Dried Roses

Wednesday garden pix

Snapdragons and roses. These held on until about two weeks ago.


LinkDecember 2, 2005 in Garden

Friday nights at the Libary: Bénabou

Several authors have written reviews of nonexistent books. Nowadays that’s child’s play. You could hardly call yourself a modernist, let alone a post-, without having attempted something in that line. But almost no-one has written a nonexistent review of an existing book.
Comment je n’ai écrit aucun de mes livres is, whatever its origin, a book. But I am not reviewing it. How, after all, could one review a compendium of the means by which someone whose vocation is to write convinces himself that avoidance, in all its guises, is not not-writing but rather being-about-to-write? How could one describe an author who is best known as a member of OuLiPo, the Ouvroir de la Littérature Potentielle, or ‘LiPo’ for short, who joined OuLiPo in 1969, not long after Georges Perec, and nine years after its founding by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, and who has been its “secrétaire définitivement provisoire” since 1970 (he is now also the “secrétaire provisoirement définitif”)? How could one exhibit enthusiasm about the wonderful passages in which Bénabou recalls his early fascination with paper, his relations as a Francophone Jew in Morocco with the French language, his methods of being a writer without writing, and the eventual happy ending of an impossible love?
De fait, j’avais déjà,In fact, I had already, in imagination, established myself solidly in the heart of the future and, at the very instant I accomplished the most ordinary acts (a conversation with a friend in the courtyard of the School, an amorous walk on the Isle Saint-Louis, dinner on the sidewalk at a hole-in-the-wall place on the Rue Mouffetard or Contrescarpe), I preoccupied myself above all with imagining the memory I was going to preserve later, when—my life having finally found its fulfillment in literature—I could, fondly, recall my old acts and confer on them that dignity of being steps or signs which they were sure to have acquired. en imagination, solidement établi mes quartiers en plein cœur de l’avenir et, à l’instant même où j’accomplissais le plus ordinaire de mes actes (une conversation avec un ami dans la cour de l’École, une promenade amoureuse dans l’île Saint-Louis, un déjeuner à la terasse d’un petit bouiboui de la rue Mouffetard ou de la Contrescarpe), je me préoccupais surtout d’imaginer quel souvenir j’allais en garder plus tard, lorsque, ma vie ayant enfin trouvé dans la littérature son accomplissement, je pourrais, attendri, me remémorer mes gestes anciens et leur conférer la dignité d’étapes ou de signes qu’ils n’auraient pas manqué d’avoir acquise.
How, indeed, could one catalogue the nonexistent results of his summertime labors?
Ainsi, au fur et à mesure que l’été avance, Thus, bit by bit as the summer goes on, my self-imposed requirements wither away. I abandon the dreamed-of book. No jury will have the pleasure this fall of bestowing laurels on Parapets of old or False windows. No publisher will kick himself for not having accepted into his most prestigious collection A schoolboy’s ways, or for not having brought out, in a printing of more than a hundred thousand, Chestnuts in the fire. No magazine critic will boast of having penetrated the secret of Cryptograms or of having presented for the admiration of his readers A pear for the thirsty. Booksellers, as they design their holiday displays, will not have Cartes blanches; and the public will not en masse be asking for Manna. I did not, all the same, take refuge in their being “not yet ripe”; I was not fooled by that.mes exigences décroissent. Je renonce au livre rêvé. Aucun jury cet automne n’aura le plaisir de déposer ses couronnes sur Les anciens parapets ou sur Fausses fenêtres. Nul éditeur ne se mordra les doigts de n’avoir pas pris, dans sa collection la plus prestigieuse, Les chemins de l’écolier ni tiré à plus de cent mlle exemplaires Les marrons du feu. Pas un critique de magazine ne pourra se vanter d’avoir percé le secret de Cryptogrammes ni proposé à l’admiration de ses lecteurs Une poire pour la soif. Les libraires n’auront pas, lorqu’ils composeront leur vitrine pour les fêtes, Cartes blanches ; et le public ne viendra pas en masse demander La manne. Je ne me réfugie pas pour autant dans le «ils sont trop verts», qui ne suffit plus à me tromper (41–42).
It is plainly an impossible task, which has, in any case, already been performed. Not only can all the books not written by Bénabou be found scattered through the libraries of the world, but all their unwritten reviews too…
Les livres queDon’t go thinking, dear reader, that the books I have not written are pure nothingness. On the contrary (let it be said once and for all), they are as if in suspension in universal literature. They exist in libraries, word by word, or by groups of words, or in certain cases, entire sentences. But around them there is so much useless filler, they are caught up in such a superabundance of printed matter that I myself, to tell the truth, despite all my efforts, have not yet succeeded in isolating them and putting them together. je n’ai pas écrits, n’allez surtout pas croire, lecteur, qu’ils soient pur néant. Bien au contraire (que cela une bonne fois soit dit) ils sont comme en suspension dans la littérature universelle. Ils existent dans les bibliothèques, par mots, par groupes de mots, par phrases entières dans certains cas. Mais il y a autour d’eux tant de vain remplissage, il sont pris dans une telle surabondance de matière imprimée, que moi-même à vrai dire, malgré tous mes effort, n’ai pas encore réussi à les isoler, à les assembler.
Marcel Bénabou. Comment je n’ai écrit aucun de mes livres. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2002 (orig. publ. Hachette, 1986). See Warren Motte, “Reading Marcel Bénabou” at oulipo.net.

LinkDecember 2, 2005 in Books

Whichmas? Thatmas!

“‘Let me see ’em’, said his father. ”
Source: St. Nicholas 5, no. 2 (1877)
Bill O’Reilly is off on his annual “Why does KMart hate Christmasrant. I think he’s right, of course. It is offensive to have your holiday bundled up with a bunch of pseudo-holidays into a generic “Season’s Greetings”. But why only Christmas?
See “Why does Lou Dobbs hate Christmas?” for a note on last year’s go-round.
A mention by Pharyngula of “Cephalopodmas” (22 Dec) got me pondering -masses. The -mas in ‘Christmas’ is a reduced form of ‘mass’, used in the names of certain feast days (Michaelmas, 29 Sep, the Feast of Michael and All Angels; Candlemas, 2 Feb, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin). In current English it is a mildly productive suffix.
So happy X-mas!
Added: A faithful reader has pointed out that I omitted the obvious
Added: Another late arrival, or perhaps two. Nixmas1 seems to be from nix ‘no’, and Nixmas2 from *nix, by aphaeresis from ‘Unix’.
  • Nixmas (200?)
    I believe I might have created a new holiday: Nixmas
Crooks & Liars notes that a majority of those polled by Fox remain unpersuaded that there is a “war on Christmas”. Perhaps they’re distracted by that other war.

LinkDecember 2, 2005 in Jeux d’esprit

Grinch Identified

FBI agrees to “look into it”
There’s a very secret plan. And it’s a plan that nobody’s going to tell you, “Well, we want to diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A. because we want X, Y, and Z.” They’ll never ever say that.
Finally, that nasty creature (cleverly disguised as a fictional entity by the left-leaning Dr. Seuss) has had its cover blown, and now stands revealed to the world in all its putrescent splendor, thanks to Bill O’Reilly.
No, it’s not the Elders of Zion.
No, it’s not the Trilateral Commission.
No, it’s not the Illuminati. They’re too busy suppressing technology.
It’s George Soros!
Source: Media Matters, 30 Nov 2005. See also Cathy Young, “O’Reilly on the Christmas Warpath”, The Y Files 2 Dec 2005; and “Whichmas? Thatmas!” here at Phil Fortnights. The quotation is from the No Spin Zone 28 Nov 2005.

LinkDecember 4, 2005 in Current Affairs · Religion

Sunday cat pix

Josie sits on a slice of old maple.
Josie, 27 Nov 2005 (Credit: M)


LinkDecember 4, 2005 in Cats

Your source for p•trescent splendor

Philosophical Fortnights is the no. 1 site on Google for “p•trescent splendor” (used in “Grinch Identified”, 4 Dec). It helps a great deal to be one of only two sites that use the phrase…
It turns out that ‘thatmas’ (which I made up on the spot) occurs in the lyrics to an XTC song, “Always winter but never Christmas” (“always thatmas but never thismas”).
Filter out XTC and you’re left with about 50 results, mostly typos. There is, however, a Finnish drummer (a drummer in a Finnish band, anyway) named “Thatmas Feelingstrand”. I don’t know whether to feel good or bad about that.

LinkDecember 6, 2005 in Jeux d’esprit

Argumentum ad baculum

Paul Mirecki, a professor in Religious Studies at Kansas University who had announced a course on Intelligent Design and Creationism—as myth—only to withdraw it after emails “disparaging Catholics and religious conservatives” were revealed, was beaten up by two men, so far unidentified, as he was on his way to breakfast.
In newer translations, apparently, “turn the other cheek” comes out as “whack your opponent”. Religious conservatives, some of them, cry foul when someone calls them lunatics. But when Pat Robertson announces that the citizens of Dover, PA are no longer part of God’s concern, not a peep (or almost: see the notes).
I tend to think of Robertson and his ilk as the revenge of the Old Testament upon the New.
Eric Weislander, “Mirecki treated after roadside beating”, LJWorld.com 6 Dec 2005 (referred to by topicalstorm at Daily Kos); Sophia Maines, “Intelligent design course canceled”, ib. 5 Dec. According to this story, Mirecki’s contributions to a campus listserv on atheism were compiled by John Altevogt, a “conservative columnist and activist in Kansas City”); “Chat with J-W's Sophia Maines and Scott Rothschild6News, Lawrence, KS, 30 Nov. The Discovery Institute, a group organized to promote Intelligent Design, has condemned the beating of Mirecki: Robert Crowther, “Violence Is Never The Answer In Intellectual Debate”, Evolution News 6 Dec 2005.
Altevogt, who must have delusions of grandeur, “said he was concerned about the focus of the religious studies department and he wants to see Mirecki and another faculty member moved to another department. He said he also wanted the religious studies department cleaned up and perhaps transferred to a religious organization that can monitor it; the chancellor fired, and the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics student group kicked off campus” (5 Dec). This from someone who deplores the “authoritarianism and unwarranted elitism of evolutionary theory’s proponents” (“The theory of evolution”, Answers in Genesis, a by-the-numbers defense of ID). Not surprisingly, he also believes that Ann Coulter is a “logical, rational and an independent thinker” (Mike Belt, “Ann Coulter causes stir at KU”, LJWorld.com 30 Mar 2005).
On Robertson, see “Robertson warns Pennsylvania voters of God’s wrath”, Reuters/CNN 10 Nov 2005. I should note that the Christian Alliance for Progress vigorously condemned Robertson’s remarks (Father Jake, “Pat Robertson: ‘Dover is damned’”, Community Forum, 15 Nov 2005; on the general issue, see also “Political Warriors or Followers of Jesus?”). A discussion at Christianblogs is worth a look: the true believers tend first to deny that Robertson ever said what he said, and then to attack the person who has reported Robertson’s remarks, and finally to ignore what he said on the grounds that he has done so many good works (but see the “False Teacher Quiz” referred to at the beginning of the discussion).
On the other hand, Rev. Mark H. Creech, at Alan Keyes’s Renew America, defends Robertson: “By their vote at the ballot box, the city made it clear that they didn't want even the slightest hint that God may have created the natural world interjected into the Dover school system's science curriculum. It may shock the sensibilities of some to say that such is a rejection of God, yet it is a form of it” (“In defense of Pat Robertson”, 17 Nov 2005). It’s odd that the rejection of Intelligent Design, which is not supposed to be based on religion, amounts to a rejection of God; you would think that the worst sin of the voters in Dover would be a sin against reason, not against God. But Rev. Creech, “a prolific speaker and writer”, has an answer to that: “What right does Dover have to look to God and yet deny Him by repudiating in an election those that would represent the slightest possibility of an acknowledgment of Him?”
I must admit I’m still puzzled. The tilt of the earth’s axis was once adduced as evidence of design (in William Derham’s Physico-Theology (1712 and many subsequent editions); see the Galileo Project for information on Derham, and Wm. James Varieties of religious experience ii, lect. 20 for a characteristic quotation). Now suppose I thought that there was no credible evidence for the claim that no natural force could have caused the tilt, and on the contrary strong evidence that some natural force did cause it; I therefore decide that the “design theory” of the tilt is not worth teaching, not even as a defeated alternative to the naturalistic theory, and that those who advocate teaching the design theory are in effect advocating that my children’s time be wasted on matters of no account. Is that a rejection of God? Or could it rather be a defense of theism against the ridicule that would be brought upon it by associating it with bad science? That Intelligent Design is bad science is not the issue here; the issue is whether, in rejecting it, on what I consider to be rational grounds, as a serious alternative worth including in a biology curriculum, I would be rejecting God; and surely the answer is No.
As always, Evolutionblog, Pharygula, and The Panda’s Thumb will supply all the reasons a rational person might want for agreeing with the voters of Dover.
Addendum 7 Dec: Thoughts from Kansas has the latest. Altevogt should change his line. The David Horowitz, Anne Coulter and Alan Keyes niches are already occupied.

LinkDecember 6, 2005 in Academic Affairs · Current Affairs

Real-time philosophy of real mathematics

David Corfield’s weblog Philosophy of real mathematics is a potpourri of items pertaining to mathematics and philosophy. Collingwood and MacIntyre show up alongside categories and 6j-symbols. I’ve mentioned his book before. Toward a philosophy of real mathematics is a manifesto on behalf of a philosophy of mathematics that, like the philosophies of physics and biology, takes mathematical practice seriously, rather than confining itself to the formalized versions that logicians have constructed to serve their ends. In my view the book says all that need be said on that point; but I was convinced beforehand. If you have any interest in the kind of program Corfield is proposing, you’ll find his weblog of interest too.

LinkDecember 11, 2005 in Philosophy of Mathematics · Web/Tech

In a nutshell

Bush says Iraq war right, facts wrong” —headline in The Age (Melbourne) 15 Dec 2005.
Bush also says that Rumsfeld’s “done a heck of a job.” If I were Rumsfeld, I’d update my resume. Meanwhile,
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said that while Bush's Iraq speeches were better than some in the past, he still did not see a “total conversion from spin to leadership” and that Bush did not sufficiently explain past mistakes.
No, no. You’ve got it all wrong. For Bush, leadership is spin.
The Center at which Mr. Cordesman, the Iraq expert, now resides has received a great deal of funding from the Olin Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation—conservative money. He himself has received almost half a million from the Smith Richardson Foundation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Cordesman’s report on the costs and benefits of war on Iraq, issued in July 2002, is, if you read it the right way, quite prescient. Its list of recommendations details nicely what the US failed to do after the invasion.

LinkDecember 14, 2005 in Current Affairs

Dog bites man

FEMA reimbursements mainly benefit higher income groups” —headline in the South Florida (a.k.a. Miami) Sun-Sentinel, 11 Dec 2005.
In other news, Bush denied that he was in a bubble.
“I feel like I’m getting really good advice from very capable people and that people from all walks of life have informed me and informed those who advise me.” He added, “I’m very aware of what’s going on.”
But apparently if you inform the President it has to be good news.
As Newsweek noted, a foreign diplomat “was startled when Secretary of State Rice warned him not to lay bad news on the president. ‘Don’t upset him,’ she said.”
See Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, “Bush in the Bubble”, Newsweek 19 Dec 2005.

LinkDecember 15, 2005 in Current Affairs