Sunday, July 31, 2022

Statutes that were not good

because they had not complied with My ordinances, but had rejected My statutes and had profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were on the idols of their fathers. I also gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances by which they could not live

That's one of those tough sections. The best I come up with is that God gives us all logic, and if you follow the logic of your sins to their conclusions, it leads to stupidities: new rules that don't just double-down on evil but extend it in new directions.

Individuals who double-down on sins do tend to shift into greater sin, but the "statutes" aspect seems to apply more clearly to cultures than to individuals, since "rules" develop from groups. The picture I get is of a land where some are faithful and sensible, but the majority cling to syncretism and and from it learn the practices and logic of pagan sacrifices and rituals--in the Ezekiel case including human sacrifice.

We easily see the effects in our society of elevating particular principles to the status of a unique value--the result is Chesterton's virtues gone mad, and when gone mad, gone evil.

With that in mind, it isn't hard to look back at the last century or so and begin to see how Romans 1 isn't as arbitrary as it seems--we've had the misfortune to see it in action.

It still isn't quite enough of a key to unlock all of Ezekiel 16:49-50,52 for me. I still don't quite follow what restoration Sodom and her daughters are supposed to have (Moab and Ammon?), but if the original characteristic sin was arrogance and indifference to the poor, maybe that could have developed into the vileness displayed in Genesis. Perhaps that was their penalty--to embrace what they should have known was wrong.

Dimble: "Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse" The knowledge that his own assumptions led to Frost's position combined with what he saw in Frost's face and what he had experienced in this very cell, effected a complete conversion. All the philosophers and evangelists in the world might not have done the job so neatly.

Thursday, July 28, 2022


"Of one thing I am quite absolutely convinced, that the very idlest kind of holiday is the very best. By being idle you are mixing with the inmost life of the place where you are; by doing nothing you are doing everything. The local atmosphere finds you unresisting and fills you, while all the others have filled themselves with the stuff of guide-books and the cheerless east wind of culture. Above all, refuse—refuse with passion—to see any places of interest. If you violently decline to see the Castle of Edinburgh, you will have your reward, a delight reserved for very few: you will see Edinburgh."
There is a very plain and sensible reason why nobody need visit places of interest in foreign countries. It is simply that all over Europe, at any rate, places of interest are exactly the same. They all bear witness to the great Roman civilisation or the great mediaeval civilisation, which were mostly the same in all countries. The most wonderful things to be seen in Cologne are exactly the things that one need not go to Cologne to see.

The marvels are at all our doors. A clerk in Lambeth has no right not to know that there was a Christian art exuberant in the thirteenth century; for only across the river he can see the live stones of the Middle Ages surging together towards the stars. A yokel hoeing potatoes in Sussex has no right not to know that the bones of Europe are the Roman roads.(*)

Exactly the thing we have not in England is a French open-air café. Exactly the thing we have not in England is a German beer-garden. It is the common life of the people in a foreign place which is really a wonder and delight to the eyes. It is the ordinary things that astonish us in France or Germany. The extraordinary things we know quite well already. They have been thoroughly explained to us by the insupportable cicerones of Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. The man who refuses to be moved out of his seat in a Parisian café to see the Musée de Cluny is paying the grandest tribute to the French people. It is the same, of course, with the foreigner in England. There is no need for a Frenchman to look earnestly at Westminster Abbey as a piece of English architecture. It is not a piece of English architecture. But a hansom cab is a piece of English architecture. It is a thing produced by the peculiar poetry of our English cities.

(*) Unless, of course, our history is denied him.

UPDATE: Can't resist:

The scientific working-man endeavouring to explain to the others the law of gravity, or some such triviality, asks the omnibus conductor what would happen if he, the speaker, dropped a penny into his, the conductor's beer. I quote from memory: "It 'ud drop to the bottom wouldn't it?" says the scientist "Yuss," I says, "that's one of the things that 'ud 'appen. Another thing 'ud be that I should punch your fat 'ed off at the root for takin' a lib with my liquor." That is the sacred and immortal voice of mankind replying to the insolence of the specialist. The sociologist tells us that all sorts of things under certain conditions must happen, that the obliteration of nationality must happen, that the command of everything by science and scientific men must happen; and all because some particular economic or material fact must happen. "Yuss," we says. "That's one of the things that'll 'appen. Another thing'll be that we shall punch their fat 'eds off at the root for takin' a lib with the moral traditions of humanity."

UPDATE^2: "fire is the essence of nearly all ritual. ... Faith exhibits itself in works, and above all in fireworks." (in thoughts about a child begging for "Money for the Guy")

"Commit a sin, one of the monstrous and suffocating sins that stifled the Court of James—commit a sin, and you may be damned for it, but humanity will not be damned for it. A few centuries after, it will only be remembered as an opportunity for wearing a large cardboard nose."

UPDATE^3: "Before we congratulate ourselves upon the absence of certain faults from our nation or society, we ought to ask ourselves why it is that these faults are absent. Are we without the fault because we have the opposite virtue? Or are we without the fault because we have the opposite fault? It is a good thing assuredly, to be innocent of any excess; but let us be sure that we are not innocent of excess merely by being guilty of defect. ... Perhaps some great virtues have to be generated, as in men like Nelson or Emmet, before we can have these vices at all, even as temptations."

Wednesday, July 27, 2022


I wonder what Mohammed bin Salman is smoking. The Line seems claustrophobic and fragile.

Claustrophobic may be just me, but I'm probably not alone.

"Fragile" comes in several ways.

The ground shifts. What did your rail line just do?

If you make skyscrapers too tall you run into elevator capacity problems. You can avoid that in The Line by replicating everything every few miles, so you don't have to travel from one end to the other to get home. Except 1) people aren't quite like that; if this week's hot performer is appearing in the theater in Mile 82 you'll attract fans from all over and 2) it seems to lend itself to partitioning, with tribal zones appearing just as they do in Baltimore.

If a disaffected or striking group wanted to choke off transit, it would seem very hard to guard against--because they could strike almost anywhere, and there's no obvious way to flank blockages.

You can probably think of several others. I doubt this would be run as efficiently as the scheme Niven and Pournelle envisioned, though the conflicts outsiders seem like a reasonable prediction.

Another way to look at it is "What's in it for me?" "Why should I move there?"

  • if you're a single out of school--flexibility
  • married with small children--does it have schools, places to play?
  • a gardener--where can I plant?
  • someone with mobility problems--close to transport and to aides
  • married with older kids who need more challenges, like first jobs--oh wait this is Saudi Arabia

That's an American way of looking at it. A more natural question, under the circumstances, might be "Where do my wives and my children and my cousins and my grandparents and so on fit in?" Physical distance matters--for that matter, just being on a different floor from another group at work can cut down communications. Will people be satisfied with adjacent apartments, or does one need large suites?

UPDATE: See comments

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


This supernova made big news because it was the first (and so far only) one to be detected in signals other than light. Several neutrino detectors spotted it too--and they spotted it first. Current models of supernovae hold that the neutrino burst comes first, and drives the rest of the explosion--not that these energy ranges of neutrinos interact very strongly, but that there are so many of them and the star is so dense that the pressure makes the star explode.

Christian Spiering wrote a book about neutrino astronomy (currently only in German). In his description of SN1987A and his book in a newsletter he points out that the detection was a near-run thing. "In 1987, there were five detectors in the world that could be used for the detection of a short neutrino burst:"

  1. Kamiokande "was switched off for a routine calibration two minutes after the arrival of the neutrinos"
  2. IMB's magnetic tape was almost full and wouldn't have recorded it "unless a proud graduate student hadn’t wished to show his girlfriend the facility on Sunday evening. He drove down into the mine with her, noticed that the tape was nearly full, and exchanged it for a new one"
  3. Atryomovsk: it was Soviet Army day, which was effectively a holiday, and the detector was off
  4. Baksan: the director made sure it kept running despite the "holiday"
  5. Liquid Scintillation Detector: nothing went wrong, except maybe the detection itself, which is disputed to this day (they saw something earlier than the rest, with a smaller detector.

Uptime is important.

Monday, July 25, 2022


"Being a stranger, it would be immodest and unbecoming in me to suddenly and violently assume the associate editorship of the Buffalo Express without a single explanatory word of comfort or encouragement to the unoffending patrons of the paper, who are about to be exposed to constant attacks of my wisdom and learning. But this explanatory word shall be as brief as possible. I only wish to assure parties having a friendly interest in the prosperity of the journal, that I am not going to hurt the paper deliberately and intentionally at any time. I am not going to introduce any startling reforms, or in any way attempt to make trouble. I am simply going to do my plain, unpretending duty, when I cannot get out of it; I shall work diligently and honestly and faithfully at all times and upon all occasions, when privation and want shall compel me to do it; in writing, I shall always confine myself strictly to the truth, except when it is attended with inconvenience; I shall witheringly rebuke all forms of crime and misconduct, except when committed by the party inhabiting my own vest; I shall not make use of slang or vulgarity upon any occasion or under any circumstances, and shall never use profanity except in discussing house rent and taxes. Indeed, upon second thought, I will not even use it then, for it is unchristian, inelegant, and degrading--though to speak truly I do not see how house rent and taxes are going to be discussed worth a cent without it. I shall not often meddle with politics, because we have a political editor who is already excellent, and only needs to serve a term in the penitentiary in order to be perfect. I shall not write any poetry, unless I conceive a spite against the subscribers."

From a collection.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

At least we hadn't planned any trips for this week

Or next. Liquids and bed rest, and cancelling appointments. I've no idea which variant this one is, but we've all got it. Being sick makes me grumpy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Thoughts about Sparta

Not mine. Devereaux posted a series of essays on Sparta a few years ago. He has written a lot about pre-modern armies, among other things. If you haven't seen them, give them a read--Sparta's reputation differs considerably from its reality. His target audience is not familiar with helots, btw.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Probably not revenge for NPFL massacres

Bill Horace, one of Charles Taylor's commanders, was shot in Canada in 2020. "four armed men broke through the basement window. It was Father's Day. A struggle ensued, and shots were fired, with several bullets hitting Horace, who dragged himself outside to seek help. The men ran away after taking C$20,000 in cash."

The article calls him a warlord. BBC cites at least one gruesome massacre he commanded while serving Taylor. He moved to Canada in 2002 and applied for refugee status, and when that failed he appealed his removal repeatedly; then applied for permanent residence status in 2009 which he didn't yet have 13 years later when he underwent his permanent status change. That says a little about Canadian bureaucracy, I guess. The goverment was urged to charge him with war crimes, but they went for an immigration case. Odd, but maybe it was cheaper than flying witnesses to Canada.

His Canada family (as opposed to his Swedish one) filed a lawsuit against the Toronto Police asking for damages. If that sounds stupid, well...

"They have charged Keiron Gregory, 23, with second-degree murder." He's the son of police chief Trevor Gregory.

Just after midnight on 21 June 2020, the prosecution say Trevor got a text from his son Keiron, saying that he had been defrauded out of a large sum of money and that he had the licence plate of the man who had done it.

Shortly after, Trevor texted his police connections "strange car creeping through my hood… could you run this for me", the charges say.

After a colleague provided him with the address, Trevor wrote the information down on a piece of paper and invited his son over to his home. He stepped out of the room while his son took a photo of the information, the prosecution allege. Trevor will be sentenced in August.

Interesting family. And Bill Horace kept quite a lot of cash on hand, didn't he? He'd a conviction for theft too. And somehow Immigration didn't take it seriously.

Sunday, July 17, 2022


I don't think I've ever linked Tommaso Dorigo's blog. He wrote a book Anomaly!, about the CDF experiment, and posted "The Revenge of the Slimeballs" chapter online in 5 parts. I wish I could say I contributed to this result.

SLAC was running an electron collider--they were set to measure a "world's best" Z boson mass and width. An electron collider has far cleaner events than a proton/antiproton collider, and tight control of the center of mass energy. They were going to publish soon, but some of their members were less than polite about their competitors at the hadron collider (CDF and D0). True a hadron collider event is extremely messy and it is very hard to know what the center-of-mass energy is because the proton and antiproton are made of lots of parts that don't share energy exactly--so which ones hit each other?

But you shouldn't make people mad. They might take the challenge.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5

Spoiler--the CDF team managed to get the measurement, and get it better than the SLAC team, and even finagle a way to present it first.

Saturday, July 16, 2022


Do we have school shooters (for some reason) that are attracted to nihilism, or does a nihilist shift in social attitudes magnify the tail of the distribution of violent nuts that school shooters are drawn from?

I'm no expert on killers, but there does seem to have been a shift, within my lifetime, in what certainly looks like a nihilist direction. See “A nation is never conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.” I've heard a number of reasons for not having children, and many center around meaninglessness and disbelief in a future. (And also "can't afford" and "I have genetic issues")

If it were a nihilist culture shift, you'd expect to see differences with places that don't share the culture, and similarities with others that do--which would include a large fraction of Europe, although there are enough differences to make comparison fraught.


I have to do some sanding on the stairs, and would prefer not to fill the basement with dust.

I've two machines: a belt sander which would nominally work faster, but can't get to the edges well, and an orbital sander that works better than I thought--I can control pressure better.

The orbital sander throws most (well, maybe half) of its dust through a small dust bag. The belt sander lets you connect the shopvac hose to its filter port. We have a winner!

Except... I decided to vacuum out the orbital sander's dust bag, and kept getting stung. After a few moments a 2/3 inch spark told me why.

I think I'd better think it out again.

I have an intense dislike for paint strippers, based on unhappy experience, but I may have to revisit that option.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Hosanna in the Highest

What does Hosanna mean? In the Old Testament 'it is used only in verses such as "help" or "save, I pray"', but in the Gospels 'it is used as a shout of jubilation.' Wikipedia links a blurry scan as an example of the complicated effort at reconciliation of meanings. A Jewish site is easier to read. That it did shift meaning is clear enough from the rituals associated with Hoshana Rabbah (the seven hoshanot in honor of patriarch or prophet).

It isn't hard for words to shift meaning: hussy changed from housewife to "improper woman" in a little over a century. You'd think that liturgical words would be more stable, but "Thou" is widely believed to be a holy and respectful way to address God, and its original intimate familiar meaning got lost. If a phrase becomes less popular in everyday language, it would be easy to pick up new connotations, and have those eventually become the denotation.

If no one can see God and live, and if the angels Ezekiel saw had to hide their faces, perhaps the closer you get to God's glory the more you need His protection: joy and fear together; praise and please save. That's almost certainly not how the phrase's meaning developed, but it's interesting that it still connects.

It probably shows a character defect, but I don't like roller coasters.

Blue Letter Bible is a nice resource, but be careful teasing meanings out of word roots.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

There might have been an easier way

From the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, as spotted by my daughter:
Bragg was a remarkably intelligent and well-informed man, professionally and otherwise. He was also thoroughly upright. But he was possessed of an irascible temper, and was naturally disputatious. A man of the highest moral character and the most correct habits, yet in the old army he was in frequent trouble. As a subordinate he was always on the lookout to catch his commanding officer infringing his prerogatives; as a post commander he was equally vigilant to detect the slightest neglect, even of the most trivial order.

I have heard in the old army an anecdote very characteristic of Bragg. On one occasion, when stationed at a post of several companies commanded by a field officer, he was himself commanding one of the companies and at the same time acting as post quartermaster and commissary. He was first lieutenant at the time, but his captain was detached on other duty. As commander of the company he made a requisition upon the quartermaster—himself—for something he wanted. As quartermaster he declined to fill the requisition, and endorsed on the back of it his reasons for so doing. As company commander he responded to this, urging that his requisition called for nothing but what he was entitled to, and that it was the duty of the quartermaster to fill it. As quartermaster he still persisted that he was right. In this condition of affairs Bragg referred the whole matter to the commanding officer of the post. The latter, when he saw the nature of the matter referred, exclaimed: "My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarrelled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarrelling with yourself!"

Bragg was "thoroughly upright," and holding down jobs reflecting a possible conflict of interest. It sounds to me as though he also had a sense of humor as he tried to avoid the appearance of evil.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

African iron followup

Fischer's book African Founders referenced an article that supposedly claimed that some African iron production was superior to that in Europe at the time. That seemed a rather dramatic claim, so I checked Journal of African Archaeology, 2004, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2004), pp. 97-112: "What do we know about African iron working?"

Killick doesn't actually find anything that was better. The closest statement is:

In fact, as Schmidt notes, students of African metallurgy have documented an amazing variety of processes, many with no known counterparts on other continents - "a spectrum of variation of such diversity as to suggest that the term "bloomery" no longer does justice" to the range of evidence (p. 220). ... Schmidt goes on to argue that continuous innovation was the normal state in African iron smelting, with each iron worker improvising off a preexisting repertoire of techniques - much, I suppose, like a jazz musician improvising off a standard melody. I'm not sure that I agree with this latter point; iron working can succeed only within a very narrow window of temperature and gas composition, which tends to impose rather strict limits upon individual departures from a successful process.

I think Fischer misread the article. Killick takes the time to point out the flaws in claims that iron smelting was invented in Africa.

One of the books Killick reviewed was "Les Routes du Fer en Afrique," initially proposed by UNESCO with a plan for a number of activities which in the event turned out to result mostly in scholarly journal articles. Surprise, surprise. One of the activities startled me: "consider whether indigenous African techniques of iron production could be revived in remote rural areas as a cost-effective alternative to importing iron from outside the continent."

The answer is obviously no--small scale works aren't going to be efficient (see Mao's Great Leap Forward) and scrap metal is readily available to even remote iron workers.

Another face of hypocrisy

From First Things: The Hypocrisy of Masks
C. S. Lewis in a passage from his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Discussing his experience as a soldier in the Great War, he writes of a fellow soldier who was not only (like Lewis) a scholar from Oxford, but also—alarmingly to Lewis—“a man of conscience,” committed to adhering to taken-for-granted moral principles.

Embarrassed by the contrast with his own life, Lewis did his best to conceal the fact that he himself had not taken moral obligations so seriously.... "then I must conclude that hypocrisy can do a man good. To be ashamed of what you were about to say, to pretend that something which you had meant seriously was only a joke—this is an ignoble part. But it is better than not to be ashamed at all. ... When a boor first enters the society of courteous people what can he do, for a while, except imitate the motions? How can he learn except by imitation?"

A mask can be a tool to make me look good, but it could be a bandage too--protecting my wound until it heals, and protecting you from my uncleanness.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Leaven and letters

Jesus warned the 12 to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6) or "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and the leaven of Herod" (Mark 8:15). Embracing the power of "and", what did He mean?

I'm told the Pharisees were huge on getting everybody involved--the Law wasn't just for priests. Teaching was pretty central, and the key was rules. In some ways they were closer to Jesus that the other groups--you can get in more fights with your family than strangers, they're nearby more often. Hedges about the law meant even more rules, but with some care there could be ways around them. A modern example: carrying keys might be forbidden work on the Sabbath, but if your key ring was on a cord attached to your belt, you weren't carrying the keys but getting dressed, which didn't violate the Sabbath rules. That sort of hairsplitting doesn't seem to express a living faith.

The Saducees managed the temple: Pay pray and obey. Religious politics seem to have been a big deal, and so was the connection with the worldly powers that had taken on themselves to appoint chief priests. They were doing quite well from temple business, and were skeptical of the prophets.

When I think of Herod I think of entertainment. And "ignore my sins." He'd enjoyed listening to John, but not repenting. Power and prestige were central. Jesus wouldn't even talk to him, though earlier He'd sort-of sent a message.

Essenes don't appear, unless John the Baptist was one. They were more like separatists, with a focus on purity and unshakeable conviction that the temple was a blasphemous farce. Since Jesus doesn't mention them at all, I suppose they weren't an issue among His disciples. So skip them.

We're pretty sure the leaven of the Pharisees was the focus on rules and models. It looks like the leaven of Herod was looking at religion as an accessory, and rejecting any rules. And the Saducees: rituals from the religious establishment are all you need.

Probably any church big enough will manage to cover all those bases in a single assembly--sometimes even alternately in a single member.

I wonder what He'd say to churches today? Maybe the 7 messages still apply. Well, maybe only 5.

Symrna and Philadelphia: tribulation is coming, be faithful. Tribulation is coming from those who think they're rendering service to God--lots of churches around the world fit that description.

Pergamum and Thyatira: have been faithful but you tolerate Nicolaitans and/or Balaamites and Jezebel who seduce people to idolatry and sexual immorality. but affirms that unlawful unions are a good thing, and places the highest happiness in pleasure, as does the man who is falsely called a Nicolaitan, this person can neither be a lover of God, nor a lover of Christ, but is a corrupter of his own flesh, and therefore void of the Holy Spirit, and a stranger to Christ. That fits some famous churches. Herod?

Ephesus: left first love, but at least you hate the Nicolaitans. I can think of a few like this. Is this usually a Pharisee-type?

Sardis: dead. Oops. I didn't think this is the demographic death type (e.g. where nobody speaks German anymore, or where all the children leave to work in the cities) but maybe it can be--not adapting to/welcoming new ethnicities. Rules and ritual are all that's left? Maybe it applies to Herod too--any of them taken to the limit.

Laodicea: nauseatingly lukewarm. Herod, taking nothing in religion seriously.

There seem to be problems in churches that don't map onto these well. Two that jump out at me are political splits (a form of idolatry?) and ethnic splits (Irish Catholic vs Mexican Catholic), and another is the abandonment of orthodox understandings about life and sex--though that one probably falls under Balaamite/Nicolaitan. Paul complains about disputes about words, of course, and that's a popular problem too. Maybe that one is the leaven of the Academy...

Some problems I assume He'd have simple and strong words for: Does believing in a pre-trib or post-trib rapture change how you worship God or treat your neighbor? No? Then make peace. Others, such as whether to use two fingers or three when making the sign of the Cross technically change how you worship God, though from outside I don't feel the importance of it.

Kite question

The word is that kites were invented in China, but they were used in Polynesia in nearly the same time frame. You need something thin (paper or some kind of thin bark or leaves) and something rigid and light (twigs) and clear area (jungle doesn't work) and some occasional stiff winds. And string.

Why didn't the Egyptians figure it out? The question that started this rabbit hole journey Papyrus and reeds should work, and they had string. But papyrus is kind of thick. It might need a bit stronger wind to do anything interesting. And maybe it was too expensive to play with.

Similarly in the Americas": there was paper, but apparently it wasn't plentiful.

Fabric works, if it is thin enough (like silk, see China above). A lot of simple cloth wasn't. Egyptian linen might have been, although "it was coarse compared with modern linen."

Unless you were rich and curious, I guess it would have been hard to experiment with flying things.

Friday, July 08, 2022


Upidee lyrics according to Bobby Horton (Homespun Songs of the CSA V2) are a humorous complaint about the bugler. "He saw, as in their bunks they lay, Tra la la! Tra la la! How soldiers spent the dawning day Tra la la la la "There's too much comfort there," said he, "And so I'll blow the 'Reveille'." (I wonder if Irvin Berlin knew the song.)

Most of us probably know Upidee better from this:

But perhaps this is weirder: the tune went into a hymnary to accompany a modified version of Longfellow's Excelsior!

I would have had a little talk with the music minister after the service....


When I think of assassinations I think of things like Heydrich (killed by British-supplied Czech troops) or the Day of the Jackal's professional killer. But I suspect that nudging fanatics along is less traceable and safer, if less reliable.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Lurking gator

An alligator was found in a lake near Green Bay. It wasn't very big.

Somebody must have brought it here and either lost or abandoned it. Although alligators can survive a little while if the water is frozen over, it gets a bit too cold for them. Maybe one could bury itself deeply enough in the mud, but I doubt it.

The alligator's "brumation"--quasi-hibernation while still awake--is new to me. It doesn't sound like they can do much until they warm up, though

Now that I think of it, it reminds me of ticks, which in contrast are not rare here. They can sit still waiting for a host for months. But they spring into action immediately.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Discovering that your peers (and you) were wrong

3 Things I Got Wrong About Patriarchy.

"Patriarchy" is a curse word. Extremes are obviously bad. Are flexible patriarchies also supposed to be evil? I missed the memo.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Friday, July 01, 2022

Art that wasn't supposed to be interactive

Exhibit at MMOCA defaced.

Sounds bad--there wasn't anybody keeping an eye on the area in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

In March, a white staff member at the adjacent Overture Center for the Arts aggressively confronted Gee, who is Black, on her way back inside the building after retrieving art supplies from her car because she was entering a door not generally open to the public.

The experience led Gee to halt work on her mural, intended to "give light to Black girls who have been silenced and erased," and display it unfinished, she said.

Gee's interrupted art installation looked like a workspace, with half-finished circular canvasses lying on a white table, a blank mural, paints, brushes and a video in which Gee recites an open letter she read aloud at the exhibit's opening.

A mother and 2 kids came in and did some painting of their own.

They tried to take their little canvasses home with them, but museum staff noticed them and stopped them. There was some unspecified "escalation" but nobody was arrested.

As of Thursday, however, there was no sign instructing visitors not to touch or interact with the piece.

The point of the museum "is to break down barriers for participation in art," said Karin Wolf, the city's arts program administrator. While she stressed she hoped the incident would not create new barriers, Wolf said the museum should only open the area if it has staff to "facilitate" visitors' interactions with the art.

"Artists of color are more likely to be mistaken for not being artists, and to have their work taken less seriously," Wolf said.

"I want to know: How does this change how Madison views MMoCA?" Gee said.

I don't know about Madison, but you can probably guess how I view an art museum that displays skill-free art.

Let's see if I know enough of the lingo: If a political statement identifies as art, why is its purely verbal description privileged over its non-verbal semiotics?