was fifteen. I'll still read anything she wants to write.

G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday. In which we learn that the world is mad, but we still have our duty.

Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I use this book constantly to help me understand and deal with practical life. This is probably unhealthy.

Diane Duane, So You Want to be a Wizard. "I am on errantry, and I greet you."

C. S. Lewis' Narnia series. I'm not sure the effect on me was a beneficial one; I seem to have spent a great deal of my life assuming that at some point I would find a way into another world, and so didn't need to do my Social Studies homework.

Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. A good part of these books is about the joy of useful work, and also there is Princess Eilonwy.

Notably absent: overt religion, much philosophy (the Discourses scarcely count), any sci-fi, medieval works, or Xenophon. Hmm.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Watch a huge avalanche nail a lift line at Chimbulak Ski Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
New monitor lizard species discovered in the Philippines.
With a main body length approaching 1m, with an additional 1m-long tail, the lizard has dark skin covered by golden yellow spots and flecks.

Its legs are mainly yellow, and its tail striped black and yellow.

In some pictures, the animal also looks to have green or blue scales.

The new species, which is called Varanus bitatawa, is thought to survive on a diet of fruit, making it one of just three species of fruit-eating monitor lizards in the world.
(Hat tip: Cronaca)