As Jezibaba the witch, in the Met’s Rusalka, [Dolora Zajick] had a mechanical cat with glowing eyes and a tail and head that moved back and forth. “While throwing things into the cauldron to make a spell, I would hit the head of the cat with a spoon and sing, ‘Hop, my cat!’ Well, I hit the head too hard, and it fell off, but the tail kept going, and I started to laugh, so I threw it into the cauldron with the rest of the stuff, but the eyes were still glowing! I think the PETA people were upset.”
Saturday, January 31, 2004
Friday, January 30, 2004
This is a very striking and unusual book, sufficiently so that I imagine the people responsible for awarding it a Dewey Decimal number, in order to properly shelve it in libraries, must have engaged in some head-scratching. Is Eagle Dreams sport, travel, or zoology? You will have to make up your own mind. I have put it among my travel books, along with Paul Theroux, Eric Newby and Robert Byron; and I believe that those distinguished persons would welcome Stephen Bodio into their company as an equal.The book is about the Kazakh eagle falconers of western Mongolia (pehaps you saw the pictures in National Geographic?). Falconry, along with many other animal domestications, very likely began in this part of the world, and the Kazakhs are the gods of falconry. They suppliment their herding income by hunting fur-bearing mammals, mostly fox, but occasionally wolf and lynx, with their eagles; and they also enlist the help of horses, tazi dogs, and even dachshunds (a gift from the Germans Stalin exiled to Kazakhstan in the '30s). Their tradition survived the Soviets, and is currently coming face to face with modern tourism, which may be its salvation or its doom.
Eagle Dreams was a very difficult book to get published, due to the abstruseness of its subject and to its political incorrectitude, for falconry is unquestionably a blood-sport. The book has therefore received appallingly little attention from the mainstream media. Mr. Derbyshire's recent mention of Mr. Bodio, apropos of gun freedoms here in southwestern Outback, will probably do the book few favours with the liberal establishment. But these things which so offend New York publishers may well appeal to the world's anti-idiotarian intellectual crowd. Fellow bloggers, we seek a favour: if you are at all moved by the idea of a 5,000 year old alliance between man, horse, hound, and a gold-feathered thunderbolt from heaven in pursuit of their prey, please give Mr. Bodio's book what publicity is in your power, or at least mention it to anyone you know who may be interested.
To prove that eagle falconry is a very noteworthy practice, I cite no less an authority than the Circassians, in whose writings I have recently found very stirring references to the sport:
... what appeared to be a horseman showed up in their midst. This is how they tell of his manner and appearance. The horse on which he rode had a neck like a snake's. His lance, which he wielded against the Chintas, rumbled like thunder. On his head was a gleaming helmet that shone like the sun. To either side of this rider ran two hounds, staying ever near, and above him soared a great eagle circling in the air. He struck fear into the hearts of the Chintas when they saw him, and in their panic they could not escape from before him. That horseman came among them and hewed them down, destroying the army that had invaded the land of the Narts.May I be so bold as to suggest that these salvations of Nart culture may yet come to the aid of all cultures worth saving?
...Then [baby Shebatinuquo] was placed in the underground house, and a mighty horse, a sharp eagle, and a swift hound were all brought and placed there with him so that they might be raised together.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Of a similar appeal is this die-cut toy theatre, with sets, props, and characters, based on Edward Gorey's production of Dracula (it was my Christmas gift to Odious). I am not in the least surprised that Renfield wears Gorey's "white shoes intended for tennis"; I only wonder that I hadn't realized it earlier.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
"But my sandals of sky-blue leather do not touch" comes out in Sumerian, the world's oldest written language (it died out around 2000 BC), as: "Nig-na-me si-ib-ak-ke-en, e-sir kus-za-gin-gu ba-ra-tag-ge-en."
"Elvis would have fitted just fine in the Sumerian society, for love songs and intoxicating music were important parts of the enormously popular cult of the goddess Inanna."
Saturday, January 24, 2004
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
All the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it, nothing is so perfectUpdate:Apparently, the disovery of the mask has in fact done few favours for the decipherment of Isthmian Script. The proposed decipherment has not produced a credible text out of the writing on the mask, and the whole attempt is drawing some serious criticism from other experts.
that it does not descend to its tomb. Rivers, rivulets, fountains and
waters flow, but never return to their joyful beginnings; anxiously
they hasten on the vast realms of the rain god. As they widen their
banks, they also fashion the sad urn of their burial.
Sunday, January 18, 2004
The Narts were courageous, energetic, bold, and good-hearted. Thus they lived until God sent down a small swallow.
"Do you want to be few and live a short life but have great fame and have your courage be an example for others forevermore?" asked the swallow. "Or perhaps you would prefer that there be many of you, that your numbers will be great, that you will have whatever you wish to eat and drink, and that you will all live long lives but without ever knowing battle or glory?"
Then without calling a council, but with a reply as quick as thought itself, the Narts said, "We do not want to be like cattle. We do not want to reproduce in great numbers. We want to live with human dignity.
If our lives are to be short,
Then let our fame be great!
Let us not depart from truth!
Let us not know grief!
Let us live in freedom!"
Good judgement is based on experience; and experience is based on bad judgement.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
I don't write well on this issue, because I'm utterly unable to muster any shred of sympathy for the views of the other side. (Readers seeking intelligent commentary would do well to chech out Moira Breen's thoughts on the subject.) I can only conclude that our opponents' steadfast desire for ignorance stems from a deep spiritual insecurity and doubt as to their beliefs' viability in the modern world. When a belief system can no longer react to scientific or cultural changes, it is dead; the die-hard believers may still commune in their cloisters with the ghost of their faith, but it provides neither comfort nor ethical guidance to the laity. A faith which shuns science is shunning reality, and is therefore of little relevance to the world its believers must inhabit. If Native Americans want their culture to remain an inviolate museum piece, fit only for the contemplation of tourists red and white, that is easily achievable. If they want a culture which will actually define the lives of future generations and provide them with surprise and inspiration, then they need to study Kennewick Man, and see what they discover about themselves.
Digression: I think that this phobia that any interaction with modern reality will destroy their culture is also responsible for the disappointing lack of creativity in the Native American music scene. The only alternatives to traditional drumming, chanting, and fluting seem to be generic rock with 'Red-Power' lyrics, or equally bland New-Age/Dance-club synthesizer-techno washes. I have certainly not heard anything on the level of the neo-tribal music coming out of Eurasia (check out the Saami and Tuvans, for instance), in which traditional techniques and modern sounds interact very agressively and creatively.
Thanks to Chas Clifton for the Kennewick-related links.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Although Sea-Monkeys are a species of brine shrimp, they are unique. We not only unlocked the most elusive secrets of their life-cycle, we created new formulas to keep them alive under conditions found in the average home--an accomplishment never before achieved! Finally, after years of crossbreeding [with what, asks Peculiar], we developed a hybrid SUPER Sea-Monkey! [die ÜberMeeraffen!]
One can almost taste the God complex. Which I intend to enjoy a great deal, as my...creations battle for my approval, to be grudgingly given [are we starting Anglo-Saxon verse? --Peculiar. Slow shrinks the shrimps/The water level lowers... --Odious] to those survivors which demonstrate such traits as courage, ruthlessness, and genetic purity.
At first, of course, this plan is only in the first stages. The universe is being prepared for such life as I see fit to visit upon it. But their antics, I am assured, cannot fail to amuse and delight! Item:
Sea-Monkeys cannot be "trained" the way that you train an animal of higher intelligence like a dog, cat or chimpanzee. However, you can easily make them appear to actually OBEY YOUR COMMANDS by means of simple tricks....
It seems that at mating time in the Animal Kingdom, the males engage in combat to win the fin, paw, flipper, hoof, wing, or what-have-you, of their "lady-love". Since they too are animals, your Sea-Monkeys are no exception, and they also have the right to make "fools" of themselves if they are so inclined. You may think they look cute or funny when you see your pugnacious pets get into a fight, but remember--to them, the battle is very serious, and can (on very rare occasion), even end in death for one of the tiny combatants. [Certain people's view of the Israelis, what? --Peculiar]
I can also apparently introduce chemicals to create desired behaviors:
Item No. 84- "CUPIDS ARROW" Mating Powder
For shy Sea-Monkeys afraid of "marriage", this fabulous formula will give them a quick trip "to the altar"! Once "hooked" ['Hooked'? Oh, dear. --Odious], former "bachelor" Sea-Monkeys will fill your tank with oodles of cute babies--fast.
I was unable to find the chemical that will cause massive wars, but after some experimentation, I'm sure we'll stumble across it. My money's on sweet lady Geneva.
Moreover, they are insured:
Names given must be Socially Acceptable, i.e. names such as: Stinky, Slimy, Sneaky etc. will not be allowed as your sensitive pets might be offended. Give them nice "Sunday School" names. Suggestions: Scamper, Moby Dick, Davy Jones, Barry Cuda, Barry Goldwater [!], Sharkey [Per Tolkien? --Odious], Agamemnon, Puddles, Finn, Peppy, Flippy, etc.
This Policy NOT VALID in the event of death due to the following causes: Chain Lightning; Chain Smoking; Earthquake; Tidal Wave; Permanent Wave; Meteoric Showers; April Showers; Invasion of Earth by Space Monsters; Mongol, Etruscan or Viking Plunder and Conquest OR (especially) Accidentally-Knocked-Over-Container of Water All Over The-Good-Living-Room Carpet!
Go forth, my minions, and pillage! I am become Death, destroyer of worlds!
Inside it was a small ceramic figure, consisting of a woman with stop-light red hair wrapped in leaves, and man, wearing a strawberry for a hat, tangled in vines, both supporting a large, red strawberry. They are apparently a "Punsawana", although what that is escapes both traditional research and the Internet-enhanced variety. A slip of paper gives the following information:
A small being of great mystery, whose origins and time of existence are unknown. Some call them tricksters, others say protectors. But all agree on their story telling [sic] and gift of laughter.
It is, so far as I can tell, a pagan idol. And not a good one, even, but one made up by someone who's read too much George MacDonald.
These are not things to help. These are things to distract, in a particularly cloying way, from the grim truth of cancer.
My friend is Russian Orthodox, and arranged a moleben for the ailing. There's no dancing around the issue in such a ceremony; there's a sick sister in Christ, and we want her to be better. You healed Peter's mother-in-law, You healed the paralytic lying on his bed, the prayers say; You have told us that our prayers will be answered if they are given in faithfulness; then heal her, your handmaid.
The priest, afterwards, spoke briefly, saying that the age of miracles is not over. It only lapses when we lapse. Shall I confess? Miracles are hard for me, to understand and to believe. I'm too philosophical in such matters; too philosophical even to accept the silly "sub-atomic" miracles proposed by silly people who want to have their cake and eat it too. The game is not worth the candle if the rules can be changed all of a sudden. Without the possibility of losing, why play?
I've been taught, as I've trained in my martial art, that anger is the consequence of seeing oneself as a victim. The proper attitude, the effective attitude, in a self-defense situation and in life, is to remain calm, in action mind. Consider your options. Think, "what am I going to do with this situation?". But what am I to do with this? I can't break it in two like a board. I can't outmanuever it, change fighting ranges, gain surprise against it. I can't help her in any way but prayer, which feels so thin to me right now. I am angry, angry at the people who misdiagnosed her earlier, angry at the doctors for not being able to fix it right now. I'm angry at God, for putting this on someone so kind and loving.
I won't take the advice of Job's wife. I'm not railing at the sky, waving my impotent fists. I will ask His help in this, because, despite all rational objections, I don't care. I want her to be better. And I will ask the saints to pray for her, since while we have to sleep sometimes, they don't. Their prayers can be constant. For those of you so inclined, yours would be appreciated as well. For those of you who are thinking that this is just another means of distraction from the real issue, a cure for cancer would be nice.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Thursday, January 08, 2004
Whatever the mechanism, the fusing of discrete visual frames or snapshots is a prerequisite for continuity, for a flowing, mobile consciousness. Such a dynamic consciousness probably first arose in reptiles a quarter of a billion years ago. It seems probable that no such stream of consciousness exists in an amphibian, like a frog, which shows no active attention, and no visual following of events. The frog does not have a visual world or visual consciousness as we know it, only a purely automatic ability to recognize an insect-like object if this enters its visual field, and to dart out its tongue in response. It has been said that a frog's vision is, in effect, no more than a fly-catching mechanism.And:
From such a relatively simple primary consciousness, we leap to human consciousness, with the advent of language and self-consciousness and an explicit sense of the past and the future. And it is this which gives a thematic and personal continuity to the consciousness of every individual. As I write I am sitting at a café on Seventh Avenue, watching the world go by. My attention and focus dart to and fro—a girl in a red dress goes by, a man walking a funny dog, the sun (at last!) emerging from the clouds. These are all events which catch my attention for a moment as they happen. Why, out of a thousand possible perceptions, are these the ones I seize upon? Reflections, memories, associations lie behind them. For consciousness is always active and selective—charged with feelings and meanings uniquely our own, informing our choices and interfusing our perceptions. So it is not just Seventh Avenue that I see, but my Seventh Avenue, marked by my own selfhood and identityWe add to our world our consciousness, and impose our modes of intuition on each stimulus. That's all (Kantian) idealism claims. Not that "it's all in our heads", not that the "ideal world" is primary and the real world a shadow (although I would claim that, if provoked, but it's not necessary right now); just that we cannot separate ourselves from what we observe, without losing all observation.
And you've got to respect a guy that seems able to get a giant squid on the cover of his book, despite their irrelevance to the subject matter.
On a brighter note, I have been informed of an interestingly Romantic note in Lermontov's ancestry:
In 1502 a scheme was laid to settle Scots, known as strong warriors, in the Belarusian and Ukrainian castles on Dnieper, devastated by the war - to defend the country from Muscovites and Turks. About the same time the first Scots appeared in the Muscovian army. From then on they fought for both sides, very frequently changing their master to the higher bidder. Famous poet of 19th century, Mikhail Lermontov, "Russian Byron," was a descendant of Scottish mercenary George Learmont who changed his sides several times in wars between Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Russia until he finally settled in Moscow ca. 1613.
Splendid! And here's an edition of A Hero of Our Time whose cover was drawn by Edward Gorey.
Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Anyone who has done research on the web is well aware that what one is seeking is seldom the only interesting thing one finds. And so it was today, when my trawling for Arabic star charts also netted one of the strangest theories I've ever seen, even on the internet. Mr. Allan Webber, of Adelaide, South Australia, seems to be claiming not only that Viking runes had a hidden astronomical significance, but also that the verses quoted in Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda are thickly interwoven with astronomical references, thus creating a sort of Viking celestial map in verse. An interesting idea to say the least. I'll have to let the reader evaluate Mr. Webber's claims for himself, though I cannot resist offering the following quotation, indicative as it is of Mr. Webber's general means of argument:
The absence of evidence suggests that, given its importance, it was a hidden knowledge so highly revered it could not be made public.
A number of features set A Hero of Our Time apart from the standard run of Russian classics. It's not very long at all, for one. It is a cycle of five linked short stories, each of which reveals a new facet of Pechorin, the protagonist, and shows his character in a different light. Four of the five stories would make interesting and satisfying reads on their own, and the novel taken as a whole therefore has an excellent and mostly unflagging momentum. Another feature which recommends it is its setting. Lermontov spares us from Petersberg and Moscow society, Russian countryside pastoralism, and small town intrigue. Instead we get the Caucauses, the Georgian military highway, and the colonial city of Pyatigorsk, giving the novel a feeling often pleasantly akin to British-in-India fiction à la Kipling, with a supporting cast of soldiers, expats, Crimean smugglers, Circassians and Daghestanis.
The short stories which comprise the novel are themselves pleasantly plot driven, but as a whole the novel is definitely a character study. It is also, for all its Byronic moments, a post-Romantic work, full of quite witty expressions of doubt as to the worth of great Romantic gestures, and also with questions as to the legitimacy of these doubts.
I said there were a lot of people who did talk like that and very likely some of them told the truth, but disenchantment, like any other fashion, having started off among the élite had now passed down to finish its days among the lower orders. I explained that now the people who suffered the most from boredom tried to keep their misfortune to themselves, as if it were some vice.
The captain could not understand these subtleties. He shook his head.
'I suppose it was the French who started this fashion of being bored?' he said, smiling artfully.
'No, the English.'
'Aha, so that's it! They always were a drunken lot,' he retorted.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Let's deal with Newton first. I've spent some time with the Principia recently, helping proof-read a new translation, so I feel I've got some insight into his methods. First and foremost, the Principia as it is presented to the reader is almost entirely without recourse to empirical concepts. Rather than determine that the planets move in ellipses, and comets in hyperbolae, and then determining the force that must govern them, Newton determines any number of possible forces (ones that diminish at a steady rate with distance, ones that diminish with the square of the distance, ones that diminish with the cube of the distance...etc.) and only after demonstrating geometrically (and with his amazing tool, calculus), does he take note of what the planets are actually doing. While the important curves are the empirical ones, he finds them a priori. This technique allows him a certainty that is unavailable to empiricists.
Poor maligned Kant. And poor maligned idealism. I mean, the idea seems simple: you don't perceive ultra-violet, right? So your visual perceptions don't take it into account. These perceptions are, in a sense, conditioned by the limits of our visual spectrum.
Now, take your brain. Why would we think that our thoughts are not similarly limited and conditioned? That's all idealism is saying: that the perceptions and thoughts which we have are not the raw stuff of truth, but that we add to and shape those perceptions and thoughts ourselves.
Kant finds no evidence for causality in nature, but also rejects the stance Hume took, which claimed that causality is established in our minds by seeing two events take place, one always after the other. By Hume's point of view, then, I should have felt that the waving of sticks and the setting up of a bamboo airport really would have brought down planes.
Kant rightly rejects this view, insisting that causality is in fact imposed by us on our thoughts. Does this mean that we can simply turn it off, and be absolved of all our misdeeds? No, because causality is a priori. Now, I use a priori to mean prior to experience, but Kant has rather a more comprehensive take. For him, the a priori realm contains all that is prior to experience, universal and necessary. Universal and necessary? Yep, which means that, a) everybody sees things the same way (he has good reasons for feeling so, which I won't go into), and b) they can't help it. So no turning off your own personal causality when it's inconvenient.
Causality is only one example of the categories of thought. I don't see a need to go into the others. They are simply the things that we assume, and cannot help assuming, in every thought we have. Our perceptions are conditioned similarly by the a priori, which in their case is space and time.
Kant would also be the last to devalue experience: he felt that all knowledge was found empirically. But he also knew that that knowledge was conditioned by the a priori categories of thought we have. These a priori categories are little different from the sort of "hard-wiring" of the brain that empiricists claim for us; why be so down on them? Because a philosophy is never what influences people; it's the myths about that philosophy that they absorb. With idealism, it was the myth that idealism decreed that the universe was "all in our heads", and therefore we go somehow either alter it with our thoughts or know everything without experience. As I said above, nothing could be further from Kant's view.
Outraged shrieks, eh? That's what I get for posting a measured, researched response. Next time I'll just resort to the ol' ad hominem.
UPDATE II: Mr. Thomas of One Good Turn comments. I can understand someone who's thought these issues over, as Mr. den Beste clearly has, not wanting to discuss something he considers obvious. I disagree, but you knew that already.
But many of the food names are cognates for something I’ve heard before: puri is bread, chai is tea, kave is coffee, rhvino is wine. And I have learned lots of the names of things that have cognates only on other planets: milk is rdze, butter is karaki, beer is ludi.
That word for beer struck my Uralophilic eye as being suspiciously similar to Finnish olut, and sure enough, a quick Google search confirmed that both these non-Indo-European tongues have ultimately acquired their terms from proto-Germanic *aluth, i.e. ale.
Anyone interested in these matters will do well to check out Languagehat. Anyone interested in things more obscure should look at Dartmouth's Tungusic Research Group, and also this interesting discussion of the current state of the Altaic hypothesis. And don't miss John Derbyshire's recent meditation on obscenity.