Ends and Means

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“I find to my delight that I can make my dog happy by wagging its tail for it.” — Reveille, letter to the editor, quoted in Michael Bateman, ed., This England, 1969

Wakeful Watchers

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Xochimilco_Dolls%27_Island.jpg Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s Isla de las Muñecas is a floating garden festooned with dolls — the story goes that a local man discovered a drowned girl, hung her doll from a tree as a gesture of remembrance, and was haunted by her spirit ever after, no matter how many dolls he hung. Today, inevitably, it’s a tourist attraction, but it’s still effective — photographer Cindy Vasko called it the creepiest place she’s ever visited.

Below: As her village has dwindled from 300 residents to 30, Japanese artist Ayano Tsukimi has been replacing them with dolls, life-sized figures made of cloth and stuffed with cotton and newspapers. The first was intended to be a scarecrow, but because it resembled her father she found that her neighbors interacted with it. In the ensuing 10 years she’s made hundreds.

“Every morning, I just greet them,” she told NPR. “I say ‘good morning’ or ‘have a nice day!’ I never get a response, but that doesn’t make a difference. I go around talking to them anyway.”

A Tree to Climb

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

This enormous kauri tree towered for a thousand years over prehistoric New Zealand before it fell into a swamp, where the lack of oxygen and fungus preserved it for 45,000 years. Workers snapped two 90-ton-capacity winch cables trying to extract it in October 1994; finally they cut it into two sections of 110 and 30 tons and hauled them out separately.

Then David Stewart built a concrete pad 20 inches thick, placed a 50-ton section of log atop it, and spent 300 hours carving it with a chainsaw and 200 hours finishing it. At 12 feet in diameter and 17 feet tall, the result is the world’s largest (and certainly oldest) single-piece circular stairway … built inside the log.

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Image: Flickr

(From Spike Carlsen, A Splintered History of Wood, 2008.)

Double Talk

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In talking about superheroes, these sentences seem natural and right:

(la) Clark Kent went into the phone booth and Superman came out.
(2a) Superman leapt over tall buildings.
(3a) Superman is more successful with women than Clark Kent.
(4a) Batman wears a mask.

But these seem inappropriate or wrong:

(lb) Clark Kent went into the phone booth and Clark Kent came out.
(2b) Clark Kent leapt over tall buildings.
(3b) Clark Kent is more successful with women than Clark Kent.
(4b) Bruce Wayne wears a mask.

Why is this? If we know that Superman is Clark Kent, then those terms should be interchangeable — a statement about Superman is a statement about Clark Kent; they’re the same person.

“At least in some conversational scenarios, utterances of (la)-(4a) strike us as true, and utterances of (lb) (4b) appear to be false,” writes University of Nottingham philosopher Stefano Predelli. “(3a), for instance, seems just the right thing to say when discussing women’s fascination with men in blue leotard; utterances of (3b), on the other hand, seem trivially false. Similarly, during a discussion of why the famed superhero never engages in extraordinary feats when playing the part of the timid journalist, utterances of (2a) seem unobjectionable, but utterances of (2b) will not do.” Why?

(Stefano Predelli, “Superheroes and Their Names,” American Philosophical Quarterly 41:2 [April 2004], 107-123.)

I Got a Feeling

My teenage children are mad about rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t mind, but between them they have socks, pullovers and slacks which are fluorescent, and I am worried in case these are harmful to their health. Surely things that are luminous in the dark are usually radioactive, which, I take it, could be dangerous.

You’ll be relieved to know that these clothes, so popular with teenagers (particularly the rock ‘n’ rollers), have been tested for radioactivity, and there is none. So there should be no danger at all, except to anyone who is sensitive to the kinds of colours they select!

Woman’s Realm, April 12, 1958

Turnabout

Here’s an especially vivid example of the illusion created by Dick Termes’ six-point perspective.

If you can convince yourself that the front half of this sphere is transparent, and that the image is painted on the interior of the back half, you’ll find that you’re inside the cage, turning to your left, while the birds are outside the cage, looking in at you. (To get started, I find it helps to focus on an edge of the sphere, rather than the center.)

There are many more examples on Termes’ YouTube channel.

The Bear Gates

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Image: Flickr

These gates, at the main entrance to the grounds of Scotland’s Traquair House, were installed in 1738.

After a visit by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, earl Charles Stuart vowed they would never open again until a Stuart king returned to the throne.

They never have.

“Mother Nature in Tears”

http://mikenolanwildlifeimages.blogspot.com/2009/09/mother-nature-in-tears.html

Photographer Michael S. Nolan took this photo in 2009 at the Austfonna ice cap in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. He writes:

When I took the image early in the morning on July 16, 2009 from the bow of the National Geographic Explorer I was struck by the unmistakable likeness of the face of a woman crying. In fact once my mind locked onto the face it was hard to see any other pattern in the ice cap. I was moved to photograph this particular waterfall several different ways with a couple of different lenses. It was one of the best examples of a human likeness I have ever witnessed in nature.

“The icescape changes every year I visit,” he told the Telegraph. “Every summer the route has less ice as the polar cap retreats.”

(Via Brad Honeycutt, The Art of Deception, 2014.)

The Slave of Passion

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Here’s something odd: a painting of a young lady riding Aristotle like a pony.

In fact what’s surprising is how thoroughly we’ve forgotten this image, which was once one of the most common artistic motifs of the Northern Renaissance, figuring in scores of paintings, sculptures, and engravings.

The woman is Phyllis, the consort of Alexander the Great, who was a pupil of Aristotle. According to a 13th-century manuscript:

Once upon a time, Aristotle taught Alexander that he should restrain himself from frequently approaching his wife, who was very beautiful, lest he should impede his spirit from seeking the general good. Alexander acquiesced to him. The queen, when she perceived this and was upset, began to draw Aristotle to love her. Many times she crossed paths with him alone, with bare feet and disheveled hair, so that she might entice him.

At last, being enticed, he began to solicit her carnally.

‘This I will certainly not do, unless I see a sign of love, lest you be testing me. Therefore, come to my chamber crawling on hand and foot, in order to carry me like a horse. Then I’ll know that you aren’t deluding me.’

When he had consented to that condition, she secretly told the matter to Alexander, who lying in wait apprehended him carrying the queen. When Alexander wished to kill Aristotle, in order to excuse himself, Aristotle says,

‘If thus it happened to me, an old man most wise, that I was deceived by a woman, you can see that I taught you well, that it could happen to you, a young man.’

Hearing that, the king spared him, and made progress in Aristotle’s teachings.

This is an exemplum, a sort of parable designed to warn the reader away from a bad practice — in this case, allowing passion to overcome reason. But it’s nice to see the lesson taught to Aristotle, who once declared that the capacity for practical reason was undeveloped in children, absent in slaves, and “without authority” in women.

(Thanks, Dan.)

Rude Weapons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bonnacon.jpg

Pliny the Elder wrote of an alarming creature of ancient legend:

There are reports of a wild animal in Paeonia called the bonasus, which has the mane of a horse, but in all other respects resembles a bull; its horns are curved back in such a manner as to be of no use for fighting, and it is said that because of this it saves itself by running away, meanwhile emitting a trail of dung that sometimes covers a distance of as much as three furlongs, contact with which scorches pursuers like a sort of fire.

By the Middle Ages this had evolved into the bonnacon, and if anything had gotten worse — from the 12th-century Cambridge Bestiary:

However much his front end does not defend this monster, his belly end is fully sufficient. For when he turns to run away he emits a fart with the contents of his large intestine which covers three acres. And any tree that it reaches catches fire. Thus he drives away his pursuers with noxious excrement.

It seems vaguely to have lived in southern Asia. Let’s hope it stays there.