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August 19, 2022

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Out of sight; out of mind
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-018-3807-z

I hadn't realized that the Aral Sea is no more. See Figure 1 for a graphic look.

I was aware of the problem and have seen pictures of ocean going ships standed in a toxic desert (with captions that the remants of the lake were dozens of kilometers away by the time the photos were taken).
But even I thought a bit more was still left.

Btw, the Dead Sea has shrunk too for similar reasons. Hotels that were once right at the banks now have to use shuttle services to get the tourists to the edge.
There are plans (with massive disapproval from several sides) to dig a connection to the Red Sea (part canal, part pipeline) to solve that problem.

There are plans (with massive disapproval from several sides) to dig a connection to the Red Sea (part canal, part pipeline) to solve that problem.

As long as they're looking at a massive civil engineering effort, might it not make more sense to pipe water from the Mediterranean to the headwaters of the Jorden River? (With, of course, a desalination plant along the way.) That would not only address the Dead Sea issue, but might deal with the 90% reduction from historical flow rates that we see today.

Quote of the day:

“I’ll tell Mitch this to his face,” Masters said during a debate in June. “He’s not bad at everything. He’s good at judges. He’s good at blocking Democrats. You know what he’s not good at? Legislating.”
As a description of McConnell's behavior as Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat would find it hard to argue.

H/T Washington Post: Peter Thiel rebuffs Mitch McConnell over Senate rescue in Arizona

As long as they're looking at a massive civil engineering effort, might it not make more sense to pipe water from the Mediterranean to the headwaters of the Jorden River?

Both the Red Sea proposal and a similar one for bringing water from the Mediterranean include desalination, with the necessary power generated using the elevation drop to the Dead Sea level. Desalination is important for two reasons: to provide fresh water for whoever is paying the bills, and the reject brine from the process is closer to matching the Dead Sea's salinity. The brine still wouldn't be a good match chemically. And the people paying the bills probably aren't interested in evaporation and leakage losses from dumping way upstream.

...at the end of the evening he could from memory go through every hand, who held what, who bid what, and how the hand was played.

That's the mark of a talented player. It's not some magic memory trick, it's what happens when you're concentrating on every bid and play.

with the necessary power generated using the elevation drop to the Dead Sea level.

The Israelis already do massive desalination, in part because the drop in the Jordan meant they needed a different source of water for irrigation. So they know how to get the necessary power without hydro sources. And they know how to make extraordinarily efficient use of the power they have.

the people paying the bills probably aren't interested in evaporation and leakage losses from dumping way upstream.

On the other hand, having water in the river would have lots of benefits for lots of people. Just putting water in the Dead Sea directly only benefits the tourist hotels.

That's the mark of a talented player. It's not some magic memory trick, it's what happens when you're concentrating on every bid and play.

I think that level of concentration was a holdover from his cribbage (the only other card game I ever saw him play). In the little Iowa town where Dad grew up cribbage was a blood sport, and then he went into the Navy. Dad taught me when I was seven, and turned me over to Grandpa Cain's tender mercies when I was eight. The first time I beat Grandpa Cain by pegging out from some ridiculous distance, he said, "Good. I see the Dutchman's sitting out on his porch." He slid me a dollar bill and added, "Go tell him you want to play for a penny a point."

Note too that the ISP in this case specializes in providing hosting services for right-wingers -- "Wipe my backups older than three days ago" is probably an available feature.

But then there's this:
https://archive.org/web/

Ha! Talking of LOTR and its canonical or sacrosanct status, particularly for Janie, I thought this in today's NYT might interest her:

Tolkien’s works may be still harder to adapt. A professor of medieval literature who as a young man helped write the entries for words including “wasp,” “wain,” and “walrus” in the Oxford English Dictionary, Tolkien wrote a deeply textured prose that is vastly different from that of his fantasy imitators. It evokes the flavor of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry and Old Norse sagas, giving readers the sense that they are reading something very old that has been translated by Professor Tolkien, not composed by him.

Tolkien’s narrative craftsmanship is both dramatic and subtle. He writes from the point of view of his least knowledgeable characters (usually hobbits‌, but occasionally Gimli or Gollum and once even a confused fox), so they and the reader learn about the world beyond the Shire together, piecing together Middle-earth through hints and fragments. No wonder people say that reading “The Lord of the Rings” feels more like an experience than a book — cognitively, it is. And that is precisely the sort of effect that can translate poorly onto film, particularly when a series has to work from a brief summary.

Not just character but moral clarity can be easily lost when a team of writers, inherently beholden to the concerns, politics and tropes of the day, takes over from a single author and attempts to build a narrative that will best support a studio’s desire for a never-ending revenue stream.

What makes Tolkien’s work unique is the moral heart of his story and the consistency with which he maintains it. Rather than reveling in the acquisition and exercise of power, “The Lord of the Rings” celebrates its renunciation, insisting that the domination of others is always morally wrong. Tolkien is utterly consistent with this morality, even at the expense of his most cherished characters: Frodo has no other choice than to use the power of the Ring to dominate Gollum, but he still pays for that immoral act when he is unable to complete his quest or to enjoy his life afterward. Can a company as intent upon domination as Amazon really understand this perspective — and adapt that morality to the screen?

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/01/opinion/rings-of-power-amazon-tolkien.html

GftNC - thanks, that says it better than i ever could.

I'm no fan of Amazon, or of Peter Jackson, but it seems to me that Amazon can do no worse, morally speaking, than the thousands of white supremacist fans who see in LotR the perfect expression of the struggle of the aryan race.

And Tolkien's strong sense of morality is itself more fraught than it seems on the surface - as scholars of race and gender point out.

I am not claiming that Tolkien or the books are racist or sexist, or anything so ridiculously reductive as that. I love the stories and find them moving, but also very deeply embedded in a hazy and often contradictory romanticism that creeps into the worldbuild on the edges where his scholarly obsessions start to fade out.

Just one more zoomed-out, tangential thought about Amazon and Tolkien. I find it interesting that the same qualities that make some people worry about Amazon's stewardship of Tolkien's world are currently transforming the D&D game system, undoing the weirdly racially codified taxonomies that the game stole directly from the LotR imaginary.

I'm interested to see if we can find our way to a more cosmopolitan vision of resistance and moral courage in the face of tyranny. Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast seems to be finding a path through to that, but they are less suspect that the Bezos empire.

I saw the first two episodes of Rings of Power.

The diversity is a good thing. It makes sense. Elves especially should come in different colors unless Eru Iluvater is supposed to be an Aryan God. The same for dwarves— Aule shouldn’t be a racist either. Why would gods who put on physical forms like people wear clothes have a favorite skin color? One can get into the usual discussions about the extent to which Tolkien fell into racist tropes but I have no problem with people making an easy fix when filming his mythology.

But the dialogue was awful, at least whenever the High Elves were talking. One billion dollars and they couldn’t hire some decent scriptwriters? And while I don’t mind Galadriel as a warrior ( there are some hints of that in the unpublished stuff and she was one of the leaders in the Noldor trek across the Middle Earth version of the Arctic Ocean) they turned her into the cliched Hollywood character who is the only person to realize Sauron might be around. It was dumb. I understand the need to compress the timeline but they are doing it badly.

So much of it was painfully stupid and embarrassing, but I liked the Harfoots. They were diverse too. Trying to decide if that would be plausible— a medieval style nomadic culture— but I don’t care that much. Not giving up on the series, but it seems likely that much of the dialogue will continue to idiotic.

The Jackson movies were overrated— he really ruined some of the characters and parts of ROTK made me cringe— but so far they were a lot better than this show. But it has only been two episodes. Maybe the best thing to do is turn the sound off whenever one of the Noldor appear.

I liked Hugo Weaving speaking in iambic pentameter(?) whether in the The Matrix or LotR.

"One billion dollars and they couldn’t hire some decent scriptwriters?"

They could hire SCORES of them! Which doesn't mean that the result will be better than a smaller number of writers.

Too many cooks, etc.
Plus interference from the non-writers also, too. Not that I have any inside info, just "how it always is".

In LotR there are indications that there is an equivalent of Africa (Harad) while the informations about the East (Rhun) are so sparse that one cannot draw secure conclusions about ethnicity. From Gandalf we know that he was in Harad (where he was considered a spy from the North) but never in Rhun (and the two blue wizards disappeared there without a trace).

There are some speculations that the dwarves are Hebrew/Jews, at least their language is based on semitic structures.

As far as elves are concerned, there are the two subgroups that went West (languages based on Finnish and Welsh) while another group known as dark elves stayed somewhwere in the East. But the dark very likely does not refer to skin color*. Iirc they got under the power of Morgoth and were turned into what would later become the orcs (Iirc it is explicitly left uncertain, whether the orcs ARE ex-elves or whether they were merely a failed attempt by Morgoth to copy them like trolls were bad copies of ents [according to Treebeard]).

With hobbits there seem to be recognisably different tribes and they seem to have in general Northern European features but with a slightly darker skin colour on average (but more like strong tan than actually 'black').

So, there is some diversity but generally on the European model with the POC just out of frame, i.e. known to exist but not a major part of the story but also not necessarily evil. It is stated that Sauron deceived them into joining his side, and I can't remember any slurs (racial or not) used to refer to them.

C.S.Lewis is far more problematic there. Narnians are white and their eternal antagonists, the Calormenes, are clearly cliche Arabs with "swarthy" faces and also devil worshippers (the final volume of the series makes that explicit).

*Elves seem to be either blonde (e.g. Galadriel) or raven haired (e.g. Arwen) with fair skin a given in those specimens Tolkien presents us with.

Btw, I always imagined the people living at the ice bay of Forochel more as a kind of friendly Yeti than Inuit, although there is no explicit description of them.

The Druedain who lived all over Rohan before the Rohirrim arrived on the other hand give the impression of cave people (as they were imagined a century ago).

Fantasy dialogue is a tough needle to thread - moreso when one has to try to match the tone and expectations set by both literature and film across a diverse audience with varying levels of experience with the world.

I'm also trying to keep in mind that the show can only work with the material in LotR and its appendices. They don't have rights to either The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales. That's another set of constraints under which to labor.

So far I find it intriguing, and decent enough executed to hold my interest. Big budgets don't often translate into excellence, they are usually just a nudge towards competence and away from artistic risk.

I do find it fascinating to look at its reception among that portion of the LotR faithful who embraced the Jackson LotR and its changes, but have now decided that this latest endeavor is the LotR equivalent of the Disney SW films - ruined by its pursuit of SJWs.

It's like a pop culture version of the Counter-Reformation sometimes.

Every author, when trying to create aliens (including hobbit, elves, dwarves, etc., not to mention Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, etc.) works from the spectrum of characteristics he is fsmiliar with. It's always possible to reverse engineer what might have inspired particular alien species. The operative word being "might".

Perhaps the author has created multiple universes, with different species, and the same characteristics for heroes and villains. Perhaps there is additional evidence from outside his literary works. But without that, any conclusions about the author's suposed prejudices say more about the analyst than about the author.

Hartmut - if you are interested in some provocative discussions of Tolkien's attitudes towards heritage and language, I've been reading Kathy Lavezzo's "Whiteness, medievalism, immigration: rethinking Tolkien
through Stuart Hall" (available through Google Scholar, though unsure if it is available without institutional access). Tolkien had some pretty wacky attitudes towards language and genetics that seem deeply entangled in Romantic Nationalism.

wj - most of the work that explores Tolkien's attitudes towards race ground their analysis in Tolkiens scholarly writing and in his letters, fleshed out by outside accounts of Tolkien from those who interacted with him in relevant ways.

nous -- which puts that work on a far firmer basis than analyses which don't have that kind of support.

While I obviously don't have your depth of background, my impression is that a lot of them do not share that kind of support. Although that impression is necessarily skewed towards those which make it beyond the academic arena.

I confess that the I think some of the efforts to apply current standards to people in the past (i.e. from different cultures) go way too far. When there are military bases which were named after Confederate generals by folks clinging to the Lost Cause -- sure, never too late to correct that bit of sedition. If you want to change the name of something named for a slave trader (not named for one of his descendants, named for him) -- fine.

On the other hand, renaming a bunch of streets because the guy it's named for had a family who owned slaves, and brought one (1) black cook when he settled in California** -- that's getting silly. It's not like naming a street for him was intended to celebrate slavery. And if you want to rename anything named for or by anyone who owned slaves, consider that you're talking about renaming pretty much every major city and every geographic feature across the Southwest. (If you don't know that the Spanish here kept Native Americans as slaves, time to improve your education.)

** An effort currently in progress in San Jose.

Every author, when trying to create aliens (including hobbit, elves, dwarves, etc., not to mention Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, etc.) works from the spectrum of characteristics he is familiar with

The last Star Trek series I enjoyed and watched all of was Voyager (if that came after Next Gen and DS9, which I think it did and am too lazy currently to look up). I watched one episode of one of the prequels, and wasn't interested (apart from anything else, and I know it sounds nuts, but the tech seemed too old-fashioned!). But I saved Picard months ago for future need (on the grounds that Stewart is such a good actor it would probably be worthwhile), and by the same mysterious process when I suddenly, finally know it's time to read something (e.g. Murderbot, where I'm ekeing out the penultimate book because I don't want to finish the series), I have just this evening started watching the first Picard series. It seems pretty good, so I'm all in. Rings of Power, on the other hand, is not tempting me. I'll probably end up giving it a go, but (based on the reviews, and also because I'm not particularly a Tolkien devotee) I'm not anticipating it with great pleasure.

wj - I don't know of any broad sentiments to cancel Tolkien. If anything, the prospect of a career as a Tolkien scholar is better than it was when I entered grad school two decades ago.

All these fan culture waves of censure and backlash happen in a very different subculture. I generally try to steer well clear of it as anything other than a lurker.

I try to stay out of popular culture discussions about the meaning and literary merit of particular books. I have to shepherd the reading comprehension and critical thinking skills of too many first-year undergrads (from all different backgrounds, languages, and cultures) to want to do it a bunch in my spare time as well. Reading comprehension is as subject to Sturgeon's Law as anything else. And every response of mine would be a TLDR with an implicit bibliography, so...

I have to shepherd the reading comprehension and critical thinking skills of too many first-year undergrads

Those are skills all to desperately needed these days. I only wish we would teach them in high school. Preferably as a mandatory course.

Frankly, learning that seems even more important than, say, history. If you can read and comprehend, and evaluate what you read, you can learn history on your own. The reverse, not so much. Not to say that history isn't important -- as is made obvious by those who seem determined to repeat historic mistakes. But still, priorities.

nous, I can't get at the paper on Tolkien from home* but will probably be able to do so the next time (in about a week) when I go to the university library to check for something else.

*I can't log into the university net from the outside anymore, only from within.

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