Friday, January 18, 2019

A Modernism Hypothesis and Thoughts on Social Class

I recently came across this item on the Internet having to do with the idea that Modernism was a snobbish reaction to increasingly literate lower classes becoming aware of and appreciating the then-current art scene.  That is, the upper-class elite needed to protect its status by downgrading art that was becoming too popular and promoting new forms of art that were more difficult to understand in terms of everyday visual experience.

It's a cute hypothesis.  But not the whole explanation for the rise of Modernism, and probably a lesser factor than the reasons usually set forth in art history books and articles.

Nevertheless, there is truth that upper classes tend to defend their status in various ways, one of which is by contrasting their lifestyle with those of supposedly lesser groups.  Taste in art could be one such item in the contrast package, though hardly the dominant one.

As for the concept of "class," for a long time I've had difficulty with the term.  On the one hand, it's an easy word to capture normal societal differences in wealth, education, occupation, consumption patterns and so forth.  On the other hand, historically in Europe there were hereditary titles that elevated some families from the rest of the population.  This was not a rigid system such as Hindu castes.  Men could become ennobled by a king for various reasons including military performance, so the system was permeable.

A problem I have is that here in America where social class is of the permeable variety, some intellectuals and politicians use the word "class" to imply that American society is more socially rigid than it is.  Worse, those same intellectuals and politicians tend to promote conditions that lead to increased rigidity here.  An example of this?  The seemingly reasonable requirement for an educational attainment level for being considered for a job.  When too strictly applied, some people having considerable merit are denied the opportunity to demonstrate how they can perform.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Malta, Then and Now

Malta is interesting, even though it is a small place.  That's probably because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea.  A fleet based there can dominate sea traffic passing between Gibraltar and Suez, not to mention many other routes crossing the gap between the Italian toe and Tunisia.

The islands have been inhabited since prehistoric times, conquered now and then (the local language is Arabic-based), and besieged when the Knights of St. John and when the British ruled.  Depending which aspects of Malta's history appeal to one's sense of history, it makes for a fine short-stay tourist destination.

I happen to be a military history buff, and many photos in my reference library's books show Royal Navy warships in Valletta's magnificent harbor.  So naturally that and old-town Valletta were the places in Malta I wanted to visit.

The day I was there in the Fall of 2017 it rained heavily.  I didn't even take my camera from its pouch.  A year later I returned and the weather was good and I took dozens of photos.  Alas, the Royal Navy is gone, but below is a then-and-now pairing looking towards the harbor entrance from Valletta.  The "then" photo might have been taken 1860-1880.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Analog Climate Regions

I saw the above image on a website that didn't indicate its origin.  I'll speculate that whoever created it made use of climate regions as defined by geographers for areas in North America and then tried to match these with the same or similar climate regions elsewhere.

Actually, some of these North American regions are strike me as being larger and more diverse than they probably should be, and ditto the analog areas.  So a good deal of judgment went into what the map shows.

Some of this judgment strikes me as being legitimate in a broad-brush way.  Consider the analogy of India to Mexico and nearby areas.  India has both hot, humid parts along with deserts.  So does Mexico and northern Central America.  Russia has grain-growing areas, timberlands, and Arctic zones.  So does the map area from the American Midwest to northern Canada and Alaska.

That said, I can't vouch for the accuracy of most of the analogs due to the fact that the only places I've lived for extended periods of time are the Puget Sound area, the northeastern USA and Korea.  The Puget Sound climate is indeed roughly similar to that of the British Isles.  On a trip to Ireland my late wife kept commenting on how similar some of the vegetation was to what she had in her garden.  Likewise, my ten-month experience in Korea that included visits to Japan suggests that linking the Richmond-Halifax strip to Japanese climate is a halfway reasonable approximation.

Regardless, I found the map amusing.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Turning One's Coat Quickly

One interesting consequence of Donald Trump's election is some prominent media Republicans flipping to supporting the Democrat party.  Perhaps the best known are Bill Kristol and Max Boot.

Even though I've had coursework in psychology and social psychology, that was decades ago so I'm out of touch with that field.  Plus, I'm a bit skeptical of most "social science" research.  That's because I have a Ph.D. degree in a so-called social science.

Personal quirks aside, I imagine that there have been studies made regarding drastic switches in political beliefs -- even switches such as Kristol's and Boot's that appear like instantaneous religious conversions.  But since I am ignorant of such research, I'll simply forge ahead with some seat-of-the-pants speculation of the sort often found on blogs.

The impression I have is that, for mature adults, such belief flips are actually the result of the accumulation of many small events affecting one's belief system.  Any suddenness is caused by a triggering event such as the 2001 destruction of New York's World Trade Center towers, a straw that breaks the camel's back.

As for my own political shifts, the first was when I was in college and trying out new ideas for size, especially ideas that the "cool" crowd believed.  That was fairly rapid, though there was no obvious triggering event.

My second shift was gradual, taking place over the better part of a decade.  It was influenced by changing policy support by the main political parties plus my experience working in government.  Again, there was no trigger, though the 1980 presidential election might have pushed my conversion more rapidly.

As for the likes of Kristol and Boot, it's quite possible that there were accumulations of dissatisfactions with mainline Republican beliefs.  But there seemed to be limited evidence of this in their writing until Trump announced his candidacy.  Since I can't read minds, I have no idea as to the mental processes of their changed beliefs.  So I hope they and other turncoats eventually honestly explain their conversions.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Swiss Army Wristwatch Marketing Strategy?

I'm not into fancy wristwatches.  Nor into the ultra-cheap digital-display kind either.  Moreover, I'm not a mechanical movement snob: battery-powered does the job without the need for expensive periodic cleanings and maintenance.

Eons ago, I bought an Omega Seamaster at a PX in Korea and wore it for 20 years or longer.  But it didn't keep time well, and the maintenance costs drove me to cheapo digitals and Swatches.

In the late 1990s I finally settled on a nice line of watches from Victorinox, the Swiss Army knife company.  Black case and matching rubbery band: nice looking and less than $100 back then.  Over the years I bought two more similar watches.  Then that line disappeared.

In 2013 my wife bought me a different style Victorinox in Cologne (Köln) Germany -- a nice-looking gray item with a matching cloth band.  But this cost close to $300.  For the last few years the Victorinox watches I've seen in their London store have prices starting on the order of $400, a figure I just confirmed by checking their Web page.  That's more than I care to spend on a timepiece.

The only option was to shop other brands.  I did buy a nice Skagen watch at the fancy mall at Shepherd's Bush in London a few months ago, and use it on dressier occasions.  And a few weeks ago I bought a sporty Wenger watch while on a cruise ship.  The former sold for about $200, the latter for around $150.

Now it seems that Wenger was a maker of Swiss Army watches that was bought by Victorinox in 2005.  Wenger's knives have been phased out, and the brand is now used for travel items and watches.

My take is that by bringing in lower-priced Wenger watches, this allowed Victorinox watches to be moved upscale from where they were when I first started buying them.  The result is that, now that I know what happened, I can still but moderately-priced Swiss Army type wrist watches, but not the Victorinox branded ones.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Joys of a Broken Rib

Since my wife died, I've been doing a lot of travel.  Most recently was a western Mediterranean cruise that included some places new to me.

On a showery day in Palma de Mallorca I slipped on a broad, slick crosswalk stripe, instantly fell on my back and broke a rib on a large, rounded paving stone.

This is about my adventures getting home from Barcelona, where the cruise ended.

My return flight booking was on an Air France subsidiary called Joon -- pronounced and intended as a cute version of jeune (young).  That would get me to Paris where I'd catch a regular Air France to Seattle.

Alas!  I learned at the airport that the Joon fight had been canceled.  Fortunately, they were able to book me on British Airways to London and then Seattle, arriving not long after I otherwise would have.  That worked out well.

When I entered my apartment house the elevator had a sign saying that it was broken.  My man-cave is on the 4th floor.  So here I was, 22 hours after I had woken up, with a broken rib and a suitcase weighing close to 40 pounds.  The stairway is a zig-zag affair, doing one floor in two segments with a flat turnaround between each zig and zag -- six sets of stairs in all to the 4th floor.   The step rise is a little less than the standard 8 inches, which was helpful.   Pulling the suitcase after me was out of the question because that would have meant twisting my body under the strain of its weight: very painful.  So using a knee, I'd heft/kick it to the 3rd step, then heft 2 steps at a time to get to the next flat spot.  A slow process: tiring and with some pain.

Once I got to my apartment I had to decide where I would sleep.   The first two nights following my fall I slept in the ship cabin bed.  But getting out of bed was extremely painful because I had to twist my body.  On a scale of 0-10 where 10 is unbearable, I was at about level 8 or a touch higher, involuntarily crying out with each movement.  The final cruise night I slept in a chair, where rising didn't involve twisting.

I continue to sleep either sitting up or reclining. The first couple nights here I used the couch, but now I use a chair that reclines, allowing me to be more horizontal. Whether the rib is starting to heal or through better use of pain killers, I'm doing better on that front. I alternate Ibuprofen and Tylenol every three hours (based on the doc's hint) and that keeps a fairly steady stream of pain relief in me. The rib area is not pain-free, but the sensations are manageable.

Now I need to lose some of the weight I gained while on the cruise.

Self-Driving Cars: Future or Fad

I'm old enough to have lived through a number of fads that had promised to be waves of the future, an inevitable future where the fad-subject would be in total domination.

Of course, sometimes this proves to be the case.  More often, the item does continue into the future but in modified and not dominant form.

So it might well be regarding the current flurry for self-driving cars.

My bias is that I would almost never want to own one.  Further, I find it hard to believe that any kind of sensor-based systems can substitute for human perception coupled with experience.  Possibly in a hundred years, if "artificial intelligence" proves to be as good as its proponents claim.  But that too is an intellectual fad, though a long lasting one that might come to pass.

In, say, ten years the government (alias Big Brother) mandates that all new cars be self-driving, I hope the lawmakers and regulators are wise enough to allow the self-driving mode to be switched on or off at the driver's discretion.  Self-driving on sensor-rich highways and arterials and human-driving on country roads or off-road trails.