vague, but exciting

the porous city - other - history

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The Merchant Fleet of Late Medieval and Tudor England, 1400-1580

When infrastructure was cheap to build

Early Nazi Propaganda
Including a number of Goebbels essays from Der Angriff

1. Your fatherland is Germany. Love it more than anything else, and more in deed than in word.

2. Germany’s enemies are your enemies; hate them with your whole heart.

Slothrop's assignations

Mersey Beats
I'm going to try something new in 2015: I'm going to write at least a little about every book that I read. (Ok, I'm going to try. This isn't a job.) I just finished "Tune In", the first volume of a projected three-volume history of the Beatles by Mark Lewisohn. It was really surprisingly fascinating and I want to try to explain why before all the images and impressions the book created fade from my memory.

Why do you care about those old men anyway?
I feel like an apologia for Beatles fandom is kind of required at this point. They're so central to the rockist canon, such a touchstone for the type of reactionaries who would dismiss hip-hop, techno and everything living and vital that I care about in music, that caring about them enough to read a book on them (three books!) seems suspect.

First, a generic defense of the study of history:it's not only not opposed to a progressive outlook, it's an important part of any understanding of the present. I say this as foundation-laying, I doubt any of the three people reading this would disagree.

Second, a more specific understanding of the Beatles - actually grokking their context, their rise, their loves, hates and ambitions - helps in understanding them as a specific group of people operating in a specific context, reacting to the music around them, expressing a particular Liverpool sensibility. All the talk about them as "timeless, central to rock history, giants" just obscures who they actually were and why they did what they did.

Finally, their rise coincided with - helped bring about - the rise of a new kind of music, a new youth culture, a new music industry ... every stage of their story so far involves people doing things no one had ever done before. Even if you think rock would have reached more or less the same place without them, a lot of things changed in the Sixties and the history of the Beatles is a fantastic lens for viewing it.

I'm pretty sure you were going to tell us about a book
It's engagingly written, a tiny bit amateurish in the best sense of the word, astoundingly well researched but wearing that lightly, and packed with memorable quotes and scenes. Lewisohn does well sketching milieu, and this is the foundation of the book.

Say something about the Beatles? anything
They weren't fantastic musicians, Paul maybe excepted. Fantastic singers and songwriters, yeah. But it's funny to think about how many people yearning tiresomely for "musicianship" put the Beatles at the top of their list.

They wanted to make black music. They had other influences, but when Little Richard told them they had that "authentic Negro sound" I can't imagine how happy they must have felt.

They were direct, funny, often assholes. Lewisohn keeps emphasizing how they refused to do anything that felt fake, that they were always true to themselves. He maybe hits that point too hard but you do finish the book feeling that part of their success came from aggressive disregard for what other people wanted or expected. I'm not sure that I would have been friends with John, but I would love to have spent time in his company. Even just reading the book you get inspired by how original his behavior - all of their behavior - was. You start to feel it's possible to live life less by rote.

Finally, when the group starts producing great work (they definitely didn't always) there starts to be a steady stream of little eruptions in the book, the Beatles doing something new and amazing. I'm not sure how much of this is their musical originality. Maybe Lewisohn could have done more to show how novelty comes from recombination - but he already does quite a bit of that. Maybe they had something.

17th century social media
Commonplace books as prototypes of Tumblr and Pinterest
Commonplace books that survive from the Tudor period contain a huge variety of texts, including letters, poems, medical remedies, prose, jokes, ciphers, riddles, quotations and drawings. Sonnets, ballads and epigrams jostle with diary entries, recipes, lists of ships or Cambridge colleges and transcriptions of speeches. Collecting useful snippets of information so that they could be easily retrieved when needed, or re-read to spark new ideas and connections, was one of the functions of a commonplace book. But the practice of maintaining a commonplace book and exchanging texts with others also served as a form of self-definition: which poems or aphorisms you chose to copy into your book or to pass on to your correspondents said a lot about you, and the book as a whole was a reflection of your character and personality.

The first website

System D
RB: In The Polish Officer, you introduce the word "debroullier"...

AF: Yes, system D. Getting it done. It means to improvise. Life is so impossible, so confusing, everybody does everything wrong all the time. Somehow we are going to manage. The source was from the First World War with regard to railroad transport of troops and goods. To 'debroullier,' to muddle through. But it became known almost immediately as system D. And everybody in Paris says system D, "How am I gonna get this done, how are we going to find it, how are we going to buy it. Oh, don't worry about it, system D."
- from an interview with Alan Furst.

"'Political jokes weren't a form of active resistance but valves for pent-up public anger.'" And the understanding that inspired such humor makes the inaction that accompanied it all the more unforgiveable: "...the country wasn't possessed by 'evil spirits' nor was it hypnotised by the Nazis' brilliant propaganda, he says. Hypnotized people don't crack jokes."

Before you make the understandable misinterpretation, I think the Daily Show et al provide a valuable service in exposing the vapidity of current political discourse. But if it's a narcotic (it is) let it be an amphetamine, not an anaesthetic.

a brief correspondence between Mahatma Ghandi and Count Leo Tolstoy on non-violence

A U.S. Marine and sailor hug loved ones aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard during a deployment at Naval Station San Diego December 6, 2004
A U.S. Marine (L) and sailor (R) hug loved ones aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard during a deployment at Naval Station San Diego December 6, 2004 in San Diego, California. About 6,000 U.S. Marines and sailors are deploying to Iraq aboard 6 ships and a submarine as part of a massive troop rotation. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

I wonder what happened to the building materials salvaged from the World Trade Center site. They should send them around the country to be used in other buildings.

Common ancestors of all humans
mefi discussion

"It would seem possible that, even with a lot of geographical separation, the MRCA of the entire world is still within historical times, 3000 BC - 1000 AD. Quite likely the entire world is descended from the Ancient Egyptian royal house, c. 1600 BC...

Quite likely almost every Jew in the world today descends from the Prophet Muhammad, c. 600 AD ... it is interesting to think that every Palestinian suicide bombing attack on Israel is almost certainly some descendants of the Prophet killing other descendants of the Prophet."

player of the century

Broadside - Home of Nelson's Navy
British naval history for Aubrey / Maturin readers.

whoa blogs are badass
That's a New Yorker columnist (since when have they had such a thing?) and bestselling author duking it out in the comments section, there. CRAZINESS.

Yeah, I know the New Yorker ain't all that. Still.

(No, I didn't pay any attention to the discussion of EMT.)

wooo rock and roll

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