April 30, 2007

Ancestors?

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The Washington Post had a brief story today on the controversy over whether Neanderthals died out or intermingled and passed on their genes to humans.

"Given the data we now have, it would be highly improbable to argue there is no Neanderthal contribution to the early European population that came out of Africa," Trinkaus said. "I believe there was continuous breeding between the two for some period of time.

I would be happy to have Neanderthal ancestors (a replica Neanderthal skull quite like the one above sits on my book shelf here in the nerve center of stately ideofact manor), but I tend to think it's unlikely.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:50 PM | Comments (0)

Tolerance

Do words mean anything anymore? From this article in the National Geographic:

Hunting and poaching, even within the national parks, have drastically reduced hippo and elephant populations in the past, yet both have made a comeback, thanks in part to changes in enforcement and attitude. The resurgence is a sign of human tolerance and nature's resilience.

Isn't the comeback rather a sign of human intolerance for hunting animals to extinction? And was the poaching and hunting a result of intolerance, or rather the economic incentives and pleasure taken in killing animals?

Posted by Ideofact at 11:26 PM | Comments (0)

Fanaticism 3

In Borders today, I was pleasantly surprised to find a book of speeches by Robespierre, the man most responsible for the French terror. I've never read anything by Robespierre, so I bought the book.

The introduction, by one Slavoj Zizek, was something of a revelation. Here is Zizek on one of the four principles we must adopt to avoid (tellingly, I think) ecological catastrophe:

--and, last but not least, all this combined with trust in the people (the wager that the large majority of the people support these severe measures, see them as their own, and are ready to participate in their enforcement). One should not be afraid to assert, as a combination of terror and trust in the people, the reactivation of one of the figures of all egalitarian-revolutionary terror, the 'informer' who denounces the culprits to the authorities.

The whole introduction is an argument for terror--not of the freelance bin Laden sort, but rather state terror on a massive scale, operating on a "wager" that the people support it--or at least, that the informants do.

Lest we forget, sic semper tyrannis...

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Posted by Ideofact at 12:21 AM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2007

Fanaticism 2

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The Washington Post book section brought the happy news that Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems 1956-1998 is available. The review does a nice job of providing an introduction to Herbert's metier--

In a 1984 interview, Herbert discussed what distinguishes him from contemporaries like Milosz: "Writing -- and in this I disagree with everybody -- must teach men soberness," he said, adding emphatically: "to be awake." For Herbert, who knew along with Goya that the sleep of reason produces monsters and tyranny, "to be awake" means to refuse the witchcraft of reduction and rhetoric and to seek instead the beguiling magic of the mundane and close to hand...

...and then quotes the Pebble, which has always been among my favorite poems of Herberts. (An aside-- I think the photographer Joseph Sudek has the same sort of concern for soberness.)

The Post review suggests--inaccurately, I think--that Herbert was not interested in attacking ideologies or regimes in his work. He was, but within certain circumscribed limits (he noted that writing for the drawer was tiresome; his approach was well suited for getting by the official censors).

That he detested the deformities inflicted on mankind by the people's republics is unquestionable. Here is Herbert:

Social realism had sounded. I had no chance to publish what I was writing then, and by my withdrawal I think I anticipated a dismissal from the Union. It was like this: I was taken to observe an action to destroy kulaks. Armed bands of 'workers,' who were not workers at all, would come and loot the property of the foes of the proletariat. They took away everything. Grain was loaded on horse carts; and the carts would stand outside in the rain and the snow, the grain going to waste. It was the economic price of a historical experiment. I was a writer and could join a band to see for myself, in practice, not in the papers. I wanted to find out who was right, the spirit of the day or common sense. And conscience.

They took grain away from a woman, Malcowa, who worked for a kulak. She went wild with despair. What could one do? Give the woman a hundredweight of grain lest she and her son should die of starvation in the coming winter. I went to see the organizer of the action so that I could write a report and get them to give her a sack of grain. They explained that I did not understand the dialectic of history. Some time later I learned that Malcowa had hanged herself.

I unstuck my photo. I sent my membership card back to the Union. I went down to the bottom.

I went down to the bottom. I do not think it was an undifferentiated disenchantment with the vulgarity of the human heart that animated him, but rather with a very specific kind of human heart -- the kind that, in the name of history, would deprive a poor woman and her only child of enough food to eat.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

English lesson

In Borders' cafe this afternoon, sitting near the eight year old and me, a teacher tutored her student. The latter, a woman perhaps eighteen or twenty years old, struggled to learn the same language I struggle to use every day. I wish I could have listened more closely to her accent. Dressed in jeans and a sweater, dark hair, a complexion that was perhaps northern African, or Indian, or Indonesian, or Brazilian--and of course, absolutely American.

I thought about how she is acquiring so much more than a language, and decided that perhaps this summer I should learn another one myself. The eight year old says he wants to learn French.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

Fanaticism...

...handled adroitly...

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...if Savonarola only tells the ladies of Florence that they ought to tear off their jewels and finery and sacrifice them to God, they offer him a cardinal's hat, and praise him as a saint; but if he induces them to actually do it, they burn him as a public nuisance.

--Bernard Shaw, preface to Androcles and the Lion.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:34 PM | Comments (7759)

April 28, 2007

She

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Posted by Ideofact at 03:18 AM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2007

It

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Posted by Ideofact at 12:57 AM | Comments (0)

A Return to Fiction

For the first time in ages I've been writing a short story. Part of it (the nonfictional parts) will appear on this blog.

Perhaps the beginnings are here: Reading the introduction to the Dhammapada, I kept coming across the notion that acting out of selfishness is somehow wrong. The Buddha, apparently, was a poor economist. Consider Adam Smith:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Self interest has a social good. Speaking of butchers, the Buddha says,

Do not earn your livelihood at the expense of life or connive at or support those who do harm to other creatures, such as butchers, soldiers and makers of poisons and weapons.

But if we were to cease to patronize butchers (and I think some time soon I will), what would happen to all the animals that are raised for meat? Once they lose their economic value, don't they also lose the interest and care that humans provide them? Wouldn't we see a massacre of remaining stock and an extinction of food on the hoof? And should we shift to raising plants rather than relying on animals for sustenance, won't we further encroach upon the habitats of wild animals?

Oddly, one thing all religious leaders seem to share is a poor grasp of economics and economic consequences. Whether we are talking about Muhammad or Marx, Jesus or Joseph Smith, they are not practical men.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:38 AM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2007

Wrong question

I've been reading the Dhammapada, or more properly, the introduction written by the translater of the version I've linked, Eknath Easwaran, but there is something I don't quite understand. I recognize no doubt that, were I to raise this question with the Buddha, he would look at me perhaps with a certain amused indulgence, perhaps expressing instead an imperturbable patience that has been too often tried by lesser men such as me.

Perhaps it is Easwaran's fault; he invokes quantum physics to elucidate the Buddha's view of consciousness. But I would ask, what about the period before there was consciousness, or life of any kind? What about the millions of years before there were men? Did dinosaurs contribute to Karma? Did the first single cell organisms? Did complex proteins floating around in a primordial stew?

Posted by Ideofact at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

Change

This story from the other day, about a new island formed off of Greenland, made me think of the changes Greenland's climate underwent during the Medieval Warming Period and the subsequent Little Ice Age. This site has a nice overview. Interesting that falling temperatures were more difficult than rising ones...

The cooler climate during the LIA had a huge impact on the health of Europeans. As mentioned earlier, dearth and famine killed millions and poor nutrition decreased the stature of the Vikings in Greenland and Iceland.

Cool, wet summers led to outbreaks of an illness called St. Anthony's Fire. Whole villages would suffer convulsions, hallucinations, gangrenous rotting of the extremities, and even death. Grain, if stored in cool, damp conditions, may develop a fungus known as ergot blight and also may ferment just enough to produce a drug similar to LSD. (In fact, some historians claim that the Salem, Massachusetts witch hysteria was the result of ergot blight.)

Malnutrition led to a weakened immunity to a variety of illnesses. In England, malnutrition aggravated an influenza epidemic of 1557-8 in which whole families died. In fact, during most of the 1550's deaths outnumbered births (Lamb, 1995.) The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) was hastened by malnutrition all over Europe.

Shakespeare took note of the spread of malaria in England; Cromwell died from it.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2007

R.I.P.

Say what you will about his later uneven (to be charitable) performance, but Yeltsin standing on top of a tank in front of the Russian White House was an act of incredible symbolism and personal bravery. R.I.P.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

Syncretic

A sentence from Edward Luce's In Spite of the Gods:

Aurangzeb's great grandfather, Akbar, tried to fuse Islam, Hinduism and other religions into a new religion, which he called Din Ilahi, but without much success.

More on it here:

Like Islam, it was rationalistic and was based on one overriding doctrine, the doctrine of tawhid : God is one thing and is singular and unified. Akbar also elevated the notion of wahdat-al wujud , or "unity of the real," to a central religious idea in his new religion. The world, as a creation of God, is a single and unified place that reflects the singularity and unity of its creator. Finally, Akbar fully subscribed to the Islamic idea of the Perfect Man represented by the life of the Prophet or by the Shi'ite Imamate. There is little question that Akbar accepted Abu'l Fazl's notion that he was the Divine Light and was a Perfect Man. He assumed the title, "Revealer of the Internal and Depictor of the Real," which defined his role as a disseminator of secret knowledge of God and his function of fashioning the world in the light of this knowledge.

In addition to Islam, however, the Din-i Ilahi also contained aspects of Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism. The Din-i Ilahi borrowed from Jainism a respect and care for all living things, and it derived from Zoroastrianism sun-worship and, especially, the idea of divine kingship. This latter innovation deeply disturbed the ulama ; they regarded it as outright heresy. The notion of divine kingship, however, would last throughout the history of the Mughal Empire.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2007

Ignorance

I realized today that I didn't know anything about what Sikhs believe.

I've just started reading about them, but it seems to be an amalgam of (or perhaps reaction to is a better term) Hinduism and Islam.

I vaguely recalled buying a book on the Sikhs a while back (I bought it after seeing an exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History; while I couldn't find it, I did find a half dozen books on Buddhism I've acquired over the years, none of which I've actually read.

That's too bad, and something I'll have to rectify. I am definitely not a Buddhist, but I often find that many (though definitely not all, including some important ones) of my attitudes are quite consistent with the tenets of Buddhism.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:32 PM | Comments (3)

Book review

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***** ****'s Book: It was wonderful. I couldn't lay it down, was impelled on the contrary to hurry through it. In fact I finished it in six and a half minutes while getting shaved in the Continental Hotel. It is what we call a book written at a fine pace. As for the high spots, there are so many that it is difficult to pick them, but I could select.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald, from the notebooks, available in The Crack Up.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2007

A pleasant experience

On a short trip to the West Coast, I had the good fortune to spend a little time on the University of Southern California campus, and about an hour in its official bookstore. I was very disappointed last fall to find that my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, has turned its campus bookstore over to Barnes and Noble; Harvard University has done the same. Thus, I can find the same books, arranged the same way, that I can find in any of the half dozen or so Barnes and Nobles in D.C. and Northern Virginia. Fortunately, USC's bookstore remains independent, and the difference shows. Had I had more available space in my luggage, I could easily have spent a few hundred bucks on works of anthropology, archaeology, history, religion and fiction that neither Borders nor Barnes and Noble carries. (Amazon.com, of course, does--but one has to know a book is out there, and I believe that the best--or at least the most pleasant--way to find them is browsing in a well stocked store...)

Picking up a "new" book by the late poet Czeslaw Milosz (how did I miss the publication of Legends of Modernity in October 2006?) is a particularly joyous experience--especially as these essays were written during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Among the books I didn't buy (but will sooner or later) were Karl Heider's Ethnographic Film (revised edition and The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague by Yudl Rosenberg. I didn't know I wanted either book until I saw them on the shelves...

I did make room in my luggage for a USC T-shirt for the 8-year-old; he quite likes the heroic Trojan. And the book I chose for him was Wars of Empire.

Posted by Ideofact at 08:30 PM | Comments (0)

Accuracy

In the USC bookstore, this work was shelved in the fiction section. I assume they were referring to the Edward Christian portion of the work...

Posted by Ideofact at 01:43 AM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2007

Quality

The eight-year-old, who now thinks he knows everything, was amazed to find out that his father's taste in literature--including the dreaded category of children's literature--isn't so bad.

Whatever else one can say about Lewis Carroll, he had the ability to induce readers to turn the page, to wornder, "What happens next?"

Posted by Ideofact at 12:58 AM | Comments (0)

Killer Culture Club

The New York Times tells us that holding a hammer with one hand is the same as holding a hammer with two hands, and that a movie which a murderer may not have seen (or even heard of, for that matter) may well have given him the inspiration for his crimes.

I've never seen Oldboy, but I have seen a few of the other Tartan Asian Extreme films--they're not quite my cup of tea, but are engaging and attention-keeping--does this make me a person of interest?

Next: English majors--tomorrow's food service industry workers or ticking homicidal time bombs?

Update: Apparently, he did watch the movie repeatedly...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:16 AM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2007

Collegiate Columbine

It appears that a warning sign of a proclivity for mass murderer is bad writing.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:14 AM | Comments (0)

perspective

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More real to me than religion are the apparitions flickering on the screen...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2007

Pa. Rules

91? Still not up to the standard set by Fast Eddie. What do you expect from Jersey drivers?

In all seriousness, my wishes for a speedy recovery...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:26 PM | Comments (0)

For the Children

TULA, Mexico (Reuters) - The grisly find of the buried bones of 24 pre-Hispanic Mexican children may be the first evidence that the ancient Toltec civilization sacrificed children, an archeologist studying the remains said on Monday.

The bones, dating from 950 AD to 1150 AD and dug up at the Toltecs' former capital Tula, north of present day Mexico City, indicated the children had been decapitated in a group.

The way the children, aged between 5 and 15, were placed in the grave, and the fact they were buried with a figurine of Tlaloc, the God of rain, also pointed to a group sacrifice, archeologist Luis Gamboa said.

"To try and explain why there are 24 bodies grouped in the same place, well, the only way is to think that there was a human sacrifice," he said.

"You can see evidence of incisions which make us think they possibly used sharp-edged instruments to decapitate them."

More here.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:59 AM | Comments (0)

Expensive

Yikes.

Given my professional interests (ideofact is decidedly amateur), this quote suggests that I should read this book:

Just as it is impossible to know when a swimming fish is drinking water, so it is impossible to find out when a government servant is stealing money.

But do I want to spend $42.95 on it? Or would I rather buy more Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology?

(Note: I came across that quote in this book, which I'm really enjoying.)

Posted by Ideofact at 01:15 AM | Comments (0)

April 16, 2007

Slaughterer

Like most people, I imagine, I have spent much of the day wishing that the news of the day was something altogether and entirely different.

Inevitably, we will hear much about the author of these crimes--and the country will be introduced, perhaps, to new subcultures, just as in the wake of the Colombine killings we learned about Goth, and in previous school shootings we learned all about first person shooter games. Perhaps the slaughterer had a fondness for anime or the new wave of Asian gangster films. Perhaps he belonged to a Neo-Marxist listserve, or a gnostic study group. From the incidentals and ephemera of the slaughterer's life, some will try to construct meaningful patterns.

But there are no patterns. There are individuals, and some of us, frankly, are somewhat defective. Most of us have had our hearts "broken" at one point or another, most of us have enjoyed competitive games, a violent movie or two, a sad song...but we don't strap on a vest loaded with ammo...

When the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther was published in the 18th Century, it created something of a sensation. A favorite among the young, it was translated into dozens of languages. Emulating the novel's hapless hero, some readers committed suicide over unhappy romances. In China, a professor once told me, young men threw themselves into volcanoes...

A couple of centuries after its original publication, the book retains much of its power. I read it as a teenager, and found it profoundly moving. As luck would have it, I was going through a bit of a breakup myself at the time I read it, and, while my circumstances couldn't have been more different than Werther's, I still thought of his sorrows useful to drown my own in. Despite that, I had no desire to dive into a volcano.

It is not relevant to my point to note that Werther reads very differently to, say, a better adjusted 22-year-old than it did to a 17-year-old (I was rather embarrassed to see how little I understood the book the first time around).

It may well have been better had the slaughterer similarly misunderstood Goethe, and thrown himself into a volcano. But attempts to point to culture as the key to his actions are misguided.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2007

Warning

Ideofact may contain adult content, ranging from Bolshevik hotties to explicit photos of George Bernard Shaw doing adult things...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:56 PM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2007

Sensibilities

I enjoy reading stories like this one, suggesting a close genetic link between chickens and T-Rexes, and this one, on the sequencing of the rhesus macague genome, and its implications for human evolution; still, I can't help wondering whether at some point in the not too distant future such stories will be under attack from fundamentalists--Muslim fundamentalists--for contradicting Islam. And I wonder whether the defense of them will be more vigorous than was the defense of the Danish prophet cartoons...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

War and Antiquities

In the latest issue of Archaeology, Kristin M. Romey writes a very thought provoking piece on the question of war and antiquities. The pretext, obviously, is Iraq., but Romey raises much larger questions than merely whether Iraqi anitquities are being adequately protected (they're not, but then, neither are antiquities in Iran, or Central and South America, or India, or the United States, any number of other places for any number of reasons...). If I may paraphrase, I believe the question Romey asks is to what extent should we sacrifice the living to preserve the material culture of the dead?

Now, I've always regarded Ideofact as being a materialist blog (although, given the attention it's shown to religious questions, that's not always apparent). However, material culture is all that lasts. In 200 years, the religious, ideological and political controversies of our day will have passed mercifully into obscurity; the tin foil trays which contained our TV dinners, the plastic spoons and plastic yogurt containers, tires and screw drivers and probably a few intact DVD players and even laptops...

Obviously, we have a duty to preserve this material record. But how far does that duty go? Romey quotes an editorial by Jotham Johnson, the magazine's first editor, on the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Officers, whose responsibility was to ensure that the operations of the U.S. Army in World War Two minimized damage to Europe's cultural heritage. Johnson wrote,

Just as, in the stratification of the pictorial arts, a photograph of a work of art is an echo, a shadow, a reflection--use any metaphor you will--in any case, irrevocably the inferior of the work it represents, so, we submit, on the next rung of the ladder, an original work of art is bound to be inferior to humanity itself. Whether it represents one aspect of humanity or some common experience of mankind, in any context where the protection of a work of art endangers or delays the safety of human lives the human lives must come first.

The [Second World] war cost about seven thousand lives a day. If the total effect of the Monuments and Fine Arts personnel in the European theater was to postpone by so much as one day the end of the carnage, they have on their hands the blood of thousands who might have been spared.

Romey notes in her excellent piece that Johnson's views were denounced by many archaeologists, but I can't quite understand why. The whole point of our material culture is to ensure our survival. Romey notes, in the context of Iraq, that those holding the opposite view have different values, believing:

...that the archaeological and historical monuments and objects are a non-renewable resource, while the Iraqi people are a renewable one, as are the soldiers on the ground.

Somehow, I doubt that the Iraqis or the foreign soldiers feel the same way.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2007

Eco's Librarians

Timothy Noah writes a column that jibes with my experiences:

My undying library memory from youth is that the prudish matron behind the checkout desk wouldn't let me take out books that weren't in the children's section, even after my mother told her that she'd given me permission to use her library card. To borrow the books I wanted (we're talking racy stuff like The Mouse That Roared), I had to get my mother to come down to the library and check them out herself. For many years thereafter, I disliked on sight every librarian I encountered.

Like everyone else, librarians are a mixed bag, but I can remember several -- public library, university library, newspaper library -- who believed that part of their job was to block access to information, rather than facillitate it. Perhaps that's why I found certain elements of The Name of the Rose so believable...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (2)

Captive Mind

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For the intellectual, the New Faith is a candle that he circles like a moth. In the end, he throws himself into the flame for the glory of mankind. We must not treat this desire for self-immolation lightly. Blood flowed freely in Europe during the religious wars, and he who joins the New Faith today is paying off a debt to that European tradition.

-- Czeslaw Milosz

(my way of making up for posting pics of Bolshevik hotties)

Posted by Ideofact at 11:36 PM | Comments (0)

Sshhhhh!

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Isn't a little discretion warranted?

The Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has told the Guardian he is plotting the violent overthrow of President Putin from his base in Britain after forging close contacts with members of Russia's ruling elite.

In comments which appear calculated to enrage the Kremlin, and which will further inflame relations between London and Moscow, the multimillionaire claimed he was already bankrolling people close to the president who are conspiring to mount a palace coup.

Incidentally, when googling around for the lovely image above, I came across, via this post on Descriptive Epistemology, some much better propaganda for the Bolshevik cause:

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Posted by Ideofact at 11:13 PM | Comments (0)

ICE 9

RIP Kurt Vonnegut.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:26 AM | Comments (0)

So...

...it seems like I'm back in the groove, and enjoying this again. I'm almost tempted to write about Qutb (which I might do soon enough...)

Posted by Ideofact at 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

Sacrificies that look like Pre-Colombian America

Aztecs preferred variety:

Ancient Mexicans brought human sacrifice victims from hundreds of miles (km) away over centuries to sanctify a pyramid in the oldest city in North America, an archeologist said on Wednesday.

DNA tests on the skeletons of more than 50 victims discovered in 2004 in the Pyramid of the Moon at the Teotihuacan ruins revealed they were from far away Mayan, Pacific or Atlantic coastal cultures.

The bodies, many of which were decapitated, dated from between 50 AD and 500 AD and were killed at different times to dedicate new stages of construction of the pyramid just north of Mexico City.

The victims were likely either captured in war or obtained through some kind of diplomacy, said archeologist Ruben Cabrera, who led the excavation at the pyramid, the smaller of two main pyramids are Teotihuacan, which housed some 200,000 inhabitants at its height of power around 500 AD.

"Teotihuacan may have had a tradition of capturing prisoners for sacrifice," said Cabrera.

Which reminds me--I should probably recommend Conrad & Demarest's book Religion & Empire, which has a wonderful discussion of the implications (conjectures, mostly) of the Aztec's sacrificial cults on the long term viability of their state...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:30 AM | Comments (0)

Inaugural address

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The Constitution guarantees absolute religious freedom. Congress is prohibited from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Territories of the United States are subject to the direct legislative authority of Congress, and hence the General Government is responsible for any violation of the Constitution in any of them. It is therefore a reproach to the Government that in the most populous of the Territories the constitutional guaranty is not enjoyed by the people and the authority of Congress is set at naught. The Mormon Church not only offends the moral sense of manhood by sanctioning polygamy, but prevents the administration of justice through ordinary instrumentalities of law.

In my judgment it is the duty of Congress, while respecting to the uttermost the conscientious convictions and religious scruples of every citizen, to prohibit within its jurisdiction all criminal practices, especially of that class which destroy the family relations and endanger social order. Nor can any ecclesiastical organization be safely permitted to usurp in the smallest degree the functions and powers of the National Government.

--President James Garfield

Posted by Ideofact at 12:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2007

Alice's House

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Sometimes when I do my morning exercises, I watch Classic Arts Showcase, a kind of MTV for classical music that one of the cable access channels (the one devoted to my son's public school system) carries in what would otherwise be off hours. This morning, my pushups were interrupted by a sequence from the 1966 film Alice in Wonderland, directed by Jonathan Miller.

The sequence I saw was haunting enough that I ordered the DVD.

I confess I'm no expert in Alice and Wonderland films (I don't think I've even heard of as much as a third of the films listed here, for example), and am not even all that much of a Lewis Carroll fan, and I've noted that not all reviews are positive.

I noted that, in the five pages that the Alice Movie site devotes to this particular production, the eventual fate of the girl who played Alice is something of a mystery:

The only major participant we know almost nothing about is Alice herself. Anne-Marie Mallik was literally plucked from obscurity just for this production and apparently returned there afterwards. Jonathan Miller relates the tale that he deliberately avoided the traditional concept a over-cheery seven-year-old Alice and preferred the serious and almost joke-proof look which Anne-Marie brought. Apart from this, there seems to be no further information at all. Are you still out there somewhere Anne-Marie? Get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

Via the magic of Nexis, I found this Oct. 31, 1986, story from the Times of London:

Alice in Wonderland' actress traced

BYLINE: GAVIN BELL

SECTION: Issue 62603.

LENGTH: 137 words

Times have changed for Alice in Wonderland. A search for the girl who starred in a BBC television production of the story 20 years ago ended yesterday when an alert reader of The Times recognized a photograph of the missing actress (Gavin Bell writes).

Miss Anne-Marie Mallik is now Mrs Huxstep, aged 34, the wife of a Royal Navy Lieutenant-Commander and mother of four children. She lives in Southsea, Hampshire.

The BBC had been looking for 'Alice' to give her a fee for repeating the programme next Sunday during its fiftieth anniversary.

Mrs Huxstep emerged from behind the looking glass yesterday rather amused, particularly since she had never wished to pursue an acting career. 'It was just a one-off thing. I didn't actually think I was very good at it, so I went into banking instead. '

Wise woman.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2007

Need not be true

Kerim Friedman of Savage Minds notes, in a post on prescriptivism, that irrationality can be quite rational:

The trick is to assume that people say and believe the things they do not simply out of error or ignorance, but because within the world in which they live these beliefs make sense and are actually helpful to them.

The subject is religious belief, and I absolutely agree with this approach. I'm not even certain how important the beliefs are--people tend to come to them either through the accident of birth, or from a conversion precipitated by a personal crisis or awakening. What's more important, I think, is the structure and rhythm that the institutions which vaguely have something to do with these beliefs give to believers. I have never been able to tell what pancake breakfasts or spaghetti dinners have to do with Christianity, but it seems that they do little harm to those who attend them.

From a scientific perspective, we can pretty much label the Book of Mormon a fiction--native Americans are not descendants of a lost tribe of Israel, they did not have horses or metal scimitars, and man did not make his first appearance in the New World. But none of this prevents the Church of Latter Day Saints from encouraging and supporting closely knit families who develop reasonably well-adjusted individuals who have a strong sense of self worth. It may not be your cup of tea (or mine), but it does serve an important function, one which nihilism or hedonism don't do nearly as well. (I am not suggesting the nihilism or hedonism are the only alternatives to a religious orientation, of course.)

A second thought occurs to me: Much of our language preserves " beliefs [that]make sense and are actually helpful" to us in terms of understanding the world, but are based on irrational ideas. The sun does not rise and set, after all...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2007

Manatees, numbers

2,812 doesn't sound like a whole lot of animals, but, just as I found when I read this morning's Washington Post article on the proposal to delist Manatees as an endangered species, it's hard to tell whether 2,812 is the total number of Manatees, or the total number in Florida waters (with more elsewhere?).

The Post tells us:

Of a population of about 3,200, 416 died in 2006, the highest number of deaths recorded in 30 years of statistics.

And...

By all accounts, the Florida manatee population has increased since the 1970s.

The first article linked, a more recent story from the Associated Press, tells us,

This year's annual manatee census recorded 2,812 of the animals, also known as sea cows, in Florida water. In 1991 -- the survey's first year -- 1,267 manatees were counted in the state.

So the numbers are 1970: ?; 1991: 1,267; 2006: 3,200; 2007: 2,812, as far as I can tell. The increase from 1991 to 2006 (15 years) seems the most promising thing in either story.

Oddly enough, the Post also chose to profile the Mozart of Mathematicians today...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:01 PM | Comments (2317)

April 08, 2007

The Case for Easter

I can't resist a book.

It was on a table in the Clarendon Whole Foods' self serve restaurant (if I can call it that...)--somehow I knew whoever left it wouldn't be coming back for it. The title is The Case for Easter; on the first page, it says it's from www.trygrace.org, which looks like an interesting congregation; the "To:" line was left blank.

I presume whoever left it hoped that an open-minded nonbeliever would pick it up and read it. Mission accomplished. I'll read it, and let you (and perhaps them) know what I think...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

Let's Die Together

That's the title of an article in the latest Atlantic that reminds me that we are seeing something in Japan we have not seen before, but I suspect we will be seeing much more of in the decades to come. We try to preserve wild life, land, oceans and historic sites, but we may soon need to start a movement to preserve the Japanese (and the Italians, and the Germans, and the Russians) before they go extinct...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2007

neanderthal.jpg

Posted by Ideofact at 01:14 AM | Comments (0)

Tianyuan Cave

I'm surprised that the news from Tianyuan Cave didn't create more of a stir:

According to the "Out of Africa" theory, modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved in East Africa and then spread out across the globe about 70,000 years ago, replacing earlier, or archaic, human populations, such as the Neanderthals, with very little, if any, interbreeding.

The Tianyuan remains display diagnostic features of modern H. sapiens. But co-author Erik Trinkaus and his colleagues argue, controversially, that the bones also display features characteristic of earlier human species, such as relatively large front teeth.

The most likely explanation, they argue, is interbreeding between early modern humans emerging from Africa and the archaic populations they encountered in Europe and Asia.

"The pattern we see across the Old World is basically a modern human in terms of its newly emerged characteristics, but also a minority of traits that are absent or lost in the earliest modern humans in East Africa," Professor Trinkaus told the BBC News website.

"The question is where did they get them from? Either they re-evolved them, which is not very likely, or, to some degree, they interbred with archaic groups.

"Sex happens. I find this neither disturbing nor surprising."

I think most genetic evidence--and I stress here that I'm relying on popular accounts of the work of scientists like, for example, this one--seems to argue that sex didn't happen, at least not between Neanderthals and our ancestors, but the idea that in us there lives some faint echo of the former is one that has always appealed to me.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:03 AM | Comments (0)

Juxtapostion

I came across this pair of sentences, consecutively, in a text I was reading. It struck me that the first might well apply to our own egalitarian culture...

A stranger looking only at attire could not tell which of a group of men is the most important and which is the least.

Much attire serves to protect a person's vulnerable spots from attack by ghosts.

But not the second.

From Grand Valley Dani by Karl Heider.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:45 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2007

Revelation

Interesting -- the news that Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian archaeologist, says that Exodus is a myth. I wonder if he'd say--or is saying--the same in Arabic; the Koran recounts much the same story...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)