Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Embrace the Pocket Square

Matthew Yglesias wonders.

Silence Cloak

A sonic crystal cloak of silence.

Mia agrees that dance requires specialized mental skills

A study on the neuroscience of dance:
Perhaps the most fascinating question for neuroscientists to explore is why people dance in the first place. Certainly music and dance are closely related; in many instances, dance generates sound...As a result, we have postulated a “body percussion” hypothesis that dance evolved initially as a sounding phenomenon and that dance and music, especially percussion, evolved together as complementary ways of generating rhythm. The first percussion instruments may well have been components of dancing regalia, not unlike Aztec chachayotes.
Unlike music, however, dance has a strong capacity for representation and imitation, which suggests that dance may have further served as an early form of language. Indeed, dance is the quintessential gesture language.
[Hat Tip Andrew Sullivan]

This Internet Thing

odyssey into Cambodia

Do you miss your home, Captain?
Have you someone there?
No. Not really.
I was discharged from the army
four years ago. I went home,
wasted some time, bought a Mustang
Mach 1, drove it a week. Then
I re-upped for another tour. No,
everything I love is here.
Then you are like us.

She reaches out to him; indicating that he sit.
What will you do after the war?
I just follow my footsteps, one
at a time, trying to answer the
little questions and staying away
from the big ones.
The entire 1975 Apocalypse Now screenplay here.

Florentine Renaissance

Lorenzo Ghiberti's East Doors, Baptistery, Florence

"At the end of the fourteenth century, Florence was enjoying a period of peace, prosperity and civic pride, and its elders decided to commission a second Baptistry door. Andrea Pisano's [~1290-1347] doors were the standard of excellence against which the new generation of sculptors was to be judged. The ensuing competition of 1401 has often be treated as the single event that marked the real onset of the Florentine Renaissance. It was certainly a remarkable occasion. There were thirty-four judges, drawn not just from the cathedral authorities but from the city guilds and from surrounding towns. They advertised the contest all over Italy, and masters or would-be masters arrived from the entire peninsula. The field was narrowed down to seven, including three of the greatest artists of the entire period: Filippo Brunelleschi [1377-1446], Jacopo della Quercia [1374-1438] and Lorenzo Ghiberti [1378-1455]. Each of those shortlisted was given four sheets of bronze and told to conceive a design to illustrate "The Sacrifice of Isaac."
Only two of the designs, by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti, have survived, and the judges had a hard task deciding between them. In fact they took two years to make up their minds, conscious of the size of the project and the enormity of the expense. [The eventual cost was 22,000 florins, equal to the entire defense budget of the city of Florence.] Ghiberti got the contract, probably because the judges thought he was the man most likely to carry through the job to a triumphant conclusion. And they were right. As Ghiberti boasts in his Autobiography, he put art before "the chase after lucre." He was astonishingly conscientious and obsessional perfectionist. He appears to us a very slow worker, but one has to bear in mind the standards of craftsmanship demanded and provided in late medieval, early Renaissance times were of a quality inconceivable to the modern age, and speed of execution was not possible. Ghiberti would spend years on a single piece of jewelry or a tombstone, months on hand chasing a piece of bronze. Three years was normal for him in creating a large marble statue.
Ghiberti was a young man in 1403 when he started on the bronze doors, completing the original contract twenty years later."
- Paul Johnson [born 1928], The Renaissance [2000], pp. 67-68

World's Most Expensive Home

The still under construction 27 story $1 billion "skyscraper" residence is in Mumbai and is called "Antilia" after a mythical island.

1955 Jaguar

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Great One

"Hockey is seeing the puck seven moves into the future."
Wayne Gretzky [born 1961]

spend them into oblivion

$34 million per hour was spent on the military under President Ronald Reagan [1911-2004] to bring down the Soviet Empire, and win the Cold War.

Build up to build down.

"It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history.... [It is] the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."
- in a 1982 speech to Britain's Parliament

Examples of covert action:

1.  Solidarity. If Poland was free, all of Eastern Europe would follow.
2. Nicaragua. The CIA backed Contras attempted to overthrow Daniel Ortega's Sandinistas.

Debt as a percentage of GDP under U.S. Presidents since Truman here.

On June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan died peacefully at his home in California. He was 93, the longest lived president in history.

Константин Павлов

Bulgaria's Konstantin Pavlov [born 1933] died today. He was among the few Bulgarian intellectuals who dared to assert their professional independence during the 1945-89 communist regime.


I won't be nasty anymore,
nor provocative.
I will choose my means and enemies with care.
Bye-bye Sofia, I am going back to nature!
In Kurilo, I have a nice little house—
I will mend the old fence,
and live there quietly, invisible.
In the winter, I will meditate.
In the summer, I will raise . . .
What will I raise?
Only snakes dart in the weeds.
I will raise snakes
instead of carrier pigeons.
You can achieve anything with goodness.
They say that snakes become very attached
to their masters.
I will send them
as a small favor
to my enemies.

A little of this, a little of that.

From Indexed.

$700 billion bailout

From the Los Angeles Times.

Tina Fey


The Spirit of Haida Gwaii

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Bill Reid [1920-1998], Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. [bronze], and the Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada [plaster]
The pièce de résistance of Bill Reid's work is surely The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, commissioned by the firm of R. J. Reynolds for the new Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. This massive sculpture, which took more than three years to execute and resulted in a price tag of $1.8 million, was unveiled in 1992. The plaster pattern for the bronze cast was a perfect complement to the baroque plaster interiors that architect Douglas Cardinal had created for the new Canadian Museum of Civilization. Long before the completion and opening of the museum in 1989, I had suggested to Maury and Mary Young of Vancouver, the eventual donors, that The Spirit of Haida Gwaii would be the crowning piece in the Grand Hall, signalling that Northwest Coast native culture was not extinct but was, shamanlike, rising from the ashes.
George F. MacDonald, Haida Art, Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, p.228

Sunday, September 28, 2008


It was the habit of President Ulysses S. Grant [1822-1885] to drink brandy and smoke a cigar while relaxing in Washington, D.C.'s, Willard hotel lobby. Folklore, promulgated by publicists for the hotel, holds that this is the origin of the term "lobbying", as Grant was often approached by those seeking favors. However, this is probably false, as the verb to lobby is found decades earlier and did not originally refer to Washington politics. [source]


"It makes you feel good to know that there's other people afflicted like you."
- Harvey Pekar [born 1939]

Young Men Searching for Meaning in Life

Charlie: It's all bullshit except the pain. The pain of hell. The burn from a lighted match increased a million times. Infinite. Now, ya don't fuck around with the infinite. There's no way you do that. The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart... your soul, the spiritual side. And ya know... the worst of the two is the spiritual.


When simple minded people get power because of their charm, it can be dangerous.

aph·o·rism: a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment 

So You Want a Television Set

Photo source.

Alice McDoakes: Joe?
Joe McDoakes: Mmm?
Alice McDoakes: When are we going to get a television set?
Joe McDoakes: Television? We can't afford a TV set.

In 1950s American suburbia, Joe [George O'Hanlon] and Alice [Phyllis Coates] buy a television set and, on some excuse or another, the neighbors begin to drop in, stay to watch television and raid Joe's refrigerator. To escape the turmoil, Joe leaves and goes to the movies, where he finds himself sitting between Doris Day and Gordon McRae. Warner Brothers. Written by Les Adams. [source IMDB]

The Importance of Being Idle

"To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world."
- Oscar Wilde [1854-1900]

The experts on idleness.

An earlier reference to Wilde here.


"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one."
- George Bernard Shaw [1856-1950] won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925

In the 1890s, Shaw renounced Atheism. He began identifying himself as a mystic. Some people believe Shaw was strongly influenced by Hinduism. Throughout the rest of his life, Shaw espoused a belief system that in 2004 Gary Sloan called "an idiosyncratic version of Henri Bergson's creative evolution." His self-described mystic beliefs focused on the evolution of humanity and other organisms, driven by a mysterious "life force."
In [Shaw's] "Shawianity", god was a work in progress, not a fait accompli. In a 1909 letter to Leo Tolstoy [1828-1910], Shaw explained: "To me God does not yet exist; but there is a creative force struggling to evolve an executive organ of godlike knowledge and power; that is, to achieve omnipotence and omniscience; and every man and woman born is a fresh attempt to achieve this object. We are here to help God, to do his work, to remedy his whole errors, to strive towards Godhead ourselves." In its odyssey to achieve fruition, the life force would create ever-higher forms of humanity--supermen, super-supermen, supermen to the third power: "When one instrument is worn out, I will make another, and another, and another, always more and more intelligent and effective."
Source here.

"You have learnt something. That always feels at first as though you had lost something."
- George Bernard Shaw character 'Andrew Undershaft', in Act III of "Major Barbara"

Gallery Bum

Dennis Hopper [born 1936]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

linseed oil and white lead

Edward Hopper [1882-1967], “Rooms by the Sea”, 1951, Oil on Canvas, 29×40″
Yale University Art Gallery

"If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint."

"I find linseed oil and white lead the most satisfactory mediums."

interracial couple

Central Park Zoo, New York City, 1967

Photographer Garry Winogrand [1928-1984] liked to provoke.

Permitted in 1967, interracial marriage was "the last thing to fall."

An earlier reference to photography here.

first pop photographer

"I didn't really dig French photographers. Robert Doisneau [1912-1994]. Others. Sentimental. Romantic. Humanistic. Fuck That."

Everyone is a kind of actor in front of William Klein's [born 1928] lens; everything turns into a kind of show.
Klein was inspired by New York's "Weegee the Famous" [1899-1968]; some Weegee work here.

An earlier reference to photography here.

black and white

"Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected."

A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Robert Frank [born 1924] travelled across post World War II America documenting his adopted country.
though he had been trained in a rigorous Swiss tradition that aspired to photographic perfectionism, Frank's free-wheeling odyssey echoed the spontaneity of Abstract Expressionist art and Beat poetry.
Like Jackson Pollock [1912-1956], he stood in the middle of the picture; he was released from the conventions of traditional picture making.

Jack Kerouac [1922-1969] described Frank's qualities as "agility, mystery, genius and secret strangeness."

fossil tree resin

25 million year old amber pieces with multiple insect inclusions.

Amber is the national stone of Poland.

britain's great architects

St. Paul's Cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren [1632-1723] as viewed from in front of the Tate Modern underneath the south end of The Millennium Bridge designed by Sir Norman Foster [born 1935].

the place to go for Oysters in Toronto

469 King Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5V 1K4

"the straightest gay man in the world"

An interview with Tom Ford [born 1961].


Paul Newman, "Exodus" © Leo Fuchs, 1960

“Every time I get a script it's a matter of trying to know what I could do with it. I see colors, imagery. It has to have a smell. It's like falling in love. You can't give a reason why.”
- Paul Newman [1925-2008]

Newman's Own charitable contributions exceed two hundred million dollars.

some say he's worth $60 billion

Vladimir Putin [born 1952]

SPHERE OF INFLUENCE: After eight years as Russia’s president, Putin’s still at the height of his power. He saw his approval ratings top 80 percent, thanks to an economy revived through energy profits, which has made it easier for him to get away with his antipathy to free speech and other civil liberties—he controls the media and imprisons or exiles his enemies. And cashing in on Russia’s natural resources has enabled Putin to pay off the nation’s foreign debt, rebuild its military, restore its pride, and re-assert its place in world affairs. Faced with presidential-term limits, Putin, 56, sustained his formidable power by becoming prime minister and leader of the overwhelmingly dominant United Russia party. He also all but installed his longtime protégé and former campaign manager, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as Russia’s new president through a reportedly rigged March election. But by all accounts Putin was the commander in chief in its recent foray into Georgia.
ENEMIES: Georgia and former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is the leader of the opposition coalition Other Russia and has had the nerve to challenge Putin’s iron rule.
RUMOR HAS IT: Putin has secretly stashed away more than $40 billion (from Russia’s oil-and-gas riches) in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
EVIDENCE OF POSSIBLE LACK OF MODESTY: Putin’s exhibitionistic tendency to go shirtless (and show off his buff, hairless physique to photographers) while fishing with Monaco’s Prince Albert II or hunting in the Siberian mountains.
SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED ABOUT: Putin has done little to rein in the country’s ruling kleptocracy. In a recent call to analysts, Rupert Murdoch said, “The more I read about investments in Russia, the less I like the feel of it. The more successful we’d be, the more vulnerable we’d be to have it stolen from us.”

Power in Russia is concentrated to a degree even greater than in Soviet times in the hands of a small group of people. Under the old regime, two large power blocs, the Communist Party and the K.G.B.  continually vied with each other for dominance. In the U.S.S.R., the K.G.B., whose job it was to gather information, provided much- needed corrections to the party line, allowing an occasional ray of light to seep through the ideological blinds. And while corruption was rampant in the Soviet Union, the competition between the two corrupt power centers meant that there were limits to what either could steal. Russia may be the first country in the world that is ruled solely by its secret police. They control the economy and steal from it; they control the television networks and also watch them, believing what they see. Russia has become a closed system, sealed off from the rest of the world by a wall of secrets and lies...Russians continue to inhabit a country which is Putin's creation and in which his authority is supreme, and they will be living in Putin's Russia for a long time to come. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

Witch Hunt Bible

"The Hammer of Witchcraft" was a manual for witch hunters and judges to catch witches and stamp them out. It came out just prior to the protestant reformation and it was one of the most popular books amongst the reformers who were wanting to smash “evil” out of their countries. Between 1487 and 1520, twenty editions of the Malleus were published, and another sixteen editions were published between 1574 to 1669. This book single-handedly launched centuries of witch hunts. [source]

Rothko at Tate Modern

The Guardian reports that the much-anticipated Mark Rothko show opens today in London. Andrew Dickson wonders if you'll get enough space to appreciate them.

What a Joker

From Overthinkingit.com


Julian Beever is a chalk artist

Trompe-l'œil, [French: "trick the eye"] is an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects appear in three-dimensions, instead of actually being a two-dimensional painting.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Et tu?

From Indexed.

put her in charge

An edited version:

A place to eat and drink in London

The oldest wine bar in London. Illuminated by candles. Quality food. Cheap prices. 

Two blocks from Trafalgar Square
47 Villers Street

Recommended by Rick Steves.

The Queen's income

Buckingham Palace explained.

As well, The Independent has an article on the Queen's request for a raise. Here's her current situation:
The queen's wealth can be divided into the income she receives from the Government and earnings from her estates and investments. The public cost is partly funded by the Civil List, while further taxpayers' money is spent on the upkeep of the occupied palaces and the Royal Family's travel on state business. Prince Philip receives a grant of £359,000 for his state role as consort to the Queen.

The Queen continues to generate income through the privately owned 46,000-acre estates of the Duchy of Lancaster. This year it rose from more than £11.7m to £12.6m. This helps pay for her private estates and some expenses for the junior royals.

oldest rocks

Canadian researchers have discovered the oldest rocks in the world. The remnants of the Earth's early crust are 4.28 billion years old and were found in a belt of ancient bedrock in northern Quebec, along the eastern shore of Hudson Bay. More.


Apoptosis is programmed cell death. Cancer results when cells don't die. Death is life.

Video source.


Argentinean-born dermatologist, Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara [1928-1967]. Che was indeed charismatic, brave and idealistic, but his ideals were disastrous. When Che is captured by Bolivian authorities he has the temerity to accuse Bolivia of being a "military dictatorship," which is of course exactly what he had helped establish in Cuba. 

[Hat Tip Peter Foster]


Matthew Brennan Cassel [born May 17, 1982 in Northridge, California] is an American football quarterback and current starter for the New England Patriots of the NFL.

Player and Team stats + Team Standings.


Sarah Palin's handler let her out long enough to do a TV interview. Katie Couric doesn't look impressed:

Someone comments:
The Couric interview reminded me of an episode in the 5th grade when I tried to fake my way through an oral presentation on a book I hadn’t read. Neither of us pulled it off.
Moose Adaptation and Protection
During the winter the moose feeds on berries, twigs and branches. They will eat the bark of trees and paw through the snow to get at the grass and twigs under the snow.

Moose can move fast, even when it is wet and muddy. The two large toes on their hooves spread wide apart to keep the animal from sinking.

They are good swimmers. Moose will also lie in shallow water to get away from biting insects or to cool off. Their tails are too short to swish the flies away.

As winter approaches moose grow a thicker coat.

The males use the big strong antlers for protection and for fighting other males. A mother will fight to protect her young by kicking with her sharp powerful hooves.

The moose has poor eyesight and relies on a keen sense of smell. It stops and listens often while eating.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


"The secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one's infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes."
- George Orwell [1903-1950]

Britain's MI5 kept a dossier on Orwell, in which was noted that he dressed "in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours" and that he "eked out a precarious living" as a freelance journalist. Orwell moved to France to research Down and Out in Paris and London, where in Chapter III he observed:
It is altogether curious, your first contact with poverty. You have thought so much about poverty--it is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you knew would happen to you sooner or later; and it, is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it would be terrible; it is merely squalid and boring. It is the peculiar LOWNESS of poverty that you discover first; the shifts that it puts you to, the complicated meanness, the crust-wiping.
You discover the boredom which is inseparable from poverty; the times when you have nothing to do and, being underfed, can interest yourself in nothing. For half a day at a time you lie on your bed, feeling like the JEUNE SQUELETTE in Baudelaire's poem. Only food could rouse you. You discover that a man who has gone even a week on bread and margarine is not a man any longer, only a belly with a few accessory organs.
For, when you are  approaching poverty, you make one discovery which outweighs some of the others. You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future. Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry. When you have a hundred francs in the world you are liable to the most craven panics. When you have only three francs you are quite indifferent; for three francs will feed you till tomorrow, and you cannot think further than that. You are bored, but you are not afraid. You think vaguely, 'I shall be starving in a day or two--shocking, isn't it?' And then the mind wanders to other topics. A bread and margarine diet does, to some extent, provide its own anodyne.
The entire 1933 book is available online here.

An earlier reference to Orwell here.

The Gestapo killed his son

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
- Max Planck [1858-1947], founder of quantum theory and recipient of the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics 

His son Erwin Planck was hanged in 1945 by the Gestapo for his part in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler [1889-1945].


"The real secret of success is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eye; it is the swing in your gait; the grip of your hand. Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress. With it there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis. But enthusiasm is only the starting point of my management recipe. It may be stating the obvious, but there are three key elements behind a successful company: manpower, products, and clients. Success is difficult to manage because you learn more from failure than success. When you have won everything, you only risk losing. You also have to remain humble because there is always a danger that a problem is lurking around the corner."
- Luca Cordero di Montezemolo [born 1947], President of Ferrari and Chairman of FIAT

"Romantic Radical"

Photo provided under the Creative Commons license.

"What all the wise men said has not happened and what all the fools predicted has come to pass." [on the consequences of Catholic emancipation]

"It wounds a man less to confess that he has failed in any pursuit through idleness, neglect, the love of pleasure, etc., etc., which are his own faults, than through incapacity and unfitness, which are the faults of his nature."
- William Lamb, 2nd Viscount, Lord Melbourne [1779-1848]

Melbourne was a British statesman who was twice Prime Minister in the 1830s. When the young Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, she and Melbourne developed a close relationship, with the prime minister tutoring the new queen in government and politics.

Melbourne, Australia, which was named after him in 1837.


A movement started in the 19th century by Theodor Herzl [1860-1904] suddenly gained the support of the international community in the aftermath of World War II. In the Holocaust, 6 million Jews were systematically murdered; an estimated 1/3 of the world's and two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population.

Some argue that the international community's motives were not entirely altruistic. Every Jew who would settle in the land that would become Israel on May 14, 1948, was one fewer Jew who would come to New York, Paris, Moscow, London.  


A Hovis Bread ad depicting British history since the company's inception in 1886 to present day.


Sam Jaffe [1891-1984] in 1939 as Gunga Din
Now in Injia's sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

Though I've belted you and flayed you,
By the living Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
The entire 1890 'Gunga Din' poem and other Rudyard Kipling [1865-1936] work here. In 1907, Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English language writer to receive the prize, and he remains its youngest-ever recipient.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Six Arrows

Developed as the guiding secular philosophy of modern Turkey by founder and 1st President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk [1881-1938]. He was an Ottoman Empire Pasha. And played a role in the Armenian genocide, where at least one million people were terminated.

Marrakech, 1948

Winston Churchill present this as a gift to President Harry S. Truman.

"We always do the right thing after discarding every other alternative."
- Winston Churchill as quoted by Bill Clinton on Letterman, show #2985

An earlier reference to Churchill here.

bill clinton hates barack obama

As Chris Rock points out on Letterman.

President Bartlet advises Obama

The West Wing's President Jed Bartlet advises Senator Obama:

"I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story."

"I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one."

More here.

Room 101

George Orwell and his adopted son Richard Horatio Blair taken around 1946 in Islington. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith "believed that he had been born in 1944 or 1945." Richard Blair was born May 14, 1944; published in 1949, perhaps the novel was most of all intended as a warning to his son.

Chapter 5

At each stage of his imprisonment he had known, or seemed to know, whereabouts he was in the windowless building. Possibly there were slight differences in the air pressure. The cells where the guards had beaten him were below ground level. The room where he had been interrogated by O'Brien was high up near the roof. This place was many metres underground, as deep down as it was possible to go.

It was bigger than most of the cells he had been in. But he hardly noticed his surroundings. All he noticed was that there were two small tables straight in front of him, each covered with green baize. One was only a metre or two from him, the other was further away, near the door. He was strapped upright in a chair, so tightly that he could move nothing, not even his head. A sort of pad gripped his head from behind, forcing him to look straight in front of him.

For a moment he was alone, then the door opened and O'Brien came in.

'You asked me once,' said O'Brien, 'what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.'

The door opened again. A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or basket of some kind. He set it down on the further table. Because of the position in which O'Brien was standing. Winston could not see what the thing was.

'The worst thing in the world,' said O'Brien, 'varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.'

He had moved a little to one side, so that Winston had a better view of the thing on the table. It was an oblong wire cage with a handle on top for carrying it by. Fixed to the front of it was something that looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side outwards. Although it was three or four metres away from him, he could see that the cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and that there was some kind of creature in each. They were rats.

'In your case,' said O'Brien, 'the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.'

A sort of premonitory tremor, a fear of he was not certain what, had passed through Winston as soon as he caught his first glimpse of the cage. But at this moment the meaning of the mask-like attachment in front of it suddenly sank into him. His bowels seemed to turn to water.

'You can't do that!' he cried out in a high cracked voice. 'You couldn't, you couldn't! It's impossible.'

'Do you remember,' said O'Brien, 'the moment of panic that used to occur in your dreams? There was a wall of blackness in front of you, and a roaring sound in your ears. There was something terrible on the other side of the wall. You knew that you knew what it was, but you dared not drag it into the open. It was the rats that were on the other side of the wall.'

'O'Brien!' said Winston, making an effort to control his voice. 'You know this is not necessary. What is it that you want me to do?'

O'Brien made no direct answer. When he spoke it was in the schoolmasterish manner that he sometimes affected. He looked thoughtfully into the distance, as though he were addressing an audience somewhere behind Winston's back.

'By itself,' he said, 'pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain, even to the point of death. But for everyone there is something unendurable -- something that cannot be contemplated. Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand, even if you wished to. You will do what is required of you.

'But what is it, what is it? How can I do it if I don't know what it is?'

O'Brien picked up the cage and brought it across to the nearer table. He set it down carefully on the baize cloth. Winston could hear the blood singing in his ears. He had the feeling of sitting in utter loneliness. He was in the middle of a great empty plain, a flat desert drenched with sunlight, across which all sounds came to him out of immense distances. Yet the cage with the rats was not two metres away from him. They were enormous rats. They were at the age when a rat's muzzle grows blunt and fierce and his fur brown instead of grey.

'The rat,' said O'Brien, still addressing his invisible audience, 'although a rodent, is carnivorous. You are aware of that. You will have heard of the things that happen in the poor quarters of this town. In some streets a woman dare not leave her baby alone in the house, even for five minutes. The rats are certain to attack it. Within quite a small time they will strip it to the bones. They also attack sick or dying people. They show astonishing intelligence in knowing when a human being is helpless.'

There was an outburst of squeals from the cage. It seemed to reach Winston from far away. The rats were fighting; they were trying to get at each other through the partition. He heard also a deep groan of despair. That, too, seemed to come from outside himself.

O'Brien picked up the cage, and, as he did so, pressed something in it. There was a sharp click. Winston made a frantic effort to tear himself loose from the chair. It was hopeless; every part of him, even his head, was held immovably. O'Brien moved the cage nearer. It was less than a metre from Winston's face.

'I have pressed the first lever,' said O'Brien. 'You understand the construction of this cage. The mask will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out of it like bullets. Have you ever seen a rat leap through the air? They will leap on to your face and bore straight into it. Sometimes they attack the eyes first. Sometimes they burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue.'

The cage was nearer; it was closing in. Winston heard a succession of shrill cries which appeared to be occurring in the air above his head. But he fought furiously against his panic. To think, to think, even with a split second left -- to think was the only hope. Suddenly the foul musty odour of the brutes struck his nostrils. There was a violent convulsion of nausea inside him, and he almost lost consciousness. Everything had gone black. For an instant he was insane, a screaming animal. Yet he came out of the blackness clutching an idea. There was one and only one way to save himself. He must interpose another human being, the body of another human being, between himself and the rats.

The circle of the mask was large enough now to shut out the vision of anything else. The wire door was a couple of hand-spans from his face. The rats knew what was coming now. One of them was leaping up and down, the other, an old scaly grandfather of the sewers, stood up, with his pink hands against the bars, and fiercely sniffed the air. Winston could see the whiskers and the yellow teeth. Again the black panic took hold of him. He was blind, helpless, mindless.

'It was a common punishment in Imperial China,' said O'Brien as didactically as ever.

The mask was closing on his face. The wire brushed his cheek. And then -- no, it was not relief, only hope, a tiny fragment of hope. Too late, perhaps too late. But he had suddenly understood that in the whole world there was just one person to whom he could transfer his punishment -- one body that he could thrust between himself and the rats. And he was shouting frantically, over and over.

'Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don't care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!'

He was falling backwards, into enormous depths, away from the rats. He was still strapped in the chair, but he had fallen through the floor, through the walls of the building, through the earth, through the oceans, through the atmosphere, into outer space, into the gulfs between the stars -- always away, away, away from the rats. He was light years distant, but O'Brien was still standing at his side. There was still the cold touch of wire against his cheek. But through the darkness that enveloped him he heard another metallic click, and knew that the cage door had clicked shut and not open.

An earlier reference to Orwell here.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

17th Century London

Dirty, lawless, and terrible food according to the diaries of Luisa de Carvajal, who died in 1614.
The food looks good, but has no smell and almost no taste and is not very nourishing. You can't keep it, even in winter, for four whole days without it going off. Since they sell things in pieces and not by weight, you are obliged to buy more than you need for a small household. They get round this by roasting things and keeping them as cold meats or by putting them in pastry.
The complete Times article here. Map details here.

Inherit the Wind

Can't you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we'll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind! [hear it]
The 1960 movie was based on the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial.


Accumulated any “toxic assets” over the years? Hoping someone will take them off your hands for more than they’re worth? Well, BuyMyShitpile.com is the website for you!
With our economy in crisis, the US Government is scrambling to rescue our banks by purchasing their “distressed assets”, i.e., assets that no one else wants to buy from them. We figured that instead of protesting this plan, we’d give regular Americans the same opportunity to sell their bad assets to the government. We need your help and you need the Government’s help!

Use the form below to submit bad assets you’d like the government to take off your hands. And remember, when estimating the value of your 1997 limited edition Hanson single CD “MMMbop”, it’s not what you can sell these items for that matters, it’s what you think they are worth. The fact that you think they are worth more than anyone will buy them for is what makes them bad assets.
[via Matthew Yglesias]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

commencement speech

"A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real -- you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues." This is not a matter of virtue -- it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being "well adjusted," which I suggest to you is not an accidental term." 
- David Foster Wallace was born on February 21, 1962 and committed suicide on September 12, 2008.

"I know he's going to heaven because he's already been to hell"

"In Daniel's life everywhere he's gone he leaves this incredible wake behind of creation and destruction. He's done all kinds of things both bad and good, but they're all mythic and they're all barely believable yet they're all true. And the kinds of things that he's done in his career are the kinds of things someone would only do if they were so self-sabotaging that it was completely mystifying. But in terms of creating a legend, he's done absolutely everything right."
- From the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston about a gifted bipolar musician and artist.

Matthew Good  also has bipolar disorder and is a fan.


Photograph of Marcel Duchamp sitting in front of a chess set designed by Max Ernst, 1968.

“Chess can be described as the movement of pieces eating one another.”

“The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chess-board, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem...I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”

"All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone...the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

Marcel Duchamp [1887-1968] the "painter and mixed media artist was associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism, though he avoided any alliances. His work is characterized by his humor, the variety and unconventionality of its media, and its incessant probing of the boundaries of art. His legacy includes the insight that art can be about ideas instead of worldly things, a revolutionary notion that would resonate with later generations of artists."


Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins in a 2001 interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth:

BILLY COLLINS: This is a poem called "Design." "I pour a coating of salt on the table and make a circle in it with my finger. This is a cycle of life, I say to no one; this is the wheel of fortune, the Arctic Circle. This is the ring of Kerry and the White Rose of Trulli. I say to the ghosts of my family, the dead fathers, the aunt who drowned, my unborn brothers and sisters, my unborn children. This is the sun with its glittering spokes and the bitter moon. This is the absolute circle of geometry I say to the crack in the wall, to the birds who cross the window, this is the wheel I just invented to roll through the rest of my life, I say, touching my finger to my tongue."

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A circle of salt. This is a bleak poem.

BILLY COLLINS: Well, there's a little salty taste at the end of it. It's a meditation on a little geometric form. I think it might be an example of starting a poem with something simple. I always found-- as a child, at least-- if there was sugar or salt poured on the table it was irresistible to draw something in it, some little ideogram or a mark. And it just takes something very basic like that and scrutinizes it. I mean, I have a theory, really it's an analogy, that if time... Rather if matter is made of atoms and when you smash an atom it releases all this energy, that time is made of moments and when you scrutinize a moment in a poem, it also can release a kind of energy. And that poem is trying to focus on something and then by scrutinizing it taking its layers off and seeing what's there.