Ramblings & ephemera

Umberto Eco on books

From Umberto Eco’s “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” (Al-Ahram Weekly: 20—26 November 2003): Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not […]

Reading the impenetrable too fast

From Lee Siegel, quoted in Juliet Lapidos’s “Overrated: Authors, critics, and editors on ‘great books’ that aren’t all that great” (Slate: 11 August 2011): It was like Herbert Marcuse’s advice to a despairing graduate student who said he had spent days on a sentence in Hegel and still couldn’t understand it: “You’re reading too fast,” […]

The Pareto Principle & Temperament Dimensions

From David Brooks’ “More Tools For Thinking” (The New York Times: 29 March 2011): Clay Shirkey nominates the Pareto Principle. We have the idea in our heads that most distributions fall along a bell curve (most people are in the middle). But this is not how the world is organized in sphere after sphere. The […]

David Pogue’s insights about tech over time

From David Pogue’s “The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech” (The New York Times: 25 November 2010): As tech decades go, this one has been a jaw-dropper. Since my first column in 2000, the tech world has not so much blossomed as exploded. Think of all the commonplace tech that didn’t even exist 10 […]

Hanoi’s last blacksmith

From Seth Mydans’s “A Lone Blacksmith, Where Hammers Rang” (The New York Times: 25 November 2010): HANOI, Vietnam — He is the last blacksmith on Blacksmith Street, dark with soot, his arms dappled with burns, sweating and hammering at his little roadside forge as a new world courses past him. The son and grandson of […]

Woody Allen on what he’s interested in focusing on in his art

From Michiko Kakutani’s interview of Woody Allen in “The Art of Humor No. 1” (The Paris Review: Fall 1995, No. 136): The same things come up time after time. They’re the things that are on my mind, and one is always feeling for new ways to express them. It’s hard to think of going out […]

A summary of Galbraith’s The Affluent Society

From a summary of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (Abridge Me: 1 June 2010): The Concept of the Conventional Wisdom The paradigms on which society’s perception of reality are based are highly conservative. People invest heavily in these ideas, and so are heavily resistant to changing them. They are only finally overturned by new […]

Errol Morris on film noir

From Errol Morris’s “Film Legend Errol Morris Salutes New Graduates At 2010 Commencement” (Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism: 10 May 2010): There are many things I liked about noir. But in particular, there are images of one benighted character after another struggling to make sense of the world – and sometimes failing in the effort. […]

There, on the Darkened Deathbed by John Masefield

This is pretty much what I think happens when we die, and unfortunately, what happens eventually after we die. There, on the darkened deathbed, dies the brain That flared three several times in seventy years; It cannot lift the silly hand again, Nor speak, nor sing, it neither sees nor hears. And muffled mourners put […]

Looking at others’ lives for clues to what might have been

From Tim Kreider’s “The Referendum” (The New York Times: 17 September 2009): The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start […]

Huck Finn caged

From Nicholas Carr’s “Sivilized” (Rough Type: 27 June 2009): Michael Chabon, in an elegiac essay in the new edition of the New York Review of Books, rues the loss of the “Wilderness of Childhood” – the unparented, unfenced, only partially mapped territory that was once the scene of youth. … Huck Finn, now fully under […]

David Foster Wallace on the problems with postmodern irony

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up […]

All about freezing to death

photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection From Peter Stark’s “As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow–First Chill–Then Stupor–Then the Letting Go” (Outside: January 1997): There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau’s cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees […]

David Foster Wallace on rock, the rise of mass media, & the generation gap

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): Rock music itself bores me, usually. The phenomenon of rock interests me, though, because its birth was part of the rise of popular media, which completely changed the ways the U.S. was unified and split. The mass […]

The watchclock knows where your night watchman is

photo credit: 917press From Christopher Fahey’s “Who Watches the Watchman?” (GraphPaper: 2 May 2009): The Detex Newman watchclock was first introduced in 1927 and is still in wide use today. &hellip What could you possibly do in 1900 to be absolutely sure a night watchman was making his full patrol? An elegant solution, designed and […]

Roger Ebert on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): What I expect will most probably happen [when I die] is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps […]

Immortality, poetically

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): And there is Shakespeare, who came as close as any man to immortality. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman: I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you […]

Fossils are the lucky ones

From Errol Morris’ “Whose Father Was He? (Part Five)” (The New York Times: 2 April 2009): I had an opportunity to visit the fossil collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. It was part of a dinosaur fossil-hunting trip with Jack Horner, the premier hunter of T-Rex skeletons. Downstairs in the lab, […]

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade“: I work all day, and get half drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when […]

4 sources of tension between science and religion

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): But if the direct conflict between scientific knowledge and specific religious beliefs has not been so important in itself, there are at least four sources of tension between science and religion that have been important. The first source of tension arises […]