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.”

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.

It’s All Real

Jerry Brito is off to Walt Disney World:

That said I have to admit that Disney World would not be my first choice of vacation destination. The reason, I tell myself, is that I don’t care for artificial experiences. At Disney World, “cast members” are never allowed to frown, for example. The smell of fresh-baked cookies is pumped into the air around “Main Street.” In fact, the very idea of a long lost American main street is fake.

But then I think, isn’t immersing ourselves in fantasy exactly what we do when we go to the theatre or read a book? Disney World is just intensely more immersive, that’s all. Why not just enjoy the ride?

Exactly. That Disney World is “artificial” is a common criticism but there’s no such thing as an artificial experience. That assumes some experiences are more valid than others. Everything one experiences is real. No one would argue that going to Paris is artificial. Yet is it less “real” than going to a war-zone like Afghanistan? The only way Disney could be described as “artificial” is if you somehow truly believed Paris is just like the France pavilion in EPCOT and equated the two. But of course nobody does that.

Experiences certainly have different weights; the death of a parent has greater reverberations than buying a Slurpee at 7-11 — but again, everything is actually happening. People who distinguish between “real” and “artificial” experiences disassociate themselves from their own lives. It’s what Sartre would call being-for-others. They imagine themselves at Disney from an exterior, third-person point of view and feel as if they have to justify their actions to that faceless observer. It’s anti-individualist.

When people say an experience is “fake” or “artificial,” what they mean to say is that it’s not to their liking. Another friend recently returned from Costa Rica. He reports “the whole place was just a little too commercialized and globalized for my tastes.” Translation: the natives wore shoes. A place is what it is. If he wants something more ethnic and impoverished (which is what the friend really means), there are other places he can go. I don’t travel to deserts because I don’t like deserts. I’d rather go to the beach.

In other words, I think perhaps Jerry didn’t want to go to Disney because, as a 30-something dude without kids, riding the Dumbo carousel doesn’t get his heart pumping. Which, as much as I love WDW, is a sentiment I can understand.