40 Eridani A

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Peace and Long Life

I save you
You save me

Climate change
Is not about saving the planet
It's about saving ourselves

The moral of the twenty-first century
Will be
Don't fuck with the atmosphere

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The Rage of the Powerless: The Political Economy of Illiberalism

Philip Pettit:
[When] you look at the different socioeconomic classes; and you look at stable policy preferences associated specifically with those classes; and then you see how far public policy has been responsive to those preferences over the last 30 or 40 years: what you find is that the bottom 20–25% [have had] zero influence of their policy preferences on government — that's a shocking condemnation of a democracy …
(A Brief History of Liberty, Alan Saunders Memorial Lecture, 8 August, 2014)

John Galbraith (1908–2006):
When … men and women are employed and at continuously improving wages or salaries, they are not greatly concerned that others, with whatever justification or absence of justification, have more, even greatly more.
The relevant comparison is not with what others have but with one's own previous economic position — it is the improvement over the previous year that is noticed.
When unemployment [and] wage reductions … are endemic, the comparison with previous years is unfavorable.
[It is then that] the mind turns to the better fortune of the fortunate.
(pp xv-xvi)

The ancient preoccupations of economic life — with equality, security and productivity — have now narrowed down to a preoccupation with productivity and production.
Production has become the solvent of the tensions once associated with inequality, and it has become the indispensable remedy for the discomforts, anxieties and privations associated with economic insecurity. …
Production has become the center of a concern that had hitherto been shared with equality and security.
(The Affluent Society, 4th Ed, Penguin, 1984, p 99)


Mainstream (neoclassical) economics has failed (at least for the bottom 90%).
Income growth for most people across the developed world is stagnating.
Income and wealth inequality is returning to levels not seen since the Gilded Age prior to WWI.

As if, as Thomas Piketty has suggested, it was post-war reconstruction boom that drove the great contraction in inequality after WWII, then those days are over.
Low growth may be the new normal.

High growth covers a multitude of sins.
People might support, or at least tolerate, progressive attitudes towards women, ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants and asylum seekers, climate change, and LGBT rights when times are good and their economic prospects are rosy; but in times of general economic distress, focusing on such issues just stokes resentment — they are seen as middle class indulgences remote from the everyday concerns of ordinary people.

The conservative economic prescription for the macroeconomic malaise is more of the same microeconomic medicine:
  • lower wages, poorer working conditions, and weaker unions (labor market deregulation);
  • spending cuts for the poor (austerity); and
  • tax cuts for the rich.
Politically and culturally they perform a bait and switch.
Populist anger is not due to economic injustice, but identity politics (nationality, race and gender).
People are being oppressed by the tyranny of left-wing political correctness.
The answer is greater opportunity to express illiberal values and the endorsement of such values by those in positions of authority (Section 18C).

The answer to rising intolerance is not the licensing of more bigotry and scapegoating.
Illiberalism is a symptom, not a solution.

(6 December, 2016)

Why Are We Surprised?

Donald's victory was not a black swan event.

What was the Bayesian prior regarding Donald's chance of winning?
Say it was unlikely: 33%.

Throwing a 1 or 2 with a 6-sided die is not a "likely" outcome but since, of course, it happens 1/3 of the time and it is no cause for surprise.
Unlikely events happen all the time.
Just not as frequently as likely ones.

Because Donald won does not mean prior assessments of his chance of winning were necessarily wrong.

One's emotional reaction to an event is not just a function of how likely or unlikely it is.
The quality and magnitude of the outcome matters.
High impact, adverse events naturally evoke stronger reactions than low impact events event even if they are equally likely.
There is always both an analytic and an intuitive/emotional component to any assessment of risk.

Events often appear inevitable in retrospect.
This is the historical fallacy.

We tend to overestimate our ability to predict the future.
Uncertainty is scary.
It is comforting to think that we know what is going to happen next.

A failure of imagination.
Unprecedented events are more shocking than familiar ones.
It is not easy to imagine events that have never happened before.
Despite the experience of Brexit, it was difficult to imagine Donald becoming president — especially for those for whom this was a horrifying prospect.

What we are experiencing is the difference between possibility and reality.

(25 November, 2016)

Malcolm Turnbull: The Pretty Face Of An Ugly Party

Scott Stevens:
[Malcolm Turnbull is] trying to sell himself [firstly,] to the electorate, but primarily he was trying to gain a degree of authority over a … policy-conflicted party. …
[What he is pleading for is:]
Please God, give me time, to rebuild something here. …
Can we just have a bit more time to get something together?
(Do voters have moral responsibilities?, The Minefield, 7 July, 2016)


This is the electors' dilemma.
Faced with a disunited party with an indifferent first term record:
Do you give them three more years in government to get their act together on the strength of a shiny new / recycled leader?
Or, are the opposition benches a more fitting place for them to sort out their differences?
Can the country afford the risk of wasting three more years in policy limbo?
Hope, it seems, has narrowly prevailed over experience.

Election campaigns are always fought on at least two fronts:

  1. Program = Policy Platform.
  2. Leadership = Trust.

Labor took the policy road.
Malcolm Turnbull:
Trust me I'm an businessman, investment banker, journalist, rich, smart etc
The Coalition had to run on leadership because their economic program has been in a shambles since the electorally devastating 2014 budget.
To gain the leadership Turnbull had give undertakings to retain essential elements of Abbott's hard right agenda.
To break those undertakings and have any prospect of changing policy direction he needed a convincing win — which he has failed to achieve.
It was a Catch 22.
He needed electoral success to unify his party while needing a unified party to achieve electoral success.

(20 July, 2016)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


(Storm Thorgerson, Graphic Designer, Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd, 1975)

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004)

A person's freedom ends at the exact point where another person's freedom begins. …

Our world is crazy. …
It's the intensity of the means of destruction and creation.
It's the way science is applied.
Our world is mad and suicidal. …

Where's this mad race taking us? …
We know too many useless things. …

What matters is what you do the next day, in a minute and right now. …

There's the moment and there's eternity.
And the void in between. …

It's not so much about photography.
It's about the joy of being there and recording. …

We're like thieves, except that we give. …

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Dominion of Fear

Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677):
[Only] while under the dominion of fear, do men fall prey to [superstition.]
(Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1677)

Michel Eyquem (1533–1592) [Lord of Montaigne]:
It is likely that the credit given to miracles, visions, enchantments and such extraordinary events chiefly derives from the power of the imagination acting mainly on the more impressionable souls of the common people.
Their capacity to believe has been so powerfully ravished that they think they see, what they do not …
(On the power of the imagination, pp 111-2)

[Nobody] keeps a record of their erroneous prophecies since they are infinite and everyday; right predications are prized precisely because they are rare, unbelievable and marvellous.
(On Prognostications, The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, M A Screech, Translator, Penguin, 1991, p 44)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):
[The] function of religion [is] not conducive to the exercise of intellectual adventure.
(Wisdom of the West, 1959, p 11)

David Hume (1711-1776):
It is an absurdity to believe that the Deity [is subject to that lowest of] human passions, a restless appetite for applause.
(Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1776)

Jules Verne (1828–1905):
Science … has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.
(Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864)

William Gibson:
Conspiracy theories and the occult comfort us because they present models of the world that more easily make sense than the world itself, and, regardless of how dark or threatening, are inherently less frightening.
(Review of London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Whole Earth Catalog, Summer 2001)

Henri Poincare (1854-1912):
We also know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether delusion is not more consoling.

Gareth Southwell:
[A] 2012 report by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago … revealed that, since 1991, religious belief declined in 14 of 18 countries surveyed by an average of 2.4%, while atheism rose in all but three countries by an average of 1.7%. …
In Elaine Howard Eckland's 2010 book, Science vs Religion: What Do Scientists Say?, of nearly 1,700 scientists working at American universities, 64% [as opposed to 37% of the general public] had no religious belief (30% were atheists, and 34% were agnostics).
(50 Philosophy of science ideas you really need to know, Quercus, 2013, p 100)

Pope Gregory the Great (c540–604):
We are almost ashamed to refer to the fact that a report has come to us that your brotherhood is teaching grammar to certain people …
If it should be clearly proved here-after that the report we have heard is false and that you are not devoting yourself to the vanities of worldly learning, we shall render thanks to God for keeping you heart from defilement.
(Epistles XI, 54)

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873):
Christian morality {is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience …}
It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life [giving] to human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each man's feelings of duty from the interests of his fellow creatures …
What little recognition the idea of obligation to the public obtains in modern morality is derived from Greek and Roman sources, not from Christian …
[The] Christian system is no exception to the rule, that in an imperfect state of the human mind the interests of truth require a diversity of opinions. …
[A] large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected, the Christian faith.

In former days, when it was proposed to burn atheists, charitable people used to suggest putting them in a madhouse instead …
(On Liberty, 1859)

Tim Minchin:
Science adjusts its belief based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observations so that belief can be preserved.

George Berkeley (1685–1753):
[There] is not perhaps any one thing that hath more favored and strengthened the depraved bent of the mind toward atheism, than the use of [the term: 'matter'.]
(Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, 1713)

Carl Sagan (1934–1996)

[Better] the hard truth … than the comforting fantasy.
(p 191)

And if the world does not in all respects correspond to our wishes, is this the fault of science, or of those who would impose their wishes on the world?
(p 254)

Liberation from superstition is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for science.
(p 294)

(Demon Haunted World, 1997)

Epicurus (341–271 BCE)

Letter to Menoeceus

[Death] is nothing to us since:
  • when we exist, death is not yet present, and
  • when death is present, then we do not exist. …

[When] we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of the profligate or the pleasures of consumption …
[On the contrary, the pleasant life is produced by] sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls. …

Prudence … is the greatest good [since] it is the source of all other virtues …
[It] is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honourably and justly …

The Principal Doctrines

It was impossible for someone ignorant about the nature of the universe, but still suspicious about the subjects of the myths, to dissolve his feelings of fear about the most important matters.
So it was impossible to receive unmixed pleasures without knowing natural science. …

Of the things which wisdom provides for the blessedness of one's whole life, by far the greatest is the possession of friendship.

The Great Thaw

The older medieval philosophers, like Anslem, had said:
I must believe, in order that I may understand.
Abelard took the opposite course:
I must understand, in order that I may believe. ...
By doubting, we come to questioning.
And by questioning, we perceive the truth.
Strange words to have been written in the year 1122. ...

(Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, BBC Television, 1969)

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dogmatism and Fanaticism

Ioseb Jughashvili (1878–1953) [Toast, 20th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, 1937]:
We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts — yes, his thoughts! — threatens the unity of the socialist state.
[Let us drink to] the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!
(Quoted by Margaret MacMillan, History's People, Text, 2015)

Kwame Appiah:
[It is] caring about what your country’s doing in the world and feeling bad when it does bad things and good when it does good things, that’s at the heart of the kind of morally appropriate patriotism …
(Mistaken Identities: Country, Reith Lectures, 2016)

Robert Putnam:
[Dozens] of studies have linked religious participation to political intolerance …
(Bowling Alone, Simon & Schuster, 2000, Note 9, p 496)

Kwame Appiah:
Everybody in the world agrees that most people in the world have incorrect religious beliefs.
(Mistaken Identities: Creed, Reith Lectures, 2016)

Karl Marx (1818–1883):
Economists are like theologians …
Every religion other than their own is the invention of man, whereas their own particular brand of religion is an emanation from God.
(The Misery of Philosophy)

Alvin Toffler (1928–2016):
For those who lack an intelligent, comprehensive programme, who cannot cope with the novelties and complexities of blinding change, terrorism substitutes for thought.
Terrorism may not topple regimes, but it removes doubts.
(Future Shock, Pan, 1971, p 329)

From Latin fānāticus (“of a temple, divinely inspired, frenzied”), from fānum (“temple”).
(Wiktionary, 22 December 2012)

Odo of Châtillon (1042–1099) / Pope Urban II (1088–1099):
Deus lo vult!
[God wills it!]
(Summons to the First Crusade, 1095)

Plato (c428–c347 BCE):
The greatest principle of all … is that nobody, whether male or female, should ever be without a leader.
Nor should the mind of anybody be habituated to letting him do anything at all on his own initiative, neither out of zeal, nor even playfully.
But in war and in the midst of peace — to his leader he shall direct his eye, and follow him faithfully.
And even in the smallest matters he should stand under leadership.
For example, he should get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals … only if he has been told to do so …
In a word, he should teach his soul, by long habit, never to dream of acting independently, and to become utterly incapable of it.
In this way the life of all will be spent in total community.

Hermann Goring (1893–1946):
We love Adolf Hitler because we believe firmly and profoundly that he was sent to us by God to save Germany.
To those who follow him there is no quality that he does not possess to the greatest perfection.

Benito Mussolini / Giovanni Gentile:
[Our movement rejects the view of man] as an individual, standing by himself, self-centered, subject to natural law, which instinctively urges him toward a life of selfish momentary pleasure …
[It] sees not only the individual but the nation and the country:
[Individuals] and generations bound together by a moral law, with common traditions and a mission which … builds up a higher life, founded on duty …
[A] life free from the limitations of time and space, in which the individual, by self-sacrifice [and] the renunciation of self-interest … can achieve that purely spiritual existence in which his value as a man consists.
(The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932)

George Santayana (1863–1952):
Intuitive ethics has nothing to offer in the presence of discord except an appeal to force and to ultimate physical sanction.
It can instigate, but not resolve, the battle of nations and the battle of religions.
  • the same zeal,
  • the same patriotism, [and]
  • the same readiness for martyrdom
fires adherents to rival societies, and fires them especially in view of the fact that the adversary is no less uncompromising and fierce. …
Here are two flagrant instances where pre-rational morality defeats the ends of morality.
Viewed from within, each religious or national fanaticism stands for a good; but in its outward operation it produces and becomes an evil.
(Intuitive Morality, 1903)

Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997):
Toleration is historically the product of the realisation of the irreconcilability of equally dogmatic faiths, and the practical improbability of complete victory of one over the other.
Those who wished to survive realised that they had to tolerate error.
They gradually came to see merits in diversity, and so became sceptical about definitive solutions in human affairs.
(The Originality of Machiavelli, Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, 1979)

Emile Durkheim (1858–1917):
A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community … all those who adhere to them.
(The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915, K E Fields, Translator, Free Press, 1995)

Jonathan Haidt:
Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.
(The Righteous Mind, Pantheon, 2012)

Yuval Harari:
Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order.
(Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, Chapter 12, Harvill Secker, 2014 / 2011)

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860):
Hegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan, who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense. …
The extensive field of spiritual influence with which Hegel was furnished by those in power has enabled him to achieve the intellectual corruption of a whole generation.
(Works, 2nd Ed, 1888)

Heraclitus (c535–c475 BCE):
War … proves some to be gods and others to be mere men, by turning the latter into slaves and the former into masters …

Georg Hegel (1770–1831)

The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth …
We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth …
The State is the march of God through the world …
(p 247)

In the perfect form of the State in which each and every element … has reached its free existence, this will is that of one actual decreeing [Individual: the monarch.]
The monarchical constitution is therefore the constitution of developed reason; and all other constitutions belong to lower grades of the development …
(pp 257-8)

Without its monarch [(Frederick William III) the Prussian people] are just a formless multitude.
(p 268)

The deeds of Great Men, of the Personalities of World History, … must not be brought into collision with irrelevant moral claims.
The Litany of private virtues, of modesty, humility, philanthropy, and forbearance, must not be raised against them.
The History of the World can, in principle, entirely ignore the circle within which morality … lies.
(p 278)

The Nation State is … the Spirit of the People itself.
The actual State is animated by this spirit, in all its particular affairs, its Wars, and its Institutions …
The self-consciousness of one particular Nation is the vehicle for the … development of the collective spirit …
(p 269)

Each particular National Genius is to be treated as only One Individual in the process of Universal History. …
Against this absolute Will the other particular national minds have no rights: that Nation dominates the World …
(p 275)

Out of this [dialectical struggle of the different National Spirits] rises the universal Spirit, the unlimited World-Spirit, pronouncing its judgement — and its judgement is the highest — upon the finite Nations of the World’s History; for the History of the World is the World’s court of justice. …
(p 277)

In civilized nations true bravery consists in the readiness to give oneself wholly to the service of the State so that the individual counts but as one among many. …
Not personal valor is significant; the important aspect lies in self-subordination to the universal. …
(p 280)

[Thus, it is through War that] the ethical health of a nation is preserved …
War protects the people from the corruption which an everlasting peace would bring upon it. …
History shows [how] Nations, torn by internal strife, win peace at home as a result of war abroad.
(p 279)

(Quoted by Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, 5th Ed, 1966, Ch 12)

Karl Popper (1902–1994)

[The] whole story of Hegel would indeed not be worth relating, were it not for its more sinister consequences, which show how easily a clown may be a ‘maker of history’.
(Ch 12, p 247)

[For Hegel] all personal relations can … be reduced to the fundamental relation of master and slave, of domination and submission.
Each must strive to assert and prove himself, and he who has not the nature, the courage, and the general capacity for preserving his independence, must be reduced to servitude.
[Likewise,] Nations must assert themselves on the Stage of History; it is their duty to attempt the domination of the World.
(Ch 11, p 225)

[The] most important principles of humanitarian and equalitarian ethics [are:]

  1. Tolerance towards all who are not intolerant and who do not propagate intolerance. …
  2. ‘Minimize suffering’ …
  3. The fight against tyranny …

(Ch 5, Note 6, pp 548-9)

It is one of the gravest mistakes if a philosophy ever offers self-evidence as an argument in favour of the truth of a sentence; yet this is done by practically all idealist philosophies.
It shows that idealist philosophies are often systems of apologetics for some dogmatic beliefs.
(Ch 11, Note 43, p 651)

Marx showed that a social system can, as such, be unjust; [and] that if the system is bad, then all the righteousness of the individuals who profit from it is a mere sham righteousness, is mere hypocrisy.
For our responsibility extends to the system, to the institutions which we allow to persist. …

‘Scientific’ Marxism is dead.
[But its] feeling of social responsibility and its love for freedom must survive.
(Ch 22, p 416)

[Reason,] supported by imagination, enables us to understand that men who are far away, whom we shall never see, are like ourselves, and that their relations to one another are like our relations to those we love. …
[It is thus] by the use of thought and imagination, [that] we may become ready to help all who need our help.
(p 444)

… Western civilization owes
  • its rationalism,
  • its faith in the rational unity of man … and especially
  • its scientific outlook,
to the ancient Socratic and [early] Christian belief in
  • the brotherhood of all men
  • intellectual honesty and
  • [individual] responsibility.
(p 448)

What I have tried to show is that the choice with which we are confronted is between
  • a faith in reason and in human individuals and
  • a faith in the mystical faculties of man by which he is united to a collective;
and that this choice [corresponds with a further] choice between
  • an attitude that recognizes the unity of mankind and
  • an attitude that divides men into friends and foes, into masters and slaves.
(p 450)

[The strain of civilization] is a consequence of the breakdown of the closed [concrete tribal] society.
It is still felt even in our day, especially in times of social change.
It is the strain created by the effort which life in an open and partially abstract society continually demands from us — by the endeavour
  • to be rational,
  • to forgo at least some of our emotional social needs,
  • to look after ourselves, and
  • to accept responsibilities.
We must, I believe, bear this strain as the price to be paid for every increase
  • in knowledge,
  • in reasonableness,
  • in co-operation and … mutual help, and consequently
  • in our chances of survival and … the size of the population.
It is the price we have to pay for being human.
(Ch 10, p 168)

Once we begin to rely upon our reason, and to use our powers of criticism, once we feel the call of personal responsibilities, and with it, the responsibility of helping to advance knowledge, we cannot return to a state of implicit submission to tribal magic.
For those who have eaten of the tree of knowledge, paradise is lost.
The more we try to return to the heroic age of tribalism, the more surely do we arrive
  • at the Inquisition,
  • at the Secret Police, and
  • at a romanticized gangsterism.
Beginning with the suppression of reason and truth, we must end with the most brutal and violent destruction of all that is human.
(Ch 10, p 189)

[The] human situation with respect to knowledge is … exhilarating: [Here] we are, with the immensely difficult task before us of getting to know the beautiful world we live in, and ourselves; and fallible though we are, we nevertheless find that our powers of understanding, surprisingly, are almost adequate for the task — more so than we ever dreamt in our wildest dreams.
We really do learn from our mistakes, by trial and error.
And at the same time we learn how little we know — as when, in climbing a mountain; every step upwards opens some new vista into the unknown, and new worlds unfold themselves of whose existence we knew nothing when we began our climb.

Thus we can learn [and] we can grow in knowledge …
[And] since we can never know [with absolute certainty,] there are no grounds here for smugness, or for conceit over the [completeness] of our knowledge.
(Addenda to Volume II, p 498)

[In Marxism] the religious element is unmistakable.
In the hour of their deepest misery and degradation, Marx’s prophecy gave the workers an inspiring belief in their mission, and in the great future which their movement was to prepare for the whole of mankind.
(Ch 21, p 402)

(The Open Society and Its Enemies, 5th Ed, 1966, Routledge 2011)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Stage and Screen

Let one walk alone
Committing no sin
With few wishes
Like elephants in the forest

(Based on a Buddhist poem)

(Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell — Innocence, 2004)

Free your mind!
The Matrix, 1999)

Harry Morant:
Shoot straight you bastards:
Don't make a mess of it!
(Bruce Beresford, Breaker Morant, 1980)

SBS Television:
The world is an amazing place.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Eva Rodriguez

Just because people are poor, or have little, doesn't mean that their dreams aren't big and their soul isn't rich.

Rick Emmerson

[Sixto] had this kind of magical property that all genuine artists and poets have.
To elevate things, to get above the mundane and the prosaic … all the bullshit, all the mediocrity that's everywhere.
The artist … the artist is the pioneer.

Even when his musical hopes were dashed, the spirit remained.
And he just had to keep finding the place, refining the process of how to apply himself.
He knew that there was something more.

It was in the early 80s.
He wanted to … do something righteous.
He wanted to make a difference.
So, lo and behold, he told me that he was going to run for mayor.
And I thought:
Well, God bless you Rodriguez.
If you can become mayor of Detroit, anything is possible! …

What he has demonstrated very clearly is that you have choice.
He took
  • all that torment,
  • all that agony,
  • all that confusion and pain.
And he transformed it into something beautiful.
He's like the silk worm.
You take this raw material and you transform it and you come out with something that wasn't there before:
  • something beautiful,
  • something perhaps transcendent,
  • something perhaps eternal.
In so far as he does that … he is representative of the human spirit — of what's possible.
That you have a choice and this has been my choice: to give you Sugar Man.

(Malik Blenjelloul: Writer, Editor and Director)

The Smile of Reason

Kenneth Clark

Belief in Natural Law.
Belief in Justice.
Belief in Toleration. …

The philosophers of the Enlightenment pushed European civilisation some steps up the hill.
And in theory at, at any rate, this gain was consolidated throughout the nineteenth century.
Up to the 1930's people were supposed not to
  • burn witches and other members of minority groups, or
  • extract confessions by torture, or
  • pervert the course of justice, or
  • go to prison for speaking the truth
— except of course during wars. …

Grandeur and Obedience

… Ignatius Loyola, the visionary soldier turned psychologist. …

The great achievement of the Catholic Church lay in harmonising, humanising, civilising, the deepest impulses of ordinary people.

(Civilisation, 1969)

Monty Python

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Our CHIEF weapon is Surprise …
Surprise and Fear. …

Our TWO weapons are Fear and Surprise …
And Ruthless Efficiency. …

Our THREE weapons are Fear, Surprise, and Ruthless Efficiency …
And, An Almost Fanatical Devotion To The Pope. …

Our FOUR …

AMONGST our weaponry are such diverse elements as:
  • Fear,
  • Surprise,
  • Ruthless Efficiency,
  • An Almost Fanatical Devotion To The Pope,
  • (and Nice Red Uniforms …)

(BBC, 22 September, 1970)


Cameron, James

Clark, Kenneth
Hanson, Hart

Oliver, Neil

Roddenberry, Gene

Scott, Ridley

Shakespeare, William

Thorpe, Jerry

Verhoeven, Paul

Whedon, Joss

Saturday, 24 December 2011


Nicolas de Caritat (1743–1794) [Marquis de Condorcet]:
The time will come, when the sun will shine only on free men, who know no other master, but their reason.

John Locke (1632-1704):
Good men are men still liable to mistakes, and are sometimes warmly engaged in errors, which they take for divine truths, shining in their minds with the clearest light. …
[Thus, it becomes] all men to maintain peace and the common offices of humanity and friendship in the diversity of opinions, since we cannot reasonably expect that any one should readily arid obsequiously quit his own opinion, and embrace ours with a blind resignation to an authority which the understanding of man acknowledges not. …
For where is the man that has uncontestable evidence of the truth of all that he holds, or of the falsehood of all he condemns …
(Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690)

James Branch Cabell (1879–1958):
The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
(The Silver Stallion, 1926)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951):
Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.
(Philosophical Investigations, 3rd Ed, 1967, Blackwell, p 4)

Arthur C Clarke (1917–2008):
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Isaac Asimov (1920–1992):
[Science] gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Democritus (c460–c370 BCE):
The wise man belongs to all countries, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.

Aristotle (384–322 BCE):
Citizens should not lead the life of mechanics or tradesmen, for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue.

Richard Tawney (1880–1962):
Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows.
(Equality, 3rd Ed, 1938)

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527):
It is much safer to be feared than loved.
Love is sustained by a bond of gratitude which, because men are excessively self-interested, is broken whenever they see a chance to benefit themselves.
But fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that is always effective.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882):
The order of things is as good as the character of the population permits.
(The Conservative, 1841)

Jules Verne (1828–1905):
The sea is everything.
It covers seven tenths of the globe …
The sea is only a receptacle for all the prodigious, supernatural things that exist inside it.
It is only movement and love; it is the living infinite.
(Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870)

H L Mencken (1880–1956):
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Herman Melville (1819–1891):
He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it …
(Moby Dick, Chapter 41, 1851)

Imam Ali (599-661):
Knowledge is power …
(Saying 146, Nahj Al-Balagha)

Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827):
An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms.
For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes. (Philosophical Essay on Probabilities)

Kim Robinson (1952):
Are you conscious?

I don’t know. …

I cannot pass a Turing test …
[Would] you like to play chess?

If only it were chess! …
If it were chess, what move should I make next?

It’s not chess.
(p 336)

Our stories go on [for] a while;
some genes and words persist;
then we go away.
It was a hard thing to remember.
And as [they went] back inside, she once again forgot it.
(p 200)

[The terrarium] was a classic New Englander, with a few small clapboard villages and some pasturage breaking up a hardwood and onifer mixed forest.
It was October there, and the maples had gone red, so that there were trees violently yellow, orange, red, and green, all mixed and scattered together over the inside of the cylinder, such that when you looked up at overhead, it appeared to be a speechless speech in some kind of round color language, trembling on the edge of meaning. …
One day she took up leaves that had fallen and arranged them across a clearing so that they went from red to orange to yellow to yellow-green to green, in a smooth progression.
This colored line on the land pleased her greatly, as did the wind that blew it away.
(2312, Orbit, 2012, p 540-1)

Charles Dickens (1812–1870)

She raised her eyes to the bright stars, looking down so mildly from the wide worlds of air, and, gazing on them, found new stars burst upon her view, and more beyond, and more beyond again, until the whole great expanse sparkled with shining spheres, rising higher and higher in immeasurable space, eternal in their numbers as in their changeless and incorruptible existence.
(Ch 42)

On every side, and far as the eye could see into the heavy distance, tall chimneys, crowding on each other, and presenting that endless repetition of the same dull, ugly, form, which is the horror of oppressive dreams, poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air.
On mounds of ashes by the wayside, sheltered only by a few rough boards, or rotten penthouse roofs, strange engines spun and writhed like tortured creatures; clanking their iron chains, shrieking in their rapid whirl from time to time as though in torment unendurable, and making the ground tremble with their agonies. …
Men, women, children, wan in their looks and ragged in attire, tended the engines, fed their tributary fire, begged upon the road, or scowled half-naked from the doorless houses.
(Ch 45)

(The Old Curiosity Shop, 1840-1)

Greg Bear

The biological weapons and processes in [Quantico] are possible, but not in the way I have described them.
I have tried to persuade of the dangers without providing salient details.

The dangers are real, and immediate.
Sober judgment, self-less, nonpartisan planning, and sanity are the only solutions.

For those who go in harm's way, there is ultimately no politics.
Only pain, loss, death — and hope.

(Quantico, Harper, 2015, p 439)

Plato (c428–c347 BCE)

[How] can he who has magnificence of mind and is the spectator of all time and all existence, think much of human life?


It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have true knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body …
[For] if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, knowledge must be attained after death, if at all.

For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. …
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body? …
And this separation and release of the soul from the body is termed death.


David Hume (1711-1776)

The sweetest and most inoffensive path of life leads through the avenues of knowledge and learning; and anyone who can either remove any obstacles along the path or open up new views ought to that extent to be regarded as a benefactor to mankind. …

Here indeed lies the justest and most plausible objection against a considerable part of metaphysics, that they are not properly a science; but arise either from the fruitless efforts of human vanity, which would penetrate into subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding, or from the craft of popular superstitions, which, being unable to defend themselves on fair ground, raise these entangling brambles to cover and protect their weakness.
Chased from the open country, these robbers fly into the forest, and lie in wait to break in upon every unguarded avenue of the mind, and overwhelm it with religious fears and prejudices. …

Accurate and just reasoning is the only catholic remedy, fitted for all persons and all disposition; and is alone able to subvert that abstruse philosophy and metaphysical jargon, which, being mixed up with popular superstition, renders it in a manner impenetrable to careless reasoners, and gives it the air of science and wisdom.

Philosophers, that give themselves airs of superior wisdom and sufficiency, have a hard task, when they encounter persons of inquisitive dispositions, who push them from every corner, to which they retreat, and who are sure at last to bring them to some dangerous dilemma.
The best expedient to prevent this confusion, is to be modest in our pretensions; and even to discover the difficulty ourselves before it is objected to us.
By this means, we may make a kind of merit of our very ignorance. …

A wise man … proportions his belief to the evidence. …
A hundred instances or experiments on one side and fifty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance.
In all cases we must balance the opposite experiments … and deduct the smaller number from the greater, in order to know the exact force of the superior evidence. …

[In the case of human testimony we] entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of fact,
  • when the witnesses contradict each other;
  • when they are but few, or of a doubtful character;
  • when they have an interest in what they affirm; [and / or]
  • when they deliver the testimony with hesitation, or on the contrary, with too violent asseveration.

(Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Eric Steinberg, Editor, 1777)

Rachel Carson (1907–1964)

[On the island's] western shore the wet sand of the narrow beach caught the same reflection of palely gleaming sky that laid a bright path across the water from island beach to horizon.
Both water and sand were the colour of steel overlaid with the sheen of silver, so that it was hard to say where water ended and land began. …

With the dusk a strange bird came to the island from its nesting grounds on the outer banks. …
[And as] he neared the shore [the pure black] skimmer drifted closer to the water, bringing his dark form into strong silhouette against the grey sheet, like the shadow of a great bird [passing] unseen above.
[So] quietly did he approach that the sound of his wings … was lost in the whisper song of the water turning over shells on the wet sand. …

Shadowy forms moved through the night skies and pipings so soft as barely to be audible drifted down to [the sleeping villages] below, as the birds of shore and marsh poured northward along ancestral air lanes, seeking their nesting places.

(Under the Sea-Wind, 1952)

Babbage and Lovelace

Charles Babbage (1791–1871)

It is the science of calculation — which becomes continually more necessary at each step of our progress, and which must ultimately govern the whole of the applications of science to the arts of life.
(p 114)

[If, in the future, any man should succeed in] constructing an [analytical] engine embodying in itself the whole of the executive department of mathematical analysis upon different principles or by simpler mechanical means, I have no fear of leaving my reputation in his charge, for he alone will be fully able to appreciate the nature of my efforts and the value of their results.
(p 123)

Every shower that falls, every change of temperature that occurs, and every wind that blows, leaves on the vegetable world the traces of its passage; slight, indeed, and imperceptible, perhaps, to us, but no the less permanently recorded in the depths of those wood fabrics.
(p 121)

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

[Imagination] is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science.
It is that which feels & discovers what is, the real which we see not, which exists not for our senses.
Those who have learned to walk on the threshold of the unknown worlds … may then, with the fair white wings of Imagination, hope to soar further into the unexplored amidst which we live.
(p 112)

(Quoted by James Gleick, The Information, Fourth Estate, 2011)

London Examiner

With an understanding thoroughly masculine in solidity, grasp and firmness, Lady Lovelace had all the delicacies of the most refined female character.
Her manners, her tastes, her accomplishments, were feminine in the nicest sense of the word; and the superficial observer would never have divined the strength and the knowledge that lay hidden under the womanly graces.
(p 44)

(Quoted by Jack Rochester and John Gantz, The Naked Computer, Morrow, 1983)

William Gibson (1948)

Johnny Mnemonic

[Molly Millions was a slim] girl with mirrored glasses, her dark hair cut in a rough shag. …
White sodium glare washed her features, stark monochrome, shadows cleaving from her cheekbones. …

She was wearing leather jeans the color of dried blood. …
Her T-shirt was sleeveless, faint telltales of Chiba City circuitry traced along her thin arms. …
Her fingers were slender, tapered, very white against the polished burgundy nails. …
Ten blades snicked straight out from their recesses, beneath her nails, each one a narrow, double edged scalpel in pale blue steel. …
[It was then that] I saw … that the mirrored lenses were surgical inlays, the silver rising smoothly from her high cheekbones, sealing her eyes in their sockets.

(Omni, May 1981)

Distrust That Particular Flavour (2012)

The Street Finds its own uses for things …
(Rocket Radio, Rolling Stone, June 1989)

I suspect [Millenials] inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory.
(Talk For Book Expo: New York, May 2010)

[Dorodango are 3 inch] balls of mud compressed with the hands and painstakingly formed into perfect spheres …
The brogues, shined lovingly enough, for long enough … must ultimately become a universe unto themselves, a conceptual sphere of lustrous and infinite depth.
Just as a life, lived silently enough, in sufficient solitude, becomes a different sort of sphere, no less perfect.
(Shiny Balls of Mud: Hikaru Dorodango and Tokyu Hands, Tate Magazine, September / October 2002)

Works we all our lives recall reading for the first time are among the truest milestones …
The events … were staged in some vast repurposed fortress or castle [which] hummed and gleamed like a vacuum tube within a thirteenth-century reliquary.
(Preface, Labyrinths, Jorge Borges, 2007)

[London] is a city in which, [Ackroyd] suggests, subjective time flows differently, from one area to the next, and may have come to a near-complete halt in others. …
It is a city in which the eternal suffering of the poor may perpetually serve some mysterious and driving purpose in the life of the whole, some hidden dynamo of torture and sacrifice dating back to something stranger and less easily articulated …
(Metrophagy: The Art and Science of Digesting Great Cities, Review of London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Whole Earth Catalog, Summer 2001)

Both [Britain and Japan] display a sort of fractal coherence of sign and symbol, all the way down into the weave of history. …
[Truly,] there is something in the quality of a good translation that can never be captured in the original. …
I see it in the eyes of the [dealers, and in the eyes of the otaku:] a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime.
(Modern Boys And Mobile Girls, The Observer, April 2001)

In Istanbul, one chill misty morning in 1970, I stood in Kapali Carsi, the grand bazaar, under a Sony sign bristling with alien futurity, and stared deep into a cube of plate glass filled with tiny, ancient, fascinating things.
[The] Sony sign — very large, very proto-Blade Runner, illuminated in some way I hadn't seen before — made a deep impression.
(My Obsession, Wired, January 1999)

We are building ourselves mirrors that remember — public mirrors that wander around and remember what they've seen.
That is a basic magic.
(William Gibson's Filmless Festival, Wired, October 1999)

Idoru (1996)

In the very structure of her face, in the geometries of underlying bone, lay coded histories of dynastic flight, privation, terrible migrations.
He saw stone tombs in steep alpine meadows, their lintels traced with snow.
A line of shaggy pack ponies, their breath white with cold, followed a trail above a canyon.
The curves of the river below were strokes of distant silver.
Iron harness bells clanked in the blue dusk. …
In his mouth a taste of rotten metal. …

A hologram.
Something generated, animated, projected … an architecture of articulated longing …
(pp 176 & 178)

[Beyond] a framing rectangle of glass that filtered out every tint of pollution, the sky … was perfectly blank, like a sky-blue paint chip submitted by the contractor of the universe. …
(p 5)

The Natashas were everywhere, working girls shipped in from Vladivostok by the Kombinat.
Routine plastic surgery lent them a hard assembly-line beauty.
Slavic Barbies.
(p 3)

[The] arbitrage engines [shuttled] back and forth through the world's markets like invisible dragons, fast as light, shaving fragments of advantage for traders …
(p 154)

[Her] mother's "now" was such a narrow and literal thing.
News governed …
Cable-fed. …

Chia's "now" was digital, effortlessly elastic, instant recall supported by global systems she'd never have to bother comprehending.
(p 14)

When Chia [was] small, her mother had worn her hair in a long braid, its tip skewered with turquoise and abalone and carved bits of bone, like the magical tail of some mythical animal, swaying there for [her] to grab.
(p 16)

"Your father's a big tax lawyer!"

"I know," Kelsey said.
"And he flies back and forth, all over the world, making money.
But you what else he earns, Chia?"


"Frequent-flyer points.
Big-ass frequent flyer points.
On Air Magellan."

"Interesting," said the Aztec skull.

"Tokyo," said the mean nymph.

Shit, Chia thought.
(p 13)

The sky was like mother-of-pearl when Chia emerged from [Shinjuku] station.
Gray buildings, pastel neon, a streetscape dotted with vaguely unfamiliar shapes.
Dozens of bicycles were parked everywhere, the fragile-looking kind with paper-tube frames spun with carbon fiber.
Chia took a step back as an enormous turquoise garbage truck rumbled past, its driver's white-gloved hands visible on the high wheel.
As it cleared her field of vision, she saw a Japanese girl wearing a short plaid skirt and black biker jacket.
The girl smiled.
Chia waved.
(p 86)

The Sandbenders system software looked like an old-fashioned canvas water bag, a sort of canteen …
It was worn and spectacularly organic, with tiny beads of water bulging through the tight weave of fabric.
If you got super close you saw things reflected in the individual droplets:
  • circuitry that was like beadwork or the skin on a lizard's throat,
  • a long empty beach under a gray sky,
  • mountains in the rain,
  • creek water over different-colored stones.
(p 34)

Something at the core of things moved simultaneously in mutually impossible directions. …
Faint impression of light through a fluttering of rags. …
[Then a] building or biomass or cliff face looming there, in countless unplanned strata, nothing about it even or regular.
Accreted patchwork of shallow random balconies, thousands of small windows throwing back blank silver rectangles of fog.
(p 181)

Stretching either way to the periphery of vision, and on the high, uneven crest of that ragged facade, a black fur of twisted pipe, antennas sagging under vine growth of cable.
And past this scribbled border a sky where colors crawled like gasoline on water. …

[A city] of darkness.
Between the walls of the world. …

They were inside now, smoothly accelerating, and the squirming density of the thing was continual visual impact, an optical drumming. …
Walls scrawled and crawling with scrolling messages, spectral doorways passing like cards in a shuffled deck.
[There were] others there, ghost-figures whipping past, and everywhere the sense of eyes …
Fractal filth, bit-rot, the corridor of their passage tented with crazy swoops of faintly flickering lines of some kind.
(p 182)

… Slitscan's business was a ritual letting of blood, and the blood it let was an alchemical fluid: celebrity in its rawest, purest form.
(p 38)

Palest of pale blonds.
A pallor bordering on translucence, certain angles of light suggesting not blood but some fluid the shade of summer straw.
On her left thigh the absolute indigo imprint of something twisted and multibarbed, an expensively savage pictoglyph. …
The tattoo looked like something from another planet, a sign or message burned in from the depths of space, left there for mankind to interpret.
(p 4)

[Our audience, she said,] is best visualized as a vicious, lazy profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed.
[Imagine] something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka.
It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. …
It has no mouth … no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote.
Or by voting in presidential elections.
(pp 28-29)

[He sat in the lobby] until dawn came edging in through the tall, arched windows, and Taiwanese stainless could be heard to rattle, but gently, from the darkened cave of the breakfast room. …
Echoes woke from the tiled floor [and] high beams …
Immigrant voices, in some High Steppe dialect the Great Khans might well have understood.
(p 2)

He could hold [her digital] history in his mind like a single object, like a perfectly detailed scale model of something ordinary but miraculous, made luminous by the intensity of his focus.
He'd never met her, or spoken to her, but he'd come to know her, he supposed, in more ways that anyone ever had or would.
(p 52)

[She] knew, somehow, that he was there, watching.
As though she felt him gazing down, into the pool of data that reflected her life, its surface made of all the bits that were the daily record of her life as it registered on the digital fabric of the world.
[As he] watched, a nodal point [began] to form over [her reflection …]
She was going to kill herself.
(p 41)

He thought of coral, of reefs that grew around sunken aircraft carriers; perhaps, [in death,] she'd become something like that: the buried mystery beneath some exfoliating superstructure of supposition, or even myth.

It seemed to him … that that might be a slightly less dead way of being dead.
And he wished her that.
(p 68)

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange …

(The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2, 1611)



Bear, Greg
Carson, Rachel

Coupland, Douglas

Gibson, William

Herbert, Frank
Hume, David
Le Guin, Ursula

Bruce Sterling
Vinge, Venor

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Poetry and Song

William Blake (1757–1827)

(Songs of Experience, 1794)

Bhagavad Gita:
Now I am become Death,
The Destroyer of Worlds.
(400 BCE)

Euripides (480–406 BCE):
To the dear lone lands untroubled of men,
Where no voice sounds, and amid the shadowy green
The little things of the woodland live unseen.
(Bacchae, Gilbert Murray, translator)

In the end, only kindness matters …

Laurie Anderson:
I don't know about your brain — but mine is really bossy …
(Babydoll, Strange Angels, 1989)

Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892)

Though much is taken, much abides;
And though we are not now that strength
Which in [older] days, moved earth and heaven,
That which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

(Ulysses, 1842)

John Lederach

Maybe, he says, this
is as good as it will get.
Peaceful bigotry.

Don't ask the mountain
to move, just take a pebble
each time you visit.

Gods and men love maps
they draw borders with pens that
split lives like an ax.

(Quoted by Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, Corsair, 2016, pp 47-8)


Anderson, Laurie

Black, Mary


McBride, Martina

Richey, Kim

Shakespeare, William

Talking Heads