Linky Links

Apologies for the staleness hereabouts; my nose has been to the grindstone. I hope to have more exciting news and updates this summer. Meantime:

Megafauna Extinctions. Another nail in the coffin of the overkill hypothesis: “a scientific review has found fewer than 15 of the 90-odd giant species in Australia and New Guinea still existed by the time people arrived.” As in the Americas, climate change is suspected. Fingers still point to human responsibility in the extinction of New Zealand’s moa, however, just as Paleo-Indians probably played a role in pushing stressed mammoths over the edge.

Albert Camus. The first full English translation of his Algerian Chronicles recasts Camus solidly as an Algerian writer, not a French one, a man who wrote explicitly about his birthplace and shared little in common with Parisian intellectuals.

Herman Melville’s House. Arrowhead, the Massachusetts home where Melville wrote Moby-Dick and “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” is undergoing renovations to return it to a closer approximation of its appearance circa 1870. The addition of the porch is odd since it was built after Melville moved out.

News

HL Hunley. Archaeologists have discovered the Confederate submarine was still attached to its Housatonic-sinking torpedo when the device exploded, which in turn probably caused Hunley to founder. Previously, most believed Hunley stuck the torpedo into the Union ship and released it before reversing and detonating it from a distance.

Coyotes. A Connecticut wildlife biologist says “a map of where coyotes were sighted in 2012 compared to 2011” reveals “the number had mushroomed.” This doesn’t necessarily mean the population is up — we don’t know because the state hasn’t conducted a census — but I think that’s a reasonable inference. In any event, while the biologist did inform his audience that we’re probably not dealing with coyotes but rather coywolf hybrids, the implications of this didn’t seem to be fully understood. Prescriptions for hazing and other prevention techniques used west of the Mississippi may not be germane to our situation here in the northeast.

Grand Central Terminal. My favorite building turns 100.

BioShock Infinite. I never played the original BioShock game but the verisimilitude of this trailer for the alt-hist sequel — set in 1912 — produced in the style of an early ’80s In Search of… documentary show is outright amazing.

The Rebel on the Range

Henry Allen in the WSJ on the film I consider to be the first revisionist Western:

Only “High Noon” can explain “High Noon.” It is no more explainable than Michelangelo’s David, a world in itself, self-defining. The artistic genius of the movie is that somehow we utterly support Kane, though we can’t say why.

It shows us what existentialism called “authenticity.” Kane defines himself by what he does rather than what he is. If his motive is honor, it’s an honor so foolish as to be dishonorable. No psychoanalytic agonies drive him—he takes sole responsibility for himself and the people affected by his decision.

With Amy taking up a gun too, Kane wins the fight.

There is no better expression for existentialism than the Western. The Western throws a spotlight on the person by himself on a vast and empty stage, a dry and thirsty landscape haunted by bad men. And yet — Kane is saved by his formerly pacifist wife. In Once Upon a Time in the West, Harmonica has his vengeance on Frank only after working with Cheyenne and Jill to eliminate Frank’s gang. There’s no army to help either man; there’s no tin-starred justice or the weight of the state to put things right. They ate their vegetables and paid their taxes but nobody cares. It’s just the individual, alone — alone except for the commitments made to others who’ve found themselves dropped into the same bleak universe.

I ♥ Vermont

I love living in New England. I love the climate; I love the green of my marsh reeds in summer and the pumpkin orange of fall. I love the geography of crying seagulls and tolling buoys after hiking in the woods. And I love the cultural ideal of self-sufficiency and minding your own business coupled with tolerance and mutual aid. But very often, when I see the bloat and abuses of the six states and the scoundrels we elect to public office, I question whether my latter infatuation is nostalgia, a romantic pining for beliefs that certainly aren’t shared now, if they ever were.

Then I read stuff like this in Vermont:

When Irene washed out big chunks of Route 100 in Pittsfield, cutting this tiny town of about 425 people off, David Colton knew he couldn’t wait. At 9 a.m. the morning after the storm, Mr. Colton and about two dozen other Pittsfield residents revved up their bulldozers and backhoes and started carving their own way out. … [B]y Wednesday morning, the town had reconnected itself to Killington, eight miles to the south, where town volunteers in turn built some temporary roads of their own.

Outside Pittsfield’s town hall, a huge bulletin board is filled with 8 x 11 paper sign-up sheets. “I can offer power,” reads the top of one list, with several names below it. “I can offer medical supplies,” reads another.

“It’s been great—everyone has a different set of skills, and we’re all coming together,” said Patty Haskins, the town clerk, adding that if the volunteers hadn’t started digging, “we’d still be isolated.”

Old Terminal, New Purpose

The Port Authority wants to transform the sleek TWA terminal at JFK International Airport into a small hotel with a complex of stores and eateries:

After a bankrupt TWA was bought by American Airlines in 2001, the terminal closed. Jet-Blue Airways eventually built a new facility around the Saarinen-designed building. Since then, it has sat empty. Attempts to find a tenant fell short. So in 2008, the Port Authority decided to spend $20 million to remove asbestos and restore the interior to better appeal to developers.

Most of the story is behind WSJ’s pay wall but you can click over to the slideshow.

I hope they do something with it; the spy-jazz curves of the terminal scream for a restaurant and bar, and with most airport saloons nowadays kept past security, it’s often tough to find a place to meet when picking up or dropping off. It would definitely tilt my preference toward Jet Blue when booking if I could begin or end my journey with some Dr. No ambiance not unlike that of the Encounter at LAX.

But what’s notable here is that the Port Authority is actually investing in a historic property. By bringing it up to modern standards, they’ve reduced the risk for potential first-time tenants, who would otherwise have to do that work on their own or at least negotiate renovations with the PA, both of which would cost money the tenant may not recoup. And, even if the tenant should fail or leave, the terminal will still be usable by future tenants, keeping the PA on track to eventually see a return on that $20 million. This stands in contrast to the litigious breed of preservationist, who refuses to spend for anything beyond lawyers’ fees but then acts confused when no one wants to purchase a leaky, asbestos-filled ruin.

Historic preservation doesn’t require lawsuits or special designations of status. It’s very easy. If you want to save an old building, all you have to do is buy it and take care of it.

The Apathetic Agnostic

I was laboring over a longish response to this Slate piece by Ron Rosenbaum calling for a distinction to be drawn between agnosticism and atheism. Then I remembered my blog is on the googlenets, and I imagined the comments section of the finished post going something like this:

I clicked here from someplace and I know fuck-all about you but based on what you wrote about atheism I think you’re stupid and terrible.

Actually, I didn’t say anything bad about atheism. I simply said agnosticism is a fundamentally different approach to the issue —

What “issue?” There is no “issue.” Because there’s no God.

Well, you see, from an existentialist point of view —

Are you an atheist?

As an existentialist, the existence of God is not —

Then you think God is real?

He might be. But even so, ultimately his will is inscrutable and therefore —

Where’s your proof!? You have no proof.

Well, a theist would answer that by saying —

Do you believe in Santa Claus too?

No. But the question doesn’t really have any bearing —

Your arguments are weak. You are an idiot.

I have a four-year degree in philosophy and religion, and I believe I can contribute to the —

Well, la-de-da! Look at Mister Fancy Pants! You still suck.

And then I said, screw it. I’m good.