Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Holy shit! This python is blowing the previous record holder right out of the water: 49 feet long, 985 pounds, whereas our former champion Burmese weighed in at a paltry 32 feet and 403 pounds. In the immortal words of that extra in Conan the Barbarian, "Five years ago, it was just another snake cult." (But where are the lurid photos which should always accompany such an article?)

I'm also glad to know that the birthplace of my favourite Greek anti-heroine also turns out to be the birthplace of wine. But as excellent as most of it is, not all Georgian food is to be trusted.

Update:The luridest photo I now know of is here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Richard Wagner: Eco-feminist

I just finished reading Deryck Cooke's recently reprinted I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring. If you're interested enough in the Ring to endure a wealth of detail (from the work itself and its sources), it's really worth a read, even though it was nowhere close to finished at the time of the author's death. Even if you're not quite that interested, the introductory section serves as a fine manifesto for how to approach such a work intelligently. Particularly worthy of quotation are two of the conditions which Cooke maintains an interpretation fulfill if it is to be judged satisfactory:

(3) The degree of emphasis placed by Wagner on each element of the drama must be faithfully reflected by the interpretation, with nothing exaggerated, or minimized, or omitted.

(4) The interpretation should be such that it merely clears the way for an unhindered reaction to the work in the theatre, and leaves it to speak for itself there: it should not put ideas into the reader's head which he cannot possibly relate to his experience of the work in performance.

Excellent advice, and the satisfaction of Cooke's subsequent criticisms is largely due to his success in following his own principles. Cooke's take on the ring certainly blows out of the water interpretations like those of Shaw, who dwells shamelessly on every moment of the Ring conducive to a socialist outlook while brushing aside most of the work's finest and most moving passages, or Donington, who asks us to believe that the twisted dwarf with the brutality laden vocal line is (in Scene 1 of Rheingold) "renounc[ing] the infantile fantasy of being mothered through life", and therefore performing a laudable act.

Cooke also outshines all other critics by his intimate familiarity with Wagner's music. Sadly, his detailed musical analysis remained unfinished, but two of his introductory chapters contain more musical insights than most other criticisms put together. And we also have his recorded lecture with musical examples, which is the truly indispensible resource for anyone interested in approaching the Ring Cycle. Cooke's major insight is that Wagner's leitmotives are not isolated, static snippets, but rather develope into and intertwine with each other, as e.g. the Valhalla motive emerges from that of the Ring. (If this seems obvious to most Wagnerians today, thanks are due to Cooke; I fear it remains by no means obvious to would-be fans facing pages of apparently unconnected musical examples for the first time). Cooke's opening chapters and the lecture together give one enough respect for his approach to imagine the musical insights which we might have enjoyed, had he lived.

Wagner criticism has been so irrationally politicized, especially in the last seventy years, that certain obvious approaches have gone entirely unexplored (and here, patient reader, we come to the justification of this post's title). Again I quote Cooke:

But it seems impossible to accept [Donington's] assumption that Wagner represented nature as 'unreal' (and therefore of no account), human development as something far more important, and the whole state of affairs as basically satisfactory. Clearly, it is nature that is 'real', since the Rhinemaidens will be there when every other character has perished; and it is humanity's achievement at nature's expense, if anything, that is 'unreal', since Valhalla will go up in flames when the ring has been restored to the Rhine. Wagner-- rightly or wrongly-- saw nature as the ultimate reality, and human development as a power-struggle based on a crime against nature

Of course, just about everyone who might have sympathy for such an interpretation of the Ring labours under the delusion that Wagner was a Nazi.

Likewise the feminists. Their extreme wing has mustered sufficient sophistry to convince itself that Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual', but Wagner wrote a work which really is all about rape, and they have overlooked it. The symbolism of Alberich's theft of the Rhinemaidens' treasure, and of the Norns' wellspring of wisdom running dry when Wotan has cut his spear from their tree, ought to be apparent to a high school student. These original sins of rape result in a wretched world where love has no defenders. The possibility of Wotan selling Freia to be concubine to giants is even less obscure, and Sieglinde is a rape victim in the most brutally literal sense. After some hope is provided in Act III of Siegfried that a man and a woman can unite in triumph instead of tragedy, Brünnhilde too is forced to marry against her will in Götterdämmerung. It is this violation which leads her to realize what act is necessary to redeem the world.

Wagner is generally perceived as the demi-god of dead-white-male oppression, a perception which leads many people to make the ostentatious statement of ignoring works which might otherwise be quite edifying to them. Perhaps the feminists' neglect of the Ring is due to the fact that Wagner's undeniable sympathy towards his rape victims, and his postulate that enlightened feminine conciousness will save the world, fly in the face of modern feminism's conviction that male-produced European art is inherently oppressive to women; and so Wagner's works are swept under the anachronistic rug of Nazism. Did Wagner really intend the Ring to be an exhortation of feminine potential? I'll ask him the next time I see him. But it is impossible to ignore that, whatever his intentions, Wagner produced a work whose climax is an enlightened woman redeeming the world by atoning for the primal rape which has corrupted it.

Hans Hotter, one of the greatest bass-baritones of the last century, has died.

Nobody who heard Hotter in his prime - as the Dutchman, Sachs, Wotan or Gurnemanz - is ever likely to forget the experience, nor indeed his interpretations of lieder. In all, his innate gift of making words tell brought the given music to life. In spite of his vast voice, he could fine his tone down to a velvet-like timbre in the most delicate, hushed mezza-voce, most memorably as Wotan bade a final farewell in Die Walküre to his beloved Brünnhilde, voice, emotion and style in ideal harmony.

A phrase he used with his students might aptly sum up both his modesty and his humour: "Remember, it is important to try not to be boring."

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Congratulations are due, as of yesterday, to Mr. and Mrs. Odious! A splendid courtship, a beautiful wedding: may what follows surpass even these.

Friday, December 19, 2003

"Admit it, J.R.R., you used to run around brandishing a walking stick and singing "Nothung! Nothung!" like every other besotted Oxford lad."

A quite decent article on Tolkien's relationship to Wagner may be found at The New Yorker. Surprisingly, the article's discussion of the relevant social context contains some claims to which I'm quite sympatheticic. For instance:

In both wars, [Tolkien] witnessed the wedding of Teutonic mythology to German military might. He bemoaned how the Nazis had corrupted "that noble northern spirit." You could see "The Lord of the Rings" as a kind of rescue operation, saving the Nordic myths from misuse-- perhaps even saving Wagner from himself.

Another happy inclusion is actual mention of music (so often absent from Wagner commentary), most prominently a technical but very accessible demonstration of the kinship of Howard Shore's sinous 'ring' motive from the films with Wagner's 'Tarnhelm' motive.

In related, but much more depressing news, we can all look forward to a Lord of the Rings musical. Reports of the involvement of Finnish folk group Värttinä offer some hope that the production may not achieve utmost horror, but not much. I'm a great fan of Värttinä's early albums, but for quite some time they've been sounding much more like over-produced Euro-vanilla than like barely civilized Uralic tribes-women, and loyal readers can doubtless guess where my sympathies lie.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The World Monuments Fund has published its biannual list of the planet's most endangered cultural sites. It makes for some interesting browsing. Anyone interested in the Anasazi, for instance, will find Mali's Bandiagara Escarpment Cultural Landscape well worth a look.

As usual, via Cronaca.

Update: Here are some more pictures of Dogon cliff villages. All well worth a look.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Eat our dust, Wisconsin!.

Via Fark.

We are, as I assume our readers know, in the midst of a great conflict. Not so much with the armies of our enemies, but with their ideals. Our liberal history has no room for the theocratic regimes they envisage. As a war of ideals, it is fought in the mind. We seek not to destroy them, but to discredit them.

All of which is to say, Hooray Photoshop! Hooray!

It's Beethoven's birthday! And Rasputin's death day (or supposed death day). Let's all celebrate accordingly!

Monday, December 15, 2003

All this talk of a man surviving in his children, or in his works, or in the universal consciousness, is but vague verbiage which satisfies only those who suffer from affective stupidity, and who, for the rest, may be persons of a certain cerebral distinction. For it is possible to possess great talent, or what we call great talent, and yet to be stupid as regards the feelings or even morally imbecile. There have been instances.

--Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Anyone bored enough to be looking at this should check out Laputan Logic. There's not a single post on it which doesn't interest me: science history, math, archeology, technology, &c, with excellent ancillary graphics.

One may also glean some amusement from The Invisible Library, an index of fictional literary achievements. I am optimistically choosing to attribute its omissions to its being a work in progress. For instance: Edward Gorey's fictional literature provides an obvious touchstone for the success of such an endeavor. The Library dutiful catalogues the novels of Mr. Earbrass, but fails to record Mr. Earbrass' own diversions, like The Nephew's Tragedy or A Compendium of the Minor Heresies of the Twelth Century in Asia Minor. Likewise neglected are Gorey's great contributions to the fictional humanities outside the realm of prose; e.g. Golopine's Jardin des Regrets, the aria Una tazza di cacao from L'avvelenatrice di Glasgovia, and even Mr. Earbrass' beloved Poddington Te Deum.

What Google thinks of me:

odious is its shameless presumptuousness
odious is woollen
odious is the fact that it may leave a permanent scar
odious is not merely the racial context
odious is the luck of the draw
odious is the new age philosophy that grants godlike status to mere mortals
odious is the implicit position of several founding members that they will not support new and even ongoing space launch vehicle
odious is just another

Via Googlism. Go on, you know you want to.
Bucks has banned Christmas. Well, not quite, but they're well on their way. "Passions can be inflamed by religious issues"? I rather thought that was the point. Passions like awe, and joy, and love.

Story via Tim Blair.

Here is Ms. Dewar's information page. Please note that e-mail is available. And please be respectful, should you choose to share your opinion with her. After all, passions can be inflamed by political issues, and no one wants that.

And here is an online feedback form. Did you know that feedback is an excellent word, containing as it does the letters a through f? Not as good as backfanged, but, then, what is?

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I am finding it quite comforting how many of my friends and family are receiving weapons for Christmas from me.
It seems fashionable these days to declare any failed hypothesis a religion. Environmentalism, National Socialism, Communism...any movement with which the speaker disagrees becomes a "religion". The argument is that, since everyone knows that religion is irrational, and this belief, whatever it may be, is irrational [insert staticstics which support the speaker's point here], such a belief is a religion. The logical fallacy involved seems obvious to me, but there must be some reason this meme persists.

At least part of it, I think, is a misunderstanding of religion, and what it is. Religions do not claim to be irrational (who would?). Instead, they claim to be super-rational--that is, to have revelation of that noumenal realm beyond our understanding. Whether from the Earth Goddess or the Holy Ghost or the entrails of birds (I equate these only in their claims, not their veracity), religion claims to have information that would not otherwise be available.

I'm rather sympathetic to this claim. Any system of morality must come from beyond experience. Experience can only tell us what people do, not what they ought to do. To put it another way, let's examine the Free Rider problem, in my imaginary Greek city-state, Oinopolis.

Oinopolis must defend itself against the Persians, who are trying to impose a despotic, and more importantly, tee-totalling, rule over them. The Oinopolitans muster their citizens, and march out to battle. Despite the cowardice of a tenth of them, who run off to their homes, leaving the battlefield, the Oinopolitans triumph.

Now, judging from this data, we can see that both courage and cowardice are successful survival strategies (although I've simplified things by leaving out the likely reactions of the ladies of Oinopolis to those who took to their heels). We can favor neither one nor the other--we can offer no advice to an individual who wants to know whether or not he should stand and fight. He himself is better off fleeing, as long as enough others stay the course, and he can maximize his personal chances by running away. From an empirical point of view, we can commend neither the courageous or the cowardly, but only state the percentages in which we find them. To commend courage demands recourse to non-empirical sources.

But I digress.

Religion has rather fallen from favor of late, due to the opposition of certain groups to the theory of evolution. I don't see the conflict, myself, outside of this sphere, but it has been caricatured as "Religion vs. Science". Science is rational, falsifiable, empirical, and practical, in this view; religion is everything else. Of course a person coming to the debate with such preconceptions would label their opponents' position "religion", despite its lack of the true core of such beliefs.

The Ptolemaic system is not a religion, even if its proponents cling to it in the face of a better system (not Copernicus'! Eight minutes of arc, remember!). The Aristotelians are not following a religion when they persecute Galileo. Environmentalists are not religious when they claim data which do not fit their scheme to be false or irrelevant. They are defending an obsolete hypothesis. Religion is not about hypotheses. It is, truly or falsely, about revelation.

I spent a certain amount of time today in the bowels of the County Clerk's Office, trying to get a marriage license (I eventually succeeded, due entirely to the patience of my lovely fiancée). Everyone I met was perfectly pleasant--well-intentioned, cheerful, and quite completely incompetent. I realized, as the perfectly pleasant be-spectacled lady pecked about the keyboard of her typewriter, that there is only one solution to bureaucracy: fire. And lots of it.

If one follows the grinding gears in the appointed manner, one finds that the innumerable accretions of error to one's recorded identity slow the working, and finally cause it to grind to a complete stop, as one explains that, yes, one was born in London, and yes, one realizes that that fair city is outside the United States, and yes, one is an American citizen, witness one's driver's license which, yes, has the wrong address on it but one did not wish to cause the DMV more trouble than necessary...and so on.

In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, great warriors contend against each other on the battlefield. But it is the civil administrators, finally, who have the greatest impact. Zhang Fei and Guan Yu throw down enemy generals by the handful, but only when Zhuge Liang, the magician, Taoist, and great organizer, does Liu Bei gain the upper hand. In a failed bureaucracy, with no such genius guiding it, how can one respond? One's only recourse is violence.

So, fonctionnaires, expect to be bound to a tree and beaten with willow branches unless you acknowledge my identity!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Roguelike gamers, rejoice! A new version of NetHack graces us. For those unfamiliar with roguelike games, they're games. Like Rogue. For the compulsive in all of us.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Is Hollywood out of original plots or what? There are currently movies in the works about Troy (with Brad Pitt), Thermopylae (with George Clooney), Hannibal (with Vin Diesel), the Amazons, Alexander the Great (with Colin Farrell), Alexander the Great again (with Leonardo di Caprio), and Cyrus the Great (film-makers are hoping for Sean Connery).

And Arnold's neglecting the Conan sequel for a governorship at a time like this?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Go here to learn about a quite disgusting advance in medicine.

This site suggests that òliba comes from uwwila, which seems onomatopoetic to me. For xibeca, I've got nothing, except the probably wrong association with xebec, which almost certainly comes to us from Catalan, from the Arabic, to entwine or fasten. I'm wandering rather far down the primrose path of dalliance with false etymologies here, but possibly some link to the predations of an owl?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Natalie Solent is concerned about Scottish softness. This trend has been noticed before:

The pibroch's note, discountenanced or mute;
The Roman kilt, degraded to a toy
Of quaint apparel for a half-spoilt boy;
The target mouldering like ungathered fruit;
The smoking steam-boat eager in pursuit,
As eagerly pursued; the umbrella spread
To weather-fend the Celtic herdsman's head--
All speak of manners withering to the root,
And of old honours, too, and passions high:
Then may we ask, though pleased that thought should range
Among the conquests of civility,
Survives imagination--to the change
Superior? Help to virtue does she give?
If not, O Mortals, better cease to live!

Soft bastards with their umbrellas. You don't see the Welsh running around with some foolish, and probably foreign, invention.

Speaking of owls, this book is the source of well over half the quotations on this site. The others are made-up.
Neanderthal artist, and his mask. For my the most telling point was this:

"The great problem with all the Neanderthal art is that they are one-offs. What is different about the art of modern humans when it appears 35,000 years ago is that there is repetition - animal sculptures and paintings done over and over again in a recognisable style.

"With Neanderthals, there may have been the odd da Vinci-like genius, but their talents died with them."

I've long been a believer that it was not the thoughts of Neanderthals which were crude, but their means of expressing them. Without a decent language, how can one hope to pass on any but the simplest techniques, be it art, hunting, or attracting mates. Instinctive (whatever that means, anyhow, a priori) behavior would be far more common among creatures which did not or could not communicate effectively.

Now, evidence for the incapacity of Neanderthals for language has always seemed rather speculative to me, especially after the discovery that, yes, they did have a hyoid bone. But incapacity aside, lesser capacity seems to me to explain a great deal about them--their evolutionary underperformance compared to us, for example. The singular nature of most Neanderthal art strengthens this view.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Well, now I'm convinced.

Via the Corner.

Here's an oddity I just came across: the word scofflaw apparently dates back to a contest begun in 1923 by a wealthy Prohibitionist, who wished to "stab awake the conscience" of those souls who broke the strictures of the Eighteenth Amendment.

It was promptly turned into a drink. In defense of the Noble Experiment, at least it was an icky drink, and imbibers probably didn't enjoy themselves much. Triomphe!

Thanks to Xavier Basora for his prompt and interested reply to my query. 'Owl' in Catalan is òliba or, less commonly, xibeca (x is Catalan in pronounced 'sh' or 'ch'). Both of these strike me as a bit of a stretch for onomatopoeia, though òliba might be possible. When Catalan speaking owls hoot the verbs are cridar [like Italian gridare?], udolar [whoo-oo-ooo-dolar!] or ganyolar [??].

Update: Mr. Basora settles my questions and speculations.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Interesting stuff (via Cinderella Blogfeller) from a Catalan blogger (scroll down), on onomatopoeia and animal noises in Catalan. 'To whisper' is a great word: xiuxiuejar. I've just e-mailed him asking for a post on words associated with owls. 'Owl' is an onomatopoeic word in many very divergent languages: hibou (French), gufo (Italian), ugla (Icelandic), gwdihw (Welsh), pöllö (Finnish), ukuu (Kazakh). Quite a cross-cultural phenomenon.

The above-mentioned posts also included a little gem of translation lore. We're all aware, no doubt, of Obelix's dog Dogmatix in the Asterix comics. In French, the dog's name is Idefix. Fortuitous translation indeed! Here is a convenient compilation of Asterix characters' names as translated into dozens of odd tongues.

Update: owl in Chumash is muhu (stress on the ultimate).

Mongolia is seeking closer ties with Israel. Good for both of them.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

A source (viz. Jonathan Kingdon, via a shared acquaintance) informs us that the superorder Afrotheria has just received official acknowledgement as a taxon. Here's a little background. You heard it here first!
Tyrophiles unite!

I meant to post on this some time ago, but it slipped through the cracks. Bureaucratic health fascism is currently stifling Mauritanian herders' livelihood and denying you and me the pleasure of Mauritanian camel cheese. These poor fellows are hoping to find a lucrative market in the E.U., despite the fact that the soulless bastards currently running the show are trying to regulate their own European cheeses into sanitized oblivion. Don't believe me?

Before the EU regulations were created there were some 15 000 so-called «Specialist» or «artisan» cheese makers in the UK. As of April 1999, there are only 300, down from 2 000 a year before.

There do remain signs of lingering sanity:

European laws which insisted that cucumbers and bananas could not be excessively curved and had to be of a certain shape were ruled "unenforceable" by the High Court yesterday.

But for how long? Many thanks to those who are fighting the good fight.

Of course, the situation on this side of the pond is just as bad. My own encounters with our smothering angels of hygiene have been consistantly exasperating. As my summer livelihood requires, I am a licensed food handler in the state of Utah. For years the classes I was forced to attend were taught by a loathsome warthog of a woman, who for the duration of her lecture would constantly scratch, claw, and abuse her arms, neck and scalp. Every rafting company in town independantly christened her the 'Itchy-Scratchy Lady'. My favorite part of her courses was always her explanation of why Utah has the highest rates of several communicable diseases in the nation. "We're a tourist state," she'd say. "We have tourists from Europe, and England, and China, and even some [and here her voice grew conspiritorial, as though only she in all the world had the strength of purpose to reveal such an unwelcome secret] from Africa." I suppose the self-evident fact that the state is teeming with families whose two-digit numbers of children stick their pestiferous little trotters into everything is not a political winner in Utah.

All the people I've met in the public health field are perfect illustrations of the "only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" principle. Their professional obsession drives them to distrust all food everywhere, and they forget that some of us still eat things because we like them. Itchy-Scratchy, when asked what local restaurants are good, instantly admits that she never eats out at all. I can't fathom how these people reconcile their world views with the fact that folks who eat like I do are still alive and kicking, and regularly survive infancy. So let's pour as much scorn as possible on them, eat Mauritanian camel cheese and stranger things, and read and support Slow Food's Manifesto in defense of Raw-milk Cheese.

"You can help this cause by sending the following message “I also eat raw-milk cheese” to the e-mail address rawmilk@slowfood.com"

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Interesting article on some chappy who's trying to apply modern computational and statistical techniques for glottochronological purposes, to learn things about Indo-European. Anatolia 8,500 years ago, says he.

And here is an interesting and sometimes surprising article on William Christie, the current owner of the French Baroque period.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Wrong, wrong, wrong! But disturbingly fun, and no one who has ever worked in customer service will disagree. Blame Dave for this one.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

"He told himself that he was not drunk at all, but that he had taken an unusual quantity of whisky, which seemed to produce much the same effect as intoxication."

E[dward] F[rederick] Benson, 1867-1940
And while we're on the subject, here is a voice from the Middle East which desperately needs to be heard. I particularly appreciate the reminder of Egypt's late 19th Century history.
Radical feminist or Wahhabi? Take your best guess:

But are these [American] men really concerned about the rights of women? The society has so many practices which exploit and suppress women, leading to women's liberation movements from the suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the feminists of today. The truth of the matter is that monogamy protects men, allowing them to “play around” without responsibility. Easy birth control and easy legal abortion has opened the door of illicit sex to woman and she has been lured into the so-called sexual revolution. But she is still the one who suffers the trauma of abortion and the side effects of the birth control methods. Taking aside the plagues of venereal disease, herpes and AIDS, the male continues to enjoy himself free of worry. Men are the ones protected by monogamy while women continue to be victims of men's desires.

Ethics and morals and Puritan virtues
Are no recompense for a decent Sauterne.

--X[erxes] G[regorovich] Prawne (1821-1839)

Getting started early, eh, Mr. Lileks? Not that there's anything wrong with that. I myself have had perhaps some Irish Cream, and started talking about building robots to do all our chores for us. And we all know how that ends, don't we.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The GashlyCrumb Tinies - You have a terribly wicked
sense of humour and people are drawn to your
wit. Children beware of the thin, pale man
with the black umbrella!

Which Edward Gorey Book Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
doubtful guest
The Doubtful Guest - You like to stir things up for
people don't you? You have quite a surreal
imagination...you would rather live in fantasy
than reality.

Which Edward Gorey Book Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Yeah, that's me (the book, not the quiz-monger's description), and I could procure testimonials to prove it. I'm not impressed with the quiz itself, though, neither with the questions, nor with the way the answers changed as I played with them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Also in maritime news, the Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard's flagship, has been found.
Turns out sea urchins may live for two hundred years. I'm still not about to stop eating their eggs.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Even with their consent, it's still not okay to eat people. Especially if you are German.

Here. If you must. (Also, here, for a rather more selective audience.)

"There's a little Üter in all of us!"

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Want to know about the Georgian Revolution? Japan Times has an excellent primer. Also check out Living with Caucasians.
Al Maviva attends the Federalist Society Convention. And survives.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

And lest any of you doubt that the world is a strange and wonderful place, know that a characteristic of a breed of dogs called tazis is that their feet smell like popcorn. My parents have two, one from Kiev and one from Kazakhstan, and I assure you that the claim is true.
And here's a bad poem I like, by Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864):

STAND close around, ye Stygian set,
With Dirce in one boat convey’d,
Or Charon, seeing, may forget
That he is old, and she a shade.

Ever wish your cat had a beak? I know I do. Indulge this and stranger fantasies here.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Boredom leads me to read the personal ads; to analyze them, perversity.

Caveats: I am in no way qualified to do this; my sample is small and self-selected; the paper I read has its own...issues, so to speak, which brings in a further degree of self-selection on the part of the readers; once more, I am not a statistician, nor have I any interest in that discipline.

I broke down the information given in the ads into two categories, each with the same two divisions. The categories are Offers and Demands, and the divisions Appearance and Personality. Briefly, an Offer is any significant information about a person (and, yes, I decide what constitutes significance), e.g. "SWM, 40, 5'9", 270 lbs." A Demand is any request for a quality in the respondant, e.g. "seeks SWF, 18-24 blonde/blue, fit, attractive, for one night stand, maybe more". Appearance is self-explanitory; Personality is any non-physical quality, including "financial independent" or "sword swallower/snake charmer". Into the morass!

The ads themselves are broken up into four sections. I do not include the "Variations" area, since this is a family-friendly blog. Mostly.

Anyway: Women Seeking Men, Men Seeking Women, Men Seeking Men, and Women Seeking Women. Naturally, the WSM and MSW outnumbered the other two, making their percentages rather less influenced by a single ad, but MSM and WSW were over-represented in percentage of ads compared with percentage of population. My theory about this is below, with more on self-selection. For now, a breakdown (forgiveness, please, for poor formatting):

O/P___65%___73%___54%___100% (!)

A few notes about these statistics before we continue. They don't add to any particular percentage. This is because an ad may contain anything between a single Demand or Offer to all four sets. As previously stated, the MSM and WSW are easily skewed. WSM who Demanded Appearance always Offered it; MSW who Demanded Appearance -or- Personality always Offered something (not necessarily the same thing! "SWM, 50, fun, independent, likes music, seeks SWF, 20-50, trim, fit, attractive, for dining out, dancing, and movies" is a classic example of Offering Personality in exchange for Appearance. This was a trend with MSW, although not a pronounced one (less likely, in fact, than an Offer of Appearance with a Demand for Appearance, or similarly with Personality)).

So, firstly, we see that Men, of any orientation, are more Demanding than Women, although WSW are very interested in Personality. While we might expect Men to Demand more in terms of Appearance, a trend which we do see (although Appearance was seldom Demanded in any case; the most common area being MSM with 38%), MSW also Demanded Personality more commonly than any other group. Interestingly, MSM were the least interested in Personality.

Men, in fact, had a different style of ad than Women, regardless of orientation. While there was overlap, Women's ads tended towards the narrative: "New in town, SWF, middle-aged but young at heart, seeks friend or maybe more for...." Men, on the other hand, were fond of adjectives, often simply listing their Offers and Demands: "Me: 36, fit, athletics, loves hiking, reading, social drinker. You: SWF, similar age, interests."

Men were also more likely to Offer something, MSW Offering Personality more commonly, while MSM Offered Appearance. Women Offered less commonly, although WSW always Offered Personality ("animal lover, amazon femme, brutally honest...").

So, I'm sure not going to jump into the whirling razor-blade lined fun-ride of drawing conclusions. But a brief hypothesis: MSM and WSW are over-represented because of the comparative difficulty of meeting someone similarly inclined. MSW and WSM can go to a bar, or grocery store, or box social, and be fairly confident that the majority of the people which they encounter are potentially interested. MSM and WSW don't have that assurance, and so must rely on other means of meeting likely partners.

And get a load of this:

Among their more unusual behavior, the [blanket] octopuses [Tremoctopus violaceus] employ a unique defense mechanism by tearing off the tentacles of passing Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish. The octopuses are immune to the tentacle's painful sting. When they encounter potential predators, the octopuses waft the captured man-of-war tentacles in two pairs of its upper arms as an effective deterrent.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I have a post ("too large for this margin") that involves both Conan the Barbarian and Sherlock Holmes. But Detective Conan? That's just weird.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

If the State had a mind to put a stop to all true poetry, it would need merely...to introduce 1000 livings for royal poetic functionaries.

--Søren Kierkegaard

Similarities with space travel, health care, schooling, and common charity are left for the reader to enumerate.

Monday, November 10, 2003

If the soul is one, and immortal, it cannot alter. For if it were, say, to move closer to or further from some afterlife, that would be an alteration. Because the soul is one, any alteration must be complete; that is, there is no part to the soul, so an alteration necessarily alters it entirely (the soul is atomic). And if the soul defines identity, any alteration would produce a new person. And a new person cannot be held responsible for the actions of another, and so cannot move closer to or further from some afterlife. Thus, the soul cannot alter.
Socrates, at least in the Phaedrus, comes off as strongly against the written word, since it cannot do anything but remind us of what we already know. I wonder, though, if that's true. Anyone who's read Plato has imagined himself arguing with Socrates; has thought his interlocuters dim, and said to himself, "If only I were there. I'd show him a thing or two." (Billy Collins, Marginalia:
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author,
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny back script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

In short, Plato's works produce a sort of dialogue between the reader and Socrates, rather than instructing the reader or reminding them. The Phaedrus has always struck me as odd for that reason: it's a written work which purports to decry writing.

All the great books have that give and take to them. They can be read and re-read for that reason: we take them into ourselves, and give them new life, and new arguments arise each time. Because they tell us something true, we can change the way we reach that conclusion, and have new understanding of it.

But all that depends on us actually reading these books; they don't read themselves (except late at night, rustling on the shelves to one another. I finally had to separate Epictetus and Nietzsche. Each morning I'd come in and Nietzsche would be lying on the floor in despair, his spine broken in a new place). Epictetus, actually, puts it very well:

Do you then show me your improvement in these things? If I were talking to an athlete, I should say, 'Show me your shoulders'; and then he might say, 'Here are my weights.'
You and your weights look to that. I should reply, 'I wish to see the effect of the weights.'
So, when you say: 'Take the treatise on the active powers, and see how I have studied it.' I reply, 'Slave, I am not inquiring about this, but how you exercise pursuit and avoidance, desire and aversion, how your design and purpose and prepare yourself,
whether conformably to nature or not. If conformably, give me evidence of it, and I will say that you are making progress: but if not conformably, be gone, and not only expound your books, but write such books yourself; and what will you gain by it?'

We do not call a man wise because he has a large library, or even when he has read all the books of his library; he is wise when he has read, and retained, and put into action, what is contained in those books (presuming, of course, the books are worthwhile).

Now for the science fiction. Google has made me look smarter than I am on several occasions. To be able to find something so well, to have such information at one's fingertips, is a great advantage. Presume a future where we subconsciously google while we think and talk. A small internal computer, linked to the Internet, reads our thoughts and searches for the information which might interest us. We would, of course, need content-blockers to keep the pr0n to a minimum, but such things are coming along nicely. We therefore have a constant low murmur of information, which we can bring to the front of our mind at will. No longer are libraries necessary: every book ever written is available to us. We can, at a moment's notice, know all we need to know about, say, cephalopods, or whatever topic interests us.

We have gained very little, I think, although I'll be in the front of the line when such a service is available. The important information, the morality of an action, is not available online. Only reason can give that to us. And reason is not something that computers do well. Even the consensus which the Internet gives us is unsteady. I'm particularly loath to allow such a democratic process to decide my actions.

Any medium is limited by two factors: the information it conveys, and the readiness of the interpreter to absorb that information. While dialogue is clearly best, since it requires two active participants (or more, especially in the blogosphere), the great books are an excellent substitute. They're also around rather longer than any philosopher I can recall.

"Orchestras are the World's Greatest Air Guitar": Lileks blogs Berlioz.

Far too few people realize that Berlioz was a splendid writer of prose as well as music. Evenings with the Orchestra is a pleasure no one ought to miss: plenty of musical anecdotes and invective, but also many very odd works of short fiction, even one of science fiction. This in conjunction with my recent Polynesian peroration has inspired me to re-read the book's final offering, "The Adventures of Vincent Wallace in New Zealand", a dementedly lurid story of fleeting love between an Irish musician and a cannibal Maori princess.
Why has no argument against the Iraq war, principled or un-, valid or in-, no surprise, setback, or disappointment really disturbed me? I'd say because of this.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

I always bear a measure of trepidation when renting an “indigenous culture” sort of film, as many of them are inclined to dwell on native peoples’ social problems, alcoholism, domestic abuse, oppression by Whitey, &c, and the resulting movies tend to be predictable, exasperating, and depressing. In recent years there has been a trend of improvement in this sub-genre, but even such fascinating and well-executed films as Rabbit-Proof Fence and Gadjo Dilo are determined to lurch into wretchedness at their endings. Pathfinder, on the other hand, was a splendidly earnest adventure movie, but it was at heart a dramatization of a Lappish folk-tale, and nothing more; its story and style had no real relationship to the Lapps’ current situation.* Once Were Warriors gave the full social squalor treatment to contemporary Maori culture in 1995. So it’s very heartening to see a movie like Whale Rider steer clear of these pitfalls and actually offer insight into the processes of cultural stagnation and renewal.

A brief summary of the conflict at the film’s outset: Pai (the strikingly poised young Keisha Castle-Hughes) is the granddaughter of Koru (Rawiri Paratene), leader of the local Maori tribe. Her twin brother was to be Koru’s heir, heir to a line which stretches back to Paikea, the man who rode a whale to New Zealand; but both her brother and her mother died at their birth. Now, at the age of twelve or so, Pai is better versed and more involved in tribal tradition than any other young person, but her sex presents to Koru an insurmountable obstacle towards her fulfilling any role of tribal leadership, which would have been her brother’s birthright. Koru clearly sees Pai’s birth as the death-knell for the tradition of which he is keeper; he has lost faith in the old ceremonies, and the war-canoe which he is carving languishes unfinished.

Whale Rider does not search for the causes of Maori cultural lassitude in external sources such as history, New Zealand’s European government, or any white cultural domination; scarcely a white person appears in the whole movie. It instead looks inward, exploring the psychology of how individual Maori have or do not have faith in tradition. It was entirely filled in Wharanga, a real, living village on the North Island’s east coast (and not unlike a poor town here in New Mexico). Except for the leads, the cast is likewise composed of locals. This puts the supporting actors somewhat in the audience’s position in regard to Maori customs. The kids performing traditional chants at a school function early in the movie are ill at ease, perplexed, and clearly wondering if what they’re doing is perhaps unbearably silly. But there is later a wonderful scene in which Koru instructs the local boys in the conventions of Maori stick-fighting (more Maori weapons here). He thumps his chest and screams and protrudes his eyes and tongue in a hideous fashion, and at first looks quite absurd. Certainly, the bare-chested pubescent boys whom he orders to imitate him do not think they are cutting very impressive figures. But Koru proceeds to explain the significance of these ritual combative gestures, notably that the extended tongue signifies a Maori warrior’s intention to eat his foe, and I suspect that his pupils are no less delighted than I by the knowledge that their ancestors did not make idle threats. The boys start repeating the gestures more earnestly, and it is clear to see that the actors here, along with their characters and hopefully the audience, are coming to regard these proud traditional boasts as something worth taking pride in.

Keisha Castle-Hughes is another actor who all but lives her performance as Pai. Apparently she was pulled out of her classroom by the casting department and asked if she wanted a leading role in a feature film. She rose to the occasion gloriously (I very much hope to see her in other roles), and with evident delight becomes the torchbearer for traditionalism among the young people. Her character’s conflict is not with duty or destiny; Pai is eager to assume the role of Paikea’s heir, and when, for instance, the local boys all fail an initiation test, we have no doubt that she will be the one to complete it. Her troubles are instead with her grandfather.

Koru is everyone’s stubborn traditionalist grandpa, and the fundamental conflict of the film is his failure to see that some parts of his tradition must change if its best parts are to survive, that his granddaughter must be his heir or his bloodline be broken. This spiritual blight in its leader has infected the local society. The mythological nature of Koru’s malaise requires an act of mythological significance for its cure, and Pai is finally driven to such an act. The film’s climax demands some suspension of disbelief, but not much; no supernatural event occurs literally, but portent and destiny are palpably present as Pai asserts her descent from the Whale-Rider and her right of inheritance.

The final scene is visually spectacular, as Koru’s long awaited war canoe is launched, crewed by sixty muscular, grinning Polynesians, the real-life citizens of Whangara. The movie makers gave the canoe to the village when filming was done; the villagers had attempted to build one some years before, but it was not completed. This gift encapsulates the film’s message. The canoe was not built traditionally, it is constructed of movie studio materials, but it is stunning to look at, full size, and seaworthy. Tradition does not need to shun modernity. It needs rather to exploit the parts of the world and society which have changed for the better, to preserve the parts we wish to keep eternal.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

'Tis the voice of the leper;
I heard him decry,
"I have lost all my toes,
My ears, and one eye.
But 'tis really no matter,
For you see I have found
Gutta-percha replacements:
Three shillings a pound."
Everyone else is watching and reviewing Matrix Revolutions (ha!), so I may as well weigh in on some decent movies. Odious’ fiancée and I just saw Winged Migration, and it was almost as good as everyone’s been saying. It did, however, show undeniable symptoms of being a French movie. It’s mostly silent, but now and then a very Froggy sounding narrator interjects risibly uninformative and obvious statements along the lines of, “Zese birdz, zey migrrrate ver’ ver’ far, zey come wit’ ze spring” The soundtrack is mostly by a Bulgarian Orchestra and vocalists, and it vacillates between apt and distracting, but is pretty satisfactory overall. The film opens and closes, though, to the sounds of a musician only a pretentious Frenchman could think appropriate in a poetic, contemplative film about birds, viz. Nick Cave, albeit evidently in an uncharacteristicly sappy, dippy mood.

There are also some occasional scenes with social subtexts, which seemed rather out of place in such a lyric film. The credits snootily inform us that the shots of hunting were “filmed in North America, where this takes place every year”. Shut up and go enjoy eating songbirds with the smart Frenchmen, you pompous asses, while I raise a glass to hunting, which despite the tranzis’ and Euro-ninnies’ worst efforts is still not (quite) illegal over there. A scene where some sort of blue macaw cleverly escapes from an Amazonian pet-trafficker’s bamboo cage is too obviously contrived to take seriously. And there was a scene where some depressed looking geese wander around a wretchedly polluted Eastern European industrial hell-hole; I actually found it rather moving, but I could hardly keep myself from shouting at the ostentatiously P.C. Santa Fe audience, and perhaps at the film-makers as well, “This is what Communism does for the environment, you pinko socialist morons!”

But enough negatives; I’m glad I went, and this is a beautiful, spectacular visual poem on both birds and worldwide geomorphology . There’s tons of very good (though hardly unsurpassed) footage here of interesting bird behavior, and tons more of them simply flying, over farmland and city, seashores, seacliffs, sand deserts, the Himalayas, Monument Valley, avalanches and calving glaciers, the arctic and antarctic, and more. The backgrounds are stunning and often look fascinatingly abstract. It’s a meditation on landscapes with birds in the foreground adding personal interest and drama; indeed, its avian performers set it apart as possibly the best cast film in recent memory.
Stupid posts not writing themselves....Hmmph.

Here's the deal: Blowhards, some time ago, posted on the death, or at least dissolution, of print. I had something to say, which was: I love the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a seriously long and, to most Anglo-spherites, obscure Chinese epic. I have my favorite character (Zhou Yu!), my favorite section for humour/martial prowess/trying to get to sleep at night. What does this have to do with the death of print? I found it through the game Dynasty Warriors 2.

Which game is much fun. You take the role of one of the great heroes of the books, and run around slaughtering thousands of underlings without a care, until you come to a named character, all of whom are from the book (although liberties have definitely been taken: Sun Ce, anyone?), and slaughter him, which is harder. So this great book was only brought into my purlieu by that scorned medium, the video game. Yay non-print media, right?

Well, not really: the game is fun, but no substitute for the book, and no other form of the story can substitute for the book. Indeed, to claim that we are nearing the death of print (which Blowhards didn't, but the meme races round the Internet now and again (Psmith has played the game)) is a return to an odd sort of nominalism. There are concepts which we cannot and do not receive from experience; and here I am thinking of morality. Nobility, justice, virtue: all of these are a priori. We recognize them, but they cannot be derived a posteriori. Abstract concepts are difficult to convey by means of pictures, and impossible to convey with appropriate clarity.

By the way, I count twenty games based on the Romance. Why not the Iliad?

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Joanne Jacobs nails it. Sympathy can only come with a knowledge of the subject.

A brief anecdote: in college, one of the readings was Tacitus, famous to the point of eponymy for his disinterested style. But when he described the suicide of Cato, I could feel the intestines in my hands, and the strength it took to tear them apart. The only way to reach this point, however, was to understand his situation. Knowledge first, then sympathy. For one thing, that order allows us to make judgments more justly. A person may be suffering, but that's not enough information to make a decision to help or hinder them. We must know the cause and the ground.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"Always hittin' and cursin' and getting shot in th' head! You girls are crazy...but I like yous."
Our only hope is that our enemies never develop the tactical umbrella. ACME would be so proud.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Chocolate, guns, immoral neutrality, and Erich von Däniken.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A group called the Tiger Lillies have, together with Kronos Quartet, recently released a recording of songs based on the work of Edward Gorey. I'm not sure I can imagine the result, but if you want to try, here's a review, and here's another from the Guardian.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Human knowledge will be erased from the archives of the world before we possess the last word which a gnat has to say to us.

--Jean Henri Fabre

Thursday, October 23, 2003

I had wanted to get another substantial post up before departing on (hopefully) my last big drive this year, to Zion for a wedding; but that's not going to happen in time. So I'll take the liberty of re-posting my account of the Illinois River, which is how my summer began. I'd link to it, but our Blogger archives seem to be non-functional. If our site meter is at all accurate, most of you new readers missed it the first time around anyway. So enjoy:

The Illinois River

As you faithful readers may have deduced, I spend my summers in the employ of a whitewater rafting company. We have operations in four western states, and thus I am fortunate enough to have boated many of the finest wilderness rivers in the country. This April I managed to see one of the crown jewels of them all; I’ve run the Grand Canyon, the Yampa, the Middle Salmon and the Selway, and the Illinois in southwestern Oregon is the equal of any of them.

There’s a reason you’ve never heard of the Illinois: it’s very difficult to catch it at runnable water levels. Unlike most commonly rafted rivers, it is fed not by snowmelt or reservoir, but by rain. It therefore can be boated only in winter and spring, and even then the levels are touchy. A few dry days can leave insufficient water to squeeze a raft between the boulders, and a decent storm system can transform its already challenging whitewater into screaming insanity. Below 800 cubic feet per second or above 3000 we don’t go; and it’s the only river I’ve ever run where one worries about its being too high and too low in the same week. I drove from New Mexico to southwestern Oregon well aware that scheduled trips often never launch.

Preparing to launch on a new river is always an exciting experience, and this time I had numerous factors contributing to my excitement. The weather in Grant’s Pass was cold and rainy, and our guidehouse did not yet have a water heater up and running. I was quite aware that certain Illinois rapids would be a step up in difficulty from anything I had ever rowed. And we were constantly thinking about the water level, trying to guess just how the storm drumming on our roof was affecting a river valley thirty miles to the south. A Coast Guard weather radio on our kitchen table gave comment in a slate-gray automated baritone: "forecast for western Josephine county is… rain… eastern Curry county… rain… fifteen foot swells in Brookings harbour…." Throughout the day, periodic internet flow updates came via our manager’s girlfriend in Eugene. At eight in the evening she reported a spike from 1300 cfs to 2400, which certainly grabbed our attention; it was a joke, but hardly an outrageous or unbelievable one, as events three days later would demonstrate. I fell asleep to thoughts of whitewater and the sounds of the wood stove and the raindrops.

It was still raining in the morning as we drove south to Selma in the Illinois valley, then west on dirt roads into the river canyon, where the Illinois slices through the coast range on its way to the Rogue and the Pacific. To run the Illinois is legally easy; there is no decades long Grand Canyon waiting list, no Selway permit lottery with astronomically poor odds. All you have to do is drop a form in a box on the side of the Selma grocery store and go. But the difficulty of the rapids and the inconvenience of transporting river gear long distances to a river which may well not be boatable in any given week tend to keep the crowds away. The locals seem to derive a good deal of their winter and spring entertainment from news of Coast Guard rescues of incompetent or unlucky rafters, and hence few of them run the river. We launched our boats in splendid isolation, in which we remained for the entire trip.

For one like me who delights in moving water in all its manifestations, the Illinois canyon is a paradise. Almost the first thing one sees after pushing off from shore are waterfalls, a side stream plunging in two branches into the bedrock gorge. There are waterfalls throughout the canyon, around almost every bend, sometimes four or five in a mile, of all sizes, heights and steepnesses, sometimes two or three together. The raindrops bead up and roll like quicksilver on the river’s surface, and when the sun appears the river water blooms a transparent, luminous emerald. The rapids for the most part are friendlier than I had anticipated; from the sheer quantity of rapids in the guidebook (well over one hundred in forty miles) I was expecting the continuous whitewater of the Selway or upper Middle Fork, where rapids flow straight into one another and one is constantly rowing. But these had (at 1300 cfs at least) good recovery pools in between. The most common anatomy was a tight but slow-moving rock garden feeding into a pushy, splashy bedrock chute full of waves and medium-sized pour-overs. Many of the more difficult rapids call for a tricky, twisty set-up, one last push, then shipping your oars for a drop into a steep slot between boulder and cliff, barely wider than your boat. The side streams are gin clear or pale, almost glacial blue, and they and the river sculpt themselves into gravity-defying slopes and fins and rooster-tails, smooth and clear as glass, stationary forms in flowing water.

Though it is not far as the crow flies from roads and towns, the Illinois feels remote and isolated like nowhere else I have ever been. Even the Selway, so rightly renowned for its remoteness and isolation, has trails and pack bridges and airstrips, but the Illinois has none of these. It flows through the northern end of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and the Tututni Indians and miners who once lived here are long gone. There are some trails marked on the USGS maps, but when you go to look for them you find nothing but eroding dirt and poison oak. It is country which inclines one to believe in sasquatches. The botanical diversity is the best in the west, with dozens of conifers and broad-leaved species, rare purple kalmiopsis flowers, and carnivorous California pitcher plants raising their green cobra hoods at the water’s edge. Our second night campsite was covered with the droppings of Roosevelt elk, and nearby we found a salmon skeleton which certainly did not get so far from the river on its own.

Even after launch the Illinois calls for flexibility in scheduling. We always bring food for an extra day, canned beans and powdered soup and the like, so that if the water should rise suddenly we can wait it out. On our standard four day schedule, we plan for a short second day on the river with lots of hiking, and a long, difficult third day through the biggest rapids in the gorge section. But the Coast Guard radio was out again on our first night and second morning, in case a forecast of heavy rain should dictate a long dash the second day all the way through the gorge and past the most dangerous whitewater.

As it happens, we stick to our ideal schedule, with a beautiful sunny hike the second day, through a pit of sunbathing snakes, wading up a creek, and climbing a ridge to a cliff overlooking a Peregrine nest. The third day is full of hard rain without a break. The rapids are challenging, but again mostly easier and more fun than I had expected. The exception is the Greenwall. It’s quite fortunate that the Greenwall is there, since without it the Illinois would probably see much more traffic than it does; but during our scout I find myself distinctly desiring it to be gone. The left side of the river laps against and sometimes flows through a vast array of enormous boulders; the right side races along a towering cliff covered in green moss. The top half of the rapid is not terribly difficult, but complicated enough to clutter the memory and full of plenty of hydraulics big enough to interfere with a boatman’s plans. The bottom half flows very fast through several holes and waves big enough to flip a sideways boat, and with the dangerous undercut wall always threatening on the right. And between the two halves is a pounding ten foot fall between boulders. The entire thing looks very unpleasant to swim. My anxiety is not helped by the knowledge that I will be the first boat through; even though I have never run this rapid, I am carrying no clients, and the other guides hope to have me waiting at the bottom to rescue any of their passengers who might swim. My run is neither very good nor very bad, but the other guides learn from watching me and their runs are clean.

We continue downriver through splendid, less nerve-wracking whitewater. The rain persists into the evening, and by the time we finish setting up camp there is a waterfall coming off the rocks behind our kitchen which was not there when we arrived. The river is changing colour and growing cloudier, and is clearly on the rise. After dinner, we put up an extra rope to the boats and move our gear uphill. I fall asleep listening to the basso ostinato of the nearby rapid, the soprano clatter of the growing waterfall, the alto murmur of the raindrops on our kitchen tarp.

Our head guide joins me under the tarp a little past midnight, reporting that there is now current through his tent site, which was by no means foolishly close to the water when he went to bed. In the morning our boats, which we left with their noses pulled up on the sand, are now thoroughly afloat in two feet of water. We have to swim to retrieve an overlooked box lid, and must scramble over the rocks to reach our toilet, the trail to which is now well in the current. The rapid has completely changed character, its formerly exposed rocks deep underwater forming some impressive standing waves. We ride to take-out on what we later learn is well over double the volume of the previous day’s water*, making the manager’s girlfriend’s joke seem feeble in comparison.

*The spike was from 1300 to 3400 cfs on the gage upstream at Kerby; actual flows in the canyon, below so many side streams, are substantially greater.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

If you get a excuse to drive by Lake Powell and Hite Marina anytime soon, you really should. The reservoir levels have dropped quite significantly in the past few years, it makes for a very interesting sight. Hite Marina itself is nowhere near water; the concrete boat ramp ends high up in the slickrock, which itself is divided from the river by a silt flat covered in sprouting weeds. The Colorado is flowing well past Hite, and its sediment load is pushing a delta out into the reservoir. Here is a good photo, and here is another with a summary of the current drought situation.

I was unable to take as thorough a look at the area as I would have liked, but I saw the same thing on a smaller scale all over the west this summer. All the reservoirs are low, from Oregon to New Mexico to Montana, some extremely so. I even saw one (whose name I do not know, but it’s in the Tusher mountains between Beaver, UT and Elk Meadows ski resort) which was completely empty; the small stream which flowed through it had carved a ten to fifteen foot gorge into the crumbling silt. The exact same thing is of course happening in Lake Powell’s tributaries, where current is again flowing through stretches where the silt had long been settling in still water. Such cliffs and flats of sediment are very unstable, and they will erode very quickly and are likely to intensify greatly the sedimentation problems further down the reservoir.

One of the greatest ironies to me is that the dams were largely sold to the public by touting the recreational opportunities they would create; but recreation at Lake Powell is the industry most palpably suffering. Hite Marina is pretty much shut down, Bullfrog and Antelope Point Marinas face a grim near-future, and power boaters are greatly inconvenienced. White-water rafting upstream in Cataract Canyon, a multi-million dollar
industry which predates the dam, is likewise faced with safety and logistical issues caused by the low reservoir. More and more I am glad that I guide in Idaho, where the rivers flow free and civilization is safely downstream.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

I've at last more or less returned from my "lie-down" (as Ms. Solent described my summer of physical labour in the wilderness), and six months of semi-nomadism have left me full of observations and stories concerning the American West. In other words, I expect to be posting fairly often for the next week or two, so keep checking in.

Even two hundred years after Lewis and Clark, the West remains a very strange place. Take this, for instance: in the '80s, the Utah Department of Transportation was for some time afflicted by a Hopi curse. The construction of I-70 required the destruction of a rock formation and petroglyphs associated with Spider Woman, a Hopi creator deity:
A Hopi religious leader visited the site as the leveling had started, and asked that the ridge be saved because it recorded the Hopi legend of the creation of the world... The ridge was destroyed and hauled away. When the Hopi religious leader returned and saw what happened, he put a curse on UDOT through Spider Woman and her daughter Salt Woman who controls all natural phenomena such as weather. After this curse was invoked on UDOT the major flooding problems of 1983 began. Billies Mountain slid, blocking Highway 50 and a railroad track and flooding Thistle, Utah. The waters of Utah lake rose, covering I-15 near Provo. The Great Salt Lake covered I-80 near Kennecott. The bridges on I-70 over Fish and Shigle Creeks have never completely settled, and some of the workmen said all the concrete poured after the curse seemed to crack in the pattern of a spider web. [Quotation from Spider Woman Rock flyer published by Fremont Indian State Park]

If you haven't visited Fremont Indian State Park, you really should, next time you're on I-70 in Utah. I have been reasonably familiar with the history of the Fremont Culture for some time through my experience as a river guide on the Green and Yampa. But all we see of the Fremont on our trips is rock art and a few granaries, and with so sparse a record on the ground it's too easy to think of them as merely degenerate, hillbilly relatives of the Anasazi. So I was quite delighted when I took refuge from a rainstorm in the Park museum, and found it full of artifacts far in excess of the pot sherds and stone tools I was expecting. Sandals, baskets, figurines; really excellent stone amulets; twine so well preserved you could confuse it with the stuff in your garage; and the characteristic Fremont moccasins made from the skin of a whole deer leg, with the dew hoof incorporated into the heel to provide traction. These are the sort of artifacts which speak not merely of human survival, but of human creativity and personality.

What is more, the cliffs around the visitor center are absolutely teeming with rock art, and the Park's material on rock art interpretation is very interesting. It presents perspectives from both Paiute and Hopi interpreters. My first impulse was to regard such mixing and matching from two very different tribes as rather fast and loose; but on reflection, the approach is fairly coherent. The more naturalistic, representational art, depicting animals and landforms and the like, is approached from the Paiute perspective, whereas the panels which appear more abstract or symbolic are given a Hopi mythological interpretation. The Fremont were almost certainly more akin to the Hopi in their religion and social structure than to the Paiute; and many perplexing panels seem surprisingly comprehensible in the context of Hopi creation myths or ceremonies. On the other hand, the Paiute have an undeniable connection to the Fremont simply by living in the same region: however different their intellectual culture may be, finding food and water and traveling must have been a similar affair for both peoples. Therefore Paiute interpretations of certain panels as maps to water sources, or hunting stories may well be legitimate. The meaning of rock art intended by its creators is almost certainly an archeological unknowable, but I found many of the Park's speculations surprisingly convincing.
And you thought longhorns were odd:

On two occasions I met with in this province some oxen of a very curious breed, called nata or niata. They appear to hold nearly the same relation to other cattle, which bull or pug dogs do to other dogs. Their forehead is very short and broad, with the nasal end turned up, and the upper lip much drawn back; their lower jaws project beyond the upper, and have a corresponding upward curve; hence their teeth are always exposed. Their nostrils are seated high up and are very open; their eyes project outwards. When walking they carry their heads low, on a short neck; and their hinder legs are rather longer compared with the front legs than is usual. Their bare teeth, their short heads, and upturned nostrils give them the most ludicrous self-confident air of defiance imaginable.

--Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

The niata cattle would appear again in Origin of Species, as an example of a race dying out. Their lips, not meeting, did not allow them to browse leaves from trees.

Niata, as we're all aware, is Gaelic for "courageous", a singularly appropriate term for such ferocious-seeming ungulates.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I have put together--using several screws and a tool of some sort--a drying rack. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Terry continues in
Matters indexical;
OGIC is now
Running the show.

Few are the Buffy quotes
We were all promisèd--
Neither seems willing to
Give them a go.
Yes, yes. Very clever--would you like a cookie? And now perhaps you should speak with a priest or rabbi, and actually learn something. This article is like sneering at evolution because you've only encountered Lamarck.
I envy Mr. Derbyshire his opportunity to meet a great artist.
This is the best search to find us, ever.
And of course, this article on Anti-Zionism is very nice. Mr. Frum confronts a well-meaning person given to statements like this:
"Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn't do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions."

I'm not going to deal with the fiskee, except to ask one question, though--is the "Christian state" in question Spain, at the time of the Inquisition? It certainly wasn't Germany at the time of the Holocaust, where the religion was National Socialism:

"National Socialism is a religion, born out of blood and race, not a political world-view. It is the new, only true religion, born out of a Nordic spirit and an Aryan soul. The religions still existing must disappear as soon as possible. If they do not dissolve themselves the state has to destroy them."

If the nation in question is Spain, there's certainly a case to be made for its oppression and massacring of Jews. To make a contentious statement, though, the Inquisition was directed at Christians--although chiefly and most violently against those Jewish converts to the religion, who were believed to be practicing their traditional rites.

So, if the nation in question is Spain, the connection seems like rather a leap, ignoring Germany, and if the nation in question is Germany, it seems false. Perhaps Mr. Judt is trying to avoid the embarrassingly recent secular European origin of the perceived need for a Jewish state.

Here's a quick question: if we are no longer dividing ourselves by ancestry, which I agree we should not, aren't the divisions of European nations rather silly? I mean, "Our forefathers, the Gauls..." has no place in our modern way of thinking, right? So what makes France France now? Aside from really excellent food, I mean. Actually, maybe that's it.
Any angel scared off by a dog needs to get a grip. Also, "which", curse it!
Yes, I know that not ending a sentence with a preposition, like not splitting infinitives, is an artificial stricture imposed on English by Victorian scholars of ancient languages. Now, why would that make me less likely to follow it?
The recent dearth of posts was caused by my abstinence from the two fuels of blogging: alcohol and caffeine. We now return to your regularly scheduled, chemically-dependent postings.

"I have an axe to grind, and plenty of coffee with Kahlua to turn the wheel."

By the way, an antique sword is not a bad self-defense weapon at all (caveat: I've no idea of the quality of the aforelinked site's merchandise; it just appeared above my page as an ad). Put it in some decorative location, and it makes an excellent weapon which looks improvised, not premeditated. If our friends across the pond do end up registering their kitchen knives, it may be their best option. A good chef's knife, though, is perfect: eight inches long, sharp, and sturdy. A sword should be the same: small, so it can be used in tight spaces, sharp, so you can inflict some damage, and sturdy, so you can continue inflicting damage for some time. Hmm. Small, sharp, and sturdy: that's quite close to the ideals I have for my body (small being imposed by my genes).

UPDATE: My friend Javier tells me he wants to be "fayo, fuerte, y formal". To each his own, I guess. I also guess at the spelling above, but there you go.

Via Natalie Solent, via Val Dorta:

This article on early Christian economists makes me happy. It's always nice when those more learned than I agree with me; it confirms my high opinion of them. (Hat tip: Ambrose Bierce)

I may as well start whomping on my Archbishop now, since it seems I'm going to need to frequently. This sort of nonsense is unnecessary. Of course terrorists may have "moral goals". It's just that, primus, that doesn't justify their tactics, and, secundus, most of them don't. So far as I can glean, the ones we're chiefly fighting want to bring about a global Caliphate, establish sharia, and make all the pretty girls go about in concealing clothing. I personally think that head scarves are quite an attractive style; I'm not intending to force them on all the females of my acquaintance.

Neither the Archbishop nor the people he's defending seem to grasp that virtue rests on self-determination. There is no victory in a chastity enforced with necessity (see Aberlard, Peter!), and it is those who wrestle with the enemy, and throw him, who receive the laurels, not those who never enter the arena. This argument, by the way, is my chief complaint about socialism.

Moreover, how can one possibly say that the U.S. have lost the "power of self-criticism"? We have never been more self-examining than we are now. We take our dissenters, and instead of locking them up we give them radio shows. We worry more about enemy casualties than other countries worry about civilians.

I wasn't going to bother with this article, which is a school of sluggish fish in a tiny barrel, but then I came across this sentence: "'Violence is not to be undertaken by private persons'". I seem to have taken the opposite stance: I wonder if violence is only so to be undertaken. It is the private person who defends himself that leads to peace, and not all the police in the world can change that. I am the judge of my own interest, and the state would do well to remember that when the consequences of the social contract are worse than barbarism, that contract no longer stands. See The Ball and the Cross for some idea.

Law is just experience trying to get a word in edgewise about morality. Morality is a priori, although the specific instances of it may be occasioned by experience. I can't tell if Archbishop Williams agrees to this division, or if his statement that the recent war was "immoral and illegal" is something like the Prayer Book's "acknowledge and confess": a "doublet of synonyms".

UPDATE: Yes. We must have a right to defend ourselves that is independent of any artificial polis.

I've been reading Brillat-Savarin's Physiologie du Gout, which is among the most charming books I've ever encountered. It's as though Aristotle got drunk, moved to Paris, and started giving dinner parties and going to the opera.

My translation (which actually is "the translation owned by the late founder of the restaurant at which I work, now owned by her offspring, who have themselves little gout and no idea what treasures remain in the bookshelves of her apartment, which is now used for seating large parties, of which I am always the server, since the apartment is reached up a long flight of high, narrow stairs, and, thanks to my daily regimen of grands plies and Hindoo squats (and Hindoo pushups and back bridge, &tc.) I can go up and down them with ease, even with a football tray full of freaking heavy Nambe plates, and also I am very good at what I do, as has been written previously") is by MFK Fisher (bet you forgot there was a clause coming here!), who does a marvelous job capturing the essence of the book. It's no substitute for the original, but since I don't have that, it does very nicely.

He's right about so many things, from the necessity to change wines throughout a meal, to the versatility of vin de methode champagnoise, which, should I ever be executed, will begin and end my last meal. He's also right that such a wine causes gregariousness at first, but that continued drinking leads to solemnity, which makes it an even better choice for such a sad event as described above.

He loves truffles more than anyone I've ever heard of, except perhaps the pigs who search for them, though Professeur Brillat-Savarin deserves a better comparison. He has great affection for the gourmand--so long as they do not eat too fast! He would have approved of my great-grandfather, whom I'm told ended meals with the pronouncement, "Thank God for capacity!"

The attention he pays to each stage of the meal is something we seem to have forgotten; it's the necessity for uninterrupted digestion in the aftermath of a good meal that leads us to prohibit politics and religion at table. He divides the experience of a meal into several sections, but the most interesting to me were those that precede and close it: digestion, as above, and appetite. The experience of appetite, the slight tightening of the stomach, is itself a pleasure, he writes. And, thinking back, he's right. The book is full of moments like that, where a previously unexamined sensation is recognized as he describes it, and aha! one says, that is what it is like.

His Gallic nature is quite well suited to his subject, although this reader smiled a bit to see that he placed "sexual attraction" among the six senses. The book is flirtatious in any case, making sly references to a "private diary" which appears not to have existed except as a figment to make certain ladies of his acquaintance nervous. The ladies need not have worried; the professor would ever have been a perfect gentleman. Indeed, he would have made an excellent dinner companion, able to discourse on any subject with ease, pleasant, a lover of food and wine. Alas, his book will have to take his place, which it does with charm and a touch of wistfulness-for the meals, and conversations, that might have been.

But what is osmazome?

Also, the spell-checker does not recognize "truffles"? Who writes these programs? Monkeys? Not that I use a spell-checker....

Mein Hund hat keine nase!

UPDATE:For cheaters.

I should mention that I am prepared to meet any challenger to my views in the squared circle at any time. As long as I get to bring a pointy stick!

UPDATE: I plan a flip return to blogging, and find myself seriously thinking on a subject. Rats.

Why don't we settle disputes with force? Or rather, why do we look on it as a last resort, since we do (and have quite recently) so settle them? We are assuming that reason is more than a working out of will-to-power. In fact, we are assuming that reason can accurately represent reality in such a way as to allow us to make predictions about it. If we truly thought that reason was entirely disconnected from reality ("Whose reality? Yours or mine?"), we would assume that it could never tell us anything about the actions we should take.

Taking the strong opposite, if we assume that reality is nothing but Reason ("Granted: that all force can be explained as the workings of these [wills-to-power]...." --Nietzsche), we can view the working out of a battle or a fistfight as the flowering of Geist. Only the view that reason can come to true conclusions about the causal world, but that such a world is not, itself, Reason, allows us to avoid hitting each other. It's a view I myself hold, but, as I said above, I'm willing to make exceptions.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

What I like best about this is that the people who want to revolt also want gun control. No, please! Put down the pointy stick!

Thanks to Tim Blair.

Hee! "It gives ze postman ze chills"!
A brief complaint: can we please stop misusing the word "organic"? Also "chemicals". As in, "I don't want any chemicals in my food. I want it to be organic."
An old joke I just came across:

How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business?

Start with a large one.

From the Ministry of Cute Titles: this.

And this.

Yes. As soon as one realizes that there is a Creator, one can view Nature as a work of art--it has themes, and resurrection is the greatest of them.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I've the third Green Lion edition of the Principia in my hot little hand, continuing the Newton theme. It's beautiful: the faults of the previous editions removed, and the new, colored type for Newton's own words is lovely.

Monday, October 06, 2003

In reading Quicksilver, I was struck by the difference between Albert Einstein and just about everyone else, ever. Einstein sat and thought about things, even, I believe, coining the phrase "Gedanken experiments" to describe the process. He functioned on an almost a priori level, dealing with space and time mathematically--although one can tell from his writings that that's not how he conceived them. His maths are too prone to leaps and jumps which, although they can be explained algebraically, are really just Einstein seeing the answer and in a hurry to get to it.

Contrast Newton, grinding lenses and losing his eyesight to the sun, Darwin with years spent with his barnacles, Kepler, Brahe, etc... they all were out there in the real world, testing the minute details of it to make sure that it conformed.

Our conception of science has been rather deformed by Einstein's success, and too many people think of wild-haired geniuses forever losing their socks, instead of the keen-eyed geniuses who can keep track of the rings on a prawn's tail.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

I've been fencing a bit more recently, with real people, which are a nice change from trees or ping-pong balls (point control practice!). But what I've found is that beginners with no real experience are much harder to fence against than beginners with a little practice under their lame.

Raw beginners don't notice my feints, so they don't respond to them. They don't attack from efficient angles, which means that their attacks come in unexpectedly. They're perfectly willing to attack into my attack, which means that I must get used to continuing, and winning the point on right-of-way (I fence foil. Do I read like a Cossack or a sadist (saber or epee)?), which I dislike for practical reasons. They parry with ludicrous force, and get over-excited and jab me in various off-target areas which are sensitive. Also, they often score against me, which is by far th most irritating aspect of the whole thing.

Beginners with a bit of practice respond nicely to my feints. They attack predictably. They try to hit me in the torso, not, say, the knee.

I suppose the point of this post is just to stress the old martial arts truism: "There is no defense against the random."

Damn the Yankees!

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Of course, the real story is that Berkeley's average SAT is "1337". D00d!

Via Joanne Jacobs.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

You might as well ask the paralytic to leap from his chair and throw away his crutch, or, without a miracle, to "take up his bed and walk," as to expect the learned reader to throw down his book and think for himself.
--William Hazlitt, On the Ignorance of the Learned

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

If I were only a little less honest, I could probably produce something like this:

How Christian is Christian?:
The Unreliable Narrator and The Pilgrim's Progress

"...Then Charity said to Christian, Have you a family? Are you a married man?
Chr:I have a Wife and four small Children.
Charity: And why did you not bring them along with you?
Chr.: Then Christian wept and said, Oh! how willingly I would have done it! but they were all of them utterly averse to my going on Pilgrimage.
Charity: But you should have talked to them, and have endeavoured to have shown them the Danger of being behind.
Chr.: So I did...."

Of course we see that Christian has done nothing of the sort. Immediately upon meeting Evangelist, he considers only his own safety. Indeed, he runs from his family, hands in his ears that he may not hear their pleas. And his cry is only for himself: "Life, life, eternal life!" Christian, however, does not divulge his rather cowardly behavior to Charity, and makes his family out to be such a burden that she congratulates him on freeing himself from them!

Thus we see that salvation, such as it is, in The Pilgrim's Progress, is fundamentally a selfish act. It does not involve the society which surrounds and creates an individual, but only that individual him- or herself, as if such a being, separate from others, could exist. Christian's journey is a rending of the bonds of family, society, and thus spurning of the very values (charity, faith, etc.) it is meant to espouse. Salvation is directed inward, in an inherently limited manner, and refuses any responsibility for others.

Moreover, because Christian is alone, the truth of his journey is mutable according to his whim. With no others except those he abandons on his journey to confirm or deny his story, he alters it to his advantage. We see this transgressive quality most clearly....

That's about all the nonsense I can write for now. I've probably got tenure somewhere just for that little section.