Cat Samurai Mystery Solved!

Just in time for AnimeCon 2018, I have finally found out the origin of the samurai-walking-a-cat artwork, and what it’s all about!

You know, this amazing picture:

old scroll style artwork of a samurai taking a cat for a walk. Love the put out expression.

A samurai walking a cat. Thank goodness I figured out where it was from.

Anyway, it turns out it’s an artwork from an exhibit by contemporary artist Tetsuya Noguchi, who specializes in insanely well executed renditions of samurai in comical and surreal situations. Here’s a blurb about the exhibit, with more examples of the art, including a samurai on a penny-farthing bicycle!

Absolute respect for getting all the details dead-on accurate. There was a lot of research that went into this, in addition to the artistic skill. My favorite part is the multiple layers of humor, and the farther you look into it the funnier it is.

Modern parody artwork of samurai doing something incongruous, which quotes from historical sources, some of which are themselves parody artworks of samurai doing incongruous things, or which seem incongruous out of context. Nice.

A quick bit of said context so you can appreciate it all the more!

About “Samurai”:

  1. “Samurai” means, basically, “servant” so no high-class warrior would consider themselves a samurai, like some sort of ashigaru (footsoldier) prole. As for what to call a pre-modern Japanese warrior in general, I’m going to go with bushi (warrior), from here.
  2. During the eras of actual warfare, and not the long relative peace of the Edo period, where they were channeled into less destructive tendencies like loyalty and honor, bushi were all about one thing, and one thing only: cutting off heads and getting rewarded for it. (Acceptable hobbies include playing the flute or biwa, appreciating noh theater, flower arranging, and poetry.) This leads to a few developments:
    • Looking distinctive – Make sure your armor is unique, and instantly identifiable, so that you get properly witnessed by others on the battlefield if you do cut someone important’s head off, so you can get rewarded for it. This also serves to make sure that people know that YOU are important enough to try to cut your head off if you get killed, because it would be miserable, pointless, and horribly humiliating if you died, and nobody even bothered to harvest your noggin. This is also why you should also wear makeup and grow facial hair (high class gentleman!) if at all possible.
    • LOTS of paperwork. This whole system of Eternal War for Fun and Profit ran on bureaucratic red tape like an old timey steam engine ran on coal. Historians love this fact. How do we know who took what heads and got which rewards? We have the hearing transcripts and the severed head receipts.
  3. Awesome. Let’s look at some historical examples!

Probably late Sengoku Era, or in the style of that time, armor. Wearing a face guard so people can’t see your mustache? Just put a mustache on the face guard. Problem resolved! Probably lots of people are wearing a helmet that looks like a gentleman’s hat. Cover the hat with fur to match the mustache, and add some gilt bronze horns, for bonus distinctiveness points!

Closeup of the helmet and faceguard of a suit of Japanese armor.

By https://www.flickr.com/photos/tiseb/with/6454720709/ tiseb [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Honestly, at this pace, kitty ear helmets aren’t out of the question. Here’s a rather worn example, of somewhat less fancy armor, with rabbit(?) ears.

Rabbit ears or maybe deer ears tacked onto a helmet.

By https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxborrow/ (https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxborrow/49836706/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Oh, Minamoto no Yoshistune, you were thirty when you died (1159 – 1189), yet the first thing people do to you in the future (by which I mean 1500-something) is make you prettier for extra romantic pathos:

Shizuka Gozen (Yoshitsune's girlfriend), Minamoto no Yoshitsune (on the horse), and a couple of scruffy ashigaru, in a 1500s painting. Note that they've apparently scrambled out of the house without shoes, but not before putting on makeup. It's all about priorities.

Shizuka Gozen (Yoshitsune’s girlfriend), Minamoto no Yoshitsune (on the horse), and a couple of scruffy ashigaru for contrast, in a 1500s painting. Note that they’ve apparently scrambled out of the house without shoes, but not before putting on armor and makeup. It’s all about priorities.

See you guys at Anime Con, where you can Ask Me Anything!

Animecon 2018 Is Coming!

Animecon is Friday, August 10th at the Main Library from 9:30am – 4pm at the Main Library. Join your fellow fans for anime viewing and discussion, cosplay, our annual Ramen noodle eating competition, and much more!

Teens (12-19) can sign up online in advance by visiting  http://www.lfpl.org/tickets/animecon-registration.asp. And don’t forget to look for the full schedule (coming soon) on the LFPL website!

Bon Air Science Fair!

This upcoming Tuesday at 6pm, Bon Air Library will be hosting a program full of science experiments for teens, all supplies provided! Experiments will include Elephant Toothpaste, Silly Putty, Ice Cream, and building a wave machine. Come check it out!

What’s Elephant Toothpaste? Here’s a more extreme demonstration!

Of Pies and Birds

Bird pies, pied birds, and pie birds.

It all started when I wanted to do a full-on program on mute swans and swan upping. As it turns out, this was a weird idea, and maybe not suited for an actual mini-class that people would actually come to. I never did get enough material for a program, but I did keep turning up primary sources on a fairly bizarre historical food. Behold! A Mute Swan Pie.

Kitchen scene with fancy swan pie.

Kitchen Interior by David Teniers the Younger, 1644.

I know it’s a lot to take in, but take a minute, and really process this. In the back, there’s people roasting various birds on spits over a fire. There’s even more game birds, including teeny songbirds (Katherine, later: and a GREY PARTRIDGE!! They’re everywhere!), bottom left, probably also destined for their own pies. Various meats abound. The swan pie is right there, on the table, next to the red-skirted cook who’s peeling apples. It’s fancied up with a crown and flower garlands.

Sooo… what on Earth is with the swan pie? Well, the pie itself is the ancestor of pot pies. So, meat filling, and the crust is a lot thicker and tougher than our flaky pie crust is today, because it’s meant to seal in and support all that meat. People still make and eat meat pies of this sort in the UK. So, inside the elaborate crust is the roasted mute swan meat, in its own gelatin and drippings. Also, it’s decorated with its own severed wings and head, which, guessing from copious amounts of 17th Century paintings, was the fanciest possible way to cook and present a bird.

Turkey Pie

Turkey pie with a pink rose in its beak.

Still Life With a Turkey Pie by Pieter Claesz, 1627.

 

Some Kind of Personal Small Bird Pie (Grey Partridge Perdix perdix ?? That’s my best guess.)

A picture representing February of a cook holding a tiny pie - what looks like a gray partridge pie I guess.

February by Joachim von Sandrart, 1642.

I think that the personal pie bird in question really looks like it’s a gray partridge. What do you think?

Gray partridge in snow.

By K.Pitk [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Hmm. Gray neck and front. Speckled wings and tail. Rust colored face. Also, I’ve been looking at partridges long enough trying to figure out what that bird is that the word has started to look really weird. Partridge. Partridge.  P a r t r i d g e.  Gah! On to the next thing.

In addition to ending up inside pies, some birds are pied birds. Magpies, for example. Pied is an archaic word describing the pattern of having patches of different colors, usually black and white. The Eurasian Magpie is usually what people mean by magpie, and it’s easy to remember what it’s scientific name is, because it’s what Pikachu would say (although arguably misspelled.) Pica pica

Eurasian magpie on a fence

By Garry Knight (Flickr: Magpie on a Fence) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Pied Piper 

A street fair in Hamelin, Germany, with a bunch of kids dressed up as rats, and a pied piper guy.

The city of Hamelin, Germany still has all sorts of stuff commemorating the Pied Piper from folklore, or, creepily enough, maybe based on historical fact.

Healthy surplus kids getting sold to slave traders is not off the table in this case. Especially since the rat-catching bit seems to have been added a couple centuries later, and doesn’t show up in the original sources we have for this folktale… Check it out at this nifty archive of folktales. Well, that took a horribly grim turn. You know what will cheer everybody up? Ponies and linguistics! Yay!

 

Piebald Horse

An old picture of a piebald drum horse.

A piebald horse is a horse that is black and white. A skewbald horse is a horse that is any other color than black and white.

Stewball was a racehorse. No. Really. He was an actual horse. And he was probably a skewbald. Hence the name. Also, if you’ve never heard this word used for horse colors before, it’s because in North America, we generally use the Spanish-derived pinto (painted) to describe a white-splashed horse. Then the word bounced back to English, and we call them paint horses too. Lest you assume that the picture is one of those dusty crusty remains of the long lost past, nah, they still totally have ceremonial drum horses. What’s harder than playing a slide trombone? Playing a slide trombone on a horse.

The Pied Crow Corvus albus

A pied crow - black with a white belly - in a tree.

By Thomas Schoch [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

These guys are native to sub-Saharan Africa, and not to be confused with crow pie, of course. As we’ve seen already, it’s totally reasonable that the four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie are literally an entire crow massacre cooked in their own juices in a pie. What a way to eat crow.

So, now that we’ve covered bird pies and pied birds, what about pie birds? If you made a totally sealed pie, with no holes cut in the top crust, the steam and pressure build up from cooking might cause a piesplosion. Or, less dramatically, at least soggy crust. To keep the steam from ruining your pie, you need to make sure the crust has a hole to let it out. Sure, it’s pretty easy to just cut holes in the crust, but, in true Victorian fashion, the people of the 19th Century weren’t going to leave it at that. A pie bird is a little ceramic piece shaped like a bird (usually with an open beak), and hollow, with an open bottom and top. You put the pie bird in your pie and poking up through the crust, to vent it. That’s it. Wikipedia has an article, but otherwise it’s hard to find more about the use of pie birds. We just don’t use pie birds much anymore. Instead, people collect them as prime examples of obscure consumer culture kitsch. Nothing quite like kitchen accessories that nobody really needs.

Death’s Scythe

Death in a cholera outbreak, mowing down people.

This is how it’s done. Death mowing down people like wheat in a cholera outbreak.

Here we go. RANT TIME. I draw things, often. I don’t know if you draw, but if you do, I hope this helps you out, or at least gives you something to think about. Even if you don’t draw, hopefully you’ll find plenty to think about. Maybe this sort of thing will become a series, too, about things that bug me about art. Being an artist is about training the eye and observational mind as much as the hand. The topic today is Death’s scythe. This is seriously one of my personal artistic pet peeves – understandable, but it really does impact how Death comes across. I’m talking here about personified Death itself. The Grim Reaper. If you take just one thing away, it should be this:

A SCYTHE IS A FARM TOOL, NOT A WEAPON. YES, THIS MATTERS.

Let’s get what a scythe is out of the way, because although it’s interesting, it’s not as interesting as why this matters, and how so many artists get this wrong, especially recently. A scythe is a farm tool for cutting down wheat or grass and such, really efficiently.

Like so:

Obvious Note: less physical work is not the same thing as faster.

A scythe is not an awkward weapon that has a blade that sticks out at right angles to the pole for some reason, with the edge on the wrong side. A scythe is an elegant mowing machine. In most models, the blade is angled, so that it’s horizontal to the ground when the scythe is in use. Why this matters: a scythe is not a tool for combat between roughly-equal beings. A scythe is a harvesting tool. Death carrying a proper scythe means that human lives are as single stalks of wheat before the blade. Look at that newspaper illustration at top again: that’s what a pandemic is like – death mowing people down like grass.

So, that’s what a scythe is, and why it matters. The last question – why do artists have trouble with Death’s scythe, especially recently? – is an open one, and interesting. I can think of two possible reasons, maybe even both at a time. Maybe artists in recent times don’t have much experience with scythes, and don’t have the chance to observe how they’re used or put together. We don’t generally harvest with a scythe anymore, so the chance to see one in action is more rare. The other half is that maybe the modern experience of death itself has changed. We’re used to people dying one at a time from disease, picked off with precision, not mown down. For contrast, this is what the 1918 Flu Pandemic looked like:

South Beach Hospital Ledger.

South Beach Hospital admissions ledger. Everybody’s got the flu, and four people are dead in a matter of days. WWI was just wrapping up, and still gets most of the attention, but this flu pandemic still killed more people than the entire infamous Great War, and in a matter of months. Here’s the document source!

Yikes. By contrast, our death, the death with a wonky, useless scythe is a much less fearsome entity than the Grim Reaper.

 

Teen Summer Reading has begun!

Teens (6th – 12th grades) who read 6 books, magazines, or graphic novels this summer by August 11 are eligible to win some great prizes including:

  • an ID cardholder & earbuds
  • FREE Passes to the Kentucky Science Center, Frazier Kentucky History Museum, Locust Grove, Rauch Planetarium, Louisville Bats, Louisville City FC, and Squire Boone Caverns
  • FREE Lemon Ice from Fazoli’s w
  • FREE Frosty from Wendy’s w
  • FREE classes at Hwang’s Martial Arts w
  • FREE Passes to U of L sporting events

Everyone who completes Teen Summer Reading will automatically be Entered for a chance to Win one of these Grand Prizes:

  • UofL football tickets
  • $100 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
  • a tablet computer

The program is free. To register, click here or stop by any Louisville Free Public Library location.

You Fight Like a Cow

Monkey Island notwithstanding, your life might just be better if you take “you fight like a cow” as a compliment. The truth of the matter is that – whatever Tennyson and the Victorians’ moralistic viewpoints – “nature red in tooth and claw” really mostly holds true only for predatory attacks on food animals in actual nature. Even then, few predators will attack prey with a mind to getting in a fight. After all, if your food stands a good chance of thrashing you in a fight, the predators won’t be around for long. An actual fight is just too risky. It’s not like there’s emergency veterinary hospitals in nature. Even a small cut could get infected and eventually kill you. A broken bone or chipped tooth could prove fatal if it means you can’t catch meals. As an aside, this is one of the major forces shaping the evolution of venom. The geographic cone snail has some of the most outrageously potent and fast-acting venom of any creature, purely because it’s a snail that eats fish. If a fish, once bitten, had any chance to run away or fight back, cone snails would have a very rough time just catching breakfast, let alone surviving it.

Given how much animals in the wild stand to lose from fighting, most will go to a lot of effort to avoid a fight in the first place. Lots of animals have specialized equipment – horns, antlers, ossicones, tusks, gill frills, song – specifically for settling disputes with other members of their own species in a way that keeps it from getting too violent too often. There’s a whole suite of behaviors that virtually all animals have to prevent fights in the first place and settle those that do occur as fast as possible.

Let’s talk about cattle. They actually have one of my favorite conflict sequences, and you can plainly see how cow disputes progress through several stages at each of which the parties have a chance to de-escalate the conflict, or decide to proceed to the next step.

The Official Cow Fight Procedure:

  1. Rival Cow Spotted!
    • If you know this cow, and you each know where you stand with each other, you’re cool, and both can back down now. If either has any doubts, proceed to step 2.
  2. Angry mooing.
    • Let the rival know you’re not happy about this incursion. If the rival responds with more angry mooing, and you don’t want to back down either, keep up the noise and proceed to step 3. Otherwise, if you get no response, the rival agrees to back down.
  3. Pawing of dirt to signal aggressive intent. 
    • If each cow is still prepared to get in a shoving contest, they’ll proceed to step 4.
  4. Standing sideways to each other to show off size.
    • If either individual decides that the other is too big to take on, they’ll just quiet down and walk away to eat grass. Otherwise, if both are convinced that they can take the other, proceed to step 5.
  5. Prepare to lock horns.
    • Both cattle lower their heads. This is the last chance to back down, and can be very brief.
  6. Shoving contest.
    • The rivals lock horns, or rest their heads against each other (if polled or hornless), and try to shove the other until one disengages and walks away.
  7. Resolution.
    • When one of the rivals backs down, it is possible to continue angry mooing, and allow the rival to angrily moo a bit to save face. If the issue isn’t settled, the cycle might repeat (but usually doesn’t) until the cattle can predict who will win the shoving contest and accept the results. Generally, just once is enough to settle the issue. Most of the time, cow fights don’t even get to step 6 at all before one of the rivals backs down.

You can watch the whole complicated sequence below, with these two Hereford bulls.

Switzerland has a whole sport based on introducing cows to each other in the Spring. The cows spend the Winter on their individual farms, but in the Spring, they get together again for the drive to alpine pastures. Of course the cows need to settle who’s top cow, and it was only a matter of time before people started painting numbers on their sides and setting up concession stands. Yes, these are actual cows, too, not bulls. Note udders. When a cow backs down, she’s removed from the ring until only one cow remains, and is crowned Queen of the Cow Thunderdome. Sorry: “Queen of Queens” technically, as the cow fighting is called the “combat de reines” or literally the “fight of queens.” Cows are Very Serious Business in Switzerland, in case you couldn’t tell.

These cows are all members of the Herens breed of cattle, and are selectively bred for cow fighting. Meet Penelope, a Queen of Queens.

Notice that nearly all of the Official Cow Fight steps are about communicating a problem and providing plenty of chances to back down. And if the other cow does, but they make a lot of noise about it, let them. It’s all just angry mooing.

Once everything’s settled, even Herens Queens are perfectly chill with each other, and pass their Summers in idyllic alpine meadows.

Plenty of other animals have an official fight procedure, like cows do, it’s just that in cows, it’s so clear and well-defined. There are plenty of videos of Complicated Cat Space Negotiations, for example. Just remember: if there’s video of it, someone found it interesting and exciting enough to record, so for all of these videos of cow fights, there’s lots and lots of cow fights that never happened. This is an example of selection bias – if you were to study how often cows fight, cow fight videos on YouTube would be junk data to draw on, because people are way more likely to record and post interesting video of cows fighting than the many, many allegedly boring instances of cows not fighting.

morP: Steampunk Edition

What in the world is a morP? morP is an alternative to prom (or prom spelled backwards). Join teens around Louisville as we kick off Teen Summer Reading with lots of music, food and fun! Pull out your best steampunk gear and come dance with us as DJ L. Churchill spins on the 1’s and 2’s. For more information, please call (502) 964-3515. Grades 7-12. Registration is required. Click here to sign up.

Not sure what to wear to morp? Come to one one of our steampunk accessory programs!

Meet up with your friends at your local library branch to create accessories for your prom attire. Be sure to talk with a teen staff member for more information about morP and to register for this program! Ages 12-19

 

High Concept and Low Concept

Sometimes, if you’re discussing books that you read, games that you play, shows that you watch, music you listen to – basically any media you consume – you need some specialized ideas and terms to help you describe and discuss it. “It was great” or “It was bad” or “I thought it was OK” are all very well and good, but it’s so much more satisfying if you can also talk about WHY you liked/disliked something. If you want to win arguments and impress your friends, remember your ABCs – Always Backup Criticism.

Have examples, of course, of things you like or don’t and why. But, sometimes, you need some special vocabulary and ideas in order to help you with your critique. That means it’s time to add another idea to your toolbox: high vs low concept. This is all about how much concept a work of art contains, not how good the concept is. Think of it as a matter of the amount the concept itself contributes to the total content of the work.

Jane Austen’s novels are generally low concept. The idea of the novels – that people in various economic circumstances need to get paired up (or not paired up, or not paired up the way they thought) – is nowhere near as important to the books as the interactions between the characters, which is why people read them. Here’s an example pie chart, based on a very precise and academic guesstimate:

There’s also works that split it pretty much right down the middle, generating interest in equal parts from the idea that drives them, as well as the execution of the plot and characters:

On the far end of the scale, there’s also works that are high concept – that get their interest mostly from the ideas that drive them. I can think of no better example than 18 Days, which breaks down about like this:

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the library has the concept art book, if you want a look at the idea, but, sadly, they didn’t get full funding for the series as it was originally conceived. Instead, you can watch it in a few different languages on the Graphic India YouTube channel. Still pretty awesome, though.

Whatever the level of concept in your media, now you have a new way to talk about the things you love: is it high concept, low concept, or a balance of the two?

A Very Metal Study Break

We’re closing in on the end of the school year, and there’s plenty of pressure and stress in the air. Maybe just take a few minutes to watch some music videos, acquire a new taste, and relax – and possibly passively learn a bit more history for that scary final. Naturally, we’re going to do all this with the most logical music genre for the purpose: heavy metal.

If you want a thorough overview of the history and taxonomy of metal, there’s the excellent Map of Metal site that visualizes the genre as geography so you can see how everything’s related, complete with examples if you click on the regions and cities that stand for the different sub-genres within metal. Since other sites have done such a good job with this, and this isn’t a metal history lesson, I’ll just leave that link there, so you can explore it if you like. But the aim here is that any learning you do is going to be very incidental to having a good time during your study break. So, on to the videos!

Metal stylistically lends itself to routinely dealing with heavier, grander, more dramatic topics and treatments than you can get away with in other genres of popular-ish music. That said, it’s definitely a very short tiptoe over the line into utterly ludicrous melodrama. Some bands end up in this territory by accident, others choreograph an elaborate dance routine all over the line. We’re definitely going to start with one of those.

Yeah. There’s nothing I can add to this. The universe is a better place because this song exists: power metal about a zombie unicorn invasion.

Another quirk of the genre is that heavy metal never actually went out of style in some parts of the world. In Scandinavia, for example, not only did it never go out of style, it’s practically mainstream. Check out this music video for the Swedish National Women’s Curling Team:

So it is in Sweden. However, it’s also the case in Japan, too. There’s quite a bit of truth in the movie This is Spinal Tap, where the band finds out that though they’re floundering on the domestic circuit, they’ve inexplicably become famous and end up performing for sold out arenas in Japan. There’s more than a few acts – several of them metal – that barely eked onto the charts here exactly once, but are celebrities in Japan. Sure, Babymetal gets some attention here, but that’s largely because they’re a gothic-loli-style girl band that does pop black metal, and our culture seems to think that this is surprising for some reason. Neither metal nor girl bands nor gothic loli stylings are unusual in Japan, and if you’re going to compete in a crowded market for girl bands, you better have your act together. Babymetal definitely does.

What about the serious stuff, though? What about heavier metal? If only there was a Taiwanese symphonic black metal band that specialized in the Pacific War. Oh, wait, there is.

The band also has versions in English, but I like this one better for this song. It’s also actually in Taiwanese Hokkien, which is why there’s Chinese subtitles. Completely different languages, actually. There’s metal for every taste out there, and all sorts of historical stuff too. You want an 18 minute long epic about an airship disaster? Iron Maiden’s 2015 album The Book of Souls has you covered. The library has a few copies too. Seriously, our music collection is pretty robust, so whatever genre you want to explore, check it out.