The question of nature: Ian Simmons interviews Jaron Lanier who, among quite a number of other things, consulted for Steven Spielberg on Minority Report. That movie slipped past me, but now that I see it was based on a PKD story, I'll have to go catch it on cable. Jared is currently working on protocol-less computing (or "Phenotropics") at the National Tele-Immersion Initiative
See also: A Minority within the Minority: Jared's thoughts on Minority Report.
Robert Kirk: Walker Between Worlds: the full text of R.J. Stewart's book containing a modern English translation of Kirk's The Secret Commonwealth, which was originally written in 1691 and documents the little people of Celtic tradition.
[via The Daily Grail]
Legend has it that when the conqueror Amr ibn al-As entered Alexandria in 642, he ordered Caliph Umar I to set fire to the library's books. The story has been discredited, but Umar's apocryphal response deserves to be quoted because it echoes the curious logic of every book burner then and now. Umar acquiesced by saying, "If the content of these books agrees with the Holy Book, then they are redundant. If it disagrees, then they are undesirable. In either case, they should be consigned to the flames." Umar was addressing, somewhat stridently it is true, the essential fluidity of literature. Because of it, no library is what it is set up to be. Even within the strictest circumscriptions, any choice of books will be vaster than its label, and an inquiring reader will find danger (salutary or reprehensible) in the safest, most invigilated places.
[via wood s lot]
Baen Books is now distributing many of it's books electronically, for free, in the Baen Free Library. Included is Rick Cook's great Wizardry series, in which Wiz Zumwalt defines a language for magic based on Forth. [via Flutterby]
In 1887, Anton Chekhov said in a letter to Maria Kiselyova that the writer "should . . . acknowledge that manure piles play a highly respectable role in the landscape and that evil passions are every bit as much a part of life as good ones." Such strength of stomach is not shared by the New York State Board of Regents, which oversees the tests that every New York public-school student must pass in order to graduate.
See also: Unknown Chekhov
Like many of his contemporaries, Chekhov put a good deal of effort into eluding the censor. It was always uncertain what would manage to slip through and what would be prohibited. Almost a century has passed since Chekhov's death, and it is surprising that many of these early masterpieces have not been translated into English. As Chekhov specialist Julie de Sherbinin has pointed out: "The gaps in English translation of his early work can be attributed to various factors: these stories were long considered products of an 'immature' writer, they are rich in colloquialisms and wordplay and thus are hard to translate, and they often depend on cultural context for their humour."
Buchanan and His Critics: in an article which is mainly supportive of Pat Buchanan, John O'Sullivan looks at Buchanan's book The Death of the West and the controversy it has sparked among those who see it as racist and xenophobic. I haven't read the book, my first reaction is that life is too short to read one of Buchanan's books. One part of Sullivan's article was interesting, though: where Sullivan compares Buchanan's view of the basis of American society with a couple of other alternatives.
And here Buchanan makes a serious mistake. He accepts the Weekly Standard (and his critics') view that America's choice is between being a "blood and soil" ethnic nation or a "creedal" nation based on certain liberal political principles in the Declaration of Independence, notably liberty and political equality. Once he has done that, he has lost an argument vital to his larger case. For America, being composed of immigrants from all over the world like the other great settler nations, Canada and Australia, is plainly not an ethnic nation rooted in blood and soil. Given enough time, enough intermarriage, and much lower levels of immigration, it might eventually become such a nation. But it is plainly not one now. That being so, America must be a "creedal" nation. And such a nation can assimilate an infinite number of immigrants provided that they can readily assent to the creed.
As the history of religion shows, however, creedal assent does not mean that someone is prepared for martyrdom. Otherwise, intellectuals would be renowned as the most fearless of warriors. If patriotism is to be able to inspire mass self-sacrifice--as it may need to do--it must rest upon deeper and more powerful loyalties than political opinion. A creedal nation that forgets that fact risks blithely admitting millions of potential traitors (or at least disinterested onlookers) without making any serious attempt to convert them into patriots.
Vanishing books, a secret passageway make a heist fit for a novel in France: a real-life locked room mystery is finally solved.
When over a thousand priceless books and illuminated manuscripts, some weighing up to five kilograms, began vanishing from a locked room in an eighth century monastery, police were stumped. Investigators worked for nearly two years to catch the thief as the books continued to disappear from the library of the Mont Sainte Odile monastery in the Alsace region of eastern France.
This book saved my life.
This book takes place on one of the two small tagalong moons of Mars.
This book requests its author's absolution, centuries after his death.
This book required two of the sultan's largest royal elephants to bear it; this other book fit in a gourd.
This book reveals The Secret Name of God, and so its author is on a death list.
[via wood s lot]
Indus Script: the Mother of All Alphabetic Scripts: a review of Natwar Jha's and N.S. Rajaram's The Deciphered Indus Script.
Science historians have long acknowledged that the international numeral system (1,2, 3,), based on the concepts of placement and zero, as well as the decimal system were invented by the ancient Hindus. (Nonetheless many Western publications continue to call these numerals Arabic-- Arab historians themselves have always acknowledged the numerals' Hindu origins.)
An even more fundamental contribution to human knowledge-- the origin of alphabetic writing--must now be credited to the ancient Hindus. This claim arises from the deciphering of the ancient Indus script recently accomplished by Natwar Jha. In 1996, he published Vedic Glossary on Indus Seals, which briefly explained his methodology and presented readings of more than 100 seals. It was an English language summary of his monumental publications, Sindhu Mudra Lipi Bhasa, in Sanskrit, and Sindhu Sabhyata ki Mudraon ki Bhasa aur Lipi, in Hindi.
History in a Cell: an interview with Steve Olson on the work behind his book, Mapping Human History, where he looks at the history of the human race as seen through DNA.
Diminutive, but perfectly formed: Umberto Eco discusses art in the short form as he reviews Isabella Pezzini's book Trailers, Ads, Clips, Websites, Banners: The Short Forms of Audiovisual Communication, which appears to be only available in French. [via Arts & Letters Daily]
Weblog BookWatch: listing the top 10 books mentioned recently on weblogs.
With that kind of information available in profusion, you can tell that this is not just a serious exposition of scientific theory, but a collector's scrapbook. Chris McManus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at University College, London, has devoted his career to "handedness and lateralization", and his files are full of curious observations. Among them are many items of left-hander lore that he is at pains to demolish, such as the old-wives' claims that left-handers are more creative than the rest of us, or die younger, or that because the Gaelic root of their name means "awkward", people called Kerr and Carr are more predominantly left-handed than the population at large.
In a case brought by The Tattered Cover with the assistance of the ABFFE, The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects bookstores from being forced to turn over customers' purchase records to police. This could be a good sign in terms of a related clause in the PATRIOT Act mentioned here a few days ago, although the court did leave open the possibility that there were situations where such records could be obtained by the government.
See also: The court's ruling.
In a lecture I attended many years ago, a professor told us that the way to read a book was to start with the footnotes. With that in mind, here are the (quite extensive) footnotes for a new Chomsky collection: Understanding Power. [via Red Rock Eater]
Novelist turns paper tiger: a review of Nicholson Baker's new book, Double Fold, which looks at the push to scan old books into microfilm or computer media in order to preserve the contents and save space.
The nub of this story lies in the distinction librarians make between conservation and preservation. Conservation means keeping a physical artefact in usable condition. Preservation, on the other hand, means preserving the content in readable form. A book that has been scanned into a computer file and then destroyed has not been conserved, but it has been preserved.
[via Reductio Ad Absurdum]
Most Far-Reaching Gag Order In 1st Amendment History?: not only are bookstores and libraries subject to demands for patrons' book lists, they can't discuss it afterwards.
John Ashcroft's war on terrorism includes the most far-reaching gag order in First Amendment history -- preventing the press from reporting on the FBI's seizure of the lists of books bought or borrowed in bookstores and libraries by noncitizens and citizens suspected of terrorist activities. Under the omnibus USA Patriot Act, the FBI has the authority to get an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court -- a secret body composed of rotating federal judges -- to seek "any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."
The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the American Library Association (ALA) have particularly alerted their members to part of the law that prevents booksellers and librarians -- once the FBI has come calling -- to reveal that a search has been made. The law states: "No person shall disclose to any other person ... that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained" these records.
[via New World Disorder]
Big Brother, My Butt: Jonah Goldberg takes issue with media references to Big Brother.
I bring this up to make a simple observation: Big Brother never existed. The book 1984, in which the phrase was coined, was a work of fiction. I say again: Big Brother = Not Real. 1984 was a n-o-v-e-l.
I don't mean to talk to you like you're idiots or uneducated, but there are a lot of people who seem to think that during the 1950s or 1960s, there was some government agency or maybe even a real person named "Big Brother" who intruded on everybody's life. Just last week the Denver Post ran an editorial titled, "Is Big Brother Back?" Again: He was never here!
Novels do occasionally have social relevance and predictive value though, that's part of what makes them interesting. It's called a m-e-t-a-p-h-o-r.
Other People's Religions: on the attempt by the Los Angeles schools system to remove anti-Semitism from Korans placed in their libraries.
Here's the problem with the Los Angeles school district's fair-mindedness: It fails to grasp an inevitable part of religion. Most world religions originally preached intolerance of other religions. To take its mission statement at its word, the committee would have to expunge from school libraries the holy books of at least the three major creeds in this country, since their primary texts and annotations thereof are often suffused with antipathy toward unbelievers, as well as toward such nationalities as, say, the Egyptians and the Canaanites, and occupations like prostitute, moneylender and tyrant. To scrub even the footnotes to Scripture of intolerance, you have to erase religious history.
'Creative' approach to teaching religion draws fire: a textbook is causing controversy in California because of perceived bias towards Islam.
"The text specifically displays its bias by only citing Christianity for examples of religious persecution, focusing on church schisms, crusades, and inquisitions," says a statement from the Pacific Justice Institute, which is representing the San Luis Obispo parent.
The publisher, for its part, says that the textbook covers a period of history until 1789, and that modern topics would not be suitable. "We're also not covering the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor when we're talking about medieval Japan," says Collin Earnst, a spokesman for Houghton Mifflin, the Boston-based publisher of the textbook.
The Softer Side of Saddam Hussein: his second novel, The Impregnable Fortress is out and the reviews from Iraqi critics are bubbling.
In a similar manner, the writer Amjad Tawfiq said in praise of Saddam's novel that "what distinguishes this novel from others is its ability to weave a string of pearls on which love and war are strung together. And the way it celebrates the fundamental human qualities that refuse to allow war to be an interruption of the affairs of daily life, bespeak an author with a sensitive heart and mind. As for the author's treatment of love in the novel, it is depicted as a spiritual strength which was bestowed to increase and support the ability of the [protagonist] warrior, who gives of himself in selfless sacrifice in order to perform his duties with distinction and bravery in war."
An Even Deeper Bunker: Tom Vanderbilt reviews Body of Secrets and Total Surveillance
In James Bamford's first book on the National Security Agency, The Puzzle Palace , published soon after Reagan became President, Frank Raven, an NSA official, is asked what happens when someone on whom the NSA is spying enters the US. 'You have intelligence which is entirely foreign and you have intelligence which is entirely domestic,' Raven says. 'But then you have the third category which no one will recognise, which is intelligence which moves back and forth between them.' Twenty years later, another NSA official, quoted in Body of Secrets, explains what would happen if a member of al-Qaida crossed the American border. 'We wouldn't do the guy. It would be FBI who'd do him, because he's a terrorist in the United States.' On the one hand, the NSA, trained to pluck Soviet transmissions from the ether: on the other, the FBI, with its experience of domestic manhunts. Free to operate in the space left between the two are men who are neither official agents of a hostile foreign government nor homegrown criminals.
Some of the illustrations are in color: royal blues, watery greens, and red browns that look like dried blood. Faces with oddly wistful expressions are everywhere, peering out from moons and planets and even doodled into leaves and roots. Some pages unfold unexpectedly, centerfold-style, into four- or six-page posters crammed with detail. One poster has been crumpled and wadded up and won't lie flat. Someone, not the original scribe, has added page numbers, and there are gaps in the numbering where pages have been lost.
But as curious as the pictures are, the most unsettling thing about the Voynich manuscript is the text itself. It's written in a mysterious alphabet that exists nowhere else in the world, and after centuries of study, not even the most accomplished medieval historians and military code breakers have been able to figure out what it says, or who wrote it, or when, or where, or why.
[via The Daily Grail]
In a review of Utopias: Ideal Cities, Hugh Pearman discusses why utoptian cities rarely get built and do not succeed when they do.
But though the book omits this, it gradually makes clear what the thing is about creating ideal societies: they have to be designed as precision objects, they cannot just (pace Morris) be left to happen by themselves. To design and rule a Utopia, you must be a serious control freak. You must know exactly where everyone is, how many there are, what they are doing, where they are going, and how. The city therefore becomes a machine for life, work, and surveillance. That is why they take the forms they do -- usually grid-pattern, circular, polygonal, or, very rarely, linear. They tend to remain on paper because real life leads to compromise. Brasilia (a built Utopia of original shape that is another surprising omission from this book) quickly became engulfed in messy shantytowns as the normal order reasserted itself.
The Buying of Books: Carl Patton, in a 1922 essay, tells why he buys books and how he gets them in the house when he's bought too many.
have always felt that it was commendable to buy books. I grew up with a liking for reading my own books, instead of someone else's. This preference I still have. I have my books strictly for use. I turn down the pages. I even tear out a few, if I need them. Books that I really use are much the worse for wear when I get through with them. I always mark them. When I read one of them a second time, which I seldom do, I generally can't remember what I meant by the marks I put in it the first time. But it gives you a feeling of having dug deep into the book, and it intensifies your sense of the ownership of it, to make big black marks down the side of it as you read. So I have always felt that one should buy as many books as possible. They are not like food, of which one should buy only as much as one can consume at the moment. Nor like clothes, of which a wise man will buy as few and as cheap as he can get by with. But of books he should buy all he can.
I am not defending this attitude toward the buying of books. I am merely saying that I have it. This attitude has met at home a larger indulgence than it has been entitled to. But I have grown a little ashamed of it myself, now and then. And in this mood, hesitating to bring home some literary purchase, I have hit upon several devices which I do not mind sharing with any of my readers who may profit thereby.
In exhaustive detail, based on close scrutiny of publicly available but seldom publicized Departments of Defense, State and Energy documents, Klare provides a superb primer of the landscape of potential global conflict over the next few decades, and America's likely role in it. Mainstream media pundits present current U.S. foreign policy - in piecemeal fashion - as a series of scattered, seemingly ad hoc responses to individual, isolated "hot spots." Klare argues that there is a thematic thread running through U.S. strategy, whether in the Caspian Sea, China or Columbia. It is focused on guaranteeing U.S.-based multinational corporations steady, uninterrupted access to the dwindling supply of non-renewable resources. With the end of the cold war and the growth of worldwide energy-intensive consumer markets, the ideological blocs and conflicts (between U.S. capitalism and Soviet communism) that defined, and gave a certain perverse stability to foreign policy from the 1940s through the early 90s, have given way to new "geo-econocentric" struggles.
Christopher Moore has a new book out: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. I didn't like his last book, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, as much, but hiis first four: Practical Demonkeeping, Coyote Blue, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, and Island of the Sequined Love Nun were all hilarious. Lamb goes on the reading list.
Jeff Noon's still keeping busy. Mappalujo is an online project he's working on with Steve Beard, something he describes as a writing game. The first 5 of 25 chapters are online so far. [via Blue Ruin]
A Turkish publisher accused of disseminating separatist propaganda was acquitted yesterday after one of his authors, the celebrated American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, appeared in an Istanbul court and asked to be tried alongside him.
[via Liberal Arts Mafia]
Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds, the 1841 classic on such things as the South Sea Bubble and the Dutch Tulip Mania. Good reading for the post-dotcom bubble world. Better reading for the pre-dotcom bubble world, but it's just a little bit too late for that. [via GirlHacker's Random Log]
Turkey prosecutes Chomsky publisher for essay on Kurds: a local publisher produced Chomsky's American Interventionism, which includes an essay criticising Turkey's treatment of the Kurds. The publisher is now facing a year in jail on terrorism related charges: inciting violence. [via zem]
The Lost Worlds of Science Fiction: Academic publishers are reprinting some of the earliest science fiction works.
- Wesleyan Unversity Press's Early Classics of Science Fiction
- University of Nebraska Press's Bison Frontiers of Imagination
This late in history,' what shall we choose to read? On the stress of knowing there will never have enough time to finish the books left to read. [via dangerousmeta]
Michael Moore is rewriting up to half of his book on Bush, Stupid White Men and Other Excuses for the State of the Nation, which was to be published by ReganBooks on September 11th. There are 100,000 copies of the original version reported to be in a Pennsylvania warehouse. [via Cursor]
Saddam Hussein is about to release his second novel, The Impregnable Fortress. The first, a romance novel called Zabibah and the King, which was reportedly studied by the CIA for insights into Saddam's thinking, is being turned in to a musical by the Iraqi National Theatre. Zabibah's cover features a fantasy painting whose artist says was used without his permission.
The sixth, unfinished, volume of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's series, A Salmon of a Doubt, has been found and will be republished with other unreleased works on the first anniversary of his death. [via also not found in nature]