Wednesday, April 28, 2021

From the Graphic Design Studio: Algorithm Assisted Art - Ancient Judean Portraits

Welcome to, or back to, the so very wicked, yet surprisingly do-gooding, Gauntlet of Balthazar. 

Today I'd like to address a recent fascination I've discovered - Algorithm Assisted Portraiture. Initially I explored these sort of programs as a tool to help coalesce pre-production visual design for characters featured in the scripts and projects my company, Nevekari Enterprises, had / has been holistically developing.

While this is only half "art" (meaning not from scratch), I soon realized that the programs (such as Artbreeder) could be applied to historical personalities and the like. Of course, as a fairly Zionistic chap, I always bemoaned the fact that the Jews of ancient times held to a strict human images=idolatry policy, and thus, rarely depicted themselves in the graphic arts, with the exception starting with the stylized figures found in the Dura-Europos Synagogue mosaics from 3rd century C.E. Parthian Syria. 

But, what of the Judean homeland before the devastating occupation, enslavement, genocides, and dispersal of the First (66-73 C.E.) and Second (132-135 C.E.) Roman-Jewish Wars? While there are human figures represented on coinage found in the Levant in the period, it almost exclusively depicts notable Greek and Roman religious icons or political figures, or in the case of Nabatean silver, their very, very stylized monarchs. 

So, being left only with Roman busts of prominent Jews who assimilated into Roman culture, I looked to see if the algorithms could assist me in creating what amounts to as more or less real life portraits of Judeans of the First Century C.E. Obviously two portraits do not a diverse population make, but I think these are pretty good representations of a general "look". Heck, if DNA extracted from Galilean skeletons is any evidence, there was a fair amount of genetic homogeneity in the region as the result of prolonged intra-cultural endogamy.

The two personalities that stood out the most were the Jewish General turned historian Yosef ben Matiyahu - otherwise known as Titus Flavius Josephus, or simply Josephus (above left), and the other was the Hasmonean King Herod the First, otherwise known as Herod the Great (below right). Ethnically it should be pointed out that Josephus was purely Judean, and a Kohen (priestly caste) at that, descended from Jonathan Apphus - the brother of Judah the Maccabee, and by extension through a long pedigree to Phinehas, the grandson of Aron, of Exodus fame.

King Herod on the other hand was the son of Antipater - a high-ranking official from Idumea (around Beersheva), whose mother was a Nabatean Arab woman named Cypros (probably from the other side of the Jordan River). The Idumeans were an ethnologically very closely related people to the Judeans (i.e. descended from Esau), who do not appear to be linguistically or physically that distinct from Judeans, Galileans, or Samaritans, and prior to Herod's birth, the tribe was en masse in the process of being absorbed into mainstream Judean culture. At times this acculturation was consensual, but at other times the less compromising zealots of Judaism would sort of, well, force the issue, with swords and stuff. The Nabateans (who wrote their language in Aramaic characters) were a "Judean-friendly" pagan Arab tribe, and who for the most part eventually opted for their own version of Christianity, before being absorbed into Islam. Their genetic descendants are today any Arabs affiliated with the Al-Azd tribe - which is spread throughout the middle east. While this technically makes Herod a convert to Judaism - and a Hellenized one at that, rather than an ethnically "pure" Judean, it should be pointed out that great numbers of Idumeans fought and died alongside ethnic Judeans in the Roman War, and were from all reports more or less indistinct from one another (at least, I suspect, from a foreign perspective). Overall Idumeans played an important role in the evolution of First Century C.E. Jewish culture and Judaism, and supplied such stellar visionaries as Akiva ben Yosef, otherwise known as Rabbi Akiva - one the key contributors to the Mishnah, or Rabbinic law.

All in all I think the two portraits came out fairly well, but if you are interested in the reference material of the original statuary it's easily available through a quick web search of Josephus or Herod. Some other images I looked at were Nabatean coins bearing the image of King Malichos II from 40-70 C.E., as well as a Neolithic mask found in the Judean desert that dates from about 9000 B.C.E. Neither is exactly Judean, but the latter does shine some light on what the folk who lived at Jericho in pre-biblical times might have looked like.

I'm fully interested going even more forensic in building out features from period skulls excavated in the region. And hey, some Philistine faces would be quite nice to recover.

Anyway, that's about it for now. 

Till next time.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Gauntlet Speaks: The Return of John Galt?

Welcome back to the quaintly out-going yet introverted Gauntlet of Balthazar for more of the usual musings and minutia.

If you've frequented the Gauntlet before you may have noticed that there haven't been very many posts of late, and certainly not as many opinion pieces as there were when visceral civil unrest was more upfront in the U.S., the E.U., the U.K., and elsewhere, over the last couple of years.

Yes, yes, the Gauntlet had been donned, and had much to say about such complex subjects as Brexit, China's clampdown on Hong Kong, Catalonian Independence (and Spanish statism), Kurdish nationalism, Israel and the Palestinians, and of course the overarching triple threat of Neo-Marxism, Post-Modernism, and Corporatist-Globalism, as well as their unwitting but all too willing facilitators in the mainstream media and corporate sphere. 

Surely, these were, and are, arenas where philosophic combat could, and can, be waged in print against these otherwise wonky "religions", but in the end it's a very hard nut to crack in freeing people's minds who are thoroughly convinced that the beliefs they hold near and dear are homegrown, especially when they themselves don't really fully grasp the history of the ideas they are so earnestly espousing. As genius economist / philosopher Thomas Sowell once rightly stated - "being Democrat in the U.S. is the default position", and no matter how much the Gauntlet has gone out of its way to illuminate the long, dirty, hypocritical history of the party of race and the myriad failures of the far left, this battle has long been a defensive one - with the fate of our shared culture hanging in the balance. This slow fall of our republic has led to the civic virtues and the principles of the American founding fathers as embodied in John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, as well as the political parties derived from them - the Federalists and Whigs, and their offspring - the Republicans, serving as whimpering bastion of largely complacent facilitators of those who would wield power with no hesitation, let alone moral qualms or remorse. In fact, it is quite the opposite, and those power hungry statists generally label those who defend the basis of our nation as socially weird outliers, collaborators with foreign powers, hateful racists, conspiracy theorists, what have you.   

Sadly, the so-called "right wing" long ago ceded the moral high ground to an opponent who debates if there even is such a thing as subjective morality, and with the shift of 1960's radicals easing into the endemic kleptocracy of the 1990's, the so-called small L "liberals" soon supplied the lions share of the entrenched political class (Deep State), as well as the corporate elite (Woke Capital), adding those spheres to an arsenal which already included the arts, the press, and academia. At this point they've even co-opted many traditional religious institutions, imparting "woke" ideology to a bevy of well-meaning reverends, priests, and rabbis, not to mention the current Pope, who I suspect is a tad more Communist than he lets on. 

Generally, when an election is lost, regardless of suspicions of foul play, Republicans, Right-Leaning Libertarians, Conservatives, etc., tend to take it well, and usually just pick up their ball and go home, yearning for their next time up at bat. They picture a return to sitting around grumbling complaints with their chums over a cup of tea for four, maybe eight, years max. But our most recent past election presented a new phenomena in the history of American politics. The aftermath was a skirmish of revenge, which included not only a change in the dominant political party, but one in which one side clearly viewed their "victory" as carte blanche to undo what had been done, as well as an opportunity to entrench their party's power indefinitely, and to alter society to match their utopian vision of the future.

You gotta admit, it is indeed a wonderful vision, filled with ideas lifted from the likes of Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Saul Alinsky, the World Economic Forum at Davos, Progressives going back to the vexing Woodrow Wilson, and even some ideas borrowed from Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt. Sadly, their goal is to install these ideas, many of which are racist by the way (yes, read about Wilson), regardless of how much they doth protest. In the guise of corporate human resource managers paying aggrieved, generally Socialist, "NPO" guest speakers (out of our tax dollars) to lecture employees about "inclusion", "equity", and other really nice sounding buzz words that de facto promote race, class, and gender warfare, and are cut from the pages of any old street corner Communist shouting at the bourgeois passerby.  

I have to admit that when I saw the Capitol incident on television I was initially tickled pink, as the words of Thomas Jefferson rattled through my head - "A government should be afraid of its people and not the other way around". But even at that moment I knew that this event would be soon weaponized by the DNC (and their allies) as a ready tool to destroy those that they deemed fit to be "cancelled". The fact that Republicans from their start have never been part of a riot, while Democrats had been having them since 1832, ramped them up starting in 1968, and topped them off with the BLM / Antifa-fests of the summer of 2020, meant nothing - 'cuz, what's good for the goose is good for the, uh, goose.

Nonetheless the result was to be expected. Algorithms suddenly changed, content de-ranking was rampant, videos were "age restricted", YouTube channels and legit social media platforms such as Parler were suddenly offline (but hey, I'm sure they were horrible 'cuz, you know, "they" said so), monetization dried up, as the empty suit know as Joe Biden took the White House as the most popular elected Democrat IN HISTORY. Yes, historians will marvel at this in the future - a man everyone took for at best a too touchy-feely non-entity, received a larger number and larger percentage of the vote, and even more of the Black vote than Barack Obama. (Honk!, Honk!) Sure he did. What's that you say? How can that be if Trump took more of the Black Male vote away from Democrats than any Republican in over sixty years? Yeah, somehow Blacks just had to come out and give Awesome Joe a hand. Wow, what a powerhouse!

Anyway, I digress, but as I've always contended, this was never about Trump versus Biden, or the prior's "personality", this was / is a about a point in history where the left reached "critical mass" and said, "it's now or never". They needed to push their agenda through, get rid of even good things that always worked, they needed to tear down the past with regressive glee, and "reset" society using the Covid-19 psy-op fear-demic as their cudgel. Trump, and any Conservative who were / are a threat to the left, and punched back, were on the enemies list - because only those that they sanctioned would be allowed to speak. We (everyone who isn't them) are just supposed to stand there and take it. Hey, maybe even apologize, like all the media personalities who we've become used to watching race to save their careers with useless excuses after they get trounced on by twitter demons just before their corporate masters turf them out to the unemployment line.

Just a note to everyone out there who might fall into one of their sticky traps. When tangling with a liberal mob, never, never, ever, apologize - for anything. The only viable tactic is the turnabout. A swift punch back, followed by inverting the narrative that it is they who function as the racists and fascists that they oh, so profess are their arch-enemies. As the old saying goes: Scratch a liberal and you find underneath an elitist, or a self-hating aristocrat. Scratch a Conservative and you'll find a person who is frightened of change. We don't need to change, but as any descent General would tell you, tactics must be adjusted to fit the circumstances.

On the upside - in the end the leftists will inevitably fail, as is their nature. They confuse the egalitarianism of the Classical Liberalism of the enlightenment with anarchy and licentiousness. They conflate well-meaning intentions for virtues, and generally don't grasp the distinction between liberty and equality. They claim to be the party of science, while spouting contradictory and decidedly un-sciency statements. Their progressive antecedents did the same thing when they endorsed phrenology and eugenics in the WWI period. They even used this sort of highly questionable "science" in the 19th century when they defended the institution of slavery, as well as the implementation of wide-spread abortion under Margaret Sanger, whose goals for her organization Planned Parenthood was to limit the number of Black, Jewish, Italian, and poor white babies from entering the gene pool. Race science was even promoted in the de-segregation era of the early 1960's, and frankly, the current inter-sectional racial equity gambit is loaded with heaps of race science quackery and social science theories that more often than not flat out ignore demographic and statistical data. Is it a surprise that many green activists talk about limiting population growth to save the earth - as if they're demented parrots of Thomas Malthus! 

While I'm no fan of Neo-Cons or Neo-Libs, at least traditional moderate liberals could get some things done. Sadly, as the far leftists have become dominant, the co-opted liberals have clearly entered a phase in which they form a notion with no means to move it to next step, let alone see it to its ultimate outcome. Intentions and objective are blurred. As Nick Fury says to Loki in the first Avenger's film: "Yeah, you say Freedom, but I think you mean the other thing."

With Biden's election the leftist puppet media touted "a return to normalcy" and "reconciliation". But this is a lie. Their normalcy is just another version of "their way or the highway" and vilifying their opponents. Their "reconciliation" is endless witch trials. While Conservatives burn pandemic masks in protest, they ban and burn books that have fallen out of their favor. These are the worst sort of people and I shudder for the Republic, and all republics everywhere. 

In the long run, their attacks will just create a stronger counter-reaction, and the more they suppress dissent, the more extreme the reprisal will be later. I imagine if things keep going the way they are that you might hear a leftist say one day, "Hey that Trump guy wasn't so bad...not like this new guy...what a monster!"

But, for the time being we can build and prepare, while they rest on their very plush, and self-assured laurels. While it is best that we do not hide, we must be aware that the playing field is neither even, nor fair, and that while we accept that those to our left have the right to believe what they believe, the same quarter is not extended to us. In fact, not only do they not understand the why and what we believe, they have no interest in debate, and go out of their way to incorrectly characterize, suppress, and mock our arguments before the fact. 

Thus, at least from where I sit - this is the return of John Galt - the patient, elusive, symbolic, Conservative-Libertarian "protagonist" of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". Building alternative platforms and conduits, and sharing our notions only with trusted friends, while we sadly hold our tongues around those who are rest assured to strike back upon the realization that we have another viewpoint. And then, when the moment comes we must hold our leaders responsible to not betray the principles that define us. 

First things first, of course we must stand by our beliefs, speak the truth, but in policy I suggest that when we are in the position to do so we move to change the classification of internet social media platforms to that of regulated public utilities rather than private businesses who regardless maintain biased publishing and editorial oversight over their users. Secondly, we need to move to nationalize specific server farms, so someone like Jeff Bezos can't just decide at a moments notice to purge anyone he doesn't like without a trace.

This is not to say remove ownership and private property - quite the opposite. These are measures that are no different than how we as users interact with out telephone service providers. Sprint doesn't cut into my phone calls and tell me that I can't say something they don't like. Obviously, calls to violence and the like should be monitored, but I think these measures would be a good start, and maybe when there's at least some semblance of a level playing field, actual civility may return to our public discourse.

So I guess that what I'm saying is that I've been laying in wait, surveying the lay of the land while I continue focusing on my artistic endeavors. A break, or if you will, a cease fire, at least for me - though I can't imagine the other side ever relenting. 

As previously mentioned, there's more content on the way, but that's about it for now.

Till next time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

New Release Tuesday: 391 & the Army of Astraea's "I'm Not Van Gogh" Extended Play Single

Hello my fellow Gauntletarians, I know it's been quite a while, and as such I've been working on a very wordy sociopolitical post as well as a mixology installment to upload really soon. But in the meantime, it just so happens that I recently finished mixing (at least as much as I can stand it) a new 391 & the Army of Astraea three song Extended Play Single. 

Unlike many of 391's earlier digital releases this single is not Industrial-Electronic or Soundtrack work, but instead is in the Alternative Folk-Rock / Singer-Songwriter vein of things. Titled "I'm Not Van Gogh" / "Love Not Lost (Live)" + "The Tattooed Lady (Dreamland Park Mix)", this vocals & guitar-driven trio of ditties have been in the works for quite a while, and contains elements that reach as far back as 1988. 

Interestingly, all three cuts on this extended play are composites of either old lyrics with new music, or new lyrics with old music, or additional tracks added to existing recordings made a couple of years ago. Thematically they're also all over the place, with the title track standing as a lyrical coping mechanism for the vagaries of the writing process, the second track lodged in the middle as a lovelorn ballad, and the last tune noticeably summoned from 1920's retro-kitsch.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these songs, and hopefully those to come. Feel free to let me know what you think (hopefully nicely), and obviously, you are very welcome to follow the 391 & the Army of Astraea page on Bandcamp and / or the Stubborn God Productions page on Soundcloud, and to like and subscribe to the Nevekari Enterprises YouTube channel as well as the Gauntlet of Balthazar, Stubborn God Productions, and Nevekari Enterprises pages on Facebook, and of course, Nevekari's home page.

Thanks as always. Till next time.