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  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2018/11/03 Permalink
    Tags: academic freedom, accidents, , Hanna Gray, , , , , universities   

    “The task of a university is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought and civilized modes of appreciation can affect the issue”*… 

     

    Saul-Alinsky

    Saul Alinsky speaking at the Symposium on Civil Disobedience in a Democratic Society, Oberlin College, December 1965

     

    Education is always political, but the politics and parties which it serves change… There was a twentieth-century party of the university, and that party held that the free humanistic-scientific pursuit of knowledge itself served a political purpose. It was not a purpose above or free from politics, but nor did it understand the university as the educational arm of a society devoted to the pursuit of a single moral vision. When the party of the university lost in Germany to the party of (im)moral education, its members fled to hospitable regimes in Britain and the U.S. These regimes did not understand the university as an organ of justice, but as an institution devoted to often amoral inquiry…

    Rita Koganzon on An Academic Life, the memoir Hanna Gray, the former President of the University of Chicago– and on it’s lessons for higher education and society as a whole in our time: “The Party of the University.”

    * Alfred North Whitehead

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    As we we redouble our allegiance to learning, we might recall that it was on this date in 1848 that the two dominant political parties in the U.S. came to fatal blows:  two Eastern Railroad trains crashed head-on near Marblehead, outside Salem, Massachusetts.  The Salem-bound train had a delegation of Whigs aboard, and the Marblehead train had a party of Democrats. The presidential election was to take place on November 7, and several political meetings and torch-light parades occurred during the week before the election.  A total of 6 people were killed, and about 40 people were injured in the wreck.

    220px-Locomotive_at_Wenham_station,_January_1892

    An Eastern Railroad train of the era

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:18 on 2018/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Kenneth Oakley, Piltdown Man, , Tree of Life,   

    “From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”*… 

     

    tree-of-life_1000

    This Tree of Life diagram is based primarily on the evolutionary relationships so wonderfully related in Dr. Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, and timetree.org. The smallest branches are purely illustrative. They are intended to suggest the effect of mass extinctions on diversity, and changes in diversity through time. This diagram is NOT intended to be a scholarly reference tool! It is intended to be an easy-to-understand illustration of the core evolution principle; we are related not only to every living thing, but also to everything that has ever lived on Earth

    Climb around in The Interactive Tree of Life Explorer.

    * Charles Darwin

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    As we ponder our progenitors, we might a thought for Kenneth Page Oakley; he died on this ate in 1981.  An anthropologist, paleontologist, and geologist, he  developed a method of dating fossilized bones by measuring their fluoride levels (based on a French mineralogist’s theory that bones would gradually absorb fluoride from surrounding soil).  He was able to use his technique, in 1953, to expose the “Piltdown Man” skull as a forgery.  It had been “unearthed” in 1912, in Piltdown, England, and had for decades been said to represent the “missing link” in human evolution.

    Oakley source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:44 on 2018/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , new words, , ,   

    “The language mint is more than a mint; it is a great manufacturing center, where all sorts of productive activities go on unceasingly”*… 

     

    Words

    Language is, famously, a living thing.  Just how alive is powerfully demonstrated by Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler: enter a date; see the words and phrases that “officially” entered the language that year.

    Your correspondent entered the distant year of his birth… and got a list that ran from anti-matter and carpal tunnel syndrome through federal case and Maoism to sweat equity and tank top.

    Try it for yourself.

    * Mario Pei

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    As we contemplate coinage, we might recall that it was on this date in 1604 that Shakespeare’s Othello was performed for the first time, and on this date in 1611 that The Tempest premiered (both at the Whitehall Palace).

    Shakespeare was a prodigious coiner of words and phrases, creating over 1,700 across his works, several hundred of which are still in common use.

    blog_Shakespeare.words_-240x300 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:43 on 2018/10/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , demons, , Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages, , Mother Shipton, ,   

    “A Witch is born out of the true hungers of her time”*… 

     

    Witch

    In 1488 during the reign of Henry VII, one year after the Dominican Heinrich Kramer wrote his notorious witch-finding manual Malleus Maleficarum, an adolescent girl named Agatha Soothtell gave birth in a cave among the dales and moors of Yorkshire to her daughter Ursula, supposedly conceived by the Devil himself. Ironically it was there in “God’s Own Country” that young Agatha would raise her demonic charge, both of them forced to live in the cave where Ursula was born. The site that would be visited by pilgrims for centuries afterwards, making it arguably England’s first tourist attraction, was known as much for the strange calcifying waters of its subterranean whirlpool as for its medieval Satanic nativity.

    Most sources claimed that Ursula died during the rule of Elizabeth I in 1561, but with eight decades separating her supposed death and the first appearance of her name in print, it’s fair to assume a degree of invention in her biography. Despite her legendary ugliness (Ursula’s seventeenth-century biographer described her as “a thing so strange in an infant, that no age can parallel”) at the age of twenty-four she married a carpenter named Toby Shipton, and it is to posterity that she would come to be known as “Mother Shipton”. A less appropriate surname, because as “Smith” and “Taylor” indicate profession, so too did “Soothtell”. Mother Shipton would become the most famed of soothe tellers in English history, renowned for her prophecies and used as a symbolic familiar in the art of divination for generations, the very constructed personage of the seer, a work of poetry unto herself. As scholar Darren Oldridge writes, “Unlike other ‘ancient prophets’ who were known by their words alone, Shipton emerged as a personality in her own right”…

    Mother Shipton was Yorkshire’s answer to Nostradamus. Ed Simon looks into how, regardless of whether this prophetess witch actually existed or not, the legend of Mother Shipton has wielded great power for centuries— from the turmoil of Tudor courts, through the frictions of civil war, to the specter of Victorian apocalypse: “Divining the Witch of York: Propaganda and Prophecy.”

    See also “Woodcuts and Witches,” an explanation of how the rise of the mass-produced woodcut in early modern Europe helped forge the archetype of the broom-riding crone.

    Then watch Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages, an extraordinary 1922 Scandinavian film by Benjamin Christensen. As you’ll see, it’s a curious (and groundbreaking) mix of documentary and silent horror cinema. Most films of the period were literary adaptations; but Christensen’s take was unique, based on non-fiction works, mainly a 15th-century treatise on witchcraft that he found in a Berlin bookshop.

    * Ray Bradbury, Long After Midnight

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    As we search for our eye of newt, we might note that today is All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.  Many Halloween traditions originated from ancient pagan Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival of Samhain, which was Christianized as Halloween in the eighth century, by Pope Gregory III.

    The original reason for disguise on Samhain was to prevent lonely spirits recognizing and snatching one away to their between-the-worlds home; it was an additional bonus that the costumes allowed you to lead a mini-riot without being recognized.  The custom of trick-or-treating seems to date to the 19th century in England, when people went house-to-house in costume at Halloween, reciting verses in exchange for food, and sometimes warning of misfortune if they were not welcomed.  It seems to have taken off in the U.S in the 1920s.  The custom of making jack-o’-lanterns began in Ireland in the 19th century; “turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces,” were used at Halloween in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.

    Special Halloween bonus: Jacques Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire infernal, a monumental compendium of all things diabolical, was first published in 1818 to much success; but it was the fabulously-illustrated final edition of 1863 that secured the book as a landmark in the study and representation of demons.  Read “Defining the Demonic,” then page through the 1863 edition at The Internet Archive (whence every item in this post).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:53 on 2018/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Elinor Ostrom, , Hermes, , , ,   

    “What is common to many is least taken care of”*… 

     

    comic2-1755

    As an evolutionary biologist who received my PhD in 1975, I grew up with Garrett Hardin’s essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in Science magazine in 1968. His parable of villagers adding too many cows to their common pasture captured the essence of the problem that my thesis research was designed to solve. The farmer who added an extra cow gained an advantage over other farmers in his village but it also led to an overgrazed pasture. The biological world is full of similar examples in which individuals who behave for the good of their groups lose out in the struggle for existence with more self-serving individuals, resulting in overexploited resources and other tragedies of non-cooperation…

    Unbeknownst to me, another heretic named Elinor Ostrom was also challenging the received wisdom in her field of political science. Starting with her thesis research on how a group of stakeholders in southern California cobbled together a system for managing their water table, and culminating in her worldwide study of common-pool resource (CPR) groups, the message of her work was that groups are capable of avoiding the tragedy of the commons without requiring top-down regulation, at least if certain conditions are met (Ostrom 1990, 2010). She summarized the conditions in the form of eight core design principles: 1) Clearly defined boundaries; 2) Proportional equivalence between benefits and costs; 3) Collective choice arrangements; 4) Monitoring; 5) Graduated sanctions; 6) Fast and fair conflict resolution; 7) Local autonomy; 8) Appropriate relations with other tiers of rule-making authority (polycentric governance). This work was so groundbreaking that Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009…

    David Sloan Wilson on the design principles that can solve the tragedy of the commons: “The Tragedy of the Commons: How Elinor Ostrom Solved One of Life’s Greatest Dilemmas.”

    For more on the tragedy of the commons, see here— also the source of the cartoon above.

    * Aristotle

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    As we share and share alike, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that we– the entire population of the earth– narrowly avoided total obliteration, as the 500,000 ton asteroid/planetoid 69230 Hermes failed to collide with our planet.  It missed by twice the distance of the Moon… but that’s only three seconds.  (In 1989, the earth had an even closer approach, but by the smaller 4581 Asclepius.)

    69230 Hermes

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2018/10/29 Permalink
    Tags: advertisements, , , , , , , , ,   

    “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”*… 

     

     

    Food

    Food regularly plays a role in religious life, in forms that range from communion wine to Kahlua cheesecake…

    A sampling of 34 cloistered comestibles: “A Guide of Heavenly Cuisine.”

    * Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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    As we devour with devotion, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that the first “Got Milk?” ad premiered.  Created by the advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board, it  was later licensed for use by milk processors and dairy farmers nationwide.  The campaign launched with the now-famous “Aaron Burr” television commercial, directed by Michael Bay.

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2018/10/28 Permalink
    Tags: Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester, , ghost, ghost story, , , , M.R. James,   

    “We need ghost stories because we, in fact, are the ghosts”*… 

     

    Cynthia-Zarin-Originial-Master-of-Ghost-Stories

    Lost keys, a snagged button, a wine glass upset—you spilled it, didn’t you, the wine didn’t spill itself? “The Complete Ghost Stories,” by M. R. James, first published between 1904 and 1935—and reprinted [last] year by Macmillan, in a hardbound pocket edition, perfect for reading in a stalled subway car—incorporate what the author, the master of the modern ghost story, called “the malice of inanimate objects.” Might that razor, so benign every other morning, know something? Does ill will ferret out, precisely, where we live? The stories start quietly. A young man inherits a country house from an unknown uncle; a print collector finds himself drawn to an oddly undistinguished engraving; a provincial hotel doesn’t—or does it?—have a room numbered thirteen. The humdrum, muffled tone of these stories transmits an atmosphere of almost superannuated ordinariness—fusty antiquarians, old books, the slightly dampish vistas of university life, train platforms in out-of-the-way stations—places and people that mimic the life of the author himself, until they don’t…

    Montague Rhodes James was an acclaimed intellectual who published a handful of stories (from short quips to long, academic papers) that are widely regarded as the basis upon which modern ghost stories are built. Not entirely for the narratives, but rather the topics: his stories are unpredictable and based on haunted objects, unfamiliar beings and odd circumstances.  Cynthia Zarin, of The New Yorker, writes “Scholarly efforts have been made to unearth the early trauma that would account for James’ succession of wraiths, screeches, hairy faces, and skeletal hands creeping out from under the pillow. He reported his own childhood as happy.”  Just in time for Halloween, more at “The original master of ghost stories.”

    [TotH]

    * Stephen King, Danse Macabre

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    As we muse on the macabre, we might send frightening birthday greetings to Elsa Sullivan Lanchester; she was born on this date in 1902.  An accomplished and acclaimed actress whose career spanned several decades (and many genre), she is surely best remembered for– and as– The Bride of Frankenstein.

    Elsa-Lanchester source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2018/10/27 Permalink
    Tags: A Time for Choosing, , , political speeches, , resentment, , ,   

    “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”*… 

     

    victor

    One of dozens of definitions, from acrimony to wrath, that make up the language of resentment– “Glossary: Rivalry & Feud.”

    * Carrie Fisher

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    As we slog through the swamp, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Ronald Reagan delivered what is still considered one of the most effective political speeches ever made on behalf of a candidate, “A Time For Choosing,” an endorsement of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.  While Goldwater was roundly defeated the following month, the speech launched the political career of Reagan, who was, soon after, asked to run for Governor of California… and who carried the tag “the Great Communicator” for the rest of his life.

    A_Time_for_Choosing_by_Ronald_Reagan.ogv source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:46 on 2018/10/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , ,   

    “When I got my library card, that’s when my life began”*… 

     

    Orlean-Libraries

    I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way. My family lived in the suburbs of Cleveland, about a mile from the brick-faced Bertram Woods Branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library system. Throughout my childhood, starting when I was very young, my mother drove me there a couple of times a week. We walked in together, but, as soon as we passed through the door, we split up, each heading to our favorite section. The library might have been the first place that I was ever given independence. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to go off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I reunited at the checkout counter with our finds. Together, we waited as the librarian pulled out each date card and, with a loud chunk-chunk, stamped a crooked due date on it, below a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times.

    Our visits were never long enough for me—the library was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the shelves, scanning the spines of the books until something happened to catch my eye. Those trips were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I desired and what she was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I wanted. On the way home, I loved having the books stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read. We talked about the order in which we were going to read them, a solemn conversation in which we planned how we would pace ourselves through this charmed, evanescent period of grace until the books were due. We both thought that all the librarians at the Bertram Woods branch were beautiful. For a few minutes, we discussed their beauty. My mother then always mentioned that, if she could have chosen any profession, she would have chosen to be a librarian, and the car would grow silent for a moment as we both considered what an amazing thing that would have been…

    In an excerpt from her newest, The Library Book, the superb Susan Orlean on the crucial treasures of the public library:  “Growing up in the library.”

    * Rita Mae Brown

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    As we check it out, we might send learned birthday greetings to Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, better known simply as Erasmus; he was born on this date in 1466 (though some sources place his birth two days later).  A Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, translator, and theologian, probably best remembered for his book In Praise of Folly, he was the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance, the first editor of the New Testament (“Do unto others…”), and an important figure in patristics and classical literature.  Among fellow scholars and philosophers he was– and is– known as the “Prince of the Humanists.”

    Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1523) by Hans Holbein the Younger

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:13 on 2018/10/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known”*… 

     

    astrobiology

    Astrobiology – the study of life on other planets – has grown from a fringe sub-discipline of biology, chemistry and astronomy to a leading interdisciplinary field, attracting researchers from top institutions across the globe, and large sums of money from both NASA and private funders. But what exactly is it that astrobiologists are looking for? How will we know when it’s time to pop the Champagne?…

    Find out at “Proof of life: how would we recognize an alien if we saw one?

    [Image above from NASA’s Astrobiology Institute]

    * Carl Sagan

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    As we look for life, we might send inventive birthday greetings to William “Willy” A. Higinbotham; he was born on this date in 1910.  A physicist who was a member of the team that developed the first atomic bomb, he later became a leader in the nuclear non-proliferation movement.

    But Higinbotham may be better remembered as the creator of Tennis for Two, the first interactive analog computer game and one of the first electronic games to use a graphical display, which he built for the 1958 visitor day at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  It used a small analogue computer with ten direct-connected operational amplifiers and output a side view of the curved flight of the tennis ball on an oscilloscope only five inches in diameter. Each player had a control knob and a button.

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    The 1958 Tennis for Two exhibit

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    Higinbotham source

     

     

     
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