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The ideal adjectives

Sunday, 10 February, 2019

Observe how waxworks, chagrined and awakened are used here:

1. “From that year on, Martin developed a passion for trains, travels, distant lights, the heartrending wails of locomotives in the dark of night and the waxworks vividness of local stations passing by.”

2. “…the country coolness of the rooms, so keenly perceptible after the outdoor heat; a fat bumblebee knocking against the ceiling with a chagrined droning; the paws of the fir trees against the blue of the sky…”

3. “A wave would swell, boil with foam, and topple rotundly, spreading and running up on the shingle. Then, unable to hold fast, it would slip back to the grumbling of awakened pebbles.”

And the writer? He lost everything he had, not once, but twice when he was forced to flee from two of the 20th century’s most wicked tyrants. And although the magical sentences above were written in English, it was not his first language.

The author was Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and the sentences are from Glory.


Reminding Tencent of Tiananmen

Saturday, 9 February, 2019

Since the news broke that China’s Tencent is investing $150 million in Reddit, users have been busy posting an image of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre that Beijing has spent three decades trying to suppress. According to TechCrunch: “Depending on how much follow-on cash Reddit drums up from Silicon Valley investors and beyond, its post-money valuation could reach an epic $3 billion.” Reddit, by the way, is blocked in China and Tencent is also one of the most important engineers building the communist dictatorship’s Great Firewall. All in all, then, a fascinating funder for a Silicon Valley enterprise that’s become an essential platform for free speech.

Tiananmen Square


Gyða Valtýsdóttir

Friday, 8 February, 2019

The Icelandic cellist and singer Gyða Valtýsdóttir has developed her own musical identity. It combines elements of classical, folk and post-rock with avant-garde improvisations of works by Messiaen, George Crumb and Hildegard von Bingen.


I Have Started To Say

Thursday, 7 February, 2019

Happy Birthday today to Barry O’Brien, who was around nine when he was included in the photo below. It prompts thoughts of I Have Started To Say by the great Philip Larkin.

I Have Started To Say

I have started to say
“A quarter of a century”
Or “thirty years back”
About my own life.

It makes me breathless
It’s like falling and recovering
In huge gesturing loops
Through an empty sky.

All that’s left to happen
Is some deaths (my own included).
Their order, and their manner,
Remain to be learnt.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

Barry


Time to hit the gym?

Wednesday, 6 February, 2019

From Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich:

“And why should the mind want to subdue the body systematically, repeatedly, day after day? Many gym-goers will tell you cheerfully that it makes them feel better, at least when the workout is over. But there’s a darker, more menacing side to the preoccupation with fitness, and this is the widespread suspicion that if you can’t control your own body, you’re not fit, in any sense, to control anyone else, and in their work lives that is a large part of what typical gym-goers do. We are talking here about a relative elite of people who are more likely to give orders than to take them — managers and professionals. In this class, there are steep penalties for being overweight or in any other way apparently unhealthy. Flabby people are less likely to be hired or promoted; they may even be reprimanded and obliged to undergo the company’s ‘wellness’ program, probably consisting of exercise (on- or off-site), nutritional counseling to promote weight loss, and, if indicated, lessons in smoking cessation.”

Natural Causes


How’s the writing going?

Tuesday, 5 February, 2019

The Landévennec Group is a collection of 10th and 11th century illuminated manuscripts of the Four Evangelists, probably all from the scriptorium of Landévennec Abbey in Brittany. In this manuscript illustration, we see Saint Matthew writing his Gospel and he appears to be somewhat troubled by the visible lack of progress.

St. Matthew


Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

Monday, 4 February, 2019

Today is World Cancer Day. A good day, then, to delve into The Emperor of All Maladies, the great “biography” of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Snippets:

“That this seemingly simple mechanism — cell growth without barriers — can lie at the heart of this grotesque and multifaceted illness is a testament to the unfathomable power of cell growth. Cell division allows us as organisms to grow, to adapt, to recover, to repair — to live. And distorted and unleashed, it allows cancer cells to grow, to flourish, to adapt, to recover, and to repair — to live at the cost of our living. Cancer cells can grow faster, adapt better. They are more perfect versions of ourselves.”

The Emperor of All Maladies

“It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively — at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.”


Super Bowl Sunday thoughts

Sunday, 3 February, 2019

Super Bowl LIII will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta this evening. The contestants are the blue-blooded New England Patriots and the upstart Los Angeles Rams. The paintings of Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber, which are whimsical and witty and honest, offer lots of pre-match food for thought.

House


He caught the fever that reaped a harvest

Saturday, 2 February, 2019

Poetry provides visions and so does fever. The great C.P. Cavafy combines the two here.

Kleitos’s Illness

Kleitos, a likeable young man,
about twenty-three years old—
with an excellent upbringing, a rare knowledge of Greek—
is seriously ill. He caught the fever
that reaped a harvest this year in Alexandria.

The fever found him already worn out morally
by the pain of knowing that his friend, a young actor,
had stopped loving and wanting him.

He’s seriously ill, and his parents are terribly worried.

An old servant who brought him up
is also full of fear for Kleitos’ life;
and in her terrible anxiety
she remembers an idol she used to worship
when she was young, before she came there as a maid,
to the house of distinguished Christians, and turned Christian herself.
She secretly brings some votive cake, some wine and honey,
and places them before the idol. She chants whatever phrases
she remembers from old prayers: odds and ends. The fool
doesn’t realize that the black demon couldn’t care less
whether a Christian gets well or not.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

*Translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard


Always-on: Disconnection will mean death

Friday, 1 February, 2019

Here’s a quote from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari that gives sinister meaning to the notion of “always-on”:

“Eventually, we may reach a point when it will be impossible to disconnect from this all-knowing network even for a moment. Disconnection will mean death. If medical hopes are realised, future people will incorporate into their bodies a host of biometric devices, bionic organs and nano-robots, which will monitor our health and defend us from infections, illnesses and damage. Yet these devices will have to be online 24/7, both in order to be updated with the latest medical news, and in order to protect them from the new plagues of cyberspace. Just as my home computer is constantly attacked by viruses, worms and Trojan horses, so will be my pacemaker, my hearing aid and my nanotech immune system. If I don’t update my body’s anti-virus program regularly, I will wake up one day to discover that the millions of nano-robots coursing through my veins are now controlled by a North Korean hacker.”

History: As computing became more pervasive around the start of this century, “always-on” systems began to replace “on-demand” systems. Typical examples of always-on systems are cable modems and DSL connections. Yesterday’s dial-up connections were only “on” when they were connected through the public telephone network. Today’s systems are continuously available, plugged in to power sources and networks. Like so many digital natives, they don’t take breaks, but continue to hum along through all hours of the day and night.


What some would call laziness…

Thursday, 31 January, 2019

…I call deferred productivity. Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton called it La Paresse.

Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton - Laziness