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2004-10-29 tea (utc+1)


1. Purple haze all in my brain!

Hacking, again:

There are cognitive scientists who argue strongly that arranging hierarchies, taxonomies, temporal processes and the like, in the form of tree-diagrams, may be in effect innate, perhaps there is even a tree-diagramming module in the brain.

Don'cha know 'ss gonna drive me insane duh du duh duh DUUUHH duh du DUUUH!

2. Suckers!

If you had to design an octopodular sucker, you might think of combining a plumber's mate with a bicycle pump, isn't it?

And, modulo some biomechanical trivialities and a radically different design methodology, so did Mrs. Nature.

But did you ever know such a discipline as biology for having names for things? Memory are like a muscle, and biology tore mine so bad it's never been the same since, and it wasn't all that similar before.


3. Timing

I can get from work to home and back in well under an hour if I think (at work) that I've left my wallet at home and find (at home) that I haven't and it'd better be at work after all.

(It was.)

Trevlig helg!


2004-10-29 11:53

Buy A Bonny Bonnet - a Desbladet charity appeal

Danish Kronprinsessmary AKA Knudella desperately needs a new bonnet! Since the Danish Royle Hice is presumably skint after sorting out prinsess A's divorce settlement, this 'bladet is lauching an appeal to help out. She can't even go to the sambafest, on account of not having a bonnet to wear! (It would be a grave insult to wear the same bonnet to that, of course.)

Kronprins Frederik og Mary skal alligevel ikke til sambafest i Rio de Janeiro.

Kronprinsfred and Knudella shall not go to the sambafest in Rio de Janeiro after all.

When the beautiful prinsess can't go to the ball, the situation is surely desparate!

Checks - in any major zloty - to the von Bladet Estate, c/o the Bank of Latveria, Latveria.


2004-10-29 10:02

There is so much hassle that there still is

So. I was buying Locke's celebrated Y'unnerstand? second hand, because that the meatspace shops didn't have it, and Amazon was all "two or days" and not even working anyway.

And it's duly arrived, which is good. And it's abridged, which is very very very very ungood. I screened out all the copies with suspicious page counts, or which said "abridged", of course.

I am very unhappy.

Abridgement makes sense for something like Frazer's twelve-volume Golden Bough, but squishing an 800-page book down to 300 - even if the original was an incoherent sprawling mess - isn't an "abridgement" it's a $!*&ing mutilation.


2004-10-28 15:47


1. Exemplars of the wrongness of leaving out hyphens in compound adjectives: notes towards a bestiary

Naomi Chana contributes:

I think I'm pretty well raised

Is that "pretty well-raised" or "pretty-well raised"? The stress would tell us, and so would a hyphen.

2. Bogographical

After I was Timber'd, my referral logs showed traces of Google searches for "Des von Bladet". I like to think persons were hoping that, or at least checking if, I was the kind of intellectual who held actual positions and wrote actual books, and so on.

Accordingly, I have appointed myself to the Latverian Academy of Sciences, and awarded myself the chair in Dialectical Malfeasance and the Systemic Abuse of Reason at the State University of the Free State of Trieste and Trst, and founded the (Degenerate) Linguistique Circle of Wherever I Happen To Be.

I hold, also, visiting appointments in several other fictional countries.

3. Pretty!

I don't like to read philosophie in the Silly Engleesh, of course, but Continuum Books know my fatal weakness: Snazzy design, foreign philosophes, not grotesquely oversize and cheap as chips at a tenner a go.

Here's Libidinal Economy by Jean-Franois Lyotard, but they also do Gadamer's Truth Or Dare, Adorno, Derrida, Delusion Gorblimey and, um, Philippe Larkin's Jazz Writings.

The formula is a straight copy of Routledge's classics series, but it is surprisingly hard to resist the suspicion that it's all a plot to posthumously wind up Larkin by making him a stable mate of Lyotard's Libinal Economy.


2004-10-28 samwidge (utc+1)

Oh yes we do!

Ian Hacking holds the chair in philosophie et histoire des concepts scientifiques at the Collge de France, and his article in the LRB in the same issue as Jerry "Cannon" Fodor's dreary and mean-spirited rant was the highlight, for sure.

Here, though, he is in the NYRB on Antonio "Dee-Dye" Damasio's quest for Spinoza:

There is a big difference between tending to do something and striving. A central heating system with the thermostat set at 68 F. tends to return to that temperature as the winter night sets in. We may in metaphor say that the furnace is trying hard to keep the house warm, but we do not seriously think that any part of the system is striving to do anything. The word "homeostatic," adopted in cybernetics for feedback systems in general, originated in 1920s human physiology to name self-regulation of body fluids, digestion, and metabolism. One of the first examples was the way our bodies maintain a constant temperature for the blood. We do not say that our metabolic system endeavors to maintain stability, only that by means of feedback controls it tends to a stable state. We do not "anthropomorphize" our digestion any more than we anthropomorphize furnaces with thermostats.

Minsky famously took a bunch of flak for insisting that thermostats have a sort of mind, but we are closer to Minsky than Hacking on this point. (Actually, Hacking is better and more subtle than I've made out. I wish to read more of his stuff.)

Homeostasis, as Jaques Monod pointed out, implies teleonomy, and from teleonomy to the attribution of a telos or goal is essentially an ethical question: this was the theme of my monsterpost, and I stand by it.

But we like Hacking anyway - he's solved the Engleesh/French dilemma by being bilingually Canananadian, which is pretty clever, you have to admit - even if we hate hate hate the Collge de France's website. (Try it - you will too.)

UPDATE: I don't like him anymore - the fragment of his leon inaugrale that's available online suggests that he's swiped my entire bloody philosophy of science, and used a time-machine (I assume) to back-date his account of it to a time before I'd even thought of it!


2004-10-28 morning (utc+1)

There is so much hassle that there is

I need need need a copy of Locke's Essay on the Unnerstand so I went to Amazon and the site was completely fubar. Coefficient of zonkage 1.9 and rising, even.

So I grabbed the Project Gutenberg two-volume set, just to have a something such as which is better than nothing, and then it occured to me that Mr Locke's book, having been published over three hundred (300) years ago might conceivably be available second-hand.

Result! It's now on it's way, and only the post can stop it. (If it isn't here tomorrow, though, I won't get it till Monday, which is a week after I started looking.)


2004-10-27 16:07


1. Malheureusement, je prfre le caf

My poor forgetful spicy brain!

Des chercheurs ont dcouvert une nouvelle proprit du th : il ralentirait le vieillissement des cellules crbrales. C'est une bonne nouvelle pour le Royaume-Uni, qui en a fait depuis des lustres sa boisson nationale.

Researches have discovered a new property of tea: it slows down the aging of brain cells. Good news for the United Kingdom, whose national drink it has long been.

All the links in that are back to the English press, if you can brave the Frenchy-French.

2. Of 'bladets

I don't tend to read Engleesh 'bladets, of course, except the BBC's newsbladet (the Europe section, mostly) and occasional glances at the Grauniad.

But I am in a state of imminence with respect to the Open University's An Introduction to the Social Sciences: Understanding Social Change, and over on the (evil proprietary software powered) online forums they run, the advice to newbies is to get into the habit of reading the posher sort of 'bladet. The posher sort, which is to have gone without saying, of Engleesh 'bladet.

Oh dear. It had not (which is by no means to my credit) especially occurred to me that a study of the social sciences was likely to involve having to interface with that said society and particularly its media.

3. Ancient traditions, slightly c. 1850

From A Pocket Guide to Superstitions by Steve Roud, extracted hos Grauniad:

What we ended up with was a mass of material on the subject, which was organised and analysed to provide data for informed judgements instead of guesses. The first principle of the historical approach is that if a superstition cannot be found before, say, 1850, the idea that it has survived from an ancient fertility ritual or pre-Christian sacrifice 1,200 years before seems a bit far-fetched.

This seems sensible, but I think it is actually somewhat confused. In particular, there is no reason to think the historical record has done an especially good job of recording folk traditions: the things that have been considered worth writing about - and the bare number of persons equipped to write about them - are by no means universal constants.

That people claim a tradition is ancient is no proof that it is, but that the historical record doesn't mention it is no proof that it isn't.

If it had existed underground for all that time it would probably have changed beyond all recognition anyway (imagine a game of Chinese whispers lasting for 1,200 years), so an examination of the modern version is unlikely to tell us anything about the original.

Chinese whispers yerself, mate: lots of words in contemporary English are descended from words (in Old English or other languages) that were around than 1,200 years, for sure. Even in the absence of ancient attestation, the comparative method of historical linguistics can often recover the form, and have some idea about the meaning.

If there are no neogrammarians of superstition, then too bad (I think Dumzil might have a thing or two to say about that, though), but what Roud really ought to restrict himself to meaning is that contemporary folk accounts of the origins of traditions should be taken with a pinch of salt. The linguistique equivalent of which is that folk etymologies are worthless, and that much is for sure.


2004-10-27 11:48

John Peel

John Peel has died.

When I was a teenager in the suburbs in the '80s there was the mainstream - a stream of now thankfully inconceivable mainness - and then there was John Peel, from 10pm to midnight, at which point Radio 1 closed for the night.

Sometimes fashion followed him and very often it didn't, but that was never the point - he played the new music, whatever the genre, whatever the era, whatever he happened to like, and there was always plenty of that.

Glut is the new scarcity, of course, and the kids today have multi-gigabyte iPods stuffed with empee3s of who-knows-what from who-knows-where in the inexhastible digital plenitudes, but you still want (I still want) a trusted pairs of ears to sift it all, and the best there ever was is no more.


2004-10-27 09:59

It must be so!

The three (3) bookshops within walking distance of the university have, between them, zero (0) copies of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. (And Jerry "Canon" Fodor thinks he's neglected, and unjustly at that!)

Certainly, what with all the fuss about the tercentenary, they must've all sold out.

Also, did you know, that the von Bladet line was enobled by in the 15th century by Prins Emmenthal of Thuringia in recognition of the service to his court of our distant ancestor, Albrecht ffon Plaget, author of, in particular, the celebrated Grundrisse alchemisches Schweinflgs?


2004-10-26 tea (utc+1, still)


1. Prinsessjoke

Q: You're surely not going to India in that hat, Prinsess A of Danmark?

A: Foolish commoner! One is going by aeroplane, of course!

2. Swedish Idioms in Painfully Literal Translation

Is this the most aptly-named site on the Interweb?

[via PF, tack]

3. It's on!

The fourth and final installment of the Nietzsche tetralogy in five titles (Den Glada vetenskapen, Die frhliche Wissenschaft, Le Gai savoir , La Gaya scienza) has arrived. I'm slightly put out to discover that the Swedish translator plumped for the unexpanded first edition, stripped out the jolly opening and closing sing-songs, and provided a critical apparatus occupying no more than two (2) sides.


2004-10-26 samwidge (utc+1)

Monday Review of Stuff, Special Live Edition

0. Chris von Timber daylights (under the orthonym of "Bertram") as a political philosopher, and in the philosophy evening class devoted to Locke in the tercentenary of his death, he was speaking last night on Locke's political philosophy. He is by no means responsible for my wilful misinterpetration of everything, however.


Lvi-Strauss famously described myths as machines for stopping time. But is that not also the task or burden of philosophy? Is not the Western philosophical tradition in fact the legacy of the scandalous confrontation of myth with its own historicity?


Locke had a great deal to say about Natural Law, and in particular the Right of Self-Ownership. I didn't really understand the arguments, so I'll substitute a borrowed grook:

Lille kat, lille kat,
lille kat p vejen,
Hvis er du, hvis er du?
Jeg er sgu min egen

- Piet Hein

Pussycat, Pussycat,
Whose could you be?
Sir, I'm the kitty
Of no one but me!

(My unfaithful Englishing)


The interesting bit was Locke's invocation of a State of Nature. It is interesting, in particular, because it makes no sense at all. I will summarise with my usual care and attention:

  • We begin with a state of nature, in which we hold the natural right of self-ownership, and in particular derivative rights to non-infringement of the former.
  • Everyone has the authority to enforce these natural rights on behalf of persons who may or may not be themselves
  • In the case where the enforcer and the (alleged) victim of transgression are the same, experience teaches that persons are apt to be more than somewhat partial in both their accounts of facts and their interpretations of principles
  • In the absence of an impartial moderator, a cycle of retaliations is likely
  • This would lead to a state of war before you could say "He started it!"
  • So, a some kind of state is needed to arbitrate in disputes

The interesting thing about this is just how little sense it makes: we get from a social condition that never actually existed to a (possible) ideological foundation for society by means of a development which necessarily doesn't occur in historical time.

This is, I claim (following, I claim, Lvi-Strauss), precisely the structure of myth: a myth will typically begin in a kind of past whose nature owes nothing to any notion of history; a crisis intervenes, and its mythical resolution is the ideological justification for a social practice.


I have learned from experience, and I waited for a decent interval before appointing myself First Questioner. Having not learned very much, I consider three (3) seconds perfectly decent.


The question I asked was, approximately, how much does Locke's account owe to myth, with a new kind of logic substituted for the concrete logic of La Pense sauvage?

The question I meant to ask, of course, was rather: isn't Locke's whole account precisely a myth itself, with this substitution.

Which is to say, at this early point in modernity you can see the relationship between philosophy, which is starting to acquire a new conception of the role of reason in the wake of the rise of science, and myth with unusual clarity.


There are two (2) ways of reacting to arguments purporting to offer a set of principles serving as a legitimate foundation for society:

  1. The Aristote, mon collgue Oxford approach; we project the philosophe's work onto the screen of now and debate the merits of the arguments. (There was a fair bit of this last night, but I didn't pay much attention; sorry.)
  2. The anthropological approach: we look at the way different societies have approached a problem, which we take here to be the justification of a basis for society.


Radcliffe Richards's hermeneutic investigations into the Will of the Legislative Spirit established to her satisfaction and ours that ethical practice is not typically grounded in rational deduction from accepted first principles; our tendentious critique aimed to establish to our satisfaction (but not especially hers) that she implicily accepts a view that we explicitly endorse: namely that this is just as it should be.


We reject, which is to say - and we cheerfully acknowledge our debt to Locke in this - any and all claims to the Unlimited Sovereignty of Reason. We hold, instead, that Reason can only govern in so far as its mandates are consistent with the welfare of the its subjects, whose servant it properly is, and that where it attempts to legislate otherwisely it may legitimately be overthown.


2004-10-26 09:44

Last night

1. L'sprit d'escaliers is all very well, but when you don't get past the entryphone, the temptation just to buzz again and add that other thing becomes overwhelming, my exhausting research has established. L'sprit d'appareil de tlphone d'une entre partage d'un immeuble is not going to catch on, I fear, despite the best efforts of the Acadmie

2. When the creaking had gone on for longer than even the bounds of pharmaceutical enhancement could account for, I got up and started checking my own flat for possible sources.

3. Yes, just a little tired.


2004-10-25 15:38


1. Habseligkeiten, will German.

The German language isn't normally thought of as being pretty, but that hasn't stopped the Goethe Institute from holding a competition for German's most beautiful world. The winner? Habseligkeiten. ["Belongings"]

Compared to the silver tongue of the French or the passionate tones of Italian, it is perhaps little wonder that the aesthetics of German often go unappreciated. But the Goethe Institute and the German Language Council hoped to change that.

Do you have any idea how much Italian it takes before I am like totally lay off of the vowels already, would ya?? It isn't, it is fair to say, tanto mucho.

(story via David TEFLSmiler, tack. )

2. The self-presentations of single Swedish wimmins

They are or have:

  • glad och positiv ("cheerful and positive")
  • ha skinn p nsan ("a mind of my own")
  • bgge fter p jorden ("both feets on the ground")
  • glimt i gat ("a glint in my eyes")

To a frankly terrifying degree. Talk about the 'Wegian hive-mind...

3. The self-presentation of single Engleesh wimmins

Over at Yahoo! personals! UK! you can set the controls for the heart of post-graduacy, and still find persons who can't manage a coherent written sentence.

4. Ontological Austerity Underwhelmment

WVO "ABCD" Quine's aesthetique quirks have had a profound influence on neo-scholasticisme:

[X]'s overpopulated universe is in many ways unlovely. It offends the aesthetic sense of us who have a taste for desert landscapes, but this is not the worst of it. [X]'s slum of possibles is a breeding ground for disorderly elements.

This 'bladet doesn't share them. We like sprawling, incoherent but liveable urban landscapes, and we like sprawling, incoherent but Lebensweltlich ontologies.


2004-10-25 12:00


1. Remedial Flirtning Studies, slightly Swedish

From the advice for men:

Sg saker som: "Bertta mer." Kvinnor lskar oftast mn som r bra p att lyssna, eftersom det nstan r exotiskt.

Say something like "Tell me more." Wimmins often love men who are good at listening, since they are a rare and exotic breed.

2. A prinsess in a hat!

The best kind, for sure! (Although that hat is not growing on me, despite repeated exposure. Maybe it's growing on Knudella, though?)

(link via David TEFLSmiler, tack. )

3. It's all about the ontogeny


Human beings have far fewer genes than originally thought, a consortium of scientists have claimed in Nature.

The researchers compared the draft human genome with the "gold standard" version, published last year, to work out how they are different.

They found the most up-to-date human genome contains only 20,000 to 25,000 genes - which is about 10,000 less than indicated in the draft.

Why is this good? This is good because the persons, only some of whom are Stephen "Ping-Pong" Pinker, which roam the land insisting on dedicated genetically-encoded cognitive models for nose-picking (in men) and grotesque calendars of kittens acting "cute" (in wimmins) need a lot of genetique real-estate for their absurd fantasies. The less there is, the sillier they look.



2004-10-25 not now, oops (utc+1)


The receipt from lunch at Mr Wetherspoons cow and ale emporium yesterday gives the figure of 16.66 GBP, which is how much it cost.

Less explicably, the line underneath says "DANISH DKR 189,42".

Are you mocking me, Mr Wetherspoon, or do you keep all you customers thuswisely informed of such matters, which to casual inspection lack any claim to urgency.


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