A Medieval Satirical Love Poem

Today at A Clerk of Oxford, she posted a medieval poem which satirizes the romantic poems popular at the time. It may take a few readings to be able to deal with the unusual spellings, but it’s worth it because the poem is quite fun.

This may be my favorite stanza from it:

Whosoever wist what life I lead,
In mine observance in divers wise;
From time that I go to my bed
I eat no meat till that I rise.
Ye might tell it for a great emprise, [triumph]
That men thus mourneth for your sake;
So much I think on your service,
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

One of the two books in which this poem is found was in a commonplace book owned by a grocer, in the 1500s. It’s also fun to see, though the expression is somewhat different, the sense of humor is very much the same as what one might get from Chesterton or even a more modern wit.

Just to illustrate my point, compare this with Chesterton’s poem The Logical Vegetarian:

You will find me drinking rum,
    Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian
    You will find me drinking gin 
    In the lowest kind of inn
Because I am a rigid Vegetarian.

Paganism on the Rise

I just saw this video from Bishop Barron and Brandon Vogt discussing the rise of paganism:

I can’t help but think of some commentary from G.K. Chesterton (in Orthodoxy) on the relative virtue of paganism:

Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; any one who knows any one from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

All the same, it will be as well if Jones does not worship the sun and moon. If he does, there is a tendency for him to imitate them; to say, that because the sun burns insects alive, he may burn insects alive. He thinks that because the sun gives people sun-stroke, he may give his neighbour measles. He thinks that because the moon is said to drive men mad, he may drive his wife mad. This ugly side of mere external optimism had also shown itself in the ancient world. About the time when the Stoic idealism had begun to show the weaknesses of pessimism, the old nature worship of the ancients had begun to show the enormous weaknesses of optimism. Nature worship is natural enough while the society is young, or, in other words, Pantheism is all right as long as it is the worship of Pan. But Nature has another side which experience and sin are not slow in finding out, and it is no flippancy to say of the god Pan that he soon showed the cloven hoof. The only objection to Natural Religion is that somehow it always becomes unnatural. A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty. He washes at dawn in clear water as did the Wise Man of the Stoics, yet, somehow at the dark end of the day, he is bathing in hot bull’s blood, as did Julian the Apostate. The mere pursuit of health always leads to something unhealthy. Physical nature must not be made the direct object of obedience; it must be enjoyed, not worshipped. Stars and mountains must not be taken seriously. If they are, we end where the pagan nature worship ended. Because the earth is kind, we can imitate all her cruelties. Because sexuality is sane, we can all go mad about sexuality. Mere optimism had reached its insane and appropriate termination. The theory that everything was good had become an orgy of everything that was bad.

The Entertainer, by Billy Joel

I don’t know how many people remember Billy Joel these days, but among his many great songs is The Entertainer:

The degree of realism in it is fascinating; also the cynicism. Three points of this really stand out to me:

  1. He’s popular now but will be shortly forgotten if he doesn’t stay at the top of his game.
  2. He’s had tons of experiences.
  3. He can’t remember any of them.

That last part is really the most interesting. The lyrics in question are:

I am the entertainer
Been all around the world
I’ve played all kinds of palaces
And laid all kinds of girls
I can’t remember faces
I don’t remember names
Ah, but what the hell
You know it’s just as well
‘Cause after a while and a thousand miles
It all becomes the same

Fun fact: when I was young I thought that the lyrics were “I’m going to hell, you know it’s just as well, ’cause after a while and a thousand miles, it all becomes the same.” It’s both better and worse that way, but doesn’t change things very significantly.

There’s a very interesting tie-in with the poem The Aristocrat by G.K. Chesterton:

O blind your eyes and break your heart and hack your hand away,
And lose your love and shave your head; but do not go to stay
At the little place in What’sitsname where folks are rich and clever;
The golden and the goodly house, where things grow worse for ever;
There are things you need not know of, though you live and die in vain,
There are souls more sick of pleasure than you are sick of pain;
There is a game of April Fool that’s played behind its door,
Where the fool remains for ever and the April comes no more,
Where the splendour of the daylight grows drearier than the dark,
And life droops like a vulture that once was such a lark:
And that is the Blue Devil that once was the Blue Bird;
For the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn’t keep his word.

That weariness is fascinating; it is really the sign of sin. Bishop Barron talked about this in some interview, I forget exactly which one, but he mentioned how one of the curious things about the early Christians was the explosive energy they had. They’d just keep going until you fed them to the lions and even then they might well sing hymns of praise to God until the lions actually gulped them down and they could no longer sing.

The problem with being popular is how many people it puts you into contact with. People take energy, and that energy requirement goes up exponentially when the people want conflicting things from you. The more people you know the more conflicting things people want from you.

Also a problem is that the more people you know the more people will misunderstand you—and the less time you will have time to explain what you meant. This too is exhausting.

It takes something quite unusual to be able to be popular and not drop from exhaustion. Doing the right thing is a source of energy to survive it. “Not me but Christ in me” isn’t just humility; it’s a survival strategy.

For man, it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.

Crowdsourcing the Superego

In a blog post entitled Infidelity and Other Taboos, Media Style, The Last Psychiatriast introduces a concept he calls crowdsourcing the superego.

The post is about the story of two people who left their spouses to marry each other:

Two people, a man who looks suspiciously like Julian Assange, and a TV reporter who looks exactly like every MILF porn actress working today, divorce their spouses and get married. 

The original couples were friends, and the two met at their kids’ elementary school.  There are five kids between them, and, you know, whatever.

The twist is that they announced their marriage in the Style section of the New York Times, because, of course, they hooked up in style.  The further twist is that they semi-shamelessly recount in the Times how they fell in love while they were still married to other people.

It then gets to why their story was written up in the New York Times Style section:

It’s a mantra: narcissists don’t feel guilt, only shame.  Well, it’s not completely true, sometimes they do feel guilt, but you have to be hitting on a taboo to feel it.

Even the most hardened narcissist feels some passing guilt when their spouse is sobbing on the kitchen floor.  How do you get over that?  (Pills won’t help, but psychiatry is happy to tell you they might.)

This is how narcissism eradicates guilt: it rewrites the story, or as the po-mo mofos say, “offer a competing narrative.”

He then gives another example with different people publicly airing their transgressions, and gets to the crucial insight:

But what you need to get out of these stories is how this generation and forwards will deal with guilt: externalizing it, converting it to shame, and then taking solace in the pockets of support that inevitably arise.   Everyone is famous to 15 people, and that’s just enough people to help you sleep at night.  

As the saying goes, read the whole thing.

What’s so crucial about this insight is that it describes a coping mechanism for guilt that’s an alternative to repentance and even to admitting the guilt at all. Repentance works, of course, especially within Christianity where God is actually filling the gaps created by the defects of sin so that reparation of the damage done by sin is actually possible. Repentance outside of Christianity is possible, but it’s incomplete because satisfaction is not possible. It is possible to balance things out—at least minor things—but not do actually repair the damage. That is more than human beings can do.

However, where repentance is not considered an option, the guilt must still be dealt with. One traditional approach is the scapegoat. This was originally a form of animal sacrifice where the sins of the group where placed onto a goat and it was then killed.

(For those unfamiliar with ritual, it’s not that the sins could actually be placed on the goat or that the killing of the goat actually destroyed the sins, but that the ritual gave people a line across which they could disregard past sins and consider them over. In more modern (i.e. inadequate) terms, it provided closure.)

Scapegoating works—to a lesser degree than repentance—but it still requires admitting one’s guilt. The modern world, having worked itself up into a frenzy of stupidity (that is, of being wrong about everything at once), results in people who feel their guilt (since they are still human) but cannot admit it. This produces an enormous problem because one cannot deal with what one is pretending does not exist. And here’s where crowdsourcing the superego comes in. Guilt cannot be recognized by the modern mind, but shame can. So the modern can turn the guilt which he cannot recognize and cannot, therefore, deal with, into shame which he can recognize and can, therefore, deal with.

He will deal with it badly, of course, because realism is a precondition of success. Still, it allows him to do something about the guilt. And doing something, even if completely ineffective, still feels better than doing nothing.

It distracts from the problem, at the very least. And, more or less, at most.

Art & Architecture: Jonathan Pageau & Andrew Gould

A really interesting interview of Andrew Gould by Jonathan Pageau

The whole thing is interesting but the last ten minutes when they discuss a beer shop which Andrew designed are especially interesting.

The part which really caught my attention was when Andrew explained how it was he came to design the building the way he did—the owner gave him carte blanche to design something beautiful because, owning a number of other properties in the area, he wanted to try to raise the standard in the neighborhood.

This touches a really interesting point, both about architecture but about the wider social phenomenon of imitation. People like excellence and will try to imitate it. But the phenomenon requires someone who is willing to be better than he needs to be. People who merely get along don’t inspire anyone. There’s a curious problem embedded in that—once the person who was better than he has to be inspires others, the standard will be raised and he will not be only as good as he needs to be to keep up with the people he inspired. There is, however, also a countervailing force of people wanting to be more lax than they are; these two forces form a cyclical pattern of improvement and degradation which is readily observable in history. (How the strict Victorian period followed the lax Georgian period, only to be followed by the lax roaring twenties, for example.)

Lindybeige on Pushing Swords

From one of my favorite YouTube channels, Lindybeige, comes this video on why pushing swords is a movie convention and doesn’t happen in reality:

There’s one caveat to what he said—which otherwise I think generally correct: sometimes in fights you will see fighters pause with each other while both sides take a second to breathe. This is especially obvious in boxing where the two clinch and look like they’re hugging each other. It does seem possible, therefore, that two men having a duel—especially if they’re wearing mail and thus don’t need to worry about cuts to the body, only stabs—might both pause a moment in a position like this where they’re so close the other can’t generate substantial power. This actually ties into some thing which Llyod has said in other videos that people typically don’t like killing each other and often try to at least put it off if not outright avoid it. That said, this is a minor caveat and I think Llyod is correct.

Time Chasers

I recently came across a fascinating interview with David Giancola, director of the movie Time Chasers. A cult classic after it was aired on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Time Chasers is connected in my mind to Hobgoblins which was also an early movie from an independent director which became far more famous and made vastly more money than anyone expected once it was featured on MST3K. They’re also two of my favorite MST3K episodes.

About a year ago I started doing some research into Hobgoblins. Like all low-budget films, it made extensive use of a few locations. Then when re-watching Time Chasers, I realized how much bigger a film Time Chasers was. It had far more locations, more props, flying planes, a crashed car. The thing which really made me notice, though, was the fight scene on the wing of a flying airplane. It’s not brilliant, but all things considered it actually looks decent.

That’s hard. And not cheap.

That’s when I looked up the budgets for the movies. Hobgoblins had a budget of $15,000 while Time Chasers had a budget ten times that—exactly; it’s budget was $150,000. Though I discovered reading the interview that that’s not entirely accurate. Time Chasers originally had a $40,000 budget but then secured additional funding as it was going over budget (it took three years between the beginning of the project and the end of post-production). Still, a budget ten times as large shows.

In the interview David Giancola mentions that they get compared to movies where the catering budget was larger than the entire budget for Time Chasers. I think it’s worth noting that the reason it gets compared to big budget movies is that while it’s not nearly as good as a big budget movie, it’s comparable. Hobgoblins is not. And I think it’s impressive that David Giancola managed to accomplish that at the age of twenty (to twenty three) on such a small budget.

I’ve said before (though I forget whether I said it on this blog) that the biggest fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are probably people who would love to be part of making a movie. There’s a magic to movies. We enjoy MST3K so much because we know that we’d happily make a cheesy movie if that’s all we had the budget for. We’re really laughing at ourselves.

Though we also enjoy thinking about what we’d do better. For example, I wouldn’t name the main villain Generic Corporation. (It took me something like ten viewings to realize that’s what Gen Corp. stood for.)

But ultimately I think this is why Time Chasers works so well for Mystery Science Theater 3000. It feels like it’s within reach, but it’s pretty good for something that’s within reach. So, hat’s off to David Giancola. He made a much better movie than most people would have on such a small budget.

And watching it with Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo has given me many hours of enjoyment.

Breathless

If you’re not familiar with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, he’s probably best known for songs about murder (Where the Wild Roses Go, Stagger Lee, Henry Lee) or apocalyptic situations (Red Right Hand). The murder is often related to sex, by the way. Which makes it especially interesting that Nick Cave also wrote this song:

It sounds like a love song and is, but it’s a love song to God.

Nick Cave isn’t much of a believer—according to his wikipedia page he said in an interview:

I’m not religious, and I’m not a Christian, but I do reserve the right to believe in the possibility of a god. It’s kind of defending the indefensible, though; I’m critical of what religions are becoming, the more destructive they’re becoming. But I think as an artist, particularly, it’s a necessary part of what I do, that there is some divine element going on within my songs.

Oh, those nasty religions which insist that people should be good instead of just giving into every impulse that they have, and that they have a nature and can’t be anything that they want. They’re so mean with the way that they get in the way of everyone’s fun. But Nick Cave has a career in entertainment to think of and most entertainers are degenerates of one kind or another and degenerates crave little as much as they do affirmation. But when it comes to a songwriter, look to his songs, not to his interviews.

And in his songs we find a love song to God.

80s Movie Ending

For many people, and especially those who grew up in the 1980s, there was a type of movie that’s very recognizable. The example which most stands out in my mind is The Goonies, but there were a ton in a similar style. Which is why I found this short film so funny:

As a fun side-note, the movie Roller Boogie seems to be the first 80s movie made, which is very curious because it was made in 1979 and includes the clothes and hair typical of the (late) 1970s, making it quite a curiosity. (The basic plot of the plucky kids who have to save the thing from the businessmen who want to foreclose on it in order to build something else probably pre-dated Roller Boogie, I just haven’t seen an example of it earlier.)

The Magic of Lighting in Photography

This video, which is apparently a trailer for a music video rather than a documentary about the power of lighting in photography, is absolutely fascinating:

If you take pictures, or even just look at pictures, it is worth watching this video in full because it shows you just how powerful the effect of lighting is.

Part of where lighting gains its power, by the way, is that our brain does an enormous amount of processing on the images it gets from the eyes. Not only does it remove the blood vessels and the blind spot in front of our optic nerve from what we perceive based on its knowledge of what it is that it’s looking at (the origin of many optical illusions), it also does color correction.

We’re used to thinking of an object as having a color based on what light it reflects but this is only partially true. A red ball does, in fact, absorb green and blue (etc) and only reflect red, but the light which reaches our eyes is dependent on what light hits the ball. In white light, the standard description of color more-or-less applies. But in, for example, blue light, no light comes back from the ball and it looks black. In red light, the same amount of red light comes back from a red ball as comes back from a white ball, so the white ball looks red. Or, depending on how our brain decides to interpret it, the red ball looks white. That’s the basis of those secret messages which were printed in blue against a red squiggly background. In white light the squiggles dominate our ability to see images, but in red light (usually achieved by using red cellophane as a filter) the red squiggles look no different than the white paper and so disappear, while the blue text which was the same brightness (in white light) as the red squiggles now show up as black.

There’s all sorts of interesting tricks which can be pulled off with light, too, because the red, green, and blue photo-receptors in our eyes are not equally sensitive. Green seems the brightest to us, so you can make the colors of, for example, tropical fish pop more by illuminating them with lights that have a lot of red and blue but not much green; thus the amount of red and blue which reflects off the fish compared to the overall brightness is higher and they look more colorful (this is why they always look better in the pet store unless you invest in the special lights for your home aquarium—on the plus side those lights are better for aquarium pants, too).

There are similar considerations when lighting people with little pigment in their skin. Light which has too much red in it can easily make their skin look very reddish.

There’s another curious effect which is that the overall quantity of light will change things because every photo-receptor (whether in a camera or an eye) has a maximum amount of stimulation. If you can use so much light that you can exceed the maximum amount of stimulation, you can “wash” the colors out as everything tends towards white since the relative balance of colors changes. You can use tricks like this to lighten or darken someone’s skin in a photo shoot, for example.

Cameras don’t like by commission, but they lie by omission all the time.

The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown

If you haven’t read The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown by TOF, you really, really should. It’s the history of the overthrow of the ptolemaic theory of the solar system to the present heliocentric theory of the solar system. Gallileo is involved, but is not the primary subject. It’s really quite fascinating and more than worth the time to read it. Two tidbits, to wet your appetite:

TOF once wrote an article entitled “The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown and Down ‘n Dirty Mud-Wrassle” which described the century-long progress from the first seriously-worked out heliocentric mathematical model to the final overthrow of geocentrism.  A century, more-or-less, is generally what it takes for quantum mechanics, general relativity, and sundry other theories to progress from “wild hypothesis overthrowing the wisdom of the ages” to “standard model,” so there was nothing unusual in the resistance to heliocentrism from the scientific establishment of the day.  As Max Planck once put it, a new scientific theory gradually gets accepted by scientists because “all the old scientists have died.”  

and slightly later:

Before you laugh at your ancestors, TOF invites you to prove that the earth is, contrary to your senses, in wild and careening double motion: spinning like a top and whipping around the sun without (somehow) leaving the Moon and Air behind, and without everyone stumbling around like dunkards.  You are not allowed to appeal to authority or to the success of NASA, or suchlike things.  You’ve got eyeballs and armillaries, and that’s pretty much it.  Go. TOF will wait here.

Astonishingly, Late Moderns, who hold heliocentrism as a sort of holy doctrine, are generally unaware of the empirical evidences that would justify it; while Early Moderns, who thought geocentrism dough-face obvious, were well aware of the evidences that falsified heliocentrism. These evidences, plucked variously from Aristotle, Oresme, and Riccoli follow; but be it noted that both Oresme and Riccoli also supplied rebuttals for most of them and Aristotle cautioned against taking his cosmology as more certain than he himself did…

It really is an excellent history of the time, and you really, really should read the whole thing. It explores why the scientific establishment of the time was set against heliocentrism—for example, they didn’t much care whether the earth was at the center or the sun was at the center, but the idea that the earth was moving contradicted all available evidence both on the earth and of astronomical observations. Go read it. You’ll be glad that you did.

Bad Self Defense & Captain Krav Maga

Ramsey Dewey (and friends) can be quite funny when they put their mind to it. This video compares and tries to replicate two self defense videos which teach one how to defend against multiple opponents with guns:

I will say, though, that while the humor is entirely correct, and moreover that fighting multiple opponents with guns is probably not going to end well, there was an interesting point that wasn’t highlighted here. In Ramsey’s reproduction, the gunmen kept a safe distance from Ramsey. There was a curious self-defense video I saw which made the interesting point that while trained people will indeed keep a safe distance when they have guns, trained people rarely rob people with guns. They can make money honestly.

The sort of people who rob others on the street with guns don’t have training, and moreover use the gun primarily to assert their dominance and only secondarily as a weapon. And indeed, security footage does show that criminals often do wave guns right in people’s faces rather than keeping a safe distance. This doesn’t change the right thing to do when threatened with a gun (since the smallest mistake can result in being killed) but it is an interesting point of human psychology.

The Last Psychiatrist on The Dove Beauty Sketches

If you haven’t read the blog (which, alas, hasn’t been updated in years) of The Last Psychiatrist, you’ve been missing out. I’m going to highlight one of my favorite posts of his: The Dove Beauty Sketches Scam. Just go read it.

But if you want to know something about it first, it starts by showing this clip from a movie about a con artist who was approached by a psychologist and is teaching her about con artistry at her request:

Then The Last Psychiatrist asks this question:

Quick test for a con: what questions does it not occur to you to ask?  While you were memorizing the language and the pacing of the scam, you didn’t ask yourself, why didn’t Mantegna take that guy’s money at the end?  Why did he let him off the hook?  “He was just doing it as an example.” Oh, like when a guy says he’ll put in just the tip, “I want to see if it fits”?   It’s not like the psychiatrist doesn’t know he’s a thief– that’s why they were there in the first place.   So he purposely didn’t steal the money to make the psychiatrist feel at ease, feel closer to him.  To earn her confidence by first giving her his.  She’s the mark.  The aborted short con is part of an unseen long con.

The Last Psychiatrist has a very blunt and provocative style, but he uses it to deliver a lot of insight.

Half-Swording

I first discovered Skallagrim through this video in which he demonstrated that half-swording is real:

One of the things I really liked about it is that it’s in the genre one might call proving that history is real. There’s a type of skeptic who likes to assume that everything outside of his experience is fake. Why such skeptics do this is a whole long topic for another day. But for the moment it suffices that it’s always fun to see the debunkers debunked.

As a small side-node, this is why I could never be very into myth-busters when they weren’t confirming a myth. They often did a half-assed or quarter-assed job. It just isn’t fun to watch people generalize from their own incompetence. There’s an awful lot of that, though, especially when it comes to online atheism.

Which is why it’s so fun to see a competent person demonstrate what skill can do.