A Potpourri of Links

A Potpourri of Links

Anthony is bored of Greek art
Anthony is bored of Greek art

1. An interesting photoessay that looks at intimacy between men in pre-WWII era photographs: Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection

The poses, facial expressions, and body language of the men below will strike the modern viewer as very gay indeed. But it is crucial to understand that you cannot view these photographs through the prism of our modern culture and current conception of homosexuality. The term “homosexuality” was in fact not coined until 1869, and before that time, the strict dichotomy between “gay” and “straight” did not yet exist. Attraction to, and sexual activity with other men was thought of as something you did, not something you were. It was a behavior — accepted by some cultures and considered sinful by others.

But at the turn of the 20th century, the idea of homosexuality shifted from a practice to a lifestyle and an identity. You did not have temptations towards a certain sin, you were a homosexual person. Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century. At the same time, it also may explain why in countries with a more conservative, religious culture, such as in Africa or the Middle East, where men do engage in homosexual acts, but still consider homosexuality the “crime that cannot be spoken,” it remains common for men to be affectionate with one another and comfortable with things like holding hands as they walk.

Whether the men below were gay in the way our current culture understands that idea, or in the way that they themselves understood it, is unknowable. What we do know is that the men would not have thought their poses and body language had anything at all to do with that question. What you see in the photographs was common, not rare; the photos are not about sexuality, but intimacy.

2. Real life steampunk: This Insect Jumps Using Built-In Gears

Biomimicry—the use of nature to inspire design—is widely used by cutting-edge technologists to design everything from bullet train noses, new X-ray machines, and lighter and safer cars. But let’s take a moment to flip that idea on its head. Are there things we thought humans invented that have been later discovered in nature?

As a matter of fact, yes. Nymphs of a common insect found in Britain—Issus coeleoptratus, a species of planthopper—has what were presumably a very human creation—gears.

3. Jewish medallion found amid golden treasures near Temple Mount It’s skimpy on details, but I thought Bella would be interested.

Archaeologists have uncovered a 1,400-year-old hoard of gold coins and jewelry — plus a medallion marked with Jewish religious symbols — at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a holy site for three world religions.

4. An opinion piece in the New York Times that explores why models that predict human overpopulation are not predictive: Overpopulation Is Not the Problem

There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity. We are nothing at all like bacteria in a petri dish.

Why is it that highly trained natural scientists don’t understand this? My experience is likely to be illustrative. Trained as a biologist, I learned the classic mathematics of population growth — that populations must have their limits and must ultimately reach a balance with their environments. Not to think so would be to misunderstand physics: there is only one earth, of course!

It was only after years of research into the ecology of agriculture in China that I reached the point where my observations forced me to see beyond my biologists’s blinders. Unable to explain how populations grew for millenniums while increasing the productivity of the same land, I discovered the agricultural economist Ester Boserup, the antidote to the demographer and economist Thomas Malthus and his theory that population growth tends to outrun the food supply. Her theories of population growth as a driver of land productivity explained the data I was gathering in ways that Malthus could never do. While remaining an ecologist, I became a fellow traveler with those who directly study long-term human-environment relationships — archaeologists, geographers, environmental historians and agricultural economists.

The science of human sustenance is inherently a social science. Neither physics nor chemistry nor even biology is adequate to understand how it has been possible for one species to reshape both its own future and the destiny of an entire planet. This is the science of the Anthropocene. The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future. Humans are niche creators. We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves. This is what we do and have always done. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits.

5. I am loving Anthony Esolen’s Word a Day blog. It’s erudite and funny. Doesn’t take itself too seriously. Here’s a great entry to give you a bit of a taste. Word of the Day: beer

The word was beor in Anglo Saxon, but my favorite form of it comes from Bede’s history of the English church: gebeorscip: beership, feast, pronounced ye-BEH-or-ship. That’s what the men were having in one of the out-buildings at the abbey, and you can’t have a party with Germans unless there are two things: beor, and poetry. Imagine a group of Germanic cowherds and plowmen sitting at a big oak table, drinking beer and banging their mugs, shouting, “Po-em, po-em!” Well, that wasn’t the word, but you get the idea. And they’d pass the harp around – not the big stringed thing, but a sort of zither – and the men would sing heroic poems of the great pagan warriors of old, like Sigemund and Beowulf. But Caedmon left the beership, because he didn’t know any songs, he said; or maybe he had some uneasiness in his conscience about them.

It was his turn that night to settle the cows in their stalls, so he did that, and fell asleep, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Caedmon, sing me something.”

“But I don’t know anything to sing – and that’s why I left the beership.”

“Still, you can sing.”

“What shall I sing?”

“Sing me frumsceaft – sing for me the First-Making.”

And so began the venerable tradition of Christian poetry in the heroic meter and idiom of Anglo Saxon.

6. I want to send this to every woman who has just had a baby. New Mamas Get Nothing Done (and other untruths)

Our culture doesn’t have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing. Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check. But to the untrained eye most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.

But we know better.

There is no greater task than the nothing you did yesterday, the nothing you are doing today, and the nothing you will do tomorrow. Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment. It’s give, give, give, and give some more. These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of 5 minutes. And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you’re not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?

7. Something pretty to tickle your ears and raise your heart to heaven: Au Ciel

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.