Feminist Movies: The Mark of a Dying Civilisation.

Kevin Swanson, professional lunatic, was recently ranting about the absolute horror of The Shape of Water, a movie which spelled the end of civilisation as we know it. It seems that wasn’t emphatic enough for Mr. Swanson. There’s another civilisation ender: The Last Jedi. I haven’t seen it, because SW isn’t my thing, but I’ve certainly read enough about it, and I was pleased that at least in this installment, there were women who did more than run after some dude, or end up chained in a bikini. Good for them. That is decidedly not Mr. Swanson’s viewpoint.

“The feminists are head over heels in love with this one,” Swanson lamented. “It’s a bit of a feminist fest with very little artistic story telling involved … It was a great vehicle to continue to educate the world towards feminism, and feminism is ultimately the individuation of the family, the destruction of the family, and the violation of the biblical ordinance that the husband is head of the wife. So that is fundamentally being eroded in the minds of our 13-and 14-year-old girls as they watch these movies.”

Yeah, no. It’s not at all a bad thing, recognizing that the people who make up a family are all individuals, with their own minds and personalities. That’s a healthy thing, because thinking that a ‘family’ is the property of a man is not at all a good thing, and that kind of thinking generally leads to bad acts and a hell of a lot of dysfunction. As for artistic story telling, you think “hey, man owns everyone” is good storytelling, and boy, do I have news for you, Mr. Swanson, that’s a bad story. We’ve had centuries of that plot, and some of humans who happen to be women, we’re damn tired of the same old song.

Who gives a shit if it “violates” a biblical ordinance? That’s only so to a percentage of christians, and as I’m not christian, why would that bit of idiocy matter to me? The bible is one very bad pastiche of very bad stories, many of them stolen and mangled, and I find it beyond silly that I’m supposed to care about anything it contains. All young women do not belong to you, Mr. Swanson, and it’s beyond creepy, this sense of ownership you put out. If you have 13 or 14 year old daughters, then you can use “our”. If they aren’t your children, then no, they are nothing to do with you.

“You can thoroughly expect the unraveling of the Christian family in the years to come if the Christian family is sitting their children at the feet of feminists and receiving the messages,” Swanson said, as he railed against the film for featuring several female characters in lead roles “defending the universe from the bad guys.”

“Friends,” he said, “this is what the last movies produced by a dying civilization look like.”

Hmmm. So it’s much better for the universe to go to utter hell and misery than to have women save the day. That’s ever so nice, Mr. Swanson. What a lovely message you’re sending to young women: you’re good for absolutely nothing except being a baby bakery and obeying a man. Why you’re surprised a lot of young women aren’t interested in that little message, I don’t know.  A movie which features women as full human beings does not spell ‘dying civilisation’. It spells growth and progress, and those are good things, Mr. Swanson, in spite of your desire to regress back centuries in time. We’re moving right past your anachronistic ass, and can barely bother to spare a glance at you.

The full mess is at RWW.

Have An Apple Tree? Get Out Your Toast!

Toast swinging from an apple tree. Richard Gillin/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Toast swinging from an apple tree. Richard Gillin/(CC BY-SA 2.0.

I do have an apple tree, so I’ll have to get some bread toasted, have some nice cider to pour and drink, and make a lot of noise.

After the New Year’s champagne is drunk and the Christmas tree is set out on the curb, the holiday season feels emphatically over. But in many apple-growing regions, there’s still one last celebration in January. Instead of champagne, the drink is hard cider. And instead of decorating a chopped-down pine, revelers tromp into apple orchards to drink and encourage a good harvest.

Apple wassailing, which has origins in southeast and southwest England, features a procession to the best apple tree in the orchard. There, revelers sing to the tree, decorate it with slices of toast to feed good spirits (and birds), and shoot rifles to scare away demons. Christmas-carolers may be familiar with the term “wassail.” An old Anglo-Saxon term for “Be in good health,” it became shorthand for both carolling and a spiced hot drink, made with either ale or cider. While pouring cider around tree roots, everyone usually shares a fanciful bowl of wassail.

You can read more about these apple tree traditions at Atlas Obscura. They date back about 500 years, and no need to worry about having missed it:

Often, it’s celebrated on January 5, which is Twelfth Night, the last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. But Twelfth Night used to be on January 17. When the British switched from the ancient Julian calendar to the Gregorian system, though, in 1752, many counties kept the tradition on the old date. (If you live in an apple-growing area, you can celebrate twice.)

Anti-Clericalism in Medieval Persian Poetry.

Standford Lecture Handouts.

The above reads:

Better be a beggar than king, better practice vice

And perfidy than be a bigoted, pious puritan;

Better make love with many mistresses in the street

Than make piety and abstinence in public show.

– Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī (d. 725/1325)

I couldn’t agree more.

The dominant attitude of the anti-clerical rhetoric in Persian poetry is permeated by criticism of judges, lawyers, aesthetics, spiritual advisors, and authority figures of that nature. This is one of the reasons that makes this poetry still relevant. A lot of people today can’t read Milton, because anti-clericalism is no longer part of the normal vocabulary. In the West, we live mostly in a secular society, so the conflict between clerics and anti-clerics does not exist. But that is not the case in the Middle East at all, which makes this conflict very relevant.

Dr. Leonard Lewisohn is Senior Lecturer in Persian and Iran Heritage Foundation Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies of the University of Exeter where he teaches Islamic Studies, Sufism, history of Iran, as well as courses on Persian texts and Persian poetry in translation. He specializes in translation of Persian Sufi poetic and prose texts.

This is fascinating, and I learned a great deal. The lecture is below, and the Stanford Lecture Handouts for Anti-Clericalism in Medieval Persian Poetry are here.

Via Medievalists.

Japanese Tip.

installation view | photo by Kakijiro Tokutani.

installation view | photo by Kakijiro Tokutani.

This is just too cool!

Yuki Tatsumi was working as a waiter in a restaurant when one day, as he was cleaning up a table, he noticed that a customer had intricately folded up the paper chopstick sleeve and left it behind. Japan doesn’t have a culture of tipping but Tatsumi imagined that this was a discreet , subconscious method of showing appreciation. He began paying attention and sure enough noticed that other customers were doing the same thing. Tatsumi began collecting these “tips” which eventually led to his art project: Japanese Tip.

Since 2012 Tatsumi has not only been collecting his own tips but he’s reached out to restaurants and eateries all across Japan communicating his concept and asking them to send him their tips. The response has been enormous. He’s collected over 13,000 paper sculptures that range from obscure and ugly to intricate and elaborate.

Earlier this month Tatsumi staged an exhibition in Tokyo where he displayed 8000 of some of the most interesting sculptures sourced from all 47 prefectures around Japan. “Japanese Tip is a project between restaurants and customers,” says Tatsumi, “to communicate the ‘appreciation for food’ and ‘appreciation of the service’  by using the most common material used at any Japanese restaurant.”

The exhibition has since closed but you can see some of the paper sculptures on his website and you can follow the initiative on Facebook.

Such a cool and thoughtful thing to do. You can read and see more at Spoon & Tamago.

Remembering Lysol.

Most people know that Lysol started life as a douche. Fortunately, this was before my time, I just had to live the constant assault of Summer’s Eve and ‘feminine spray’ ads. I always thought it was a shame that no one at Lysol had the thought to market it as an all around marriage aid: “Men, use Lysol’s Intimate Soak for Men! Keep that rod of marriage clean and sweet smelling!”  But no, as with a majority of products at that time, most all of them were pointing out the constant and glaring imperfections and defects of women, and you best pay attention, else you’ll lose that man, oh my. The text in the above ad reads:

Why Does He Avoid Her Embrace?

A. Because he is no longer happy in their marriage, constantly makes excuses to avoid the romantic intimacy of their honeymoon.

Q. What has she done? Is it really all her fault?

A. It is not so much what she has done as what she has neglected…and that is proper feminine hygiene.

Q. Can neglect of proper feminine hygiene really spoil a happy marriage?

A. Yes, and the pity of it is, every wife can hold her lovable charm by simply using “Lysol” disinfectant as an effective douche.

Q. Can this purpose be accomplished by homemade douching solutions?

A. No…salt, soda, and similar makeshifts do not have proved germicidal and antiseptic properties of “Lysol” which not only destroys odor but is effective in the presence of organic matter.

Q. Why does this husband not tell his wife why he avoids her?

A. Because he feels that a woman should know these important facts…and use every means in her power to remain glamourous, dainty, and lovely to love. He resents her neglect of such fundamentals as correct feminine hygiene which is achieved so easily by regular douching with “Lysol” brand disinfectant.

(That ‘organic matter’ eluded to was a way of saying “effective spermicidal”.  You can see more Lysol ads below the fold.

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A Climbable Bookshelf.

Oh do I ever have bookshelf and house envy right now. Raging envy. This is such a good idea! And all that spaciousness and light!

Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are lovely, and can act as a robust focal point in any home. But accessing the high shelves can be a problem. The common side-kick has always been ladders, which can also add character and charm. But for smaller homes like in Japan they can be a nuisance, occupying too much space for not enough usage. But Japanese architect Shinsuke Fujii came up with a simple, yet brilliant solution that solves another problem too: earthquake safety.

The “House in Shinyoshida,” as it’s called, named for the neighborhood in Yokohama where it stands, was conceived shortly after the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The client, who happened to be an avid book lover, approached Fujii with the task to design a home around a large bookshelf that’s both easily accessible but also one that won’t spill all the books if there’s ever a tremor.

The solution was to slant the entire western-facing façade and create a built-in slanted bookshelf whose shelves also function as a ladder.

You can read and see more at Spoon & Tamago.

Sivartha’s Book of Life (1898).

The Social Model.

Odors and Flavors.

The Aurosphere.

Nervous Structure.

Titled The Book of Life: The Spiritual and Physical Constitution of Man, Dr Alesha Sivartha’s enigmatic 1898 work expounds his unique blend of blend of science, sociology, mysticism and religion, a spiritual teaching which apparently attracted the attention of Mark Twain among others. Sivartha was clearly a man bursting at the seams with an abundance of complex and esoteric ideas, and while in written form this might translate into somewhat dense and bamboozling prose, visually it gave birth to a series of superbly intricate and striking diagrams. Obsessed with the magical properties of the number 12, Sivartha, in each of his wonderful “brain maps”, breaks down the grey matter into twelve different sections, as well as turning his gaze to other parts of the body such as hands and the nervous system as a whole.


As for the author himself, not a lot is known for certain, other than Sivartha appears to be the pen-name for a Kansas doctor named Arthur E. Merton (1834?-1915?), who is listed as the author of an earlier 1876 version of The Book of Life. What little additional information out there seems to stem mainly from a website (which seems to share the same mesmerising sense of horror vacui as its subject!) run by his great-great grandson, which claims Sivartha/Merton to be the illegitimate son of the Indian scholar and activist Raja Ram Mohun Roy Bahadoor and an unknown English Unitarian woman who became romantically embroiled with the Raja during his tour of England.

All the diagrams are fascinating, and there are so many of them! You can see some of them at The Public Domain, and the rest here.

Just Press The Right Button.

Vaught’s Practical Character Reader is an appalling little book on phrenology. I can’t imagine going around, staring at people, then feeling free to poke their head. Seems to me that would be an invitation to a facial rearrangement. There’s an insistence that anyone who doesn’t adopt their particular system is an idiot and worse, which  handily brings us to:

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The Relaxed Wife (1957).

Our nostalgia for the 1950s is tested with this strange and unnerving promotional film for the tranquilliser “Atarax”, in which a husband plagued by stress brought on by work and noisy children, is helped by his relaxed wife of the title. With her calming influence he learns not to focus on the problems of others or to worry about the rest of the world – “Let the world take care of its own worries. You’ll help yourself most by concentrating on your own affairs”. Named after ataraxia, the Greek word for relaxation, the tranquilliser is advertised through such rhyming lines as:

Today, medical science recognizes,

that some folks aren’t helped by relaxing exercises.

In cases of difficult tension, and nervous apprehension,

doctors are now prescribing an ataraxic medicine.

It makes those who fear they’re about to quit,

feel like they’re ready to begin,

bidding their darkened spirits goodbye,

for the calming peace of a cloudless sky.
Of all the states throughout this nation,

the happiest by far is the state of relaxation.

There’ll be fewer breakdowns and insomniacs,

when more of us have learned to be relaxed.

We’ll be free to relish the joys of life,

no longer tense over daily worries and strife.”

And it is medication, such as the Pfizer-produced Atarax, which is seen as the key to this panacea of relaxation. Although many think of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants as a rather modern way of life, housewives of the 1950s were frequent users of such drugs, the first and most popular being Miltown, named after the New Jersey hamlet in which it was first manufactured in 1955. According to Newsweek, just two years after it was first made available, “Americans had filled 36 million prescriptions for Miltown, more than a billion pills had been manufactured and these so-called ‘peace pills’ accounted for one third of all prescriptions.”

The narration is an eerie blend of Seuss and Stepford Wives. Oh, and Atarax is still going strong.  Via The Public Domain.

Snowflake Toast.

Snowflake Toast – Take 1 quart of milk, one-half cup cream and a little salt. Mix a tablespoonful of flour with a little of the milk, and add when the milk is boiling hot. Let it cook until the flour has no raw taste. Have ready the whites of 2 eggs thoroughly beaten, and after the milk and cream are well cooked, stir in the whites of the eggs lightly and allow it to remain over the fire long enough for the whites to coagulate – about half a minute is long enough. This quantity is sufficient for about 12 slices of bread well toasted. Dip the sliced in hot milk, take out quickly and pack together for about 3 minutes, then pour this snowflake mixture over them.

Oh, boiled milk, :shudder: I think I’ll pass on this, but the name is rather grand, is it not? From this 1897 book, the snowflake toast is on page 330.

Amos Chapple.

Absolutely stunning photography, many photos with their own stories, too. Just a few here, although I’d happily post each and every one of them!

An illegal tusk hunter at a site where men extract mammoth tusks from the permafrost. Click here for my story on the Mammoth Pirates of Siberia.

For 61 years he’s sat here, legs dwindling to sticks as he thumps cooking pots into shape. His sons work beside him, three hammer blows occasionally falling together in synch, then scattering again into the random beat of the workshop.

I ask whether the girls admired his arms when he was young but he scolds me for rudeness. He’s more comfortable talking about the men with firebombs who drove his family out of their homeland. His father had made the decision to stay when Pakistan was formed around them, a Sikh clan in a new Muslim nation, but eventually the mob violence visited their neighbourhood and they fled.

Like so many who’ve lived through big history he’s nostalgic for the past. “Under the British we felt enormous pressure but we were innocent then. Now the people have freedom but we no longer love each other.”

But his old-testament face lights up when his grandchildren appear, they’re educated and will live a different life. He props a favourite onto his knee, “these little ones can choose their own lives and of course I’m happy for that”.

Finally, after the curious crowd have drifted away from us he leans in close, “you asked about my arms? My wife told me she always felt safe in these arms”. He rocks back and sweeps a hand over his children, his workshop, his little empire, “and she was, she always was”

These and so very much more can be seen at Amos Chapple Photography. Have a wander! And you won’t want to miss his feature on The Shepherds of the Tusheti Mountains, a gorgeous pictorial of a dangerous job:

Every autumn, a spectacular animal migration takes place in Georgia’s Tusheti region in the northern Caucasus Mountains. Radio Free Europe photographer Amos Chapple recently joined a group of shepherds and their dogs on what he refers to as a “deadly, boozy journey” from the steep mountains to the plains, as they brought their 1,200 sheep down to their winter pastures.

All images © Amos Chapple.