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Girl gangs: Portraits of Chicano girl culture from the 1990s
07.21.2017
09:36 am
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Artist Guadalupe Rosales established and curates Veteranas and Rucas an Instagram account dedicated to documenting Chicano youth culture of Southern California in the 1990s. What started out in 2015 as a way to reconnect with lost friends and half-remembered acquaintances from her own teenage days soon developed into a richer, broader, far more important history of the lives of women (and men) raised in SoCal and beyond.

Veteranas and Rucas serves as a digital archive where strangers, close friends and family share a virtual space that speaks a language many of us can relate to….The attention that the Instagram has received has resurrected a part of history that hasn’t been talked about or well documented—yet so many people were excited to see it come back. Working on Veteranas and Rucas made me realize how important this subculture is.”

Rosales who grew up in LA asks people to submit their own photographs of life in SoCal during this period. Her site takes its name from the words “Veterana” which means “someone who has put in work or time in the gang culture,” and “‘ruca’ [which] is what you call your chick.” Anyone who knows these words, Rosales adds, will be able to connect with her and Chicano culture.

Photographs carry complex messages. They make solid a person, a moment, a feeling, or some shared event of deeply personal significance. They also capture the space within which these fleeting moments take place. Rosales documents many of these neighborhoods which have been lost with the rise of the behemoth urban gentrification devouring and repopulating these once mainly ethnic and working class areas.

In 2000, Rosales quit LA—just a few years after a cousin was killed in Boyle Heights. She moved to New York where she witnessed another kind of gentrification taking place in the city. This led Rosales to gradually reconnect with the friends and people with whom she had grown-up. The connections she renewed inspired Rosales to start her archive of ‘90s Chicano youth.

“What I’m interested in posting is women that look like strong women….They look tough, and I like showing photographs like that because I want to say that women can be attractive when they’re strong women.”

See more from Rosales Veterana and Rucas here.
 
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More Veteranas and Rucas, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.21.2017
09:36 am
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Gorgeous color Autochromes of American women from over 100 years ago
07.18.2017
08:50 am
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‘Woman’s face’ (circa 1915).
 
A clairvoyant once told me I’d soon be working on a very big book. Her words sounded good. I considered their promise. I was a would-be middleweight tyro hoping to type out my magnum opus by twenty-one. A month or two later, there I was, just as she had said, working on a very big book in a university library but not the one I had imagined. This was a big book of last wills and testaments. My job was to work through this massive tome, transcribing the details by hand and then typing them up into a computer file.

The work was repetitive, dull, and mind-numbingly boring. The only respite was smoking weed with a workmate every lunchtime to loosen up the old synapses into some creative daydreams. There weren’t even the luxury of pictures to make the work just a wee bit more interesting. I’d spend the afternoons imagining faces of the people named in the book. Names like:

Ada Derwent, spinster, 79, born 1798, died intestate July 18th, 1876.
Robert MacFarlane, lamplighter, 46, born 1823, died intestate August 1st, 1869.

Who were these people? What did they look like? Where did they live? What were their lives like? That kinda thing. Nothing too original, or too taxing—just giving long-forgotten names substance. Up popped Cruickshank illustrations, scratchy-nibbed sketches that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Dickens’ novel or b&w photographs of grimy-faced Victorian laborers.

I worked my way through two or three of these thousand page books before quitting. I was none the wiser to what all these people looked like or discovering more about the lives they lived other than the written facts of birth, death and what they left behind.

If there had been pictures, my understanding may have been better. By which meander, I come to these beautiful color Autochromes of women from over a hundred years ago. We can see their faces, their clothes, their surroundings, and glean a sense of their lifestyle. Photographic portraits can tell us more about the subject than a listing of the facts as we tend to look at pictures in a far more positive way than we do at words. We look for connections that tell us about who we are, what we feel, and what we think.
 
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‘Dancer wearing Egyptian-look costume with wings reaching to the floor’ (ca. 1915).
 
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‘Woman posed as sphinx’ (ca. 1910).
 
More century-old color Autochromes, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.18.2017
08:50 am
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When a glimpse of stocking was something shocking: Vintage erotic postcards of 1920’s flappers
07.17.2017
09:24 am
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Before the First World War, postcards were the Twitter of the day. They were used to share personal news, arrange appointments, or pass on messages of love—though thankfully, there was very little of the trolling we all have to endure today. There was also a small but highly profitable cottage industry for erotic postcards which increased dramatically during the War years. This was one way by which governments and generals thought they could keep the boys on the frontline happy by giving them some reason for fighting—saving the sexy young maidens of France from the hairy, uncouth hands of the Hun, and so forth. Millions of such cards were produced by the French during the War, which led to the moniker “French postcards” being applied to all erotic postcards whether they were made in France or not.

After the War, these naughty French postcard were still popular. This popularity offered some young women some independence and an easy way to make a quick franc or three. There is a genuine innocence about these photographs of young women flashing a white thigh above stocking top, or posing nude like a Greek goddesses, or playacting as a saucy French maid, which make them far more erotic than the bare-all, gynecological pictures of today’s cynical world of porn.
 
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More dirty French postcards, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.17.2017
09:24 am
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Doctor Faust’s handy guide to conjuring up demons
07.14.2017
10:39 am
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The story of Doctor Johann Georg Faust is better known through literature and legend than by the few existing facts which document his life. Even his birth date is an estimate ranging from 1466 to 1480, which covers two broken mirrors’ worth of supposition. Anyway, what little is known can be roughly put down thus:

Faust was a scholar and a Doctor of Philosophy. He was an itinerant alchemist, astrologer, magician, and occultist. He performed magic tricks in shows and wrote horoscopes on commission. During his life, he was variously described as a trickster, a fraud, and a con man—-mainly due to customers dissatisfied with their horoscopes. He was denounced by the Church as being “in league with the Devil,” a necromancer, a practitioner of Black Magic, and a “sodomite” who corrupted and abused his students. This latter accusation almost led to his arrest and imprisonment.

He wrote several grimoires and chapbooks, including the chapbook featured here Praxis Magia Faustiana (1527) in which he described how to conjure up demons like “Mephistopheles.” This was the very first time the name “Mephistopheles” was ever documented. According to legend, Mephistopheles was the demon to whom Faust sold his soul in return for unlimited knowledge and wealth. We don’t what exactly happened when Faust “conjured” up this demon, we do, however, have Faust’s description of him as one of the Seven Great Princes of Hell who:

...stands under the planet Jupiter, his regent is named Zadikel, an enthroned angel of holy Jehovah…his form is firstly that of a fiery bear, the other and fairer appearance is as of a little man with a black cape and a bald head.

Doesn’t sound so terribly demonic, does it?

Faust did have some fans—including one bishop who considered his astrological work very convincing and some academics who praised his medical knowledge. But generally, he was greatly feared and was banished from Ingolstadt in 1528. Faust died in an explosion during an alchemical experiment circa 1541. His body was hideously scarred. This gave rise to the legend he had died during a conjuring rite and the Devil had sent his emissary Mephistopheles to bring Faust’s soul to Hell.

Faust’s chapbooks provided the source material for Christopher Marlowe‘s play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (circa 1588), in particular the following volume that first detailed Faust’s dealing with the tricky Mephisopheles.

The text opens with a long list of the names of angels and demons before invoking the “Spirit by the power and virtue of the letters which I have inscribed - do I command thee to give me a sign of thy arrival.”

Then more names:

Larabay + Belion + Sonor + Soraman + Bliar + Sonor + Arotan + Niza + Raphael + Alazaman + Eman + Nazaman + Tedoyl + Teabicabal + Ruos, Acluaar + Iambala + Cochim

Zebaman + Sehemath + Egibut + Philomel + Gazaman + Delet + Azatan + Uriel + Facal + Alazamant + Nisia + By the most sacred and holy mercy of God + Zeyhomann + Acluaas + Niza + Tachal + Neciel + Amatemach + Her somini +

By this I compel thee to appear unto me before this circle and to do what I command thee…

Before finishing:

Now do I conjure and command thee O Evil Spirit by the powers of Heaven and by the words of life…Mephistophilis and by the power off the words +Tetragram + Agla + Adonay + Amin

~Snip!~

Now I conjure thee to come from thy abode even from the farthest parts by these great and mighty names - Tetragrammaton - Adonai - Agla - and to appear before me receiving and executing my demands truly and without falsehood I command thee O Spirit Rumoar -, even by t[h]y great sovereign Lucifer.

A full transcript can be read here.
 
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More of Faust’s conjuring tricks, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.14.2017
10:39 am
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Beautiful vintage portraits of the last of the traditionally tattooed Māori women
07.12.2017
10:57 am
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Moko is the name for a Māori permanent body marking. It was originally carved with bones creating a scarring on the skin rather than a tattoo made with a needle and ink. Each moko is unique to the wearer. It depicts the story of the wearer’s family, their ancestral tribe, and their position within that group. The moko is created by the Tohunga tā moko. Māori men have moko on their faces, backs, buttocks, and thighs. Women mostly have a moko kauae on their lips, chins, and necks, and occasionally on their foreheads.

In Māori culture:

A moko on the face is the ultimate statement of one’s identity as a Māori. The head is believed to be the most sacred part of the body. To wear the moko on the face is to bear an undeniable declaration of who you are.

After the Brits colonized New Zealand, ta moko declined as a cultural form. This was partly due to the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907, which outlawed Māori medical practices. As these were closely linked to Māori spiritual and cultural traditions, the Māoris lost much of their culture and became what was termed as a “lost race.” The Act was eventually repealed in 1962.

These photographs of Māori women were taken circa 1900-1910. These were among some of the last women to wear the traditional moko kauae before its resurgence in recent decades.
 
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More beautiful portraits of Māori women, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.12.2017
10:57 am
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Fallen Angel: Evelyn McHale’s ‘Beautiful Suicide’
07.11.2017
11:14 am
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Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America. On average there are 121 suicides every single day. Fifty percent of these are achieved with firearms. Just over a quarter are the result of hanging or suffocation. Poisoning makes up about fifteen percent. 

In 2015, seven out of ten suicides were white males, with the highest percentage being middle-aged men. A total of 494,169 were taken to the hospital due to attempted “self-harm.” That works out to an average of twelve people self-harming for every successful suicide. However, most suicide attempts go unreported which means there is an estimated one million US citizens who attempt suicide every year.

For those who have no access to a gun or to poison or worry that hanging might leave them paralyzed from the neck down, then jumping off a tall building or a bridge is the preferred choice for about five percent of all suicides. Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is the top spot for those who choose to jump. To date, around 1600 people have jumped from the bridge—an average of one person jumping to their death every two weeks. However, approximately one in fifty survives the fall—usually with life-changing injuries. Part of the attraction to jumping is the spectacle, as one Golden Gate suicide survivor Ken Baldwin explained in 2011:

“Jumping from the bridge was going to force people to see me….To see me hurting, to see that I was a person, too.”

The moment Mr. Baldwin let go of the rail and began to freefall downwards, he quickly realized that:

“...everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable – except for having jumped.”

He was lucky enough to survive to tell his tale after being pulled out of the water by the coast guard.
 
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Suicide has had a bizarre, and let’s be honest, dumb romantic appeal since Cleopatra was bitten by an asp. This notion was further endorsed by the English Romantic poets, in particular, Thomas Chatterton who poisoned himself at the tender age of seventeen—supposedly in fear of having caught a dose of the clap. This trend to romanticize suicide carries on to present day which sadly suggests we never learn from our mistakes. And I can ‘fess up to being that special kind of stupid having survived two suicide attempts. As Dorothy Parker noted—it ain’t worth it and we might as well live.

The photograph that perhaps captures this strange romantic idea about suicide as somehow “beautiful” was taken by student Robert Wiles on Thursday, May 1st, 1947. His photograph shows the body of Evelyn McHale atop a limousine parked outside the Empire State Building on 33rd Street, New York. Evelyn was a 23-year-old bookkeeper with the Kitab Engraving Company. She had just returned to New York from celebrating her fiance Barry Rhodes’ 24th birthday on April 30th, in Easton, Pennsylvania. Rhodes later said he had no idea of Evelyn’s intentions:

“When I kissed her goodbye she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.”

At some point on the train journey back to the city, Evelyn made her mind up to commit suicide. Arriving at Penn Station, Evelyn is believed to have entered the Governor Clinton Hotel where she wrote her suicide note which read:

“I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family – don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me. My fiance asked me to marry him in June. I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody. He is much better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.”

The most telling part is Evelyn’s line about having “too many of [her] mother’s tendencies.”

Evelyn was the sixth of seven children born to Vincent and Helen McHale. In 1930, the family moved to Washington D.C. where her father worked as Federal Land Bank Examiner. This was the year Evelyn’s mother Helen quit the family home leaving Vincent to look after the children. It’s not known why Helen McHale moved out.
 
Read more about the ‘beautiful suicide’ of Evelyn McHale after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.11.2017
11:14 am
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The bizarre story of the ‘Seven Sutherland Sisters’ girl group & their 37-feet of hair
06.19.2017
08:59 am
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A promotional photo of the Sutherland Sisters.
 
The Sutherland Sisters were all born sometime between 1845 and 1865 in a poor, rural farming community in Cambria, New York. The Sutherland family owned a turkey farm which the girls all worked on, though their barefoot farming days would be short-lived. After their mother passed away in 1867, their father, Fletcher Sutherland—a notoriously lazy and unmotivated man who had inherited the farm from his multi-talented father—would spend the rest of his life trying to get rich by pimping his daughters out in various ways including as a musical act. A huge part of the girl’s appeal was the fact that between the seven of them, they possessed 37-feet of hair—an incomprehensible number when, if you do the math quickly in your head, would translate to each sister having at least five feet of hair on her head. Their musical performances would always conclude with their father commanding them to “Let down your hair!’ which they did to the delight of their legions of fans.

While I’m on the topic of the girls’ somewhat disturbing amount of hair, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention their dear mother’s homemade hair tonic which apparently helped her daughters grow hair like weeds. While she was still alive, Mrs. Sutherland would apply her unique “hair growth” tonic (which was made up of bay rum, witch hazel, salt, magnesia and hydrochloric acid), to her daughters’ luxurious hair. Apparently, the crazy concoction Mrs. Sutherland Frankensteined together in her kitchen smelled horrific, and this led to the girls being treated as social outcasts at school. There may have been a sense of collective relief between the sisters after their mother passed as it meant that the mysterious hair tonic, went to the grave along with her.

The shortest hair of all of the siblings belonged to the oldest sister, Sarah whose dark mane measured three feet in length. The record for the longest hair of the seven sisters would go to Victoria who quite literally had to drag seven-feet of hair along with her at all times. The rest of the girls’ hair varied in length from four and a half to six-plus feet each, and their fantastic tresses would attract oglers from all over. As I mentioned, the Sutherland Sisters were also a musical act that performed together under the name of the “Seven Sutherland Sisters” and by all historical accounts were quite talented, though there is no doubt that the real reason that their musical performances played to packed venues was due people wanting to get a look at their storied, Rapunzel-esque locks.
 

A group photo of the ‘Seven Sutherland Sisters’ and their father Fletcher Sutherland (pictured third from the left).
 
The girls’ greedy, opportunistic patriarch quickly realized the cash potential of exploiting his daughters’ alarmingly-long hair and came up with a scheme that would make the family rich beyond their wildest dreams. The crafty Fletcher whipped up his late wife’s repulsive smelling hair tonic and marketed it as the “Greatest Hair Tonic on Earth.”  Fletcher sold over 2.5 million bottles of the tonic with the help of his daughters who embarked on a non-stop promotional tour across the country, which would draw throngs of curious onlookers as well as customers willing to shell out as much as $1.50 for a bottle of the fabled hair-growth tonic, a huge sum of money for anything, especially something that wasn’t considered a necessity, at the time. They were also popular attractions at circuses including Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, where they were billed by P.T. Barnum as “The World’s Greatest, Most Pleasing Wonders.” The girls were often solicited by individuals who would make grandiose financial promises to them in exchange for some of their hair. But for the first time in their poverty-riddled lives, the Sutherland sisters didn’t need cash as the sale of the tonic and other hair products, which, by 1890 would earn them an astonishing three million dollars in less than five years time. But like a lot of stories that involve people who have hit the financial “jackpot” so-to-speak, the lives of the Sutherland sisters would soon embark on a slow, sad slide downhill.
 

An ad for the Sutherland Sisters ‘Hair and Scalp’ cleaner that included the astonishing measurements of each sister’s hair length.
 
After Fletcher passed away in 1888, the girls all moved back into a mansion that they had built on the very site where their old farmhouse once stood. No expense was spared when it came to the construction of their new home which had fourteen rooms filled with lavish European furniture and even running water, which was a bonafide luxury reserved for the wealthy at the time. Each sister had their own maid who was required to take the very best care of their world-famous hair. Before the construction of the mansion was complete, the sisters would suffer another loss—the death of sister Naomi. Though devasted by her passing, it wouldn’t stop the girls from continuing to live their chosen lifestyle, which now routinely included a steady diet of booze, drugs, non-stop parties and sex orgies which were in stark contrast to their church-going, good-girl images. Other rumors surrounding the girls included the notion that they actively practiced witchcraft—which while it wouldn’t exactly get you burned at the stake like the good-old-days—was still not considered a respectable pastime. Mary, the youngest, who had long suffered from profound psychological issues, became progressively worse and would often spend her days locked away in a room in the mansion before she was formally committed an insane asylum in Buffalo, New York.

Frederick Castlemaine, a French nobleman and noted opium and morphine addict who was pursuing Dora Sutherland (the “pretty” sister), would end up dumping poor Dora and instead would propose to her older sister Isabella and her six feet of hair. The unstable, drug-addled Castlemaine would later commit suicide during one of the sisters’ promotional tours. Victoria Sutherland, who during good times would adorn her nails with diamonds, was evicted from the home by her siblings in disgust after she married a nineteen-year-old suitor who was nearly 30-years her junior. Sarah Sutherland would pass away in 1919 and Dora would be killed in a car accident near Hollywood that same year while her remaining sisters were trying to entice a movie studio into making a film based on their remarkable lives. The advent of the uber-stylish hairdo known as the “Bob” in 1920 would deliver the final death-blow to the family as their long hair was now considered completely out of vogue. The sisters would all die penniless including Grace who, along with her five feet of hair, outlived all of her siblings, and would end up being buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave after passing away at the age of 92.

I’ve posted some photos of the Sutherland Sisters below as well as some other historical artifacts associated with their mythical hair below.
 

Dora Sutherland.
 

Grace Sutherland.
 

Mary Sutherland.
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Cherrybomb
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06.19.2017
08:59 am
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‘The Modern Antiquarian’: Julian Cope’s guided tour of the megaliths of Britain
06.16.2017
12:07 pm
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Sure, everyone knows about Stonehenge, but it might not be quite as widely known that stone rings and megaliths dating back several thousand years, well before the birth of Christ, are quite common in Europe and especially Great Britain. Julian Cope, formerly of the Teardrop Explodes, set out to remedy that with his stupendously informative books The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-Millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain (1998) and The Megalithic European: The 21st Century Traveller in Prehistoric Europe (2004).

One of Cope’s pet tropes is the concept of “moving forward,” an idea strong enough to yoke his original clan in the postpunk movement and his country’s forebears of the Neolithic era (4500-2000 B.C.), as in his opening salvo, which runs, “Rock and roll didn’t start off as an excuse for sloth. It started off because people were forward-thinking mofos.” Amusingly, at one point Cope compares the druids responsible for a given megalith as exhibiting the same mentality as “glam rockers.” This theme would find even deeper expression in Cope’s sprawling 2012 book Copendium.
 

  
Cope’s enthusiasm is undeniably infectious, whether in his survey of Krautrock, his investigation into Japanese rock, or his obsession with megalithic stone circles. In 2000, between the publication of the two books, the BBC aired an hour-long program called The Modern Antiquarian in which Cope drives all around Britain for two weeks in order to visit the many remarkable hill forts, monuments, stone circles, and barrows, especially in the west and far north of Britain.

Stonehenge and Avebury are the two best-known sites, but to his credit Cope does not emphasize them much, opting instead to show off locales such as the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, Scotland, which may well be the oldest henge site in the British Isles; Long Meg and Her Daughters in Cumbria, the sixth-largest stone circle in Britain; and the Callanish Stones in the Outer Hebrides, which was possibly a prehistoric lunar observatory.
 

Section of the Ring of Brodgar, in Orkney, Scotland
 
It’s difficult to look at the meticulously arranged stones and not wonder what it could all have been about. This is far from the often hoax-y realm of crop circles—after all, this may be the earliest tangible evidence of religious or scientific feeling in ancient peoples. Cope penetratingly points out that any of these constructs suggests the existence of “free time,” in that a culture that was scrapping for mere survival could never have undertaken such projects.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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06.16.2017
12:07 pm
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War Games: A 15th-century guide to violent combat
06.15.2017
09:58 am
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So, you want to learn how to fight like one of the world’s great duelists? Or maybe like a warrior from Game of Thrones? How about Jaime Lannister? Or, Brienne of Tarth? Or, maybe Bron or Ser Arthur Dayne, or even like the “Hound” Sandor Clegane? Well, you could do no better than seek some useful advice from one of the world’s oldest fencing manuals Flower of Battle (Fior di Battaglia, Flos Duellatorum) published in 1409 and written by the legendary Italian fencing master Fiore Furlano de Cividale d’Austria, delli Liberi da Premariacco or Fiore dei Liberi for short.

Del Liberi was an itinerant knight of the late 14th and early 15th-centuries, a man of action, an occasional diplomat, and a highly respected fencing master. He traveled across Italy, France and Germany training young condottieri in the art of swordsmanship and dueling. He was very particular in his choice of pupils and only taught those he considered to be worthy of his knowledge. On at least five separate occasions he fought duels of honor against those he refused to teach. Unsurprisingly, he always won. Though I’m sure his opponents would have picked up a few tricks from their humiliation.

It is not known when exactly del Liberi was born, though an estimate suggests he was born in Italy circa 1350. This is solely based on his introduction to the Flower of Battle where stated he had been training as a swordsman for “forty years or more.” As most swordsmen started learning their craft around the age of ten, this would make del Liberi in his fifties when he first started work on his combat manual Flower of Battle in the early 1400s.

Flower of Battle is a beautifully illustrated guide book split into several different sections explaining the intricacies of combat. These include top tips on wrestling, defenses against an enemy using a dagger, fighting with daggers (and not getting stabbed), fighting with a one-handed sword (and not getting killed), fighting with a two-handed sword (and not getting a hernia), as well as fighting in armor (without falling over), how to use a poleax (and win!), fighting with a longsword (and verily smite your enemies), and jousting and combat with a lance and spear (without falling off your horse). The teacher is identified with a gold crown on his head. The first set of illustrations in each section shows how to attack, the second how to defend.

The manual is believed to have been written for the wealthy nobleman Niccolò III d’Este who wanted his sons schooled in the art of combat—something that was essential for maintaining power in the tumultuous 15th-century. Only four editions of del Liberi’s Flower of Battle are known to exist. This one (in the public domain) is kept at the Getty where a full English translation of the book can also be found. Now that Canada has made dueling legal once again, it may be time to learn how to duel like the Italian master Fiore dei Liberi or at least like Jon Snow or Arya Stark.
 
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Hone up on your combat skills, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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06.15.2017
09:58 am
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‘The Nuclear War Fun Book’: Morbid laffs from the end of the world
06.14.2017
12:26 pm
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The prospect of catastrophic nuclear war has an interesting effect on the human psyche. My dad used to work for a man named Herman Kahn, who became famous in the early 1960s for writing a book called Thinking About the Unthinkable, which sought to analyze outcomes in which some portion of humanity survived the conflict more or less normally. Kahn’s reward for this was being savagely caricatured in the form of the Groeteschele character played by Walter Matthau in Sidney Lumet’s 1964 drama Fail-Safe. (Just a few months earlier, Kahn, along with Wernher von Braun, John von Neumann, and Edward Teller, became one of the quartet of people that went into the creation of Peter Sellers’ delirious eponym in Stanely Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.)

The Reagan years were an interesting time to be terrified of a war between the Russians and the Americans. For whatever reason the year 1983 was the, er, “ground zero” for the trope in pop culture. You had the absolute non plus ultra of “event TV” in ABC’s televised movie The Day After, which on November 20, 1983, imagined a nuclear warhead taking out Lawrence, Kansas. The same year saw the release of the grim Jane Alexander movie Testament and the sprightly hacker fantasy WarGames, both of which drew narrative oomph from the prospect of mushroom clouds over America. And of course the Wolverines of Red Dawn would beat the Russians guerrilla style a year later.

In 1982, however, a delicious and peculiar bit of black comedy hit the bookshelves, a parody of a children’s activity book that was executed almost too well—squint, and you just might mistake it for an earnest and actual fun book for the Armageddon to come. Which might be a backhanded way of saying the book isn’t really all that funny. But it sure is interesting.

The book was written by Victor Langer and Walter Thomas. You have to give them credit, they really nailed the tone they were going after, from the earnest assurance that some “prewar” activities have been included so that kids don’t have to wait until nuclear disaster strikes to begin having fun, to the bleak and vivid prospect of a “paper doll nuclear wardrobe,” which enables you to dress up mom and dad in a bodybag.

I don’t know much about the two authors, except that parodies such as this was Langer’s stock in trade for a while there—other titles included The IRS Coloring Book, Surviving Your Baby and Child, and a parody of The Whole Earth Catalog under the title The Whole Whog Catalog that somehow featured an introduction by none other than Chevy Chase.

Now that we’re annoyed at the Russians again, this book weirdly seems very much of our own time somehow, which might account for the startling prices the book is fetching on Amazon.
 

 

 
More from this remarkable little book after the jump…...
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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06.14.2017
12:26 pm
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