Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Beginnings of Maryland

 From WBAL:

After nearly a century of searching, archaeologists found the oldest known colonial settlement in Maryland in St. Mary's County on Maryland Day, and they're calling it the find of a lifetime. Not even rain could dampen the mood: The excitement for Maryland archaeologists so close to piecing together the possible very beginning of Maryland history was palpable.

"I raced out here. I just kept taking pictures. I didn't know what to do. I just had to photograph this moment," said senior archaeologist Ruth Mitchell. Mitchell remembers the day in 2017 that geophysical technology found the remnants of an old, abandoned fort -- a bastion and its connecting wall -- dating back to 1634.

"But what did the fort look like inside? The answer to that question has yet to be determined based on the archaeological evidence that we discover," Mitchell said. Some of that evidence is found through tedious sifting sessions. On Maryland Day, they found a bullet for a musket.

"This is a German stoneware that dates to the 17th century and it was found at the site," Mitchell said. There's also imported pottery and jewelry, even a cannonball, found years before the fort itself. They also found a projectile point that archaeologists believe is at least a couple thousand years old -- more evidence that Native Americans also lay near the site. Under tarps near the fort, archaeologists say old dwellings show Native Americans once lived with or near the 200 or so English colonists at peak occupancy. A chapel sits across the road from pink flags marking the site. (Read more.)


Monday, May 10, 2021

A Wolf for All Seasons

From Law and Liberty:

Fred Zinnemann’s 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, based on Robert Bolt’s play by the same name, swept the Oscars. With Paul Scofield in the lead role of Sir Thomas More, the film depicts the martyrdom of a man whose conscience would not permit him to submit to the tyranny of an unjust law. The drama swirls around the contest of wills between Bolt’s hero—More—and Thomas Cromwell. In her Wolf Hall trilogy (now complete with The Mirror and the Light), Hilary Mantel rewrites the narrative of the same events and presents the world with a new hero for modern times: the now-rehabilitated Thomas Cromwell. No longer an amoral, conniving minister who orchestrated More’s death after he failed to break him, the new Cromwell is a thoughtful and visionary statesman with bureaucratic genius who aims to transform England into a free republic. If the Bolt version of the events warns that an over-powerful state may leave no space for an individual conscience, the Mantel version turns this perspective on its head. She contends that the common good needs no such conscience driven individuals and that true progress is accomplished when leaders force through necessary changes.

Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy is not modest in its ambitions. The trilogy grapples with the major historical questions surrounding a critical historical juncture; it is correctly understood as a quest to define and characterize Parliament and the Church of England as they developed during Thomas Cromwell’s tenure as Henry VIII’s chief minister. Styling itself a novelized version of historical fact taking few liberties with the record, the account is positioned to be the best-known version of “the origins of modern England”—as the prize committee for the Man Booker put it when granting Mantel the prestigious award for her second volume. In studying this period, historians ask how we understand these two institutions. Was it papal oppression that drove England from Rome or did an egotistical King and his corrupt ministers join the Reformation to further their political power? Was it, instead, an ultimately tragic incompatibility between the temporal concerns of the state (Henry VIII’s quest for a son) with the spiritual concerns of papacy (the indissolubility of a marriage)? Questions surrounding the rise of Parliament are even more complicated since the institution was hardly independent of the Crown and its ministers and had existed for centuries before. Do we see here the rise of the gentry, or their coopting through generous grants of lands and royal bullying? Mantel purports to answer many of these questions in her books with reference both to the historical record and the works of pedigreed historians.

To provide a brief overview of the historical events covered in A Man for All Seasons and Mantel’s work: Henry VIII began his reign under a propitious star: he was charming and erudite, he had married a Spanish princess allying himself to one of Europe’s most powerful monarchies, and England was entering a period of economic growth. He was also profoundly conservative: in 1521, the King himself defended papal prerogative and traditional sacramental theology against Martin Luther in his treatise Defense of the Seven Sacraments. But the marriage produced only one daughter and by 1527 Henry had become persuaded that the marriage itself was invalid. Had the pope granted him an annulment, he could have married a younger woman—and he had his eyes on Anne Boleyn. The pope, however, refused to act on Henry’s petition. In 1531, after years of failed negotiations, Henry was declared head of the Church of England by act of Parliament and shortly thereafter married Anne.

In 1535, the King’s former friend and Chancellor Thomas More was executed under a novel law that required the population to swear their support for the new marriage. (Bolt’s drama and Mantel’s first volume end with More’s death.) Twelve months later, Queen Anne herself was executed (the conclusion of Mantel’s second volume). Martyrdoms followed which included both conservatives who had refused the King’s title and evangelicals who gave sermons that were too fiery for the King’s conservative taste. By 1540, all of the religious houses in England were marked for dissolution and their lands transferred to the Crown. That same year, Thomas Cromwell himself was executed (the conclusion of Mantel’s trilogy). By Henry’s death in 1547 it was clear that England would remain Protestant despite the general popular distaste for Reformation, but it was also clear that new laws would originate, at least officially, in Parliament. Identifying the agents who worked these tremendous changes has drawn historians to the period since before John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. (Read more.)
St. Thomas More



The Origin of COVID

 From The Bulletin:

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: The political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.

In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.

By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze.

The virus that caused the pandemic is known officially as SARS-CoV-2, but can be called SARS2 for short. As many people know, there are two main theories about its origin. One is that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people. The other is that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped. It matters a great deal which is the case if we hope to prevent a second such occurrence.

I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof. So I have only clues, not conclusions, to offer. But those clues point in a specific direction. And having inferred that direction, I’m going to delineate some of the strands in this tangled skein of disaster.

A tale of two theories. After the pandemic first broke out in December 2019, Chinese authorities reported that many cases had occurred in the wet market — a place selling wild animals for meat — in Wuhan. This reminded experts of the SARS1 epidemic of 2002, in which a bat virus had spread first to civets, an animal sold in wet markets, and from civets to people. A similar bat virus caused a second epidemic, known as MERS, in 2012. This time the intermediary host animal was camels.

The decoding of the virus’s genome showed it belonged a viral family known as beta-coronaviruses, to which the SARS1 and MERS viruses also belong. The relationship supported the idea that, like them, it was a natural virus that had managed to jump from bats, via another animal host, to people. The wet market connection, the major point of similarity with the SARS1 and MERS epidemics, was soon broken: Chinese researchers found earlier cases in Wuhan with no link to the wet market. But that seemed not to matter when so much further evidence in support of natural emergence was expected shortly. (Read more.)


The Science of Loneliness

 From Wired:

Humans rarely experience such extreme social isolation, but studies have shown that even in normal life, increased loneliness has a negative impact on physical and mental health. One review of the science of loneliness found that people with stronger social relationships have a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival over a set period of time compared with those with weaker social connections. Other studies have linked loneliness to cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and depression.

We’ve known since the 1980s that people who are more socially isolated tend to have worse health, but we still don’t know why loneliness is so closely linked to our health. Is it that isolated people tend to have other risk factors for certain diseases, or is there something about loneliness itself that rearranges the wiring of our brains, slowly wearing away at our health? For loneliness researchers the pandemic has provided an unprecedented natural experiment in the impact that social isolation might have on our brains. As millions of people across the world emerge from months of reduced social contact, a new neuroscience of loneliness is starting to figure out why social relationships are so crucial to our health.

Although the link between loneliness and poor health is well-established, scientists have only recently been able to take the first glimpses of what social isolation looks like in our brains. It’s a discovery that started with a failed experiment. As part of her PhD at Imperial College London, Gillian Matthews was trying to find out how drug addiction affected the connections between specific neurons in a part of the brain called the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN). Matthews divided the mice she was studying into two groups—one she injected with cocaine, and the other with a saltwater solution—but no matter what she tried, she kept seeing that the DRN neuron connections were growing stronger in both groups of mice.

These new neural connections, Matthews realized, had little to do with drugs. Both groups of mice had been isolated for 24 hours before the start of the experiment. What Matthews was seeing was the effect that social isolation had on the brains she was studying. This accidental discovery opened up a new way of thinking about loneliness—if we could see the traces of social isolation in the brains of mice, it meant that loneliness didn’t just describe a state in the outside world, it could also point to something on the inside too. (Read more.)


Sunday, May 9, 2021

On the Undeniable Lure of the Historic Literary Home

 From Literary Hub:

Greenway is an 18th-century house that stands amidst sloping gardens and woods, overlooking the River Dart in Devon, England. In its time it has been the property of seafarers, mining magnates, a member of Parliament, and the world-renowned crime writer Agatha Christie; nowadays, it is owned by the National Trust, which opens it up to the public. Houses—stately or not—have always struck me as exciting places to begin thinking about and planning stories, and it was a brief visit to Greenway, back in 2010, that inspired my latest novel, The Whispering House.

Agatha Christie fell in love with and bought Greenway in 1938, occupying it until her death in 1976, and it’s her mid-20th century version of the house that the National Trust has put on display. Books are placed askew beside sofas and beds, as if they have just been set aside, walking sticks and hats are ready for use beside the front door, and there are shelves filled with curios that the well-travelled Christie brought back from all corners of the world.

On my summer holiday visit, 11 years ago, it was the library that struck me as Greenway’s most thought-provoking room. During World War II it was used as a mess room by members of the US Coastguard, who requisitioned the house in advance of D-Day, and one of the men, a professional artist named Lt. Marshall Lee, painted a frieze around the upper parts of all four walls. The frieze was, and is, a striking sight, depicting the soldiers’ eventful journey to England, which began in Houston, Texas and culminated with their arrival at Greenway. It mixes oddly with the otherwise restrained, period character of the room, but there is something wonderful about the oddness, like musical notes in a clashing chord. It got me thinking about the multiple layers of history that many—if not most—rooms contain within themselves, even if these layers are rarely as conspicuous as the ones in Greenway library. Agatha Christie herself obviously enjoyed the dissonance: when the house was returned to her in 1945, and the US Commander offered to have the frieze painted over, she refused, declaring it an “historic memorial” and professing herself, “delighted to have it.” (Read more.)


Unemployment Increases Under Biden

 Of course. What did you expect? From Jeffrey Lord:

In contrast to the record low unemployment levels for black and Hispanic Americans under former President Trump, “April’s report also continued to show stark differences in unemployment by race, with minority groups such as Black Americans and Hispanics facing above-average unemployment rates of 9.7% and 7.9%, respectively.”

Former President Trump’s economy was responsible for the longest and best performing bull market in history, which ended when COVID-19 emerged and governments forced businesses to close – creating an artificial recession. President Biden should be able to ride the recovery of the recession, but it seems that his policies are only able to be overestimated. While Biden’s economy has drastically failed to meet expectations, Trump’s economy consistently exceeded them, nearly doubling projected GDP growth during the third quarter of last year. (Read more.)

The Amazing True Story of Nathan Harrison

 From Archaeology:

Many of Harrison’s stories had the air of embellishment—he even told a few children he’d come to California in 1849 by boat, braving the treacherous waters around Cape Horn. Despite the improbability of his tales, or perhaps because of it, Harrison’s audience of white San Diegans exploring the wilderness just outside their city lapped it up. When they returned home, they told others of their encounters with Harrison, and before long, he was one of the highlights of a trip up Palomar Mountain. (See “The Birth of Western Tourism.”) “Visiting Harrison was like stepping into a time machine and going back to the Old South,” says Seth Mallios, an archaeologist at San Diego State University. “People were magically transported back fifty years and three thousand miles away.”

Harrison would often invite travelers to his cabin for further entertainment. Allan Kelly, who trekked up the mountain with his family in 1908 when he was seven years old, later recalled, “He had a lovely spot: a far distant view to the ocean…about an acre of good soil for a garden and a few apple and pear trees.” In exchange for Harrison’s hospitality, the visiting city folk came bearing gifts—typically tins of meat, bottles of alcohol, and clothing. Many also brought along early Kodak Brownie cameras to capture snapshots of their host. Although he lived in a relatively remote location, Harrison was likely the most frequently photographed person of his time in the San Diego area, suggests Mallios, who has extensively researched Harrison’s life and leads excavations of the site where his cabin once stood. “There was nothing convenient about taking his photograph,” says Mallios. “People were aware that he was someone they wanted to take a photo of, whether it was to show that they had made it to the top of this very perilous mountain, or to capture something that you just didn’t see anywhere else.” (Read more.)


Saturday, May 8, 2021

A Parisian Apartment

 From AD:

In the mid-1920s, young French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank moved into an 18th-century apartment on a short, narrow street on the Left Bank. He tackled its renovation as he would the homes of his haute societé clients, such as the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Noailles and the English writer Nancy Cunard, respecting the original construction but banishing the froufrou. It was the Roaring Twenties—the decade of excess—but for Frank, spartan was modern.

Frank instructed his workers to strip the paint off the Louis XVI oak paneling, leaving the wood pale and raw. With his friend, and later business partner, the cabinetmaker Adolphe Chanaux, he created a decor so spare it could rival a monastery. The predominant palette was of the palest neutrals, from the white marble with dark gray streaks in the bath to the leather sofa, even the sheet Frank threw over the Louis XIV dining table. He left the Versailles parquet floors bare, and art and bibelots were verboten. So denuded was the home, when Jean Cocteau visited, he reportedly quipped, “Charming young man; pity he was robbed.” (Read more.)