Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday Art Attack

I've missed a few weeks of Friday Art Attack, so I probably absolutely and definitely owe it to myself to fix that by making sure I do it today, and making sure today's is a little bigger than normal.


My namesake.  I mean, how cool would it have been if my parents had actually named me Ivanhoe?  Probably not very, but at this point in my life I'd appreciate it at least.


An interesting and vaguely Lovecraftian take on the Jabberwocky.  On the other hand, just giving a dragon a bunch of eyes maybe isn't sufficient to make it Lovecraftian...


I've always loved this kind of art.


The Pleistocene in Japan.  Although Hokaido and the southern isles would still have been separated by a strait during the low point of Ice Age sea levels, both were connected to the mainland; Hokaido through Sakhalin to Siberia and the southern islands to Manchuria.


I might actually have posted this before, but it's still in my folder, so I'll do it again and then move it.  A montage of Barsoomy stuff.


Cool Imperial Jedi hunter fan art.


The so-called Jeep Nacho.  I really like it.  I want one.


The Jersey Devil, one of the weirdest of cryptid/supernatural ghost stories.


A scene from The Gods of Mars.


Fingolfin goes to fight Morgoth in The Silmarillion.


John Colter, among the manliest Americans who ever lived.  Love his knife too.


A Ken Kelly piece that served as the cover art for the last of Lin Carter's Callisto series.


More cool Star Wars fan art.  With a kind of sci-fi High Noon vibe, as it should have.


I'm also always a sucker for 80s nostalgia type stuff.


According to the fiction, Juiblex and Zuggtmoy are locked in low grade Cold War conflict for control of the Abyssal Layer that both occupy.  Juiblex is, of course, nothing but a named D&D shoggoth, and Zuggtmoy, the Mushroom Queen is either kinda creepy or extremely silly, depending on how they manage to present her.


I've always loved Destiny concept art.  Too bad the game(s) were kind of flat.


Salvage operation near Jupiter.  Again; I love this kind of stuff.


Some Jurassic World art.  Too bad the second movie in that reboot was kinda flat too, for that matter.


Beren and Luthien confronting the King of all Werewolves, Carcharoth.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Aboriginal North American Horse

I found the paper I was referring to; THE ABORIGINAL NORTH AMERICAN HORSE, which posits that the North American horse did not go regionally extinct to only reappear when it was reintroduced to the Americas by the Spaniards.  There are various reasons that I find this actually considerably more likely than the default status quo !SCIENCE! position on the question, but the reality is that without doing genetic testing of the remains of the slaughtered aboriginal horses, we'll never be able to tell for sure.

However, given the massive "oh, heck, we actually had it all wrong about horse domestication!" in Eurasia moments that we've recently had dropped in our laps, we shouldn't be surprised to find this myth, of the missing native horses, is vulnerable too.

Anyway, check out the paper.  I think it's both interesting and convincing.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A "final" post on model railroading

I found a copy at a decent price of Malcolm Furlow's book on a narrow gauge HO railroad.  I always kinda wanted to buy this book back in the 80s when I was buying these books, but I hadn't done so.  I clicked on "order" from an independent Amazon retailer earlier today, so I'll have a copy.

Malcolm Furlow seems like my kind of guy, honestly.  I prefer his approach to that of the Tony Koester types.  Here's some quotes from this thread that apply:
If you try to approach Malcolm Furlow through the operations/prototype/serious paperwork /serious history/serious track planning lens, you will never understand him nor the work that he did - nor why that work gets so much recognition. 
You have to start with the understanding that Malcolm is first and foremost an artist who chose model railroading as his medium of expression, and he did a phenomenal job doing it.   In a lot of ways he was a bit of the Bob Ross of model railroading, he made it look easy, and produced scenes that are the entire back story to the railroad without any exposition whatsoever.  No histories, no operating schemas, no grand stories written in the text; just track, buildings, and a collection of scenes that together and alone tell the story, no further explanations necessary.  For those who cannot figure things out without the full dissertation behind the railroad ["I'm modeling the New York Central between Albany South and Albany North on December 2nd, 1934 from 12:08 to 15:62 but NOT 15:63"] his approach is very frustrating indeed - what do you mean, you can have a layout without all those other parts??? 
Malcolm left the spotlight after he became frustrated with the Koester crowd - that's the easiest way I can put it, from what I can collect reading what Sam Posey wrote in "Playing with Trains."  And by frustrated, I mean, tired of having people show up on his lawn in the dead of night to argue with him about how his way was wrong and detrimental to the hobby.  Now you have Reverse Runnings like the one Joe wrote last month about the Era Police, repeating the common [almost rhetorical, at this point] question "has it all become Too Serious?"...   [...] 
Now about the San Juan Central, I've read in places that Malcolm didn't necessarily use any of the track planning guides most people use; he started with a sketch of an idea that looked good in his head, ignoring things like even curve radius, and built it.  The result is the San Juan Central and the railroads that appeared after it.  They're the sort of work that frustrates the logical sequential mind where everything has to be connected to a sublying plot, but if you are willing to unhinge yourself from that anchor, you may find his work to be a real joy, intellectually.   
Now there may be many who gripe about his lack of adherence to "reality," the lack of "proper railroading background" to his premise, but consider this: In a span of about 3 years, or perhaps even only 6 months, from when he started the San Juan to when he sent in his first submissions, he went from a virtual nobody with seemingly little experience at all with the hobby to John Allen's successor/protege. He published articles month after month on end in the most serious of model railroading publications, he gave clinics, he produced a whole line of publications to support others in their pursuit of the hobby, he became as well known around our kitchen tables as any of the well established Old Guard.  And he made it look easy, by and large due to his background - the same background John Allen claims.  Engineering and fine drafting may make perfect structures and perfectly sound designs, but it is art that makes perfectly weathered images of what may very well appear to be a real scene - even if only on a planet imagined by Dr. Seuss or Lewis Carroll - that all together conveys a complete experience.  You've just found that steamer trunk full of old photographs, and alas, there's no text on a single one about where they came form or what is in the pictures, they're just pictures with no "historical" analysis... 
He left the spotlight because quite frankly, he get[s] a lot more appreciation from the art community than he ever did from the model railroading community, and they pay him Very Well for his efforts.  They don't line up to tell him how he's doing it wrong and how to do it right; they line up and hand him money for what he puts on canvas, be it 2D or 3D or whatever medium he decides to work in. 
Some more quotes:
Oh, I'm just the messenger this time... 
Sam Posey, Playing with Trains, pg 150-151 
"Scenes like this, and the creative impulses that went with them, had put Malcolm in direct conflict with Tony Koester in the struggle for what model railroading should be all about.  Bob Hayden had remarked, sensibly, that there was more than one hobby here and one approach was just as legitimate as another, but as I listened to Malcolm, I wondered if I would take the chance of putting him in a room alone with Tony.  Tony's total commitment to realism was equaled only by Malcolm's utter disdain for it.  "Accuracy is a crutch," he said to me and went on to describe a modeler who told him his embankments were too steep to be prototypically correct.  "Can you imagine that?"  he asked me, getting angry once again over an incident that had happened more than ten years ago.  
Malcolm's extreme modeling was a lightning rod for people who thought the hobby should be about trains, not personal expression.  He has had people call him crazy to his face.  He has received hate mail.  When he was living in Texas, people would come to his house and wait outside his door for a chance to argue with him.  He said, "It's as if I was violating the Holy Grail of model railroading."  
When he had turned to painting, it had been a relief to leave all that animosity behind, but now that he was attempting a comeback in model railroad, he worried that the opposition had become stronger.  He told me darkly that Tony and his legions of operators had gained the upper hand.  "The operators will wreck it," he said, "because they don't offer people anything to look at.  Scenery—that's what attracts people, gets them excited.  The operators want to allude to model railroading as an art form, but when the art part actually comes up they practically run for the door." 
I'm not really saying anything new when I say "The Koester crowd." 
Such a railroad [the SJC] would have never existed.  The reason the San Juan Central is what it is, is because Malcolm designed it that way.  Malcolm had no more or less access to prototype information and the design tomes in the 80's as we do now; he simply chose not to use that information, and I suspect he never would - and in the face of the original, I dare say Malcolm proved such information is quite simply unnecessary.  Those sharp curves and steep grades is just what makes the pictures as dramatic as they appear - it's not an optical illusion! 
There was a layout tour in one of these magazine [It might have indeed been MRH!] a little ways back about a railroad that is in essence a replication of the original San Juan, but the builder went ahead and applied these construction philosophies to the original -better curves, better grades - and the end railroad is indeed gorgeous to look at too. The track plan is a fun arrangement, but if you were to embark on the project, I wouldn't be so bold as to dismiss the original in the manner that you have.  It all goes back to understanding the artist...
Now, to be fair, I have no interest in a model railroad that doesn't really run.  But Furlow's approach is more my approach.  Painstakingly reproducing realistic operation based on "the prototype" (i.e., real life) is much less interesting to me than any other aspect of the hobby.  I'm actually not super interested in trains, railroads or operations—although I would want a layout that actually worked, and I would want to come up with some operation cards to give me something fun to do with it after it's built.  But whether or not it's "realistic" or whimsical fantasy doesn't bother me in the least; in fact, the latter appeals to me a great deal more.

Here's some pics, magazine scans from the 70s and 80s, of Furlow's Denver & Rio Chama railroad.  It was obviously modeled to look like the G&D.  But word on the street is that it was a visual layout with poor attention paid to design considerations or craftsmanship of the trackwork, etc. so that it often didn't run very well.  That said... sure is pretty.  I can see why Furlow appeared, and by making everything look easy, turned into the model railroad equivalent of a rock star for a time period.

I've thought the same thing about John Olson, but maybe Olson was more the complete package, maybe.  I've seen scans of an article that highlight his Mescal Lines RR, but it isn't really all that much to go on, but it looks similar.  So does his small project J&SW, frankly.

















"I think the primary goal in my photographs is to bring people into a world that doesn't really exist through my eyes; through my experience.  You can walk as a scale dimensional person through this little miniature world.  I'm not so interested in scale model accuracy as in sharing my little visions and fantasies with other people, and by taking them there through my one-eyed camera, I'm therefore much more able to bring them with me.  And I think that's kinda what speaks for my style and my brand."

—John Olson

And as one guy said in the threat linked above: "It's fine if Malcolm Furlow or John Allen style railroads aren't everyone's cup of tea. I get that because the 8 inch wide shelves with a static grass prairie and building flats slapped against the backdrop  aren't mine. But the thing is, I still consider all of them model railroads, they are just different approaches to the hobby. Calling anyones modeling a caricature or especially a "cartoon" is derogatory in my opinion, it irks me every time I hear it or see it written."

Horse genetics and prehistory

Horse domestication is a question intimately associated with the spread of Indo-European in the archaeology community, as it is widely assumed, and heavily intimated by the archaeological record, that the arrival of Indo-European communities brought horses and extensive horse use and domestication with them.

Horse DNA has now called this somewhat into question.  There are four basic lineages of domestic horses, each corresponding to a specific geographic area: the Iberian horses, the Siberian horses, the Botai horses of Central Asia (what is now Kazakhstan) and a horse lineage of indeterminate geographical origin that is probably associated with the Sintashta culture, a Bronze Age culture that is descended mostly from Corded Ware antecedents and is the cultural root of the Andronovo horizon and probably associated with a very early divergence of the Indo-Iranian root stocks.

The Iberian and Siberian horse lineages are basically extinct, and have contributed nothing significant to modern horse lineages (although traces of them persisted into the Bronze Age) and the Botai horses, the first domesticated, actually seem to be the ancestors of only the "wild" Przewalski's horse.  Which is actually feral instead of wild, if you want to be technical, and which also contributes essentially nothing to modern horse lineages.

So, if all modern horse lineages are descended from a single group, which is probably (although this still isn't known for sure) associated with the surprisingly late appearing Sintashta culture, what does that mean for Yamnaya and Corded Ware spread of the horse into Europe and elsewhere?  Did they, in fact, bring all that much horse with them?  Were the Corded Ware and Bell Beakers actually the ones who spread widespread horse usage to Europe or not?

There's even some suggestions (although I have a hard time thinking that they're entirely serious), especially given the fact that the Basque people are indistinguishable genetically from Iron Age Iberians, that the Bell Beakers actually brought the Basque language to Europe rather than the Indo-European languages, and the source of Indo-Europeans is still mysterious.  This is rather farcical, in my opinion, but it seems to bewitch and mystify a lot of people right now, and this horse DNA data can be crowbarred into supporting such a point of view, with some difficulty.  If the Vasconic substrate hypothesis was not to be taken seriously when applied to the Mesolithic and early Neolithic, and can hardly be less absurd when moved forward into the early Bronze Age or even later; in fact, it is obviously much more absurd.  But things are a bit murkier now rather that more clear.  As Eurogenes points out, the Nordic Bronze Age, for instance, (almost certainly the speakers of the Germanic Parent Language) have a number of interesting factors: strong genetic continuity to the past, going back to at least the earliest Corded Ware incursion into the area, but with strong links genetically to those who were there before (given the theory that Germanic formed as the imposition of a Corded Ware proto-Satem language over a non-Indo-European native language that had less genetic turnover than elsewhere in Europe, which was then further superimposed with a Bell Beaker or Urnfield early Centum language) this shouldn't be surprising.  However, Eurogenes also points out the striking cultural connections between the Nordic Bronze Age and Sintashta, especially their use of the Divine Twins and solar disk iconography.

None of this proves anything, but it does posit, and then offer tantalizing hints, of some kind of broader connection between places as disparate as southern Scandinavia and Central and South Asia that are still in evidence in the late Bronze Age.  The most likely explanation is that after fragmenting, the early Indo-European community either retained or re-kindled some kind of relationship or network, and cultural artifacts of various types could still travel broadly across this vast, disparate territory.  It's extremely difficult to imagine some kind of continuity otherwise across this area going back all the way to the Corded Ware, which by the time the Nordic Bronze Age came along had already been gone for centuries, and the Corded Ware had started fragmenting centuries before that.  It would require cultural continuity and connections going back well over a thousand years, maybe closer to two, which is obviously not very credible.

On the other hand, we know that there were smaller, earlier versions of "globalism" that spread across the Indo-European sphere, and the Bell Beaker cultural phenomena seems to be an example of that.

But untangling this mess of nuanced and not obvious clues and coming up with a coherent picture based on them is beyond my capability.


UPDATE: I just remembered; although I know longer have it, I used to have a paper that suggested the high probability that the status quo position is wrong; the Indians in North America did have a unique horse domestication event based on native horses that predates the arrival of Spanish horses, and the Indian ponies are (at least partially) descended from them.  The extermination of Indian ponies by white colonists, of course, makes this difficult to verify via genetics, but there is considerable other evidence to suggest that it may be much more likely than we thought.

Gorre & Daphetid RR

Pronounced Gory and Defeated; this model railroad, by early giant in the hobby John Allen, remained the gold standard for model railroading for many, many years, and has probably only recently been surpassed by guys like George Sellios in the last decade or two.  In part because Sellios is still alive and has access to better gear for his photos, whereas John Allen died in the early 70s, his house caught on fire and his layout burned less than two weeks later, and most of the surviving pictures of his layout were very old taken with what would today be considered crude equipment (although it was state of the art for the time, and Allen was a professional photographer by trade) and most of the images of the layout that survive were singed or smoked by the fire, or they are bad scans of old magazines, etc.

Allen did all kinds of things for the first time: weathering and super-detailing of structures and trains, realistic operation, scale time (including lights dimming for night-time operation), and the use of numerous scale figurines all over the layout to create the illusion of life (look at model railroads that don't have people on them; they just aren't convincing; they look dead and toylike.)  He also is renowned for dramatic scenery, including cliff-faces that literally stretched from the floor to the ceiling.  He also was adamant that he model the American West during the heyday of steam power, so his layouts were very California from before California became a de facto province of Mexico and the mob—big high Sierras and a bustling port city (called simply Port).

For many, many years, it seems that model railroaders, even professional ones, struggled to get out of the shadow of John Allen.  John Allen was to model railroading what Depeche Mode was to synthpop; everyone was either aping what he did, or reacting against it, but nobody could simply go their own way ignoring him. Guys like 70s and 80s icons Malcom Furlow and John Olson made what could almost be considered miniature pastiches of the Gorre & Daphetid in many ways; although maybe that isn't exactly fair, since EVERYONE has followed in at least some of the footsteps of John Allen in the years since with regard to, say, weathering or detailing or figure use, and they should because it dramatically improves the look of the railroad to do so.  If Allen hadn't pioneered those ideas, eventually someone else would have.  But the specifics of railroading through dramatic western scenery with a big industrial waterfront is too iconic and precise to be anything else, so when reading, for example, about my favorite small layout, the Jerome & Southwestern RR, I can't help but think that it's a 4x8 (with a 2x6 expansion) slightly tamer and easier to build G&D pastiche in most respects.  I may not have put two and two together to figure that out if the Back Alley & Wharf wasn't an obvious miniature version of Port itself.  This isn't meant as a knock against those guys, because frankly, I'd want to model a similar kind of thing myself; like many people, regardless of whether or not I'm talking about model railroading, which honestly, most of the time I'm not, I'm just a huge fan of the American west and southwest.  Even though I don't get the people that live there quite as well as I do my own people, the backwood Southerners, the reality is that the West was largely colonized by Southerners following the War of Lincoln's Aggression, and some of the southern southwestern territory was actually considered Confederate territory (the southern third, more or less, of what is today New Mexico and Arizona.)  And the environment and scenery; well, that just feels like home to me more than anywhere else in the world.  The land was made for me and me for the land—which is why it is both ironic and maybe even tragic to some degree that I've lived for nearly twenty years at the juncture of the Midwest and the Northeast, and before that I lived for more than a quarter century a hundred miles inland but still ecologically on the Texas Gulf Coast.  I have literally never—except when I was an infant too young to remember—lived in the territory that I most feel is home.

Anyhoo, one of the things that made the G&D so dramatic was not just the scenery, but the method by which the trains had to traverse them.  Gigantic bridges such as the last one Allen built, the Scalp Mountain bridge, or the four layered bridges of French's Gulch, with the really big elevation changes for the model trains (up to four or five actual feet; which, keep in mind, at 1:87 scale can be over 400 scale feet) is part of what makes the G&D so dramatic, and few—if any—modelers in years since have been quite so dramatic as John Allen.  Part of that is practical; John Allen was a dedicated modeler and photographer, a confirmed bachelor, and had the ability to devote his entire basement and twenty years of his life to making this thing, which most others cannot spare.  John Olson's J&SW, for instance, while clearly a pastiche, is limited to a 4x8 with a 2x6 expansion; the fact that he was able to do a below tabletop Apache Gorge with a big dropoff from the track to the gorge floor was pretty impressive at all given his self-imposed constraints.

Here's a few pictures of some of the most dramatic of the G&D's vignettes.  I'm especially focusing on the big bridges, because that's something that if I ever build a model railroad, I'd want to find a way to incorporate in at least some format or scope or scale; even though it'd be smaller than that done by John Allen by default.  Also, keep in mind that like I said, these pictures are considerably lower quality than what you'll see for modern railroads, but it's the best that can be done given the constraints of both the time period and the preservation of what pictures there are.


A book I own has an even more dramatic view of this curve; the most dramatic part is just to the left of the picture here.


You can see just a bit of that curve to the right here, with the stacked bridges of French's Gulch in the background in the center, and one of the bigger bridges just barely to the left of that.


Look at the stuff going on in the background.  You can see the curve again, just a bit, here.  Also, that witch's hat cupola become a layout trademark for stations; he had several of them.


One of the most dramatic instances of differing elevation on the G&D; the lower track is the lowest elevation on the railroad, while the upper tracks are nearly the highest (as you can see because they nearly reach the ceiling.)


A different shot from a slightly different angle of the same spot.


The biggest and latest of his bridges.  Sadly, it's really hard to find images of this during the "daytime."  Because it was built so late; before Allen's fatal heart attack in early January 1973, there are comparatively few pictures of it.  The next several are some different shots, though.







More of Allen's famously stacked track on multiple bridges along the same cliff face; one of his favorite spots to take pictures of engines and cars.  This is a distance shot of the whole area.


Another bunch of images of French's Gulch.


And rounding the collection out, here's some more of my favorite huge bridge.  I'm really wondering where I could fit something this dramatic in, or if I even could, with my much more modest ideas.



And finally, his Cross Junction station, one of the more memorable ideas from the G&D, plus some pastiche version of it from someone else's railroad.  It's so cool that I'd be tempted to pastiche this idea myself.