Portrait of the artist as somebody else

Roman

Here’s a snapshot of me from about 2,000 years ago. It’s not too bad a likeness, and much more accurate than the ugly thing on my driver’s license. There are additional pictures from different eras below the fold. I found them here, where you obtain similar portraits of your own.

Update: a friend reported that she got a malware warning after visiting the site. There has been no mention of similar problems in the comments at Borepatch or Chant du Départ, where I found it, and there may be nothing wrong with it. I’m leaving the link for now, but it might be prudent to be cautious. It may be relevant that I use the Brave browser with ads blocked.

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An undistinguished year

Let’s take a look back at 2023….

Nah, let’s not.

… Just a few highights, then.

Excitement

Most of the thrilling action around here this past year happened in the garden. I summarize it here.

Music

This year’s musical discovery was guitarist Takeshi Terauchi, who formed his first group 60 years ago. If Dick Dale had been Japanese, he might have sounded like Terauchi.

Dick Hyman’s 1975 recordings of Scott Joplin’s music were finally re-released in their entirety this year. Jed Distler says that they’re the best, and he may be right. Previously my preferred Joplin recordings were William Albright’s — which are good (and Albright’s own ragtime music is worth investigating) — but Hyman’s are more alive and colorful, and swing better. Hyman is a jazz pianist, and it shows, particularly in his improvisations on Joplin’s rags.

Entertainment

This fall there were two first-rate anime series broadcast simultaneously. Most years there are none. If Frieren and The Apothecary Diaries maintain quality in their continuations, they are both potential classics.

Books

Most of what I read was disappointing, and what wasn’t I haven’t finished yet. The most curious was Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds & Firebrands, in which Scruton summarizes, as far as it can be done, the philosophical underpinnings of radical leftism. I have a hard time with philosophy; it’s often difficult to believe that most of it isn’t ultimately just complicated word games. Scruton’s book doesn’t help. Although he writes clearly and engagingly, the people whose ideas he analyzes come across as a bunch of pompous loonies proclaiming nonsense. It’s possible that Scruton is unfair to his subjects, but other things I have read by him indicate that he is generally a reasonable, temperate man. Scruton on Slavoj Žižek:

We should not be surprised, therefore, when Žižek writes that ‘the thin difference between the Stalinist gulag and the Nazi annihilation camp was also, at that moment, the difference between civilization and barbarism.’ His only interest is in the state of mind of the perpetrators: were they moved, in however oblique a manner, by utopian enthusiasms, or were they moved, on the contrary, by some discredited attachment? If you step back from Žižek’s words, and ask yourself just where the line between civilization and barbarism lay, at the time when the rival sets of death camps were competing over their body-counts, you would surely put communist Russia and Nazi Germany on one side of the line, and a few other places, Britain and America for instance, on the other. To Žižek that would be an outrage, a betrayal, a pathetic refusal to see what is really at stake. For what matters is what people say, not what they do, and what they say is redeemed by their theories, however stupidly or carelessly pursued, and with whatever disregard for real people. We rescue the virtual from the actual through our words, and the deeds have nothing to do with it.

Leaping into the new year with Frieren

2024 is a leap year. If you save old calendars, those from 1996 will work again. Otherwise, you will need one calendar for January and February and another one for the rest of the year. For the first two months, calendars from 2018, 2007, 2001, 1990, 1979 and 1973 are useable; for March on, 2019, 2013, 2002, 1991, 1985 and 1974.

I like the format of Japanese anime calendars. Although they have only six pages, one for every pair of months, the images are poster-sized, 16.5 by 22.5 inches. It’s been several years since I found one worth ordering, though; the shows that catch my attention tend not to be extremely popular. This year I found one for Frieren at the Funeral1 Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End. I am a little disappointed with it — the pictures are all portraits of Frieren and her companions, which are okay, but I would have liked more illustrations like the cover. Maybe next year there will be a calendar for The Apothecary Diaries.

A Christmas tradition

The full lyrics:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don’t we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Update: See also here.

Red, again

The first of this year’s new orchids bloomed this week. It’s another red one; nice, but not what I was expecting. The dealer’s notes1 indicated that it would likely have flowers in the magenta-purple range, but while it does have a bluish cast in some light (but not in sunlight or with the on-camera flash), it looks red to me. The other new ones probably won’t bloom for a year or two. When they finally do, one should be white and the other spotted.

(As usual, when WordPress resizes pictures to fit the column width, it also makes the colors duller. Click on the picture to see it larger and with more accurate color.)

Update: as the flower ages, it becomes bluer. It now is on the border between magenta and purple, even in sunlight.

Just before the end

It’s snowing steadily now, and we may get six inches today if the weatherman can be trusted. During the next few nights temperatures are likely to descend into the teens. Fall is over (though, because this is Kansas, December may well be warm and dry). Despite the hard freezes earlier, a few plants were still blooming yesterday, including this salvia. At this time tomorrow, everything will be solid white.

Elves, demons and choo-choo trains

I’m currently following not just one, or two, or three, but four different shows, and will probably watch them through the end of the fall season. This hasn’t happened in a long time, probably not since anime’s annus mirabilis 20071.

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is the most interesting of the quartet. The title character is an elf mage who years ago was part of a band of heroes who defeated the demon king. She’s short and looks quite young, but she is actually at least a thousand years old. She doesn’t age and has little sense of time passing. At one point she spends six months looking for a particular flower. For her human companion, that’s half a year of her life; for Frieren it’s no more than a single afternoon.

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Today’s quote

Silicon Graybeard:

… go outside on a clear, dark night. Wait until your eyes are used to the dark and look up. Everything you see that is shining by its own light is nuclear powered. Everything you see shining in reflected sunlight (the moon, the planets), all of that is lit by nuclear power. Now look toward your house or a nearby city. Everything you see is lit by chemical bonds being broken and re-established. As someone put it, “everything God powers is nuclear; everything man powers is fire.”

See Astronomy Photo of the Day for numerous examples of nuclear lighting.