- 20121118: The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, Robert D. Kaplan, 2012
- 20121104: Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World, Haruki MURAKAMI, 2012
- 20121018: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t. Nate Silver, 2012. Penguin book, 534 pages.
- 20121018: Petite anthologie de la littérature érotique (LE PETIT LIVRE) Gilles GUILLERON, 2009
- 20121006 Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul (Giulio Tononi, 2012)
- 20120915 Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology (Oren Harman and Michael Dietrich, 2008)
- 20120912 L’intégrale One Shot #1 (French Edition) (Sébastien Ayreault, Elias Jabre, Arnaud Modat and Eric le Forestier)
- 20120906 Mythologie grecque et romaine (P. Commelin)
- 20120903 Arguments Of Celsus, Porphyry, And The Emperor Julian, Against The Christians Also Extracts from Diodorus Siculus, Josephus, and Tacitus, Relating to the Jews, Together with an Appendix (Thomas Taylor)
- 20120829 Galgenlieder nebst dem ‘Gingganz’ (Christian Morgenstern)
- 20120826 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune). Seeing life whole MEANWHILE BY JOAN WICKERSHAM | THE BOSTON GLOBE
- 20120823 Bretz’s Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World’s Greatest Flood (John Soennichsen)
- 20120822 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune)
- 20120822 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune) : WikiLeaks and the future of free speech OP-ED Keith Negley BY MICHAEL MOORE AND OLIVER STONE
- 20120821 Antoine de Rivarol, Universalite de la langue française
- 20120817 In der Villa ist die Hölle los: Die Villa ist voll! Von Oma geerbt. Das Zeug muss weg! Doch wie? Die Komödie begint (German Edition) (Vito von Eichborn and Gabriele von Holbach)
- 20120811 Broken Harbour (Tana French)
- 20120805: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Steven Johnson)
- 20120803 In Gold We Trust? The Future of Money in an Age of Uncertainty (Kindle Single) (Michael Green and Matthew Bishop)
- 20120802 Beethoven’s Shadow (Kindle Single) (Jonathan Biss)
- 20120801 Zombie Bible: Death Has Come Up into Our Windows (Kindle Single) (Stant Litore)
- 20120726 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune)
- 20120722 Himmelsdiebe (German Edition) (Peter Prange)
- 20120721 Vestiges de l’amour (French Edition) (Jean-Marc LIGNY)
- 20120720 Sitting Ducks (Kindle Single) (Steve Anderson)
- 20120720 Gutenberg the Geek (Kindle Single) (Jeff Jarvis)
- 20120708 Le Monde (Le Monde): La côte flamande en guerre contre Météo Belgique, Jean-Pierre Stroobants (Bruxelles, Correspondant)
- 20120614 How the End Begins (Ron Rosenbaum)
- 20120609 Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists (Rebecca Stott)
- 20120606 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune): The things parents never forget, JOAN WICKERSHAM
- 20120422 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (Thomas S. Kuhn and Ian Hacking)
- 20120225 Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (Terrence W. Deacon)
- 20120207 Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man (Mark Changizi)
20121118: The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, Robert D. Kaplan, 2012
I started reading the “Revenge” in November 2012, but we then moved from Brebbia to Poirino and eventually to Beijing (201301)… which why I basically stopped reading as I settled into the new job… I finished reading this excellent book on 20130610.
Loc. 261-64: And yet, overall, the nations of former Turkish and Byzantine southeastern Europe suffered in their communist regimes nothing less than a version of oriental despotism, as though a second Mongol invasion, whereas those nations of former Catholic Habsburg Europe mainly suffered something less malignant: a dreary mix in varying degrees of radical socialist populism. Loc. 499-501: And so this is where the Post Cold War has brought us: to the recognition that the very totalitarianism that we fought against in the decades following World War II might, in quite a few circumstances, be preferable to a situation where nobody is in charge. There are things worse than communism, it turned out, and in Iraq we brought them about ourselves. 668-70: Note how temperate zone, east–west oriented Eurasia is better off than north–south oriented sub-Saharan Africa, because technological diffusion works much better across a common latitude, where climatic conditions are similar, thus allowing for innovations in the tending of plants and the domestication of animals to spread rapidly. Loc. 981-98: Hodgson helps the reader to visualize the fluid world of late antiquity in which Islam emerged, as well as the world of today, with China and India increasing their economic presence in the Greater Middle East (the Oikoumene of yore), even as the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms do likewise in Africa, thus undoing the artificial divisions we have grown used to. “The region where Islamicate culture was to be formed can almost be defined negatively,” he explains, “as that residual group of lands in which the Greek and the Sanskrit traditions did not have their roots and from which the European and Indic regions were eventually set off.… In this sense, our region, in the Axial Age [800 to 200 B.C.], consisted of those lands between the Mediterranean and the Hindu-Kush [Afghanistan] in which Greek and Sanskrit had at best only local or transient growths.” Within this wide belt of the Greater Middle East, stretching roughly three thousand miles or more in the lower temperate zone, two geographical features encouraged high culture: the key commercial position, particularly of Arabia and the Fertile Crescent, in terms of the trade routes from one extremity of the Oikoumene to the other, and the very aridity of the region. This latter point needs explaining. Hodgson tells us that the general lack of water reduced the wealth that could be had by agriculture, and made concentrated holdings of productive land rare, so that rural life was insecure and downgraded in favor of urban life in the oases. Money and power converged in the hands of merchants at the “juncture points” of long-distance Middle East trade routes, particularly when those thoroughfares skirted close to the sea traffic of the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf, giving Arab merchants critical accessibility to the prodigious flows of Indian Ocean trade. And because this was a world of trade and contracts, ethical behavior and “just dealing” were paramount for the sake of a stable economic life. Thus, as both the Byzantine and Sassanid empires to the north weakened in Anatolia and Persia, the stage was set in Arabia and the Fertile Crescent for the emergence of a faith that emphasized good ethics over one merely ensuring “the round of the agricultural seasons.” Thus, Islam sprung up as much as a merchants’ creed as a desert one. (Ref. pp. 114, 120–24, 133; Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. 2: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 65, 71. Loc. 1202-4: For on the Heartland steppe the land is unceasingly flat, the climate hard, and the vegetable production limited to grass, in turn destroyed by sand, driven by powerful winds. Such conditions bred hard and cruel races of men who had at once to destroy any adversaries they came across or be destroyed themselves, as there was no better means of defense in one spot than in another. Loc. 1274-78: Indeed, the U.S. projection of power into the rimlands of Afghanistan and Iraq, and America’s tension with Russia over the political fate of Central Asia and the Caucasus—the geographical pivot itself—have given yet more legitimacy to Mackinder’s thesis. In his last paragraph, Mackinder raises the specter of Chinese conquests of Russian territory, which would make, he says, China the dominant geopolitical power. If one looks at how Chinese migrants are now demographically claiming parts of Siberia from Russia, even as Russia’s political control of its eastern reaches shows strains, one can envision Mackinder being right once more. Loc. 1577-83: As for the Heartland thesis itself, Strausz-Hupé, who is extremely skeptical of it to begin with, says that air power—both commercial and military—may render it meaningless. Nevertheless, he does believe that Industrial Age technology provided the advantage to big states: large factories, railway lines, and tanks and aircraft carriers are best taken advantage of by states with depth of distance and territory. “The history of our times appears to reflect, with malignant fatality, the trend toward empires and super-states predicted by the Ratzels, Spenglers, and Mackinders.” 9 Of course, the postindustrial age, with its emphasis on smallness—microchips, mobile phones, plastic explosives—has empowered not only large states but individuals and stateless groups, too, adding only a deeper complexity and tension to geopolitics. Loc. 1630-33: James Fairgrieve, a near-contemporary of Mackinder, explains that because of the lack of solar energy compared to the tropics, human beings in the temperate zones must work harder to deal with greater varieties of weather, and with the differences in seasons that lead to definite times for sowing and harvest: thus, it is in the temperate zones where human beings “advance from strength to strength.” My comment : this is, of course, plain nonsense. Loc. 1951-58: In a sign of how the power dynamics of the world are changing, Indian and Chinese strategists avidly read Mahan; they, much more than the Americans, are the Mahanians now: they are building fleets designed for armed encounters at sea, whereas European navies view sea power only in terms of constabulary action. For example, in a 2004 symposium in Beijing, “scholar after scholar quoted Mahan … attesting to his influence,” write Naval War College professors James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara. “And almost without exception, they quoted the most bellicose-sounding of Mahan’s precepts, equating command of the sea to overbearing power that closes the maritime common to an enemy’s flag.” 12 Since then, as the Chinese navy becomes larger and more wide-ranging, the bent toward Mahan has only intensified in Beijing, especially with the rise of Indian sea power, which the Chinese fear; the Indians, for their part, view the Chinese in similar Mahanian terms. Loc. 1999-2006: Bracken, who has served as a consultant to nearly all Post Cold War American government reassessments, draws a conceptual map of Eurasia defined by the ongoing collapse of time and distance, and the filling up of empty spaces—something that William McNeill first alerted us to in the latter chapters of his grand history of humanity. But because Bracken writes during a more dramatic stage of this development, this leads him to declare a “crisis of room.” Bracken refers to the idea of the great Hungarian American mathematician John von Neumann, who contended that in the past a sparsely populated geography had acted as a safety mechanism against military and technological advances. Yet von Neumann worried that geography was now losing the battle. Undeniably, the very “finite size of the earth” would increasingly be a force for instability, as military hardware and software condensed distances on the geopolitical map. “This is an easy change to miss,” Bracken warns, “because it is gradual.” Loc. 2131-37: Elias Canetti, the Bulgarian-born Spanish Jew and Nobel laureate in literature, became so transfixed and terrified at the mob violence over inflation that seized Frankfurt and Vienna between the two world wars that he devoted much of his life to studying the human herd in all its manifestations. The signal insight of his book Crowds and Power, published in 1960, was that we all yearn to be inside some sort of crowd, for in a crowd—or a mob, for that matter—there is shelter from danger and, by inference, from loneliness. Nationalism, extremism, the yearning for democracy are all the products of crowd formations and thus manifestations of seeking to escape from loneliness. It is loneliness, alleviated by Twitter and Facebook, that ultimately leads to the breakdown of traditional authority and the erection of new kinds. Loc. 2139-44: George Orwell’s depiction of tyranny rests to a great degree on the human proclivity, however much it may be denied, to trade individual freedom for the enfolding protection and intimate contact of the group. “Always yell with the crowd, that’s what I say. It’s the only way to be safe,” one character declares in Orwell’s novel 1984. 11 Indeed, the Internet, explains the novelist Thomas Pynchon, offers the protection of a virtual crowd, and thus “promises social control on a scale those quaint old twentieth-century tyrants with their goofy mustaches could only dream about.” Source of this quote in Kaplan is Thomas Pynchon, foreword to George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Penguin, 2003). Loc. 2495-2517: […] Europe is shifting to the east as it admits former communist nations into the European Union, and to the south as it grapples with the political and economic stabilization of the southern shore of the Mediterranean in North Africa. And in all these rearrangements, Greece, of all places, will provide an insightful register of the health of the European project. Greece is the only part of the Balkans accessible on several seaboards to the Mediterranean, and thus is the unifier of two European worlds. Greece is geographically equidistant between Brussels and Moscow, and is as close to Russia culturally as it is to Europe, by virtue of its Eastern Orthodox Christianity, in turn a legacy of Byzantium. Greece throughout modern history has been burdened by political underdevelopment. Whereas the mid-nineteenth-century revolutions in Europe were often of middle-class origins with political liberties as their goal, the Greek independence movement was a mainly ethnic movement with a religious basis. The Greek people overwhelmingly sided with Russia in favor of the Serbs and against Europe during the 1999 Kosovo War, even if the Greek government’s position was more equivocal. Greece is the most economically troubled European nation that was not part of the communist zone during the Cold War. Greece, going back to antiquity, is where Europe—and by inference the West—both ends and begins. The war that Herodotus chronicled between Greece and Persia established a “dichotomy” of West against East that persisted for millennia. 23 Greece barely remained in the Western camp at the beginning of the Cold War, owing to its own civil war between rightists and communists, and the fateful negotiations between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin that ultimately made Greece part of NATO. Greece, as Mackinder writes, lies just outside the Eurasian Heartland and is thus accessible to sea power. But possession of Greece in some form by a Heartland power (namely Russia) “would probably carry with it the control of the World-Island.” 24 Of course, Russia is not going to be taking control of Greece anytime soon. Yet it is interesting to contemplate what would have happened during the Cold War had the negotiations between Churchill and Stalin gone differently: imagine how much stronger the Kremlin’s strategic position would have been with Greece inside the communist bloc, endangering Italy across the Adriatic Sea, to say nothing of the whole eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The Greek financial crisis, so emblematic of Greece’s political and economic underdevelopment, rocked the European Union’s currency system beginning in 2010, and because of the tensions it wrought between northern and southern European countries was nothing less than the most significant challenge to the European project since the wars of the Yugoslav secession. As Greece ably demonstrates, Europe remains a truly ambitious work in progress: one that will be influenced by trends and convulsions from the south and east in a world reeling from a crisis of room. Loc. 3032-3657: Chapter on the THE GEOGRAPHY OF CHINESE POWER is by far the best in the book, together with the last Chapter on… north America. The Chinese chapter has most interesting passages on the relations between China, India and Taiwan. It originated from an article Kaplan wrote for Foreign Affairs and somehow constitutes both the seed and the core of the book. The last chapter has some interesting views about the relative importance, to the US, of Mexico and remote places such as Afghanistan and Iraqi… It made me feel like having another look at he “Clash of Civilizations” which I use extensively when I teach about the “future.” The chapter also extensively quotes Braudel. I never knew that he is known beyond the francophone world. I clipped the whole chapter to share it with some friends… and I thereby “reached the clipping limit for this item”… which explains the end of the clippings about this book. Note that the problem can be solved by scanning the Kindle and running an OCR programme on the output, which I did for the end of the China chapter and some passages of the Mexico chapter comparing the decline of the US and the decline of the Roman empire. If you should be interested (and if anyone should actually be reading this!) drop me a line: wergosum @ gmail.com.
20121104: Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World, Haruki MURAKAMI, 2012
Page 7 | Loc. 182-87: The young woman hardly spoke. “This way, please,” was all she told me, but it was more her lips forming the words than speaking, because no sound came out. Having taken two months of lipreading since starting this line of work, I had no problem understanding what she said. Still, I thought there was something wrong with my ears. After the dead silence of the elevator, the flattened coughs and dessicated whistling, I had to be losing my hearing. So I coughed. It sounded normal. I regained some confidence in my hearing. Nothing’s happened to my ears. The problem must be with the woman’s mouth. Page 51 | Loc. 906-7: I wasn’t particularly afraid of death itself. As Shakespeare said, die this year and you don’t have to die the next. Page 67 | Loc. 1195-96: There wasn’t a speck of mail in the mailbox. Nor any message on the answering machine. No one had any business with me, it seemed. Fine. I had no business with anyone else either. Page 68 | Loc. 1209-11: When at last I awoke, it was half light out. The clock read six-fifteen, but I couldn’t tell whether it was morning or evening. I pulled on a pair of slacks and leaned out my door to check the neighbor’s doormat. The morning edition was lying there, which led me to conclude it was morning. Subscribing to a paper comes in handy at times like this. Page 158: Thirty minutes later, right on schedule, three men from Headquarters arrived. One of whom was the smart-ass young liaison who always came around to pick up data, outfitted in the usual business suit, white shirt, and bank clerk’s tie. The other two were dressed like movers. Even so, they didn’t look a thing like a bank clerk and movers; they looked like they were trying to look like a bank clerk and movers.
20121018: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t. Nate Silver, 2012. Penguin book, 534 pages.
Loc. 7668-72: Much of the manuscript production took place at monasteries. Belgium often had among the highest rates of manuscript production per capita because of its abundant monasteries. Relieved of their need to produce manuscripts, a few of these monasteries instead began to shift their focus to producing their wonderful Trappist beers. So another of those unintended consequences: Gutenberg’s invention, however indirectly, may be at least a little bit responsible for improving the quality of the world’s beer. Loc. 129-39: And yet if The Tragedy of Julius Caesar turned on an ancient idea of prediction—associating it with fatalism, fortune-telling, and superstition—it also introduced a more modern and altogether more radical idea: that we might interpret these signs so as to gain an advantage from them. “Men at some time are masters of their fates,” says Cassius, hoping to persuade Brutus to partake in the conspiracy against Caesar. The idea of man as master of his fate was gaining currency. The words predict and forecast are largely used interchangeably today, but in Shakespeare’s time, they meant different things. A prediction was what the soothsayer told you; a forecast was something more like Cassius’s idea.The term forecast came from English’s Germanic roots,20 unlike predict, which is from Latin.21 Forecasting reflected the new Protestant worldliness rather than the otherworldliness of the Holy Roman Empire. Making a forecast typically implied planning under conditions of uncertainty. It suggested having prudence, wisdom, and industriousness, more like the way we now use the word foresight. Loc. 165-66: The 1970s were the high point for “vast amounts of theory applied to extremely small amounts of data,” as Paul Krugman put it to me. Loc. 270-71: A recent study in Nature found that the more informed that strong political partisans were about global warming, the less they agreed with one another. Source: Dan M. Kahan, et al., “The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks,” Nature Climate Change, May 27, 2012. Loc. 935-40: His (= Telock’s) studies, which spanned more than fifteen years, were eventually published in the 2005 book Expert Political Judgment. Tetlock’s conclusion was damning. The experts in his survey—regardless of their occupation, experience, or subfield—had done barely any better than random chance, and they had done worse than even rudimentary statistical methods at predicting future political events. They were grossly overconfident and terrible at calculating probabilities: about 15 percent of events that they claimed had no chance of occurring in fact happened, while about 25 percent of those that they said were absolutely sure things in fact failed to occur. Loc. 948-49: Tetlock was able to classify his experts along a spectrum between what he called hedgehogs and foxes. (Loc. 953-55:) Hedgehogs are type A personalities who believe in Big Ideas—in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws and undergird virtually every interaction in society. (Loc. 956-57:) Foxes, on the other hand, are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem. (Loc. 959-60:) Foxes, Tetlock found, are considerably better at forecasting than hedgehogs. Loc. 1888-99: In the most competitive industries, like sports, the best forecasters must constantly innovate. It’s easy to adopt a goal of “exploit market inefficiencies.” But that doesn’t really give you a plan for how to find them and then determine whether they represent fresh dawns or false leads. It’s hard to have an idea that nobody else has thought of. It’s even harder to have a good idea—and when you do, it will soon be duplicated. That is why this book shies away from promoting quick-fix solutions that imply you can just go about your business in a slightly different way and outpredict the competition. Good innovators typically think very big and they think very small. New ideas are sometimes found in the most granular details of a problem where few others bother to look. And they are sometimes found when you are doing your most abstract and philosophical thinking, considering why the world is the way that it is and whether there might be an alternative to the dominant paradigm. Rarely can they be found in the temperate latitudes between these two spaces, where we spend 99 percent of our lives. The categorizations and approximations we make in the normal course of our lives are usually good enough to get by, but sometimes we let information that might give us a competitive advantage slip through the cracks. Loc. 2581-89: Both the USGS and I are playing some semantic games. The terms “prediction” and “forecast” are employed differently in different fields; in some cases, they are interchangeable, but other disciplines differentiate them. No field is more sensitive to the distinction than seismology. If you’re speaking with a seismologist: A prediction is a definitive and specific statement about when and where an earthquake will strike: a major earthquake will hit Kyoto, Japan, on June 28. Whereas a forecast is a probabilistic statement, usually over a longer time scale: there is a 60 percent chance of an earthquake in Southern California over the next thirty years. The USGS’s official position is that earthquakes cannot be predicted. They can, however, be forecasted. Loc. 2641-61: If you compare the frequencies of earthquakes with their magnitudes, you’ll find that the number drops off exponentially as the magnitude increases. While there are very few catastrophic earthquakes, there are literally millions of smaller ones—about 1.3 million earthquakes measuring between magnitude 2.0 and magnitude 2.9 around the world every year (Note 27). Most of these earthquakes go undetected—certainly by human beings and often by seismometers (note 28). However, almost all earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 or greater are recorded today, however remote their location. Figure 5-3a shows the exponential decline in their frequencies, based on actual records of earthquakes from January 1964 (Note 29) through March 2012 (Note 30). It turns out that these earthquakes display a stunning regularity when you graph them in a slightly different way. In figure 5-3b, I’ve changed the vertical axis—which shows the frequency of earthquakes of different magnitudes—into a logarithmic scale.* Now the earthquakes form what is almost exactly a straight line on the graph. This pattern is characteristic of what is known as a power-law distribution, and it is the relationship that Richter and Gutenberg uncovered. Something that obeys this distribution has a highly useful property: you can forecast the number of large-scale events from the number of small-scale ones, or vice versa. In the case of earthquakes, it turns out that for every increase of one point in magnitude, an earthquake becomes about ten times less frequent. So, for example, magnitude 6 earthquakes occur ten times more frequently than magnitude 7’s, and one hundred times more often than magnitude 8’s. What’s more, the Gutenberg–Richter law generally holds across regions of the globe as well as over the whole planet. Suppose, for instance, that we wanted to make an earthquake forecast for Tehran, Iran. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a catastrophic earthquake there since its seismicity began to be measured. But there have been a number of medium-size ones; between 1960 and 2009, there were about fifteen earthquakes that measured between 5.0 and 5.9 on the magnitude scale in the area surrounding the city (Note 31) Notes to the above clipping. 27: “Earthquake Facts and Statistics,” United States Geological Survey. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqarchives/year/eqstats.php. 28: The exceptions are in wealthy and earthquake-rich regions like California, Japan, and Italy, where there are seismometers on every proverbial block. 29: 1964 marks about the point at which record keeping for medium-size earthquakes significantly improved. 30: “Composite Earthquake Catalog,” Advanced National Seismic System, Northern California Earthquake Data Center. http://quake.geo.berkeley.edu/cnss/. 31: In a box measuring three degrees latitude by three degrees longitude centered around Tehran. Loc. 3585-95: Scientists feared the disease might follow the progression of the Spanish flu of 1918, which had initially been fairly mild, but which came back in much deadlier second and third waves (figure 7-1). By August, the mood had again grown more pessimistic, with U.S. authorities describing a “plausible scenario” in which as much as half the population might be infected by swine flu and as many as 90,000 Americans might die. FIGURE 7-1: DEATH RATE FROM 1918–19 H1N1 OUTBREAK Those predictions also proved to be unwarranted, however. Eventually, the government reported that a total of about fifty-five million Americans had become infected with H1N1 in 2009—about one sixth of the U.S. population rather than one half—and 11,000 had died from it.43 Rather than being an unusually severe strain of the virus, H1N1 had in fact been exceptionally mild, with a fatality rate of just 0.02 percent. Indeed, there were slightly fewer deaths from the flu in 2009–10 than in a typical season.
Loc. 3750-52: Cartography takes a lifetime to master and combines elements of both art and science. It probably goes too far to describe model building as an art form, but it does require a lot of judgment. Loc. 4130-34: The argument made by Bayes and Price is not that the world is intrinsically probabilistic or uncertain. Bayes was a believer in divine perfection; he was also an advocate of Isaac Newton’s work, which had seemed to suggest that nature follows regular and predictable laws. It is, rather, a statement—expressed both mathematically and philosophically—about how we learn about the universe: that we learn about it through approximation, getting closer and closer to the truth as we gather more evidence. Loc. 4149-57: The reason has to do with the disconnect between the perfection of nature and our very human imperfections in measuring and understanding it. Laplace was frustrated at the time by astronomical observations that appeared to show anomalies in the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn—they seemed to predict that Jupiter would crash into the sun while Saturn would drift off into outer space. These predictions were, of course, quite wrong, and Laplace devoted much of his life to developing much more accurate measurements of these planets’ orbits.The improvements that Laplace made relied on probabilistic inferences in lieu of exacting measurements, since instruments like the telescope were still very crude at the time. Laplace came to view probability as a waypoint between ignorance and knowledge. It seemed obvious to him that a more thorough understanding of probability was essential to scientific progress. [References to notes removed] Loc. 6427-40: The Armstrong and Green paper claimed to find the IPCC forecasts wanting; it suggested that they had failed to abide by seventy-two of eighty-nine forecasting principles. Eighty-nine forecasting principles (Note 35) is probably too many (Note 36). Nevertheless, most of Armstrong’s principles are good rules of thumb for forecasters, and when applied to global warming forecasts they can be simplified into what is essentially a three-pronged critique. First, Armstrong and Green contend that agreement among forecasters is not related to accuracy—and may reflect bias as much as anything else. “You don’t vote,” Armstrong told me. “That’s not the way science progresses.” Next, they say the complexity of the global warming problem makes forecasting a fool’s errand. “There’s been no case in history where we’ve had a complex thing with lots of variables and lots of uncertainty, where people have been able to make econometric models or any complex models work,” Armstrong told me. “The more complex you make the model the worse the forecast gets.” Finally, Armstrong and Green write that the forecasts do not adequately account for the uncertainty intrinsic to the global warming problem. In other words, they are potentially overconfident. Complexity, uncertainty, and the value (or lack thereof) of consensus views are core themes of this book. Each claim deserves a full hearing. Note 35: Armstrong articulates 139 on his Web site (rather than 89), although not all could be applied to the IPCC forecasts. J. Scott Armstrong, “Standards and Practices for Forecasting,” in Principles of Forecasting: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners (New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers, June 17, 2001). http://forecastingprinciples.com/files/standardshort.pdf. Note 36: One problem this introduces is that some of the rules verge on being self-contradictory. For instance, one of Armstrong’s principles holds that forecasters should “use all important variables” while another touts the virtue of simplicity in forecasting methods. Indeed, the trade-off between parsimony and comprehensiveness when building a forecast model is an important dilemma. I’m less certain that much is accomplished by attempting to boil it down to a series of conflicting mandates rather than thinking about the problem more holistically. It also seems unlikely to me, given the number of rules that Armstrong suggests, that very many forecasts of any kind would receive a high grade according to his forecast audit. Loc. 7289-93: Experts believe there are about 20,000 nuclear warheads in the world today —down from a peak of 65,000 in the 1980s. A threat could theoretically come from any of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons today—even the United States has lost track of eleven of its nuclear weapons throughout its history—and other countries may be trying to develop them.
20121018: Petite anthologie de la littérature érotique (LE PETIT LIVRE) Gilles GUILLERON, 2009
Page 137 | Loc. 1280-82: Et je ne comprenais pas si elle voulait que je la sauve, ou bien que je me noie avec elle. Raymond Radiguet, Le Diable au corps (1923)
20121006 Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul (Giulio Tononi, 2012)
Page 22 | Loc. 298-301: I thought I was in the monastery of my youth, and I was mistaken, as I was having a dream. I may be having a dream now and be mistaken again. The world, myself, all life, all history, and all science may well be images and thoughts happening in a dream. But the dream itself is real. My consciousness, whether I am dreaming or awake, is real. If consciousness is an illusion, then only illusion is real, and the rest is conjecture. There is no explaining consciousness by atoms and the void. Or is there? Page 150 | Loc. 1724-25: He had walked into blind alleys before and knew when one should forgo the quest: better to lose faith early than late. Page 155 | Loc. 1773-74: Murky thoughts, like murky waters, can serve two purposes only: to hide what lies beneath, which is our ignorance, or to make the shallow seem deep. Page 261 | Loc. 3053-76: As far as one can understand, this is what the chapter is trying to say: (1) The most intense pain is evoked by stimulating the brain, not by torturing the body. Indeed, the chapter seems to indicate that pain, or for that matter any other sensation, can be experienced by the brain in isolation, without the collaboration of the body (unlike in Kafka). This suggestion is not as absurd as it seems. One can dream of pain without anything happening to the body. Also, some of the most intractable forms of chronic pain are triggered by malfunctions within the brain, not the body. A more difficult question is whether experience (of pain or anything else) can truly be completely “disembodied.” In The Feeling of What Happens (Mariner, 2000), Antonio Damasio argues otherwise—at its heart consciousness is consciousness of the body and of its interactions with the environment. But both the Master and Galileo seem convinced that once an appropriate network of connections is stitched together—one that can give rise to the appropriate shape in qualia space—that is all it takes to generate consciousness. (2) If one were to substitute for neurons of flesh artificial, virtually immortal ones, as long as their interactions specify the same shape in qualia space, that very pain would be experienced forever, without fadings, faintings, slumberings, and distractions that inevitably enfeeble natural pain (replacing neurons with chips one by one is a classic thought experiment suggesting that consciousness is independent of its material substrate, though not of its informational one). Perhaps we should soon begin worrying about inadvertently creating machines that may undergo unpleasant experiences. (3) A surreal possibility is that acute eternal pain may occur without leaving a trace when memory is erased, as is done by some anesthetics. (What kind of world would be this, in which unspeakable sufferings go on forever inside each private consciousness, but nobody can report about it, not even the subjects themselves?) (4) Any other conscious sensation can be produced by stimulating the brain in the proper way (though we still lack an appropriate embroiderer), and even our maps of the connections among neurons are still inadequate; the exposed surface of the cerebral cortex is from Penfield and Boldrey, Brain (1937), who systematically stimulated different areas to see what sensations were elicited. In the last century, two psychologists, Titchener and Külpe, thought that consciousness could be decomposed into its atoms and, like the torture artist, set out to find its table of elements. The trouble is that Titchener found 44,353 elementary sensations, and Külpe fewer than 12,000. The larger trouble, of course, is that consciousness is not made of atoms, as discussed in “Seeing Dark,” and the perception of pain, like that of dark, or any other, requires the large repertoire of the entire neural complex. (5) Not even acute eternal pain is the worst nightmare (though a rather dire prospect): worse horrors lie in store if one were capable of molding the fabric of neuronal connections, and thereby the shape of qualia, to give birth to new, abominable sensations. If it becomes possible, somebody will be willing: what was once thought can never be unthought. Of course the Master could have tried to create sensations even more heavenly than bliss, but then he is a torture artist, and this is “Nightfall III.” Page 289 | Loc. 3386-87: memory is imagination peering into the past, and imagination, memory looking out into the future.
20120915 Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology (Oren Harman and Michael Dietrich, 2008)
An interesting book, mainly because it provides a very good overview of the recent history of the main areas of biology… where most people that count were, in a way or another, atypical. Interesting to compare this with Bretz (20120823, Bretz’s Flood, see below). I wonder what happens to the “average” scientists? Do they all end up in the UN, industry, secondary schools? Also interesting: clans in science!
Page ix | Loc. 27-28: Although the scientists presented in these pages represent only a selection, the contributors have put their histories to great use and raised important questions about the nature of orthodoxy and dissent, the impact of institutions on innovation, and the power of personality in science. Page 1 | Loc. 48-49: Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s comment on the importance of dissent is worth remembering: “Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth to yourself.” Page 3 | Loc. 72-75: Leon Croizat, the man who challenged the notion that geographic barriers and biota do not co-evolve, was called a member of the lunatic fringe by the eminent paleontologist G. G. Simpson and generally taken to be an amateur and something of a crank. He lived and published in Venezuela, and, as David L. Hull shows, more often than not the establishment patronizingly referred to him as a kind of wealthy Venezuelan amateur botanist rather than as a legitimate member of the scientific community. Page 6 | Loc. 115-16: Bill Hamilton, too, seems to have been something of a maverick, taking on theories that others thought mad, such as the theory about the origin of AIDS that led to his untimely death from malaria. Page 12 | Loc. 201-6: An argument is established as convincing in a normative fashion, with style of presentation, language, and dialectic functioning not merely as “verbal ornaments or embellishments” but rather as logical agents of persuasion.” The interesting question, of course, is how such persuasion comes to be considered a part of scientific knowledge, that is to say, iconic, consensual science, and how, in turn, it relates to nature. “Once the Paradise of the early moderns and the logical positivists is admitted to be lost because science is recognized as having more dimensions than logic and evidence,” the editors write, “and the symmetrical Hell of the social constructivists is also recognized to be inadequate because scientific knowledge needs to be something firmer and more durable than a cultural fashion, the middle way between the two extremes may be alluded to, but has not been found yet. It is not easy to see where to go.” Page 24 | Loc. 350-51: There is no place for God in science. Page 33 | Loc. 477-82 : Alfred Russel Wallace was part genius and part crank. But he is not totally mystifying. His greatest work is a function of the same sorts of things that led to his most ludicrous ideas-ludicrous as judged by his contemporaries and as judged by us. The paradox is that he was a brilliant scientist and a man of strong convictions who was prepared to work for them, but he was a man outside science. In part because of inadequate education, in part because of temperament, Wallace rarely played the scientific game as others were then defining it. For this reason he could accept the notion of evolution presented in Vestiges when all of the respectable scientists were pulling back from it. But it was also for this reason that twenty years later he could drop natural selection and argue for spiritual forces when it came to the development of humankind. Page 28 | Loc. 400-403: Wallace was different. He had nothing that Darwin had-no training in science, no group of colleagues stressing the interest of the problems, and in 1845 absolutely no first-hand experience of peculiar distributions of organisms in either space or time. Yet he became an ardent evolutionist. Why? We can find an answer if, as is so often the case with these sorts of things, we take a holistic approach. We should not compartmentalize Wallace the scientist and Wallace the crank. He was, by temperament, always attracted to outrageous positions, particularly if these positions were disliked by the respectable. Page 52 | Loc. 698-706: Entelechy was for Aristotle not a principle of mere potentiality but a directionality of development built in from the outset. For Driesch, entelechy had a more modest function, as Hilde Hein reminds us: rather than being the primary cause or architect of actualization, it was a regulator governing which of the various potentialities resident in a material system is to be realized and which is to be restrained.22 Entelechy was thus not the blueprint of an organism’s organization, nor the creative agent that brings it about, but a kind of a mediator, similar to a homeostatic governor, that protects the tendency of the system from being disrupted by extraneous factors (including the embryologist’s experiments). While conceding that entelechy might seem like a metaphysical concept, Driesch pointed out that it was not necessarily more metaphysical than the physicists’ concept of energy or energy states of matter. Energy, he argued, was “nothing but a measurement of causality in space,”23 as it was for entelechy, which does not depend on substance for its effect. Entelechy did not violate the physical laws of nature. It was not a means of creating energy outside the laws of thermodynamics. Rather, it was a nonmaterial “force,” perhaps a form of energy, that kept embryonic development moving toward its specific end point. Directionality differentiated Driesch’s entelechy from the random effects of energy as characterized by the classical kinetic theory of gases. Page 71 | Loc. 931-32: […] three major aspects of the science of genetics were profoundly overhauled with the introduction of the conceptions of the genotype and the phenotype: that of the stability of Mendelian factors, that of continuous Darwinian evolution, and that of Weismann’s preformationism (ndRG: “genotype” and “phenotype” were introduced by Johannsen, a Danish biologist) 91 | Loc. 1180-82: Stent went on to address this problem, asking, “[I]s there a way of providing a criterion of the prematurity of a discovery other than its failure to make an impact?” This is Stent’s criterion: “A discovery is premature if its implications cannot be connected by a series of simple logical steps to canonical, or generally accepted, knowledge. Page 94 | Loc. 1222-23: Other factors apart from prematurity may account for delays in the acceptance of discoveries. Four kinds of delaying circumstances maybe recognized: linguistic, political, personal, and theological or philosophical. (Page 94 | Loc. 1223-24:) Linguistic delay: This instance depends on the failure of investigators working in one language to read scientific contributions in a foreign language. (Page 95 | Loc. 1229-31:) Political delay: Aversion to the political system of a country may have a serious effect on the recognition and appreciation by scientists elsewhere of researches carried out there, irrespective of the personal political views of the researchers in that country. This is what happened during the apartheid regime in South Africa from 1948 to 1993, and especially in the 1970s and 1980s, when an academic boycott was in force. (Page 95 | Loc. 1239-41:) Personality factors: In his analysis of prematurity and uniqueness in scientific discovery, Stent points out that an unnamed microbiologist critic had offered a different explanation for the failure of the discovery of Avery et al. to be recognized.20 This critic suggested that it was the “quiet, self-effacing, non-disputatious” personality of Avery that caused his contribution not to be recognized.(Page 96 | Loc. 1249-50:) Theological or philosophical agencies: Sometimes theological opposition retards the acceptance of a new discovery or hypothesis in clerical circles (though not necessarily in scientific milieux). A famous example is Galileo’s work on the movement of the earth. Page 174 | Loc. 2164-67: Being in the position of a rebel in the scientific community of one’s own time is, of course, one of the potential routes to recognition. To adopt a heretical role in that community is a risky business: it may not ensure fame, and one is very likely to be wrong. Major steps in scientific progress require original thinkers, however, and therefore all great scientists need, in a sense, to be rebels in relation to the scientific orthodoxy of their time. Page 175 | Loc. 2184: (ndRG, about SPERRY’S EARLY SCIENTIFIC THINKING) Page 176 | Loc. 2186-88: On the basis of studies which showed that a rat’s learning correlated with the mass of brain tissue irrespective of the regions of brain tissue removed, he argued that intelligence, memory storage (the “engram”), and learning were mediated diffusely in the brain in terms of “equipotentiality”; this was his “law of mass action.” Similar holistic theories were fashionable elsewhere in psychology; (Page 179 | Loc. 2229-32:) In early 1952 Sperry suggested experiments involving transection of the corpus callosum (CC) to a Ph.D. student, R. E. Myers; the first experiments (on so-called split-brain cats) were reported in 1953. Failure to detect any function for this massive fiber tract had long puzzled neurologists and psychologists.23 Lashley is said to have remarked that its principal function is to spread epilepsy-Warren McCulloch disagreed; it must be to keep the two hemispheres from physically falling apart! Page 182 | Loc. 2251-52: Ultimately deciding against determinism (influenced by the Gestaltist J. J. Gibson and by John Dewey), he held to the “Chicago law of behavior,” namely, that an animal behaves “as it damn pleases.” Page 201 | Loc. 2488: It was in his review of Croizat’s manuscript that Simpson referred to Croizat as belonging to the lunatic fringe. Page 204 | Loc. 2536-37: Between Croizat’s death in 1982 and 1999, Croizat’s defenders published extensively, but they did not do very well in obtaining academic positions. Page 205 | Loc. 2540-45: But it was Craw who paid the heaviest price for his spirited advocacy of Croizat. Craw received his Ph.D. in September 1983 from the Victoria University of Wellington and then obtained a position in the Entomological Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. At the time he was discussing the possibility of publishing an abridged version of Croizat’s Panbiogeography with the University of Chicago Press. Even biogeographers who had their doubts about Croizat’s work nevertheless would be happy to read a condensed, simplified version of his theory. Yet none of Croizat’s descendants was willing to take on this formidable task. In 1992, as part of a restructuring of science in New Zealand, Craw was notified that he was facing redundancy because he did not have any funding beyond 1993. In response to his reclassification, Craw decided to drop out of science and pursue a career elsewhere. Page 206 | Loc. 2561-64: Hennig’s descendants modified Hennig’s views extensively, eventually splitting into two groups-pattern cladists and phylogenetic cladists. The contrast was between pattern and process. Pattern cladists strove to eliminate all reference to scientific theories from their classifications, at least initially, whereas phylogenetic cladists insisted that scientific theories must enter into classification right from the start. On this score, Popper agreed with the phylogenetic cladists. So did Croizat. According to Croizat, a “process is always more important than any of its byproducts.” Page 207 | Loc. 2567-68: Nelson was also very good at gathering together a group of systematists and biogeographers to push his views. If anything sets Croizat apart from the other biogeographers of his day, it was his inability to form and maintain professional alliances. Page 207 | Loc. 2578-81: Mavericks tend to oppose what they take to be censorship and the abuse of power. They see the refereeing process as a means for well-established scientists to reject new ideas. Croizat published most of his books at his own expense so that he could bypass the refereeing process. But that process is a valuable tool in science. We need more of it, not less. Referees and editors can point out places where the manuscript can be improved. They are not the enemies that Croizat thought that they were. Page 208 | Loc. 2581-84: Croizat, Nelson, Rosen, Craw, Heads, and Grehan had one thing in common. They had no patience for authorities. When Croizat was a technical assistant at the Arnold Arboretum, he challenged one of the most powerful men on the staff. Nelson and other Hennigians became famous for playing according to the New York rules of conduct, rules that were rough and ready and showed no respect for the powerful men in their field. In fact, these scientists seemed to enjoy baiting authorities. Heads, in his “History and Philosophy of Panbiogeography,” devotes an entire section to dogmatism, deliberate falsehood, oppression, and plagiarism. Page 209 | Loc. 2594-96: The members of the New Zealand School showed considerable hostility toward the big names in biogeography, but such hostility was not sufficient to get their views an extensive hearing. Diatribes against the powers that be can result in either a conspiracy of silence or irate responses in the literature. Both strategies can have some effect. Page 209 | Loc. 2600-2601: Certainly the classical school (for example, Simpson and Mayr) initially rejected continental drift. A similar story can be told for classification but with the opposite conclusion. The early Hennigians did not present their views in a very conventional fashion, and yet they succeeded. Page 219 | Loc. 2730-32: The paper presented in Basel and the review of Lack’s book marked the first clear steps of Wynne-Edwards’s long journey into apostasy. He had staked his claim on the notion that selection could and did act on groups of individuals in order to maintain populations below the threshold of environmental exploitation. Page 296 | Loc. 3669-72: Let us do a quick inventory. Bill Hamilton disliked authority, hierarchy, taboos, organized piety, and the growing dependence of science and medicine on profit-seeking industry. He wanted open discussion and disliked suppression of truth. He disliked political correctness and the general sensitivity about applying evolutionary theory to humans. He also liked breaking rules, at least in small ways, and liked shocking people’s beliefs. And he did act on each of these beliefs-by his pen or in person. Page 330 | Loc. 4074-76: (ndRG: talikng of SJ Gould) He also proposed, along with Richard Lewontin, that not all features of organisms are the result of adaptations. Using the architectural analogy of a kind of leftover space created in the construction of domed arches in medieval cathedrals, Gould argued that certain evolutionary features are “spandrels” (an architectural term), or accidental by-products of some other combination of adaptations. Page 344 | Loc. 4245-48: In 1961, inconspicuously signing herself T. E. Rowell, she submitted a paper about her findings to the journal of the Zoological Society of London. The society was impressed and invited T. E. Rowell to come down from Cambridge and give a talk to the fellows, but when it was discovered that T. E. Rowell was a woman, there was some embarrassment. She was able to give the lecture but not to sit with the fellows for dinner because of her sex. The solution was to ask her to sit behind a curtain, out of sight, and eat her meal. She declined. Page 347 | Loc. 4286-90: It seems quite possible that many of the characteristics which had been thought to belong to the normal repertoire of baboons, Rowell concluded, explicitly mentioning DeVore’s work of 1964, “might in fact be related to artificial feeding. One such character is a high degree of aggressiveness and obvious hierarchy among adult males, which were described for macaques and baboons which were fed, but not seen in the Ishasha baboons which were not.”34 Ishasha baboons, therefore, were not so eccentric: they were simply observed by a cautious primatologist. And other baboons testify only about one thing: rigid hierarchy is nothing but the animal’s answer to the social disorder created by the setting; it is the answer to the competition-inducing stress imposed by the observers.
20120912 L’intégrale One Shot #1 (French Edition) (Sébastien Ayreault, Elias Jabre, Arnaud Modat and Eric le Forestier)
Loc. 449: Je suis pas plus xénophobe que le premier venu. D’ailleurs nous avons de très bons amis à Bruxelles. Loc. 513-19: Si tout se passait selon le plan, nous pourrions nous mettre à table avant 21 heures, juste à temps pour le film. Malheureusement, ma femme tira un tabouret, s’y percha sans aucune grâce et entreprit de descendre sa valise en carton du haut de l’armoire. — Pardonne ma curiosité maladive, fis-je, mais pourrais-tu m’expliquer, avec tact, l’utilisation précise que tu comptes faire de ce modeste bagage ? — Je me tire d’ici, répondit-elle. — Le ventre vide ? m’inquiétai-je. Elle me lança une mauvaise œillade et un chandelier massif au visage. J’esquivai le second avec souplesse et l’ustensile termina son vol dans le cadre de mauvais goût qui emprisonnait notre photo de mariage. Loc. 524-29: Sept euros cinquante. Les enchères n’allaient pas bon train. C’était vraiment idiot de m’être brouillé avec Evelyne (je peux vous garantir qu’elle possède le physique de son prénom) pour une somme si dérisoire. Elle était tombée sur l’annonce par hasard, le matin même, alors que j’avais oublié de fermer ma session sur E-Bay. « Vends femme trente-cinq printemps, parfait état de marche. En cloque. Usure courante. Excellente cuisinière. Accessoires fournis. Papiers en règle. Entretien minimum. Jamais malade. Cause voyage à l’étranger. » C’était plus une blague qu’autre chose. Je n’avais aucune intention de partir à l’étranger. Loc. 1244-49: « La station Sablons, vous voyez où c’est ? Demain, à midi. Je vous y attendrai. » Pour voir où c’était, je voyais. Y’avait que midi, c’était pas arrangeant pour moi comme horaire, mais c’est ça le boulot : toujours aux heures où vous avez envie d’être ailleurs. J’ai pas toujours été à la rue, je sais de quoi je parle. C’est un bouffeur de temps énorme, le boulot. On passe sa vie à attendre les congés, les vacances, la retraite… On gratte deux jours par-ci, trois minutes par-là, pause clope, arrêt maladie… Et quand on n’en a pas, grosse catastrophe, on sort du système… C’est sacro-saint, ça, le système. Faut être dedans, toujours…
20120906 Mythologie grecque et romaine (P. Commelin)
Loc. 10-13: Il ne saurait entrer dans nos vues de faire ici œuvre d’érudition, chose d’ailleurs plus fastidieuse qu’utile, si l’on considère les différents ouvrages de ce genre parus depuis quelques années. Mais hâtons-nous d’ajouter que ces ouvrages ne se lisent guère ; et nous nous proposons au contraire de nous faire lire […] Loc. 13-16: La Mythologie est évidemment une série de fables. Mais ces légendes ont été, durant de longs siècles, des sujets de croyance. Ils ont eu, dans l’esprit des Grecs et des Latins, la valeur de dogmes et de réalités. À ce titre, ils ont inspiré les hommes, soutenu des institutions parfois très respectables, suggéré aux artistes, aux poètes, aux littérateurs l’idée de créations et même d’admirables chefs-d’œuvre. Loc. 558-72: Cérès, en grec Dèmèter Cérès, fille de Saturne et d’Ops, ou de Vesta, ou de Cybèle, apprit aux hommes l’art de cultiver la terre, de semer, de récolter le blé, et d’en faire du pain, ce qui l’a fait regarder comme la déesse de l’agriculture. Jupiter, son frère, épris de sa beauté, eut d’elle Perséphone ou Proserpine. Elle fut aussi aimée de Neptune, et, pour échapper à sa poursuite, elle se changea en jument. Le dieu s’en aperçut et se métamorphosa en cheval. Les amours de Neptune la rendirent mère du cheval Arion. Honteuse de la violence que lui avait faite Neptune, elle prit le deuil et se retira dans une grotte, où elle séjourna si longtemps que le monde était en danger de mourir de faim, parce que, durant son absence, la terre était frappée de stérilité. Enfin Pan, étant à la chasse en Arcadie, découvrit sa retraite, et en informa Jupiter, qui, par l’intervention des Parques, l’apaisa et la rendit au monde privé de ses bienfaits. Les Phigaliens, en Arcadie, lui dressèrent une statue de bois dont la tête était celle d’une jument avec sa crinière d’où sortaient des dragons. On l’appelait la Cérès noire. Cette statue, ayant été brûlée par accident, les Phigaliens négligèrent le culte de Cérès, et furent punis d’une affreuse disette, qui ne cessa pas avant que, sur le conseil d’un oracle, la statue fût rétablie. Pluton ayant enlevé Proserpine, Cérès, inconsolable, se plaignit à Jupiter ; mais, peu satisfaite de la réponse, elle se mit à la recherche de sa fille. Les uns racontent qu’elle était montée sur un char traîné par des dragons ailés, et qu’elle tenait à la main un flambeau allumé au feu de l’Etna ; d’autres disent qu’elle allait à pied çà et là, de contrées en contrées. Après avoir couru pendant tout le jour, elle allumait un flambeau, et continuait sa course pendant la nuit. Loc. 1059-63: Les Parques, divinités maîtresses du sort des hommes, étaient trois sœurs, filles de la Nuit ou de l’Érèbe, ou bien de Jupiter et de Thémis, ou, selon quelques poètes, filles de la Nécessité et du Destin. L’obscurité de leur naissance indique qu’elles ont exercé leurs fatales fonctions dès l’origine des êtres et des choses ; elles sont aussi vieilles que la Nuit, que la Terre et le Ciel. Elles se nomment Clotho, Lachésis et Atropos […] Loc. 1068-71: Clotho, ainsi nommée d’un mot grec qui signifie « filer », paraît être la moins vieille, pour ne pas dire la plus jeune des Parques. C’est elle qui tient le fil des destinées humaines. On la représente vêtue d’une longue robe de diverses couleurs, portant une couronne formée de sept étoiles, et tenant une quenouille qui descend du ciel en terre. La couleur qui domine dans ses draperies est le bleu clair. Loc. 1312-17: Chez les Athéniens, la fable de Prométhée était populaire ; on se plaisait à raconter même aux enfants les malices ingénieuses faites par ce dieu à Jupiter. N’eut-il pas, en effet, l’idée de mettre à l’épreuve la sagacité du maître de l’Olympe, et de voir s’il méritait réellement les honneurs divins ? Dans un sacrifice, il fit tuer deux bœufs, et remplit l’une des deux peaux de la chair et l’autre des os de ces victimes. Jupiter fut dupe, et choisit la dernière ; mais il ne se montra que plus impitoyable dans sa vengeance. Loc. 1645-52: [Les Fleuves] « Gardez-vous, dit Hésiode, de jamais traverser les eaux des fleuves au cours éternel avant de leur avoir adressé une prière, les yeux fixés sur leurs splendides courants, avant d’avoir trempé vos mains dans leur onde agréable et limpide. » Les Fleuves sont enfants de l’Océan et de Téthys. Hésiode en compte trois mille. Chez tous les peuples anciens, ils eurent part aux honneurs de la divinité. Ils avaient leurs temples, leurs autels, leurs victimes préférées. D’ordinaire on leur immolait le cheval ou le taureau. Leur source était sacrée : on supposait que là, dans une grotte profonde, où nul mortel ne pouvait pénétrer sans une faveur divine, le Fleuve, divinité réelle, avait son palais mystérieux. C’est de là que le dieu, entouré d’une foule de nymphes empressées à l’accompagner et à le servir, commandait en maître, surveillait et gouvernait le cours de ses eaux. Loc. 1738-40: Parmi les fleuves étrangers à la Grèce, les principaux qui ont place dans la Mythologie grecque et latine sont le Strymon en Macédoine, l’Hèbre en Thrace, le Phase de Colchide, le Caïque de Mysie, la Caystre de Lydie, le Sangaris de Phrygie, le Scamandre, le Xanthe et le Simoïs dans le Troade, le Pô ou Éridan et le Tibre en Italie. Loc. 1751-60: L’Éridan est appelé par Virgile le roi des fleuves, parce qu’il est le plus grand et le plus violent de tous les cours d’eau d’Italie. Il doit son nom au fils du Soleil, Éridan ou Phaéton, qui fut précipité dans ses eaux. C’est aujourd’hui le Pô. On le représente avec une tête de taureau et les cornes dorées. C’est sur ses bords que les Héliades, sœurs de Phaéton, firent éclater leur douleur et furent changées en peupliers. Le Tibre, fleuve qui baigne la ville de Rome, reçut aussi les honneurs de la divinité. Il s’appelait primitivement Albula, à cause de la blancheur de ses eaux. Tibérinus, roi d’Albe, se noya dans ce fleuve qui, depuis cet événement, changea de nom. Il est personnifié sur les monuments et les médailles sous la figure d’un vieillard couronné de fleurs et de fruits, à demi couché ; il tient une corne d’abondance, et s’appuie sur une louve, auprès de laquelle sont Romulus et Rémus enfants. Du Tibre et de Manto, la devineresse, naquit Bianor, surnommé Œnus, roi d’Étrurie. Il fonda la ville de Mantoue et lui donna le nom de sa mère. Du temps de Virgile, le tombeau de ce roi se voyait encore à quelque distance de Mantoue, sur la route de Rome. Loc. 1809-10: [Les Montagnes] Les Montagnes étaient filles de la Terre. On les regardait presque partout comme des lieux sacrés, souvent même on les adorait comme des divinités. Loc. 1854-57: La Mythologie, qui a consacré et déifié les montagnes, devait aussi réserver un culte aux volcans, et en particulier à l’Etna. Non seulement cette célèbre montagne de Sicile passait pour renfermer les forges de Vulcain et l’atelier des Cyclopes ; mais, persuadés qu’elle était en communication avec les divinités infernales, les peuples anciens se servaient de ses éruptions pour présager l’avenir. Loc. 2078-81: Sylvain avait plusieurs temples à Rome, un en particulier sur le mont Aventin, et un autre dans la vallée du mont Viminal. Il en avait aussi sur le bord de la mer, d’où il était appelé Littoralis. Ce dieu était l’épouvantail des enfants qui se plaisent à casser des branches d’arbres. On en faisait une sorte de croquemitaine qui ne laissait pas gâter ou briser impunément les choses confiées à sa garde. Loc. 2113-21: [Le dieu Terme] Le dieu Terme, de la famille des Faunes et des Sylvains, était le protecteur des bornes que l’on met dans les champs, et le vengeur des usurpations. C’était, aussi un dieu exclusivement romain. Le culte de cette divinité avait été établi par Numa, après la répartition des terres entre les citoyens. Son petit temple s’élevait sur la roche Tarpéienne. Dans la suite, Tarquin le Superbe ayant voulu bâtir un temple à Jupiter sur le Capitole, il fallut déranger les statues et même les sanctuaires qui y étaient déjà. Tous les dieux cédèrent sans résistance la place qu’ils occupaient : le dieu Terme tint bon contre tous les efforts qu’on fit pour l’enlever, et il fallut le laisser en place. Ainsi il resta dans le temple même qu’on éleva en cet endroit. Le peuple romain crut voir dans ce fait une garantie de la durée éternelle de son empire ; de plus, il se persuada qu’il n’y a rien de plus sacré que les limites d’un champ. Loc. 2145-46 : [Postérité de Janus] Les Latins donnaient à Saturne un fils né dans le Latium, Picus, époux de la belle Canente, fille de Janus. Par ce mariage furent réunies deux familles de dieux aborigènes. Loc. 2151-53: On peut rapprocher de ce culte celui de Picumnus et de Pilumnus, deux frères, fils de Jupiter et de la nymphe Garamantide. L’un, surnommé Sterquilinius, avait imaginé de fumer les terres ; l’autre avait inventé l’art de moudre le blé. Les meuniers tenaient celui-ci en haute vénération. Loc. 2166-68: [Dieux autochtones ou indigètes] Chez les peuples de l’antiquité, certaines familles, certaines peuplades se considéraient comme issues du sol même, et, à ce titre, s’attribuaient une sorte de supériorité parmi toutes les autres. Loc. 2176-79: Dans certaines îles de la Grèce, le culte des divinités archaïques, antérieures à la religion nationale, s’était perpétué et maintenu, pendant de longs siècles, à côté du culte pour ainsi dire officiel. Jusqu’à la conquête de la Grèce, et même jusqu’aux derniers jours de la République romaine, ces divinités préhistoriques avaient encore, sinon des ministres, du moins un certain nombre de fidèles adorateurs. 4633-50: La Faim, divinité, est fille de la Nuit. Virgile la place aux portes des Enfers, et d’autres sur les bords du Cocyte. D’ordinaire, on la représente accroupie dans un champ aride, où quelques arbres dépouillés de feuillage ne présentent qu’un ombrage triste et rare ; elle arrache avec ses ongles quelques plantes infertiles. Les Lacédémoniens avaient à Chalciœcon, dans le temple de Minerve, un tableau de la Faim, dont la vue était effrayante. Elle était représentée dans ce temple sous la figure d’une femme hâve, pâle, abattue, d’une maigreur extrême, ayant les tempes creuses, la peau du front sèche et étirée, les yeux éteints, enfoncés dans la tête, les joues plombées, les lèvres livides, enfin, les bras décharnés ainsi que les mains qu’elle avait liées derrière le dos. Ovide a fait de la Faim une description qui n’est pas moins effrayante. On ne peut décrire la Faim ou la Famine sans reporter ses souvenirs vers la fable d’Érésichton, fils de Driops et aïeul maternel d’Ulysse. Il méprisait les dieux ; et ne leur offrait jamais de sacrifices. Il eut la témérité de profaner à coups de hache une antique forêt consacrée à Cérès et dont les arbres étaient habités par autant de dryades. La déesse chargea la Faim, ou la Famine, de le punir de son impiété. Le monstre pénétra au fond des entrailles de ce malheureux pendant qu’il dormait. En vain Érésichton fit appel aux ressources de sa fille, Métra, aimée de Neptune et qui avait obtenu de ce dieu le don de prendre toutes les formes de la nature ; l’infortuné père, en proie à une faim dévorante, que rien ne pouvait calmer, finit par se dévorer lui-même. La Pauvreté La Pauvreté, divinité allégorique, est fille du Luxe et de l’Oisiveté. On la fait aussi naître de la Débauche, parce que les débauchés incorrigibles s’acheminent vers une ruine certaine. Suivant Théocrite, la Pauvreté, en grec Pénia, est la mère de l’Industrie et de tous les Arts. C’est elle qui éveille l’activité des hommes en leur faisant sentir leur dénûment et les avantages du bien-être. On la représente sous les traits d’une femme pâle, inquiète, mal vêtue, glanant dans un champ déjà moissonné. Loc. 4981-86: [Funérailles] À Athènes, ainsi qu’à Rome, il était d’usage de parfumer les corps avant de les ensevelir. L’inhumation fut le mode primitif de sépulture. Elle consistait à jeter au moins un peu de poussière sur le mort, afin de lui permettre de passer les fleuves infernaux, et même on lui introduisait dans la bouche une petite pièce de monnaie destinée à payer ce passage. Cette coutume, bien établie chez les Romains, persista jusqu’à une époque assez avancée de la république. La cérémonie avait lieu la nuit, et les personnes formant le cortège suivaient le cercueil en tenant à la main une sorte de torche ou grosse corde allumée (funis), d’où vient, dit-on, le mot funéraille.
20120903 Arguments Of Celsus, Porphyry, And The Emperor Julian, Against The Christians Also Extracts from Diodorus Siculus, Josephus, and Tacitus, Relating to the Jews, Together with an Appendix (Thomas Taylor)
Loc. 98-101: Directions of Dr. Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln, to a young divine. “It will be of great use for a divine to be acquainted with the arts, knavery, and fraud of the Roman inquisitor, in purging, correcting, or rather corrupting authors in all arts and faculties. For this purpose we may consult the Index Expurgatorius. By considering this Index, we come to know the best editions of many good books. Loc. 392-98: “There are essence and generation, the intelligible and the visible. And truth indeed subsists with essence, but error with generation*. Science, therefore, is conversant with truth, but opinion with generation. Intelligence also pertains to, or has the intelligible for its object; but what is visible is the object of sight. And intellect indeed knows the intelligible; but the eye knows that which is visible. What the sun therefore is in the visible region,—being neither the eye, nor sight, but the cause to the eye of seeing, and to the sight of its visive power, to all sensibles of their being generated, and to himself of being perceived;—this the supreme God [or the good] is in intelligibles: since he is neither intellect, nor intelligence, nor science, but is the cause, to intellect, of intellectual perception […] Loc. 741-43 (EXTRACTS FROM THE WORKS OF THE EMPEROR JULIAN RELATIVE TO THE CHRISTIANS) : “We are of opinion that proper erudition consists not in words, nor in elegant and magnificent language, but in the sane disposition of an intelligent soul, and in true opinions of good and evil, and of what is beautiful and base. 20120829 Les Heures Claires (Emile Verhaeren) Loc. 31-33: Ce chapiteau barbare, où des monstres se tordent, Soudés entre eux, à coups de griffes et de dents, En un tumulte fou de sang, de cris ardents, De blessures et de gueules qui s’entre-mordent, C’était moi-même, avant que tu fusses la mienne, O toi la neuve, ô toi l’ancienne ! Qui vins à moi des loins d’éternité, Avec, entre tes mains, l’ardeur et la bonté. Loc. 48-52: J’avais en moi tant de rouille tenace Qui me rongeait, à dents rapaces, La confiance ; J’étais si lourd, j’étais si las, J’étais si vieux de méfiance, J’étais si lourd, j’étais si las Du vain chemin de tous mes pas. Je méritais si peu la merveilleuse joie De voir tes pieds illuminer ma voie, Que j’en reste tremblant encore et presqu’en pleurs, Et humble, à tout jamais, en face du bonheur. Loc. 211-13: Contre les deuils à craindre ou à venir, Contre le temps qui fixe à toute ardeur sa fin, Contre notre terreur, contre nous-mêmes, enfin, Blottissons-nous, près du foyer, Que la mémoire en nous fait flamboyer.
20120829 Galgenlieder nebst dem ‘Gingganz’ (Christian Morgenstern)
Loc. 163-66: Das æsthetische Wiesel. Ein Wiesel saß auf einem Kiesel inmitten Bachgeriesel. Wißt ihr weshalb? Das Mondkalb verriet es mir im Stillen: Das raffinierte Tier tat’s um des Reimes willen. Loc. 221-26: Philanthropisch. Ein nervöser Mensch auf einer Wiese wäre besser ohne sie daran; darum seh’ er, wie er ohne diese (meistens mindstens) leben kann. Kaum daß er gelegt sich auf die Gräser, naht der Ameis, Heuschreck, Mück und Wurm, naht der Tausendfuß und Ohrenbläser, und die Hummel ruft zum Sturm. Ein nervöser Mensch auf einer Wiese tut drum besser, wieder aufzustehn und dafür in andre Paradiese (beispielshalber: weg) zu gehn. Loc. 270-79: _Anto_-logie. Im Anfang lebte, wie bekannt, als größter Säuger der _Gig_-ant. Wobei _gig_ eine Zahl ist, die es nicht mehr gibt, — so groß war sie! Doch jene Größe schwand wie Rauch. Zeit gab’s genug — und Zahlen auch. Bis eines Tags, ein winzig Ding, der _Zwölef_-ant das Reich empfing. Wo blieb sein Reich? Wo blieb er selb? — Sein Bein wird im Museum gelb. Zwar gab die gütige Natur den _Elef_-anten uns dafur. Doch ach, der Pulverpavian, der Mensch, voll Gier nach seinem Zahn, erschießt ihn, statt ihm Zeit zu lassen, zum _Zehen_-anten zu verblassen. O `Klub zum Schutz der wilden Tiere´, hilf, daß der Mensch nicht ruiniere die Sprossen dieser Riesenleiter, die stets noch weiter führt und weiter! Wie dankbar wird der Ant dir sein, läßt du ihn wachsen und gedeihn, — bis er dereinst im Nebel hinten als _Nulel_-ant wird stumm verschwinden. Loc. 310-12: Der heroische Pudel. Ein schwarzer Pudel, dessen Haar des abends noch wie Kohle war, betrübte sich so höllenheiß, weil seine Dame Flügel spielte, trotzdem er heulte; daß (o Preis dem Schmerz, der solchen Sieg erzielte!) er beim Gekräh der Morgenhähne aufstand als wie ein hoher Greis — mit einer silberweißen Mähne. Loc. 315-19: Möwenlied. Die Möwen sehen alle aus, als ob sie Emma hießen. Sie tragen einen weißen Flaus und sind mit Schrot zu schießen. Ich schieße keine Möwe tot, ich laß sie lieber leben — und füttre sie mit Roggenbrot und rötlichen Zibeben. O Mensch, du wirst nie nebenbei der Möwe Flug erreichen. Wofern du Emma heißest, sei zufrieden, ihr zu gleichen. 20120829 Wicked Mourning (Heather Boyd) Loc. 481-82: The process of birthing a child is best left to women. Loc. 430: She climaxed and shook.
20120826 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune). Seeing life whole MEANWHILE BY JOAN WICKERSHAM | THE BOSTON GLOBE
Loc. 2256-87: This summer, my husband and I and our 18-year-old son have been watching a group of children grow up. When we first encountered them a few weeks ago, they were 7 years old. Now they are 49. We’ve seen them at play and in school, seen them get taller and finish school or drop out, find jobs, lose jobs, fall in love, and marry and have children of their own. We’ve listened to them talk about their hopes and ambitions, and we’ve watched them achieve and fall short of their goals. These children are the subjects of English director Michael Apted’s massive, decades-long documentary series, which started in 1964 with the film ‘‘Seven Up.’’ (Apted began as a researcher on the first film and stepped into the director’s role with the second.) The first film profiles 14 seven-year-olds, representing a cross section of English geography and class. There are kids from London’s working-class East End, from a remote Yorkshire farm and from a Liverpool suburb. There are two boys separated from their families and living in a children’s group home. There are several children from the upper-middle and upper classes: a boy at a harsh boarding school; a cosseted schoolgirl; and three unintentionally hilarious posh Londoners who sit on a couch boasting about following their shares in the Financial Times, and reeling off the names of the schools and universities which Mummy has already determined they will attend. But as the series continues to check in with its subjects at seven-year intervals, what began as a study of class turns into a portrait of individual lives. What happens to the little boy who wants to become a missionary? Or the child raised in a group home who, when asked if he’d like to get married when he grows up, concludes earnestly that the answer is no, because a wife might try to serve him greens and he doesn’t like greens? Someone who is miserable at 14 and 21 may be surprisingly content at 28. A marriage that’s looked rocky through several installments might smooth out in middle age; or the opposite may occur: an apparently compatible partnership ruptures somewhere between ‘‘42 Up’’ and ‘‘49 Up.’’ The ‘‘Up’’ series was reality TV before there was reality TV. But this is not stagey, trivial, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-get-a-manicure reality. The ‘‘Up’’ series concerns itself with the overall sweep and shape of real lives. Who is better off — those born with money and privilege, or those born without? Who actually has more choices? How much do class, race, politics, education, personality and chance affect where people — and their children — end up? And what does ‘‘end up’’ really mean, when individual lives, and the world, are constantly changing? Watching these movies makes you think about big social questions. It is interesting, in an election year, to contemplate the impact that public education and social welfare can have on people’s lives. Some of the film’s subjects are ‘‘on the dole’’ (i.e. welfare), while others have inherited enormous wealth and privilege. Having seen them grow up, you’re aware that no one in fact is entirely self-sufficient; we are all shaped in some way by what we get or don’t get from our parents and from society. In editing each film, the filmmakers don’t have the usual documentary perspective of hindsight or foreshadowing. Occasionally there’s a moment that feels like a happy ending — a wedding, a great new job. Wow, you think, so it all turned out O.K. But then you realize that we don’t know where anyone’s life is going to go next, and the filmmakers don’t know either. These lives, like the series, are works in progress. ‘‘56 Up’’ aired recently on British television but has not yet been released in the United States. So for now we have to leave these people at 49, when many of them have raised children, and some are even grandparents. It’s been poignant for me to watch the series with my husband, whom I’ve known since we were both teenagers, and our son who is about to leave for college. These films make you realize that life is both short and long, and give you the sense that you are seeing it whole — these lives, your life, every life.
20120823 Bretz’s Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World’s Greatest Flood (John Soennichsen)
Page 12 | Loc. 195-200: He also did something fairly dramatic during that period: He invented “J Harlen” Bretz. It is not exactly known when he took the name, but it first appears in published form in the January 1904 issue of the Albion College Pleiad. In that student publication, “J. H. Bretz” is listed as the author of “A Glacial River Channel Near Newberg,” his first published work dealing with geology. Bretz’s daughter still chuckles at the mention of his name. “He invented the Harlen thing, just as he had invented the J in front of his name—made the whole thing up. ‘Harley Bretz’ was his given name, but it just didn’t ring a bell for him; maybe he didn’t think it sounded professional enough.” Page 30 | Loc. 396-403: About the time Bretz was to submit his completed thesis to the department, for example, Salisbury reviewed the manuscript and asked Bretz to type out his full name on the title page, rather than simply the letter J. Bretz responded by telling Salisbury that he had no first name, simply a J. “Then never put or allow a typist or printer to use a period after that J,” Salisbury told Bretz. “A subsequent edition of the University of Chicago Press Manual of Style noted that where a personal name contains a capital letter that is not an abbreviation,” Bretz wrote later, “no period should follow it, as J Harlen Bretz. “But throughout all my life since then, I have fought typists and printers to leave off that damned period and haven’t always Page 41 | Loc. 548-49: […] in characteristic good humor he wrote that “during this year in Washington, I built a house and Fanny gave me a son [Rudolf],” but after just three months, “we left the new house behind, but took Rudolf with us.” Page 126 | Loc. 1460-63: […] the biblical theory of catastrophism—the belief that the earth as we see it today was created by a series of massive, God-initiated catastrophes such as fires, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. Uniformitarianism theorized just the opposite—that geologic features on earth had been created by natural forces operating over millions of years. Page 162 | Loc. 1920-22: On the surface, it almost seems ludicrous to presume that one could take a formula used to measure small-capacity drainage lines and apply it to a massive flood event several hundred feet in height. Yet everything Bretz had seen in the scablands thus far indicated that water behaves as water regardless of the quantities involved. Page 164 | Loc. 1955-68: What was to be made of these two very weak suggestions as to the causes of such a flood? Given his almost compulsive bent for collecting disproportionate volumes of evidence in support of his theories—or at least this particular theory—why would Bretz offer such a scant discussion of possible sources for the floodwaters? A variety of experts have offered a number of views on this matter. The most straightforward answer is offered by Marjorie Burns in the book Cataclysms on the Columbia. She concludes that Bretz was quite simply baffled as to a cause for his flood. “A flood, simply enough, requires water,” she writes, “and Bretz had no satisfactory way of explaining how so much water could have suddenly appeared on the Columbia Plateau, appeared and then disappeared, because as Bretz soon realized, the water had drained away as quickly as it had come.” Donald Alt, in his book Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humungous Floods, expands on this point by noting that Bretz did not necessarily need a source to offer a theory. People need not understand everything they know. It is perfectly proper in scientific discussions to recognize that a phenomenon exists without being able to explain it. We do not doubt that birds migrate, even if we do not understand how they find their way. And we know that robins catch worms, even if we are not sure whether they find them by sight or by sound. Bretz did not need to know where the water came from before he could propose his theory of a catastrophic flood. But it would have helped his cause, made his theory more convincing. Page 165 | Loc. 1973-75: So striking are the similarities between Bretz’s experiences with the rejection of his theories and those of another man during the same time period that the case of Alfred Wegener must briefly be mentioned here. Page 167 | Loc. 1999-2001: When faced with the ridicule of many geologists in his native Germany, Wegener wrote that “if it turns out that sense and meaning are now becoming evident in the whole history of the Earth’s development, why should we hesitate to toss the old views overboard?” Page 168 | Loc. 2015-18: In Bretz’s case, what seems to have occurred during the first few years following his proposed flood theory was a scientific standoff. Bretz’s detractors saw no need to accept his evidence until he could supply a water source, while Bretz saw no compelling need to supply a water source for an event he believed was more than adequately supported by so much evidence. Page 179 | Loc. 2169-83: […] in 1926. First, a paper titled, “The Value of Outrageous Geological Hypotheses” was published in the journal, Science. Written by William Morris Davis, a former president of the Geological Society of America, the article made some interesting and unexpected comments about the sometimes too conservative nature of geologists and the often unperceived value of radical hypotheses. Are we not in danger of reaching a stage of theoretical stagnation, similar to that of physics a generation ago, when its whole realm appeared to have been explored? We shall be indeed fortunate if geology is so marvelously enlarged in the next thirty years as physics has been in the last thirty. But to make such progress, violence must be done to many of our accepted principles; and it is here that the value of outrageous hypotheses, of which I wish to speak, appears. For inasmuch as the great advances of physics in recent years and as the great advances of geology in the past have been made by outraging in one way or another a body of preconceived opinions, we may be pretty sure that the advances yet to be made in geology will be at first regarded as outrages upon the accumulated convictions of today, which we are too prone to regard as geologically sacred. Davis also suggested that geologists should have open minds and consider even absurd theories such as “the Wegener outrage of wandering continents.” Though he made no direct references to Bretz’s flood theories, one must wonder whether Davis had followed the controversy and was obliquely commenting on it when he concluded his talk by saying that “valuable outrage” consisted of the sort that encouraged the contemplation of other possible behaviors. Such wild theories deserved consideration, he contended, and not “an off-hand verdict of ‘impossible’ or ‘absurd,’ but a contemplation deliberate enough to seek out just what conditions would make the outrage seem permissible and reasonable.” Page 200 | Loc. 2440-52: In the spring of 1928 his paper addressing “Alternative Hypotheses for the Channeled Scablands” was published, and shortly after, “Bars of the Channeled Scabland” appeared in the GSA Bulletin. Among other things, this paper sought to address the reasons behind the outright hostility toward his theories. As perhaps never before, Bretz hit the nail right on the proverbial head. Ideas without precedent are generally looked on with disfavor and men are shocked if their conceptions of an orderly world are challenged. A hypothesis earnestly defended begets emotional reaction which may cloud the protagonist’s view, but if such hypotheses outrage prevailing modes of thought the view of antagonists may also become fogged. On the other hand, geology is plagued with extravagant ideas which spring from faulty observation and misinterpretation. They are worse than “outrageous hypotheses,” for they lead nowhere. The writer’s Spokane Flood hypothesis may belong to the latter class, but it can not be placed there unless errors of observation and direct inference are demonstrated. The writer insists that until then it should not be judged by the principles applicable to valley formation, for the scabland phenomena are the product of river channel mechanics. If this is in error, inherent disharmonies should establish the fact, and without adequate acquaintance with the region, this is the logical field for critics. Page 252 | Loc. 3064-66: Did the floods 12,000 to 15,000 years ago simply retrace paths they had taken during much earlier times? The most current opinion under this view is that there were about eighty floods that all occurred within a period of about 2,500 years, possibly at regular intervals.” Page 253 | Loc. 3079-83: Additional research has sought to answer questions such as how long each flood event might have lasted, and at what speeds the floodwaters might have obtained. Estimates as to the former range from 48 hours to a week or more for Lake Missoula to empty completely each time. Estimates as to the velocity of the floodwaters range from an average of 50 to 60 miles per hour to as much as 70 miles per hour (100 feet per second!) at locations with steeper gradients such as Staircase Rapids, north of Washtucna. Page 260 | Loc. 3183-85: Research into large glacial floods around the world, now referred to as “megafloods,” has been aided by improvements in the methods used to estimate elements of paleohydraulics such as flow widths and depths, velocity, and bed shear stress. Megaflood research has also provided some surprising links to other areas of contemporary research and concern. Page 260 | Loc. 3188-90: Many scientists believe it is quite possible that past megafloods have had effects on the earth’s climate by suddenly dumping vast quantities of freshwater into the ocean. The likely effect of this was the introduction of a transient cool-wet climate to a previously cold-dry planetary surface. Page 261 Loc. 3202-7: […] there is an important point to be made about uniformitarianism and catastrophism and the ways in which they are not really so diametrically opposed to one another as first thought. In short, uniformitarianism is alive and well, but cataclysms are now simply recognized as a viable part of the process. Marjorie Burns describes the relationship of the two in Cataclysms on the Columbia when she writes: “You see, there’s a great deal of sense in the idea of steady, imperceptible change. Most geology (from our limited, human viewpoint) works that way. And, the truth is, all those events we call ‘Catastrophic’ are only the end result of slow processes building to rare but dramatic conclusions. Like the grand collapse of a carefully arranged row of dominoes, catastrophes are nothing more than finales.”
20120822 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune)
Loc. 292-94: In the past few months, the Ethiopian government has been accused of killing and displacing members of traditional groups who live in the Omo River valley in southern Ethiopia so the government can build a large hydroelectric dam and lease land to foreign sugar companies.
20120822 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune) : WikiLeaks and the future of free speech OP-ED Keith Negley BY MICHAEL MOORE AND OLIVER STONE
Loc. 2036-75: We have spent our careers as filmmakers making the case that the news media in the United States often fail to inform Americans about the uglier actions of our own government. We therefore have been deeply grateful for the accomplishments of WikiLeaks, and applaud Ecuador’s decision to grant diplomatic asylum to its founder, Julian Assange, who is now living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Ecuador has acted in accordance with important principles of international human rights. Indeed, nothing could demonstrate the appropriateness of Ecuador’s action more than the British government’s threat to violate a sacrosanct principle of diplomatic relations and invade the embassy to arrest Mr. Assange. Since WikiLeaks’ founding, it has revealed the ‘‘Collateral Murder’’ footage that shows the seemingly indiscriminate killing of Baghdad civilians by a U.S. Apache attack helicopter; further fine-grained detail about the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; U.S. collusion with Yemen’s dictatorship to conceal our responsibility for bombing strikes there; the Obama administration’s pressure on other nations not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture; and much more. Predictably, the response from those who would prefer that Americans remain in the dark has been ferocious. Top elected leaders from both parties have called Mr. Assange a ‘‘high-tech terrorist.’’ And Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has demanded that he be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Most Americans, Britons and Swedes are unaware that Sweden has not formally charged Mr. Assange with any crime. Rather, it has issued a warrant for his arrest to question him about allegations of sexual assault in 2010. All such allegations must be thoroughly investigated before Mr. Assange moves to a country that might put him beyond the reach of the Swedish justice system. But it is the British and Swedish governments that stand in the way of an investigation, not Mr. Assange. The Swedish authorities have traveled to other countries to conduct interrogations when needed, and the WikiLeaks founder has made clear his willingness to be questioned in London. Moreover, the Ecuadorean government made a direct offer to Sweden to allow Mr. Assange to be interviewed within Ecuador’s embassy. In both instances, Sweden refused. Mr. Assange has also made a commitment to traveling to Sweden immediately if the Swedish government pledges that it will not extradite him to the United States. Swedish officials have shown no interest in exploring this proposal, and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recently told a legal adviser to Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks unequivocally that Sweden would not make such a pledge. The British government would also have the right under the relevant treaty to prevent Mr. Assange’s extradition to the United States from Sweden, and has also refused to pledge that it would use this power. Ecuador’s attempts to facilitate that arrangement with both governments were rejected. Taken together, the British and Swedish governments’ actions suggest to us that their real agenda is to get Mr. Assange to Sweden. Because of treaty and other considerations, he probably could be more easily extradited from there to the United States to face charges. Mr. Assange has every reason to fear such an outcome. The Justice Department recently confirmed that it was continuing to investigate WikiLeaks, and just-disclosed Australian government documents from this past February state that ‘‘the U.S. investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr. Assange has been ongoing for more than a year.’’ WikiLeaks itself has published e-mails from Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation, which state that a grand jury has already returned a sealed indictment of Mr. Assange. And history indicates that Sweden would buckle to any pressure from the United States to hand over Mr. Assange. In 2001 the Swedish government delivered two Egyptians seeking asylum to the C.I.A., which rendered them to the Mubarak regime, which tortured them. If Mr. Assange is extradited to the United States, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. Mr. Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil. If the United States can prosecute a journalist in these circumstances, the governments of Russia or China could, by the same logic, demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws. The setting of such a precedent should deeply concern everyone, admirers of WikiLeaks or not. We urge the people of Britain and Sweden to demand that their governments answer some basic questions: Why do the Swedish authorities refuse to question Mr. Assange in London? And why can neither government promise that Mr. Assange will not be extradited to the United States? The citizens of Britain and Sweden have a rare opportunity to make a stand for free speech on behalf of the entire globe. MICHAEL MOORE and OLIVER STONE are Academy Award-winning filmmakers. Remind me to send some money to Wikileaks! Loc. 2066-67: And history indicates that Sweden would buckle to any pressure from the United States to hand over Mr. Assange. In 2001 the Swedish government delivered two Egyptians seeking asylum to the C.I.A., which rendered them to the Mubarak regime, which tortured them.
20120821 Antoine de Rivarol, Universalite de la langue française
Page 9: On s’apperçut donc que la magnificence de la langue espagnole et l’orgueil national cachoient une pauvreté réelle. L’Espagne, placée entre la source de la richesse, et les canaux qui l’absorbent, en eut toujours moins : elle paya ceux qui commerçoient pour elle, sans songer qu’il faut toujours les payer davantage. Grave, peu 8De l’universalité de la langue française communicative, subjuguée par des prêtres, elle fut pour l’Europe ce qu’étoit autrefois la mystérieuse égypte, dédaignant des voisins qu’elle enrichissoit, et s’enveloppant du manteau de cet orgueil politique qui a fait tous ses maux. Page 6: C’est des allemands que l’Europe apprit à négliger la langue allemande Page 15: La pensée la plus vigoureuse se détrempe dans la prose italienne. Elle est souvent ridicule et presqu’insupportable dans une bouche virile, parce qu’elle ôte à l’homme ce caractere d’austérité qui doit en être inséparable. Comme la langue allemande, elle a des formes cérémonieuses, ennemies de la conversation, et qui ne donnent pas assez bonne opinion de l’espece humaine. On y est toujours dans la fâcheuse alternative d’ennuyer ou d’insulter un homme. Enfin, il paroît difficile d’être naïf dans cette langue, et la plus simple assertion y a besoin d’être renforcée du serment. Tels sont les inconvéniens de la prose italienne, d’ailleurs si riche et si flexible. Or, c’est la prose qui donne l’empire à une langue, parce qu’elle est toute usuelle ; la poésie n’est qu’un objet de luxe. Page 50: Si nous avions les littératures de tous les peuples passés, comme nous avons celle des grecs et des romains, ne faudroit?il pas que tant de langues se réfugiassent dans une seule par la traduction ? Ce sera vraisemblablement le sort des langues modernes, et la nôtre leur offre un port dans le naufrage. L’Europe présente une république fédérative, composée d’empires et de royaumes, et la plus redoutable qui ait jamais existé ; on ne peut en prévoir la fin, et cependant la langue française doit encore lui survivre. Les états se renverseront, et cette langue sera toujours retenue dans la tempête par deux ancres, sa littérature et sa clarté : jusqu’au moment où, par une de ces grandes révolutions qui remettent les choses à leur premier point, la nature vienne renouveller ses traités avec un autre genre?humain. Page 59: L’histoire de l’Amérique se réduit désormais à trois époques : égorgée par l’Espagne, opprimée par l’Angleterre, et sauvée par la France. 20120819 The Road (Cormac Mccarthy) Another excellent book… strange that I don have more quotes! Page 15 | Loc. 156: The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening. Page 33 | Loc. 383-84: He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small comfort from it. Page 169 | Loc. 2088-89: Do you wish you would die? No. But I might wish I had died. When you’re alive you’ve always got that ahead of you.
20120817 In der Villa ist die Hölle los: Die Villa ist voll! Von Oma geerbt. Das Zeug muss weg! Doch wie? Die Komödie begint (German Edition) (Vito von Eichborn and Gabriele von Holbach)
Loc. 803-4: Bei so einer Ehefrau bleibt einem tatsächlich nur der Suff. Loc. 922-23: Chaos ist überall dort, wo was steht oder liegt, das da nicht hingehört! Loc. 1466-68: Ich fahre zum Secondhandshop. Das Ding ist riesig. Ich dachte an ein kleines, schnuckeliges Geschäft, aber das hier steht einem Einkaufszentrum in nichts nach. Innen sieht es aus wie auf einem Schlachtfeld. […1471-73] Der Laden heißt „hope“, ich weiß nur nicht, gilt das für Käufer oder Verkäufer. Ich jedenfalls habe Hoffnung, hier was zu verkaufen und suche jemand, der mir was über die Modalitäten dieses Ladens erzählen kann. […Loc. 1476-80] Jemand im grünen Hemd läuft mir über den Weg. Die Aufschrift „hope“ und das grün des Hemdes lassen vermuten, es ist ein Angestellter der Hoffnung. Ich frage: „Gehören Sie zur Hoffnung?“ Er lacht. „Ja, kann ich Ihnen helfen?“ Ich trage mein Anliegen vor. „Leider, leider, da kann ich nicht helfen. Die Warenannahme ist auf der Rückseite des Hauses.“ „Wieso Warenannahme? Ich habe nichts dabei, wollte nur eine Auskunft.“ „Auskunft gibt es an der Kasse.“ Da steht eine lange Schlange.[…1482-92] „Also, ich will Auskunft über ihre Modalitäten, einen kompetenten Ansprechpartner.“ Das Gesicht der grünen Hoffnung wird immer länger. Dann sagt er: „Modalitäten führen wir nicht.“ Ich schnappe hörbar nach Luft. „Ob wir etwas haben, das kompetent ist, weiß ich nicht, wir haben was für kompatibel, aber wo das ist, weiß ich auch nicht.“ Den Satz muss ich erst mal verdauen. Wo bin ich nur hingeraten? „Gibt es hier einen Geschäftsführer?“ Er antwortet: „Nein, nur den Emil, der führt manchmal den Hund vom Chef aus, wenn der den dabei hat. Ich weiß aber nicht, ob der Emil heute da ist. Da muss ich mal den Chef fragen.“ Oh Gott, steh mir bei. Aber eins muss man ihm lassen, er ist sehr hilfsbereit. Gut, gehen wir zum Chef. Der ist nicht in seinem Büro. Wo er hin ist, weiß die grüne Hoffnung nicht. Da muss er mal an der Kasse fragen. Na toll, hätte ich mich gleich angestellt, wäre ich mittlerweile in Sichtweite der Kassiererin. Aber die grüne Hoffnung schlüpft an der Warteschlange vorbei. „Häh“, sagt er, „ruf mal den Chef aus. Da will eine Frau kompatibel sein.“ Einige Leute lachen, andere schauen nur blöd, die wissen anscheinend auch nicht, was kompatibel heißt. [… 1493-96] Da kommt der Chef. Die grüne Hoffnung und die ebenfalls grüne Kassiererin zeigen in Richtung Ausgang. Der Chef macht rein äußerlich einen normalen Eindruck. Hoffentlich ist er geistig rege. Sonst ist nichts mit Verkaufen im Secondhandshop. „Das ist die kompatible Frau“, schreit die grüne Hoffnung so laut, dass es selbst die kleinste Maus im letzten Loch hört. […Loc. 1496-99] Der Chef schnauzt ihn an und schickt ihn zurück ins Lager. Mit mir spricht er im gleichen Ton. Leider weiß er nicht, dass ich in solchen Situationen zum wutschnaubenden Stier mutiere. Meiner Wortgewalt ist er nicht gewachsen. Kleinlaut entschuldigt er sich. So, nachdem wir jetzt kompatibel sind, gehen wir mal zum geschäftlichen Teil über. Loc. 2425-26: Ich habe Mitleid mit dem jungen Mann. „Was studieren Sie?“ „Germanistik“, erzählt er stolz. Auch das noch, eine brotlose Kunst.
20120811 Broken Harbour (Tana French)
The best whodunit story I read in ages. And the Irish slang is a nice change from US slang! Page 14 | Loc. 336-39: For tea my mother would fry up eggs and sausages on a camping stove, and afterwards my father would send us to Lynch’s for ice creams. We’d come back to find my mum sitting on his lap, leaning her head into the curve of his neck and smiling dreamily out at the water; he’d wind her hair around his free hand, so the sea breeze wouldn’t whip it into her ice cream. I waited all year to see them look like that. This one struck me because I was more than 40 when I realised why my parents would send me and my brothers & sisters to church on Sunday afternoon… and why we got some coins to buy ice cream, to further delay our returning home! Page 275 | Loc. 5496-5504: ‘So maybe it wasn’t droppings that Pat smelled: it was the otter itself, and now it hasn’t been around in a while, so the scent’s faded. ’ ‘Could be. They smell, all right. But . . . I don’t know, man.’ Tom squinted off into the distance, working one finger in between the dreadlocks to scratch his scalp. ‘It’s not just the scent thing. This whole deal, this isn’t otter behaviour. End of story. They’re seriously not climbers – I mean, I’ve heard of otters climbing, but that’s like headline news, you know what I mean? Even if it did, something that size going up and down the side of a house, you’ve gotta figure it’ll get seen. And they’re wild. They’re not like rats or foxes, the urbanised stuff that’s OK with living right up against humans. Otters stay away from us. If you’ve got an otter here, he’s a fucking weirdo. He’s the one that the other otters tell their cubs to stay out of his garden.’ Page 279 | Loc. 5568-69: The kid was living proof of Sinéad’s virtue: the spit of its dad, bald head and pale stare and all. This one I quote just because I of the interesting origin of the expression “a spitting portrait!” Page 453 | Loc. 9171-73: ‘Murder is nature. Hadn’t you noticed that? People maiming each other, raping each other, killing each other, doing all the stuff that animals do: that’s nature in action. Nature is the devil I’m fighting, chum. Nature is my worst enemy. If it isn’t yours, then you’re in the wrong fucking gig.’
20120805: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Steven Johnson)
Loc. 74-79: […] as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name. —SHAKESPEARE, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i.14–17 Page 17 | Loc. 260-72: The argument of this book is that a series of shared properties and patterns recur again and again in unusually fertile environments. I have distilled them down into seven patterns, each one occupying a separate chapter. The more we embrace these patterns—in our private work habits and hobbies, in our office environments, in the design of new software tools—the better we will be at tapping our extraordinary capacity for innovative thinking.3 These patterns turn out to have a long history, much older than most of the systems that we conventionally associate with innovation. This history is particularly rich because it is not exclusively limited to human creations like the Internet or the metropolis. The amplification and adoption of useful innovation exist throughout natural history as well. Coral reefs are sometimes called the “cities of the sea,” and part of the argument of this book is that we need to take the metaphor seriously: the reef ecosystem is so innovative in its exploitation of those nutrient-poor waters because it shares some defining characteristics with actual cities. In the language of complexity theory, these patterns of innovation and creativity are fractal: they reappear in recognizable form as you zoom in and out, from molecule to neuron to pixel to sidewalk. Whether you’re looking at the original innovations of carbon-based life, or the explosion of new software tools on the Web, the same shapes keep turning up. When life gets creative, it has a tendency to gravitate toward certain recurring patterns, whether those patterns are emergent and self-organizing, or whether they are deliberately crafted by human agents. Page 33 | Loc. 433-35: The history of life and human culture, then, can be told as the story of a gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore. Page 35 | Loc. 458-60: Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and, occasionally, contracts) over time. Some of those parts are conceptual: ways of solving problems, or new definitions of what constitutes a problem in the first place. Page 84 | Loc. 1019-26: Darwin’s notebooks lie at the tail end of a long and fruitful tradition that peaked in Enlightenment-era Europe, particularly in England: the practice of maintaining a “commonplace” book. Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. The great minds of the period—Milton, Bacon, Locke—were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. There is a distinct self-help quality to the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: maintaining the books enabled one to “lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.” Page 93 | Loc. 1142-45: Early in its history, Google famously instituted a “20-percent time” program for all Google engineers: for every four hours they spend working on official company projects, the engineers are required to spend one hour on their own pet project, guided entirely by their own passions and instincts. (Modeled on a similar program pioneered by 3M known as “the 15-percent rule,” Google’s system is officially called “Innovation Time Off.”) Page 94 | Loc. 1151-52: Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of Search Products and User Experience, claims that over 50 percent of Google’s new products derive from Innovation Time Off hunches. Page 113 | Loc. 1361-70: Private serendipity can be cultivated by technology as well. For more than a decade now, I have been curating a private digital archive of quotes that I’ve found intriguing, my twenty-first-century version of the commonplace book. Some of these passages involve very focused research on a specific project; others are more random discoveries, hunches waiting to make a connection. Some of them are passages that I’ve transcribed from books or articles; others were clipped directly from Web pages. (In the past few years, thanks to Google Books and the Kindle, copying and storing interesting quotes from a book has grown far simpler.) I keep all these quotes in a database using a program called DEVONthink, where I also store my own writing: chapters, essays, blog posts, notes. By combining my own words with passages from other sources, the collection becomes something more than just a file storage system. It becomes a digital extension of my imperfect memory, an archive of all my old ideas, and the ideas that have influenced me. There are now more than five thousand distinct entries in that database, and more than 3 million words—sixty books’ worth of quotes, fragments, and hunches, all individually captured by me, stored in a single database. Page 114 | Loc. 1374-82: DEVONthink features a clever algorithm that detects subtle semantic connections between distinct passages of text. These tools are smart enough to get around the classic search-engine failing of excessive specificity: searching for “dog” and missing all the articles that only have the word “canine” in them. Modern indexing software like DEVONthink’s learns associations between individual words by tracking the frequency with which words appear near each other. This can create almost lyrical connections between ideas. Several years ago, I was working on a book about cholera in London and queried DEVONthink for information about Victorian sewage systems. Because the software had detected that the word “waste” is often used alongside “sewage,” it directed me to a quote that explained the way bones evolved in vertebrate bodies: namely, by repurposing the calcium waste products created by the metabolism of cells. At first glance that might seem like an errant result, but it sent me off on a long and fruitful tangent into the way complex systems—whether cities or bodies—find productive uses for the waste they create. That idea became a central organizing theme for one of the chapters in the cholera book. Page 120 | Loc. 1454-55: Filters reduce serendipity (unless your particular interest lies in being surprised, which is part of the appeal of beautifully miscellaneous blogs like Boing Boing). Page 182 | Loc. 2183-86: Beavers are the classic example of ecosystem engineers. By felling poplars and willows to build dams, beavers single-handedly transform temperate forests into wetlands, which then attract and support a remarkable array of neighbors: pileated woodpeckers drilling nesting cavities into dead trees; wood ducks and Canada geese settling in abandoned beaver lodges; herons and kingfishers and swallows enjoying the benefits of the “artificial” pond, along with frogs, lizards, and other slow-water species like dragonflies, mussels, and aquatic beetles. Page 197 | Loc. 2395-2403: Though they are not measured in monetary units, natural platforms display similar patterns of economic efficiency. Pileated woodpeckers make their homes by drilling large holes in dead trees. But woodpeckers don’t have the resources to kill off trees on their own, so they’re largely dependent on stumbling across trees that have died of natural causes. But in creating their forest wetlands, beavers are constantly toppling trees, and so pileated woodpeckers flourish in the engineered ecosystem created by the beavers. They get the benefit of the softer, more pliable wood of a rotting tree, without the cost of having to fell the tree. Interestingly, woodpeckers generally abandon the homes they’ve carved into the tree after a year, making them ideal spaces for songbirds to nest. The songbirds benefit from the cavities created by the woodpeckers without being burdened by the costs of drilling through all that wood. The wetland created by the beaver, like the thriving platform created by the Twitter founders, invites variation because it is an open platform where resources are shared as much as they are
20120803 In Gold We Trust? The Future of Money in an Age of Uncertainty (Kindle Single) (Michael Green and Matthew Bishop)
Loc. 71-72: Thanks not least to the boom during the past decade in exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which save the hassle of buying and storing bits of metal, trading gold is easier than it has ever been for ordinary investors, too. Loc. 363-64: Saint Augustine once prayed, “O, Master, make me chaste and celibate, but not yet.” Loc. 422-24: […] the Federal Reserve was simply making money out of thin air. That, Paulson believes, can only be good for gold. In a rare media interview in April 2011, he explained that QE will lead to inflation, which reduces the real value of the dollar. “Over time, the price of gold will rise in proportion to the creation of paper dollars,” he explained. Gold, he later predicted, would rise to at least $4,000 an ounce by 2016. Loc. 461-62: Simple, or as Krugman put it, “Nothing like a good intellectual puzzle to keep you occupied while the world collapses.” Loc. 586-88: For most of us, the only thing that matters about money is getting more of it. Of course, as The Beatles sing to us, money can’t buy love and, as Mastercard broadcasts to us, there are plenty of priceless things in the world that waving a bit of plastic cannot help us acquire. Yet most of the stuff in the world does fall within the reach of the credit card or the banknote and has a price. Loc. 596-98: Of course, people were swapping things before money even existed, and still do so today in what we call barter trade. The problem with barter is that it requires a “double coincidence of wants”, which means that for a trade to take place you must want what I have to give and I must want what you have to give in exchange. Not easy if, say, I have a herd of cattle and want a Cartier watch, and you have a used car and want a vacation in Florida. Loc. 581-82: Money ranks alongside the wheel as one of the greatest of human inventions and, like the wheel, it is a technology that we largely take for granted. Loc. 588-89: And price tells us something about the first two technological functions of money, to be what economists call a medium of exchange and a unit of account. Loc. 592-93: That is what is meant by a unit of account. Before money, there was no easy way to express the value of different items, to compare apples with oranges, chalk with cheese. Money makes that possible. Loc. 600-602: Nor do you have to spend the money straight away. You can just as easily trade your stuff for money and then sit on the cash until you are ready to buy something. That is the third function of the technology that is money, and the part most prone to “technological failure”: to be a store of value over time. Loc. 754-57: Ignominious as was the ending of the world’s first experiment with fiat money, Law can be credited with some pioneering thinking about the nature of money. Nearly three centuries before “Helicopter” Ben Bernanke imagined scattering notes from the sky, Law saw how government could act to lift a country out of an economic slump by tackling a shortage of money. He failed, however, not least because he drove the experiment too hard too fast. NB: fiat money. Fiat, as in fiat lux, i.e. money backed by nothing! Loc. 1138-41: This sort of alternative currency is not entirely new. The WIR was created in Switzerland during the economic crisis of the 1930s as a co-operative payment system between small and medium sized enterprises. Today, the WIR banking system has more than 60,000 members and the WIR supply of money in circulation is worth more than a billion Swiss francs. This is proof, say the alternative currency gang, that private monies can be stable, not just a flash in the pan. Loc. 1145-47: The Swiss WIR acts as a closed purchasing circle that supports its small business members by keeping commerce within the group. They may also offer a way to cheat the taxman, who typically focuses on income generated in legal tender. Loc. 1166-67: If Keynes were alive today, maybe he would be calling the current version of fiat money a relic of the past. After all, as he famously retorted when challenged by a critic, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Loc. 1196-1200: Yet, superficial appearances aside, gold today is essentially the same as it ever was. Not so trading in gold, where there has been an important innovation that is reckoned to have helped stimulate the resurgence of demand for it. This innovation is the exchange-traded fund (ETF), which essentially allows people to buy and sell shares whose price is tied directly to the price of gold — thus allowing them to invest without the cost, hassle and security risks of buying and selling physical gold, and none of the complexity or divergences from the current price of gold of the traditional main alternatives, gold futures contracts and shares in gold mining companies. Loc. 1235-40: On the other hand, if the world really were to collapse, as the old saying goes, “you can’t eat gold.” As Nouriel Roubini, the latest economist to be known as Dr Doom, commented in late 2009, “one would be better off stockpiling canned food and other commodities like oil that are useful for riding out Armageddon.” That said, carrying backpacks loaded with tins of spam as you try to escape from desperate gangs with their eyes on your assets may be a recipe for disaster (as the former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi found when he fled and had to leave behind his substantial stash of bullion). Essential medicines might prove a more portable “money” in such desperate circumstances. Loc. 1385-86: Money is not something absolute. It is a technology that has changed over millennia to meet our evolving need for a unit of account, medium of exchange and store of value. Loc. 1415-17: The challenge posed by the current resurgence of gold is to create new forms of money that outperform today’s fiat currencies and are not merely as good as, but better than, gold.
20120802 Beethoven’s Shadow (Kindle Single) (Jonathan Biss)
[…] further irony complicates the problem of trying to explain my Beethoven compulsion: The very qualities that make music so tempting to write about are the ones that make it impossible to write about. No other art form is quite so defiantly abstract. It inspires the most intense feelings, but these feelings are difficult to describe, and more so to explain. Unlike words or images, our relationship to sounds is one we barely understand. And in the end, would we want it any other way? If we could express — or even explain — the emotional content of a piece of music in words, would there still be any reason to play it? [..] many different heightened emotional states: despair in the slow movement of the Hammerklavier Sonata; warm-bloodedness in the second movement of the Sonata Op. 90; rage in the Appassionata Sonata; sheer transcendence in the G Major Piano Concerto and most everything else he wrote. Fleisher pupils, in their grander moments, have noted that Schnabel studied with Leschetitzky, who studied with Czerny, who in turn studied with Beethoven himself, and suggested that this lineage carries with it a legacy of sorts. While the facts themselves are right, the presumption is utter nonsense: Most any pianist trained in Europe or North America can claim some “genealogical” connection to Beethoven. Schnabel, of course, did not live to comment on these developments, or to witness this dramatic shift in his reputation. But with characteristic wit, he was known to note that the same German word — verplattung — translates as both “disc-making” and “flattening out”; it does not take too much speculation to imagine how he might have felt about the changes in musical priorities the decades since his death have brought about. In short: Mozart, a theatrical composer if there ever was one, writes about the real world; Beethoven writes about an idealized world. Beethoven’s admiration for Mozart was enormous, which makes it all the more interesting that the drama of his music is drawn from such utterly different sources than Mozart’s. While Mozart’s music so often suggests conversation, Beethoven’s is most often written in one immensely strong voice. Where Mozart’s temperament is quicksilver, Beethoven’s is steadfast. And where Mozart is so often willing to interrupt the narrative of a work if inspiration takes him in a different direction, Beethoven’s music is nearly always relentlessly argued, never straying significantly from the business of resolving the central questions it poses. Beethoven does not budge. He was very open about his disdain for the physical limitations of instruments, and of players who thought he should concern himself with them: When Ignat Schuppanzigh had the temerity to scold Beethoven for the difficulty of his Razumovsky Quartets, Beethoven replied, “Do you think I worry about your damn fiddle when the spirit speaks to me?” And I cannot imagine that he was any more interested in the self-expression of the performer. Beethoven’s imagination is trained on a spot far outside the range of vision of mere mortals; the glory of his music is not that it speaks for us but that it is so far beyond us.
20120801 Zombie Bible: Death Has Come Up into Our Windows (Kindle Single) (Stant Litore)
Less than half so good as some reviewers say!
Fear is a sickness.
20120726 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune)
One Qaeda operative, a 56-year-old known as Abu Thuha who lives near Kirkuk, Iraq, spoke to an Iraqi reporter for The New York Times on Tuesday. ‘‘We have experience now fighting the Americans, and more experience now with the Syrian revolution,’’ he said. ‘‘Our big hope is to form a Syrian-Iraqi Islamic state for all Muslims, and then announce our war against Iran and Israel, and free Palestine.’’ Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism specialist who is a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it was clear that Al Qaeda was trying to become more active in Syria. As they have already done in Somalia and Mali, and before that in Chechnya and Yemen, the group is trying to turn a local conflict to its advantage.
20120722 Himmelsdiebe (German Edition) (Peter Prange)
»Was für ein Idiot bin ich gewesen«, flüsterte er, sein Gesicht an ihrem Gesicht, während seine Hände nach den Knöpfen ihrer Bluse suchten. »Ein Riesenidiot …«, flüsterte auch sie und tastete nach seiner Gürtelschnalle. »Tantalusqualen hab ich gelitten …« »Wir sind hier in Frankreich. Bei uns wird nichts so heiß gegessen wie gekocht. Erst veranstalten sie ein Affentheater, um sich wichtig zu machen, und dann geht alles wieder seinen alten Gang.« Ein paar der ehemaligen Wärter dort bewachen jetzt euch. Von ihnen haben wir erfahren, dass ihr hier seid. Für ein paar Stangen Zigaretten haben sie sogar Mitleid. Deshalb schauen sie weg und lassen uns an den Zaun.« »In faecibus nascimur, in faecibus morimur.« Die Milch stammte von einer sogenannten »geheimen« Kuh, die nicht von den Behörden registriert war, sodass man trotz der Rationierung, der inzwischen fast alle Lebensmittel unterlagen, die Milch direkt von dem Bauern kaufen konnte.
20120721 Vestiges de l’amour (French Edition) (Jean-Marc LIGNY)
Homme triste, brise les remparts de ta douleur et viens à moi dans les brumes de l’oubli. […] Homme gris, brise le miroir de ton malheur et viens à moi dans les runes de la nuit. […] Homme vide, brise le pouvoir de ta terreur et viens à moi dans la rumeur de la vie.
20120720 Sitting Ducks (Kindle Single) (Steve Anderson)
An interesting booklet about the “hopeless” Operation Greif during the battle of the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) in 1944, coordinated (???!@@!?) by Otto Skorzeny. At the same time, the Stielau commandos helped fuel the panic and paranoia among American troops caught off guard by the surprise German attack. American soldiers had already been wary. Before the offensive, scattered reports described odd types in American uniforms snooping around. Close to the border, the Belgians spoke a form of Deutsch. Who knew what the locals were up to? The nerve-racking prospect of German spy teams in GI disguise only seemed to confirm their worst fears. Also gibt’s neben Nordic Kauderwelsh und Sabir atlantique auch “some form of Deutsch.” Maybe vekder Platt?
20120720 Gutenberg the Geek (Kindle Single) (Jeff Jarvis)
Just as today we debate the roles of Twitter and Facebook in the Arab Spring, so do scholars still argue over the press’ role as tool or catalyst. But there can be no question that the press soon played a pivotal role in the Reformation. On the one hand, Gutenberg’s presses produced the indulgences against which Luther raged. On the other hand, he provided Luther with the tool to foment revolt against Rome and become, says Man, history’s first best-seller — with 300,000 copies of his 30 tracts sold. Man also calls him history’s first media celebrity. “As suddenly as fame comes to pop singers and football superstars today, Luther was a household name and everyone was talking about his devastating theses. The indulgences market collapsed like a popped dot com.” In The Coming of the Book, Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin calculate that in the 50 years after Gutenberg’s invention, 20 million books were published, more than had been copied by all the scribes in Europe during the millennium before. We may lose sight of what a new and wondrous technology it was. When Fust went to Paris to sell Bibles, local booksellers called the police on him because “such a store of valuable books could be in one man’s possession through the help of the devil himself.” 20120709 Erotic Fantastic:
The Best of Circlet Press 1992-2002 (Francesca Lia Block, Catherine Asaro, Laura Antoniou, Thomas S. Roche, M. Christian and Jason Rubis)
20120708 Le Monde (Le Monde): La côte flamande en guerre contre Météo Belgique, Jean-Pierre Stroobants (Bruxelles, Correspondant)
Pas content de la météo ? Tuez le météorologue ! Les offices de tourisme du littoral belge, étroite bande d’une soixantaine de kilomètres entre les frontières française et néerlandaise, sont furieux qu’un site Web ait osé annoncer un été médiocre avec des températures très moyennes et des pluies régulières. Ils annoncent qu’ils envisagent le dépôt d’une plainte. Ceux qui connaissent un peu le royaume et ses mois de juillet souvent humides ne s’étonneront que modérément mais les responsables locaux du tourisme, confrontés à des annulations de séjour, ont pris le mors aux dents. De La Panne à Knokke-le-Zoute, ils entendent faire la peau aux oiseaux de mauvais augure qui effrayent les candidats vacanciers et feraient perdre des millions aux commerçants de la ” Vlaamse kust ” – côte flamande -, appellation brevetée et obligatoire de ce qui fut, autrefois, la côte belge. Météo Belgique, création d’amateurs éclairés, informaticiens pour la plupart et prévisionnistes passionnés à leurs heures, est jugée responsable d’une perte financière déjà chiffrée en millions d’euros : chaque touriste dépenserait, par jour, de 35 à 71 euros s’il se rend à la mer, explique Daniel De Spiegelaere, patron de l’Office de tourisme de Knokke. Or des milliers d’entre eux auraient, inutilement alarmés par Météo Belgique, renoncé à se rendre à la plage. Par exemple mercredi 4 juillet, où il faisait grand soleil et 27 degrés alors que de la pluie était annoncée. Et les prévisions maussades pour le mois d’août auraient refroidi d’autres voyageurs potentiels… ” Nous assortissons nos prévisions d’un indice de confiance, une pratique en vigueur en France ou en Allemagne “, réplique Xavier Lizin, responsable de Météo Belgique. Difficile, dès lors, d’envisager qu’un juge s’empare du dossier, d’autant que les responsables du site dressent, chaque mois, le bilan de leurs prévisions qui se situent, selon de ” vrais ” spécialistes, dans une très bonne moyenne. Du moins si l’on tient compte que la météorologie ne sera jamais une science totalement exacte pour un territoire de 30 000 km² soumis notamment aux caprices des oscillations de l’Atlantique et du Pacifique. ” Vive la Côte d’Opale ” Pour tenter de ” mieux informer “, les offices de tourisme de la Vlaamse Kust renvoient, en tout cas, vers leur propre site météo : ” Kustweerbericht ” (Météo de la côte) se limite à des prévisions à quelques jours, censées être plus fiables… mais qui annoncent au maximum 4 heures d’ensoleillement pour la semaine à venir. Xavier Lizin sourit : ” Nous avons la volonté d’être les plus sérieux et les plus corrects possible, pas de nous tromper. ” Météo Belgique est, il est vrai, aussi une petite entreprise à but commercial qui entend fidéliser au mieux ses visiteurs. Sur le site lameuse.be, une internaute clôt le débat : ” Beau ou mauvais temps, de toute façon, le sourire est toujours absent à la côte. Vive la Côte d’Opale ! Les Français sont plus sympas, même si parfois ils se la pètent !”
20120614 How the End Begins (Ron Rosenbaum)
A book about the policy and politics of nuclear deterrence. A must read if you want to understand how fragile nuclear arsenals actually are, and there is a real possibility that a madman could singlehandeldly decide to lauch a couple of nuclear missiles. A question which receives a lot of attention is the following. Assume country A (US or USSR) has destroyed country B. Is it morally acceptable for A to take revenge and destroy A?
Are nuclear weapons just very powerful and efficient explosive devices, exponentially more powerful, but when it comes to war just the most explosive, and capable of being used in the same way as conventional weapons of mass destruction? Or was there something particularly demonic, Faustian, insidiously evil—“exceptionalist”—about them? Was it the invisible long-lasting half-life of radiation that made nukes not just different in degree but in kind? The way nuclear weapons didn’t merely split the atom but somehow cracked the core of Newtonian being—the mechanistic, determinist way of explicating all events by iron rules of causality? Was it that they revealed the demon of unpredictability that reigns on the subatomic level. The ineradicable evil of ionizing radiation? In War in Human Civilization, the historian and anthropologist Azar Gat argues that there is a dark self-destructive strain in human nature, perhaps a now-maladaptive residue of what originally was an evolutionary valuable aggressiveness. Political scientist Peter Berkowitz argues that the answer to how we ended up here, so close to hell, comes less from evolutionary psychology than from philosophy: “I sometimes think it’s Hobbes versus Rousseau,” some brutish nastiness built into us in a Hobbseian way, he told me. I have begun to wonder about the power of apocalyptic narratives contained in so many major religions. I don’t believe that any holy books were written by God. I don’t believe in a Freudian death instinct. But I do believe the fact that the hand of man finds itself recurrently, obsessively scripting fiery, self-immolating cataclysmic conclusions to the human saga may well be, at the very least, self-fulfilling prophecy. It may also say that deep down, we really are a species obsessed with its own self-destruction—one that knows it deserves to be cleansed from the world, by fire this One billion. There are arguments about this number. But even among the minimalist faction of nuclear war death estimates, I think most will agree the upper limit they imagine is an order of magnitude above the 60 million people who died in World War II. Is there an order of magnitude in measuring sanity? A point one reaches when a system that started out marginally sane, and may—we will never know—have prevented tens of millions of deaths in conventional wars, becomes irrevocably and ineradicably suicidally insane? Can you measure that point on a chart, with a number, a percentage of humans left alive? In other words beyond a certain, say, ten-figure number—a billion—are you dealing with a different phenomenon not merely in degree but in kind from the 60 million dead in World War II? Assuming the morality of that war and bracketing the question of whether it could have been avoided by a minor bit of French assertiveness in the Rhineland in 1936, is there any upper limit to the number of lives worth losing for moral reasons? If 60 million is tragic but sane—worth the sacrifice to win—is 600 million? A billion? Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, Barry Goldwater famously said. What about total extinction in the defense of liberty? A virtue? If we reject that, then what number short of total extinction will we accept? This is something I noticed reading more recent declassified nuclear strategy and deterrence documents. In there you would never know that nuclear weapons kill any unarmed noncombatant civilians. Targets that are likely to lead to extensive civilian casualties are euphemized frequently as attacks on “economic infrastructure.” That they happen to be coextensive in most cases with densely populated areas known as “cities” is not acknowledged. In another one of its euphemisms, the Pentagon strategists frequently refer to a preemptive nuclear strike as “damage limitation.” The phrase sounds so innocent, but it means launching a decapitating surprise attack, a first strike against a foe in order to take out leadership targets like Moscow and military targets, especially nuclear weapons. Collateral damage? You betcha. But since it’s damage limitation, presumably we’d only do it when we thought a preemptive attack on us needed limiting. Or a response to our first strike needed minimizing. Thus it can be euphemized as a defensive response to save our civilian lives. Human damage limitation. Everyone has an opinion on global warming and detailed plans to respond to it. Few are willing to speak frankly about the continued threat of global incineration. Perhaps we only have room for one doomsday scenario, or perhaps the focus on global warming is a sublimation of the fear of global incineration. In any case, a kind of eclipse: Global warming, at least, offers paths to successful activism: science will solve the problem. Global incineration, on the other hand, seems a possibility beyond our rational control. How did we get ourselves into a state where having escaped the dailiness of dread of the Cold War, we are still content to live with the possibility of annihilation? That we profess the same doctrine, deterrence, genocidal nuclear retaliation? The same willingness to threaten evil to prevent evil on a multiple genocidal scale? The same apparatus to accomplish it? Was there a doomsday machine encrypted in the code within our chromosomes—within human nature—more dangerous than the one embodied in the nucleus of the unstable uranium isotope? Words count in the world of virtual nuclear warfare and war planning. That’s why the actual words are so often euphemisms—“economic infrastructure” for killing urban civilian populations. “Damage Limitation” for a nuclear first strike against the foe’s nukes. The main result of the congressional move was the development of a euphemism for surrender in the nuclear strategy community: “war termination.” It continued to be studied and generated a black-humored joke by Henry Kissinger in his 1960 book On Nuclear War where, in the index under “Surrender,” the reader finds “See victory, Total.”
20120609 Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists (Rebecca Stott)
Another almost “best book” I have read, mostly because of the rather interesting characters Stott describes. I particularly like Robert Chambers, the author of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and Alfred Russel Wallace. Both have been paving the way for the acceptance of evolutionism. What I found particularly interesting is that evolution (or “transmutation”, as it was first known in Britain) was regarded in Britain as a product of the French revolution, because of the role of Lamarck, Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. As such, all transmutation literature was regarded as politically dangerous, a threat to the Englisg society. Evolutionism was also regarded as atheistic and a threat to the religious establishment, including he Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were most (all?) lecturers were membrs of the Anglican clergy. As to Wallace, he was an explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist (wikipedia), a very likable person who was not a Bourgeois like Darwin but originally funded his travels by collecting specimens in South America and asia and selling them to European and Americam museums. It is also interesting that Darwin took a long time before he added a section on his predecessors in te origin of species.
For ten years Darwin shifted positions uncomfortably, grappling with his own conscience, unable to decide whether he belonged with the jeering authorities of science and the Church who were throwing stones or with the man who belonged to the clan he knew he also owed allegiance to, the group he had called ‘us transmutationists’ in a letter to Joseph Hooker in 1847. About vestiges he shifted positions between the 2nd and the third edition of the Origin of species: the introduction to the Origin, Darwin mocked rather than defended the book: The author of the ‘Vestiges of Creation’ would, I presume, say that, after a certain unknown number of generations, some bird had given birth to a woodpecker, and some plant to the mistletoe, and that these had been produced perfect as we now see them; but this assumption seems to me to be no explanation, for it leaves the case of the coadaptations of organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life, untouched and unexplained. In the 3rd edition, Darwin became more simpatico: Darwin, his conscience spiked, removed the offending passage from the third edition of Origin (1861) and all subsequent editions. In his ‘Historical Sketch’, he tried to make amends, writing in more measured tones: The author . . . argues with much force on general grounds that species are not immutable productions. Stott: It is difficult to see how Darwin’s Origin might have fared in the world without the ruffling of theological feathers, the raising of dreams, the firing of imaginations and conversations that Vestiges brought into being. Some more passages from the book: Trembley carefully prepared object lessons for them, using the study of a moth or a community of insects living on a single tree or the germination of seeds or the arrangements of a beehive as an opportunity to teach French, logic, morals, religion, history, science and mathematics. ‘So far as is possible,’ he wrote, ‘it is advisable that ideas should be preceded in the mind by curiosity – by the kind of curiosity that excites and sustains attention and thereby helps to cause objects to be seen in a precise manner and to be observed with pleasure’ which is maybe why young people are no longer interested in sciences? Comment by Miller about Vestiges: Instead he saw swamps, infection and sinking sands. He declared that ‘the lower levels of society had sunk into a miasmatic marsh out of which poor law assessment, fierce revolutionary outbreaks, plagues, and pestilence, threaten to arise and envelope in indiscriminate ruin the classes above’. The Church must make its most valiant attempts at ‘draining and purifying the bog’. Mr Chambers studiously excludes all religious subjects and references from his periodicals; and that notwithstanding the vast multitude of papers of all kinds which he has written or published, it would be difficult to gather from any one of them that a God exists, or that a way of salvation from sin has been revealed. He is, indeed, the great representative of our non-religious periodical press. This is of itself seriously criminal. But he is charged with even worse than this. He is charged with writing and sending forth to the world a work which, not to speak of its false and superficial science, ‘expels the Almighty from the Universe’ and renders ‘the revelation of His will an incredible superstition’ (North British Review); which ‘tells us that our Bible is a fable, when it teaches us that man was made in the image of God’ (Edinburgh Review). I do not say that Mr Chambers is the author of this revolting production; but he is alleged to be the author. For as long as he could remember Wallace had been interested in the differences between human races and in the geographical borders that marked the edges of those gradations.10 He grew up on the border between Wales and England. The hills ten miles off near Abergavenny which he could see from his bedroom window marked the beginning of ‘the unknown land of Wales’, a place where people talked differently and where they looked different too, though it was always difficult to say exactly where one country began and the other ended because of migrations and intermarriages.
20120606 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune): The things parents never forget, JOAN WICKERSHAM
The game was called ‘‘I Forgot I Had a Baby.’’ We invented it together, my older son and I, one afternoon when he was about eight months old. He was sitting in my lap, facing me. I let my eyes wander around the room, pretending to daydream — and then suddenly caught sight of him and said, with a gasp of happy astonishment, ‘‘Oh — I forgot I had a baby!’’ After a startled instant, he cracked up. It was one of those uncanny, thrilling moments of shared experience. Your child is new and relatively helpless; he has yet to acquire words; but no words are necessary. You both get the joke. ‘‘I Forgot I Had a Baby’’ became a staple in our house. The wandering gaze, the hammy obliviousness, the dramatic moment when I discovered him sitting in my lap: repetition was part of the game. But it changed, too. Soon I could ask, ‘‘Do you want to play ‘I Forgot I Had a Baby’?’’ and he could answer— first simply by understanding the question and laughing, and then with words. Eventually we developed a variation, ‘‘I Forgot I Had a Mother,’’ where he got to call the shots: How long to let his gaze wander away from mine, how to dramatize the shock of finding that he did, indeed, have a mother, who was holding him in her lap. He outgrew the game, but when his brother was born, six years later, ‘‘I Forgot I Had a Baby’’ came back to me one afternoon, and it turned out that the second child also found it endlessly, inexplicably funny. Now the second child, the youngest, is 18 and graduating from high school. When I look at him now, I see the adult he is becoming: strong and appealing, steady, kind, reserved and stubbornly independent. But he was always that way. I remember how he learned to walk — not gradually, but over the course of a single determined afternoon, getting up and falling down and getting up and falling down and finally managing to connect a series of steps across the living room. I remember how as a toddler he would show up in the doorway of our bedroom at dawn to announce, ‘‘It’s the morning time!’’ Where did he get that phrase, with its happy quaint syntax? It sounded like something translated from another language. Maybe it was. In P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins (a book whose bracing vinegar sharpness is nothing like the sappy Disney movie) babies are born knowing everything. They understand what the wind and the birds are saying. When they cry, it’s not because of the pain of teething, but because a jeering starling on the windowsill has told them that they will soon forget all the knowledge they were born with. ‘‘No, we won’t!’’ the babies scream — but they do: the next time the starling visits, they can’t understand a word he says. Babies do grow up and forget their own babyhood. But the parents remember. Not all of it, but enough. Parents are the archivists of their children’s earliest experiences, a fact that adolescent and adult children find both annoying and comforting. My mother used to tell, with great pride and a kind of Mad Men-like obliviousness, that when I was two she asked me to fetch her cigarettes, and I came back with not only cigarettes but matches and an ashtray. ‘‘And that’s how I knew you were smart!’’ she would finish triumphantly. I always found this a weird story; now I’m glad I know it. Through my mother’s transmitted memory, a piece of my babyhood has stayed alive. My 18-year-old is moving out into his life now in new and exciting ways. But when I sit in the audience at his graduation, I’ll look around at the other parents and know that they are all remembering their own children as babies. And I’ll know, too, that even though they never played ‘‘I Forgot I Had a Baby,’’ they’d get why the game was so funny. Because there’s no way that any of us could ever forget we had a baby — either then, or now, or ever. From THE BOSTON GLOBE
20120422 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (Thomas S. Kuhn and Ian Hacking)
Paradigms gain their status because they are more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute. To be more successful is not, however, to be either completely successful with a single problem or notably successful with any large number. The success of a paradigm—whether Aristotle’s analysis of motion, Ptolemy’s computations of planetary position, Lavoisier’s application of the balance, or Maxwell’s mathematization of the electromagnetic field—is at the start largely a promise of success discoverable in selected and still incomplete examples. Normal science consists in the actualization of that promise, an actualization achieved by extending the knowledge of those facts that the paradigm displays as particularly revealing, by increasing the extent of the match between those facts and the paradigm’s predictions, and by further articulation of the paradigm itself. Philosophers of science have repeatedly demonstrated that more than one theoretical construction can always be placed upon a given collection of data. History of science indicates that, particularly in the early developmental stages of a new paradigm, it is not even very difficult to invent such alternates. But that invention of alternates is just what scientists seldom undertake except during the pre-paradigm stage of their science’s development and at very special occasions during its subsequent evolution. So long as the tools a paradigm supplies continue to prove capable of solving the problems it defines, science moves fastest and penetrates most deeply through confident employment of those tools. The reason is clear. As in manufacture so in science—retooling is an extravagance to be reserved for the occasion that demands it.
20120225 Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (Terrence W. Deacon)
The book is interesting but, according to me, delivers less that it promises, and certainly less than the review which appeared in Nature. Read the first chapters and skim through the mostly redundant rest of the book. […] a written word is also a placeholder. It is a pointer to a space in a network of meanings, each also pointing to one another and to potential features of the world. But a meaning is something virtual and potential. Thirty spokes converge at the wheel’s hub, to a hole that allows it to turn. Clay is shaped into a vessel, to enclose an emptiness that can be filled. Doors and windows are cut into walls, to provide access to their protection. Though we can only work with what is there, use comes from what is not there. The thought is about a possibility, and a possibility is something that doesn’t yet exist and may never exist. It is as though a possible future is somehow influencing the present. The discontinuity of causality implicit in human action parallels a related discontinuity between living and non-living processes. Ultimately, both involve what amounts to a reversal of causal logic: order developing from disorder, the lack of a state of affairs bringing itself into existence, and a potential tending to realize itself. We describe this in general terms as “ends determining means.” But compared to the way things work in the non-living, non-thinking world, it is as though a fundamental phase change has occurred in the dynamical fabric of the world. Crossing the border from machines to minds, or from chemical reactions to life, is leaving one universe of possibilities to enter another.
20120207 Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man (Mark Changizi)
An intriguing book. Changizi makes it very clear that, while we perceive our “general” environment through our eyes, changes (including danger) are perceived as sounds.
Does civilization mimic nature? I believe so. And I won’t merely suggest that civilization mimics nature by, for example, planting trees along the boulevards. Rather, I will make the case that some of the most fundamental pillars of humanity are thoroughly infused with signs of the ancestral world . . . and that, without this infusion of nature, the pillars would crumble, leaving us as very smart hominids (or “apes,” as I say at times), but something considerably less than the humans we take ourselves to be today. In particular, those fundamental pillars of humankind are (spoken) language and music. Language is at the heart of what makes us apes so special, and music is one of the principal examples of our uniquely human artistic side. As you will see, the fact that speech and music sound like other aspects of the natural world is crucial to the story about how we apes got language and music. Speech and music culturally evolved over time to be simulacra of nature. the research of Ladan Shams, Yukiyasu Kamitani, and Shinsuke Shimojo at Caltech have shown that we perceive a single flash as a double flash if it is paired with a double beep. And Robert Sekuler and others from Brandeis University have shown that if a sound occurs at the time when the images of two balls pass through each other on a screen, the balls are instead perceived to have collided and reversed direction. These and other results of this kind demonstrate the interconnectedness of visual and auditory information in our brain. If music has been culturally selected to sound like human movement, then it is easy to see why we’d have a brain for it, and easy to see why music can be so emotionally moving. But why should music be so motionally moving? I hope to convince you that music sounds like human movement. If I am correct, then, with the movement-meaning of music in hand, we will be in a position to create a new generation of “supermusic”: music deliberately designed to be even more aesthetically pleasing, by far, than previous generations of music. Music has historically been “trying” to shape itself like expressive human behaviors, in the sense that that was what was culturally selected for. But individual composers didn’t know what music was trying to be—composers didn’t know that music works best when tapping into our human-movement auditory mechanisms. Musical works have heretofore tended to be sloppy mimickers of human movement. With music decoded, however, we can tune it perfectly for our mental software, and blow our minds. You’re toast, Beethoven! I’ve unraveled your secrets! No. Just kidding. I’m afraid that the music research I’m describing to you will do no such thing, even if every last claim I make is true. To see why the magic of Beethoven is not unraveled by my theory, consider photographic art. Some photographs have evocative power; they count as art. Some photographs, however, are just photographs, and not art. What exactly distinguishes the art from the “not” is a genuine mystery, and certainly beyond me. But there is something that is obviously true about art photographs: they are photographs. Although that’s obvious to us, imagine for a moment that four-dimensional aliens stumble upon a pile of human artifacts, and that in the pile are photographs. Being four-dimensional creatures, they have poor intuitions about what a three-dimensional world looks like from a particular viewpoint inside it. Consequently, our human photographs are difficult to distinguish from the many other human artifacts that are flat with stuff printed upon them, such as wallpaper, clothing, and money. If they are to realize that the photographs are, in fact, photographs—two-dimensional representations of our 3-D world—they are going to have to discover this. Luckily for them, one alien scientist who has been snooping around these artifacts has an idea. “What if,” he hypothesizes, “some of the flat pieces of paper with visual marks are photographs? Not of our 4-D world, but of their human 3-D world?” In an effort to test this idea, he works out what the signature properties of photographs of 3-D worlds would be, such as horizons, vanishing points, projective geometry, field of focus, partial occlusion, and so on. Then he searches among the human artifacts for pieces of paper or fabric having these properties. He can now easily conclude that wallpaper, clothing, and money are not photographs. And when he finds some of our human photographs, he’ll be able to establish that they are photographs, and convince his colleagues. This alien’s research would amount to a big step forward for those aliens interested in understanding our world and how we perceive it. A certain class of flat artifacts is meaningful in a way they had not realized, and now they can begin to look at our photographs in this new light, and see our 3-D world represented in them. The theory of music I am defending here is akin to the alien’s theory that some of those flat artifacts are views of 3-D scenes. To us, photographs are obviously of 3-D scenes; but to the aliens this is not at all obvious. And, similarly, to our auditory system, music quite obviously is about human action; but to our conscious selves this is not in the least obvious (our conscious selves are aliens to music’s deeper meaning). To see why this book cannot answer what is good music, consider what this alien scientist’s discovery about photographs would not have revealed. Unbeknownst to the alien, some of the photographs are considered by us humans to be genuine instances of art, and the rest of the photographs are simply photographs. This alien’s technique for distinguishing photographs from nonphotographs is no use at all for distinguishing the artful photographs from the mere photographs. Humanity’s greatest pieces of photographic art and the most haphazard kitsch would all be in the same bag, labeled “views of a 3-D world.” By analogy, the most expressive human movement sounds and the most run-of-the-mill human movement sounds are all treated the same by the ideas I describe in this book; they are all in the same bag, labeled “human movement sounds.” Although it is expressive human movements that probably drive the structure of music, I have enough on my hands just trying to make the beginnings of a case that music sounds like human movement. Just as it is easier for the four-dimensional alien to provide evidence for photograph-ness than to provide evidence for artsy-photograph-ness, it is much easier for me to provide evidence that music is human-movement-ish than to provide evidence that it is expressive-human-movement-ish. Photographic art is views of 3-D scenes, but views of 3-D scenes need not be photographic art. Similarly, music is made of the sounds of humans moving, but the sounds of humans moving need not be—and usually are not—music.