Clackity Claque

by Richard Byrne on January 24, 2017

Reliable reports that President Donald Trump brings supporters to press conferences and speeches to lead applause and cheers for his remarks are startling – though perhaps they shouldn’t be.

The term for such a grouping is a claque. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was the province of the opera, where devotees would congregate at performances to huzzah or hiss their favorite performers. The custom largely died out in the late 19th century, but it had its roots in ancient Rome.

I dove into the history of the classical claque few years ago, when I wrote a glam rock play produced in Washington, D.C. by WSC/Avant Bard called Nero/Pseudo – with music by Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) and Jim Elkington (The Zincs, Tweedy).

One of the most resonant stories of ancient times – with strange echoes in the afterlife of Elvis Presley – is the tale of a false Nero who rose up in Greece after the emperor’s suicide in 69 AD. This pretender resembled Nero and played the lyre, and he actually gathered a substantial mob of followers before he was intercepted and killed.

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A term whose time has come round again.

by Henry on January 23, 2017

CBS News:

U.S. government sources tell CBS News that there is a sense of unease in the intelligence community after President Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday. An official said the visit “made relations with the intelligence community worse” and described the visit as “uncomfortable.” Authorities are also pushing back against the perception that the CIA workforce was cheering for the president. They say the first three rows in front of the president were largely made up of supporters of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

The Encyclopedia Britannica (1911 edition):

CLAQUE (Fr. claquer, to clap the hands), an organized body of professional applauders in the French theatres. The hiring of persons to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times, and the emperor Nero, when he acted, had his performance greeted by an encomium chanted by five thousand of his soldiers, who were called Augustals. The recollection of this gave the 16th-century French poet, Jean Daurat, an idea which has developed into the modern claque. Buying up a number of tickets for a performance of one of his plays, he distributed them gratuitously to those who promised publicly to express their approbation. It was not, however, till 1820 that a M. Sauton seriously undertook the systematization of the claque, and opened an office in Paris for the supply of claqueurs. These people are usually under a chef de claque, whose duty it is to judge where their efforts are needed and to start the demonstration of approval. This takes several forms. Thus there are commissaires, those who learn the piece by heart, and call the attention of their neighbours to its good points between the acts. The rieurs are those who laugh loudly at the jokes. The pleureurs, generally women, feign tears, by holding their handerkerchiefs to their eyes. The chatouilleurs keep the audience in in a good humour, while the bisseurs simply clap their hands and cry bis! bis! to secure encores.

Should President Trump finally decide to outsource this, along with everything else, there’s excellent precedent for a market-based private-sector solution.

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Morgan And (Pseudo) Science Fiction

by John Holbo on January 23, 2017

My older daughter was feeling pretty low so I said I would read to her while she did some drawing. Normally that means Moomin books or Discworld or something. Tonight, she was in the mood for more scholarly fare. She requested: King Arthur’s Enchantresses, Morgan and Her Sisters In Arthurian Tradition, by Carolyne Larrington (a book I got her a few years ago, but which proved a bit much then.)

So I’m reading about Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Merlin, so forth, and this bit comes up, which I think I may include in my science fiction module, next time round.

Is Geoffrey’s Morgan supernatural or human? Did she acquire her magical powers from the Other World, or is she simply an educated, mortal woman who has actively studied the knowledge she wields?

Geoffrey gives us no origin story. But our author writes: [click to continue…]

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Moral Polarization and Many Pussyhats

by John Holbo on January 22, 2017

I agree with a lot in this piece by Will Wilkinson. But I disagree with stuff he says after asking the question ‘why is our moral culture polarizing?’

One place to start is to ask why it is that people, as individuals, gravitate to certain moral and political viewpoints. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” theory—which shows that conservatives and liberals have different moral sensibilities, sensitive to different moral considerations—is perhaps the best-known account. But there are others.

In a 2012 piece for the Economist, I surveyed some of the research in personality psychology that indicates a correlation between political ideology and a couple of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality—conscientiousness and openness to experience, in particular—and then connected that to evidence that people have self-segregated geographically by personality and ideology. It’s an interesting post and you should read it.

The upshot is that liberals (low conscientiousness, high openness to experience) and conservatives (high conscientiousness, low openness) have distinctive personalities, and that there’s reason to believe we’ve been sorting ourselves into communities of psychologically/ideologically similar people.

Wilkinson goes on to talk about other, non-Haidt stuff that contributes to polarization. I like that better. (I think Wilkinson does, too.) But I want to grouse about Haidt, who I think has done interesting empirical work but who commits what I regard as terrible howlers when it comes to moral theory, and when it comes to reasoning about practical, normative implications of his work. [click to continue…]

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One fine day

by Maria on January 21, 2017

Women's March London, 21 January 2017

Your opponents would like you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the uncertainty of both optimists and pessimists.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Darkness, 2005/2016

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. Hope gets you there; work gets you through.” James Baldwin (quoted in Solnit).

Fellowship carries many through the long years when faith is in doubt. A political struggle like the one many now face needs equal parts work, hope and fellowship. Hope and fellowship alone won’t suffice, but oh, how badly we needed them. The worst (yet) has happened. Now we can begin.

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2009

by Henry on January 20, 2017

DSC_0258 (1)

A photo I took back in 2009 (I lucked into a great ticket at the last moment when I ran into someone I’d known in Dublin who had a couple of extra, and no-one to give them to). Consider this an open thread on today, if you want to discuss it.

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The racist incidents I mentioned in the this post have, probably rightly, absorbed a good deal of administrative time and energy. One response has been to go a bit more deeply into climate and, more generally, equity issues on campus. The provost’s office recently asked departments (very nicely!) to plan events around the rubric of ‘equity and diversity’.

But, what should a department do, when asked to plan a response to equity and diversity issues? A number of colleagues went straight to talking about the racist and hate and bias incidents themselves. Fair enough, although if every department ran events on how to deal with racist incidents that might produce a fair bit of redundancy. I wanted at least some departments to focus on addressing what I think is an unduly neglected equity issue: the uneven, and in a significant number of cases downright poor, quality of instruction on the campus. I also believe that high quality instruction (with instruction broadly understood to include mentoring) can even counteract some of the effects of the kinds of incidents under the spotlight, by affecting the climate within which students encounter those incidents.

Let me give you three examples.

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Bodies In Motion; Kittens At Tea

by John Holbo on January 17, 2017

I like to relax at night with a spot of sketching. I would like to improve my capacity to render human anatomy accurately. My gesture drawing could be more – gesture-y. The girls and I are resolved to branch out into animation. TVPaint, here we come! (Or is that more than we can manage? We shall see.) The internet is a glorious source of free reference material. Fine books exist, and a few sit on my shelf. But a new site launched today, which looked good enough to make me open my wallet and pay for a yearly subscription. They are having a 50%-off deal, launch day only. And you can look around for free. It’s nicely done. It’s fun to look at.

Or perhaps you prefer vintage 1914 kittens, courtesy of the Library of Congress Flickr feed, celebrating 9-years of Flickr Commons.

Happy 9th Birthday, Flickr Commons! (LOC)

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For You, to Cheer You Up

by Belle Waring on January 17, 2017

Car Seat Headrest is a good band. Like, damn, so amazing. Maybe the acme of “anything could be a bandname” naming, but I don’t care. The album Teens of Denial is just crazy good, like a Pavement had sex with Guided by Voices album delivered from your dreams, but with Belle and Sebastian story songs?

Also the 2016 Bon Iver Album is great and I didn’t know (John and I haven’t lived in the same town since June or he would have told me, probably ;__; ).

So now you can go listen to good music, and let’s all celebrate MLK day by figuring out if we can get to the Women’s March nearest us on the 21st. I may be able to go to the one in DC, if my insurance company will agree to pay for a thing at the Mayo in time! Cross fingers for me. If not I can go here in Phoenix.

Also, watercolors of Finn Family Moomintroll!

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Empire Games

by Henry on January 16, 2017

Just finished an advance copy of Charles Stross’s Empire Games, which is coming out tomorrow – recommended (NB – no spoilers below, except for the most abject social science geeks). I haven’t gotten as much out of his last couple of Laundry Books as the earlier ones (I prefer the horror-to-jokeiness balance to be weighted a little more in favor of horror) but I liked this sequel to his earlier Merchant Princes books quite a bit.

Specifically, it returns to the economic-development-theory fan-service that Paul Krugman liked so much in the earlier books, and ramps it up. It’s certainly cheeky to have an organization called the Ministry of Intertemporal Technological Intelligence with the goal of furthering domestic development through grabbing great ideas from elsewhere (in this case parallel universes) and looking to use them to build up domestic production capacity without allowing dangerous foreign dependencies to develop. I suspect that the nice clockwork theory that this MITI is working on is going to start popping escapements all over the place in the sequels. See also: cross-dimensional deterrence theory. I’m not going to say any more, so as to avoid spoiling actual plot developments, but if you liked the earlier books, you’ll almost certainly like this one, and if you’re looking for social-science literate entertainment, you should read it too, but likely you should read the prequels first to avoid hopeless confusion.

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Those of you fortunate enough to be able to pick up BBC Radio 4 on your wireless sets may wish to tune in after your lunches this week of the Trump inauguration, at 13:45 for fifteen minutes each weekday,1 to hear Trump: The Presidential Precedents, a programme hosted by UCL historian and 2015 Broadcaster of the Year Adam Smith, and devoted to US presidents who came into office promising to upend one apple-cart or another. (Presumably if you cannot tune into Radio 4 the old-fashioned way, you’ll be able to get the episodes on the Internet via streaming audio.)

At the American Historical Association annual meeting this year, I ended a pleasant conversation with a UK-resident friend of mine, who said in parting he’d be happy enough to trade Brexit for Trump. I hadn’t time to inquire after his logic, so I leave it to you to decide whether you would do likewise.

1This is just before “The Archers,” so if you want your sense of relentless continuity restored, just hang around for another fifteen minutes.

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Sunday photoblogging: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

by Chris Bertram on January 15, 2017

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

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Algorithmic Price Fixing, Amazon Variations

by John Holbo on January 14, 2017

Henry’s post was interesting. It reminded me of an anecdote passed along by an acquaintance, who shall go nameless.

The individual in question is involved in publication of limited run, high quality art books. You can’t do that if you can’t make significant profit, per unit. (‘Volume volume volume!’ doesn’t hack it if you lack volume.) Medium-length story short: [click to continue…]

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Ride a Painted Pony

by Belle Waring on January 14, 2017

Words can’t express how much I love the Shirley Bassey cover of Spinning Wheel. I couldn’t find it for ages; all my records in storage in Savannah, and no love from iTunes. In SF in the late 90s I used to go to a club night that was all…cheesy 60s music? But with a brilliant DJ who was good at reading the small crowd. This song was the barnburner. I was always resentful that my mom had once—but no longer—had thigh-high white patent leather go-go boots. (I also lacked the imagination as a teen when I first found out about these missing boots to see how you might just dance through/fatally stank up a thing like that). I only ever had knee-high white patent-leather go-go boots. Good enough when the piccolos attack this furious!

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Tu quoque revisited

by John Quiggin on January 12, 2017

Slightly lost amid the furore over the alleged Trump dossier was the news that Trump had held a meeting with leading antivaxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. As is usual, particularly with the Trump Administration, accounts of the meeting differed, with RFK claiming Trump had asked him to lead an inquiry into vaccine safety and Trump apparatchiks denying any firm decision had been made.

This interested me because, on the strength of sharing his father’s name, RFK Jr was, for many years the poster child for those on the right who wanted to claim that Democrats were just as anti-science as Republicans. (I’ve appended a post from 2014, discussing this.) Now he’s eager to work for Trump.

I pointed out the likely emergence of vaccination as a partisan issue in another post. Lots of commenters were unhappy about it, and it’s true that it’s unfortunate in the same way as is the partisan divide on global warming, evolution and just about any scientific issue that has political or cultural implications. But, whether we like it or not, it’s happening and likely to accelerate. The sudden reversal in Republican views on Putin, Wikileaks and so on illustrates the force of loyalty to Trump. We can only hope that, for once, his team’s denials turn out to be correct.

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