Religious Modernism, Against Homework, and in Praise of Pigeons
Shoot me in the head: “This year’s Edinburgh international festival will explore gender politics, racism, masculinity and homophobia in a response to political challenges around the world.” Just what we need, more mindless, posh, self-righteous posturing. How can artists not be completely bored with these topics?
It’s unclear if the Mueller Report will be published, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a number one bestseller on Amazon.
A rare original royal charter from the first year of King John’s reign has been discovered in Durham. (HT: David Davis)
Religious modernism: “It’s ironic that architectural modernism, the seemingly logical vernacular for 20th century civic or commercial structures, is often most daringly represented in a far more unexpected place—churches.”
A short history of the potato: “Unlike maize, which held a high status within the Inca state, potatoes were considered a lowly food, necessary but banal. Even in the potato’s omphalos they were viewed with some disdain.”
Against homework: “The 21st century has so far been a homework-heavy era, with American teenagers now averaging about twice as much time spent on homework each day as their predecessors did in the 1990s. Even little kids are asked to bring school home with them. A 2015 study, for instance, found that kindergarteners, who researchers tend to agree shouldn’t have any take-home work, were spending about 25 minutes a night on it. But not without pushback. As many children, not to mention their parents and teachers, are drained by their daily workload, some schools and districts are rethinking how homework should work—and some teachers are doing away with it entirely.”
I’m against homework as busywork, which we saw a lot of when our kids were in elementary school. The point of limiting homework is to make sure that everything you do in school is necessary. It’s not to increase freedom or make life easier on students, which, it seems, is how one English teacher in the article seems to understand it: “Chris Bronke…eliminated homework for his class of freshmen, and now mostly lets students study on their own or in small groups during class time. It’s usually up to them what they work on each day, and Bronke has been impressed by how they’ve managed their time. In fact, some of them willingly spend time on assignments at home, whether because they’re particularly engaged, because they prefer to do some deeper thinking outside school, or because they needed to spend time in class that day preparing for, say, a biology test the following period.”
Essay of the Day:
Jon Day writes in praise of pigeons in TheLondon Review of Books and reviews a book on their use in the Second World War:
“There are 290 species of pigeon in the world, but only one has adapted to live in cities. Feral pigeons are synanthropes: they thrive in human environments where they can skim a living off our excess, nesting in the nooks and crannies of tall buildings that mimic the cliff faces on which their genetic ancestors – Columba livia, the rock dove – once lived. We think of pigeons as grey but they are composed of an oceanic palette: deep blues and greens flecked with white, like the crest of a wave. When not mangled or amputated by wire and string, their feet – which the poet Mina Loy described as their ‘coral landing gear’ – are strong, elegant and reptilian. They can see far further and with greater clarity than we can. In the 1970s and 1980s, the US Coastguard trained pigeons to recognise people lost at sea as part of Project Sea Hunt. The birds were placed in observation bubbles mounted on the bottom of helicopters and trained to peck at buttons when they spotted a scrap of coloured fabric floating in the sea. Pigeons were able to find the fabric 93 per cent of the time. Human subjects managed the same task 38 per cent of the time.
“Pigeons are more intelligent than we give them credit for, one of the few animals – along with great apes, dolphins and elephants – able to pass the mirror self-recognition test. If you mark a pigeon’s wing and let it look in a mirror it will try to remove the mark, realising that what it sees is a reflected image of its own body. Pigeons can recognise video footage of themselves shown with a five-second delay (three-year-old children find it difficult to comprehend a two-second delay). They are able to recognise individuals from photographs, and a neuroscientist at Keio University in Japan has trained them to distinguish between the paintings of Matisse and Picasso. ‘Modesty,’ Marianne Moore wrote, ‘cannot dull the lustre of the pigeon.’
“Pigeons move through a human world. They stay close to the land, often flying at street level, below the height of the rooftops. Recent studies have suggested that they navigate using human structures as well as natural ones: they follow roads and canals, and have been observed going round roundabouts before taking the appropriate exit. They can fly extremely fast – up to 110 miles per hour – and with a following wind can cover 700 miles in a single uninterrupted flight (pigeons don’t like to fly at night but can be trained to do so). There are faster birds – peregrine falcons, the pigeon’s main predator, can reach 200 miles per hour on the stoop – but none can fly horizontally, under its own power, as quickly as a pigeon.
“Feral pigeons are close cousins of the hundreds of varieties of fancy pigeon that have been bred since their domestication by the Sumerians four thousand years ago. The most celebrated, and familiar, of these is the racing homer, a breed selected for its unrivalled navigational abilities. Once their enclosure, or loft, has been imprinted on them – something that happens when a bird is around six weeks old – homing pigeons will return to it for the rest of their lives, even after many years away. They can fly thousands of miles and cross oceans in order to get home. One of the longest homing flights ever recorded was made by a bird owned by the Duke of Wellington, which was liberated from Ichaboe Island, off the coast of Namibia, on 1 June 1845. It took 55 days to fly the 5400 miles back to Nine Elms, where it was found dead in a gutter a mile from its loft.”
Photos: Melting ice sculptures
Poem: Maryann Corbett, “Another Night, Another Load of Corpses”
Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.