If you missed me, sorry . . .

Aerial view of the table

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

. . . the house in the mountains was big enough to hold a dozen family members, but the internet wasn’t turned on! A 3 day internet fast is good for us all occasionally.

My Aunt Sarah has a friend who has a house in the mountains in North Georgia who kindly loaned it to us. My immediate family drove in along the gorge of the Ocoee River, took the first right in the state of Georgia, and there we were. Lots of food, conversation, drink, crosswords and board games. Cat Ballou and Some Like it Hot. Reading murder mysteries and comparing authors. Sitting on rockers in the sun. No one saw a deer or the bear we’re assured lives nearby. We all had a great time!

Office of the President-Elect?

Home for the holiday (well, got here last night and leaving for some house in North Georgia this afternoon for a gathering of Tinklers).
My father, like many sensible people, would like to know when we created a constitutional position for the president-elect. And wouldn’t that be after the electoral college meets, anyway? I couldn’t help him there, but then I don’t believe in a very lively constitution, either. I found this, though. The lectern-frontal is really annoying.

Coolness! MI6’s Secret Tunnel System under London is for sale!

Secret tunnels under London! Churchill! Q Section!

Pedalling to work each day, I spend most of the journey looking out for London’s deadly, articulated “bendy buses”. The 60-foot beasts can happily scissor a cyclist while turning, so as I speed along High Holborn I have never given much of a second glance to the buildings that whizz past on each side.
That might be why I have never noticed anything unusual about 39 Furnival Street. A brick building in a row of offices, its black double-doors are unmarked and unremarkable. But if you stop for a moment and look up, you might reconsider that judgment. Above the entrance is an industrial-size cast-iron pulley–odd in a street of legal firms. Above that, curiouser still: a wide, gaping air vent of the sort that you might see at the top of a mine-shaft.
What lies inside was once subject to the Official Secrets Act. But now this mysterious property is up for sale, and so I find myself with a few other journalists on the other side of the doors, signing consent forms and handing in my mobile phone (whose signal had mysteriously vanished as soon as I crossed the threshold). A lift takes us down 100 feet, deeper than the London Underground, which we can hear rumbling above us. A set of atom-bomb-proof doors are swung open and we step out into the secret of Furnival Street: the Kingsway tunnels, a miniature city beneath a city.
Dug in 1940 as London was blitzed by German bombers, the tunnels were designed as an air-raid shelter for up to 8,000 people, and as a possible last-ditch base for the government in the event of an invasion. They were never used as a shelter; instead, towards the end of the war they were taken over by the “Inter Services Research Bureau”, a shady outfit that was in fact a front for the research and development arm of MI6 (perhaps better known as Q branch in the James Bond novels).
After the war, the tunnels were passed to the Post Office and then to British Telecom, which hopes to sell the warren for £5m now that it is surplus to requirements. “I think it would make a great disco, personally,” says Ray Gapes, a former switch-maintenance engineer who came to work in the tunnels as an 18-year-old apprentice and is now showing us around.

From More Intelligent Life, a wing of the Economist.

Just what we need – MORE Ph.d. holders

Yes, even in this year of aborted searches and hiring freezes people can stand up with a straight face and be pleased with rising rates of Ph.d. completion. I’m pleased that Inside Higher Ed uses the headline Doctorate Production Continues to Grow, as though we’re talking about an industrial process rather than the individual accomplishment of scholars. Since the story admits that “the overall gains continued to be driven by significant numbers of Ph.D.s and other doctorates awarded to non-Americans,” perhaps they’re right. We import an increasing number of graduate students to keep the doctoral programs churning.
Our provost said aloud in the monthly faculty meeting last year that there was a coming shortage of doctorate holders on the market. The room burst into laughter.* And that was before this year created another cohort of the accidentally unhired. Ah, to own a taxi company in New York City!
Luckily, though, the story has this hopeful bit: “…the number of Ph.D.s awarded in the humanities dropped by 4.6 percent, to their lowest point since 1994.”
*to be fair to the provost, perhaps she was thinking of the disproportion of PhDs being awarded in the sciences to non-citizens and the difficulty in making a hire under those circumstances. Surely, though, in a world with more than 250 complete applications for a position in the English department (hearsay, but from a member of the search committee) it’s not disastrous if the number of degrees in the humanities drops by 5 or 6 percent?
Further – Oh, I should add: no hiring freeze here; we’re going ahead with our searches, though there may be less ready replacement for people on leave and such next year.

The American West – Wild and Free? Not really.

Have you ever thought of collecting rainwater to supplement your water supply? Doesn’t that sound green and responsible? Well, if you live in some western states, only do it if you don’t intend to ask permission.

All Mark Miller wanted to do was wash some cars and water the grass in front of his new car dealership.
As the proprietor of Utah’s first LEED-certified, environmentally friendly car dealership, Miller wanted to minimize his reliance on water from Salt Lake City’s public utility. So his extensive remodel of the building included two large new cisterns designed to capture rainwater for irrigation and car washing. But Miller was surprised to learn that trapping water on his own roof would be illegal.
“The state said no,” he explains. “In order to use the system, we had to have an existing water share. It’s ludicrous.”
Miller is not the only water-conscious Westerner to run afoul of the region’s prior-appropriation doctrine. Conservation advocates, including many utilities, have embraced the idea of using water collected from roofs, and stored in cisterns or rain barrels, to reduce reliance on dwindling surface water or groundwater supplies. Yet in Utah, Colorado and Washington, it’s illegal to do so unless you go through the difficult — and often impossible — process of gaining a state water right. That’s because virtually all flowing water in most Western states is already dedicated to someone’s use, and state water officials figure that trapping rainwater amounts to impeding that legal right.
No one actively enforces these laws, as Boyd Clayton of the Utah Division of Water Rights notes: “We’re not like cops out looking for speeders. Spending time enforcing these cases is not a priority.”
As a result, would-be water harvesters often learn about potential legal trouble only when they try to do the right thing, as Miller did, by asking for a state permit. That’s what happened to Kris Holstrom, who runs an organic farm outside Telluride, Colo. The well she’s relied on for years provides less water than it once did — a change she attributes to drought and increased development. So she asked the Colorado Division of Water Resources for a permit to collect runoff from building roofs — and was denied.
“They felt that the water belonged to someone else once it hit my roof,” she says. “They claimed that the water was tributary to the San Miguel River” — which runs some three miles from her place and is fully allocated to other users downstream.

This is one of those moments I’m glad I live within sight (well, if I climb up to the third floor balcony where I’ve got my porch furniture) of 42 trillion gallons of fresh water.

via The Volokh Conspiracy

Carnivalesque 45 – a blog carnival of Ancient and Medieval findings

Welcome to Carnivalesque 45 – a blog carnival of Ancient and Medieval findings!
Lots of people are talking conferences – it’s a way of not thinking about grading, of course. J. J. Cohen at In the Middle gets some organizational information about what sort of audience to expect for his paper at the Leeds Congress and breaks out into a rash:

Yeah, nooo pressure at all. I’ll just wear a nice suit and juggle oranges on a unicycle while reading from my translation of Judith Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself into medieval Latin. Slowly.

Dr. Virago complains at Quod She about her future office, but then she shows pictures of the Modern Panopticon! She’s right – those are a lot of windows to clap to.
What brings people to the blogs they read? Jonthan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe (IN a Corner of Tenth-Century Europe? I’m not sure) looks at his referrer logs and decides to do something for the searchers.

If I leave aside the porn searches and count only strings that look academic, the two things that bring people to this blog from search engines more than anything else are, firstly, my piece on the First Crusade, which is good as that’s what it’s there for, and secondly, the piece I wrote about Charles the Simple, because it includes a reference to and a map of the Treaty of Verdun. It’s searches for “treaty of Verdun” that bring people to that, and they can’t really be getting what they want out of it. I’m not going to try and fill that gap here, because there are already better sites out there explaining what the Treaty was, but I will do two things. Firstly, I will make an important point about the Treaty’s effect, and then I will do what I do best, or at least most, and tell you a story from a charter that helps to illustrate the sort of thing that was going on.

Dr. Weevil is also checking meta-blog information. He blogged a bit from 14th century essayist Yoshida Kenko that reminded him of the essence of blogging:

If I fail to say what lies on my mind it gives me a feeling of flatulence; I shall therefore give my brush free rein. Mine is a foolish diversion, but these pages are meant to be torn up, and no one is likely to see them. (Kenko, Essays in Idleness 19, tr. Donald Keene)

Then a little later,

Belatedly wondering if anyone else had quoted Kenko’s proto-blogger manifesto, I did a Google search on “Kenko + blogger + Idleness + flatulence”. The first result of “about 93” was my own 11:57pm post, dated (timed?) “9 minutes ago”, which means that Google had it in their database approximately 25 minutes after I posted it. I would be less impressed if I had even 0.1% (e.g.) InstaPundit‘s traffic.

Speaking of meta-blogging, how many of us started out as anonymous bloggers only to be outed? Or noticed? It just happened to Another Damned Medievalist.
Disiecta membra! Got to love them! Carl Pyrdum at Got Medieval shows us a marginal guy ripping himself apart! And monkeys!
We don’t always have to reinterpret the same ol’ same ol’ – we can dig up new stuff! But then we find ourselves in an arms race with, you know, the public. Who sometimes dig things up without consulting the experts. Alun Salt at Archeoastronomy considers all sorts of issues along these lines – starting with Great Britain’s current finding regime, the Portable Antiquity Scheme. The broader consideration is of how we might encourage a world in which a conserved heritage is more valuable than a marketed heritage. Lots of links for people interested in ethics and morals of archaeology. Here’s the Portable Antiquity Scheme in case you don’t already have it bookmarked.
Talking about the ethics and morality of archaeology, Dr. Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology offers a guest entry by Florian Freistetter of Astrodicticum Simplex – who manages to go to a lecture and restrain himself from standing up and shouting by taking diligent notes:

A few weeks ago, on 17th October, I had the dubious pleasure of attending a lecture by Erich von Däniken with the title Götterdämmerung, “Twilight of the Gods”. The great hall in Jena’s Volkshaus was rather full: I believe there were 650 to 700 people there. It was a strange feeling, being in the same room as all those people and knowing that most of them would probably believe what Däniken was going to tell them.

Speaking of aliens, Michael Drout, in his only political blog posting, asked Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?
Gesta at On Boundaries posted on a Chris Wickham lecture, ‘The problem of the dialogues between medieval history and medieval archaeology.’ Gesta links comments on the same lecture by Jonathan Jarrett and Magistra et Mater, and notes:

What is interesting from my point of view is that clearly I had my teaching head on rather than my research head in this lecture. While Magistra and Jonathan were mulling over the implications for the way they write history, I was pondering how we start to address the problems at undergrad level. I fear I am becoming institutionalised.

Do you know what Zenobia really looked like? Judith Weingarten has some ideas. Coin pictures at Zenobia, Empress of the East!
And since we’re turning to the classical world, let’s talk Classics as a major – and one of those awkward conversations we sometimes have this time of year during registration for Spring classes. Are your students declaring majors? Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti has Ed Turner’s letter to young Ted Turner (yeah, that Ted Turner) on the subject. Ed wrote:

“I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on my way home today.”

How would you help Ted answer Ed?*
Edward Cook at Ralph the Sacred River tells us why the Jesus Bowl is just another crock. Everyone loves Magic Bowls, but this one’s nothing special.
And a different sort of bowl – and back to the idea of the morality of digging up or owning things, Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber talks about buying a Song dynasty bowl. Read the comments.
Just remember, don’t go buying things as if the sales catalog is accurate! David Nishimura at Cronaca pointed out a couple of stories about a Fatimid ewer selling at Christie’s for 3.2 million pounds. The same piece had been cataloged in January of 2008 as a 19th century claret jug and valued at 100-300 pounds. Jug, ewer – is it the price point that inflects the nomenclature? Whatever – caveat emptor!
The December 2008 Carnivalesque Logo (early modern) will be hosted at Investigations of a Dog. Go make suggestions!

*Fun fact to know and tell – Ted Turner started Latin under the same man I did, W.O.E.A. Humphreys at the McCallie School. Note that I am not listed as one of the notable alumni.

Another Salvo in the SAT Wars

As highly selective colleges drop their SAT requirements for graduation, there’s this article to consider from someone who had a lot of information at his disposal – Peter Salins, who was Provost of the State University of New York System from 1997 to 2006 on Does the SAT Predict College Success?
Salins has one criterion for success – graduation in 6 years. He had a big system with some variety in the schools to look at. His answer? Yes. Go read and see.
You’d think this is a question we could have answered to general satisfaction long ago, given the energy that’s been poured into it. Perhaps that in itself is a lesson about the social sciences?
via Joanne Jacobs.


O.K. – I’ve been living up here since the summer of 1999. It’s never been this cold for this long this early. I think this is the fourth or fifth night in a row with a low around 20 degrees and the fifth day in a row without breaking freezing. Reeeeediculous. I’ve even turned on my radiators – usually I just let the standpipes running to the upper floors heat my apartment.

My Ill-spent middle age

So Turner Classic Movies showed a particularly horrific group of one-reel wonders (well, if you’re like me and thing that tap is a tool of the devil). The middle number was this – Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland save the elderly classical music group by teaching them to swing. SHUDDER.

But that lead to wikipedia’s entry on Deanna Durbin. Which lead me to Dame Sister Mary Leo. Who pointed me to Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Which got me youtubin’. I remembered A Room with a View and thought of O mio babbino caro, the strangest song in opera. So chipper, but about suicide – those decadent Italians at the turn of the 20th Century! Here she is singing it.

So then, given that I’d already given up anything productive for the night, I ran through a number of versions of the aria on youtube, and suddenly found myself watching Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé performing Barcelona. Weird beyond human belief. As a sign that God loves us embedding is disabled, so you’ll have to click this link to watch it. I don’t really recommend it unless you’ve already had a glass or two of wine.
So somehow from that I stumbled into reading the Wikepedia entry on Solfège. Interesting stuff. Deep in the entry I read to my amazement that the song behind the Nairobi Trio was called Solfeggio. Yes. Here it is:

That’s for Daddy, who introduced me to Eddy Kovacs. What a great moment of comedy – meaning looks behind a monkey mask! Well, youtube in its wisdom showed me over on the right hand column of related videos an Eddy Kovacs/Talking Heads mashup – Once in a Lifetime. Here:

Not all that inspired, other than the Dark Room sequence at about 2 and a half minutes in, but you know, it linked to the 1984 version. I saw that live. With an occasional reader and commenter here. I’m talking to you, Katherine. Remember?

The most beautiful part is at about 4:00 to 4:30, remembering that they’re live and actually dancing that mess around, not just using special effects beyond good lighting.
So that’s how my Friday evening has gone. Was that too much information?

Early Medieval Church Silver at Dumbarton Oaks

I got to visit Dumbarton Oaks last weekend with my nephews (and sister!) – the Sion Treasure is a highlight for me. It was the perfect preparation for someone to spend the week reading the Liber Pontificalis and its telegraphic mentions of the largesse of the popes. Here’s what the LP (in Davis’s translation, linked above) says Paschal I gave to the church of Santa Caecilia, which he rebuilt:

For love of the venerable saints [Agatha and Caecilia], to decorate this church [Sta Caecilia in Trastevere] this holy prelate provided an apse adorned with mosaic and a silver canopy of wondrous size, weighing 600 lb 8 oz. He finished and marvellously embellished the holy altar’s propitatorium* and the confessio** inside and out, and its grills, with silver sheets, weighing in all 154 lb 15 oz. At this virgin’s holy body he presented an image of silver sheets weighing 95 lb. In front of the altar’s vestibule he provided a cornice covered in silver sheets and 2 columns, where he placed 1 arch and 2 chevrons, weighing in all 100 1/2 lb. There too he presented 3 sliver-gilt images weighing 48 1/2 lb. For this church’s arches this prelate provided 26 great silver chalices weighing in all 109 1/2 lb. There too he presented 2 silver canisters*** with six wicks, weighing 2 lb 9 oz; a fine gold bowl weighing 3 lb. This pontiff provided 2 silver canisters with nine wicks, weighing 10 lb; 3 silver bowls weighing 5 lb.; a silver gilt thurible weighing 1 lb. (LP, Life 100: chapters 19-20)

And that’s before the biographer lists the fabrics Paschal donated.
This kind of amazing silver work – Dumbarton Oaks’ example probably coming from a provincial monastery in Lycia in Anatolia – was not uncommon in the Mediterranean world. Click and see two other views of the stuff from the same site.
The inscriptions in silver are also splendid and eye-catching – and help liven up for me some of the tedious textual inscriptions I study as evidence for how patrons wanted people to see and use their buildings.
Moments like this also make the neo-Baroque so common in modern 1962 Missal arrangements seem quite dull. This is real silver, not gold leaf or gold thread embroidery. Imagine what people thought about their altars in the 6th century as opposed to what we might surmise from the plaster and gold leaf decorations of the 17th?
*propitatorium – well, it’s the word the Vulgate uses for whatever was on top of the Ark of the Covenant – what the KJV calls the “mercy seat.” It doesn’t show up often in the Liber Pontificalis, so we’re not exactly sure what it is except that it was associated with the altar. Some people translate it as “altar frontal.” I find that more convincing than “ciborium” or some kind of rear ledge over the altar.
**confessio – the container for the body of the saint.
***cannister – some kind of cylindrical floor-based oil lamp

The Cleveland Museum takes its turn sending things back to Italy

The Cleveland Museum will return 14 out of 42 objects the Italian government asked for – and they’re still negotiating about a larger statue. Go look at the slideshow here. I like the Mule-head Rhyton!
In a change from the usual story, one of the objects is medieval, a processional cross stolen from a church which the Museum bought in the 1970s.

Scholarly Moodswings

I don’t know about you, but I go through life with a kind of academic bipolar disorder. I read things and think thoughts and suppose that they’ve already been thought – and published, usually in German. Then I swing around and realize that nothing has been said before – nothing! There’s so much work to do!
I’m having one of those up moments this week. It’s a nice way to be about your reading.

Against Legacy Admissions

This is a strange article at Inside Higher Ed about challenges to legacy admissions. Evidently law professors are trolling for cases to take to court to test their theories?

But this week — for the second time this year — a law journal is publishing a legal analysis that suggests that legacy preferences are illegal. The new issue of the Santa Clara Review features an article — whose lead writer would like to find plaintiffs to test his theory — arguing that the 1866 Civil Rights Act bars legacy admissions at public and private institutions. An article earlier this year in the Washington University Law Review argues that the “nobility clauses” of the U.S. Constitution ban legacy admissions at public institutions.

I find the argument from the “nobility clauses” strangest. Oh, well.