Friday, October 31, 2008


"Perhaps he'll hop into a pouch." (Courtesy of Wendy.)


I am not a great reader of what are generally called political blogs, but I thought I would share a handful of politics-related points from blogs I do read regularly. Here are Caleb Crain on the campaign in posters, Colleen on why she votes and an announcement for an event prompted by my Columbia colleague and fellow-blogger Andrew Gelman's Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Andrew and a colleague will discuss the book and the issues it raises on the evening of Monday, Nov. 3 at 7pm at Book Culture in Morningside Heights.

Bills of mortality

From Will Slauter's Society of Fellows talk on reading and writing the plague.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Prime ministers in bathing suits

Not available online, but I share this comical tidbit from Alexander Stille's New Yorker piece about the Italian prime ministerial sex troubles:
It's difficult not to be charmed by Deputy Umberto Scapagnini, Berlusconi's personal physician, whose theories of longevity drew him into Berlusconi's circle. He keeps the Prime Minister on a special regimen of diet, exercise, amino acids, vitamins, and antioxidants. "Berlusconi is the most extraordinary psychophysical subject I have ever examined," Scapagnini told me. "And I am not saying this because I'm a brownnoser. I am an internationally respect scientist - I don't need to curry favor." Scapagnini, who has travelled the Silk Road and studied the dietary habits of the residents of Okinawa looking for the secrets of long life, has helped develop a method for measuring what he calls a person's true biological age (the measurement of certain hormones and an examination of fifty strands of DNA as well as the person's immune system), which can vary considerably from one's actual age. "Berlusconi is fifteen years younger than his chronological age," Scapagnini continued. "He has an amazing immune system and powers of resistance. He has a magnetic personality and an exceptional capacity to communicate. He is perhaps the patient I've examined who has the capacity to live the longest. If you see him in a bathing suit, he has the musculature and tone of a much, much younger man." Scapagnini hopes to keep the P.M. alive until the age of a hundred and twenty, which he considers within the natural life span of a human being.

As for women, Scapagnini said, "Certainly, he has a strong sexual personality, and they are highly attracted to him, Naturally, for his part, as with any of us, this is not unpleasant."

Thousand-year jujubes

Three lovely paragraphs from Eliot Weinberger's NYRB piece on China under the T'ang Dynasty (hmmmm, the clever reader will deduce the true fact of the matter, which is that the print issue of the NYRB, once it arrives, sits open in front of the spot at the desk where I eat my meals - it is interesting enough to engage my attention, but not so thoroughly and obsessively gripping that it will lure me away from whatever the next thing is I am supposed to be doing!):
Every aspect of life was codified and enforced by imperial edict: the length of tunics, the price of each item in the market, the colors that may be worn by ministers of certain ranks, the number of blows with a thin rod that a speeding coachman should receive. There were prohibitions against eating a white sheep that had a black head or a dish of pheasants with walnuts. Censuses of every village were taken to ensure an exact collection of taxes and to fill the ranks of compulsory labor and conscription. The country was converted to a cash economy and the foundation of imperial wealth became its tax on salt, a commodity everyone needed. Under the T'ang, the system of strict examinations on the classics as a requirement for entering the civil service became universal; one census listed 130,000 students. Although this hardly resulted in a meritocracy, it meant that some young men who did not come from well-connected families could rise to powerful positions in the government, and an increasing number of talented—or, at least, educated—people entered the bureaucracy.

The T'ang became rich on trade, promoted by a new merchant class along the Silk Road (where Sogdian was the lingua franca) or on the sea routes that led to the port of Canton (where the sailors spoke Persian). Coral from the Mediterranean or Ceylon; golden peaches from Samarkand; cardamom from Tonkin; "thousand-year" jujubes from Tabaristan; ostrich-egg cups from Bukhara; various peppers from Burma; feathers from the white egrets, peacocks, and kingfishers of Annam (one princess had a dress made entirely from feathers); pistachios from Persia; furs of sable, ermine, miniver, steppe foxes, and martens.... The list of T'ang imports is endless, and T'ang coins have been found as far west as the coast of Somalia.

The masses, who rarely saw these treasures, told tales of strange objects with magical powers, brought from abroad: a single bean that was sufficient food for weeks; a certain wheat that made the body so light that one could fly; a crystal pillow that gave the sleeper visions of strange lands; a piece of rhinoceros horn that could heat a palace; hairpins that turned into dragons; pots that cooked without fire; the translucent stone that emitted a cool breeze; the plant that was always surrounded by darkness.

Cryogenic ice cream

Electric cake and other scientific treats.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"I too am Vermeer!"

In the latest NYRB (subscriber-only), James Fenton on Vermeermania and forgery (that link should work for Columbia-affiliated readers). Concerning Dutch museum director Dirk Hannema, condemned for collaborating with the Nazis, Fenton writes:
Born in 1895, Hannema had been a very young man when he became director of the Boymans in 1921, and in 1945 he still had almost forty years to live with his disgrace. He was numbered among the fout, the people on the wrong side. Throughout the rest of his life he was routinely ostracized. And yet he was accommodated successively in two castles or manor houses by the province of Overijssel, where he housed his own private collection and made it available to the public.

I visited the second of these, Het Nijenhuis, not long ago, and on the way was able to buy a copy of one of the strangest products of Vermeermania, Hannema's booklet publishing his own collection of "Vermeers."[5] These were not Van Meegeren forgeries. They were Netherlandish paintings from Hannema's own collection which, in his isolation and disgrace, he began to attribute to the master. It seems that, like the slaves in the film shouting "I am Spartacus! I am Spartacus!," the paintings on Hannema's walls called out to him, one by one, in the lonely winter nights, "I am Vermeer! I too am Vermeer!"

They don't look at all like Vermeers, but nor, for that matter, do all Vermeers. The Edinburgh Christ in the House of Martha and Mary doesn't look like a Vermeer, although its signature has been accepted as genuine. The Diana and Her Companions in The Hague doesn't look like the other two Vermeers in the same room, and it is noticeable, if you wait and watch what the Mauritshuis visitors actually do, that, for ten people who spend time looking at the Girl with a Pearl Earring, about one turns around to examine the View of Delft ; and for every ten who examine the View of Delft, about one goes on to look at Diana and Her Companions.

Certainly the Girl with a Pearl Earring is currently the most famous Vermeer, but when it appeared at auction in early 1882 it was attributed to an unknown master. The man who recognized it as a Vermeer was Victor de Stuers, a prominent cultural official, the brains behind the Rijksmuseum. He urged a friend, A.A. des Tombe, to bid for it, trusting that he would be the sort of man to leave it to the state, which indeed he did. He had been able to buy it for two florins and thirty stuivers (about $200 in today's dollars), largely, no doubt, because it didn't in those days look like a Vermeer.

Hannema's Vermeers include The Penitent and Impenitent Thieves Being Led to Golgotha, a vigorous study in men's back muscles and buttocks (now hanging in Zwolle, attributed to a Flemish painter, Abraham Janssens van Nuyssen); Belisarius Begging (depicting a man on a chair or throne, certainly no beggar, gesticulating for some reason); a group portrait supposed to show Vermeer with his wife and two children on a balcony (more likely an aristocratic couple on a country estate, with a peacock); and A Fish on a Brown Earthenware Platter. This last painting, admirable in its way, so enchanted Hannema that he couldn't at first decide whether it was by Goya, or Rembrandt, or Carel Fabritius, or Vermeer—four of his favorite painters.

He was mad when it came to the subject of Vermeer. He was one of a small group of doomed believers who kept alive a campaign on behalf of Van Meegeren's forgeries long after the forger himself had denounced them. But on other subjects he was capable of perfectly sane judgments. Perhaps his madness whispered to him that he could redeem his reputation by offering to Holland so many rediscovered masterpieces. And so he sat the decades out, surrounded by photographs of the royal family (proof of his loyalty and devotion to the Crown), among his works of art, in a baroque moated castle, amid tall, rare trees and ancient fishponds, shrieked at by his peacocks and whispered to by his Vermeers—an internal exile, doomed to his beauty spot at the end of its pavé-cobbled drive.

Bovril for Invalids

Superannuated Bovril.

(I set out from this blog post to try and find the actual picture described - of Antarctic explorer Shackleton "sitting on a big baked beans tin in the Antarctic, feeding Golden Syrup to penguins, and dressed head-to-toe in Burberry in 1910." Here is the gallery site for the show - I do not think the image in question can be found online, though. But I did find this amazing Antarctic conservancy blog at the Natural History Museum website - Golden Syrup!)

"Chippy made me do it"

Penelope Green profiled decorator Keith Irvine for the Times last week (link courtesy of Nico):
Mr. Irvine loves gold-framed convex Regency mirrors, anything with a key pattern, miniature furniture, Oushak rugs “that look like they’re on their last week” and needlepointed mottos on pillows.

He frowned at a wooden bench upholstered in gold lamé. “That’s waterproof gold lamé, not really my thing,” he said. “That was a job that ended in tears.” He added that the client “sent a whole truckload of stuff back, saying, ‘I don’t want it and I’m not paying for it.’ ”

“There used to be ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “Now they have no manners and too much money.”

Sense and sensibility

From Andrew Sullivan's Atlantic account of why he blogs:
The pioneers of online journalism—Slate and Salon—are still very popular, and successful. But the more memorable stars of the Internet—even within those two sites—are all personally branded. Daily Kos, for example, is written by hundreds of bloggers, and amended by thousands of commenters. But it is named after Markos Moulitsas, who started it, and his own prose still provides a backbone to the front-page blog. The biggest news-aggregator site in the world, the Drudge Report, is named after its founder, Matt Drudge, who somehow conveys a unified sensibility through his selection of links, images, and stories. The vast, expanding universe of The Huffington Post still finds some semblance of coherence in the Cambridge-Greek twang of Arianna; the entire world of online celebrity gossip circles the drain of Perez Hilton; and the investigative journalism, reviewing, and commentary of Talking Points Memo is still tied together by the tone of Josh Marshall. Even Slate is unimaginable without Mickey Kaus’s voice.

What endures is a human brand. Readers have encountered this phenomenon before—I.F. Stone’s Weekly comes to mind—but not to this extent. It stems, I think, from the conversational style that blogging rewards. What you want in a conversationalist is as much character as authority. And if you think of blogging as more like talk radio or cable news than opinion magazines or daily newspapers, then this personalized emphasis is less surprising. People have a voice for radio and a face for television. For blogging, they have a sensibility.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Table talk for 24 October 2008

Dinner was better than the play.

(Dinner: endive salad with roquefort, apples and candied walnuts; tuna tartare with avocado. Both served in attractive and substantial hockey-puck-type molded tiers for forkish deconstruction. Chocolate mousse - usually I would have ordered the tarte tatin, but I had a late-night stomach-ache and wanted something lower-volume and super-delicious/icing-like. Marathon training is making me ridiculously hungry!)

(The play: a slightly condensed version of the entire Oedipus cycle, with two intermissions and a 3+-hr. running time. The first play opened with Monty Pythonesque chorus members ostentatiously shrouding themselves in stained rags, very Ben-Hur-leper-like, and giving theatrical coughs to show that there was Something Amiss in Thebes - it went on in that spirit, with a lot of very stagey verse-reciting in a language that bore little resemblance to conventionally delivered spoken American English! ARGHHHHHH!)

Also: tips on cutting costs in the home....

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Table talk for 23 October 2008

From Karl Miller's TLS piece on Rodge Glass's biography of Alasdair Gray:

1. "Gray is shown peeing into the sink in mid-dictation. A close woman friend is cited: 'He’s the nicest man I’ve ever met – I just couldn’t take the drinking.'"

2. "He grew up in the Riddrie district of the city, was a 'dreamy' pupil of the sort that used to be detected in the Scottish schools of the period, went to Glasgow Art School, and became a reluctant teacher. He had begun, and was to continue, to suffer from eczema and asthma. Success, when it arrived, could be arduous too. 'I thought to myself – I am now a famous and established man! I must now be able to make some kind of living . . . . I soon realised this was going to be more difficult than expected, and I thought, Oh fuck!' The expletive is overused now in print: here, it is exquisite."

3. "'Being bad at sex' was 'one of his favourite subjects.'"

Monday, October 20, 2008


A delightful piece by Natalie Angier in the Science Times on some of the creatures hymned in Bill Schutt's Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures, which I am Amazoning at once:
Among his rubied rabble are vampire bats tuned to extract blood from large slumbering mammals and bats that aim instead for the warm breast plates of birds; New World leeches that track their hosts through the water and Old World leeches that relentlessly stalk down blood bearers on land; the notorious vampire finches of the Galápagos that daintily peck open dribbling wounds on the hindquarters of blue-footed boobies; and the candiru, tiny, eel-like catfish that are reputed to have the power to swim up a person’s urethra and suck blood from the bladder and thus are often more feared than their fellow river dwellers, the piranhas.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"The number 666 is Aleister Crowley"

I am not a reader of Paulo Coelho, but I nonetheless found myself rather captivated by this conclusion to Stuart Husband's Telegraph profile:
Coelho's name is about to be lent to another product; a fountain pen from the venerable Italian manufacturer Montegrappa in a limited edition of 1947, commemorating his birthdate (1,000 of them in silver, 900 in silver and emeralds and 47 in yellow gold, emeralds and diamonds; the latter will retail at around £10,000). The nib is adorned with a butterfly and the shaft with a relief map of the Pilgrim's Route to Santiago. It's not the first time that Coelho has been associated with a luxury brand; last year, the International Watch Company commissioned him to write seven short stories, one about each model the company produces (his fee went to benefit the Paulo Coelho Insititute, a foundation that helps children who live in the Rio favelas). Coelho's brand awareness and new-found interest in fashion may have been fomented by his personal assistant Alessandro, a dapper, Hermès-belted German, half Coelho's age, who confides that he also works in brand consultancy for the likes of Hugo Boss and Formula 1; and, while he may be in awe of Coelho ('Did you know that Nelly Furtado only decided to have a child after reading one of his books?' he asks me, wide-eyed), seems to regard him as another trademark to be turned to account. Coelho himself, while waxing lyrical over the pen, seems to be genuinely unconcerned with Mammon.

While his books have brought him great wealth – he has an apartment in Paris' sixth arrondissement containing an improvised archery course, as well as a converted mill in the French Pyrenees and an apartment on Copacabana beach – he's artlessly open and approachable; and, as his almost daily blogging attests, he prides himself on his close relationship with his readers (one that is more than reciprocated – 'You have been like the mother bird that helps her little ones fly,' runs a typical response to a recent post). 'I am an internet junkie,' he declares with glee. 'I have a public inbox which receives over 1,000 emails a day and which I employ four people to answer, plus my forums, my blog, and an inbox just for work. This is what I do. I don't socialise or go for cocktails and dinners. I hate to be smart. People know they can always reach me.'

The ends of Enlightenment

This weekend at Columbia's Heyman Center for the Humanities: The Function and Fate of Teleology in the Enlightenment. I will paste in the schedule, as the program does not seem to be available online:

Friday, October 24, 2008

4:30 - 6:00pm
Moderator Akeel Bilgrami / Discussand Jenny Davidson

Uday Mehta (Amherst College), “Violence and the Logic of Inevitability”

James Steintrager (University of California, Irvine), "Fantasies of Social Construction: The Epicurean Revival Within the Lockean Paradigm"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Morning session: Teleology and the Sciences

Session 1

9:30 – 11:00
Moderator Matthew Jones / Discussand: Joanna Stalnacker

Jörn Steigerwald (University of Cologne), “Réaumur versus Buffon: or, on the Necessity of Teleology in Natural History.”

Fred Neuhouser (Barnard College), “Rousseau’s Nature”

11:00 - 11:15 Coffee Break

Session 2

11:15 - 12:45
Moderator Stefan Andriopoulos / Discussands: Matthew Jones, Martin Jay

Jonathan Sheehan (University of California, Berkeley), “In Suspension: The Magic of Teleology in the Enlightenment”

Dorothea von Mücke (Columbia University), “Intelligent or Beautiful Design”

Lunch Break: 12:45 - 2:30

Afternoon session: Teleology and History

2:30-4:30 pm
Moderator Akeel Bilgrami / Discussands: Martin Jay, Stefan Andriopoulos

Fernando Vidal (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin), “Perfectibility and human 'telos' in Enlightenment Psychology and Anthropology."

David Bates (University of California, Berkeley), “Conjectural Humans”

Thomas McCarthy,(Yale University),"Remarks on the Idea of Universal History in the Wake of Kant"

Roman souls

I saw a fairly spectacularly good play on Thursday night at The Flea Theater, and it warmed the cockles of my eighteenth-century heart: a thoughtful and highly engaging production of Joseph Addison's Cato! I have read it and found it fairly oratorical on the page (the neoclassicizing impulses of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century writers produce a static sort of faux-Shakespearean texture as one reads the playscripts), but it was a wonderfully engaging performance, with acting of the highest caliber and a nice set of choices with regard to the fairly minimal staging. A very interesting play (wildly popular throughout the eighteenth century) about politics, reason and the emotions - far superior, I might add, to Richard Nelson's Conversations in Tusculum, which I saw earlier this year at the Public Theatre.

A nice bit from the program, from a contemporary letter by a member of the audience at a production of Cato staged at George Washington's behest during the winter at Valley Forge:
My dear Rachel,
I find by a Letter from my father that you are on a visit at Trenton. I should be happy could you extend your Jaunt as far as full View — the Camp could now afford you some entertainment. The manoeuvering of the Army is in itself a sight that would Charm you. — Besides these, the Theatre is opened — Last Monday Cato was performed before a very numerous & splendid audience. His Excellency & Lady, Lord Stirling, the Countess & Lady Kitty, & Mr. Green were part of the Assembly. The Scenery was in Taste - & the performance admirable – Col. George did his part to admiration – he made an excellent die (as they say) – Pray heaven, he don’t die in earnest – for yesterday he was seized with the pleurisy & lies extremely ill – If the Enemy does not retire from Philad soon, our Theatrical amusement will continue – the fair Penitent with the Padlock will soon be acted. The “recruiting officer” is also on foot.

I hope however we shall be disappointed in all these by the more agreeable Entertainment of taking possession of Philad

Adieu ma chere soeur, je suis votre.
William Bradford
It is only running through Nov. 1, but do go and see if it you get the chance!

(Photo credit: Richard Termine)


Atlas Shrugged.

Slaves to the ink bottle

From Thomas Mallon's New Yorker piece on Abraham Lincoln's long afterlife:
The American craving for Lincoln soon led to the use of his likeness and name to sell life insurance, cholera remedies, and lead (“By Its Purity & Excellent Qualities This Lead Deserves The Name Bestowed Upon It”). Children began playing with Lincoln Logs, invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, and, in a telling trivialization, during the 1909 centennial the Waterman Company’s new no-dip Lincoln Fountain Pen guaranteed “the emancipation of millions of slaves to the ink bottle.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Coronation chicken

Nico's culinary arts. Hmmm, I am thinking there may have been a moment or two when he and the interviewer were speaking at cross purposes, but here is a funny bit:
Growing up in New England, the only child of two counter-cultural and unparental artists, the adolescent Nico attached himself to a dreamy old England that he discovered by listening to High Anglican church music. 'I know, it's culturally bizarre. But for me William Byrd's music is the most fascinating thing ever, maybe just because it's so severe and restrained. He could only write one note for every syllable of text, otherwise they called him a papist. Then there was Tallis writing this totally decadent, continental-sounding stuff at the same time, and Orlando Gibbons with those twisted cadences that they thought announced some devilly apparition. Because of all this I became a choirboy, then I got obsessed with finding out about the English Reformation. It was, like, wow, so there was this gay king, James I, who wrote the Bible!'


Cat championships! Here's the official site - I wish I could go and see the feline agility competition...

Friday, October 17, 2008

20 kilograms

I do not know why I am having a meat obsession today, but here is a gruesomely apt story (with supplemental list of famous cannibal killers).

Meat redux

Amazing animatronic flesh shoe by sculptor Adam Brandejs. (Meat art show link courtesy of BoingBoing.)

The history of meat

Appealing curricular options described in this Times Magazine article by Melissa Fay Greene about a school for autistic teenage boys:
In addition to biology, algebra 2/trigonometry, English literature and U.S. history, there were the electives: Dragon Lore, Comic Books, How to Shop for Bargains and the History of Snack Food. Past electives included All About Pirates, Spy Technology, Ping-Pong, Dog Obedience, Breaking World Records, Unusual Foods and Taking Things Apart. (“I just wish they’d come up with a second-quarter class, Putting the Things Back Together,” Nelson told me.)

“I knew it!” Edwick complained, mashing about on the beanbag chair. He was disappointed because no one picked the elective he’d proposed: the History of Meat.
[ED. Slightly shame-facedly, I admit that that list of topics could sort of be a brief shorthand description of Light Reading! Some things are just interesting, that's the fact of the matter - I added this note when I saw that one of the labels on my last post was "meat"!]

Monday, October 13, 2008


Tyler Cowen offers a great collection of links on Paul Krugman, recipient of this year's economics Nobel. Especially interesting (and potentially useful for academics in the humanities also - I haven't often seen such a cogent statement of the way one might discover what sort of thinking one is likely to do): Krugman on his own intellectual style.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Thou art translated!"

I do not usually write directly here about work-related matters, though I think I might post later this week on some of the Midsummer Night's Dream adaptations I was teaching last week; but I feel the need to say that the first thing that has truly made me feel like a tenured professor was the move, this past week, from my old office to a very lovely new one!

I thought about waiting to post pictures until I had set the new place up in some beautiful and attractive fashion, then realized (the people who know me in life as opposed to literature will be laughing and rolling their eyes!) that it is entirely possible that things will sit in boxes for quite some time...

The old office (mold, mice and a ventilation and light problem, the consequence of it being the creation of a heedless late-70s renovation with non-opening window and no other means of controlling climate or air flow):

The new office (I am not sure the photo does it justice, but it is rather incomparably nicer than the old one):

The view from the new window (onto what is surely - I am biased! - one of the most beautiful urban college campuses in North America):

The best kind of shelves in the world - empty ones! This is going to help with the ongoing exploding book situation in my apartment:

Miscellaneous light reading around the edges, all very good: Jennie Erdal's Ghosting: A Double Life; Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book; Tana French's In the Woods.

Triathlon lit

From Samuel Beckett, Mercier and Camier: "The bicycle is a great good. But it can turn nasty, if ill employed."

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Marrow fat pea"

Maxine had a nice post earlier linking to a scathing editorial email about newspaper errors. Perhaps that was why my eye fell, as I ate lunch and idly leafed through the pages of the New York Review of Books, on these paragraphs of Adam Kirsch's piece (subscriber-only) about Paul Reitter's new study of Viennese journalist Karl Kraus:
"My business is to pin down the Age between quotation marks," Kraus said, and no quotation was too trivial to be used in evidence. Even misprints served the purpose—especially misprints, which Kraus interpreted the way Freud, at just the same time, was learning to interpret slips of the tongue. In 1912, for instance, he published an item titled "I Believe in the Printer's Gremlin," which reproduced a provincial newspaper's announcement of a performance of "King Lehar, a tragedy in five acts by W. Shakespeare."

To Kraus, who revered Shakespeare, the conflation of Lear with Franz Lehar, the operetta composer he regarded as the acme of kitsch, was "no laughing matter. It's horrible," he wrote in his gloss on the item. As with a Freudian slip, precisely the fact that the mistake was accidental is what makes it significant: "The printer was not trying to make a joke. The word that he was not supposed to set, the association that got into his work, is the measure of our time. By their misprints shall ye know them." No wonder Kraus proofread each page of Die Fackel up to a dozen times, not just insisting on correct spelling but making sure that every comma appeared exactly halfway between the adjoining letters.

But if Kraus were simply a press critic in this sense—pointing out errors and clichés, or even exposing biases and conflicts of interest—he would not remain such a significant figure, seventy-two years after his death. He would be merely a kind of blogger avant la lettre, appending his "glosses" to newspaper items in the way that bloggers today post hyperlinks along with carping comments. The analogy even extends to Kraus's working methods: as Timms writes, he would compose an item for Die Fackel by "pasting a newspaper clipping on a larger sheet of paper, to define an opponent's position. That position would then be encircled—penned in by Kraus's minute handwriting." (It seems appropriate, given this kinship, that the complete German text of Die Fackel is available online, through the "Fackel Gate" Web site of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Monkey business

I desperately want to go to this restaurant. (Link courtesy of Nico.)

The last task

My job for this afternoon is to finish the last little task remaining for my forthcoming book Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century - checking the proof pages of the index. It certainly looks very nice now that it's all properly typeset! (Click for a larger view.)

I've chosen this page to reproduce partly because it shows one or two of what I think of as "activist" choices, ways of indexing disparate points under a single term that encourage a particular reading (or at least attention to a particular strand) of the book as a whole.

The sub-entries for metaphor, for instance, include at least three different conceptual categories: metaphors for mind that were popular with eighteenth-century writers (the blank slate, the germ); metaphors for the methodology of investigations in the humanities (hearing the dead speak); and metaphor as it figures in (or for what it can tell us about) the workings of non-fiction prose (Boswell, Sheridan). It seemed to me valuable to bring these three things together under a single rubric, and I'm not sure it's a connection the reader would have been likely to make on the basis of the text alone.

The entry for methodology also provides the reader with a handy guide to otherwise scattered discussions about approaches to this kind of investigation.


Terry Pratchett on Alzheimer's. (Via Neil Gaiman's blog.)

Monday, October 06, 2008

The allure of eggs and nests

A nice piece at the Science Times that includes a good plug for what is undoubtedly one of the most lovely and fascinating books I have read for some time, Rosamond Purcell et al.'s Egg and Nest, which I first heard about at Gwenda's blog.

Miscellaneous other light reading: George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag (very enjoyable, but not a patch on Lewis Shiner's extraordinary Glimpses); Cornelia Read's Field of Darkness; Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine (slight but pleasant); Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, an irresistible reread in preparation for The Graveyard Book (lovely, lovely writing); and Tana French's The Likeness, which I liked very much indeed.

Thumbs down on Pineapple Express. Thumbs up on the Mythbusters episode with the water heater rocket - this show is excellent, causing me to be ashamed of my near-total ignorance of the pleasures of television....

John Wesley's boots under glass

A delightfully ghoulish story about the exhumation of Cardinal Newman's remains, with further commentary by Libby Purves. (Thanks to my father for the link!)

Saying the thing which is not

I wish people would stop writing books like this!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Red plastic igloo

Penguins in crisis, reported by Claire Soares at the Independent:
Of the 1,000-plus penguins that have been recovered on land [washed up on Brazilian beaches], about a fifth have died of starvation, exhaustion and other illnesses, and experts reckon they are just a fraction of the number of penguins that have perished out at sea.

Brazilian zoos have been inundated with the surviving birds, some of whom who have lost three-quarters of their body weight; are wracked with parasites and diarrhoea; sporting broken flippers, and severely malnourished. By 21 September, Niteroi zoo had received 556 penguins, compared with just seven in the whole of 2007. "We find lots of penguins here with catfish bones in them, which they normally don't eat," explained Thiago Muniz, one of the zoo's vets. "That suggests they're not finding their normal fish."

Rescued penguins have been nursed back to health up and down the coast, first with rehydration fluids, before graduating to fishy milkshakes and then finally whole sardines. Now moves are afoot to return them back to the wild.

The first batch of 400 survivors flew yesterday from Salvador to Rio Grande – with the help of the Brazilian air force – and were then loaded onto trucks and taken to a rehabilitation centre on the coast for final check-ups. Today, the young penguins will be released back into the Atlantic waters along with four adults, who should act as guides for the long swim home to Argentina.

"We are giving these guys a second chance," said Ms Ruoppolo. "Hopefully they'll learn their lesson and not make the same mistakes next time around."

Some of their fellow wanderers have decided to stay put in Brazil, however. Fernandinha, Claudinha, Queridinho, Pity, Predileto, Tutuca, Colhidora and Smarty have been taken under the wing of a retired photographer, Cecilia Breves. "I was very happy when I had one or two, because they are so cute. They'd follow me around everywhere," the 57-year-old told the Washington Post. "It's much harder when there are eight of them."

But the birds seem happy, roaming about her Rio penthouse, chilling out among the palm trees on the veranda or taking a dip in the roof-top hot tub. The red plastic igloo their adoptive mother has bought for them remains untouched.

Unusual farm animals

Tyler Cowen on the national alpaca registry.