Some quotations

Computing-related quotes

Quotes about Afghanistan

War is God's way of teaching Americans geography. (Ambrose Bierce)

...the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are the most social. In human terms, most ethical... There is no strength to be gained from hurting one another. Only weakness. (Ursula le Guin)

A building is not something you finish, but something you start. (Stewart Brand)

There are two ways of constructing a software design: one way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies; the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. (C.A.R. Hoare)

A computer language is not just a way of getting a computer to p erform operations but rather that it is a novel formal medium for expressing ideas about methodology. Thus, programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute. (The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, H. Abelson, G. Sussman and J. Sussman, 1985.)

If you try to make something beautiful, it is often ugly. If you try to make something useful, it is often beautiful. (Oscar Wilde)

When you stay in one place long enough your luck knows where to find you. (Forgotten where I heard this.)

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science. (Kelvin)

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. (Einstein)

This here's a re-search laboratory. Re-search means look again, don't it? Means they're looking for something they found once and it got away somehow and now they got to re-search for it! (Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle)

The past is indestructible; sooner or later things come up again... It is important for people to remember the past now and again. Young people in particular are only concerned with the present. It's part of human nature that we can't leave our children the knowledge and experience that we have gained. The best we can do is to leave them a film, a novel, or a work of art. What we can't do is to transmit the tragedy of the things that should be changed. (Carlos Saura, in the Guardian 2/July/1999)

Scarcity of time is the nemesis of affluence. The proliferation of options makes it increasingly difficult to know what one wants, and to cherish what one has. (Wolfgang Sachs, quoted in the Guardian 1/Oct/1999)

...the first of three Iron Laws of NLP I have come to believe... is that, in the long run, stamina is far more important than originality or talent. (Yorick Wilks, Elsnews 8.3, September 1999)

(Know any like this not in Latin?)

Not every problem that someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production. Herbert Marcuse (from Mark Leisher's sig).

A human being is a part of this whole, called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to apportion for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Albert Einstein.

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. Douglas Adams.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. George Bernard Shaw (_Man and Superman_, 1903).

Sometimes the ego is stronger than the desire for self-preservation. Dave Robertson, AKT project meeting, Aberdeen, July 2002.

This gets us back to Noam Chomsky's answer in Secrets, Lies and Democracy (David Barsamian 1994; Odonian) to "What do you think about the Internet?"

I think that there are good things about it, but there are also aspects of it that concern and worry me. This is an intuitive response -- I can't prove it -- but my feeling is that, since people aren't Martians or robots, direct face-to-face contact is an extremely important part of human life. It helps develop self-understanding and the growth of a healthy personality.

You just have a different relationship to somebody when you're looking at them than you do when you're punching away at a keyboard and some symbols come back. I suspect that extending that form of abstract and remote relationship, instead of direct, personal contact, is going to have unpleasant effects on what people are like. It will diminish their humanity, I think.

Chomsky, quoted at

The Dispossessed

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1974

[My selection]

To die is to lose the self and rejoin the rest. [p.9]

“Of course, I have known highly intelligent women, women who could think just like a man,” the doctor said, hurriedly, aware that he had been almost shouting—that he had, Shevek thought, been pounding his hands against the locked door and shouting...

Shevek turned the conversation, but he went on thinking about it. This matter of superiority and inferiority must be a central one in Urrasti social life. If to respect himself Kimoe had to consider half the human race as inferior to him, bow then did women manage to respect themselves—did they consider men inferior? And how did all that affect their sex-lives? He knew from Odo's writings that, two hundred years ago, the main Urrasti sexual institutions had been “marriage”, a partnership authorised and enforced by legal and economic sanctions, and “prostitution”, which seemed merely to be a wider term, copulation in the economic mode. Odo had condemned them both; and yet Odo had been “married”; and anyhow the institutions might have changed greatly in two hundred years. If he was going to live on Urras and with the Urrasti, he had better find out.

It was strange that even sex, the source of so much solace, delight, and joy for so many years, could overnight become an unknown territory where be must tread carefully and know his ignorance; yet it was so. He was warned not only by Kimoe's queer burst of scorn and anger, but by a previously vague impression which that episode brought into focus. When first aboard the ship, in those long hours of fever and despair, he had been distracted, sometimes pleased and sometimes irritated, by a grossly simple sensation: the softness of the bed. Though only a bunk, its mattress gave under his weight with caressing suppleness. It yielded to him, yielded so insistently that he was, still, always conscious of it while falling asleep. Both the pleasure and the irritation it produced in him were decidedly erotic. There was also the hot-air-nozzle-towel device: the same kind of effect. A tickling. And the design of the furniture in the officers’ lounge, the smooth plastic curves into which stubborn wood and steel had been forced, the smoothness and delicacy of surfaces and textures: were these not also faintly, pervasively erotic? He knew himself well enough to be sure that a few days without Takver, even under great stress, should not get him so worked up that he felt a woman in every table-top. Not unless the woman was really there.

Were Urrasti cabinetmakers all celibate?

The knobby baby stood up. His face was a glare of sunlight and anger. His diapers were about to fall off. “Mine!” he said in a high, ringing voice. “Mine sun!”

“It is not yours,” the one-eyed woman said with the mildness of utter certainty. “Nothing is yours. It is to use. It is to share. If you will not share it you cannot use it.” And she picked the knobby baby up with gentle inexorable hands and set him aside, out of the square of sunlight.

The fat baby sat staring, indifierent. The knobby one shook all over, screamed, “Mine sun!” and burst into tears of rage.

The father picked him up and held him. “There, now, Shev,” he said. “Come on, you know you can’t have things. What’s wrong with you?”

“Do you find any women capable of original intellectual work, Dr Shevek?”

“Well, it was more that they found me—Mitis, in Northsetting, was my teacher—also Gvarab; you know of her, I think.”

“Gvarab was a woman?” Pae said in genuine surprise, and laughed.

Oiie looked unconvinced and offended. “Can’t tell from your names, of course,” he said coldly. “You make a point, I suppose, of drawing no distinction between the sexes.”

Shevek said mildly, “Odo was a woman.”

“There you have it,” Oiie said. He did not shrug, but he very nearly shrugged. Pae looked respectful, and nodded, just as he did when old Atro maundered.

Shevek saw that he had touched an impersonal animosity in these men which went very deep. Apparently they, like the tables on the ship, contained a woman, a suppressed, silenced, bestialised woman, a fury in a cage. He had no right to tease them. They knew no relation but possession. They were possessed.

“Excess is excrement,” Odo wrote in the Analogy. “Excrement retained in the body is a poison.”

Abbenay was poisonless: a bare city, bright, the colours light and hard, the air pure. It was quiet. You could see it all, laid out as plain as spilt salt.

Nothing was hidden.

The squares, the austere streets, the low buildings, the unwalled workyards, were charged with vitality and activity. As Shevek walked he was constantly aware of other people walking, working, talking, faces passing, voices calling, gossiping, singing, people alive, people doing things, people afoot. Workshops and factories fronted on squares or on their open yards, and their doors were open. He passed a glassworks, the workman dipping up a great molten blob as casually as a cook serves soup. Next to it was a busy yard where stonefoam was cast for construction; the gang foreman, a big woman in a smock white with dust, was supervising the pouring of a cast with a loud and splendid flow of language. After that came a small wire factory, a district laundry, a luthier’s where musical instruments were made and repaired, the district small-goods distributory, a theatre, a tile works. The activity going on in each place was fascinating, and mostly out in full view. Children were around, some involved in the work with the adults, some underfoot making mudpies, some busy with games in the street, one sitting perched up on the roof of the learning centre with her nose deep in a book. The wire-maker had decorated the shopfront with patterns of vines worked in painted wire, cheerful and ornate. The blast of steam and conversation from the wide-open doors of the laundry was over whelming. No doors were locked, few shut. There were no disguises, and no advertisements. It was all there, all the work, all the life of the city, open to the eye and to the hand.

And the strangest thing about the nightmare street was that none of the millions of things for sale were made there. They were only sold there. Where were the workshops, the factories, where were the farmers, the craftsmen, the miners, the weavers, the chemists, the carvers, the dyers, the designers, the machinists, where were the hands, the people who made? Out of sight, somewhere else. Behind walls. All the people in all the shops were either buyers or sellers. They had no relation to the things but that of possession.

The conversation went on for half an hour. It was the first time Shevek had been asked, on Urras, to describe Anarres. The children asked the questions, but the parents listened with interest. Shevek kept out of the ethical mode with some scrupulousness; he was not there to propagandise his host’s children. He simply told them what the Dust was like, what Abbenay looked like, what kind of clothes one wore, what people did when they wanted new clothes, what children did in school. This last became propaganda, despite his intentions. Ini and Aevi were entranced by his description of a curriculum which included farming, carpentry, sewage reclamation, printing, plumbing, roadmending, playwriting, and all the other occupations of the adult community, and by his admission that nobody was ever punished for any thing.

“Though sometimes,” be said, “they make you go away by yourself for a while.”

“But what,” Oiie said abruptly, as if the question, long kept back, burst from him under pressure—”What keeps people in order? Why don’t they rob and murder each other?”

“Nobody owns anything to rob. If you want things you take them from the depository. As for violence, well, I don’t know, Oiie; would you murder me, ordinarily? And if you felt like it, would a law against it stop you? Coercion is the least efficient means of obtaining order.”

“All right, but how do you get people to do the dirty work?”

“What dirty work?” asked Oiie’s wife, not following.

“Garbage collecting, grave digging,” One said; Shevek added, “Mercury mining,” and neatly said, “Shit processing,” but recollected the Ioti taboo on scatological words. He had reflected, quite early in his stay on Urras, that the Urrasti lived among mountains of excrement, but never mentioned shit.

“Well, we all do them. But nobody has to do them for very long, unless he likes the work. One day in each decad the community management committee or the block committee or whoever needs him can ask him to join in such work; they make rotating lists. Then the disagreeable work postings, or dangerous ones like the mercury mines and mills, normally they’re for one half year only.”

“But then the whole personnel must consist of people just learning the job.”

“Yes. It’s not efficient; but what else is to be done? You can’t tell a man to work on a job that will cripple him or kill him in a few years. Why should he do that?”

“He can refuse the order?”

“It’s not an order, Oiie. He goes to Divlab—the Division of Labour office—and says, I want to do such and such, what have you got? And they tell him where there are jobs.”

“But then why do people do the dirty work at all? Why do they even accept the one-day-in-ten jobs?”

“Because they are done together.... And other reasons. You know, life on Anarres isn’t rich, as it is here. In the little communities there isn’t very much entertainment, and there is a lot of work to be done. So, if you work at a mechanical loom mostly, every tenthday it’s pleasant to go outside and lay a pipe or plough a field, with a different group of people.... And then there is challenge. Here you think that the incentive to work is finances, need for money or desire for profit; but where there’s no money the real motives are clearer, maybe. People like to do things. They like to do them well. People take the dangerous, hard jobs because they take pride in doing them, they can—egoise, we call it —show off? to the weaker ones. Hey, look, little boys, see how strong I am! You know? A person likes to do what he is good at doing.... But really, it is the question of ends and means. After all, work is done for the work’s sake. It is the lasting pleasure of life. The private conscience knows that. And also the social conscience, the opinion of one’s neighbours. There is no other reward, on Anarres; no other law. One’s own pleasure, and the respect of one’s fellows. That is all. When that is so, then you see the opinion of the neighbours becomes a very mighty force.”

“No one ever defies it?”

“Perhaps not often enough,” Shevek said.

“Does everybody work so hard, then?” Oiie’s wife asked. “What happens to a man who just won’t cooperate?”

“Well, he moves on. The others get tired of him, you know. They make fun of him; or they get rough with him, beat him up; in a small community they might agree to take his name off the meals-listing, so he has to cook and eat all by himself, that is humiliating. So he moves on, and stays in another place for a while, and then maybe moves on again. Some do it all their lives. Nuchnibi, they’re called. I am a sort of nuchnib. I am here evading my own work-posting. I moved farther than most.” Shevek spoke tranquilly; if there was bitterness in his voice it was not discernible to the children, nor explicable to the adults. But a little silence followed on his words.

“I don’t know who does the dirty work here,” he said. “I never see it being done—it’s strange. Who does it? Why do they do it? Are they paid more?”

“For dangerous work, sometimes. For merely menial tasks, no. Less.”

“Why do they do them, then?”

“Because low pay is better than no pay,” Oiie said...

“Shev, did you ever think that what the analogic mode calls ‘disease’, social disaffection, discontent, alienation, that this might analogically also be called pain—what you meant when you talked about pain, suffering? And that, like pain, it serves a function in the organism?”

“No!” Shevek said, ‘violently. “I was talking in personal, in spiritual terms.”

“But you spoke of physical suffering, of a man dying of bums. And I speak of spiritual suffering! Of people seeing their talent, their work, their lives wasted. Of good minds submitting to stupid ones. Of strength and courage strangled by envy, greed for power, fear of change. Change is freedom, change is life— is anything more basic to Odonian thought than that? But nothing changes any more ! Our society is sick. You know it. You’re suffering its sickness. Its suicidal sickness!”

“That’s enough, Dap. Drop it.”

Bedap said no more. He began to bite his thumbnail, methodi cally and thoughtfully.

Shevek sat down again on the bed platform and put his head in his bands. There was a long silence. The snow had ceased. A dry, dark wind pushed at the window pane. The room was cold; neither of the young men had taken off his coat.

“Look, brother,” Shevek said at last. “It’s not our society that frustrates individual creativity. It’s the poverty of Anarres. This planet wasn’t meant to support civilisation. If we let one another down, if we don’t give up our personal desires to the common good, nothing, nothing on this barren world can save us. Human solidarity is our only resource.”

“Solidarity, yes! Even on Urras, where food falls out of the trees, even there Odo said that human solidarity is our one hope. But we’ve betrayed that hope. We’ve let cooperation become obedience. On Urras they have government by the minority. Here we have government by the majority. But it is government! The social conscience isn't a living thing any more, but a machine, a power-machine, controlled by bureaucrats!”

It was now clear to Shevek, and he would have thought it folly to think otherwise, that his wretched years in this city had all been part of his present great happiness, because they had led up to it, prepared him for it. Everything that had happened to him was part of what was happening to him now. Takver saw no such obscure concatenations of effect/cause/effect, but then she was not a temporal physicist. She saw time naively as a road laid out. You walked ahead, and you got somewhere. If you were lucky, you got somewhere worth getting to.

But when Shevek took her metaphor and recast it in his terms, explaining that, unless the past and the future were made part of the present by memory and intention, there was, in human terms, no road, nowhere to go, she nodded before he was half done. “Exactly,” she said. “That’s what I was doing these last four years. It isn’t all luck. Just partly.”

“The law of evolution is that the strongest survives!”

“Yes; and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are most social. In human terms, most ethical. You see, we have neither prey nor enemy, on Anarres. We have only one another. There is no strength to be gained from hurting one another. Only weakness.”

An Odonian undertook monogamy just as he might undertake a joint enterprise in production, a ballet or a soap—works. Partnership was a voluntarily constituted federation like any other. So long as it worked, it worked, and if it didn’t work it stopped being. It was not an institution but a function. It had no sanction but that of private conscience.

This was fully in accord with Odonian social theory. The validity of the promise, even promise of indefinite term, was deep in the grain of Odo’s thinking; though it might seem that her insistence on freedom to change would invalidate the idea of promise or vow, in fact the freedom made the promise meaningful. A promise is a direction taken, a self-limitation of choice. As Odo pointed out, if no direction is taken, if one goes nowhere, no change will occur. One’s freedom to choose and to change will be unused, exactly as if one were in jail, a jail of one’s own building, a maze in which no one way is better than any other. So Odo came to see the promise, the pledge, the idea of fidelity, as essential in the complexity of freedom.

Many people felt that this idea of fidelity was misapplied to sexual life. Odo’s femininity swayed her, they said, towards a refusal of real sexual freedom; here, if nowhere else, Odo could not write for men. As many women as men made this criticism, so it would appear that it was not masculinity that Odo failed to understand, but a whole type or section of humanity, people to whom experiment is the soul of sexual pleasure.

Though she may not have understood them, and probably considered them propertarian aberrations from the norm, the human species being, if not a pair-bonding species, yet a time-binding one, still she provided better for the promiscuous than for those who tried long-term partnership. No law, no limit, no penalty, no punishment, no disapproval applied to any sexual practice of any kind, except the rape of a child or woman, for which the rapist’s neighbours were likely to provide summary revenge if be did not get promptly into the gentler hands of a therapy centre. But molestation was extremely rare in a society where complete fulfilment was the norm from puberty on, and the only social limit imposed on sexual activity was the mild one of pressure in favour of privacy, a kind of modesty imposed by the communality of life.

“A child free from the guilt of ownership and the burden of economic competition will grow up with the will to do what needs doing and the capacity for joy in doing it. It is useless work that darkens the heart. The delight of the nursing mother, of the scholar, of the successful hunter, of the good cook, of the skilful maker, of anyone doing needed work and doing it well,—this durable joy is perhaps the deepest source of human affection and of sociality as a whole.”

“... How have things been here?”


“They’ll get leaner,” Shevek said, but without real conviction, for he was eating, and the porridge tasted exceedingly good. Frustration, anxiety, famine! said his forebrain, seat of intellect; but his hindbrain, squatting in unrepentant savagery back in the deep skull’s darkness, said Food now! Food now! good, good!

On his first night in this room he had asked them, challenging and curious, are you going to do with me?” He knew now what they had done with him. Chifoilisk had told him the simple fact. They owned him. He had thought to bargain with them, a very naive anarchist’s notion. The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognises no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.

“I am here because you see in me the promise, the promise that we made two hundred years ago in this city—the promise kept. We have kept it, on Anarres. We have nothing but our freedom. We have nothing to give you but your own freedom. We have no law but the single principle of mutual aid between individuals. We have no government but the single principle of free association. We have no states, no nations, no presidents, no premiers, no chiefs, no generals, no bosses, no bankers, no landlords, no wages, no charity, no police, no soldiers, no wars. Nor do we have much else. We are sharers, not owners. We are not prosperous. None of us is rich. None of us is powerful. If it is Anarres you want, if it is the future you seek, then I tell you that you must come to it with empty hands. You must come to it alone, and naked, as the child comes into the world, into his future, without any past, without any property, wholly dependent on other people for his life. You cannot take what you have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

Atro had once explained to him how this was managed, how the sergeants could give the privates orders, how the lieutenants could give the privates and the sergeants orders, how the captains and so on and so on up to the generals, who could give everyone else orders and need take them from none, except the Commander in Chief. Shevek had listened with incredulous disgust. “You call that organisation?” he had inquired. “You even call it discipline? But it is neither. It is a coercive mechanism of extraordinary inefficiency—a kind of seventh-millennium steam engine! With such a rigid and fragile structure what could be done that was worth doing?” This had given Atro a chance to argue the worth of warfare as the breeder of courage and manliness and the weeder-out of the unfit; but the very line of his argument had forced him to concede the effectiveness of guerillas, organised from below, self-disciplined. “But that only works when the people think they’re fighting for something of their own, you know, their homes, or some notion or other,” the old man had said. Shevek had dropped the argument. He now continued it, in the darkening basement among the stacked crates of unlabelled chemicals. He explained to Atro that he now understood why the army was organised as it was. It was indeed quite necessary. No rational form of organisation would serve the purpose. He simply had not understood that the purpose was to enable men with machine-guns to kill unarmed men and women easily and in great quantities when told to do so. Only he still could not see where courage, or manliness, or fitness entered in.

Shevek had learned something about his own will, these last four years. In its frustration he had learned its strength. No social or ethical imperative equalled it. Not even hunger could repress it. The less he had, the more absolute became his need to be.

He recognised that need, in Odonian terms, as his “cellular function”, the analogic term for the individual’s individuality, the work be can do best, therefore his best contribution to his society. A healthy society would let him exercise that optimum function freely, in the coordination of all such functions finding its adaptability and strength. That was a central idea of Odo’s Analogy. That the Odonian society on Anarres had fallen short of the ideal did not, in his eyes, lessen his responsibility to it; just the contrary. With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society and individual became clear. Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual, but never compromise: for, though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice—the power of change, the essential function of life. The Odonian society was conceived as a permanent revolution, and revolution begins in the thinking mind.

All this Shevek had thought out, in these terms, for his conscience was a completely Odonian one.

He was therefore certain, by now, that his radical and un qualified will to create was, in Odonian terms, its own justification. His sense of primary responsibility towards his work did not cut him off from his fellows, from his society, as he had thought. It engaged him with them absolutely.

He also felt that a man who had this sense of responsibility about one thing was obliged to carry it through in all things. It was a mistake to see himself as its vehicle and nothing else, to sacrifice any other obligation to it.

That sacriflciality was what Takver had spoken of recognising in herself when she was pregnant, and she had spoken with a degree of horror, of self-disgust, because she too was an Odonian, and the separation of means and ends was, to her too, false. For her as for him, there was no end. There was process: process was all. You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere. All responsibilities, all commitments thus understood took on substance and duration.

So his mutual commitment with Takver, their relationship, had remained thoroughly alive during their four years’ separation. They had both suffered from it, and suffered a good deal, but it had not occurred to either of them to escape the suffering by denying the commitment.

For after all, he thought now, lying in the warmth of Takver’s sleep, it was joy they were both after—the completeness of being. If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.

Takver sighed softly in her sleep, as if agreeing with him, and turned over, pursuing some quiet dream.

Fulfilment, Shevek thought, is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal. The variety-seeking of the spectator, the thrill-hunter, the sexually promiscuous, always ends in the same place. It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over. It is not a journey and return, but a closed cycle, a locked room, a cell.

Outside the locked room is the landscape of time, in which the spirit may, with luck and courage, construct the fragile, makeshift, improbable roads and cities of fidelity: a landscape inhabitable by human beings.

It is not until an act occurs within the landscape of the past and the future that it is a human act. Loyalty, which asserts the continuity of past and future, binding time into a whole, is the root of human strength; there is no good to be done without it.

So, looking back on the last four years, Shevek saw them not as wasted, but as part of the edifice that he and Takver were building with their lives. The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.

“You don’t understand what time is,” he said. “You say the past is gone, the future is not real, there is no change, no hope. You think Anarres is a future that cannot be reached, as your past cannot be changed. So there is nothing but the present, this Urras, the rich, real, stable present, the moment now. And you think that is something which can be possessed! You envy it a little. You think it’s something you would like to have. But it is not real, you know. It is not stable, not solid—nothing is. Things change, change. You cannot have anything.... And least of all can you have the present—unless you accept with it the past and the future. Not only the past but also the future, not only the future but also the past! Because they are real: only their reality makes the present real.

There were no rules of parliamentary procedure at meetings in PDC. Interruptions were sometimes more frequent than statements. The process, compared to a well-managed executive conference, was a slab of raw beef compared to a wiring diagram. Raw beef, however, functions better than a wiring diagram would, in its place—inside a living animal.

Bedap looked up at him and said, “You don’t mean justice, you mean punishment. Do you think they’re the same thing?”

“He means violence,” Rulag said. “And if there is violence, you will have caused it. You and your Syndicate. And you will have deserved it.”

A thin, small, middle-aged man beside Trepil began speaking, at first so softly, in a voice hoarsened by the dust-cough, that few of them heard him. He was a visiting delegate from a Southwest miners’ syndicate, not expected to speak on this matter. “... what men deserve,” he was saying. “For we each of us deserve every thing, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead Kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Wifi you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.” They were of course Odo’s words from the Prison Letters, but spoken in the weak, hoarse voice they made a strange effect, as if the man were working them out word by word himseIf, as if they came from his own heart, slowly, with difficulty, as the water wells up slowly, slowly, from the desert sand.

Rulag listened, her head erect, her face set, like that of a person repressing pain. Across the table from her Shevek sat with his head bowed. The words left a silence after them, and he looked up and spoke into it.

“You see,” he said, “what we’re after is to remind ourselves that we didn’t come to Anarres for safety, but for freedom. If we must all agree, all work together, we’re no better than a machine. If an individual can’t work in solidarity with his fellows, it’s his duty to work alone. His duty and his right. We have been denying people that right. We’ve been saying, more and more often, you must work with the others, you must accept the rule of the majority. But any rule is tyranny. The duty of the individual is to accept no rule, to be the initiator of his own acts, to be responsible. Only if he does so will the society live, and change, and adapt, and survive. We are not subjects of a State founded upon law, but members of a society formed upon revolution. Revolution is our obligation: our hope of evolution. ‘The Revolution is in the individual spirit, or it is nowhere. It is for all, or it is nothing. If it is seen as having any end, it will never truly begin.’ We can’t stop here. We must go on. We must take the risks.”

[Kali's selection]

"Fulfillment, Shevek thought, is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal. The variery-seeking of the spectator, the thrill-hunter, the sexually promiscuous, always ends in the same place. It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over. It is not a journey and return, but a closed cycle, a locked room, a cell. Outside the locked room is the landscape of time, in which the spirit may, with luck and courage, construct the fragile, makeshift, improbable roads and cities of fidelity: a landscape inhabitable by human beings...So, looking back on the last four years, Shevek saw them not as wasted, but as part of the edifice that he and Takver were building in their lives. The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts."

"It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You posses nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give."

"We came, Takver thought, from a great distance to each other. We have always done so. Over great distances, over years, over abysses of chance. It is because he comes from so far away that nothing can separate us. Nothing, no distance, no years, can be greater than the distance that's already between us, the distance of our sex, the difference of our being, our minds; that gap, that abyss which we bridge with a look, with a touch, with a word, the easiest thing in the world. Look how far away he is, asleep. Look how far away he is, he always is. But he comes back, he comes back, he comes back..."

"For after all, he thought now, lying in the warmth of Takver's sleep, it was joy they were both after - the completeness of being. If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home."

"...he had felt not that he was doing the things he did, but that they were doing him."

"It [suffering] exists", Shevek said, spreading out his hands. "It's real. I can call it a misunderstanding, but I can't pretend that it doesn't exist, or will ever cease to exist. Suffering is the condition on which we live. And when it comes you know it. You know it as truth. Of course it's right to cure deseases, to prevent hunger and injustice, as the social organism does. But no society can change the nature of existence. We can't prevent suffering. This pain and that pain, yes, but not Pain. A society can only relieve social suffering - unnecessary suffering. The rest remains. The root, the reality. All of us here are going to know grief; if we live fifty years, we'll have know pain for fifty years."

"...and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are the most social. In human terms, most ethical...There is no strength to be gained from hurting one another. Only weakness."

From Guardian Weekly article on Internet stocks, end/June/1999

There is good reason for thinking that the Internet stocks will do rather worse than the stock market as a whole. There are a large number of suppliers and consumers, none big enough to dominate the market. There is a homogeneous product. There is freedom of entry into the market, there is perfect information and there are frequent transactions. It is a textbook example of perfect competition, under which there cannot be excess profits to justify skyhigh share prices in anything other than the very short term.

Round Ireland with a Fridge

Tony Hawks, 1998

At 8.30 I awoke with an erection. There was no call for this - I wasn't in the company of a beautiful woman, nor had my awakening interrupted an erotic dream, it was simply my body's chosen way of saluting the new day. This phenomenon of an unwanted, unecessary and more often than not unsightly erection, is undoubtedly a design fault by God. God did pretty well all round, creating oceans, clouds, wind, snow, whales, tigers and obstinate sheep. He had a heavy workload and no one could deny that the Almighty turned in a top-notch performance. But in one particular area - the design and implementation of the workings of the human penis, his work was sloppy. [p. 80]

Sometimes in life you've got to dance like nobody's watching. [p.119]

I think they should introduce 'sleeping' to the Olympics. It would be an excellent field event, in which the 'athlets' (for want of a better word) all lay down in beds, just beyond where the javelins land, nd the first one to fall asleep and not wake up for three hours would win gold. I, for one, would be interested in seeing what kind of personality would be suited to sleeping in a competitive environment. [p. 147]

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. [p. 179]

I couldn't manage alone. The nature of hitching, especially when encumbered by a kitchen appliance, is such that you are reliant on others. We may not expect it, but there may come a time in all of our lives when we have to hitch, either physically or figuratively. It doesn't matter how important, wealthy or talented you are, if your car breaks down somewhere and you are forced to stick out your thumb and hitch, then your fallibility and the fact that you are no better than the next person will be abundantly clear to you. You need someone else's kindness to take you to safety. What I was beginning to discover was that signing up to this Trust was as liberating as it was fun. [p.182]

The journey may not have changed the lives of the people of Ireland, but it had changed mine. I was a different, a better person. I had made discoveries, learned some important lessons. From this day forth I was going to stop for hotch-hikers, laugh along with happy drunks in pubs, and respect the right of the bad guitarist to play along with the rest. I had learned tolerance, I had learned that you could trust in your fellow man for help, and I had learned a new and pleasurable way of acquiring splinters. [p. 241]

Things Can Only Get Better

John O'Farrell, 1998

When a man is looking for signals that a woman might be interested in him, her climbing into his bed in her underwear might reasonably be interpreted as minor encouragement. But not in the world of the new puritans. Eve tempted me with the apple then told me it was South African.

The historical gap between the sexual revolution and the arrival of AIDS was a comparatively short one, and I was lucky enough to be young during those years. But tragically I was so right-on that I got sex confused with sexism and so my list of carnal conquests during the 1980s is probably shorted than Michael Foot's. [pp.62-3]

Politics ran through everything. Any conversation would be diverted on to the problems of capitalism and the rightness of the left's cause. Some young men are obsessed with a football team, some are obsessed with a rock group; I was obsessed with socialism. [p. 66] ...the survival of the fittest is a means by which creatures may evolve from one species into a superior species. It explains how we got from being lungfish to Homo sapiens who could understand and analyse the world around us. The challenge before us now was not how we could evolve further. No one was saying, 'Vote SDP for a larger cranium and the abolition of the appendix'. The challenge was to live together in society and achieve the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest proportion of the world's population and this could never be achieved by imitating the survival of the fittest. Things are not morally right because they happen in nature. I'm young and strong enough to go round to the old man who lives next door to me and steal all of his food for myself. That's what a young lion would do to an old lion. 'Well, it happens in nature - that's just the way of the world; your child failed her eleven-plus so natural selection has taken place and we're feeding her to a pack of hyenas...' We are human beings, with a soul and a conscience and a unique ability to see things from other people's point of view. The survival of the fittest created species. But what makes a decent society is the responsibility of the fittest.

[As Le Guin says in the Dispossessed, maybe the strongest survive, but the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are most social, i.e. not those most red in tooth and claw.] wasn't economic competition that had got us out of the caves, it was co-operation. One caveman cannot dig a huge pit and chase a mammoth into it, skin and cook it. Homo sapiens advanced by doing things together, with a plan. They spent millions of years evolving a brain, learning to fashion tools together, communicating htis information, inventing languages, building civilsations together, originating philosophies, founding the arts and culture and developing technology till they could walk on the ocean floor and explore the void of space. And then after all that miraculous achievement, after having come so far, at the final hurdle they blew it and went and re-elected Margaret bloody Thatcher. [pp. 93-4]

The battle between socialist purity and electoral expediency is constantly being fought within the soul of every Labour Party activist. There are no emotional standing ovations at party conference for the pragmatic trimming of a socialist programme. But then there were no crowds of cheering activists who wanted to carry Michael Foot on their shoulders after 1983 for sticking with and losing with such a radical left-wing programme. [p.208]

When you consider just how right-wing Wilson and Callaghan's governments were, the idea that the Labour Party had always been some sort of pure bastion of ideological socialism until Kinnock and Blair came along is quite perverse. I don't know why they called it 'New Labour' - there's nothing new about Labour selling out and being right wing. [pp. 209-210]

The day before the poll tax came into force, 300,000 people marched into Tafalgar Square, pitched battles were fought with mounted police and rioters turned over cars and looted shops as huge flames lapped up the side of South Africa House. And I wasn't there because I was helping at a Labour Party street stall outside Sainsbury's. [p. 247]

The drama began with Geoffrey Howe's resignation speec. Thatcher had stabbed him in the back once too often and a man can tolerate being publicly humiliated for only so long. In Geoffrey's case eleven and a half years. [p. 251]

[abolition of Clause Four, 1994]
The era of Labour as the party of state intervention was over. Labour was now openly committed to a compassionate management of capitalism, if such a thing is possible.
The Parliamentary road to socialism had been closed off years ago [p. 293]

Heard the news? The war is over. Making myths of Dunkirk and D-day is doing us no good at all.

John O'Farrell, The Grauniad, Wednesday June 7, 2000

This week is the anniversary of the D-day landings. Last week it was the anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Next week is probably the anniversary of the first broadcast of Allo Allo and Prince Charles will unveil a memorial to all those actors who died on set.

In Britain there is always a reason to look back at the second world war. One of these days an explorer is going to land on this island and shout: "The war is over!" Everyone will come blinking out from the undergrowth where we've been hiding in our tatty uniforms since 1945.

As far as the British people are concerned the history of planet earth goes like this. 1) The earth cools. 2) Primitive life forms emerge. 3) Britain wins the second world war. Apart from that, nothing much of any importance has happened, with the possible exceptions of England winning the World Cup and the Beatles going on the Ed Sullivan show.

Anniversaries are a way of cherry-picking our history and avoiding the complex and sometimes unpalatable truth. For example, this year is the 100th anniversary of the end of the Boer war. But where are the celebrations of Britain's invention of the concentration camp? There ought to be pages about it in the Daily Telegraph. "Typical! Britain invents something and then the Germans and Japanese go and do it better than us!"

... The British army was in fact saved by a gross tactical error by Adolf Hitler who halted his generals when they were on the verge of capturing the entire British army. He then went on to increase our chances of survival yet further by invading Russia and declaring war on the United States. His generals were furious with him but decided that he wasn't the sort of bloke to whom you could say: "You've really cocked up big time here, Adolf".

... by distorting our historical status and pretending that we fought the second world war all on our own, we have inevitably created a sense of frustration when Britain then consistently fails to dominate the world in politics and sport in the way that we've been encouraged to believe that it's our right to do. The backlash then comes at events like Euro 2000.

So stand on the white cliffs of Dover and wave off the little ships as they sail off to Dunkirk to re-enact Britain's finest hour. But leave the boats over there for a week or two, because we're going to need them to bring back all the disgraced English football fans. And then the news reporters will ask: "Why is it that these thugs hate the Germans supporters so much?" before they head off to film the next anniversary of a war that ended over half-a-century ago.


Milan Kundera, 1998

...this is the real and the only reason for friendship: to provide a mirror so the other person can contemplate his image from teh past, which, without the eternal blah-blah of memories between friends, would long ago have disappeared. [p. 11]

In France, over the past twenty years, kissing on both cheeks has become an almost obligatory convention and, for that reason, painful for people who love each other. [p. 34]

'How is friendship born? Certainly as an alliance against adversity, an alliance without which man would be helpless before his enemies. maybe there's no longer a vital need for such an alliance.'

'There will always be enemies.'

'Yes, but they're invisible and anonymous. Bureacracies, laws. What can a friend do for you when they decide to build an airport outside your windows, or when they decide to fire you? If anyone helps you, again it's somebody anonymous, invisible, a social-service outfit, a consumer watchdog organization, a law firm. Friendship can no longer be proven by some exploit. The occasion no longer lends itself to searching out your wounded friend on the battlefield, or unsheathing your sabre to defend him against bandits. We go through life without great perils, but also without friendship.' [p. 45]

It's impossible to have a child and despise the world as it is, because that's the world we've put the child into. The child makes us care about the world, think about its future, willingly join in its rachet and its turmoils, take its incurable stupidity seriously. [p. 55]

What judge decreed that conformism is an evil and nonconformism is a good? Isn't conformism the great meeting place where everyone converges, where life is most dense, most ardent?

...the best way to spend a life... is to let yourself be carried along, ... by a cheerful, noisy crowd moving forward. [p. 123]

'Freedom? As you live out your desolation, you can be either unhappy or happy. Having that choice is what comprises your freedom. You're free to melt your own individuality into the cauldron of the multitude either with a feeling of defeat or with euphoria...'

...our only freedom is choosing between bitterness and pleasure. Since the insignificance of all things is our lot, we should not bear it as an affliction but learn how to enjoy it. [p. 134]

Tender is the Night

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934

Nicole was the product of much ingenuity and toil. For her sake trains began their run at Chicago and traversed round the belly of the continent to California; chicle factories fumed and link belts grew link by link in factories; men mixed toothpaste in vats and drew mouthwash out of copper hogsheads; girls canned tomatoes quickly in August or worked rudely at the Five-and-Tens on Christmas Eve; half-breed Indians toiled on Brazilian coffee plantations and dreamers were muscled out of patent rights in new tractors - these were some of the people who gave a tithe to Nicole, and as the whole system swayed and thundered onward it lent a feverish bloom to tuch processes of hers as wholesale buying, like the flush of a fireman's face holding his post before a spreading blaze. [p. 58]

To Engineer is Human

Henry Petrowski, 1982

It is the process of design, in which diverse parts of the "given-world" of the scientist and the "made-world" of the engineer are reformed and assembled into something the likes of which Nature had not dreamed, that divorves engineering from science and marries it to art. [p. 8]

[To Petrowski, engineering is both science and art: ]
...the conception of a design for a new structure can involve as much a leap of the imagination and as much a synthesis of experience and knowledge as any artist is required to bring to his canvas or paper. And once that design is articulated by the engineer as artist, it ust be analyzed by the engineer as scientist in as rigorous an application of the scientific method as any scientist must make. [p.40]

The object of a science may be said to be to construct theories about the behaviour of whatever it is that the science studies. Observation and experience, inspiration and serendipity, genius and just good guesses -- by their presence and abscence, in pinches and dashes -- all can provide the recipe for a scientific theory. As with all recipes, in which the cook is always the invisible ingredient, the individuality of the scientist provides the inexpressible human flavor. This aspect of science, the concoction of theories, has no universal method. But once a theory has evolved, perhaps from a half-baked idea to a precise and unambiguous statement of the scientist's entry in the great universal cook-off, the scientific method may be used to judge the success or failure of a given theory or the relative merits of competing theories.

A scientific hypothesis is tested by comparing its conclusions with the reality of the world as it is. Yet, no matter how many examples of agreement one may collect, they do not prove the truth of the hypothesis, for it may be argued that one has not tested it in the single case where the theory may fail to agree with reality. [p. 42]

[The fact that single pieces of contradictory evidence are seldom enough to sink well-established tenets of scientific fields is the basis for Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions", that argues that science proceeds by revolutionary upheavals, not smooth progressions. This point doesn't undermine Petrowski's basic point, however: scientific knowledge is always in some sense provisional.]

Zen and the Brain

James H. Austin, 1998

...neurobiologists still go on openly studying reflexes and looking under the hood, not huddling passively in the trenches. Many of them still keep wondering: how does the inner life arise? Ever puzzled, they oscillate between two major fictions: (1) The brain can be understood; (2) We will never come close. Meanwhile they keep pursuing brain mechanisms, partly from habit, partly out of faith. Their premise: The brain is the organ of the mind. Clearly, this three-pound lump of tissue is the source of our "insight information" about our very being. Somewhere in it there might be a few hidden guidelines for better ways to lead our lives.

Zen doesn't get preoccupied with such scientific flappings of the mind. Instead, what matters in Zen is the way our brain expresses - in simple awareness and in everyday behaviour - those instinctual depths of self-knowledge that lie beyond the shallow fictions of the egocentric self.

To some, Zen is an exotic butterfly, now grown old and frayed along its wing edges. Fluttering beyond reach, it is a sublimely living thing. It was never intended to be examined close up with a lens, certainly not to be dissected. To others, their neural sciences should remain forever "hard" if not rigid. On principle, they reject the notion that there can be any reputable common ground between molecules, membranes and mysticism. In their view, any attempt to localize mysticism in the brain is too close to last century's discredited phrenology. Still others may feel that Siddhartha's seemingly mild (but revolutionary) teachings have little bearing on today's harsh social realities.

These attitiudes have lived in me in the past. I know them. Yet my hope is that the reader will discover... how increasingly relevant the Zen approach is to the serious social issues we confront today. For Zen has something practical to contribute to today's science, religion, philosophy, politics, and ecology. All these do come together, with Zen, in the brain. [p.6]

Taoist philosophy was already so comfortable with paradox that it could fit in well with Buddhist enlightenment...

We can appreciate Taoism's subtle, understated approach to living from the following statement attributed to its legendary sage, Lao-Tzu: "Acting without design, occupying oneself without making a business of it, finding the great in the small and the many in the few, repaying injury with kindness, effecting difficult things while they are easy, and managing great things in their beginnings: this is the method of Tao." [p. 9]

We and the Universe are coextensive [p. 11]

As the Tao Te Ching puts it: "Those who know, do not speak; those who speak, do not know." [p. 12]

If a goal is to be defined, then it is to learn the art of letting go while paying attention. [p. 14]

Here, we define mysticism in the most general sense as the ongoing practice of reestablishing, by the deepest insights, one's relationship with the ultimate, universal reality principle.

[a mystical definition of mysticism!]

Zen... the universal principle, or Buddha nature, already exist not only within each person but everywhere else. [p. 15]

We have personal quirks which go beyond our quarks [p. 19]

Sperry holds that our brain functions in ways that go beyond the elemental forces of physics. In a very real sense, we have quirks that go beyond our quarks. Such a view implies that our whole brain develops new properties, emergent properties. They are properties generated only by interactions within the larger system as a whole, not by the acts of any small single constituent. Emergent properties are always much more than the sum of their parts. Take the novel emergent properties of H2O, for example. We could never imagine that water is a liquid if we knew only the properties of its two constituent gases, hydrogen and oxygen.

Moreover, at its higher physiological levels of emergent processing, our brain also develops remarkable new causal properties. These are higher-level properties which can operate in top-down fashion. They cause things to change at lower physico-chemical and physiological levels. Whether such properties emerge consciously or subconsciously, they act to transform events downstream, shaping our value systems and the ways we behave. [p. 19]

The question is, Does everyone have the same kind(s) of mystical experience, per se? ... All mystical experience falls into a relatively small class of subtypes. These cut across all cultural boundaries. Whereas the several subtypes are not culture-bound, the language used to desribe them is culture bound. [p.22]

Listen to a cat or a horse sneeze. One can identify with what the animal is doing. Yet, different people sneeze differently. Moreover, the same person will muffle the sneeze when it must conform to the existing social setting. Still, the core of our sneeze reflex closely resembles that of other animals, and it also draws on several physiological levels of our nervous system.

In this paragraph above we are drawing closer to Zen than you might think. Why? Because similar considerations apply to other innate kinds of experience. It means no disrespect to draw this kind of analogy when discussing mystical and religious experiences. We may value these moments more, but in one sense, they are nothing special. They are not necessarily any more elevated, or rarified, than a sneeze. ... And when they do happen, it is not because the person held any pure doctrinal beliefs or previous conceptualizations, but because prior meditation and daily life practice had already opened up a few physiological intervals in the brain, and that these crevices happen to have become wider than usual. ... They are innate, existing brain functions, rearranged into new configurations. [p.23]

Buddhism itself goes back over two thousand years, he continues, and it expresses many cultures. Buddhism became associated with Taoism and Confucianism when it moved north from India into China. There it took on a distinctive Chinese character. ...

The Chinese preferred down-to-earth, tangible things. They never felt at home with the many abstractions of Indian theological thinking. "Take the question, What is truth? The Chinese answer is direct, concrete: 'That pine tree over there.' Zen respects what exists here and now. We don't chase abstract ideas or floating words."

... I realize something basic. Much of my entire life consists in chasing abstractions. Each idea is linked to a whole set of other associations. How radically Zen departs from what I have known before! [p.62]

Dream Story

Arthur Schnitzler, 1926

And so the time had passed predictably and soberly enough in work and routine chores, and the events of the previous night from first to last had faded; and only now that both their days' work was over, the child asleep and no further disturbance anticipated, did the shadowy figures from the masked ball, the melancholy stranger and the dominoes in red, revive; and those trivial encounters became magically and painfully interfused with the treacherous illusion of missed opportunities. Innocent yet ominous questions and vague ambiguous answers passed to and fro between them; and, as neither of them doubted the other's absolute candour, both felt the need for mild revenge. They exaggerated the extent to which their masked partners had attracted them, made fun of the jealous stirrings the other revealed, and lied dismissively about their own. Yet this light banter about hte trivial adventures of the previous night led to more serious discussion of those hidden, scarcely admitted desires which are apt to raise dark and perilous storms even in the pureset, most transparent soul; and they talked about those secret regions for which they felt hardly any longing, yet towards which the irrational wings of fate might one day drive them, if only in their dreams. For however much they might belong to one another heart and soul, they knew last night was not the first time they had been stirred by a whiff of freedom, danger and adventure. [pp.4-5]

Your Mother's Tongue

Stephen Burgen, 1996

Do You Eat With That Mouth?

The Spanish seem to have cornered the market in latter-day cursing, for example: Así te tragues un pavo y todas las plumas se conviertan en cuchilas de afeitar! (May all your turkey’s feathers turn into razor blades!) Or: Estoy hasta los cojones de este jodido hijo de puta (I’m fed up to the bollocks with this fucked-up son of a whore). They also do well at expressing disbelief – Cojón de mi corazón! (My precious bollock!) – and at taking the piss out of the clergy: Los curas son las únicas peronas a quienes todo el mundo llama padre, menos sus hijos, que los llaman tíos (Priests are the only people whom everyone calls father, except their sons, who call them uncle). The Irish have obviously got a good line on making excuses; their guíodóreacht means both ‘cursing’ and ‘praying’ (“Honest, father, I was talking to the virgin!”), while the Jews display admirable realism with Az Got zol voynen af der erd, voltn im di mentshn di fenster oysgeshlogn – If God lived on earth, people would break his windows.

The Swedes apparently say Himmel och pannkaka! when surprised, which translates bizarrely as Heaven and pankakes! Obviously not a good idea to visit a crêperie in Stokholm. When surprised the Danes exclaim Vildt fedt!, which means Wild fat!, perhaps invoking some folk memory of unexpected liveliness on the part of bacon rashers in a frying pan.


Tony Hillerman, 1986

Getting old, Leaphorn thought. He had reached the ridge and now the slope was downward. The thought didn't depress him, but it gave him an odd sense of pressure, of time moving past him, of things that needed to be done before time ran out. Leaphorn considered this, and laughed. Most un-Navajo thinking. He had been around white men far too long. [p.38]

Reusing Old Graves

Helen Nowicka, The Guardian, 1998?

Eternal quality of bizarre books honoured.

It was a close-run race. In a strong field, Virtual Reality: Exploring the Bra looked a safe bet, as did Simply Busting: A Guide to Bladder Control.

But the judges ruled that only one book could lay claim to oddest title of the year: Reusing Old Graves, by D Davies and A Shaw.

The annual Diagram prize awarded by The Bookseller magazine honours the most bizarrely named of hte 88,000 books printed in Britain every year. Past successes include How to Avoid Huge Ships and The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, History and Role in the World Today.

Although finalists included such tempting reads as Group 4 Prison Escort Survey: A Survey of Customer Satisfaction; The Baby Jesus Touch and Feel Book; and Amputee Management - A Handbook, Horace Bent, who chaired the judges, admitted he had not perused every entrant.

"Oddness is an eternal quality," mused Mr Bent. "Titles like Highlights in the History of Concrete; Big and Very Big Hole Drilling; and The Joy of Chickens will be remembered long after this year's Booker winner is forgotten."

"Reusing Old Graces is a title which is, I believe, fit to stand among the greats: How to Shit in the Woods - An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art; Versailles - The View from Sweden; and the 1993 winner, The Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice."

Judith Seaman, librarian to the Royal Engineers at Chilwell Station, nominated this year's winner.

Weeds oust insects' genitalia

John Ezzard, 29/Nov/1999

Weeds oust insects' genitalia to win title

John Ezard Guardian, Saturday November 27, 1999

That annual tribute to the learning and ingenuity of British authors, the Oddest Book Title of the Year competition, announced its 1999 winner amid controversy yesterday.

The back-biting is over whether the winner - Weeds in a Changing World (published by the British Crop Protection Council) - is odd enough to merit one of the most prized awards in the trade.

In the competition, run by the Diagram book design group, it caused shock by beating the early runaway favourite, Male Genitalia of Butterflies of the Balklan Peninsula, with a Checklist (Pensoft).

Judges appeared to suspect Pensoft of breaching a strict, 21-year-old rule that books must not be given boring titles simply as a ploy to win the contest.

"Perhaps the title was too odd," said the Bookseller magazine's columnist Horace Bent, announcing the result yester day. He thought the judges might also have decided that Balkan peculiarities were already over-represented in the contest's roll of honour by "the classic 1996 winner", Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers.

The Bookseller news editor, Danuta Keen, said: "If anyone sounds as if they're doing it on purpose, we try to reject their title at an early stage of the competition."

The runner-up was Derek Hutchinson's Guide to Eskimo Rolling, (A & C Black), praised by reviewers as "a good read as well as highly instructional". Third was Procrastination and Task Avoidance: theory, research and treatment (Plenum).

The shortlist also included Good Practice with Violence (Jessica Kingsley), Betel Chewing Equipment of East New Guinea (Shire Books), Toothpick Culture and Icecream Stick Art (Sterling), Lakeside Car Parks (British Cement Association), and Women and Wasteland Development (Sage).


Robert Harris, 1998

'... The man lives in the past. Like you.'

'And you? You don't live in the past, I suppose?'

'Me? No way. Can't afford to, in my job.'

'Now let's just analyse that,' said Kelso, pleasantly... 'So all these places you've been boasting about for the last two hours - Africa, Bosnia, the Middle East, Northern Island - the past isn't important there, is what you're saying? You think they're all living in the present? They all just woke up one morning, saw you were there with your fou little suitcases, and decided to havea war? ... This is the great myth, you see, of our age. The great western myth. The arrogance of our time... That just because a place has a McDonalds and MTV and takes American Express it's exactly the same as everywhere else - it doesn't have a past any more, it's Year Zero. But it's not true.' [p.232]

Three Stories and a Reflection

Patrick Suskind, 1995

For the previous reader was none other than myself. I had already read this book long ago.

The old sickness has me in its grip again: amnesia in litteris, the total loss of literary memory. I am overcome by a wave of resignation at the vanity of all striving for knowledge, all striving of any kind. Why read at all? Why read this book a second time, since I know that very soon not even a shadow of a recollection will remain of it? Why do anything at all, when all things fall apart? Why live, when one must die? And I clap the lovely book shut, stand up, and slink back, vanquished, demolished, to place it again among the mass of anonymous and forgotten volumes lined up on the shelf. [p.82]

But perhaps - I think, to console myself - perhaps reading (like life) is not a matter of being shunted on to some track or abruptly off it. Maybe reading is an act by which consciousness is changed in such an imperceptible manner that the reader is not even aware of it. The reader suffering from amnesia in litteris is most definitely changed by his reading, but without noticing it, necause as he reads, those critical faculties of his brain that could tell him that change is occurring are changing as well. And for one who is himself a writer, the sickness may conceivably be a blessing, indeed a necessary precondition, since it protects him against that crippling awe which every great work of literature creates, and because it allows him to sustain a wholly uncomplicated relationship to plagiarism, without which nothing original can be created. [p.86]

Lost in the land of love

Mike Gayle, The Guardian, Tuesday August 10, 1999

If men are so problematic, why are they still so in demand?

If women's magazines are anything to go by, commitment is the current holy grail in the land of love. And more so than any other issue, it has become the unifying cause behind which women can rally their collective annoyance at men.

Recently I made the mistake of appearing on the dearly departed talk show, Vanessa, to talk about commitment and was accosted by several women who felt very strongly about the subject. One rather robust member of the audience even threatened to "see" me after the show.

It wasn't that I said anything particularly controversial. It was rather that they were fed up with hearing what to their mind were excuses, and preferred instead to project their anger at a thousand and one unpopped questions, infidelities and general male misdemeanours in my direction. I didn't even manage to reveal the fact I was a happily married man and as such was technically on their side. It was enough for them that finally, after all this time, they had someone to shout at.

It's interesting just how annoying explanations can be for women when it comes to commitment - the much talked about Hillary Clinton interview in Tina Brown's much-hyped Talk magazine being a classic example. Female columnists could barely conceal their rage at Mrs Clinton's statements excusing her husband's infidelities, essentially on the grounds that as a child his mum and gran had had a bit of a barney.

In an interview last week the actor Johnny Depp, who recently had a child with the French actress Vanessa Paradis, declared his own problems with commitment. "I'm not marrying anyone and I don't think I ever will," he told Now magazine. Later in the same interview, in an effort to explain his fear, he cited his welcoming personality as the reason for his fear of the "c" word. "I'm moody, gloomy, temperamental and without humour most of the time." There was no doubting who the reader was supposed to sympathise with.

I've witnessed a miniature backlash against John Gray's Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Gray's book, once hailed as a meisterwork by women the world over for its special brand of no-nonsense relationship advice is now, amongst a small but not insignificant number, not quite so highly regarded. In fact at a recent dinner party the words "hole" and "arse" were used by one female guest to describe the author, although not necessarily in that order.

When it comes to men and commitment it appears no excuse is good enough. As a man, this puts me in a tricky position. Am I an apologist too? I must admit that in the face of the current wave of anti-bloke criticism, my first impulse is to defend my gender. After all I've been a man my entire life and I at least owe masculinity some form of loyalty. Then I sat down and thought really, really hard about it for a while and for the life of me could not think of one decent excuse why we men have such problems with commitment.

There is no defence. Quite simply men are crap. In fact men have pretty much always been crap. We start wars, plunder the planet of its resources and we never phone when we say we will. Personally I have no idea what women see in us. Sometimes I look at our collective behaviour and even I don't want to be one of us.

And yet for some bizarre reason men are still incredibly popular. In fact, to quote the US comedian Jerry Seinfeld on the subject, "Men as a group are doing better with women than any other group working in the field of relationships."

However annoying men are, women still seem to want one. Surely these are exactly the same principles that gave the Conservative government three consecutive terms in government? Every election it was as if the British voter had suffered collective amnesia as they ticked the box marked Conservative.

The only suggestion I can think of to cure men of their commitment-phobia is to follow the events of May 1, 1997, and, figuratively speaking, vote them out. No ifs, or buts, or maybes this time - vote them out and replace them with gardening, or herbal tea or reading the newspaper.

Alternatively, you could always try understanding men's fear of commitment, because occasionally the odd excuse (with the exception of the one about inter-generational strife causing you to have sexual relations with interns) can also be a reason too.

Weaving the Web

Tim Berners-Lee, 1999

In an extreme view, the world can be seen as only connections, nothing else. We think of a dictionary as the repository of meaning, but it defines words only in terms of other words. I liked the idea that a piece of information is really defined only by what it's related to, and how it's related. There really is little else to meaning. The structure is everything. There are billions of neurons in our brains, but what are neurons? just cells. The brain has no knowledge until connections are made between neurons. All that we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected.
[p. 14]

I continued to try to get other organisations to turn their hypertext systems into Web clients. I found out about a powerful SGML tool called Grif, developed by a research group at the French lab INRIA, which ran on Unix machines and PCs. A company by the same name, Grif, had since been spun off in nearby Grenoble, and I was hopeful its leaders would entertain the idea of developing a Web browser that could also edit. They had a beautiful and sophisticated hypertext editor; it would do graphics, it would do text in multiple fonts, it would display the SGML structure and the formatted document in two separate windows. and allow changes to be made in either. It was a perfect match. The only thing missing was that it didn't run on the Internet. Same story.

I tried to persuade the people at Grif to add the software needed for sending and receiving files over the Internet, so their editor could become a Web browser, too. I told them I would give them the software outright; they would just have to hook it in. But they said the only way they would do that was if we could get the European Commission to fund the development . They didn't want to risk taking the time. I was extremely frustrated. There was a growing group of people who were excited about the possibilities of the World Wide Web, and here we had the technology for a true hypertext browser/editor mostly developed, and we couldn't bridge the gap. Getting Commission funding would have put eighteen months into the loop immediately. This mind-set, I thought, was disappointingly different from the more American entrepreneurial attitude of developing something in the garage for fun and worrying about funding it when it worked!
[p. 49]

People have sometimes asked me whether I am upset that I have not made a lot of money from the Web. In fact, I made some quite conscious decisions about which way to take my life. These I would not change - though I am making no comment on what I might do in the future. What does distress me, though, is how important a question it seems to be to some, This happens mostly in America, not Europe. What is maddening is the terrible notion that a person's value depends on how important and financially successful they are, and that that is measured in terms of money. That suggests disrespect for the researchers across the globe developing ideas for the next leaps in science and technology. Core in my upbringing was a value system that put monetary gain well in its place, behind things like doing what I really want to do. To use net worth as a criterion by which to judge people is to set our children's sights on cash rather than on things that will actually make them happy.
[pp. 115-116]

More insidiously still, it could also be possible for my ISP to give me better connectivity to sites that have paid for it, and self-regulation or even government regulation in these areas.

The Web's universality leads to a thriving richness and diversity. If a company claims to give access to the world of information, then presents a filtered view, the Web loses its credibility. That is why hardware, software and transmission companies must remain unbiased towards content. I would like to keep the conduit separate from the content. I would like there always to be a choice of the unbiased way, combined carefully with the freedom to make commercial partnerships. And, when other people are making a choice for me, I would like this to be made absolutely clear to me.

Some might argue that bias between the layers is just the free market in action. But if I bought a radio and found that it accessed only certain stations and not others, Id be upset. I suppose I could have a half dozen radios, one for each set of stations. It makes no more sense to have a half dozen computers or different operating systems or browsers for Web access. This is not just impractical: it fragments the Web, making it cease to be universal. I should be able to buy whichever computer, software and transmission service I want and still have access to the entire content of the Web.

The portals represent the self-reinforcing growth of monopolies, especially those that integrate vertically. In its greater context, the battle of the portals is a battle for brand names on the Web. It is difficult for someone to judge the quality of information, or Web software and services, without extended experience and comparison. As a result, software or transmission companies with existing reputations can capitalise by using their names to attract people to their information services. The extreme would be a company that offered transmission, hardware, software and information, and then tried to brand itsel as more or less equivalent to the Web... So far, the urge to achieve dominance has driven the quality on the Web upward, but any one company's attainment of it would destroy the Web as we know it.
[pp. 143-144]

To see just what can happen to my personal information, I have traced how some online purveyors have used my address. When I provide my address to a Web site, I put a bogus line in it, like an apartment number. Their computer regurgitates it verbatim, so I can tell, when I get junk mail later, who has furnished my address.

There are more threatening scenarios. Burglars could find it very handy to know who has been buying what recently. More likely is the sort of abuse that occurs when a doctor divulges someone's medical condition to the patient's insurance company to justify the claim. Two years later, the insurance company picks the information out of its database when a prospective employer wants to check that person's record. The person doesn't get the job because of a previous medical condition and never even knows what happened.

Software can even track the pattern of clicks a person makes on a Web site. If a user opens an online magazine, the publishers can watch which items he reads, tell which pictures he calls up and in what order, and extract information about him that he would never volunteer on a form. This is known as 'click stream' information. Net Perceptions, started by a former head of Microsoft's programming languages division, is one firm that makes software that companies can use to monitor all sorts of online behaviour, from the amount of time a visitor spends reading about a product to what pages they print on their printer.

If an advertiser runs ads on different sites and finds a person's click stream on a certain selection of the sites, it can build up an accurate profile of sites that person visits. This information can then be sold to direct marketers, or whomever. A famous cartoon drawn early in the Internet's life depicts two dogs sitting at a computer. One explains to the other, 'The great thing about the Internet is no one knows you're a god.' It has been followed recently by another cartoon in which one dog has clicked to a page with a picture of dog food. Because of this, the server also knows it's a dog that prefers a certain brand of dog food, elm trees and Siamese cats.
[pp. 156-157]

I have a dream for the Web ... and it has two parts.

In the first part, the Web becomes a much more powerful means for collaboration between people. I have always imagined the information space as something to which everyone has immediate and intuitive access, and not just to browse, but to create. The initial WorldWideWeb program opened with an almost blank page, ready for the jottings of the user. Robert Cailliau and I had a great time with it, not because we were looking at a lot of stuff, but because we were writing and sharing our ideas. Furthermore, the dream of people-to-people communication through shared knowledge must be possible for groups of all sizes, interacting electronically with as much ease as they do now in person.

In the second part of the dream, collaborations extend to computers. Machines become capable of analysing all the data on the Web - the content, links and transactions between people and computers. A 'Semantic Web', which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines, leaving humans to provide the inspiration and intuition. The intelligent 'agents' people have touted for ages will finally materialise.
[pp. 169-170]

An essential goal for the telecommunications industry (and regulatory authorities) should he connecting everyone with permanent access. The problem till now has not been technology, but rather regulations that control what telephone companies can charge for access, and the lack of agreement about how other companies that might want to provide Internet access can lease the copper wire that goes to every home. With some wiser regulation, in some cases spurred on by competition from cable companies that lay their own cables to people's doors, before too long I should be able to walk up to a screen, see it quickly glow with my home page on it, and follow a link immediately. This simple difference in timing will dramatically change the way we use computers, making the experience more like getting out a pen rather than getting out a lawnmower. Computers will be there when we suddenly have an idea, allowing us to capture it and preventing the world from losing it.

Let's clear our minds about what we will see on these wonderful new computers. Today there is a desktop with various folders and 'applications'. One of these applications is a Web browser. In this scheme, my entire screen is taken up by my local computer, while all the information in the rest of the accessible world is relegated to a small area or icon within it. This is inside out.

The job of computers and networks is to get out of the way, to not be seen.
[p. 171]

I would like any serious issue to be on the Web in hypertext. I would like annotation servers to exist where groups could add links (or sticky yellow things) to documents they want to comment on. Annotation servers are a third-party service allowing a group to share each other's coments on documents anywhere else in the Web. The browser gets the original page and then separately checks annotation servers for comments, which are then superimposed on the page. Imagine having servers for comments in different forums, perhaps family, school and company. Each point and rebuttal is linked, so everyone can see at a glance the direct agreements and contradictions and the supporting evidence for each view, such that anything could be contested by the people involved. If there was some sort of judicial, democratic process for resolving issues, the discussion could he done in a very clear and open fashion, with a computer keeping track of the arguments.
[p. 187]

Databases are continually produced by different groups and companies, without knowledge of each other. Rarely does anyone stop the process to try to define globally consistent terms for each of the columns in the database tables. When we can link terms, even many years later, a computer will be able to understand that what one company calls 'mean-diurnal-temperature' is the same as what another company calls 'daily-average-temp'. If HTML and the Web made all the online documents look like one huge book, RDF, schema, and inference languages will make all the data in the world look like one huge database.

When we have the inference layer, finding the yellow car for sale becomes possible even if I ask for a yellow automobile. When trying to fill in a tax form, my RDF-aware computer can follow links out to the government's schema for it, find pointers to the rules and fill in all those lines for me by inference from other data it already knows.

As with the current Web, decentralisation is the underlying design principle that will give the Semantic Web its ability to become more than the sum of its parts.

There have been many projects to store interlinked meanings on a computer. The field has been called knowledge representation. These efforts typically use simple logical definitions such as the following: a vehicle is a thing, a car is a vehicle, a wheel is a thing, a car has four wheels - and so on. If enough definitions are entered, a program could answer questions by following the links of the database and, in a mechanical way, pretend to think. The problem is that these systems are designed around a central database, which has room for only one conceptual definition of 'car'. They are not designed to link to other databases.
[p. 201]

Can the future Web change the way people work together and advance knowledge in a small company, a large organisation, a country? If it works for a small group and can scale up, can it be used to change the world? We know the Web lets us do things more quickly, but can it make a phase change in society, a move to a new way of working - and will that be for better or for worse?

In a company with six employees, everybody can sit around a table, share their visions of where they're going and reach a common understanding-of all the terms they're using. In a large company, somebody defines the common terms and behaviour. that make the company work as an entity Those who have been through the transition know it only to well: it typically kills diversity It's too rigid a structure. And it doesn't scale, because as the company gets bigger, the bureaucratic boundaries cut off more and more of its internal communications, its lifeblood. At the other extreme is the utopian commune with no structure, which doesn't work either because nobody actually takes out the rubbish.

Whether a group can advance comes down to creating the right connectivity between people - in a family, a company, a country or the world. We've been trying to figure out how to create this for years. In many ways, we haven't had to decide, as geography has decided for us. Companies, and nations, have always been defined by a physical grouping of people. The military stability of a nation was based on troop placements and marching distances. The diversity of culture we've had also has stemmed from two-dimensional space. The only reason the people in a little village in Switzerland would arise speaking a unique dialect was that they were surrounded by mountains. Geography gave the world its military stability and cultural boxes. People didn't have to decide how large their groups would be or where to draw the boundaries. Now that the metric is not physical distance. not even time zones, but clicks, we do have to make these decisions.
[Unfortunately many of the decisions come down to: 'exploit and be rich, or be nice', and few of the rich display a great desire to be nice! - Ed.]
The Internet and the Web have pulled us out of two dimensional space. They've also moved us away from the idea that we won't be interrupted by anybody who's more than a day's march away.

At first, this violation of our long-held rules can be unsettling, destroying a geographical sense of identity The Web breaks the boundaries we have relied on to define us and protect us, but it can build new ones, too.

The thing that does not scale when a company grows is intuition -the ability to solve problems without using a well-defined logical method. A person, or a small group brainstorming out loud, ruminates about problems until possible solutions emerge. Answers arrive not necessarily from following a logical path, but rather by seeing where connections may lead. A larger company fails to be intuitive when the person with the answer isn't talking with the person who has the question.
[pp. 216-217]

If we-succeed, creativity will arise across larger and more diverse groups. These high-level activities, which have occurred just within one human's brain, will occur among ever-larger, more interconnected groups of people acting as if they shared a larger intuitive brain. It is an intriguing analogy. Perhaps that late-night surfing is not such a waste of time after all: it is just the Web dreaming.

Atoms each have a valence - an ability to connect with just so many other atoms. As an individual, each of us picks a few channels to be involved in, and we can cope with only so much. The advantage of getting things done faster on the Web is an advantage only to the extent that we can accept the information faster, and there are definite limits. By just pushing the amount we have to read and write, the number of e-mails we have to cope with, the number of Web sites we have to surf, we may scrape together a few more bytes of knowledge, but exhaust ourselves in the process and miss the point.
[p. 219]

It turns out that some measurements of all the Web traffic by Digital Equipment employees on the West Coast revealed very closely this 1/n law: the Web exhibits fractal properties even though we can't individually see the patterns, and even though there is no hierarchical system to enforce such a distribution.

This doesn't answer the question, but it is intriguing because it suggests that there are large-scale dynamics operating to produce such results. A fascinating result was found by Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University who discovered that, when the matrix of the Web is analysed like a quantum mechanical system, stable energy states correspond to concepts under discussion. The Web is starting to develop large scale structure in its own way. Maybe we will be able to produce new metrics for checking the progress of society towards what we consider acceptable.

The analogy of a global brain is tempting, because Web and brain both involve huge numbers of elements - neurons and Web pages - and a mixture of structure and apparent randomness. However, a brain has an intelligence that emerges on quite a different level from anything that a neuron could be aware of. From Arthur C. Clarke to Douglas, Hofstader, writers have contemplated an 'emergent property' arising from the mass of humanity and computers. But remember that such a phenomenon would have its own agenda. We would not as individuals be aware of it, let alone control it, any more than the neuron controls the brain.

I expect that there will be emergent properties with the Semantic Web, but at a lesser level than emergent intelligence.
[pp. 221-222]

Globalisation: A Critique

Chris Harman, December 1996

By the time of the Communist Manifesto in 1848, Marx and Engels could write of the system in terms very similar to those used by people today who regard global competition as a radically new departure:

The need for a constantly expanding market chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. All old established national industries have been destroyed or daily are being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries...that no longer work up indigenous raw materials, but raw materials drawn from the remotest zones, industries whose products are consumed not at home, but in every quarter in the globe... In place of the old local and national seclusion we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.


The system is international, but it has always been. Firms will seek out the most profitable sites internationally for production, but this does not mean they are 'footloose' and able to abandon existing sites at a moment's notice, nor does it mean that they always go to where labour is cheapest. There is a tendency to restructure prodcution across national boundaries, but this does not prevent multinationals relying on national and regional bases for launching out into the wider world and it by no means always implies the setting up of world-wide production lines. Capitalist states are restricted in their ability to control the working of the system they support, but this does not mean they are irrelevant to it.

The popularity of 'globalisation' notions was born as experience refuted the belief that reform of the system carried through from above could stop crises afflicting a national economy. But, instead of recognising that this belief had always been mistaken, 'globalisation' theories see it as a new feature.

In fact, what we confront today is not some immmense new power in the hands of international capital... It is the power to tell those who try to reform any part of the world system that they must abide by the laws created by its dynamic of competitive accumulation. The only successes reformism can claim have been in periods like the late 1940s, the 1950s and 1960s when even countries with avowedly pro-capitalist parties in government, like West germany, Italy or the US, provided reforms that benefited workers.

Much of British capitalism stands in a category of its own. Ruigrok and van Tulder point out that it is the only advanced industrial country with 'weak cohesion'. There are an exceptionally high number of foreign investors in the domestic economy and they come in nearly equal numbers from the US and the European Union. At the same time, the British based multinationals carry out a much higher proportion of production abroad than is the case with those from the other large advanced coutries - and again this production is not concentrated in one region, but is divided almost equally between Europe and North America, with a smaller amount in East Asia.

Finding Moon

Tony Hillerman, 1995

"Did you call your mother again? Is she --"

"She was asleep. But the nurse said everything was fine. Her leg is sore where they took the vein for the bypass surgery, but that's usually the worst of it. They said they could discharge her tomorrow, but I asked them to wait until I can be there to take her back to Florida."

"She'll be so happy to see you," Osa said.

"Funny thing," Moon said. "When I told her we'd found Ricky's daughter, I told her I hadn't been calling because we had to go all the way into Cambodia to get the baby. I told her why it took so long. About the trouble we had in the Philippines. And getting to Cambodia. But it was just like she'd taken it for granted. No surprise at all."

"What did she say?"

"She said something like, 'Well, you already told me the baby didn't get to Manila and you thought maybe she'd still be in Vietnam.' So she had known it would take me a little longer." He shrugged, made a wry face. "Can you believe that? 'Take me a little longer!'"

He waited for Osa's surprised response, but Osa was walking along beside him. He glanced at her. She looked amused.

Moon shrugged again. He didn't seem to understand anyone anymore.

"What else did she say?"

"Oh, was I all right? And all about the baby. Is she healthy? Does she look like Ricky? How old is she? What does she weigh? How many words can she say?"

"What did you expect her to say?"

"I don't know," Moon said. "I just thought she'd be-you know, amazed that I actually got the job done."

Osa put her hand on his hand. "Why? Ricky wouldn't have been surprised either. Ricky's friends wouldn't have been surprised. I had just heard about you from other people, but I wasn't surprised. Remember, I came to you with my trouble because I had heard about the kind of man you are."

Moon felt himself flushing. "Oh, sure," he said. "All that brotherly stuff from Ricky."

"You think your brother didn't know you? Your mother certainly knew you."

"She knows me all too well. That's why I thought she'd be amazed."

Osa removed, her hand from his hand. "Why do you say that?" she said. "Why do- you always have bad things to say about yourself ?"

[pp. 350-351]

The Dark Wind

Tony Hillerman, 1982

"Do you understand 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'?"

"I've heard of it," Chee said.

"Don't you believe in justice? Don't you believe that things need to be evened up?"

Chee shrugged. "Why not?" he said. As a matter of fact, the concept seemed as strange to him as the idea that someone with money would steal had seemed to Mrs. Musket. Someone who violated basic rules of behavior and harmed you was, by Navajo definition, "out of control." The "dark wind" had entered him and destroyed his judgement. One avoided such persons, and worried about them, and was pleased if they were cured of this temporary insanity and returned again to hozro. But to Chee's Navajo mind, the idea of punishing them would be as insane as the original act.

[pp. 147-148]


Milan Kundera, 1995

Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars? Have they vanished along with footpaths, with grasslands and clearings, with nature? There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor: 'they are gazing at God's windows.' A person gazing at God's windows is not bored; he is happy. In our world, indolence has turned into having nothing to do, which is a completely different thing: a person with nothing to do is frustrated, bored, is constantly searching for an activity he lacks.

[pp. 4-5]

This is where the courtiers of the News Event make their mistake. They do not know that the situations history stages are floodlit only for the first few minutes. No event remains news over its whole duration, merely for a quite brief span of time, at the very beginning. The dying children of Somalia whom millions of spectators used to watch avidly, aren't they dying any more? What has become of them? Have they grown fatter or thinner? Does Somalia still exist? And in fact did it ever exist? Could it be only the name of a mirage?

The way contemporary history is told is like a huge concert where they present all of Beethoven's one hundred thirty-eight opuses one after the other, but actually play just the first eight bars of each. If the same concert were given again in ten years, only the first note of each piece would be played, thus one hundred thirty-eight notes for the whole concert, presented as one continuous melody. And in twenty years, the whole of Beethoven's music would be summed up in a single very long buzzing tone, like the endless sound he heard the first day of his deafness.

[pp. 79-80]

I beg you, friend, be happy. I have the vague sense that on your capacity to be happy hangs our only hope.



Courtney Weaver, 1999

'Unless you're one of those A-list society people that you read about in the paper, I think almost everyone could be called a victim of the postmodern urban diaspora. '

'What does that mean?'

I thought for a moment. 'It means that we spend a lot of time on our own trying to figure out how not to be that way.'

[p. 151]

How To Travel With A Salmon

Umberto Eco, 1992

As to the origin and purpose of the coffeepot from hell, there are two schools of thought. The school of Freiburg asserts that this device allows the hotel to demonstrate, with fresh sheets, that your bed has been duly re-made. The school of Bratislava insists that the motivation is moralistic (cf. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Catholicism): the hellish coffeepot prevents any lazing in bed because it is very uncomfortable to eat a brioche, already steeped in coffee, when you are wrapped in coffee-soaked sheets.

The hellish coffeepot is not for sale to individuals, but is produced exclusively for the great hotel chains and for the wagon-lits company. Nor is it used in prisons, where the swill is served in mess tins, because sheets soaked in coffee would be harder to detect in the darkness if knotted together for purposes of escape.

The Freiburg school suggests having the waiter set the breakfast tray on the table and not on the bed. The Bratislava school responds that this indisputably avoids the pouring of coffee on the sheets, but not its spilling over the edge of the tray and soiling the pyjamas (the hotel does not provide a new pair daily); and, in any case, pyjamas or not, coffee taken at the table falls straight on the abdomen and the genitals, producing burns where they would not be advisable. To this objection the Freiburg school replies with a shrug; and, frankly, this answer is unsatisfactory.

[p. 40]

I was fascinated, however, by some of my peers, whose parents bought them not a four-cent pie but two two-cent cones. These privileged children advanced proudly with one cone in their right hand and one in their left; and expertly moving their head from side to side, they licked first one, then the other. This liturgy seemed to me so sumptuously enviable, that many times I asked to be allowed to celebrate it. In vain. My elders were inflexible: a four-cent ice, yes; but two two-cent ones, absolutely no.

As anyone can see, neither mathematics nor economy nor dietetics justified this refusal. Nor did hygiene, assuming that in due course the tips of both cones were discarded. The pathetic, and obviously mendacious, justification was that a boy concerned with turning his eyes from one cone to the other was more inclined to stumble over stones, steps, or cracks in the pavement. I dimly sensed that there was another secret justification, cruelly pedagogical, but I was unable to grasp it.

Today, citizen and victim of a consumer society, a civilization of excess and waste (which the society of the thirties was not), I realize that those dear and now departed elders were right. Two two-cent cones instead of one at four cents did not signify squandering, economically speaking, but symbolically they surely did. It was for this precise reason, that I yearned for them: because two ice creams suggested excess. And this was precisely why they were denied me: because they looked indecent, an insult to poverty, a display of fictitious privilege, a boast of wealth. Only spoiled children ate two cones at once, those children who in fairy tales were rightly punished, as Pinocchio was when he rejected the skin and the stalk. And parents who encouraged this weakness, appropriate to little parvenus, were bringing up their children in the foolish theater of "I'd like to but I can't." They were preparing them to turn up at tourist-class cheek-in with a fake Gucci bag bought from a street peddler on the beach at Rimini

Nowadays the moralist risks seeming at odds with morality, in a world where the consumer civilization now wants even adults to be spoiled, and promises them always something more, from the wristwatch in the box of detergent to the bonus bangle sheathed, with the magazine it accompanies, in a plastic envelope. Like the parents of those ambidextrous gluttons I so envied, the consumer civilization pretends to give more, but actually gives, for four cents, what is worth four cents. You will throw away the old transistor radio to purchase the new one, that boasts an alarm clock as well, but some inexplicable defect in the mechanism will guarantee that the radio lasts only a year. The new cheap car will have leather seats, double side mirrors adjustable from inside, and a paneled dashboard, but it will not last nearly so long as the glorious old Fiat 500, which, even when it broke down, could be started again with a kick.

The morality of the old days made Spartans of us all, while today's morality wants all of us to be Sybarites.

[pp. 96-97]

It is well known that, to reduce their cholesterol levels, the Americans have long since taken up jogging: they run for hours and hours until they drop dead of a heart attack. Pulse-Trainer ($59.95), worn on the wrist, is attached by a wire to a little rubber sheath slipped over the index finger. When your cardiovascular system is on the brink of collapse, an alarm goes off, apparently. A real achievement, if you consider that in underdeveloped countries a person stops running only when he is out of breath-a highly primitive criterion, and perhaps for this reason children in Ghana are not brought up to jog. It is curious, however, that despite such neglect, their blood cholesterol levels are almost imperceptible.

[p. 115]

How Not to Use the Cellular Phone

It is easy to take cheap shots at the owners of cellular phones. But before doing so, you should determine to which of the five following categories they belong.

First come the handicapped. Even if their handicap is not visible, they are obliged to keep in constant contact with their doctor or the 24-hour medical service. All praise, then, to the technology that has placed this beneficent instrument at their service. Second come those who, for serious professional reasons, are required to be on call in case of emergency (fire chiefs, general practitioners, organ-transplant specialists always awaiting a fresh corpse, or President Bush, because if he is ever unavailable, the world falls into the hands of Quayle). For them the portable phone is a harsh fact of life, endured, but hardly enjoyed. Third, adulterers. Finally, for the first time in their lives, they are able to receive messages from their secret lover without the risk that family members, secretaries, or malicious colleagues will intercept the call. It suffices that the number be known only to him and her (or to him and him, or to her and her: I can't think of any other possible combinations). All three categories listed above are entitled to our respect. Indeed, for the first two we are willing to be disturbed even while dining in a restaurant, or during a funeral; and adulterers are very discreet, as a rule.

Two other categories remain. These, in contrast, spell trouble (for us and for themselves as well). The first comprises those persons who are unable to go anywhere unless they have the possibility of chattering about frivolous matters with the friends and relations they have just left. It is hard to make them understand why they shouldn't do it. And finally, if they cannot resist the compulsion to interact, if they cannot enjoy their moments of solitude and become interested in what they themselves are doing at that moment, if they cannot avoid displaying their vacuity and, indeed, make it their trademark, their emblem, well, the problem must be left to the psychologist. They irk us, but we must understand their terrible inner emptiness, be grateful we are not as they are, and forgive them - without, however, gloating over our own superior natures, and thus yielding to the sins of spiritual pride and lack of charity. Recognize them as your suffering neighbor, and turn the other ear.

In the last category (which includes, on the bottom rung of the social ladder, the purchasers of fake portable phones) are those people who wish to show in public that they are greatly in demand, especially for complex business discussions.

[pp. 139-140]

The Balkans

John Rees in Lindsey German (ed.), 1999

Historians of the 1999 Balkan War will no doubt marvel at that so little comment has been made about the fact taht, in the very month that the war broke out, NATO integrated Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into the alliance. The southern flank of NATO between Hungary and Greece is now pierced by the states of the former Yugoslavia.


Minds, Machines and Evolution

Alex Callinicos, 1997

There are, it seems to me, two basic reasons why minds aren't computers... The first... is that human beings are organisms. Because of this we have all sorts of needs - for food, shelter, clothing, sex etc - and capacities - for locomotion, manipulation, articulate speech etc, and so on - to which there are no real analogies in computers. These needs and capacities underlie and interact with our mental activities. This is important, not simply because we can't understand how humans behave except in the light of these needs and capacities, but because any historical explanation of how human mental life developed can only do so by looking at how this process interacted with the evolution of these needs and capacities in successive species of hominids.


The second reason... is that... brains don't work like computers.

[ISJ 74, p.103]

On Keeping Logic in its Place (in Theoretical Issues in Natural Language Processing, ed. Wilks)

Yorick Wilks, 1989

Formal semantics (henceforth FS), at least as it relates to computational language understanding, is in one way rather like connectionism, though without the crucial prop Sejnowski's work (1986) is widely believed to give to the latter: both are old doctrines returned, like the Bourbons, having learned nothing and forgotten nothing. But FS has nothing to show as a showpiece of success after all the intellectual groaning and effort.


The tourist and the fisherman

Heinrich Boll.

A tourist focuses in on a most idyllic picture: a man in simple clothes dozing in a fishing boat that has been pulled out of the waves which come rolling up the sandy beach. The camera clicks, the fisherman awakens. The tourist offers him a cigarette and launches into a conversation: "The weather is great, there are plenty of fish, why are you lying around instead of going out and catching more?"

The fisherman replies: "Because I caught enough this morning."

"But just imagine," the tourist says, "you would go out there three of four times a day, bringing home three or four times as much fish! You know what could happen?"

The fisherman shakes his head.

"After about a year you could buy yourself a motor-boat," says the tourist. "After two years you could buy a second one, and after three years you could have a cutter or two. And just think! One day you may be able to build a freezing plant or a smoke house, you might eventually even get your own helicopter for tracing shoals of fish and guiding your fleet of cutters, or you could acquire your own trucks to ship fish to the capital, and then?."

"And then?" asks the fisherman.

"And then", the tourist continues triumphantly, "you could be calmly sitting at the beachside, dozing in the sun and looking at the beautiful ocean!"

The fisherman looks at the tourist: "But that is exactly what I was doing before you came along!"

What is intelligence?

An excerpt from Elliotte Rusty Harold's on-line journal (taken 21/6/00).

The following was inspired by a long discussion on the WWWAC mailing list about why Esther Dyson couldn't think of any smart women on the Charlie Rose show. Like many such threads it went off course fairly quickly, and the following was my contribution:

What does a high IQ mean? I'm damned if I know. Psychologists define an IQ test as a "test that measures intelligence." They define intelligence as "what an IQ test measures." See a problem?

I'm relatively skilled verbally and mathematically so I'd probably do pretty well on an IQ test. (I don't know for sure. I haven't taken an IQ test since my grammar school administered one without my knowledge or consent many years ago, and I don't know what the results were on that test.) On the other hand my wife is also a reasonably skilled writer, but she hasn't demonstrated much aptitude for math, programming, or other highly logical activities. Thus, she'd probably do worse than me on an IQ test. On the other hand she's incredibly accomplished musically, and composes beautiful music in a way that seems like a total mystery to me. She just had a major concert at Merkin Hall. I've got another Java book coming out. Who's smarter? Me or her?

The answer is that the question doesn't make sense. While in extreme cases you may be able to say that one person is better at particular types of tasks than another, the idea that you can boil our brains entire functioning down to a single number on a Bell curve and call it IQ is RIDICULOUS. Similarly any request for a list of the "smartest people" you know is silly. You can probably make a list of people talented in particular areas, but that's about the best you can do. Even ranking them is difficult and often impossible. Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein were both very smart physicists. Which one was smarter? I don't know. How could you even tell?

I've known a few high-IQ types whose ambition and personality limited them to working in grocery stores and living in their parents' basements. They may have had the mental ability to be Nobel prize winning scientists, but not the ambition. How can we account for that in a single number? And I've really just scratched the surface here. How do you measure emotional stability? charisma? manual dexterity? mechanical aptitude? All of these are very important parts of how we think and interact that an IQ test misses.

It is silly and a little embarrassing that Esther Dyson couldn't think of any smart women. There are certainly plenty out there. But the idea that anyone could come up with a valid list of "three smartest people they know" is ridiculous, gender aside. The question simply doesn't make sense.

Memories of the Maze

John Mullin, Monday July 24, 2000, The Guardian

Loyalist wings were decorated with gaudy sectarian murals. Feared terrorist Johnny Adair was photographed alongside one reading: "Kill 'em all and let God sort them out."

Republicans posters were more overtly political. They seemed to be more interested in education, formal and informal.

Loyalists taking classes focused on technical subjects, and the television blared constantly. Republicans opted for social sciences, and group discussions were the usual form of entertainment. McKeown says: "Republicans tended to be more disciplined. We saw jail as an extension of the struggle and could adapt. They saw themselves as acting in defence of the state and were locked up by that state, and that was difficult for them."

UDA member Billy McQuiston, 43, given jail sentences totalling 21 years, says: "Back in the 70s, it was a real spit-and-shoeshine operation, and we were regularly beaten severely. We were getting smashed around by screws who had Ulster tattoos on their arms. It was hard to understand, but they thought we were scum."

There were, though, common goals. Loyalists had to be ordered off the blanket protest by the leadership on the outside because it looked as if they were acting in support of republicans, and McQuiston went on hunger strike to push for segregation in 1982.

He came off after 31 days, when apparent concessions led to another of the five demands of the previous year being met. McQuiston says: "The IRA hunger strikes were very confusing. You had all these Protestants singing songs like 'Do You Want a Chicken Supper Bobby Sands?' but we supported what he was doing. It would have meant our comrades getting what we wanted them to get, and you had to respect what the Provos went through."

Object versus Document, Part I,

Comparing two ways that software can interact with software, from

Bill Venners, July 2000

What's the difference really?
In the subsequent two articles in this series, I'll delve into the advantages and disadvantages of objects versus documents. At this
point, however, I'd like to try and identify the crux of the difference between the two approaches.

In short, a document is a bundle of information; an object is a bundle of services. Each instance method in an object's public interface
offers a service to the outside world. By invoking a method on an object, you are asking the object to do something for you -- to
provide a service for you. In Jini, the entire object is called a service, because that's what it represents to the client. Each object
offers a bundle of methods that individually provide low-level services and that in combination provide a high-level service. For
example, in the news-feed API shown earlier in this article, the low-level services addNewsListener() and getNews() combine to
form a higher-level news-feed service, offered by any object that implements the NewsFeed interface.

You can ask an object to perform a service for you by invoking one of its methods. The object will either perform the requested
service or throw an exception back at you indicating why it couldn't perform the service. By contrast, you can do things with or to a
document, but you can't ask it to do something for you. Well, I suppose you could ask, but the document would just lie there and your
coworkers would wonder why you were talking to it.

Deconstructing objects
An object can perform services for clients because objects embody behavior. An object usually has state, defined by the values of its
instance variables, and behavior, defined by the code of its instance methods. An object's state is data, like the data contained in a
document. But in general, an object uses its state to decide how to behave when its methods are invoked. The key difference between
a network-mobile object and a network-mobile document, therefore, is that when you send a document across a network, you're
sending data, but when you send an object across the network, you're sending data plus code -- a combination that yields behavior.

To send a Java object across the network, you can simply serialize the object to get a stream of bytes that encode the object's state.
You can then send its state across the network by sending those bytes. To send the code, you can send the class files that define the
object's class, perhaps embedded in one or more jar files.

But wait a minute, isn't a class file just ones and zeros that adhere to a particular data format? Isn't a class file itself just data? In
truth, when you send an object across the network, you're sending state (which is data) and code (which is also data). Thus, an object
is made up of data that adheres to certain formats, just as any document is made up of data that adheres to certain formats. An object
is a kind of document. So where does the crux of the difference between objects and documents really lie?

A generic model of computation
I believe the answer to the previous question can help illuminate what Java technology is really all about. XML lets you model
concepts and express those models in DTDs. You could consider the news-feed DTD given earlier in this article as representing a
model of the concept called a "news feed."

You can find far more complicated, already existing XML DTDs for many other conceptual models, such as chemistry, mathematics,
and music. What James Gosling did -- in my mind it's the primary innovation of Java technology in its original form -- was create a
conceptual model of computation itself.

Of course, conceptual models of computation can come in many forms. You could call many different kinds of data "code." Is it not
JavaScript code that sits in a Webpage? Could you not consider HTML itself as code that is understood and executed by a Web
browser? If so, then why is Java different or special?

I believe Java is important for two reasons: First, Java is very object oriented. In Java, the object is the unit in which behavior is
sent across a network. Programmers that use Java to send behavior across a network, therefore, enjoy the benefits of object-oriented
programming. Second, Java's abstract model of computation is as generic as it can be in the context of untrusted code. HTML and
JavaScript code, to a great extent, assume that they will be executed in the context of a Webpage. Java, by contrast, assumes only that
generic computation will occur, directed by code that is potentially untrusted.

To understand any document sent by a server, a client has to have code written by a programmer who understood (had prior
knowledge of) the data model used by that document and the model's semantics. Likewise, to use a network-mobile Java object,
which travels across the network as serialized state and class files, a client needs code that was written by programmers who
understood Java's object-oriented model of computation. The code needed by the client is called the Java virtual machine (JVM).

To take advantage of Java's conceptual model of computation, therefore, you must have a JVM. In fact, the JVM specification is
Java's abstract model of computation. My sense is that the primary purpose of the JVM is to serve as a landing pad for
network-mobile objects. It lets you fire tiny bullets of behavior across the network and have them understood and used by the
recipient. As Bill Joy said at the first Jini Community Summit, "We built the JVM to let objects move around."

ARIANE 5, Flight 501 Failure, Report by the Inquiry Board

The Chairman of the Inquiry Board: Prof. J. L. LIONS, 19 July 1996


An underlying theme in the development of Ariane 5 is the bias towards the mitigation of random failure. The supplier of the SRI was only following the specification given to it, which stipulated that in the event of any detected exception the processor was to be stopped. The exception which occurred was not due to random failure but a design error. The exception was detected, but inappropriately handled because the view had been taken that software should be considered correct until it is shown to be at fault. The Board has reason to believe that this view is also accepted in other areas of Ariane 5 software design. The Board is in favour of the opposite view, that software should be assumed to be faulty until applying the currently accepted best practice methods can demonstrate that it is correct.

Introduction to AOLserver, Part 1

Philip Greenspun, July 1999

NaviSoft's choice of Tcl illustrates all the elements that need to come together before an open-source software package can be adopted. The Tcl interpreter was free, open-source, and explicitly designed to be included in larger programs. Moreover, the authors produced documents with titles like "How to compile the Tcl interpreter into your C program". The interpreter as released by John Ousterhout wasn't thread-safe, but it was simple enough that Jim and Doug could find the parts of Tcl that weren't thread-safe and make them thread-safe. We can conclude from this example that the open-source programs with the most impact will be those that are the easiest to understand and adopt, not those with the most features.

Inexperienced Web developers are sometimes fooled by the simplicity of Tcl into thinking that we are restricted to developing simple Web sites. They don't have the depth to realize that none of the technical challenge in developing a Web service lies in the authoring of the code for one page. The challenge is in realizing that the Web service itself is an object. The object has state, typically stored in a relational database management system. The object has methods (the URLs) and arguments to those methods (the inputs of the forms that target the URLs). The engineering challenges of Web development are (a) coming up with the correct data model for the object state, (b) coming up with a correct and maintainable organization of URLs, and (c) defining the semantics of each URL. By the time an individual page is constructed, the engineering challenge is over and it doesn't really matter whether you build that script in a simple language (e.g., Perl or Tcl) or a complex powerful language (e.g., Common Lisp or Java).

Bridget Jones's Diary

Helen Fielding, 1996

Wise people will say Daniel should like me just as I am, but I am a child of Cosmopolitan cufture, have been traumatized by supermodels and too many quizzes and know that neither my personality nor my body is up to it if left to its own devices. I can’t take the pressure. I am going to cancel and spend the evening eating doughnuts in a cardigan with egg on it.
[p. 59]

The phone rang. It was Tom.
‘Are you all right?’
‘Yes. I feel great. ‘Why?’
‘You just seemed, well, flat tonight. Everyone said you weren’t your usual self’
‘No, I was line. Did you see how thin I am?’ Silence.
‘I think you looked better before, hon.’
Now I feel empty and bewildered — as if a rug has been pulled from under my feet. Eighteen years — wasted. Eighteen years of calorie and fat-unit-based arithmetic. Eighteen years of buying long shirts and jumpers and leaving the room backwards in intimate situations to hide my bottom. Millions of cheesecakes and tiramisus, tens of millions of Emmenthal slices left uneaten. Eighteen years of struggle, sacrifice and endeavour — for what? Eighteen years and the result is ‘tired and flat’. I feel like a scientist who discovers that his life’s work has been a total mistake. [p. 107]

....former boyfriend Peter with whom had functional relation- ship for seven years until finished with him for heartfelt, agonizing reasons can no longer remember. Every so often — usually when he has no one to go on holiday with — he tries to get back together and says he wants us to get married. Before know where am, am carried away with idea of Peter being answer. Why be unhappy and lonely when Peter wants to be with me? Quickly find telephone, ring Peter and leave message on his answerphone — merely asking him to give me call rather than whole plan of spending rest of life together, etc.

1.15 p.m. Peter has not rung back. Am repulsive to all men now, even Peter.

4.45 p.m. No-smoking policy in tatters. Peter finally rang.
‘Hi, Bee.’ (We always used to call each other Bee and Waspy.) ‘1 was going to ring you anyway. I’ve got some good news. I’m getting married.’
Ugh. V. bad feeling in pancreas area. Exes should never, never go out with or marry other people but should remain celibate to the end of their days in order to provide you with a mental fallback position.
‘Bee?’ said Waspy. ‘Bzzzzzzz?’
‘Sorry,’ I said, slumping dizzily against the wall. ‘Just, urn, saw a car accident out of the window.’
I was evidently superfluous to the conversation, however, as Waspy gushed on about the cost -of marquees for about twenty minutes, then said, ‘Have to go. We’re cooking Delia Smith venison sausages with juniper berries tonight and watching TV.’ [p. 190]

‘How many calories are you supposed to eat if you’re on a diet?’ he said.
‘About a thousand. Well, I usually aim for a thousand and come in at about fifteen hundred,’ I said, realizing as I said it that the last bit wasn’t strictly true.
‘A thousand?’ said Tom, incredulously. ‘But I thought you needed two thousand just to survive.'
I looked at him nonplussed. I realized that I have spent so many years being on a diet that the idea that you might to any actually need calories to survive has been completely centre. wiped out of my consciousness. Have reached point where believe nutritional ideal is to eat nothing at all, and that the only reason people eat is because they are so greedy they tying to cannot stop themselves from breaking out and ruining their itle had diets. [p. 257]

Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason (and some Kipling)

Helen Fielding, 1999

‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait, and not be tired by waiting,
  Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
  And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
  If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
 Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
 And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
  And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
  To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
  Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
  Or walk with Kings — not lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
  If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
  With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run —
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
  And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!
Poem is good. Very good, a1most like self-help book. Maybe that is why Mark Darcy gave it to me! Maybe he sensed I might get into danger! Or maybe he was just trying to tell me something about my attitude. Bloody cheek. Not sure about sixty seconds’ worth of distance run anyway, or if actually want to be man. Also is a bit hard to treat this disaster the same as triumphs as have not had any triumphs that can think of, but still. Will force heart and nerve and sinew to serve turn etc. in manner of First World War or jungle soldier or whatever Rudyard Kipling was and just hold on. [p.307-8]

You see what I have learned is the importance of detaching from other people's lunacy as one has enough to worry about keeping oneself on course.
[p. 338]

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

J.K. Rowling, 1998

‘It only put me in Gryffindor,’ said Harry in a defeated voice, ‘because I asked not to go in Slytherin ...‘
‘Exactly,’ said Dumbledore, beaming once more. ‘Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’ [p. 245]

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

J.K. Rowling, 2000

`He will stay, Minerva, because he needs to understand,' said Dumbledore curtly. `Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery. He needs to know who has put him through the ordeal he has suffered tonight, and why.' [p. 590]

The Sky Road

Ken Macleod, 1999

Long ago there had been another country, called the International. It was a country of the mind, a country of hope, and it encompassed the world. Until one day, in August 1914, its citizens went to war with each other, and the world ended. Everything died in that war, God and Country and International and Civilisation; died, and went to hell. Everybody died. The survivors thought they were alive, but they were not. After August 1914 there had been no living people in the world — only dead people on leave, the damned and the demons.

The last morally responsible people in the world had been the Reichstag fraction of the German Social-Democratic Party. They had voted the credits for the Kaiser’s war, against every resolution of their past. They had known the right thing to do, and they had chosen the wrong. All subsequent history had been that of the damned, of poor devils struggling in the hell these men had pitched them into... [p.94]

The Ghostway

Tony Hillerman, 1984

It didn't surprise him to see the woman's senility fall away. It would come again just as quickly. Chee had grown up surrounded by the old of his familly, learning from them, watching them grow wise, and ill, and die. This end of the human existence had no more mystery for him than its beginning. [pp.154-5]

Everything is connected. Cause and effect is the universal rule. Nothing happens without motive or without effect. The wing of the corn beetle affects the direction of the wind, the way the sand drifts, the way the light reflects into the eye of man beholding his reality. All is part of totality, and in this totality man finds his hozro, his way of walking in harmony, with beauty all around him. [pp.273-4]

September Roses

André Maurois, 1956

Though he grew increasingly fond of Fontane, Marcenat was compelled to admit to feeling some disappointment. While living in his remote countryside, he had looked on the possibility of getting to know Guillaume Fontane as in the nature of a lofty ambition. Then, suddenly, he had found himself being received by his god as a friend, almost as an equal. But now that the longed-for meeting had come about, what did he find?—An ironical, peevish, and slightly frivolous individual who seemed to be more in search of a guide than capable of guiding others. [p.21]

I have never had any ambition!—but she, ah! she... a woman at once intelligent, shrewd, loyal, proud, and pig-headed... she has made use of me to help her to the top—the top of what? Whom does she find there? Those who frequent her Sundays. She thinks them brilliant because they are for the most part men who have “arrived”. That they may have done, but, as someone has said, in what state? The high peaks !—deserted, frozen, covered deep in the eternal snows! [p.37]

Love is such a very vague word: there's something of everything in it-bestial violence, tender affection, mortal sickness. [p.44]

‘I am sorry for Pauline,’ she said in her blunt way, ‘but she is only reaping what she has sown. She has tried to keep her husband on a leash, with the result that he feels a strong need to break loose. With just a little tolerance and humour she could have saved the essentials. Because she wanted to keep everything, she is now running the risk of losing everything. [p.49]

Fundamentally, we exist only by refusing to accept our environment. Total acceptance is death. The corpse may resign itself to being no other than it is, but only a corpse. [p.67]

‘So, she has written you wonderful letters? How I should like to see them! Listen, Guillaume, I will consent to go on living with you only on one condition, that you tell me eveiy- thing. What I cannot stand is being deceived, to go on seeing you hiding away behind tricks and play-acting. If I become your confidante I shall no longer be betrayed, and, perhaps, in time, I may forgive you. Tell me, what is her name?’ [p.179]

‘Why at your expense?’

‘Because women always stand by one another: you should know that better than I do.’

‘It is all a great deal more complex,’ said Edmée broodingly.

‘Rivalry is a more usual thing between women, rivalry for the possession of the man they both love, but once the two women have agreed, no matter how temporarily, on a modus vivendi in their relations with him, then, a harem takes shape, and they, both of them, try to forget their slavery in abusing the Sultan. In this case, Pauline is prepared neither to surrender nor to share her master. But, tell me, Guillaume, why do you not put up a more effective defence of a love which, as you have so often told me, brought you such wonderful happiness? That “rejuvenation”, that “increase of vitality”, as you put it, was important. Are you prepared to surrender it?’

‘There would be no need for me to give it up if only Pauline would make an effort to understand that I sometimes feel the need of gaiety, of caprice, of tenderness, and would make an effort to provide them. She could, you know. Pauline is very much a woman. She has many gifts, but she seems to have made it a point of honour now to remain bogged down in a purely negative attitude. Between these two Castilians, I am, as it were—hm—at a loss.’

For a few moments Edmée said nothing; then: ‘In my opinion, the important thing is to find out what you want. You can change neither Pauline nor your Périchole, and you can’t keep both of them indefinitely. You have got to choose. The longer I live, my dear Guillaume, the more convinced do I become that the whole of wisdom lies in that one word. Take my own case. I was quite pretty...’ [p.195]

I have reached what, a year ago, would have seemed to me a trite conclusion, that in love the gratification of the senses counts for almost nothing. Its pleasures are delightful and sharp, but they do not suffice to create a durable bond. A healthy man regards them with cynicism, and he is right. True love is a craving for the sublime. It was that I have been seeking in Pauline and in Dolores. I looked for it in Dolores because Pauline has disappointed, after having for a long time fulfilled, me.’

He stopped to look at a spot of red which seemed to be dancing. What was it? Forest fire, or the setting sun reflected back from a window? He continued with his walk. ‘No, it is not true that I turned to Dolores out of spite. I turned to her because she wanted me, and because she is irresistible.

Because I had to have some reason for admiring her, I fitted her with a personality cut to my measure. I imagined her to have the gift of constancy, and to be entirely concerned with me. That was not so, nor ever could have been. Dolores was not to blame. She never gave me any promise that she would surrender her liberty for my sake. And all the time I never realized that I had, close beside me, the great spirit for which I had been looking. For Pauline, with all her faults, has got that purity, that gift of total fidelity, which I had sought in vain in a chameleon temperament.’

Several fine cows were walking towards him across the meadow. ‘The sort of fidelity which I demanded, but was not prepared, myself, to give. Fidelity is not natural in the male. But nothing really beautiful ever is natural. Man’s greatness lies in the fact that he can commit himself even if it means death. These cows have no painful duties, no torments of conscience, but, then, they are cows!’ [pp.197-198]


Sebastian Faulks, 1993

Isabelle began to look with regret towards her parents and their continuing lives. The coming child had already begun to still her most restless expectations. The need satisfied in her was so deep that she had not previously been aware of it; it was as though she had become conscious of a starving hunger only after having eaten. It seemed to alter the levels and balances of her needs. She felt closer to the girl she had been at home; a broken circle had been rejoined. Although this was a soothing thought, it brought with it some doubts about what she had done; it made her want to be reunited with her family, or at least with her sister Jeanne. It was to her more than to anyone that she wanted to talk. It was she, Isabelle thought, who must be the first to know about the child. [p.110-111]

"I don’t know your life history, but I think children need to lieve in powers outside themselves. That’s why they read oks about witches and wizards and God knows what. here is a human need for that which childhood normally austs. But if a child’s world is broken up by too much reality, that need goes underground." [p.193]

It was a rush and slither of trivial crises; of uncertain cash- flow, small triumphs, occasional sex and too many cigarettes; of missed deadlines that turned out not to matter; of argu- ments, new clothes, bursts of altruism and sincere resolutions to address the important things. Of all these and the other experiences that made up her life, the most significant aspect was the one suggested by the words "turned out not to mat- ter". Although she was happy enough with what she had become, it was this continued sense of the easy, the inessential nature of what she did, that most irritated her. [p.414]

The Girl at the Lion d'Or

Sebastian Faulks, 1989

Like Roussel earlier in the evening, like most men in bars and cafés up and down France that night, they were concerned by news that two days earlier the German army had reoccupied the Rhineland, a zone demilitarised by treaty at the end of the war. All three had at some time been in the army, Jean-Philippe from the first battle of the Marne until the Armistice, during which time he had twice been wounded. Although they talked robustly, each man knew with a low certainty that such supreme effort of resistance could never be made again, and they looked to their political leaders to ensure that it should not be necessary. In this they were constantly let down and their sacrifice, as they saw it, betrayed.

... It was not as if the three of them were arguing, Anne thought, as he passed by; it was more that each wanted to make the same point more loudly than the others. [p.46]

All his life he had felt the implacable nagging of desire. The feeling was more of a frustration than a pleasure, because the relief was only ever momentary. Sometimes, in fact, the length of time between the relief and the first intimations of the next frustration seemed so brief as hardly to constitute an inter ruption in the continuous longing. He had been affected by a mood of frivolity that had been widespread in people of his class after the war. The sustained feeling of euphoria even if it was shadowed by a suspicion that such a climate couldn’t last long — coincided with the period of his own greatest youthful vigour. After the sight of the wall of dead men in the mud, of severed limbs, of blown muscle and sinew; after the stench of decomposing flesh and field latrines, the landscape of blackened trees and gaping shell-holes; after the constant sense of fear and of life valued only by the day, and then the return to decimated villages, there had seemed no reason for self-restraint. The free embrace of womanhood, the touch and scent of femininity, were tokens of the peace.

For Hartmann and his friends in Paris there was serious work to be done in offices and banks and galleries, but there was also a parallel life of passion and sexual encounter. Hartmann and Mattlin, though they barely knew each other, were alike in one respect, that they each spent many hours wondering how to stave off the battering of desire. For Mattlin the solution lay in numbers: by increasing the aggre gate of women he slept with he felt he could eliminate the potential sources of frustration. For Hartmann the answer always seemed to lie in the next encounter. He did not accumulate in the same way as Mattlin but saw each lover as potentially definitive. The next woman, he was sure, would prove so complete, so satisfying, that she would at last extinguish the tormenting itch that made it hard to concentrate for so much of the working day. Mattlin valued the difference in each woman he made love to because, by isolating each new trait, he hoped to inoculate himself against the frustration it might otherwise have caused; Hartmann found in individual differences only varying and sometimes tantalising degrees of incompleteness. [p.83-4]

‘Wasn’t there a moment when you could have stopped it happening?’

‘I don’t think I knew it was happening until it was already too late,’ said the minister. ‘There was no moment of decision, just a series of lost opportunities, moments when I could have resisted. I didn’t see it as a deed, an action, until it was too late.’ [p.182]

Charlotte Gray

Sebastian Faulks, 1998

She was looking at Gregory and thinking how much she loved him. She felt as though the organs of her stomach had mysteriously liquefied. There was fear in the exquisite anticipation because she was not in control of herself.

She was embarrassed that all of them must know why they were there, but she did not really care. Since she had conceded a single name to the violent mixture of feelings that assaulted her she had felt better about it. Properly speaking, this probably wasn’t love, she understood; but love was part of it. There were only perhaps two dozen words in English to describe two thousand mixed emotions people felt; but if she called it love, then that at least suggested both the gentleness - like an extreme opposite of wanting to do harm - and the obsessional longing for his presence. She remembered a character in a book who measured his feeling for some cruel girl by the anguish of his anticipation at seeing her, and by his grief at her departure, because he actually enjoyed her company so little. With Charlotte it was the opposite: Gregory’s presence was an enchantment greater even than his absence.

DEPRESSION - THOUGH THAT seemed a limp word for the storm of black panic and half-demented malfunction - had over the years worked itself out in Charlotte’s life in a curious pattern. Its onset was often imperceptible: like an assiduous housekeeper locking up a rambling mansion, it noiselessly went about and turned off, one by one, the mind’s thousand small accesses to pleasure. So gradual was its beginning, so quick her mind’s ability to adjust, that she never saw what was happening: an unwillingness to admit that anything was wrong compounded the stealth of the disease. Sometimes the first moment she admitted to herself that she was suffering was when it started to get better. For several weeks the effort of speech had made her jaw ache; the tricks and self-delusions by which people avoided confronting the tragic lineaments of the world were an unforgivable frivolity: the air about her limbs felt solid.

Then suddenly, one morning, she heard the post fall on to the mat and felt a minute shock of anticipation. She heard a song on the wireless and felt a stir of response. What was this strange, unknown throb? Ah yes, she remembered now: it was what you felt a thousand times a day; it was what impelled you and made living bearable. It was what she had not felt in her sealed darkness since ... since ... She would then weep with bitterness at how long the world had been withheld from her.

Dominique’s voice was less often present in her head these days; Charlotte found that it was she who talked more often to Dominique, explaining the things she did in her name. The idea of being someone else was attractive to her, and that, she recognised as she turned off the light and pulled up the covers, was what had so drawn her to the Domaine.

She was living someone else’s life. This house was suffused with unknown histories, but instead of seeing them as a disenfranchised spectator, she had become a legitimate actor among them. By assuming a new identity, she had somehow rid herself of the restraints imposed by her own and allowed herself to join the flow of a timeless reality more urgent than the one in which she otherwise moved.

By language men have made a show of congregation or society, because the individual is not born with language but learns to navigate with its means, which have been developed and bequeathed by dead men. This sense of being part of something greater is in fact an illusion. A man and woman may live together all their lives and still know little of the essence of the other. They rarely surprise each other, because what is essential to each is never communicated.

Like language, art struggles with what is common, to disturb the individual habit of perception and, by disturbing it, to enable men to see what has been lived and seen by others. By upsetting, therefore, it tries to soothe, because it hopes to free each person from the tyranny of solitude.

No child born knows the world he is entering, and at the moment of his birth he is a stranger to his parents. When he dies, many years later, there may be regrets among those left behind that they never knew him better, but he is forgotten almost as soon as he dies because there is no time for others to puzzle out his life. After a few years he will be referred to once or twice by a grandchild, then by no one at all. Unknown at the moment of birth, unknown after death. This weight of solitude! A being unknown.

And yet, if I believe in God, I am known. On the tombs of the English soldiers, the ones too fragmented to have a name, I remember that they wrote ‘Known unto God’.


André had trust in the man; but when their time came he barely glanced at the Duguay boys.

Now they were in a line of children and old people. They were climbing into lorries.

André was at the back. They went past a long ditch in which ragged flames were rising. From a tipped lorry, what looked to André like giant dolls with broken limbs were being poured into the trench.

They stopped at two whitewashed farmhouses with thatched roofs. The lorry’s headlights showed up pretty fruit trees.

Now they were naked. It was very cold in this room. Jacob took André’s hand and found that there was already something in it - a tin soldier.

André kissed Jacob’s shorn head, the stubble tender on his lips.

There was another room, another door, with bolts and rubber seals, over whose threshold the two boys, among many others, went through icy air, and disappeared.

Before she left Edinburgh, her father had warned her that it was dangerous ever to think that one had solved buried problems of memory and fear. The human desire for neatness, he said, would always ultimately be defeated by the chaos of the mind’s own truths.

Charlotte resented this dour note at the moment of her joy and freedom, but recognised that he was probably right. She would never really know what had happened, but between them they had come close enough to the truth. It would suffice, she knew, because in the days that followed, the feeling of relaxation continued. As she walked through Regent’s Park, she felt that a long-broken circle had finally been closed: as a grown woman she had re-established contact with her childhood self, and there was now a continuous line through her life.

There was Peter Gregory, leaning on his stick half-way up the path, talking to Sally’s mother, who was looking nervous beneath a wide-brimmed hat.

In Charlotte’s mind, Gregory belonged to the category of dreams and traumas. The possibility of happiness he had once held out, and that she had briefly tasted, was of an intensity so great that even at the time it had seemed already to belong to the past. The power of such feelings, it seemed to her, lay in their promise of transcendence. People followed them and believed in them because they offered not only a paradise of sensation but the promise of meaning, too; like the miracle of art, they held out an explanation of all the other faltering lights by which people were more momentarily guided.

By their nature, however, these feelings were unreliable. Sometimes, they seemed to be remembered before they were even experienced, and they could leave in those who felt them a fear that only what had been forgotten, what stayed beyond the reach of recollection, was capable of truly transcending the limits of their sad incorporation in the flesh, and of their death.

To believe otherwise remained an act of faith, but it was one that Charlotte felt prepared to make. She walked up the path of the churchyard and took Gregory lightly by the arm. They went between the grey, lichen-covered headstones, and turned for the final few yards towards the door of the Norman church. As they came near to it, Charlotte slipped her hand into Gregory’s and found that it already contained something - the handle of his stick.

She held on tight to his arm, nevertheless, as they walked through the porch, stepped over the stone threshold, worn smooth and low by many centuries of people passing through. They crossed into the cold interior of the church, heavy with the scent of cut flowers and the murmuring of the organ, into the soft air, and disappeared.


Alberto Moravia, 1960

I remember that this suffering [boredom], even then, inspired in me a desire both to define and to explain it. But I was a mere boy, with all the pedantry and ambition of a boy. The result, therefore, was a project for a universal history “according to boredom,” of which, however, I wrote only the first few pages. My universal history according to boredom was based on a very simple idea: the mainspring of it was neither progress, nor biological evolution, nor economic development, nor any of the other ideas usually brought forward by historians of various schools; it was simply boredom. Burning with enthusiasm at this magnificent discovery, I went right to the root of the matter. In the beginning was boredom, commonly called chaos. God, bored with boredom, created the earth, the sky, the waters, the animals, the plants, Adam and Eve; and the latter, bored in their turn in paradise, ate the forbidden fruit. God became bored with them and drove them out of Eden; Cain, bored with Abel, killed him; Noah, bored to tears, invented wine; God, once again bored with mankind, destroyed the world by means of the Flood; but this in turn bored Him to such an extent that He brought back fine weather again. And so on. The great empires—Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman—rose out of boredom and fell again in boredom; the boredom of paganism gave rise to Christianity; that of Catholicism, to Protestantism; the boredom of Europe caused the discovery of America; the boredom of feudalism kindled the French Revolution; and that of capitalism, the revolution in Russia. All these fine discoveries were noted down by me in a kind of summary, then I began with great enthusiasm to write the true and proper history. I do not remember exactly, but I don’t think I went any further than a highly detailed description of the atrocious boredom from which Adam and Eve suffered in the Garden of Eden, and how, precisely because of this bore dom, they committed their mortal sin. Then I grew bored with the whole project and abandoned it. [p.8-9]

...boredom consists, fundamentally, in a lack of contact with external things... [p.16]

...I could always do what many people do when they find themselves in an unendurable situation: accept it and adapt myself to it. [p.67]

I became conscious of this change in our relationship chiefly because of the difference in my way of feeling on the subject of physical love—which was, after all, the only possible kind of love between Cecilia and me. At the beginning it had been a very natural thing, inasmuch as I had felt that, in it, nature overcame herself and became human and even more than human, now, on the other hand, it struck me mainly by its lack of naturalness, a sort of act against nature, and there fore artificial and absurd. Walking, sitting, lying down, going up or down, all the actions of the body now seemed to me to have a necessity of their own and therefore a naturalness, but copulation, on the contrary, seemed an extravagant exertion for which the human body was not made and to which it could not adapt itself without effort and fatigue. Everything, I felt, could be done easily, with grace and harmony - everything except copulation. The very conformation of the two organs, the female difficult of access, the male incapable of directing itself of its own accord toward its goal, like an arm or a leg, but requiring to be aided by the whole body, appeared to me indicative of the absurdity of the sexual act. From this sense of the absurdity of the physical relation to that of the absurdity of Cecilia herself was but a step. And so boredom, as usual, destroyed first my relationship with outside things and then the things themselves, rendering them empty and incomprehensible. But the new fact this time was that, in face of a Cecilia reduced to an object of absurdity, boredom—possibly owing to the sexual habit which I had formed and which I did not consider necessary to break off, anyhow for the moment—did not merely fill me with coldness and indifference but went beyond these feelings, or rather this lack of feeling, and was transformed into cruelty.

Cecilia was not a glass but a person, although at the moment when I was bored with her she ceased to exist just like any other object, I nevertheless knew in my mind that she was a person. Now, just as the glass, at the moment when my boredom made it appear incomprehensible and absurd, sometimes inspired me with a violent desire to seize it and smash it and reduce it to fragments so as to have confirmation of its actual existence through destroying it, so, with more reason, when I was bored with Cecilia I was smitten with an impulse, if not to destroy her, at least to torment her and make her suffer. By tormenting her and making her suffer, in fact, it seemed to me that I might contrive to re-establish the relations that had been broken off by boredom, and little did it matter if I succeeded in this through cruelty instead of through love.

But there remained with me, from that day on, not merely a distaste for cruelty, as a significant symptom of my lack of contact with Cecilia, but also a fear of relapsing in the future into greater and more irreparable and more shameful cruelties. This had been but a preliminary skirmish; I realized that, if boredom and its effects persisted in my relationship with Cecilia, I might really slip into the habit of sadism, for it was precisely toward that that I was being pushed by my need to establish any kind of contact with her. I ought not to be deceived by the fact that Cecilia’s touching, animal-like embrace had made me break off my cruel game. In reality I had ceased tormenting her, not so much because I had felt pity for her and shame at my own behavior, as because with that embrace she had admitted that she was suffering, and it was precisely that admission that I had wished to force from her, thus driving away my boredom through the spectacle of her suffering. But along that road, with my own sensibility steadily hardening, I might reach the point of true sadism, of the transformation of my boredom into a vicious mechanism. Boredom inspired me with fear but not with disgust, because it had something frank and essential about it. Sadism, on the contrary, was repugnant to me, especially on account of its hypocrisy (the sadist always claims that he is punishing his victim whereas actually he is seeking enjoyment through the suffering he inflicts under the pretext of punishment), and also on account of the excitement it brought me, all the more impure because it was chaste, or at least pretended to be, until the moment when, putting aside all hypocrisy, it vented itself in sexual intercourse, thus revealing itself as nothing more than a kind of drug. [p.115]

Two days before, I had given Cecilia the last thirty thousand lire that I possessed, and Cecilia was to come and visit me in the afternoon. It was possible for me not to give her anything, as so often in the past; but I was suddenly conscious that I would now no longer be capable of that. This was not so much because I felt that by giving her money I possessed her, as for the opposite reason: the money now endowed Cecilia’s elusiveness with a new aspect which confirmed and complicated it — that of her disinterestedness. And just because she did not allow herself to be possessed through the medium of money, I now felt myself irresistibly urged to give it to her; in the same way that, just because I could not succeed in possess ing her through the sexual act, I felt myself urged to repeat that same act over and over again. In reality, both the money and the sexual act gave me for a moment the illusion of possession, and I could now no longer do without that moment, although I knew that it was regularly followed by a feeling of profound disillusionment. [pp.243-244]

And indeed, as soon as I began to think about Cecilia again, I was aware of the same thing happening to me as when I gazed at the tree through the window. Ten days had passed since my collision and Cecilia was certainly still at Ponza with Luciani; I took to thinking about her, therefore, at first cautiously and at rare intervals, then more often and with greater confidence. I realized then that I was able to imagine perfectly well, just as if I had been present, all the things she was doing while I was lying there in bed at the hospital. To say “imagine” is to say too little, for I could see her. As through the wrong end of a telescope, I saw the tiny, remote but brightly clear figures of Cecilia and the actor moving, running, embracing, walking, lying together, disappearing and reappearing in a hundred differ ent attitudes against a background of blue sea and calm, luminous sky. I knew from experience that happiness is to be found with the person whom one loves and who loves one, in a lovely, peaceful place; I was sure that Cecilia, in her own economical, inexpressive way, was happy, and I was astonished to find that I was pleased. Yes indeed, I was pleased that she should be happy, but above all I was pleased that she should exist, away there in the island of Ponza, in a manner which was her own and which was different from mine and in contrast with mine, with a man who was not myself, far away from me. I was here in the hospital, I repeated to myself from time to time, and she was at Ponza with the actor, and we were two different people and she had nothing to do with me and I had nothing to do with her, and she was apart from me, as I was apart from her. And finally I no longer desired to possess her but to watch her live her life, just as she was, that is, to contemplate her in the same way that I contemplated the tree outside my window. This contemplation would never come to an end for the simple reason that I did not wish it to come to an end, that is, I did not wish the tree, or Cecilia, or any other object outside myself, to become boring to me and consequently to cease to exist. In reality, as I suddenly realized with a feeling almost of surprise, I had relinquished Cecilia once and for all; and, strange to relate, from the very moment of this relinquishment, Cecilia had begun to exist for me.

I wondered if possibly, in relinquishing Cecilia, I had also ceased to love her, in other words to experience toward her that same feeling, always delusive and always disappointed, that I had previously had, and which, for lack of a more appropriate term, I must call love. I was aware that that kind of love was dead, but that I loved her all the same, though with a love that was new and different. This new love might or might not be accompanied by a physical relationship, but it did not depend upon it, and in a way did not need it. When Cecilia came back we might or we might not resume our former relations, but I, in any case, would not cease to love her.

At this point I must admit that my ideas became confused. I recalled that from the very beginning it had seemed to me that my relationship with Cecilia had differed in no way from my contact with reality; in other words, that my fundamental reasons for ceasing to paint had been the same as those for which I had attempted to kill myself. But now? In the end I said to myself that, for the moment, I had to remain in bed for more than a month and that it was too soon to come to any sort of decision. Once I was well, I would go back to the studio and try to start painting again. I say that I would try, because I was not at all sure that the connection I had seen for so long between Cecilia and my painting really existed; or that loving Cecilia in a new way would mean starting to paint again. Here again, only experience would be able to provide an answer.

And so, in the long run, the only truly certain result was that I had learned to love Cecilia, or rather, to love her without complications. Anyhow I hoped I had learned. For in relation also to this aspect of my life, doubt could not be excluded. And in order to be completely sure, I had to wait until Cecilia came back from her visit to the seaside. [pp.318-320]


William Gibson, 1984

‘The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,’ said the voice-over, ‘in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.’ On the Sony, a two-dimensional space war faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrat- ing the spacial possibilities of logarithmic spirals; cold blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire con- trol circuits of tanks and war planes. ‘Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts ... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding...' [p.67]
(That was written in 1984, remember!)

The tug Marcus Garvey, a steel drum nine meters long and two in diameter, creaked and shuddered as Maelcum punched for a navigational burn. Splayed in his elastic g-web, Case watched the Zionite’s muscular back through a haze of scopolamine.

‘How long’s it gonna take us to make Freeside?’ Molly asked from her web beside Maelcum’s pilot module.

‘Don’ be long now, m’seh dat.’

‘You guys ever think in hours?’

‘Sister, time, it be time, ya know wha mean? Dread,’ and he-shook his locks, ‘at control, mon, an’ I an’ I come a Freeside when I an’ I come...' [p.137]

‘Minds aren’t read. See, you’ve still got the paradigms print gave you, and you’re barely print-literate. I can access your memory, but that’s not the same as your mind.’ He reached into the exposed chassis of an ancient television and withdrew a silver-black vacuum tube. ‘See this? Part of my DNA, sort of...’ He tossed the thing into the shadows and Case heard it pop and tinkle. ‘You’re always building models. Stone circles. Cathedrals. Pipe-organs. Adding machines. I got no idea why I’m here now, you know that? But if the run goes off tonight, you’ll have finally managed the real thing.’ [p.204]

Laughable Loves

Milan Kundera, 1969

The Hitchhiking Game

She knew that her shyness was ridiculous and old-fashioned. Many times at work she had noticed that they laughed at her on account of it and deliberately provoked her. She always got shy in advance at the thought of how she was going to get shy. She often longed to feel free and easy about her body, the way most of the women around her did. She had even invented a special course in self-persuasion: she would repeat to herself that at birth every human being received one out of the millions of available bodies, as one would receive an allotted room out of the millions of rooms in an enormous hotel. Consequently, the body was fortuitous and impersonal, it was only a ready-made, borrowed thing. She would repeat this to herself in different ways, but she could never manage to feel it. This mind-body dualism was alien to her. She was too much one with her body; that is why she always felt such anxiety about it.

She experienced this same anxiety even in her relations with the young man, whom she had known for a year and with whom she was happy, perhaps because he never separated her body from her soul and she could live with him wholly. In this unity there was happiness, but right behind the happiness lurked suspicion, and the girl was full of that. For instance, it often occurred to her that the other women (those who weren’t anxious) were more attractive and more seductive and that the young man, who did not conceal the fact that he knew this kind of woman well, would someday leave her for a woman like that. (True, the young man declared that he’d had enough of them to last his whole life, but she knew that he was still much younger than he thought.) She wanted him to be completely hers and she to be completely his, but it often seemed to her that the more she tried to give him everything, the more she denied him something: the very thing that a light and superficial love or a flirtation gives to a person. It worried her that she was not able to combine seriousness with lightheartedness.

And all at once he discovered the character of his own part: he stopped making the gallant remarks with which he had wanted to flatter his girl in a roundabout way, and began to play the tough guy who treats women to the coarser aspects of his masculinity: willfulness, sarcasm, self-assurance.

This role was a complete contradiction of the young man’s habitually solicitous approach to the girl. True, before he had met her, he had in fact behaved roughly rather than gently toward women. But he had never resembled a heartless tough guy, because he had never demonstrated either a particularly strong will or ruthlessness. However, if he did not resemble such a man, nonetheless he had longed to at one time. Of course it was a quite naive desire, but there it was. Childish desires withstand all the snares of the adult mind and often survive into ripe old age. And this childish desire quickly took advantage of the opportunity to embody itself in the proffered role.

The young man’s sarcastic reserve suited the girl very well—it freed her from herself. For she herself was, above all, the epitome of jealousy. The moment she stopped seeing the gallantly seductive young man beside her and saw only his inaccessible face, her jealousy subsided. The girl could forget herself and give herself up to her role.

Her role? What was her role? It was a role out of trashy literature. The hitchhiker stopped the car not to get a ride, but to seduce the man who was driving the car. She was an artful seductress, cleverly knowing how to use her charms. The girl slipped into this silly, romantic part with an ease that astonished her and held her spellbound.

The girl, when she found herself alone, also threw off her role. She didn’t feel ill-humored, though, at finding herself in an unexpected town. She was so devoted to the young man that she never had doubts about anything he did, and confidently entrusted every moment of her life to him. On the other hand the idea once again popped into her mind that perhaps—just as she was now doing—other women had waited for her man in his car, those women whom he met on business trips. But surprisingly enough this idea didn’t upset her at all now. In fact, she smiled at the thought of how nice it was that today she was this other woman, this irresponsible, indecent other woman, one of those women of whom she was so jealous. It seemed to her that she was cutting them all out, that she had learned how to use their weapons; how to give the young man what until now she had not known how to give him: lightheartedness, shamelessness, and dissoluteness. A curious feeling of satisfaction filled her, because she alone had the ability to be all women and in this way (she alone) could completely captivate her lover and hold his interest.

When she saw the look of unshakable obsession in the young man’s eyes, she tried to go on with the game, even though she no longer could and no longer knew how. With tears in her eyes she climbed onto the table. The top was scarcely three feet square and one leg was a little bit shorter than the others so that standing on it the girl felt unsteady.

But the young man was pleased with the naked figure, now towering above him, and the girl’s shy insecurity merely inflamed his imperiousness. He wanted to see her body in all positions and from all sides, as he imagined other men had seen it and would see it. He was vulgar and lascivious. He used words that she had never heard from him in her life. She wanted to refuse, she wanted to be released from the game. She called him by his first name, but he immediately yelled at her that she had no right to address him so intimately. And so eventually in confusion and on the verge of tears, she obeyed, she bent forward and squatted according to the young man’s wishes, saluted, and then wiggled her hips as she did the Twist for him. During a slightly more violent movement, when the cloth slipped beneath her feet and she nearly fell, the young man caught her and dragged her to the bed.

He had intercourse with her. She was glad that at least now finally the unfortunate game would end and they would again be the two people they had been before and would love each other. She wanted to press her mouth against his. But the young man pushed her head away and repeated that he only kissed women he loved. She burst into loud sobs. But she wasn’t even allowed to cry, because the young man’s furious passion gradually won over her body, which then silenced the complaint of her soul. On the bed there were soon two bodies in perfect harmony, two sensual bodies, alien to each other. This was exactly what the girl had most dreaded all her life and had scrupulously avoided till now: love-making without emotion or love. She knew that she had crossed the forbidden boundary, but she proceeded across it without objections and as a full participant — only somewhere, far off in a corner of her consciousness, did she feel horror at the thought that she had never known such pleasure, never so much pleasure as at this moment — beyond that boundary.

Nobody Will Laugh

Man passes through the present with his eyes blindfolded. He is permitted merely to sense and guess at what he is actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can he glance at the past and find out what he has experienced and what meaning it has had.

Deceived by Excessive Faith

But ten minutes passed, a quarter of an hour, and the girl girl didn’t come.

“Don’t be afraid,” Martin consoled me. “If anything is certain, then it’s this, that she’ll come. Our performance was completely plausible and the girl was in raptures.”

I too was of this opinion, and so we went on waiting, with each moment becoming more and more eager for this childish young girl. In the meanwhile, also, the time appointed for our meeting with the girl in corduroy pants went by, but we were so set on our little girl in white that it didn’t even occur to us to leave.

And time was passing.

“Listen, Martin, I think that she won’t come now,” I said at last.

“How do you explain it? After all, that girl believed in us as in God Himself.”

“Yes,” I said, “and in that lies our misfortune. That is to say she believed us only too well!”

“What? Perhaps you’d have wanted her not to be lieve us?”

“It would perhaps have been better like that. Too much faith is the worst ally.” A thought took my fancy; I got really involved in it: “When you believe in something literally, through your faith you’ll turn it into something absurd. One who is a genuine adherent, if you like, of some political outlook, never takes its sophistries seriously, but only its practical aims; which are concealed beneath these sophistries. Political rhetoric and sophistries do not exist, after all, in order that they be believed; rather, they have to serve as a common and agreed upon alibi. Foolish people, who take them in earnest, sooner or later discover inconsistencies in them, begin to protest, and finish finally and infamously as heretics and apostates. No, too much faith never brings anything good—and not only to political or religious systems but even to our own system, the one we used to convince the girl.”

“Somehow I’m not quite following you any more.”

“It’s quite simple: for the girl we were actually two serious and respectable gentlemen, and she, like a well-behaved child who offers her seat to an older person on a streetcar, wanted to please us.”

“So why didn’t she please us?”

“Because she believed us so completely. She gave Mom the lettuce and at once told her enthusiastically all about us: about the historical film, about the Etruscans in Bohemia, and Mom . -

“Yes, the rest is perfectly clear to me ...” Martin interrupted me and got up from the bench.


When Nurse Alzhbeta (ostentatiously offended) had left the staff room, condemned to jab two very old backsides, the chief physician said: “I ask you, Havel, why do you insist on turning down poor Alzhbeta?”

Dr. Havel took a sip of wine and replied: “Sir, don’t get mad at me on this account. It’s not because she isn’t pretty and is getting on in years. Believe me, I’ve had women still uglier and far older.”

“Yes, it’s a well-known fact about you: you’re like death, you take everything. But if you take everything, why don’t you take Alzhbeta?”

“Maybe,” said Havel, “it’s because she shows her desire so conspicuously that it resembles an order. You say that I am like death in relation to women. But not even death likes to be given an order.”

“Good God, sir.” Havel let out a groan. “I hope that you don’t want to say that in Alzhbeta I am seeking an image of my human worth!”

“Certainly not,” said the woman doctor caustically. “After all, you’ve already explained to us that Alzhbeta’s provocativeness strikes you as an order, and you wish to retain the illusion that it is you who are choosing the woman.”

“You know, although we talk about it in those terms, Doctor, it isn’t like that.” Havel did a bit of thinking. “I was only trying to make a joke, when I said to you that Alzhbeta’s provocativeness bothered me. To tell the truth, I’ve had women far more provocative than she, and their provocative ness suited me quite well, because it pleasantly speeded up the course of events.”

“So why the hell don’t you take Alzhbeta?” cried the chief physician.

“Sir, your question isn’t as stupid as it seemed to me at first, because I see that as a matter of fact it’s hard to answer. If I’m going to be frank, then I don’t know why I don’t take Alzhbeta. I’ve slept with women more hideous, more provocative, and older. From this it follows that I should necessarily sleep with her too. All the statistics would have worked it out that way. All the cybernetic machines would have assessed it that way. And you see, perhaps for those very reasons, I don’t take her. Perhaps I want to resist necessity. To trip up causality. To throw off the predictability of the world’s course through the whimsicality of caprice.”

“But why did you pick Alzhbeta for this?” cried the chief physician.

“Just because it’s groundless. If there had been a reason, it would have been possible to find it in advance, and it would have been possible to determine my action in advance. Precisely in this groundlessness is a tiny scrap of freedom granted us, for which we must untiringly reach out, so that in this world of iron laws there should remain a little human disorder. My dear colleagues, long live freedom,” said Havel, and sadly raised his tumbler in a toast. [pp.126-127]

This was a young man only recently cast out into the adult world, which is full of uncertain ties. However much he ran after girls, above all he was seeking a comforting embrace, never-ending and vast, which would redeem him from the infernal relativity of the freshly discovered world. [p.154]

From all this it seemed quite obvious to Havel that his wife’s presence had thoroughly transformed him in the eyes of this pleasant, muscular girl, that he had all of a sudden acquired charm and appeal, and, what is more, that his body was for her undoubtedly an opportunity which could secretly put her on intimate terms with the well-known actress, make her equal to the celebrated woman whom everybody turned round to look at. Havel understood that suddenly everything was permitted, for him, everything was quietly promised in advance.

Only, as usually happens, when a man is contented, he is glad to turn down an opportunity which presents itself, so as to be reassured about his blissful satiety. It was quite enough for Havel that the blonde girl had lost her impolite inaccessibility, that she had a sweet voice and meek eyes, that she offered herself to him indirectly in this way—and he didn’t long for her at all. [p.195]

Edward and God

But this is the way life goes: a man imagines that he is playing his role in a particular play, and does not suspect that in the meantime they have changed the scenery without his noticing, and he unknowingly finds himself in the middle of a rather different performance. [p.229]

Edward took off his jacket and, looking at the directres (who had her big eyes fixed on him), he couldn't think of anything but the fact that there was the greatest likelihood that his body would sabotage his assiduous will. Wishing therefore to arouse his body somehow or other, he said in an uncertain voice, “Undress completely.”

With a violent and enthusiastically obedient move ment she flung off her nylon nightie and bared her skinny white body, in the middle of which her thick black bush protruded in gloomy desolation. She came slowly toward him and with terror Edward discovered what he already knew anyway: his body was completely fettered by anxiety.

I know, gentlemen, that in the course of the years you have become accustomed to the occasional insubordination of your own bodies, and that this no longer upsets you at all. But understand, Edward was young then! His body’s sabotage threw him into an incredible panic each time and he bore it as an inexpiable disgrace, whether the witness to it was a beautiful face or one as hideous and comical as the directress’s. The directress was now only a step away from him, and he, frightened and not knowing what to do, all at once said, he didn’t even know how (it was rather the fruit of inspiration than of cunning reflection): “No, no, oh Lord, no! No, it is a sin, it would be a sin!” and jumped away.

The directress kept coming toward him muttering in a husky voice: “What Sin? There is no sin!”

Edward retreated behind the round table, where they had been sitting a while before: “No, I can’t do this, I can’t do it.”

The directress pushed aside the armchair, standing in her path, and went after Edward, never taking her large brown eyes off him: “There is no sin! There is no sin!”

Edward went around the table, behind him was only the couch and the directress was a mere step away. Now he could no longer escape and perhaps his very desperation advised him at this moment of impasse to command her:


She stared at him uncomprehendingly, but when he once again repeated in a firm (though desperate) voice, “Kneel!” she enthusiastically fell to her knees in front of him and embraced his legs.

“Take those hands off,” he called her to order. “Clasp them!”

Once again she looked at him uncomprehendingly.

“Clasp them! Did you hear?”

She clasped her hands.

“Pray,” he commanded.

She had her hands clasped and she glanced up at him devotedly.

“Pray, so that God may forgive us,” he hissed.

She had her hands clasped. She was looking up at him with her large eyes and Edward not only obtained an advantageous respite, but looking down at her from above, he began to lose the oppressive feeling that he was mere prey, and he regained his self-assurance. He stepped back, away from her, so that he could survey the whole of her, and once again commanded, “Pray!”

When she remained silent, he yelled: “Aloud!”

And the skinny, naked, kneeling woman began to recite:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come...”

As she uttered the words of the prayer, she glanced up at him as if he were God Himself. He watched her with growing pleasure. In front of him was kneeling the directress, being humiliated by a subordinate; in front of him a naked revolutionary was being humiliated by prayer; in front of him a praying lady was being humiliated by her nakedness.

This threefold image of degradation intoxicated him and something unexpected suddenly happened: his body revoked its passive resistance. Edward was excited!

As the directress said, “And lead us not into temptation,” he quickly threw off all his clothes. When she said, “Amen,” he violently lifted her off the floor and dragged her onto the couch.

A dubious "German Lesson"

Dog: Barkenpantensniffer
Dog Catcher: Barkenpantensniffersnatcher
        Dog Catcher’s Truck: Barkenpantensniffersnatcherwagen
        Garage for Truck: Barkenpantensniffersnatcherwagenhaus
        Truck Repairman: Barkenpantensniffersnatcherwagen-
        Mechanic’s Union: Barkenpantensniffersnatcherwagen-
        Piano: Plinkenpiankenpiunkenbox
        Pianist: Plinkenplankenplunkenboxgepounder
        Piano Stool: Plinkenplankenplunkenboxgepounderspinnenseat
        Piano Recital: Plinkenplankenplunkenboxgepounderof-
        Fathers at the Recital: Plinkenplankenplunkenboxgepounderof-
        Mothers at the Recital: PlinkenplankenplunkenbOxgepounderof-

The Elements of Java Style

A. Vermeulen, S.W. Ambler, G. Bumgardner, E. Metz, T. Misfeldt, J. Shur, P. Thompson. Cambridge University Press / SIGS Books, 2000


1.	Adhere to the style of the original.

2.	Adhere to the Principle of Least Astonishment.

3.	Do it right the first time.

4.	Document any deviations.

5.	Indent nested code.

6.	Break up long lines.

7.      Include white space.

8.	Do not use "hard" tabs.

9.	Use meaningful names.

10.	Use familiar names.

11.	Question excessively long names.

12.	Join the vowel generation.

13.	Capitalize only the first letter in acronyms.

14.	Do not use names that differ only in case.

15.	Use the reversed lowercase form of your
	organization’s Internet domain name as the root
	qualifier for your package names.

16.	Use a single, lowercase word as the root name of
	each package.

17.	Use the same name for a new version of a package,
	but only if that new version is still binary
	compatible with the previous version, otherwise,
	use a new name.

18.	Capitalize the first letter of each word that appears
	in a class or interface name.

19.	Use nouns when naming classes.

20.	Pluralize the names of classes that group related
	attributes, static services, or constants.

21.	Use nouns or adjectives when naming interfaces.

22.	Use lowercase for the first word and capitalize only
	the first letter of each subsequent word that appears
	in a method name.

23.	Use verbs when naming methods.

24.	Follow the JavaBeans conventions for naming
	property accessor methods.

25.	Use lowercase for the first word and capitalize only
	the first letter of each subsequent word that appears
	in a variable name.

26.	 Use nouns to name fields.

27.	Pluralize the names of collection references.

28.	Establish and use a set of standard names for
	trivial "throwaway" variables.

29.	Qualify field variables with "this" to distinguish
	them from local variables.

30.	When a constructor or "set" method assigns a
	parameter to afield give that parameter the same
	name as the field.

31.	Use uppercase letters for each word and separate
	each pair of words with an underscore when
	naming constants.

32.	Write documentation for those who must use your
	code and those who must maintain it.

33.	Keep comments and code in sync.

34.	Use the active voice and omit needless words.

35.	Use documentation comments to describe the
	programming interface.

36.	Use standard comments to hide code without
	removing it.

37.	Use internal one-line comments to explain
	implementation details.

38.	Describe the programming interface before you
	write the code.

39.	Document public, protected, package, and private

40.	Provide a summary description and overview for
	each package.

41.	Provide a summary description and overview for
	each application or group of packages.

42.	Use a single consistent format and organization for
	all documentation comments.

43.	Wrap keywords, identifiers, and constants with
	<code>...</code> tags.

44.	Wrap code with <pre>...</pre> tags.

45.	Consider marking the first occurrence ofan
	identfier with a {@link} tag.

46.	Establish and use a fixed ordering for Javadoc tags.

47.	Write in the third-person narrative form.

48. 	Write summary descriptions that standalone.

49.	Omit the subject in summary descriptions of actions
	or services.

50.	Omit the subject and the verb in summary
	descriptions of things.

51.	Use "this" rather than "the" when referring to
	instances of the current class.

52.	Do not add parentheses to a method or constructor
	name unless you want to specify a particular

53.	Provide a summary description for each class,
	interface, field, and method.

54.	Fully describe the signature of each method.

55.	Include examples.

56.	Document preconditions, postconditions, and
	invariant conditions.

57.	Document known defects and deficiencies.

58.	Document synchronization semantics.

59.	Add internal comments only if they will aid others
	in understanding your code.

60.	Describe why the code is doing what it does, not
	what the code is doing.

61.	Avoid the use of end-line comments.

62	Explain local variable declarations with an end
	line comment.

63.	Establish and use a set of keywords to flag
	unresolved issues.

64.	Label closing braces in highly nested control

65.	Add a "fall-through" comment between two case
	labels, if no break statement separates those labels.

66.	Label empty statements.

67.	Consider declaring classes representing
	fundamental data types as final.

68.	Build concrete types from native types and other
	concrete types.

69.	Define small classes and small methods.

70.	Define subclasses so they may be used anywhere
	their superclasses may be used.

71.	Make all fields private.

72.	Use polymorphism instead of instanceof.

73.	Wrap general-purpose classes that operate on
	Java. lang. Object to provide static type checking.

74.	Encapsulate enumerations as classes.

75.	Replace repeated nontrivial expressions with
	equivalent methods.

76	Use block statements instead of expression
	statements in control flow constructs.

77. 	Clarify the order of operations with parentheses.

78.	Always code a break statement in the last case of a
	switch statement.

79.	Use equals(), not ==, to test for equality of

80.	Always construct objects in a valid state.

81.	Do not call nonfinal methods from within a

82.	Use nested constructors to eliminate redundant

83.	Use unchecked, run-time exceptions to report
	serious unexpected errors that may indicate an
	error in the program’s logic.

84.	Use checked exceptions to report errors that may
	occur, however rarely, under normal program

85.	Use return codes to report expected state changes.

86.	Only convert exceptions to add information.

87.	Do not silently absorb a run-time or error

88.	Use a finally block to release resources.

89.	Program by contract.

90.	Use dead code elimination to implement assertions.

91.	Use assertions to catch logic errors in your code.

92.	Use assertions to test pre- and postconditions of a

93.	Use threads only where appropriate.

94.	Avoid synchronization.

95.	Use synchronized wrappers to provide synchronized

96.	Do not synchronize an entire method if the method
	contains significant operations that do not need

97.	Avoid unnecessary synchronization when reading
	or writing instance variables.

98.	Consider using notify() instead of notifyAll().

99.	Use the double-check pattern for synchronized

100.	Use lazy initialization.

101.	Avoid creating unnecessary objects.

102.	Reinitialize and reuse objects to avoid new object

103.	Leave optimization for last.

104.	Place types that are commonly used, changed, and
	released together, or mutually dependent on each
	other, into the same package.

105.	Isolate volatile classes and interfaces in separate

106.	Avoid making packages that are difficult to change
	dependent on packages that are easy to change.

107.	Maximize abstraction to maximize stability.

108.	Capture high-level design and architecture as
	stable abstractions organized into stable packages.



Terry Pratchett, 1989

Gurder sagged to his knees. ‘Sir? All the way to the Top? But I am not worthy—’ His voice faded away.

The Abbot nodded. ‘None of us are,’ he said. ‘We are all Shop-soiled. Everything Must Go. Now be off, and may Bargains Galore go with you.’

‘Who’s Bargains Galore?’ said Masklin, as they went out.

‘She’s a servant of the Store,’ said Gurder, who was still trembling. ‘She’s the enemy of the dreadful Prices Slashed, who wanders the corridors at night with his terrible shining light, to catch evil nomes!’

‘It’s a good job you don’t believe in him, then,’ said Masklin.

‘Of course I don’t,’ agreed Gurder.

‘Your teeth are chattering, though.’

‘That’s because my teeth believe in him. And so do my knees. And my stomach. It’s only my head that doesn’t, and it’s being carried around by a load of superstitious cowards.’ [p.90]

He knew what he had to do. It was, of course, an impossible task. But he was used to them. Dragging a rat all the way from the wood to the hole had been an impossible task. But it wasn’t impossible to drag it a little way, so you did that, and then you had a rest, and then you dragged it a little way again... The way to deal with an impossible task was to chop it down into a number of merely very difficult tasks, and break each one of them into a group of horribly hard tasks, and each one of them into tricky jobs, and each one of them... [p.119]

- How did you work that out? - said Grimma
- The Thing told me - said Masklin - It's soomething called CRITICAL PATH ANALISYS. It means there's alwyas something you should have done first. For example, if you want to build a house you need to know how to make bricks, and before you can make bricks, you need to know what kind of clay to use. And so on. 
- What's clay?
- Don't know.
- What're bricks?
- Not sure.
- Well, what's a house? - she demanded.
- Haven't quite worked it out - said Masklin - But, any way, it's all very important. Critical path analisys. And there's something else called PROGRESS CHASING.
- What's THAT?
- I think it means shouting at people "Why haven't you done yet?" [p.126]


Terry Pratchett, 1990

This is a bit of the continent, sticking out into the warmer sea to the south-east. Most of its inhabitants call it Florida.

Actually, they don’t. Most of its inhabitants don’t call it anything. They don’t even know it exists. Most of them have six legs, and buzz. A lot of them have eight legs and spend a lot of time in webs waiting for six-legged inhabitants to arrive for lunch. Many of the rest have four legs, and bark or moo or even lie in swamps pretending to be logs. In fact, only a tiny proportion of the inhabitants of Florida have two legs, and even most of them don’t call it Florida. They just go tweet, and fly around a lot.

Mathematically, an almost insignificant amount of living things in Florida call it Florida. But they’re the ones who matter. At least, in their opinion. And their opinion is the one that matters. In their opinion. [p.72-3]

‘I expect your Grimma’s got everyone organized,’ said Angalo, trying to grin.

‘She’s not my Grimma,’ snapped Masklin.

‘Isn’t she? Whose is she, then?’

‘She’s —, Masklin hesitated. ‘Hers, I suppose,’ he said lamely.

‘Oh. I thought the two of you were set to —' Angalo began.

We’re not. I told her we were going to get married, and all she could talk about was frogs,’ said Masklin.

‘That’s females for you,’ said Gurder. ‘Didn’t I say that letting them learn to read was a bad idea? It overheats their brains.’

‘She said the most important thing in the world was little frogs living in a flower,’ Masklin went on, trying to listen to the voice of his own memory. He hadn’t been listening very hard at the time. He’d been too angry.

‘Sounds like you could boil a kettle on her head,’ said Angalo.

‘It was something she’d read in a book, she said.’

‘My point exactly,’ said Gurder. ‘You know I never really agreed with letting everyone learn to read. It unsettles people.’

Masklin looked gloomily at the rain.

‘Come to think of it,’ he said. ‘it wasn’t frogs exactly. It was the idea of frogs. She said there’s these hills where it’s hot and rains all the time, and in the rain forests there are these very tall trees and right in the top branches of the trees there are these like great big flowers called bromeliads, I think, and water gets into the flowers and makes little pools and there’s a type of frog that lays eggs in the pools and tadpoles hatch and grow into new frogs and these little frogs live their whole lives in the flowers right at the top of the trees and don’t even know about the ground and once you know the world is full of things like that your life is never the same.’

He took a deep breath.

‘Something like that, anyway,’ he said.

Gurder looked at Angalo.

‘Didn’t understand any of it,’ he said.

‘It’s a metaphor,’ said the Thing. No one paid it any attention.

Masklin scratched his ear. ‘It seemed to mean a lot to her,’ he said.

‘It’s a metaphor,’ said the Thing.

Women always want something,’ said Angalo. ‘My wife is always on about dresses.’ [p.76-7]

To the Ends of the Earth

William Golding, 1980-1991

The door opened and in flew pretty Mrs Brocklebank. Her arms were full of some foaming material. In a second our ladies were deep in a discussion of such technical mysteriousness that I withdrew without interrupting them. If I defined our sailor’s speech as “Tarpaulin”, then I must define what our ladies were saying (both speaking together) as perfect “Milliner”. It confirmed what I had felt when Pike had talked about the “larboard beam”. I saw my efforts to talk as the seamen did as a crass affectation. I might as well have talked of hems and gores and gussets! Let the rest of the passengers make free with Tarpaulin. I myself would stand out for a landsman’s lingo! So farewell, Falconer and his Marine Dictionary, without a twinge of regret but indeed, with some relief. [p.300]

After I read Oldmeadow’s letter I went for a walk, remembering all those old acquaintances—enemies who in retrospect now seem to be friends. They came up one by one, some I had forgotten entirely—Jacobs, Manley, yes, Howell. I seemed to touch them all with my mind, one by one, Bowles, Celia Brocklebank, Zenobia, little Pike, Wheeler, Bates, Colley—and so on, from Captain Anderson down. It was a curious exercise. I found that I could remember them without much emotion—even Lieutenant Summers. Even Mr and Mrs Prettiman. That night I had a kind of dream. I hope it was a dream, for dreams in any event are mysterious enough. I do not mean their content but the very fact of them. I do not wish it to have been more than a dream: because if it was, then I have to start all over again in a universe quite unlike the one which is my sanity and security. This dream was me seeing them as it were from ground level, and I was seeing them from ground level because I was quite comfortably buried in the earth of Australia, all except my head. They rode past me a few yards away. They were laughing and chattering in a high excite ment, the men and women following them with faces glowing as in a successful hunt for treasure. They were high on horses—she leading, astride with a wide hat, and he following, side-saddle, since his right leg was useless. You would have thought from the excitement and the honey light, from the crowd that followed them, from the laughter and, yes, the singing, you would have thought they were going to some great festival of joy, though where in the desert around them it might be found there was no telling. They were so happy! They were so excited!

I woke from my dream and wiped my face and stopped trembling and presently worked out that we could not all do that sort of thing. The world must be served, must it not? Only it did cross my mind before I had properly dealt with myself that she had said, or he had said, that I could come too, although I never countenanced the idea. Still, there it is. [pp.752-753]

GATE group working practices

We have adopted Bulgarian work practices:

The Carpet People

Terry Pratchett, 1971, 1992

The rest of them marched on down the road. Snibril found that he was in command; the Munrungs wanted to follow him, the Deftmenes were beginning to think that anyone who could lose their temper that badly was probably a king, and the Dumii — well, the Dumii soldiers followed Sergeant Careus, and Sergeant Careus was riding alongside Snibril. Most armies are in fact run by their sergeants — the officers are there just to give things a bit of tone and prevent warfare becoming a mere lower-class brawl. [p.136]

The Deftmenes are mad and the Dumii are sane thought Snibril, and that’s just the same as being mad except that it’s quieter. If only you could mix them together, you’d end up with normal people Just like me. [p.139]

‘I wish we could get some more wights fighting,’ said Careus. ‘I watched one of them using a bow just now, when the lads were practising. I mean, when have they ever used a bow before? He just looked at it for a while, then put an arrow in the centre of the target. Just like that.’

‘Just as well they don’t fight, then,’ said Snibril. ‘Maybe it’s best to leave it to people who aren’t so good at it.’ [p.138]

‘Economic imperialism!’ Pismire had once said, picking up a handful of coins. ‘A marvellous idea. So neat and simple. Once you set it going, it works all by itself. You see, it’s the Emperor who guaran- tees that the money will buy you things. Every time someone hands over or accepts one of these coins, it’s a little soldier defending the Empire. Amazing!’

No-one understood a word of what he meant, but they could see he thought it was important. [p.145]

‘Your dinner, sire.’ A moul voice.

‘I’m not hungry!’ A human voice, but with a sulky whine in it that suggested that its owner had been given too many sweets when he was young and not enough shoutings-at. It was the kind of voice that’s used to having its life with the crusts cut off. [p.160]

The disappearing TV

Hamish Cunningham, Spring 1999

In a few years time, you will be able to download almost any TV programme or film ever produced direct to your set-top box for immediate viewing. You'll probably use a web browser to do it, and the process will be as simple as using an Internet search engine. When this happens, will you pay much attention to nightly TV schedules? How much return on investment will TV advertising produce in those circumstances? How many video cassettes will be sold or rented? This is the fear stalking the TV and film companies. The branded channels that currently live on a particular button on your TV remote control face the prospect of dissolving into the Internet, a domain where boundaries are indistinct, and where pay-for-entry branded sites have failed to challenge the free-for-all of the portal sites that began as search engines. Even news and current affairs are not exempt: they are endangered by the personalised services made possible by web interactivity.

The response of the channels is to buy into the net: Canal Plus formed Canal+ Virtuel; NBC linked with Microsoft; now Time Warner has merged with AOL. In just a few years time, it seems, the current media world will have been completely reshaped, and, no doubt, not a few companies will have disappeared in the process. The point of this preamble is that the huge sums currently invested in TV and film will soon be invested in a medium that is different in two crucial ways: it integrates text, speech and video (i.e. it is multimedia); it is interactive.

Box of tricks

Michael Lewis, The Guardian, 28th August 2000

... the information piling up inside TiVo and Replay about how ordinary people use their boxes. They use them to undermine, with ruthless precision, the interests of TV networks and mass-market advertisers. They have two distinctly unsettling new habits. The first is that they don't watch scheduled TV any more. According to Josh Bernoff, a TV industry analyst with Forrester Research, viewers "get into the habit of not paying attention to when the programmes are on and just watch what they've recorded".

Well. If it doesn't matter when programmes run, then the whole concept of prime time - and its special market value - vanishes. Ditto the idea of pitting one show against another by virtue of its time slot. In the age of black boxes, every show ever broadcast competes against every other show for the viewer's attention; for this reason, whatever advantage a network has in the development of new TV shows disappears.

But that isn't the worst news that TiVo and Replay have for the networks. The worst news is that no one watches commercials anymore. Eighty-eight per cent - 88%! - of the ads in the programmes seen by viewers on their black boxes went unwatched. If no one watches commercials, then there is no commercial television.

The Telling

Ursula K. Le Guin, 2000

To learn a belief without belief is to sing a song without the tune.

A yielding, an obedience, a willingness to accept these notes as the right notes, this pattern as the true pattern, is the essential ges- ture of performance, translation, and understanding. The gesture need not be permanent, a lasting posture of the mind or heart; yet it is not false. It is more than the suspension of disbelief needed to watch a play, yet less than a conversion. It is a position, a posture in the dance.

Then Siez recited in his beautiful voice the ending of the story of Penan Teran, a mythic hero couple dear to the Rangma people. Penan and Teran were men of Silong, young warriors who rode the north wind, saddling the wind from the mountains like an eberdin and riding it down to battle, banners flying, to fight the ancient enemy of the Rangma, the sea people, the barbarians of the western plains. But Teran was killed in battle. And Penan led his people out of danger and then saddled the south wind, the sea wind, and rode it up into the mountains, where he leapt from the wind and died.

What's the end of a story? When you begin telling it.

"More a paradox than a riddle," Sutty said, thinking it over. "So the events must be over before the telling begins?"

Obiedin looked mildly surprised, as the maz generally did when she tried to interpret a saying or tale.

"That's not what it means," she said with resignation.

"It might mean that," he said. And after a while, "Penan leapt from the wind and died: that is Teran's story."

Goiri said, "Teran was dying. He said, 'My brother, my husband, my love, my self, you and I believed that we would defeat our enemy and bring peace to our land. But belief is the would htat knowledge heals, and death begins the Telling of our life.' Then he died in Penan's arms."

The grave, yoz. Where it begins.

The Other Wind

Ursula K. Le Guin, 2001

What's the difference between us and the animals? ... Maybe it is this: animals do neither good nor evil. They do as they must do. We may call what they do harmful or useful, but good and evil belong to us, who chose to choose what we do. ... The animals need only be and do. We're yoked, and they're free. So to be with an animal is to know a little freedom...


Herman Hesse, 1922 (this edition ed. McRory 1998)

The Eight-Fold Path: following on from the Buddha’s famous Four Noble Truths, a) that life is suffering, b) suffering results from desires, c) to stop suffering, stop desiring, d) to stop desiring there is the eight-fold path, which consists of 1) right views, 2) right intention, 3) right speech, 4) right action, 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right awareness, 8) right concentration.

Brahmin: not to be confused with Brahman! The priestly class, highest of the four divisions in ancient Hindu society; strictly speaking, one who knows and repeats the Vedas, e.g. Siddhartha.

Atman: breath, principle of life, the individual soul; in the grammar of Sanskrit it is also used as the reflexive pronoun: oneself.

Brahman: from root ‘bhri’ to grow, expand, increase. Hence the ‘swelling of the soul’ that leads to the meaning of the self-existent, impersonal Spirit, the Absolute, the Eternal, the universal essence from which all created things emanate or with which they are identified and to which they return; not generally an object of worship, but rather of meditation and knowledge.

Gotama: Buddha’s family name in the last of his earthly incarnations in the sixth century BC.

Nirvana: from the root ‘nirva’, to blow out, extinguish. Hence, when all desires and passions are extinguished the highest bliss or beatitude, reunion with the Supreme Spirit, may be experienced.

Sansara: a Sanskrit term meaning ‘circuit of mundane existence’, metempsychosis, worldly illusion. What befalls Siddhartha when he leaves the Samanas aptly describes, in context, what Hesse intends to convey.

Siddhartha: in Sanskrit a compound of ‘siddha’, acquired, accomplished, fulfilled, gained and of ‘artha’, aim, use, purpose, wealth, opulence; hence literally ‘the wealth accrued to one who has fulfilled his aim’. The greatest wealth being self-realization.

Siddhartha had one single goal - to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow — to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought — that was his goal. When all the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desires were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self — the great secret!

‘Do not be angry with me, O Illustrious One,’ said the young man. ‘I have not spoken to you thus to quarrel with you about words. You are right when you say that opinions mean little, but may I say one thing more? I did not doubt you for one moment. Not for one moment did I doubt that you were the Buddha, that you have reached the highest goal which so many thousands of Brahmins and Brahmin’s sons are striving to reach. You have done so by your own seeking in your own way, through thought, through meditation, through knowledge, through enlightenment. You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, 0 Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings. To nobody, 0 Illustrious One, can you communicate in words and teachings, what happened to you in the hour of your enlightenment. The teachings of the enlightened Buddha embrace much, they teach much — how to live righteously, how to avoid evil. But there is one thing that this clear, worthy instruction does not contain; it does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced — he alone among hundreds of thousands.

What he had said to the Buddha — that the Buddha’s wisdom and secret was not teachable, that it was inexpressible and incommunicable — and which he had once experienced in an hour of enlightenment, was just what he had now set off to experience, what he was now beginning to experience. He must gain experience himself. He had known for a long time that his Self was Atman, of the same eternal nature as Brahman, but he had never really found his Self, because he had wanted to trap it in the net of thoughts. The body was certainly not the Self, nor the play of senses, nor thought, nor understanding, nor acquired wisdom or art with which to draw conclusions and from already existing thoughts to spin new thoughts. No, this world of thought was still on this side, and it led to no goal when one destroyed the senses of the incidental Self but fed it with thoughts and erudition. Both thought and the senses were fine things, behind both of them lay hidden the last meaning; it was worth while listening to them both, to play with both, neither to despise nor overrate either of them, but to listen intently to both voices.

Daily, however, at the hour she invited him, he visited the beautiful Kamala, in handsome clothes, in fine shoes, and soon he also brought her presents. He learned many things from her wise red lips. Her smooth gentle hand taught him many things. He, who was still a boy as regards love and was inclined to plunge to the depths of it blindly and insatiably, was taught by her that one cannot have pleasure without giving it, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every single part of the body has its secret which can give pleasure to one who can understand.

She taught him that lovers should not separate from each other after making love without admiring each other, without being conquered as well as conquering, so that no feeling of satiation or desolation arises nor the horrid feeling of misusing or having been misused.

.... Siddhartha was little concerned about it. If he made a profit, he accepted it calmly; if he suffered a loss, he laughed and said, ‘Oh, well, this transaction has gone badly.’

He did, in fact, seem indifferent about business. Once he travelled to a village in order to buy a large rice harvest. When he arrived there, the rice was already sold to another merchant. However, Siddhartha remained in that village several days, entertained the farmers, gave money to the children, attended a wedding and returned from the journey completely satisfied. Kamaswami reproached him for not returning immediately, for wasting time and money. Siddhartha replied: ‘Do not scold, my dear friend. Nothing was ever achieved by scolding. If a loss has been sustained, I will bear the loss. I am very satisfied with this journey. I have become acquainted with many people, I have become friendly with a Brahmin, children have sat on my knee, farmers have showed me their fields. Nobody took me for a merchant.’

‘That is all very fine,’ admitted Kamaswami reluctantly, ‘but you are in fact a merchant. Or were you only travelling for your pleasure?’

‘Certainly I travelled for my pleasure,’ laughed Siddhartha. ‘Why not? I have become acquainted with people and new districts. I have enjoyed friendship and confidence. Now, if I had been Kamaswami, I should have departed immediately feeling very annoyed when I saw I was unable to make a purchase, and time and money would indeed have been lost. But I spent a number of good days, learned much, had much pleasure and did not hurt either myself or others through annoyance or hastiness. If I ever go there again, perhaps to buy a later harvest, or for some other purpose, friendly people will receive me and I will be glad that I did not previously display hastiness and displeasure.

Once he said to her: ‘You are like me; you are different from other people. You are Kamala and no one else, and within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself, just as I can. Few people have that capacity and yet everyone could have it.’

Slowly the soul sickness of the rich crept over him.

Like a veil, like a thin mist, a weariness settled on Siddhartha, slowly, every day a little thicker, every month a little darker, every year a little heavier. As a new dress grows old with time, loses its bright colour, becomes stained and creased, the hems frayed, and here and there weak and threadbare places, so had Siddhartha’s new life which he had begun after his parting from Govinda, become old. In the same way it lost its colour and sheen with the passing of the years: creases and stains accumulated and, hidden in the depths, here and there already appearing, waited disillusionment and nausea. Siddhartha did not notice it. He only noticed that the bright and clear inward voice, that had once awakened in him and had always guided him in his finest hours, had become silent.

The world had caught him; pleasure, covetousness, idleness, and finally also the vice that he had always despised and scorned as the most foolish — acquisitiveness. Property, possessions and riches had also finally trapped him. They were no longer a game and a toy; they had become a chain and a burden. Siddhartha wandered along a strange, twisted path of this last and most base declivity ...

It is a good thing to experience everything oneself, he thought. As a child I learned that pleasures of the world and riches were not good. I have known it for a long time, but I have only just experienced it. Now I know it not only with my intellect, but with my eyes, with my heart, with my stomach. It is a good thing that I know this.

He thought long of the change in him, listened to the bird singing happily. If this bird within him had died, would he have perished? No, something else in him had died, something that he had long desired should perish. Was it not what he had once wished to destroy during his ardent years of asceticism? Was it not his Self, his small, fearful and proud Self, with which he had wrestled for so many years, but which had always conquered him again, which appeared each time again and again, which robbed him of happiness and filled him with fear? Was it not this which had finally died today in the wood by this delightful river? Was it not because of its death that he was now like a child, so full of trust and happiness, without fear?

Siddhartha now also realized why he had struggled in vain with this Self when he was a Brahmin and an ascetic. Too much knowledge had hindered him; too many holy verses, too many sacrificial rites, too much mortification of the flesh, too much doing and striving. He had been full of arrogance; he had always been the cleverest, the most eager — always a step ahead of the others, always the learned and intellectual one, always the priest or the sage. His Self had crawled into his priesthood, into his arrogance, into his intellectuality. It sat there tightly and grew, while he thought he was destroying it by fasting and penitence. Now he understood it and realized that the inward voice had been right, that no teacher could have brought him salvation. That was why he had to go into the world, to lose himself in power, women and money; that was why he had to be a merchant, a dice player, a drinker and a man of property, until the priest and Samana in him were dead. That was why he had to undergo those horrible years, suffer nausea, learn the lesson of the madness of an empty, futile life till the end, till he reached bitter despair, so that Siddhartha the pleasuremonger and Siddhartha the man of property could die. He had died and a new Siddhartha had awakened from his sleep. He also would grow old and die. Siddhartha was transitory, all forms were transitory, but today he was young, he was a child — the new Siddhartha — and he was very happy.

These thoughts passed through his mind. Smiling, he listened to his stomach, listened thankfully to a humming bee. Happily he looked into the flowing river. Never had a river attracted him as much as this one. Never had he found the voice and appearance of flowing water so beautiful. It seemed to him as if the river had something special to tell him, something which he did not know, something which still awaited him. Siddhartha had wanted to drown himself in this river; the old, tired, despairing Siddhartha was today drowned in it. The new Siddhartha felt a deep love for this flowing water and decided that he would not leave it again so quickly.

He lived happily with Vasudeva and occasionally they exchanged words, few and long-considered words. Vasudeva was no friend of words. Siddhartha was rarely successful in moving him to speak.

He once asked him, ‘Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?’

A bright smile spread over Vasudeva’s face.

‘Yes, Siddhartha,’ he said: ‘Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future?’

‘That is it,’ said Siddhartha, ‘and when I learned that, I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man were only separated by shadows, not through reality. Siddhartha’s previous lives were also not in the past, and his death and his return to Brahma are not in the future. Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.’

Siddhartha spoke with delight. This discovery had made him very happy. Was then not all sorrow in time, all self-torment and fear in time? Were not all difficulties and evil in the world conquered as soon as one conquered time, as soon as one dispelled time?

He now regarded people in a different light from previously: not very clever, not very proud and therefore all the more warm, curious and sympathetic.

When he now took the usual kind of travellers across, businessmen, soldiers and women, they no longer seemed alien to him as they once did. He did not understand or share their thoughts and views, but he shared with them life’s urges and desires. Although he had reached a high stage of self-discipline and bore his last wound well, he now felt as if these ordinary people were his brothers. Their vanities, desires and trivialities no longer seemed absurd to him; they had become understandable, lovable and even worthy of respect. There was the blind love of a mother for her child, the blind foolish pride of a fond father for his only son, the blind eager strivings of a young vain woman for ornament and the admiration of men. All these little simple, foolish, but tremendously strong, vital, passionate urges and desires no longer seemed trivial to Siddhartha. For their sake he saw people live and do great things, travel, conduct wars, suffer and endure immensely, and he loved them for it. He saw life, vitality, the indestructible and Brahman in all their desires and needs. These people were worthy of love and admiration in their blind loyalty, in their blind strength and tenacity. With the exception of one small thing, one tiny little thing, they lacked nothing that the sage and thinker had, and that was the consciousness of the unity of all life. And many a time Siddhartha even doubted whether this knowledge, this thought, was of such great value, whether it was not also perhaps the childish self-flattery of thinkers, who were perhaps only thinking children. The men of the world were equal to the thinkers in every other respect and were often superior to them, just as animals in their tenacious undeviating actions in cases of necessity may often seem superior to human beings.

Within Siddhartha there slowly grew and ripened the knowledge of what wisdom really was and the goal of his long seeking. It was nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life.

As he went on speaking and Vasudeva listened to him with a serene face, Siddhartha was more keenly aware than ever of Vasudeva’s attentiveness. He felt his troubles, his anxieties and his secret hopes flow across to him and then return again. Disclosing his wound to his listener was the same as bathing it in the river, until it became cool and one with the river.

‘When someone is seeking,’ said Siddhartha, ‘it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. ...’

Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish.

‘Siddhartha,’ he said, ‘we are now old men. We may never see each other again in this life. I can see, my dear friend, that you have found peace. I realize that I have not found it. Tell me one more word, my esteemed friend, tell me something that I can conceive, something I can understand! Give me something to help me on my way, Siddhartha. My path is often hard and dark.’

Siddhartha was silent and looked at him with his calm, peaceful smile. Govinda looked steadily in his face, with anxiety, with longing. Suffering, continual seeking and continual failure were written in his look.

Siddhartha saw it and smiled.

‘Bend near to me!’ he whispered in Govinda’s ear. ‘Come, still nearer, quite close! Kiss me on the forehead, Govinda.’

Although surprised, Govinda was compelled by a great love and presentiment to obey him; he leaned close to him and touched his forehead with his lips. As he did this, something wonderful happened to him. While he was still dwelling on Siddhartha’s strange words, while he strove in vain to dispel the conception of time, to imagine Nirvana and Sansara as one, while even a certain contempt for his friend’s words conflicted with a tremendous love and esteem for him, this happened to him.

He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces — hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared and yet all seemed to be there at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Sid dhartha. He saw the face of a fish, of a carp, with tremendous, painfully opened mouth, a dying fish with dimmed eyes. He saw the face of a newly born child, red and full of wrinkles, ready to cry. He saw the face of a murderer, saw him plunge a knife into the body of a man; at the same moment he saw this criminal kneeling down, bound, and his head cut off by an executioner. He saw the naked bodies of men and women in the postures and transports of passionate love. He saw corpses stretched out, still, cold, empty. He saw the heads of animals, boars, crocodiles, elephants, oxen, birds. He saw Krishna and Agni. He saw all these forms and faces in a thousand relationships to each other, all helping each other, loving, hating and destroying each other and become newly born. Each one was mortal, a passionate, painful example of all that is transitory. Yet none of them died, they only changed, were always reborn, continually had a new face: only time stood between one face and another. And all these forms and faces rested, flowed, reproduced, swam past and merged into each other, and over them all there was continually something thin, unreal and yet existing, stretched across like thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, shell, form or mask of water — and this mask was Siddhartha’s smiling face which Govinda touched with his lips at that moment. And Govinda saw that this mask-like smile, this smile of unity over the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness over the thousands of births and deaths — this smile of Siddhartha — was exactly the same as the calm, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps gracious, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had perceived it with awe a hundred times. It was in such a manner, Govinda knew, that the Perfect One smiled.

No longer knowing whether time existed, whether this uncovering had lasted a second or a hundred years, whether there was a Siddhartha, or a Gotama, a Self and others, wounded deeply by a divine arrow which gave him pleasure, deeply enchanted and exalted, Govinda stood yet a while bending over Siddhartha’s peaceful face which he had just kissed, which had just been the stage of all present and future forms. His countenance was unchanged after the mirror of the thousand-fold forms had disappeared from the surface. He smiled peacefully and gently, perhaps very mockingly, exactly as the Illustrious One had smiled.

Govinda bowed low. Uncontrollable tears trickled down his old face. He was overwhelmed by a feeling of great love, of the most humble veneration. He bowed low, right down to the ground, in front of the man sitting there motionless, whose smile reminded him of everything that he had ever loved in his life, of every thing that had ever been of value and holy in his life.

Thraxas and the Elvish Isles

Martin Scott, 2000

Droo, obviously an Elf who has no problems in talking to strangers, tells me that she comes to the three oaks most nights to meet other poets.

‘And drink beer.’

‘I thought Elvish poets would drink wine.’

‘Only the older ones,’ Droo informs me. ‘And I daresay it was fine for composing epics. But poetry moves on, you know.' [p.147]

The Knowledge Web

M. Eisenstadt and T. Vincent (eds.), 2000

... the wealth of software powerhouses such as Netscape, Macromedia and Microsoft reside in what their teams of wizards know. If those wizards quit their current jobs and started working for you tomorrow, you’d be a lot less concerned if they left their computers behind than if they suddenly suffered from amnesia. Yes, the reams of already-written code would have to be reconstructed or re-derived (and in ways that didn’t violate existing copyright), but that’s just what knowledgeable people are good at.

Now, in an educational context, consider the school child who can re-derive the formula for determining (say) how fast a particular car needs to be going before it flips over when negotiating a tricky bend. Compare that child with the one who has memorized all the formulae, but can’t re-derive them. What’s the difference? It’s in the knowledge of processes, that rich web of inter-linked operations that enables creative ‘workarounds’ in the event of a problem-solving impasse. Who’ll get higher scores on exams? In reality, it’s hard to say — very often, the memorizer will perform better, because many exams favour a certain kind of regurgitation (and we mustn’t underestimate what the memorizer knows, because surely such a person picks up a lot more than just the facts). But in the long run, the re-denver will prevail, because of a richness of understanding. That’s knowledge. As Alan Kay, widely acknowledged as the father of personal computing, said in 1972, ‘let’s not measure number of exams passed per year; let’s measure number of Sistine Chapel ceilings created per lifetime’ (Kay, 1972).

Reusable Components for Knowledge Modelling

E. Motta, 1999

... a paradigm shift from an implementation-oriented to a knowledge-oriented view of knowledge acquisition. Multiple levels of descriptions are introduced and as a result the choice of implementation-level formalisms becomes less important. The knowledge categories are characterized at a conceptual, rather than computational level. The goal is no longer to emulate an expert by means of some kind of ‘expertise mapping’, but to acquire the domain knowledge required to configure a generic problem solving model. Thus, the context and the aims of the knowledge acquisition process are less amenable to the cognitively-motivated criticisms aimed at the mining approach. Researchers subscribing to the modelling approach no longer make claims of building rule-based cognitive models of experts and acquiring expertise by ‘direct transfer’. The cognitive paradigm underlying the modelling approach can be characterized as a pragmatic one, which is based on a functional view of knowledge. Knowledge is what an observer attributes to an agent to explain its problem solving behaviour. It is neither a data structure in a system nor ‘stuff’ in the expert’s mind, it is what enables a knowledge-based system to handle complexity - i.e. the medium at the knowledge level (Newell, 1982). The advantage of this approach is that it makes it possible to characterize knowledge modelling as a distinct technology, which focuses on knowledge-based behaviour per se, independently of cognitive or machine-centred biases.

Such ‘exploratory nature’ of Al programming is the main reason for the curious phenomenon that happens when an A! problem is given a solution. At that point it is common to hear sceptics pointing out that the problem in question was not an Al problem in the first place, or that the particular solution is not an instance of A!. Maybe there is a simple, generic explanation for this phenomenon. Al is about navigating large search spaces and understanding their structure. Once a search space has been explored and we know how to reach solutions, then it is natural to stop perceiving the problem as A!. The debate surrounding Deep Blue provides a typical instance of the phenomenon. For years one of the main goals of Al was to produce a chess program capable of beating the world champion. Now that the goal has been reached (to a limited extent), then the goal itself ceases to be Al. In a (rather perverse) sense this is true. Once Deep Blue is able to manage the complexity of the search space involved in chess games, then the problem loses its connotation of “decision-making under uncertain conditions”, which is the defining feature of A!.

Climates of Love

André Maurois, 1928

‘I don’t see the great importance of fidelity,’ he said, ... ‘what matters is to live in the present, to extract from every moment the most intense emotion it can yield. This can be obtained only in three ways, by power, danger or desire. Why keep up the fiction of a desire that no longer exists by being faithful to it?’

I began to perceive a truth that was quite new to me about the relations that should exist between men and women. I saw women as unstable beings always in search of someone to guide them, to direct their minds and their errant desires. Perhaps a woman’s need creates an obligation on the man’s part to be the infallible compass, always pointing in the right direction. A great love is not sufficient to hold a woman unless the lover knows how to fill her life with renewed interests.... Women attach themselves naturally to men whose lives are full of activity, who give them an object to live for and make demands on them.

I have spent my life wishing for a romantic love, a successful romance. I have got it and don’t want it. I love Isabelle and when I am with her I feel a tender but invincible boredom... This boredom is no reflection on Isabelle... it simply means that the one who is in love is perfectly satisfied to be in the presence of the beloved and therefore has no need or reason to try to fill or enrich the life of either.

‘... We tie ourselves up, nearly always without knowing what we are doing. Then we want to be honest; we don’t want to hurt those we love and for confused reasons we deny ourselves definite pleasures, and regret it afterwards. I said that there is a cowardly kindness in this and as we are usually resentful towards those for whom we have renounced pleasures, it is better for them and for us that we should follow our impulses and face the consequences.’
[p.171] object in life has been to find absolute happiness through women and there is no more hopeless quest. Perfect love does not exist, any more than a perfect government. Above all one must avoid deceiving oneself. Our feelings are too often misleading.

‘... A woman really in love has no personality; she says she has and wants to believe it, but it is not true. No, she tries to understand what sort of woman her lover hopes to find in her — and become that woman... You need fidelity and tenderness, but you also need coquetry and uncertainty... The great victory I have won over myself is that I accept the other one with resignation, even with satisfaction. What I have learnt during the past year is very valuable. I have discovered that if one really loves, one must not attach too much importance to the actions of the beloved. We need him; only he can enable us to live in a certain “atmosphere” which we cannot do without. Hélène quite rightly calls it “climate”. So long as we can keep and preserve him, good heavans, what does anything else matter? Life is so short, so difficult ... should I have the right, my poor Philippe, to deprive you if I could of a few hours’ happiness that you can get from these women?...’
[p. 206]

Last Lovers

William Wharton, 1991

It is so difficult for him, not knowing how to respond to his wife’s lovely letter. I know he loves me, but he loves her, too. Love is not exclusive, it is inclusive.

You see, Jacques, I have become convinced that sex, passion shared, without guilt, is a very high form of innocence. I believe it is only because people have invested this entire wonderful experience with rites of obligation, of possession, of responsibility, that it has become almost the symbol for lack of innocence.

I've no time for these hooligans who go around being killed

Mark Steel, The Independent, 26th July 2001 (following the killing of a protester and beating of sleeping people at the Genoa Forum HQ, at G8, Genoa).


The trouble is that every witness agrees that every person in the building was severely beaten. One BBC reporter said that when he arrived he could see pools of blood at regular intervals throughout the building, suggesting each person had been attacked while sleeping. Several witnesses told of the police returning to "hose away the blood."

The British pair Nicola Docherty and Richard Moth, who fled the demonstration when the police charged, were among those beaten, and their whereabouts were not released, not even to the British consulate. After three days it was revealed that Nicola had a broken wrist and Richard had stitches in his head, though they were still denied contact with anyone, including their distraught parents. Many of those beaten are still unaccounted for, prompting the Italian press to dub the incident "the Chilean night".

So, did the police "over-react"? Is it possible to over-react to a room full of people who are asleep? Perhaps they were sleeping in a manner liable to cause a breach of the peace. Maybe Milosevic should try this – "You might think there's nothing wrong with Kosovars, but you haven't seen them when they're asleep? Alright, so maybe I over-reacted but all that tossing and turning, I tell you, anyone would have done the same."

There was a section of the demonstration that set out for a bundle, the notorious Black Block, and the police claim that at every incident in which they've been accused of violence, the Black Block were present – though one piece of news footage showed a line of gay rights campaigners in pink furry costumes, dancing a chorus line while waving brightly coloured balloons. Then, like lions arriving amongst a herd of jolly wildebeestes, the Black Block began to prowl nearby. Within moments the police attacked the whole crowd and the viewer could see gay rights protesters being belted with truncheons as orange balloons floated above a cloud of tear gas. I know that in the heat of battle things can get confused, but there must be something in police training to assist officers in distinguishing between rock-throwing anarchists and a line of blokes dressed as teddy bears performing the theme from Oklahoma!.

None of this is condemned by Tony Blair, neither the batons nor stitches nor pools of blood nor illegal detentions or shooting – for he only condemns the violence.

Samson the terrorist

Paul Foot, The Guardian, Tuesday September 18, 2001

The most powerful case for individual terrorism comes from the Old Testament. It is the story of Samson, the mighty warrior who was betrayed by his lover, and then blinded and imprisoned by his enemies, the Philistines.

Moshe Machover, an Israeli dissident, sends me the relevant passage from the Book of Judges, Chapter 16, reminding me that the story is widely taught to Israeli children "as an act of heroism on Samson's part". Moshe prefers to read it as a "useful antidote against Islamophobia and Judaeo-Christian arrogance".

Certainly the Philistines in the story, as they taunt and mock the tortured warrior, come across as almost exact replicas of the Murdochs, the Conrad Blacks, the BBC foreign news chiefs and everyone else who refuses to understand the difference in the Middle East between the violence of conquerors, exploiters and oppressors on the one hand and the violence of the conquered, exploited and oppressed on the other.

On the night of their triumph over Samson, the Philistine leaders celebrated and got drunk.

"And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said: 'Call for Samson, that he may make us sport.' And they called for Samson out of the prison house, and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand: 'Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.'

"Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto the Lord and said: 'O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.'

"And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, of the one with his right hand and of the other with his left. And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life."

I agree with Moshe that this story is a moving reminder to tyrants that their power and arrogance can never be taken for granted, but I think it would be a pity if all those Israeli schoolchildren, or anyone else for that matter, took it as an argument for individual terrorism.

As a guide to that question, I much prefer the advice of Leon Trotsky who became a socialist largely out of hostile reaction to the individual terrorism and assassinations practised by so many rebels against Russian tsarism in his youth.

All his life, Trotsky argued against individual terrorism. He sympathised with the motives of the terrorists, and demanded their release from captivity. But he eloquently resisted what he called the "seductive symmetry" of the argument that if terror is feasible for rulers, it is appropriate for those who challenge their rulers.

Terror, he argued, is essential to arbitrary power, but not to the opponents of arbitrary power, for three main reasons. First, it leads almost inevitably to the deaths or injuries of innocent people, many of them victims of exploitation and arbitrary power.

Second, terrorist acts are followed inevitably by more violence and more oppression from the authorities.

Third, most crucially, acts of terror divert the attention of the masses away from collective action. They spread the illusion that single acts of violence, especially if they are dramatic or courageous, can replace the collective action of the masses.

"The more the attention of the masses is focused on terrorist acts, the more those acts reduce the interests of the masses in self-organisation and self-education. But the smoke from the explosion clears away, the panic disappears, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only police repression grows more savage and brazen. And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusion and apathy."

The conclusion was plain. "In our eyes, individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness and turns their eyes and hopes toward a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish their mission."

Trotsky wrote that nearly 100 years ago, long after the Old Testament. And he was even closer to the truth than Samson was.

The need for dissent

George Monbiot, The Guardian, Tuesday September 18, 2001

If Osama bin Laden did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. For the past four years, his name has been invoked whenever a US president has sought to increase the defence budget or wriggle out of arms control treaties. He has been used to justify even President Bush's missile defence programme, though neither he nor his associates are known to possess anything approaching ballistic missile technology. Now he has become the personification of evil required to launch a crusade for good: the face behind the faceless terror.

The closer you look, the weaker the case against Bin Laden becomes. While the terrorists who inflicted Tuesday's dreadful wound may have been inspired by him, there is, as yet, no evidence that they were instructed by him. Bin Laden's presumed guilt appears to rest on the supposition that he is the sort of man who would have done it. But his culpability is irrelevant: his usefulness to western governments lies in his power to terrify. When billions of pounds of military spending are at stake, rogue states and terrorist warlords become assets precisely because they are liabilities.

By using Bin Laden as an excuse for demanding new military spending, weapons manufacturers in America and Britain have enhanced his iconic status among the disgruntled. His influence, in other words, has been nurtured by the very industry which claims to possess the means of stamping him out. This is not the only way in which the new terrorism crisis has been exacerbated by corporate power. The lax airport security which enabled the hijackers to smuggle weapons on to the planes was, for example, the result of corporate lobbying against the stricter controls the government had proposed.

Now Tuesday's horror is being used by corporations to establish the preconditions for an even deadlier brand of terror. This week, while the world's collective back is turned, Tony Blair intends to allow the mixed oxide plant at Sellafield to start operating. The decision would have been front-page news at any other time. Now it's likely to be all but invisible. The plant's operation, long demanded by the nuclear industry and resisted by almost everyone else, will lead to a massive proliferation of plutonium, and a high probability that some of it will find its way into the hands of terrorists. Like Ariel Sharon, in other words, Blair is using the reeling world's shock to pursue policies which would be unacceptable at any other time.

On Green Dolphin Street

Sebastian Faulks, 2001

‘Oh yes?’ Charlie poured bourbon over ice and heard it snap. ‘I thought they were buying Joe Alsop’s.’ He felt the scotch beginning to take hold, or rather to relax his grip, as he approached the state of uncritical bonhomie he most enjoyed. He smiled to himself. It was of course an irony that only in these moments of inebriation, these instants of perfect balance, did he have the philosophical poise to see his difficulties in their true perspective and to know that he could one day banish them. For the moment he was alive, and he glowed with the pleasure of these people’s company. At bad times he suspected that the fire was not renewable, that, for their delectation, he was burning away the core of himself, he feared that few of them shared his embrace of the minute, or were even momentarily diverted by his defiance of pettiness and tedium and time passing. He had never reached the lowest point of all, at which he might have wondered whether there was something morbid in his being so solitary in his flight from an unnamed terror.

Feeling as good as he did, generosity surging in his veins, tobacco unfurling in his lungs, he had no choice but to push onwards.

Most journalists, in Frank’s experience, were frightened of being caught out, exposed as naive or ignorant. They were afraid of being telephoned by an editor the following day and asked why their story did not match that of their competitors. They therefore accepted with earnest nods and without question what they were told; they wanted to get the labyrinthine story and all its bizarre details into one of the simply labelled boxes that their editors would understand. There were numerous familiar categories on offer: Jim Crow lives; southern test case; miscarriage of justice; the world watches. Bryant and Milam were ‘World War Two vets’, Bryant a ‘much-decorated’ one, while his wife was a ‘former beauty queen’; the difficulty was only in knowing which angle was the most comfortable. Beneath the hard male banter, each reporter was frightened of being found out; most of them therefore compared notes and stories, particularly where two papers came from the same city. The most obvious rivals were therefore, for reasons of common self-interest, the most ardent collaborators. The aim of each of them, in the end, was to report on events in such a way as to render them comprehensible, to remove the strangeness by using recognized and reassuring phrases. In New York Frank had frequently discussed this tendency with Billy Foy, who, in the course of a long evening in Herlihy’s Saloon, had once defined the ultimate aim of such reporters: to write about extraordinary new events in such a way as to render them already familiar. Frank could remember the emphatic movement of the hands with which Foy had gleefully italicized the last two words.
[pp. 115-116]

It was not possible by art or politics to transcend the self—renewing strictures of the daily world: of that Charlie felt sure. He noticed — bore witness to the fact — that people could nevertheless perform with antic gaiety within those confines, could plan and act and laugh as though nothing were wrong, as though the design were not irremediably flawed. The more he lived, the more certain he became that the key to being able to act in such a way (for what that way was worth) lay not in analysis of the problem, not in intellectual effort, not even in experience or good fortune, but merely in the chemical inheritance that people called temperament. He saw it a little in Katy Renshaw and sometimes in Benton, his stern secretary; it was in women more often, it seemed, than in men (though in himself it could be chemically induced); but mostly he saw it in his wife.
[pp. 135-136]

‘So what happens now?’ said Frank.

Mary puffed at her cigarette and ground out the stub in the ashtray. The thing about being forty, she thought, was that while you had the feelings of a twenty-five year old, at least you had some dignity.

‘I don’t know, Frank.’

Dignity? She had no dignity at all. She thought of what she had done and it was not dignified. So maybe she had... Self-control. Not even that: as soon as she had heard his voice on the telephone, she had leapt on the train to New York; as soon as he was unconscious she had more or less assaulted him. Self-control in public places. Yes, she would allow herself that: she was not going to cry or faint, like poor Franny in the story, but it didn’t seem much of an achievement for twenty years of adulthood, childbirth, raising children and all the wisdom and serenity that that was meant to bring.
[pp. 145-146]

From what he could gather from novelists’ own diaries and letters, the urge that was common to them all was a need to improve on the thin texture of life as they saw it; by ordering themes and events into an artistically pleasing whole, they hoped to give to existence a pattern, a richness and a value that in actuality it lacked. If after reading such a novel you looked again at life — its unplotted emergencies, narrative non sequiturs and pitiful lack of significance — in the light of literature, it might seem to glow with a little of that borrowed lustre; it might seem after all to be charged with some transcendent value.
[p. 195]

He smiled as he felt her watching him. ‘Gotta look good for the office.’ He reached for his jacket. ‘Can’t you stay till tomorrow? I should be back by six.’

She shook her head. ‘I can’t leave Charlie on his own.’ The mention of his name deflated her. She loved him as much as ever, more perhaps since she had betrayed him; but he raised the morbid question of time.

Frank’s face looked suddenly exhausted, shot with the fatigue of his life’s exertion. He paused in his dressing.

‘What do you want from me, Mary?’

‘I want you to prove to me ...' she spoke slowly, taking his question literally, ‘that time doesn’t matter.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘If you say that only what lasts is worthwhile, then nothing is valuable, because everything passes. Isn’t it enough that something should have existed, just once? Don’t you think it continues to exist in some world where the pettiness of time is not so important?’

‘I don’t think I understand.’

‘I love you so much that I can’t believe that what we feel began only when I met you and will end when I stop seeing you.’

Frank nodded. ‘That I understand.’

‘Therefore the idea of a starting point or an end is in some way mistaken. Therefore, therefore... There is a world outside time, which ...‘ She trailed away.

‘Where we can be together but you can still have your other life?’

‘Something like that, but not just a convenient solution. An explanation, a way of properly ordering value. An eternity that is more than just time without ending. A place where time runs in a different way.’
[p. 216]

Charlie managed to light a cigarette. His voice was thin, devoid of expression. ‘I don’t want to live any more. I could stay alive for you or the children. I could do it. But I want you to set me free.’

Mary was too shocked to say more than, ‘But we need you. There’s so much for you still to do.’ Fearing that this sounded onerous, she added, ‘So much joy. So much pleasure for you.’

Charlie lowered his head into his arms. ‘I know it all. I’ve seen too much.’ He was mumbling into his hands; then he raised his tear-stained face. ‘And now my brain’s attacking me. The night before I left London, I woke up and I was hallucinating. I was in an unreal world ... Of fear and panic. I can’t come back. I can’t come back into your world.’

Mary could not for the moment find the words to argue against the weakly voiced power of his despair.

‘You forget the things I’ve seen,’ he was saying. ‘Those men in the river in Italy... All those corpses... The end, the only end of it all ... Whether it’s now or later, like your mother... The awful insignificance... You have to pit a fantasy against it. A self-deceit. And I have no more energy to invent it. You do it.’ He stood up, apparently gaining strength. ‘You make the fantasy, you create the belief that there is something you can make last or live or seem worthwhile. You’re good at it. I’ve tried. Believe me, Mary, I have tried.’ He slumped down again at the table.

Mary breathed in deeply. A tremor of self-consciousness came to her: this is my life, it seemed to be reminding her; this is the man I chose to spend it with, in what he regards, rightly perhaps, as a delusion, a convenient pretence that there can be value without permanence.

But he is my life, she thought, and I have no other, and I must save him if for no better reason than that I must save myself.
[p. 291]

Look to Windward

Iain M. Banks, 2000

`The point is: what happens in heaven?’

‘Unknowable wonderfulness?’

‘Nonsense. The answer is nothing. Nothing can happen because if something happens, in fact if something can happen, then it doesn’t represent eternity. Our lives are about development, mutation and the possibility of change; that is almost a definition of what life is: change.’

‘Have you always thought that?’

‘If you disable change, if you effectively stop time, if you prevent the possibility of the alteration of an individual’s circumstances — and that must include at least the possibility that they alter for the worse — then you don’t have life after death; you just have death.’
[pp. 229-230]

The Player of Games

Iain M. Banks, 1988

‘It is unusual for us to discover an imperial power-system in space. As a rule, such archaic forms of authority wither long before the relevant species drags itself off the home planet, let alone cracks the lightspeed problem, which of course one has to do, to rule effectively over any worthwhile volume.
‘Empires are synonymous with centralised — if occasionally schismatised - hierarchical power structures in which influence is restricted to an economically privileged class retaining its advantages through — usually — a judicious use of oppression and skilled manipulation of both the society’s information dissemination systems and its lesser — as a rule nominally independent - power systems. In short, it’s all about dominance. ...'

Still with me?

Little textual note for you here (bear with me).

Those of you unfortunate enough not to be reading or hearing this in Marain may well be using a language without the requisite number or type of personal pronouns, so I’d better explain that bit of the translation.

Marain, the Culture’s quintessentially wonderful language (so the Culture will tell you), has, as any schoolkid knows, one personal pronoun to cover females, males, in-betweens, neuters, children, drones, Minds, other sentient machines, and every life-form capable of scraping together anything remotely resembling a nervous system and the rudiments of language (or a good excuse for not having either). Naturally, there are ways of specifying a person’s sex in Marain, but they’re not used in everyday conversation; in the archetypal language-as-moral-weapon-and-proud-of-it, the message is that it’s brains that matter, kids; gonads are hardly worth making a distinction over.
[p. 99]

‘The thing to remember, Gurgeh,’ the ship interrupted quickly, `is that their society is based on ownership. Everything that you see and touch, everything you come into contact with, will belong to somebody or to an institution; it will be theirs, they will own it. In the same way, everyone you meet will be conscious of both their position in society and their relationship to others around them.

‘It is especially important to remember that the ownership of humans is possible too; not in terms of actual slavery, which they are proud to have abolished, but in the sense that, according to which sex and class one belongs to, one may be partially owned by another or others by having to sell one’s labour or talents to somebody with the means to buy them. In the case of males, they give themselves most totally when they become soldiers; the personnel in their armed forces are like slaves, with little personal freedom, and under threat of death if they disobey. Females sell their bodies, usually, entering into the legal contract of “marriage” to Intermediates, who then pay them for their sexual favours by—’
[p. 114]

Gurgeh cleared his throat. ‘No, life is not fair. Not intrinsically.’

The apex turned away in exasperation, clutching again at the curled stone top of the battlements. ‘It’s something we can try to make it, though,’ Gurgeh continued. ‘A goal we can aim for. You can choose to do so, or not. We have. I’m sorry you find us so repulsive for that.’

“Repulsive” is barely adequate for what I feel for your precious Culture, Gurgeh.
The strong survive. That’s what life teaches us, Gurgeh, that’s what the game shows us. Struggle to prevail; fight to prove worth. These are no hollow phrases; they are truth!’

[Gurgeh] What, anyway, was he to say? That intelligence could surpass and excel the blind force of evolution, with its emphasis on mutation, struggle and death? That conscious cooperation was more efficient than feral competition?
[p. 282]

Use of Weapons

Iain M. Banks, 1990

Anyway, he knew in his heart that there was a relief in not being listened to, sometimes. Power meant responsibility. Advice unacted upon almost always might have been right ...
[p. 48]

‘Well, whatever; you’re going to have to stay like this for a while.’ Sma smoothed hair from his forehead. ‘It’ll take about two hundred days or so to grow a new body. They want me to ask you; do you want to sleep through the whole thing, or do you want to stay awake as normal ... or anything in between? It’s up to you. Makes no difference to the process.’
‘I’ll stay awake,’ he told her.

Sma smiled slowly. ‘I had a feeling you might.’

‘You sticking around?’

‘Could do,’ the woman said. ‘Would you like me to?’

‘I’d appreciate it.’

‘And I’d like to.’ She nodded thoughtfully. ‘Okay. I’ll watch you put on weight.’

‘Thanks. And thanks for not bringing that goddamn drone. I can imagine the jokes.’

‘...Yes,’ Sma said, hesitantly, so that he said:

‘Sma? What is it?’

‘Well ...’ The woman looked uncomfortable.

‘Tell me.’

‘Skaffen-Amtiskaw,’ she said, awkwardly. ‘It sent you a present.’ She fished a small package from her pocket, flourished it, embarrassed. ‘I ... I don’t know what it is, but...’

‘Well I can’t open it. Come on, Sma.’

Sma opened the package. She looked at the contents. Stod Perice leant over, and then turned quickly away, holding one hand at his mouth, coughing.

Sma pursed her lips. ‘I may ask for a new escort drone.’

He closed his eyes. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s a hat.’
[pp. 127-128]

The State of the Art

Iain M. Banks, 1991

‘Mo; is there a problem?’

‘That is not a good book, Mr Munro,’ he said, looking at it, not me. ‘It is evil; blasphemous.’ (Embarrassed silence from the others.)

‘Look, Mo, I’ll put the book away if it offends you,’ I told him (doing just that). ‘But I think we have to talk about this. All right; I haven’t read the book myself yet, but I was talking to Doctor Metcalf the other day, and he said he had, and the passages some people found objectionable were ... a couple of pages at most, and he couldn’t see what the fuss was about. I mean, this is a novel, Mo. It isn’t a ... religious tract; it means to be fiction.’

‘That isn’t the point, Mr Munro,’ Mo said. He was looking at my little red rucksack as though there was a nuclear bomb inside it. ‘Rushdie has insulted all Muslims. He has spat in the face of every one of us. It’s as if he has called all our mothers whores.’

‘Mo,’ I said, and couldn’t help grinning as I put the rucksack down on the floor, ‘it’s only a story.’

‘The form is not important. It is a work in which Allah is insulted,’ Mo said. ‘You can’t understand, Mr Munro. There is nothing you hold that sacred.’

‘Oh no? How about freedom of speech?’

‘But when the National Front wanted to use the Students’ Union, you were with us on the demonstration, weren’t you? What about their freedom of speech?’

‘They want to take it away from everybody else; come on, Mo. You’re not denying them freedom of speech, you’re protecting the freedoms of the people they’d persecute if they were allowed any power.’

‘But in the short term you are denying them the right to state their views in public, are you not?’

‘The way you’d deny somebody the freedom to put a gun to another person’s head and pull the trigger, yes.’

‘So, clearly your belief in freedom generally can over ride any particular freedom; these freedoms are not absolute. Nothing is sacred to you, Mr Munro. You base your beliefs on the products of human thought, so it could hardly be otherwise. You might believe in certain things, but you do not have faith. That comes with submission to the force of divine revelation.’

‘So because I don’t have what I think of as superstitions, because I believe we just happen to exist, and believe in ... science, evolution, whatever; I’m not as worthy as somebody who has faith in an ancient book and a cruel, desert God? I’m sorry, Mo, but for me, Christ and Muhammed were both just men; charismatic, gifted in various ways, but still just mortal human beings, and the scholars and monks and disciples and historians who wrote about them or recorded their thoughts and their lives were inspired all right, but not by God; by something from inside them, something every writer has ... in fact something every human has. Mo; definitions. Faith is belief without proof. I can’t accept that. Now, it doesn’t bother me that you can, so why does it bother you so much that I think the way I do, or Salman Rushdie thinks the way he does?’
[pp. 94-95]

‘Now, quite apart from the fact that, from the point of view of the Earther, socialism suffers the devastating liability of only exhibiting internal contradictions when you are trying to use it as an adjunct to your own stupidity (unlike capitalism, which again, from the point of view of the Earther, happily has them built in from the start), it is the case that because Free Enterprise got there first and set up the house rules, it will always stay at least one kick ahead of its rivals. Thus, while it takes Soviet Russia a vast amount of time and hard work to produce one inspired lunatic like Lysenko, the West can so arrange things that even the dullest farmer can see it makes more sense to burn his grain, melt his butter and wash way the remains of his pulped vegetables with his tanks of unused wine than it does to actually sell the stuff to be consumed.

‘And note that even if this mythical yokel did decide to sell the stuff, or even give it away. — the Earthers have an even more devastating trick they can perform; they show you that those foods aren’t even needed anyway! They wouldn’t feed the least productive, most unimportant untouchable from Pradesh, tribesperson from Darfur or peon from Rio Branco! The Earth has more than enough to feed all its inhabitants every day already! A truth so seemingly world-shattering one wonders that the oppressed of Earth don’t rise up in flames and anger yesterday! But they don’t, because they are so infected with the myth of self-interested advancement, or the poison of religious acceptance, they either only want to make their own way up the pile so they can shit upon everybody else, or actually feel grateful for the attention when their so-called betters shit on them!
[pp. 178-179]

The Business

Iain Banks, 1999

Dessous roared with laughter. ‘Telman! I can’t believe I’m having to tell you this, but life isn’t fair!’

‘No, the world isn’t fair, the universe isn’t fair. Physics, chemistry and mathematics, they aren’t fair. Or unfair, for that matter. Fairness is an idea, and only conscious creatures have ideas. That’s us. We have ideas about right and wrong. We invent the idea of justice so that we can judge whether something is good or bad. We develop morality. We create rules to live by and call them laws, all to make life more fair. Of course, it depends exactly who draws up the laws who those laws are most fair to, but—’

‘Selfishness is what drives people on, Telman. Not fairness.’

‘And you accuse me of being pessimistic, Jeb?’ I said it with a smile.

‘I’m being realistic.’

‘I think,’ I said, ‘that a lot of successful people are actually less hard-hearted than they like to think. They know in their hearts that people suffer terribly in poor societies through no fault of their own. The successful people don’t want to admit that to themselves, they don’t want to accept that really they’re just the same as those poor people and they certainly don’t want to face the horror of even suspecting that if they had been born into those societies they might have been stuck there and suffered and died, young and unknown after a miserable life, any more than they want to face the alternative of knowing that they could only have got out by being more competitively brutal than everybody else around them. So, to save their consciences, they decide that the people in the slums are there because they somehow deserve to be, and if they just tried hard enough they could get out. It’s nonsense, but it makes psychological sense and it makes them feel better.’
[pp. 132-133]

An Unexpected Light (Travels in Afghanistan)

Jason Elliot, 1999

There’s an ignominy to modern air travel that I’d come to dread. There’s no arousing sense of passage towards your destination: no slowly changing landscape reaches back along the line of your motion, adding usefully to an awareness of where you will end up. The quantitative measure of the distance you are travelling loses all relevance; miles mean nothing as you leap, in a single, stratospheric bound, across the barriers that have guided, ever since humankind stood vertical enough to get over them, the very passage of civilizations.
[p. 11]

Then came the crunch of explosions. Sometimes they were far off, sometimes nearer; once, in the centre of the city, as I paused in a doorway under the pretext of retying my shoelace with slightly trembling fingers, a plume of smoke and debris hurtled upwards from a stricken building thirty yards away. A few men fell off their bicycles, brushed themselves down and went on again. But they never cowered.

I was astonished at how quicidy the wave of life would dose over again after death had been meted out in public places. Within minutes the ordinary bustle of affairs would return to normal. People sank back into their business the way wet sand sinks back into a hole in a beach. All that was different was a crater somewhere, and a life or two extinguished.

In the flood of relief that followed these encounters I would wonder just what made it possible for these people to meet their fate so squarely. I couldn’t help thinking of the rehabilitation centres that had been set up in America the year before for civilian victims of the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Not for the injured themselves, but for those who had been traumatized by the sight of the ruined building after the event.

I was not the oniy one to ask: what sustained these people? And I went through the usual lists: was it a collective spirit of defiance written so deeply into the culture that no room was left for ordinary fear? Was it the fatalism of a people who believed all things were written from Above, and who were willing to accept their own extinction in accordance with His will? Was it merely the indifference of the war-weary? Or was it the economics of sheer poverty that drove people back into the streets, the relentless pressure of having to strive ceaselessly in order to survive, to earn, to feed their children?

It may have been all or none, but it was impossible not to be infected by it. One morning, as I sat writing on the verandah of the house, an explosion shook the ground with such violence that we knew at once a heavy-calibre shell had struck nearby. I piled into the car with Tim and Craig and we found the site a few minutes later, in an ordinarily quiet street a few blocks behind the house.

In the middle of the road a dozen men were standing over a crater ten feet across. Fragments of glass and thick chunks of asphalt were scattered all around. There were stalls on either side, their windows blasted inwards. Someone had sprinkled a handful of dust over a patch of blood. From the wall behind me I pulled a twisted sliver of thick shrapnel. We heard two children had been killed, another injured. Tim drove to the hospital with the others, and I walked back to the house.

Instinctively I hugged the kerb on the southern side of the road, longing to dissolve into the shadow of the wall at my side, nursing a confusion of feelings. Then up ahead, a hundred yards away, I saw a man waving.

It was the young fighter who stood guard at the house opposite. Rifle over his shoulder, he was gesturing furiously at me. I stopped, puzzled. Then I saw his white teeth beaming from a broad smile, and realized: he was imploring me to step out from the shadows and walk in the road, back straight and shoulders squared...

Later, emboldened by his show of defiance, I left the protection of the garden and sat on the upstairs balcony to write my diary in the sunshine. He saw me from the street, lifted his upturned hands to the sun in a celebratory gesture, then to me, and to the sky above us, and gave me a double thumbs up, as if to say: ‘That’s it, you’ve got it now!’
[pp. 73-75]

And there it was again, that feeling that the journey was becoming more than the sum of its parts, more like a clandestine sculpting at work within me, which in the visible world I was merely acting out, to reveal — what? The shape of a character I knew only dimly from a life whose roots were growing more tenuous by the minute. How precious and remote the world of home now seemed! In ordinary life you know yourself from your surroundings, which become the measure and the mirror of your thoughts and actions. Remove the familiar and you are left with a stranger, the disembodied voice of. one’s own self which, robbed of its usual habits, seems barely recognizable. It is all the stronger in an alien culture, and more so when the destination is uncertain.

At first this process brings with it a kind of exhilaration, a feeling of liberty at having broken from the endosures of everyday Constraints and conventions: this is the obvious, if unconscious lure of travel. But once it has run its early course a deeper feeling more like anguish begins to surface, until the foreignness of your surroundings becomes too much to bear. I had never felt it so strongly before, and wondered: when does it start, this divorce from oneself, and what is its remedy?

The valley was narrowing now and the driver battled with a lurching steering wheeL At times the track was no more than a broken riverbed, and soon we ware in first gear, growling forward as our pace grew even slower. And with it, the world.

Time, motion’s mysterious partner, was up to its tricks again. Memories of slowed-down time are more vivid; there is more in them. So I remember that overstuffed jeep, the flapping of its canvas roof, and the awful bumping and crashing, with an extra dimension of clarity. I remember watching the rocks slip away behind us like a river, and the incandescence of the evening sky above the rims of the steepening mountains whose walls were turning from the Colour of lavender to coal. I remember the fresh-faced fighter whose knees were jammed against mine and who studied me when he thought I wasn’t looking but never spoke, and the powdery dust swirling into his blond eyebrows, and the taste of it in my teeth. And I was reminded of how much on a journey time’s fabric is elastic, as Capricious, almost, as a magician’s silk handkerchief, which changes colour, stretches, shrinks, disappears even, according to the master’s whim. In familiar surroundings, days — months and years, even — seem to fly by unnoticed. But when things are unfamiliar time, or rather your sense of it, stretches, sometimes unbearably, as if to make room for the new experience before it can be properly stored. Time is a river; your measurement of it depends on what you fish out. Routine compresses time and the strange stretches it. It even reaches a kind of limit when things turn suddenly and unexpectedly violent or when you are counting the seconds that follow the sound of artillery fired in your direction, and each moment you seem to live a year. But when your river returns to normal and you are back in the familiar current of your world again, it seems so strange, so unfair almost, that nothing much has changed.
[pp. 143-145]

I was at a loss for many of these explanations even in English, let alone in my unpolished Persian, and tried to find ways in which our worlds might overlap. I found myself not only translating from one spoken language to another, but across a gulf of meanings and significances, against which the business of words and their equivalents seemed straightforward.

Again and again I felt thrown up against the ideological frontier dividing our universes. You can travel across continents to reach a different civilization but the barrier of ideas that separates one culture from another remains as formidable as ever. Ali Khan’s questions reflected a world where the constraints (and satisfactions) of tradition — partly cultural, partly the supra-cuftural conventions of Islam — ran deeply through all the stages and rituals of life. All of them led me back to the same thought: what an extraordinary place of liberties the West really is, and how incomprehensible these liberties seem to those bound to harsher and more traditional ways of life. They have become so fundamental to the Western way of life we think of them as ‘rights’ — the rights to choose one’s own livelihood or partner in life, to criticize one’s politicians, to travel abroad at will, free of restraints or obligations — unthinkable in so many other countries. But if the West is a place of privilege, people suffer differently there too. Exempt from many of the relentless physical and social obligations necessary in a traditional life for survival, they become spoiled and fragile like overbred dogs; neurotic and prone to a host of emotional crises unknown elsewhere.

In the West a man or woman discovers the first extent of these freedoms in adolescence. In Afghanistan, it began to dawn on me, there was really no such thing: a girl was a girl or a woman; a boy was a boy or a man. There was no convenient proving ground when a young man or woman went about for ten years or more wondering how to make himself or herself useful (or not) to society. A boy of thirteen had already learned to shoot or ride or ply his father’s trade; while his sister learned the duties of the household essential for married life.
[pp. 165-166]

‘Afghanistan is kherab, ruined,’ he said, and swept the pieces from the chessboard to illustrate his point.

‘Here—’ he put the king in the centre of the board ‘is Afghanistan.’ Then he took another piece and smacked it onto a nearby square. ‘And here is Pakistan.’ A bishop jostled nearby. ‘Here is Russia.’ A queen closed in from the other side, and new pieces advanced at every name. ‘America! Dostum! Gulbuddin! Taleban!’ His Afghanistan was soon encircled by the menacing pieces.

I asked him why such a distant player as America figured on his board.

‘They abandoned us,’ he said bitterly. ‘For ten years we fought the Russians. America helped us then, when Russia was the enemy. When we defeated them, the Americans were gone. Look at this country now, which we ourselves destroyed believing they would help us afterwards.’

He waved his hand over the pieces in angry resignation. ‘Afghanistan is kherab! Kherab!’ His desperate note swelled to a plea. We stood up to leave.

‘Hold on,’ he said, and disappeared into another room, emerging moments later with a lump of the blue gem and pressed it into my hand with a warm smile.

‘A souvenir.’

I protested, to no avail.
[pp. 181-182]

I could hear two voices at work. One was an incessant reminder about safety, fear of loneliness and insecurities of every kind. How would I know if a truck came and went? Would my bag be safe in the seiai? Time and again I had been told it was unsafe to travel alone I had from the beginning of the trip been aware of this first voice; an almost relentless tale of worry about how things would turn out at every stage, like that of a homesick child longing for the familiar.

It had its own legitimacy but as anyone knows who has been touched by the spell of travel there is another voice struggling to be heard, and now for the first time I was able to hear it; a calmer signal on which I was unwilling at first to rely. It was the impulse to put my trust in the natural course of events, and to surrender, not passively but intelligently, to the restraints and opportunities of the moment. Was I not fed and warm and in a place of beauty? Things would work out...

Were these the equivalent European in me and the Asian, of the head and of the heart? I am tempted to think so. The Western mind is trained to think its way through life. The trouble with the habit is a tendency to formulate everything in terms of something else, instead of actually experiencing it for what it is; the definitions of success and failure, joy and difficulty, tend to be factory-set at home. There is nothing like an Asian journey — beginning with a catalogue of physical challenges and inconveniences, and all the assaults on conventions regarding time, distance and straight answers from people — to threaten the definitions and the sense of self that builds on them.

Asia is different; it opens an unfamiliar door onto experiencing the world. Yet this shift, should it occur, is only a natural adaptation, a rebalancing of the mind as the doud of ordinary thoughts gradually begins to still, like mud settling to the bottom of a pool. There, given time, shapes begin to emerge, wonderful shapes if the sight of them would only last...
[pp. 191-192]

News that an American oil company and its Saudi partner were planning the construction of an oil arid gas pipeline across Afghanistan emerged only later in the year. The proposed pipeline would link the rich oilflelds of Daulatabad in Turkmenistan with the Pakistani port of Multan, passing through nearly a thousand miles of Afghan territory.

From American commercial interests to American complicity in the Taleban’s rise to power is but a short step in many, especially Afghan, minds.
What was the greatest obstacle to peace? Guns, he said. So long as there were so many guns in Afghanistan there wasn’t a hope of peace. This was a country where people were so poor they broke up old Russian tanks and hauled the pieces to Pakistan to sell for scrap metal. But with money you could pay a man to fight; and in a country as poor as Afghanistan this was easier than ever before.

The war, in other words, was kept alive by a vicious economic circle; its commanders were living in luxury while ordinary people died. Massoud was a brave man, he said, and respected for his role in the long war against the Russians. But his was only another power-hungry party, not a viable government.

It was no good asking America for help (did he mean the government’s appealing to Washington for recognition?) — Afghans felt utterly abandoned by America. Here there were two analogies describing people’s feelings towards their former allies in the jehad: one of a fire (war) having been put under a pot (Afghanistan) and left to boil long after the water had disappeared (the Russian withdrawal); the other of a man helped to the top of a tall building (the jehad won with American aid to the mujaheddin) then having had the stairs removed from under him, leaving him stranded. A crippled victim of the cold war, in other words. Once, America had been perceived as a far-off but benevolent father figure who had the power to influence and resolve conflicts; but how could a father abandon its young? The mujaheddin had ruined their own land in the belief that America would later help them rebuild it, once the common enemy of communism had been dealt with. And in the meantime the best Afghan minds had fled the country and were working for foreign salaries abroad — how many of them could be expected to return to a place where a civil servant earned twenty dollars a month?
[p. 196-197]

His face was not only beautiful but seemed to emanate an extraordinary purity, an interior integrity with which I associated profound goodness. It did not seem properly to belong to my own world, which was perhaps its fascination, and the sight of it was like a gem flashing from layers of worthless stone. And I was staring not just because his face was utterly unlike the faces I knew from home but because I felt all of a sudden that if I were to attach myself to him, apprentice-like, and follow him to his home and enter into his life and language and hardships and batdes and pleasures, I might learn something substantial about the country and its culture and all that was hidden from the casual onlooker I really felt myself to be, able only to observe what was most superficial. And I felt too with equal certainty, based on nothing but that glance, that had I made the suggestion he would have agreed and honoured the spirit of the impulse without question.

He acknowledged me with the faintest of smiles and an almost imperceptible nod, and our worlds were momentarily bridged. A glimmer of questioning in his eyes told me he was as intrigued about the solitary foreigner as was I about him. And thus passed our moment of exchange, which was not shared by his men, who eyed me with the usual reserve and curiosity. Yet I knew I couldn’t stay.

I record this only because it was, in a sense, an incident I was beginning to recognize as typical of the place, as characteristic of encounters with individuals as with the landscape itself. Always there was this flash of beauty out of the backdrop of harshness, like a ray of light thrown across a cave; a drop of sweetness distilled from the sea of indifferent experience, prompting feelings which, if translated into physical terms, were the equivalent of glimpsing a fertile and delicately cultivated valley after hours of walking through barren mountains; feelings of tremendous relief and affirmation which carried with them the scent of a different way of living, to which the usual constraints of life would not really apply. In time, such moments were insubstantial, but in memory proved ineradicable; they awoke different urges which if laid bare would appear as madness to the ordinary world. And this was a large part of the magic of the place and its people; one might follow such promptings and not be considered mad. To be true to such moments, recklessly true perhaps, was the challenge, the parting of the ways, that travel throws into one’s path; and I was deeply disappointed with myself for having let it pass.
[pp. 233-235]

There is a Nasruddin story not surprisingly, given the centrality in the culture of the veneration of holy places — about shrines which, symbolism apart, has the usual, improbable ring of truth. Nasruddin’s father is the keeper of a popular shrine when Nasruddin sets off one day by donkey to seek his fortune in the world. After years of wandering his donkey finally expires. A passer-by sees Nasruddin weeping by the grave of his faithful friend, and throws him a few coins, taking him for a grieving disciple of a holy man. Word spreads of the site until a wealthy and pious merchant bestows upon Nasruddin enough money to build a mosque over the donkey’s grave, to which the faithful flock, assuming they will benefit from the blessings of the deceased saint. Years pass; eventually Nasruddin’s own father makes a pilgrimage to the site, and is astonished to find his son the keeper of the place. Hearing his son’s tale, he confesses: exactly the same thing happened to him, a generation before...
[pp. 250-251]

Is there an icon of the Western media more adored, less edifying, and subject to so little self-scrutiny than images of Moslem people at prayer? Seldom &s there a Western news report or film depicting events in a Moslem country that does not begin with the alien cry of the muezzin. Yet the collective expression of devotion incumbent on all Moslems is perhaps the least extraordinary aspect of the Islamic life. Stolen, as it so often is, from its cultural context, it conveys at best a sense of the impenetrable or archaic. So far as I know there is no exact equivalent in contemporary Islamic media. But I have sometimes wondered what the Moslem interpretation might be of news reports from the West if they began always with footage of glum faces filing into churches in their Sunday best in order to drink the blood of a human God. ‘In no really significant way is there a direct correspondence between the “Islam” in common Western usage and the enormously varied life that goes on within the world of Islam.’ (Edward W. Said, Covering Islam, Vintage Books, 1997). I recommend this forceful and cogent work to anyone interested in this neglected area of study.
[p. 254]

It was yet another approach to that extraordinarily rich and variegated territory of Islamic mysticism that has come to be known as Sufism. The roots of Sufism dive into the most primal of human longings, namely the striving towards some quality of existance more substantial than ordinary life appears to offer. The universal impulse towards mysticism has appeared in every era and under the banner of every religion, but seldom has a mystical tradition been expressed in such a creative variety of forms, or found its way so extensively into culture and society, as Sufism in the Islamic world.

An ancient tale recounts the encounter between a number of blind men and an elephant. One found its feet, broad and immovable; another its trunk, long and flexible; and another its ears, seemingly huge and thin, and each described the unfamiliar beast in vivid terms. But being blind, none was able to describe the elephant in its entirety.

Defining Sufism is a similarly confounding task, partly because of the range of mediums in which it has appeared at different times and in different societies, and partly because Sufism is a Way rather than a system or philosophy — just as the elephant is a living animal and not a statue, whose function is to live and not merely to be admired.
The innate human yearning for the Divine, the soul’s hunger for Truth — these are no more than manifestations of the Real’s longing to return to Itself. The mystic’s experience of God is the lifting of all obstades that separate him from the all-pervasive Unicity of Being, in which his ordinary consciousness, at times of rapture, is said to drown.

Much of subsequent Sufism rests on the notion that when the lesser, egotistically oriented self of a person is displaced, the greater or Universal self is found, enabling the experience of contact with the Divine. The ordinary, sensible world is simply the reflection, at its more attenuated end, of the Divine emanation, and Man its most exquisite mirror. As the dust of egotism is blown from the mirror...

The foundation of Sufi practice is neither asceticism nor retirement from the world, although there may be periods of both. The austerities of monasticism were disapproved of by the Prophet himself, and Islam never fully lost the company (or the genes) of its most spiritually inclined. It is perhaps the Sufi’s willingness to undertake his spiritual training in the rough and tumble of life that accounts for the breadth of Sufism’s appeal. In Sufism there is the renunciation of ties, but the most obvious among these — the visible ties of the material world — are the least essential.

‘Is there anything more astonishing,’ writes a nineteenth-century Sufi master, ‘than that a man should put the blame on his professional activity for not being able to perfect himself ?‘*

This training, far from being a dreamy excursion into peace and Love, throws the seeker against nothing less unpleasant than his own self, the unruly nafs or ego.Variously termed as an unveiling, a polishing and a purification, it is a process by which the would-be Still first undertakes to grapple with the multiplicitous wiles of pride, vanity and attachment. He is not concerned with acquiring powers (although the lore attributing supernatural phenomena of various kinds to Stills is astonishingly rich) but of uncovering something that already exists.

The struggle is aided by rigorous spiritual exercises, the most essential of the Sufi’s disciplines being the practice of remembrance (dhikr) of the Real, and the focusing, excluding all else, on the meaning behind it. And the practice itself is brought to life, tested and guided by a teacher who helps the adept, inwardly speaking, to stand on his own feet. As it is essentially invisible, and by nature deeply personal, little description of this intimate process finds its way into written sources. Hence the obvious limitation of a study of Sufism from observation of ritual alone, or from texts addressed to suit the mental apparatus of people at a particular time or place, in which the experiential ‘spice’ has been robbed of its vital flavour.

The study of Sufism through the intellect is reminiscent of the story of the mullã Nasruddin, who searches for a lost key beneath a lamp post where the light is good — aware nevertheless of having dropped the key in the shadows a hundred yards away.
The contrasts between formal religion and Sufism are instructive. If Islam could be at times an authoritarian (and dogmatic) father to its people, Sufism became a benevolent (and edectic) uncle, able to bestow gifts which a strict but well-meaning parent could not.

Islam and Sufism evolved hand in hand, but were propelled by different forces. While religious authority sought to establish the welfare of society through the body of laws known as Sbari’a, Sufism offered an inner Way, and a form of devotion that took into account the spiritual freedom of the individual. Sufis took prophetic traditions, religious ritual and verses from the Qur’~n, and enriched them with inner significance.

Whereas the traditional meaning of Islam is understood as ‘submission’ to divine law as laid down by prophetic revelation, and shaped by the forceful dichotomies of good and evil, the lawful and the unlawful, and the cultivation of virtue over vice, the Sufi is engaged in a process of ‘surrender’ that transcends conventional dualism: everything goes, as it were, into the fire, until only the Real remains. Where religion speaks of sin, Sufism speaks of ‘heedlessness’. Where the mulla emphasizes preparation for the afterlife, the dervish exhorts a spiritual death in this very lifetime. And where theology formulates the limits of Heaven and Hell, mysticism alludes to multiple and interpenetrating worlds emanating from the Divine, accessible in accordance with the seeker’s spiritual capacity.

It is difficult not to feel, glancing even briefly at its influence, that Sufism has created some of the world’s most ‘worldly’ mystics. It cannot be said to be a mysticism of quietists. Its members advised kings, held positions of high civil authority, formed the core of armies and resistance movements,* wrote the leading scientific treatises of their day, and composed the most widely read mystical literature of all time — the rousing echo of which, embodied poetically in the Andalucian zajal spread through Medieval Europe on the lips and strings of the Troubadours, impelling the genesis of courtly lyrical poetry and the epochal transformation of relations between the sexes in the West.
[p. 268-273]

I had yet to read a foreign account of positive developments in the country. The creative efforts of Afghans seeking remedies for the complex challenges of the conflict were seldom mentioned in news reports; instead, one heard only of the anarchy and destruction and, hanging over everything, a suggestion of irremediable darkness and despair. Perhaps there is a deep and unacknowledged need for news of disasters which, when not available from home, must be brought back captive from afar. Visiting film crews asked to be taken to the Jade-ye Maiwand, the ruined Street I had wandered down on my very first day in Kabul, and went to hospitals to film limbless children. Even the journalists living in Kabul took a dim view of correspondents who flew for a weekend into the city, grumbled about the difficulties, and reported authoritatively on the ‘situation’.

Apart from the seldom explicitly reckoned-with notion that good news was unworthy news, the religious dimension to the conflict only complicated matters, and the hastily exported versions of events tended to be almost comically apocalyptic. Reports leaving the country were couched in a language strangely at odds with our experience, as if they were written about a different and arid place, where there was nothing but ‘warring tribes’, the threat of ‘Islamic Law’, and something called ‘fundamentalism’: emotive and disturbing terms which so few people seem able satisfactorily to define.
[p. 292]

Throughout the ten-year occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets, only a tiny proportion of Western reports of the war ever referred to the men, women and children opposing their invaders as a legitimate force of ‘resistance’. Almost without exception, Afghans fighting Soviet troops or the communist regime they protected were described in such all-encompassing terms as ‘Islamic guerrillas’, ‘Moslem rebels’ or — most unenlightening of all — ‘Holy Warriors’.

None of these labels could evoke the extent of a genuinely popular resistance; of such defiant acts as a housewife, unhinged by grief at the murder of her husband under torture, stabbing a Russian officer in a crowded bazaar; of the Afghan army officer passing advance intelligence of Soviet offensives to his relatives in the countryside; or a child delivering poisoned grapes to a Soviet garrison. Nor did they hint at the high level of discipline and organization of mujaheddin groups elsewhere in the country. The prevailing image of the resistance was generally that of a band of desperadoes holed up in the mountains; an image already reinforced by century-old stereotypes of the Afghans’ intransigence and genetic affection for war.

The broad insistence in Western media on Islamic qualifiers, as if these were in themselves somehow informative, served only further to obscure the efforts of millions who defied the Soviets during the period; it was a terminology which prevented Afghans from acquiring in the West a genuinely human face, as if, being Moslems, perhaps they did not respond to the bombing of their homes or grieve over their dead in the same way as did people of other religions. The validity of the very ordinary reaction — resisting an invader — was thereby undermined, almost as if one had to be a Moslem, or for that matter a ‘rebel’, to oppose foreign domination. So far as I am aware Vietcong soldiers fighting the Americans were never referred to as ‘Buddhist rebels’, any more than French resistance to German occupation was termed the reaction of ‘Christian insurgents’. But the labels remained, and do remain, largely unquestioned, along with all sorts of events in Islamic countries which are imputed with an obscuring religious dimension that in other contexts would go unmentioned.

During this same period, Western dassifications of the different resistance groups involved in the conflict were conspicuously divided along ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ lines, as if their ideological orientation to the West was the criterion that defined their existence, rather than highly complex local factors of ethnic, cultural and political import.

Today it is partly the powerful influence of this kind of simplification which makes the present civil war so apparently impenetrable; because the conflict refuses to reduce to black and white it appears, however subtly, to be the product of less rational beings than those of the peace-loving nations of the West.

‘So what about the future,’ asked one of the men, inevitably. ‘What do you think will happen to Afghanistan?’

‘Even God doesn’t know the future of Afghanistan,’ I said, and they all laughed heartily at hearing this from a foreigner. But even in the shadows I could see the curls of their smiles turn downwards as they faded, as if they had tasted the bitterness of this perhaps ironic truth.

I added: ‘From what I have seen, ordinary people all over the country are tired of war,’ and the line of heads nodded in solemn assent.

‘Ordinary people, yes,’ said the village teacher. His manner was didactic, his tone resigned. ‘But other countries aren’t. Pakistan isn’t tired of it. America isn’t tired of it. Russia and Iran aren’t tired of it. What do they suffer from this war?’

I had no reply.

‘Nobody’s tired of it except us!’ he went on. ‘So long as they have the money to give commanders who can pay others to fight. there’s no way to stop the fighting.’

There was little reason to contest this; I had not met a single Afghan who hadn’t expressed a longing for the war to end, nor encountered a single life unscarred by its cruel momentum. The misery was fuelled from beyond, by players untouched themselves by the catastrophe.

‘That’s right,’ said a voice in grave concord, ‘this war is about money. In other countries people make money through business and trade, but here — war is the best business.’
[p. 342]

It is hard to imagine unlettered European villagers enquiring of a Moslem visitor as to the significance of the Prophet Mohammed’s mission. Yet here in a tiny and remote Afghan village was evidence of a sincere concern for a guest’s interpretation of what to Moslem minds is a vital event.

Few non-Moslems are aware of the profound reverence throughout the Islamic world for Jesus, or of the high esteem in which Maryam, Mary, is held by practising Moslems. There is no historical equivalent, in the reverse sense, to the centuries of derogation in the West of Islam as a system of faith, or the calumny heaped upon its Prophet. And whereas Christianity has distanced itself from Islam, there remains in the Islamic world a deep consciousness of the intertwining roots of both religions, which once flourished on the same soils.
[p. 351]

As we were talking, something reminded him of a poem he had come across. He took a sheet of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. The title was ‘Wanderer’; I had no idea of the author.

‘What these people can’t afford is not
to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline
of “security”, and in the worship of security we
fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine — and
before we know it our lives are gone.

‘What does a person need — really need? A few
pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six
feet to lie down in and some form of working activity
that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s
all — in the material sense. And we know it. But we
are brainwashed by our economic system until we
end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time
payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings
that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of
the charade.

‘The years thunder by, the dreams of youth
grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the
shelves of patience. Before we know it the tomb
is sealed. Where then lies the answer? In choice.
Which shall it be; bankruptcy of purse or
bankruptcy of life...?
[pp. 442-443]

A certain king was keen to discover who was the most pious man in his land, in order to reward him. So he sent his spies and agents into the country to mingle with the ordinary folk, enquiring wherever they went as to who was the most pious man of the region. Months passed, until the list of candidates was finally reduced to two: a mulla and a dervish.

It seemed no one could make a final decision as to their merits, and the judgement was left to the king himself, who summoned the two men to his palace and interviewed them personally.

The mulla’s turn was first. In his private chamber the king invited the mulla to sit beside him and answer, on his honour, a few questions.

‘I have here a sum of gold,’ said the king, patting a small bag, ‘with which I intend to reward the most worthy candidate. But first I must know this:

‘Should this reward become yours, would you be likely to spend any part of it on wine?’

‘Astaghfirullah!’ exclaims the mulla at once. ‘Heaven forbid!’

‘But might you spend it on gambling?’

‘Astaghfirullah!’ exclaims the mulla again.

‘And what about women?’

‘Astaghfirullah!’ the mulla cries, ‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’

‘Very well,’ says the king. ‘I shall take your answers into account.’

The mulla takes his leave respectfully from the king, into whose presence the diminutive dervish is escorted. And the king begins in the same manner, asking

‘If I were to give you this gold, would you be likely to spend it on wine, or other illicit intoxicants?’

The dervish thinks a little, and after a pause says: “Why not?’

The king is taken aback, but continues.

‘What about gambling?’

Again the dervish reflects for a moment, then says: ‘Why not?’

‘And women?’

‘Well,’ muses the dervish again, ‘why not?’

The king, perplexed, dismisses the dervish, who joins the mulla in an adjoining room. Awaiting judgement, the two exchange accounts of their meeting with the king. Then at long last a bearer emerges from the king’s chamber and announces:

‘His majesty wishes it to be known that the money is hereby awarded — to the dervish.’

The dervish’s expression remains unchanged, but immediately the mulla jumps up, protesting, ‘There must be some mistake!’ and rushes past the guards to the king.

‘Your majesty!’ he implores. ‘In all my life I would never dare to spend the reward on the things you mentioned. But this profligate dervish, by his own confession, would not hesitate to spend the money in the most shamefull ways!’

‘My conclusion precisely,’ replies the king. ‘His need of it, therefore, is obviously far greater than yours.’
[pp. 457-458]

The School Bully

What does the school bully do when one of his classmates finally stands up to him and administers a humiliating defeat? He goes and picks on the weakest, most isolated kid he can find. Tony Blair is one stage worse: he's the boy standing behind the bully, egging him on. As the US, Israel, and the despots of Saudi Arabia and Egypt create the next generation of terrorists, Blair stands shoulder to shoulder with the bullies, making us all targets in the process.

There is an easy solution to the problem. If we put half the money being dropped as weapons on Afghanistan into rebuilding the region, and if we pulled the rug from under Sharon et al, then we would soon cease to be targets.

People talk about the immense resources required to carry off the September 11th attack. This is nonsense. Apart from in one crucial respect, the resources required were actually very small. I myself, living in a terraced house a Northern city in England, could probably have financed the entire operation by selling my house - 19 tickets to the US, 3 sets of flying lessons, 1 set of kitchen cutlery. Of course there is one respect in which my resources are completely inadequate: I couldn't find one person, let alone 19, willing to kill themselves in this kind of horrific attack on 5,000 innocent office workers. Surely the key question is what on earth can create such a body of suicidal men bent at revenging themselves on the US at any price? The answer is to be found in the cruel fate of the Palestinians, the despotic pro-Western regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere, and the continued undeclared war against Iraq.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Douglas Adams, 1987

“Well,” he said, “it’s to do with the project which first made the software incarnation of the company profitable. It was called Reason, and in its own way it was sensational.”

“What was it?”

“Well, it was a kind of back-to-front program. It’s funny how many of the best ideas are just an old idea back-to-front. You see there have already been several programs written that help you to arrive at decisions by properly ordering and analysing all the relevant facts so that they then point naturally towards the right decision. The drawback with these is that the decision which all the properly ordered and analysed facts point to is not necessarily the one you want.”

“Yeeeess ...” said Reg’s voice from the kitchen.

“Well, Gordon’s great insight was to design a program which allowed you to specify in advance what decision you wished it to reach, and only then to give it all the facts. The program’s task, which it was able to accomplish with consummate ease, was simply to construct a plausible series of logical-sounding steps to connect the premises with the conclusion.

“And I have to say that it worked brilliantly. Gordon was able to buy himself a Porsche almost immediately despite being completely broke and a hopeless driver. Even his bank manager was unable to find fault with his reasoning. Even when Gordon wrote it off three weeks later.”

“Heavens. And did the program sell very well?”

“No. We never sold a single copy.”

“You astonish me. It sounds like a real winner to me.”

“It was,” said Richard hesitantly. “The entire project was bought up, lock, stock and barrel, by the Pentagon. The deal put WayForward on a very sound financial foundation. Its moral foundation, on the other hand, is not something I would want to trust my weight to. I’ve recently been analysing a lot of the arguments put forward in favour of the Star Wars project, and if you know what you’re looking for, the pattern of the algorithms is very clear.

“So much so, in fact, that looking at Pentagon policies over the last couple of years I think I can be fairly sure that the US Navy is using version 2.00 of the program, while the Air Force for some reason only has the beta-test version of 1.5. Odd, that.”
[pp. 55-56]

Manslaughter Service kills off competition in battle of strange titles

Emma Yates, The Guardian, November 30, 2001

The annual Diagram prize for the oddest book title of the year has been awarded to Gerard Forlin's Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service, a hefty law tome providing guidance and analysis on corporate liability for deaths in the workplace.

The book, not published until January, was up against five other shortlisted titles: Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself; The Flat-Footed Flies of Europe; Lightweight Sandwich Construction; Tea Bag Folding; and The Art and Craft of Pounding Flowers: No Paint, No Ink, Just a Hammer! The shortlist was thrown open to readers of the literary trade magazine The Bookseller, who chose the winner by voting on the magazine's website. Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service, a snip at £375, emerged as the overall victor with 35% of the vote.

The Diagram prize has been a regular on the award circuit since 1978, when Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice carried off the inaugural award. Since then, titles such as American Bottom Archaeology and last year's winner, High-Performance Stiffened Structures (an engineering publication), have received unwonted publicity through the prize. This year's winner is perhaps most notable for its lack of entendre.

Big Bangs: Five Discoveries that Changed Musical History

Howard Goodall, 2000

Finally, a story about a Special Needs School in the Greater Manchester area. I am visiting the school as representative of the sponsors (Sainsbury’s) of a series of musical workshops and therapy sessions run by the Hallé Orchestra’s percussion department.

The children are severely mentally and physically handicapped, with one carer per child. Some of the children make no identifiable response at all. There is the usual special school atmosphere of affectionate firmness, and the percussion man proceeds with his turn, which involves much clowning and banging around. The kids are enjoying it enormously.

The climax to the workshop, which lasts about twenty minutes, is where percussion man, joined now by guitar man, hands out a percussion instrument to every single child and carer. He teaches everyone a rhythm to contribute to the overall orchestra of crashes and bangs, and those that can move do a sort of Brazilian carnival conga around the room with their guiros, maracas, cabasas and tambourines.

During this joyous cacophony I am watching a little boy of five or six, who can barely hold the drum he has been given — his carer keeps picking up the beater off the floor for him — but has, after considerable effort, mastered the simple rhythm everyone is whacking out. He isn’t smiling or watching the other children, he’s too autistic to focus his eyes, but he is hitting the drum rat- tat-tat in unison with everyone else. Not particularly remarkable, a child playing a drum, you might say. My gaze wanders to his right and I notice that his carer has tears streaming down her face. As she is embarrassed to be caught weeping, I look away. At the end of the session, though, I seek her out, telling her that I couldn’t help noticing she had been crying and was there anything wrong?

She says, ‘You don’t understand. I have been working with this little boy since he came here four years ago. When he imitated the rhythm of the music just then it was the first time ever he had responded to something another human being had done. It is his first communication with another person. I was overcome by it, that’s all.’
[pp. 57-58]

On the eve of the French Revolution, in 1784, the Comedie-Francaise performed a subversive new farce by Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais called Le Mariage de Figaro. It was an overnight sensation. A contemporary described it as `the end of the old order' and Napoleon later said it was `the revolution already in action'. The ruling houses of Europe reacted by having it banned. The man who ruled the largest slice of central Europe, the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II, was no exception. So imagine his alarm and consternation when he discovered that one of his court composers, young Herr Mozart, was presenting the now illegal play as an opera under his very nose in his own Viennese theatre. Being a great opera lover he couldn't resist it, of course, and Mozart's masterwork was allowed access to the royal ears in a way that was denied the play. Opera's dangerous liaison with power politics was reignited.

The Marriage of Figaro is about a count who is trying to use his position to deflower a young internee - sorry; maid - in his household. The girl in question, Susanna, is about to get married to the count's valet, Figaro. She is also the countess's maid and closest confidante. On the surface of it, it's a merry roister doister of a sexual farce. But beneath the skin this is about the rich and powerful treating their employees like slaves and playthings, and no one who saw it at the end of the eighteenth century; with Europe on the hrmk of political implosion, would have been in any doubt of its message, including the Emperor Joseph, shifting uneasily in his royal box. What is doubly significant, though, is that the servants ultimately outwit and humiliate their master, and at the end of the opera this once omnipotent count is forced to kneel in humble apology to his wife in front of his whole household. At this moment of sublime music (‘Gontessa, perdono ...'), it is as if the ancien régime itself is bowing to the inevitable and submitting to the greater will of its subjects.

Three years after the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro, in 1789, Camille Desmoulins leapt onto a café table in Paris and called on all French patriots to liberate themselves from the slavery of monarchy. One of the first acts of the mob was to storm the prison that had become a potent symbol of repression, the Bastille. That famous landmark has long since gone, but in its place now stands the new Opéra de la Bastille. The storming of the Bastille, which lit the fuse for the revolution, also inspired a wave of populist operas in which escape or deliverance from unjust imprisonment was the recurring theme, like Cherubini's Lodoiska and Les Deux Journées, or Gretry's Richard Coeiir-de-Lion. Composers and their librettists, who had been the conscience of the ruling aristocratic elite before the revolution, soon became the conscience of the new bourgeois rulers with these so-called ‘rescue operas'. As in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, they call for a universal compassion across the classes, with many of their heroes and heroines being good aristocrats caught up in a general terror. The most famous of all these rescue operas is Beethoven's Fidelio.

Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, was premiered in i8o6 in the same week as Napoleon's troops were occupying his home town of Vienna. It is set in a prison, and though the action nominally takes place in Spain the allusion to Revolutionary Paris is unambiguous. The plot concerns the successful release from unjust imprisonment of a good man, but what really interests Beethoven is the generalised theme of liberation and deliverance. The opera ends with a passionate hymn to freedom, and ever since the piece has been associated with the over- throwing of tyranny (after the end of hostilities in 1945 opera houses all over Europe reopened with Fidelio).

France's Revolution may have begun with the storming of the Bastille, but Belgium's Revolution of 1830 was actually triggered by the playing of an opera. During the opening performance of La Muette de Portici by Daniel Auber, an epic and heroic tale of rebellious Neapolitan fishermen, the audience were so stirred by a duet calling for the casting off of the shackles of foreign oppression that they swept out of the theatre and began rioting, not even bothering to hear the rest of the piece. The theatre they were in at the time, the Théâtre de la Monnaie, still stands today as a permanent reminder to the Belgians of their moment of liberation. Crowds had been gathering outside in the square all week in expectation of some kind of showdown with the Dutch authorities controlling Belgium at the time. The appearance of the opera goers, fired with patriotic zeal, acted as a catalyst and the whole throng stormed up the hill to lay siege to the nearby courthouse, thereby beginning the Belgian Revolution. Within a few weeks the Dutch administration had left (after a modest amount of bloodshed) and been replaced with Belgium's first independent government. This is the duet that inspired the audience that night:

‘L'Amour sacré de la patrie' Better to die than live so abject! A slave must not a greater evil fear! Let us break the bonds that keep us subject Let us expel the stranger from our land! Wilt go with me? I will thy footsteps follow, I'll go with thee to death! With me to glory! Either united in eternal sleep, Or both with laurel crowned! Love for our country gives us strength And in the struggle gives us new vigour If to this land we owe our lives Let it to us its freedom owe!

Throughout the century that followed, opera continued its flirtation with, and exploitation by, the forces of revolutionary Nationalism. A great admirer of La Muette de Portici was the Czech (Bohemian) composer Bed~ich Smetana (1824—84). Bohemia was in the nineteenth century a small part, politically and culturally, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and had had German imposed as its official language since the 1780s. The Czechs resented the authority of Vienna, and the continued use of their language in defiance of Imperial regulations was widlespread. It had not, however, been heard in the theatres and opera houses of Prague. Smetana's first opera The Brandenburgers in Bohemia (1866), was written in the official German but its plot was unashamedly provocative. It tells of the thirteenth-century occupation of Bohemia by overbearing and brutal German troops, and the armed resistance the peasants mounted against them. The piece was an unexpected success and as a result Smetana was appointed director of the Provincial Theatre in Prague where it had had its premiere. Not so surprisingly, the Czechs were quick to revive The Brandenburgers in Bohemia after the expulsion of the occupying Nazis in 1945, and again in the build- up to the Soviet invasion of 1968.

The librettist of this opera, Karel Sabina, a spokesman for the Czech nationalist movement of the 1860s, also wrote the text of Smetana's second opera, The Bartered Bride. Significantly; with political self—determination so much in the air, the language this time was Czech. Seemingly powerless to prevent its production by the country's leading composer, the collaborationist authorities saw The Bartered Bride gather momentum as a popular work until it attainedi a status second to none in Czech culture. In the fifty years following its first performance it was seen over a thousand times in Prague alone. The music is sufused with Bohemian folk melody, the contour of the vocal lines carved out by the rhythms and shapes of the people's language. But there are two factors at play here: the need of a subject people for works of art that can voice their suppressd feelings through allegory, and the fact that something with as high a cultural profile as a new opera could raise the aspirations of a community beyond the particular political objectives of the moment. For supposedly provincial, unsophisticated Bohernians in 1870, an opera to rival anything presented in Vienna, Berlin or Paris was a statement of national pride.
[pp. 78-84]

I have often been asked what it is like to he able to compose. The truthful answer is I don't know what it's like not to be able to compose. Sometimes I reply by saying that composing is a bit like dreaming. Composers are people who hear the echoes and fragments of completed music in their heads all the time, and what they're doing is attempting to capture it before it escapes, to write down the sounds they hear. But like a dream as soon as you start to write it down it becomes less and less like the music you heard in your head and more and more like the new music that is forming in front of you. The creative journey from subconscious to conscious seems both fruitful and forgetful, productive and wasteful.
[p. 97]

When I came out of the cathedral into the late afternoon sun I thought my eyes would pop out of their sockets with the shock. I had hoped, naturally, that the holy visit would have helped me get in the mood for composing a Mass but I must confess I went off in search of a Pastis and a bag of crisps. It's a gorgeous place, Embrun, and wandering around it on a sweltering August evening is a delightful pastime. I returned to my room to write the postcards and lay on the bed with the shuttered sun streaking across the starched white sheets.

All at once a bell for evening service in the cathedral started to chime - a persistent but unhurried F#. Soon it was joined by another, a G#, as if ricocheting against it in rhythmic sympathy. What I thought I'd do was get my manuscript paper and just for fun write out (in real time, as it were) the bell concert I was hearing - all the notes, harmonics and rhythms. This is the musical equivalent of doing a crossword or a brainteaser. Then a second church seemed to join in from somewhere else in the town, and the competing bells fought for attention on the page. To this layered chiming were added the bells of further-off churches across the valley - it being a mountainous region with lakes between the perched villages, the sound could carry greater than normal distances and soon I was enveloped in a grand chorus of bells far and near, intermingled with their echoes bouncing off the valley walls. Bells have very heavy harmonic overtones (extra notes you hear alongside the main one, creating an effect not dissimilar to a chord each time the bell is struck) and keeping up with them, analysing and transcribing them was a frantic job. Eventually, after about 10 or 15 minutes, the bell orchestra subsided, leaving only my original F# bell from the nearby cathedral chiming slowly and fitfully. Then it too died and left behind a strange, calm silence.

I sensed something in me had changed. I could `hear' the bell concert as a sort of choral wash, as if it hadn't really ended but was now being sung instead. Within a few minutes I realised the sound had a top, middle and bottom, it wasn't simply a generalised wash, it had crystallised into a form. Now I could hear the bells as individual voices singing Sanctus. Imagine you are wearing a Walkman and you are hearing a piece of music you've never encountered before. This is what it felt like. I could `see' (probably a combination of hearing, feeling and seeing the music laid out on a mental manuscript score in front of me is a more accurate description than `see') this piece of music. I could sense that it had a shape but not how long it was nor where exactly it began. Was it just a Sanctus movement from a Mass, or did it stretch on into other movements, like the other tracks of a CD? I `selected' the Gloria movement to see if any music now existed in my head for that section. It started like the track on a CD, it came out like completed music - all the tunes, all the melodies all the rhythms. I could easily identify who was singing what and what key the music was playing in. It carried on, seeming to know exactly where it was going without any assistance or prompting from me. I tried the Benedictus, the Agnus Dei, the Kyrie Eleison and the Credo. It all seemed to be there. I had had this experience before, many times, but before I had heard fragments of the total piece - `cells' some composers have called them - which I had eventually knotted together into a whole. I had heard tunes too, in isolation, running from start to finish, but without their accompaniment or without their overall context. This Embrun experience, on the other hand, seemed to be offering me the music ready-made.


So I grabbed my manuscript paper and headed for the little restaurant in the square. At some point in the next few hours I must have ordered wine and food and consumed it, but what I remember most is poring over the page intently from about 7.30pm till 1.00am without moving, scribbling away at an exhilarated, breakneck speed.
[pp. 103-104, 107]

Music is not certain or solid or real. It operates solely through our heads and our bodies. It contains doubt and uncertainty, it exudes sadness and longing. It radiates into us, or floats past us. It is not really under our control, it has a chemistry all of its own that composers tinker and dabble with. Composers are merely carriers, hauling water from a gigantic well to some parched and needy tribe, stranded far away from their natural homeland. When they first taste the water, the tribespeople think they can see their old country, hear their lost children playing, feel the old breeze on their faces. After that first heavenly sip they feel sure they will be able to find their way back home. But soon the cup is empty and they are standing once again in their new, empty surroundings, thirsting for more.
[p. 110]

The problem with Equal Temperament to this point had been that it was notoriously difficult to tune, as in effect tuners tuning by ear had been required to nudge the notes slightly off centre to make the maths work. In Equal Temperament, you see, all the notes in a scale are a little `out of tune'. They all shift over from their proper natural positions to accommodate the `comma' - the leflover amount at the end of a scale. To make the 13th note the same as the 1st note all notes must be shunted away from their rightful home. The old Pythagorean `just' ratios have to be abandoned: the most basic note-creating ratio of all - the 2/3 ratio that gives you a dominant or 5th (C to G, for example) - is no longer a true, natural dominant but an artificial, not-quite-right dominant. This is why Equal Temperament is such a compromise. Even the instruments that don't have to have a temperament, like the violin family, are obliged to play by the same rules and regulations obeyed by those that do. There's no point playing a true, Perfect dominant (5th) on your violin if the pianist accompanying you can't. He's louder and more powerful than you, and he's got hundreds and hundreds of dominants (5ths) tuned his way to your puny few. Consequently, you conform to his standard.
[pp. 142-3]

In classical or concert music Equal Temperament was a universal norm from about halfway through the nineteenth century. It took another hundred or so years before its victory over ethnic music in Europe was to be almost as complete. As you can now appreciate, Equal Temperament has been a mixed blessing. Only in remote areas where the accordion never penetrated, like cut-off parts of the Arctic Circle, do the old `just' intonations survive. The Chinese, having worked out the mathematics of Equal Temperament, made a conscious decision not to use it. They wanted to keep the harmonious relationship between music and nature - they feared the artificial grip of a man-made tuning. For them, the soothing, healing, physical power of music is too valuable to lose in the search for music of greater ambition and scale, and it's true that in the long struggle for Equal Temperament we have lost a connection with the natural world. From Pythagoras to Dunstaple, Stevin and Bach, we in the West have deliberately turned our back on nature and forged a man-made compromise. Western music has a vibrancy to it, which feeds directly off the tension (between natural and artificial) in the tuning. Even in China, though, the old system is in retreat. Young Chinese people are becoming more and more exposed to Western tuning and gradually their indigenous ancient style is starting, to them, to sound out of tune. In future this last stronghold of the non-Western approach will inevitably begin retuning itself to the louder, more insistent voice of equally tempered music.

The advent of recorded sound and portable electronic keyboards has played a critical role in this musical `Westernisation'. Every time contemporary Indian composers switch on their electronic keyboards to write, even if they are using sampled sounds of antique ethnic Asian instruments, they are slamming another nail into the coffin of their own ancient musical tuning system. As the sampler samples its sitar or tabla it converts the sound onto a chip and thereafter onto a Western keyboard laid out with our 12 equal notes. Its calibration and sampling frequency are designed, of course, for Western music.

Standardised tuning was always going to benefIt from technological advances. Equal Temperament was such a tuning. Many believe that the total dominance of Equal Icmperaments 12-note system is as much driven by commercial and business pressures as musical. With the advent of electronic instruments and an electronic standard of fixing pitch (A = 440 Hz) in the 1920s Equal Temperament was made irreversible.

We now hear all music through the filter of Equal Temperament. The deliberate imperfections of Equal Temperament now sound `right' to us.
[pp. 144-5]

In some respects the editing revolution made things easier for musicians, who could redo their mistakes and wobbles as many times as they liked. On the other hand, an artificially high standard was being sought on record that couldn't possibly be matched in the concert hail. Either way, it led recorded music further than ever away from where it had started. The attempt to re-create as faithfully as possible the aural experience of the concert hall has been abandoned. What has emerged instead is the idea of a definitive performance of a particular piece, frozen in time - a false perfection, as it were. We have witnessed, since the advent of recording, a battle between the concept of music as a living, organic, breathing `condition', ceaselessly reinventing and reprocessing itself, never static, never finished, and the concept of music as a thing, like a painting, sculpture, poem, or building. I believe no composers or performers before the twentieth century had to grapple with these conflicting views of music.
[pp. 226-227]

The twentieth centurys preoccupation, through recordings, with a constantly updated living museum of Western Music, resulted in a constant revision of our perception of the music of the past. This in turn led to a restless quest for the definitive version, the perfect interpretation, the search for authenticity. It is as if modern artists were expected to paint their pictures actually inside the National Gallery and the Tate, alongside the masters of the past, whose reputations and achievements bear heavily down upon them, watching their every brush stroke. Prior to the arrival of recorded sound, the overwhelming majority of concerts would have included music of the present or recent past - it was the norm. The story of music-listening habits in the twentieth century, on the other hand, is more or less the triumph of the past over the present. Even a glance at current classical CD charts shows that our thirst for repackaged, recorded or edited antiquity far exceeds our interest in even the most popular of our contemporary classical composers such as Glass, Nyman, Tavener or Grecki.
[p. 228]

Ghost Country

Sara Paretsky, 1998

Over dinner that night, Harriet taxed Lontano. “Surely you must know something of his family. All I need is the name of the town where he was born —- with that I could find out the rest.”

The professor raised thin brows. “And why do you want to know, my dear Harriet?”

Harriet flushed at the ironic tone. “His blood is in our veins, after all, and if I ever have a child—”

“This obsessionwith blood.” Lontano threw up her hands. “I never could talk Abraham Out of it, but don’t you girls start on it. It’s at the root of every horrific act of the twentieth century. I sometimes think you Americans are as bad as the Nazis ever were, worrying about mixed races, or degenerate races, and the effect of Asian or African peoples on your Nordic blood. It’s a social construction, nothing else. For you, Abraham was your grandfather. I see no reason to stop calling him that, or to dig into that long-dead past.”

After that Mara started looking forward to meals with Lontano.
[p. 374]

Toxic Shock

Sara Paretsky, 1988

"I like being my own boss. And I don't have the desire to do it on the scale you've achieved."

"Your clients speak very highly of you. I was talking to Gordon Firth just today and he mentioned how grateful the Ajax board was for your efforts there."

"I'm delighted to hear it," I said, sinking back in the chair and sipping some more.

"Gordon does a lot of my insurance, of course."

Of course. Gustav calls Gordon and tells him he neds a thousand tons of insurance and Gordon says sure and thirty young men and women work eighty-hour weeks for a month putting it all together and then the two shake hands genially at the Standard Club and thank each other for their trouble.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick, 1968

‘Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers of yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.’

‘I see.’ The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.

‘There’s the First Law of Kipple,’ he said. ‘“Kipple drives out nonkipple.” Like Gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody there to fight the kipple.’

‘So it has taken over completely,’ the girl finished. She nodded. ‘Now I understand’

‘Your place, here,’ he said, ‘this apartment you’ve picked — it’s too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apts. But —‘ He broke off.

‘But what?’

Isidore said. ‘We can’t win.’

‘Why not?’ The girl stepped into the hail, closing the door behind her; aims folded self-consciously before her small high breasts she faced him, eager to understand. Or so it appeared to him, anyhow. She was at least listening.

‘No one can win against kipple,’ he said, ‘except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.’
[p. 53]

He had wondered as had most people at one time or an. other precisely why an android bounced helplessly about when confronted by an empathy-measuring test. Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida. For one thing, the empathic faculty probably required an unimpaired group instinct; a solitary organism, such as a spider, would have no use for it; in fact it would tend to abort a spider’s ability to survive. It would make him conscious of the desire to live on the part of his prey. Hence all predators, even highly developed mammals such as cats, would starve.

Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the emphatic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As in the fusion with Mercer, everyone ascended together or, when the cycle had come to an end, fell together into the trough of the tomb world. Oddly, it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. A herd animal such as man would acquire a higher survival factor through this; an owl or a cobra would be destroyed.
[p. 28]


George Carlin (; don't skip the intro!), 2002?.

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less.

We buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.

We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years.

We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space.

We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.

We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.


The Lovely Bones

Alice Sebold, 2002

Part of me wished swift vengeance, wanted my father to turn into the man he could never have been - a man violent in rage. That's what you see in movies, that's what happens in the books people read. An everyman takes a gun or a knife and stalks the murderer of his family; he does a Bronson on them and everyone cheers.

What it was like:

Every day he got up. Before sleep wore off, he was who he used to be. Then, as his consciousness woke, it was as if poison seeped in. At first he couldn't even get up. He lay there under a heavy weight. But then only movement could save him, and he moved and he moved and he moved, no movement being enough to make up for it. The guilt on him, the hand of God pressing down on him, saying, You were not there when your daughter needed you.

Once We Were Worms

Simon Conway Morris, New Scientist, 2 August 2003.

Echinoderms such as sea urchins "once had brains but they have dispensed with them over the course of evolution."
[p. 36]

We are facing death in Iraq for no reason (a serving US soldier calls for the end of an occupation based on lies)

Tim Predmore, The Guardian, Friday September 19, 2003.

For the past six months, I have been participating in what I believe to be the great modern lie: Operation Iraqi Freedom. After the horrific events of September 11 2001, and throughout the battle in Afghanistan, the groundwork was being laid for the invasion of Iraq. "Shock and awe" were the words used to describe the display of power that the world was going to view upon the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was to be an up-close, dramatic display of military strength and advanced technology from within the arsenals of the American and British military.

But as a soldier preparing to take part in the invasion of Iraq, the words "shock and awe" rang deep within my psyche. Even as we prepared to depart, it seemed that these two great superpowers were about to break the very rules that they demanded others obey. Without the consent of the United Nations, and ignoring the pleas of their own citizens, the US and Britain invaded Iraq. "Shock and awe"? Yes, the words correctly described the emotional impact I felt as we embarked on an act not of justice, but of hypocrisy.

From the moment the first shot was fired in this so-called war of liberation and freedom, hypocrisy reigned. After the broadcasting of recorded images of captured and dead US soldiers on Arab television, American and British leaders vowed revenge while verbally assaulting the networks for displaying such vivid images. Yet within hours of the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons, the US government released horrific photographs of the two dead brothers for the entire world to view. Again, a "do as we say and not as we do" scenario.

As soldiers serving in Iraq, we have been told that our purpose is to help the people of Iraq by providing them with the necessary assistance militarily, as well as in humanitarian efforts. Then tell me where the humanity is in the recent account in Stars and Stripes (the newspaper of the US military) of two young children brought to a US military camp by their mother in search of medical care.

The two children had, unknowingly, been playing with explosive ordnance they had found, and as a result they were severely burned. The account tells how, after an hour-long wait, they - two children - were denied care by two US military doctors. A soldier described the incident as one of many "atrocities" on the part of the US military he had witnessed.

Thankfully, I have not personally been a witness to atrocities - unless, of course, you consider, as I do, that this war in Iraq is the ultimate atrocity.

So what is our purpose here? Was this invasion because of weapons of mass destruction, as we have so often heard? If so, where are they? Did we invade to dispose of a leader and his regime because they were closely associated with Osama bin Laden? If so, where is the proof?

Or is it that our incursion is about our own economic advantage? Iraq's oil can be refined at the lowest cost of any in the world. This looks like a modern-day crusade not to free an oppressed people or to rid the world of a demonic dictator relentless in his pursuit of conquest and domination, but a crusade to control another nation's natural resource. Oil - at least to me - seems to be the reason for our presence.

There is only one truth, and it is that Americans are dying. There are an estimated 10 to 14 attacks every day on our servicemen and women in Iraq. As the body count continues to grow, it would appear that there is no immediate end in sight.

I once believed that I was serving for a cause - "to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States". Now I no longer believe that; I have lost my conviction, as well as my determination. I can no longer justify my service on the basis of what I believe to be half-truths and bold lies.

With age comes wisdom, and at 36 years old I am no longer so blindly led as to believe without question. From my arrival last November at Fort Campbell, in Kentucky, talk of deployment was heard, and as that talk turned to actual preparation, my heart sank and my doubts grew. My doubts have never faded; instead, it has been my resolve and my commitment that have.

My time here is almost done, as well as that of many others with whom I have served. We have all faced death in Iraq without reason and without justification. How many more must die? How many more tears must be shed before Americans awake and demand the return of the men and women whose job it is to protect them, rather than their leader's interest?

· Tim Predmore is a US soldier on active duty with the 101st Airborne Division, based near Mosul in northern Iraq. A version of this article appeared in the Peoria Journal Star, Illinois

© LATWP News Service

The Iraq War and Contempt for Democracy,

Noam Chomsky, October 31, 2003.

In December 2002, Jack Straw, then foreign minister, released a dossier of Saddam's crimes. It was drawn almost entirely from the period of firm US-UK support, a fact overlooked with the usual display of moral integrity. The timing and quality of the dossier raised many questions, but those aside, Straw failed to provide an explanation for his very recent conversion to skepticism about Saddam Hussein's good character and behavior.

When Straw was home secretary in 2001, an Iraqi who fled to England after detention and torture requested asylum. Straw denied his request. The Home Office explained that Straw "is aware that Iraq, and in particular the Iraqi security forces, would only convict and sentence a person in the courts with the provision of proper jurisdiction," so that "you could expect to receive a fair trial under an independent and properly constituted judiciary."

The Case of the Mysterious Mind (New Scientist)

Susan Blackmore, 13 December 2003

Phenomenology has recently become very trendy in consciousness studies... in this context "superposition" has nothing to do with quantum physics, but refers to Husserl's idea that conscious experience is always heaped up with meanings - every moment of awareness is a pile of interpretations all in superposition. A single state of mind is layered with harmonics of meaning - yet somehow remains one experience.
[p. 36]

In 1990 Jeffrey Elman, professor of cogitive science at the University of California, San Diego, proposed a new sort of "recurrent network" that has an extra "context layer". This copies the most recent state of a hidder layer and then presents it alongside the next input. So, in effect, the network enfolds both past and present information.
[p. 38]

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

Mil Millington, 2003

Most of the time I don't even remember that Ursula is German. We don't, quite honestly, go to a great many dinner parties and formal occasions so Ursula's distinctly German etiquette, with its unaffected, enquiring openness, doesn't make regular appearances to remind me. The English and German words are almost identical; `tact' and `takt'. The cultural definitions, however, are about as similar as if they were `goose down' and `Blitzkreig'. I'm staring right at Ursula's casually interested face, but I'm unable to speak or move. I see her lips begin to open.

`Divorced? Why is that, then?'
[p. 74]

`... There is no place for laughter in sex. Sex can survive almost anything else: guilt, the bleak spectre of our own mortality, odd noises, imperfect weather conditions, ill-placed components of car interiors. Massive doses of alcohol and drugs which render you utterly unable to perform even the most basic procedures are not only no hindrance to sex but, in fact, increase its likelihood no end. The only thing guaranteed to stop sex dead in its tracks is a laugh. Everthing nowadays tries to be a bit of a lark - "The Fun Way to Learn", "The Fun Way to Diet", "The Fun Way to Bank". Well, arse to that. Most stuff isn't fun; the world is eighty percent misery, suffering, injustice and gnawing existential bleakness. A further seventeen per cent is sheer, suffocating boredom. That leaves us with a couple of minutes of stolen "fun" a week, tops. Far better we spend that fun, I gently suggest, somewhere other than ruining a potentially serviceable bout of sex by guffawing the erotic frisson away. If you want a head-spinning whirlpool of desire, hunger, madness and ecstasy, then let's have sex - if you want a bit of fun, play Pictionary or something.'
[pp. 188-9]

The Independent.

Robert Fisk, 2nd January 2004.

So there you have it. More Israeli settlement building on Arab land and, I've no doubt, more Palestinian suicide bombings. More desperate attempts by the Americans to escape from Iraq and more talk of turning "New Iraq" into ethnic statelets. More Arab humiliation. More anger. More "war on terror". Flak jackets on for 2004.
[p. 14]

Best and Worst of Messaging & Collaboration in '03

Steve Gillmor, eWeek, January 2004

E-mail: E-mail has made every one of us a digital homeless person, going through the garbage cans each day looking for some scraps of information. The good news - the more useless it becomes, the sooner RSS will absorb collaborative communications and leave instant messaging and video conferencing to handle the real-time traffic.

The 25th Hour

David Benioff, 2000

The waiter comes over to take their order, scowl at their selections, and grab their menus without saying a word. Jakob imagines the waiter as the great poet of his generation, forced to flee China for supporting dissident causes, forced to make a living serving food without spice to men without talent.
[p. 112]

Einstein on God

Albert Einstein, 1954

... The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.

An abridgement of the letter from Albert Einstein to Eric Gutkind from Princeton in January 1954, translated from German by Joan Stambaugh.

Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

David J.C. MacKay, June 2008

The safety of nuclear operations in Britain remains a concern. The THORP reprocessing facility at Sellafield, built in 1994 at a cost of £1.8 billion, had a growing leak from a broken pipe from August 2004 to April 2005. Over eight months, the leak let 85 thousand litres of uranium-rich fluid flow into a sump which was equipped with safety systems that were designed to detect immediately any leak of as little as 15 litres. But the leak went undetected because the operators hadn't completed the checks that ensured the safety systems were working; and the operators were in the habit of ignoring safety alarms anyway.

The safety system came with belt and braces. Independent of the failed safety alarms, routine safety-measurements of fluids in the sump should have detected the abnormal presence of uranium within one month of the start of the leak; but the operators often didn't bother taking these routine measurements, because they felt too busy; and when they did take measurements that detected the abnormal presence of uranium in the sump (on 28 August 2004, 26 November 2004, and 24 February 2005), no action was taken.

By April 2005, 22 tons of uranium had leaked, but still none of the leak-detection systems detected the leak. The leak was finally detected by accountancy, when the bean-counters noticed that they were getting 10% less uranium out than their clients claimed they'd put in! Thank goodness this private company had a profit motive, hey? The criticism of the Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations was withering: "The Plant was operated in a culture that seemed to allow instruments to operate in alarm mode rather than questioning the alarm and rectifying the relevant fault."

If we let private companies build new reactors, how can we ensure that higher safety standards are adhered to? I don't know.
[p. 163] (Version 2.2.6 of June 30th 2008.) On-line version (PDF).

The Financialization of Capital and the Crisis

Bellamy Foster and Magdoff, 2009

At the root of the financialization tendency, Magdoff and Sweezy argued, was the underlying stagnation of the real economy, which was the normal state of modern capitalism. In this view, it was not stagnation that needed explaining so much as periods of rapid growth, such as the 1960s.

Mainstream economists have paid scant attention to the stagnation tendency in the mature economies. In received economic ideology rapid growth is considered to be an intrinsic property of capitalism as a system. Confronted with what looks like the onset of a major economic slowdown we are thus encouraged to see this as a mere cyclical phenomenon - painful, but self-correcting. Sooner rather than later a full recovery will occur and growth will return to its normal fast-pace.

There is, however, a radically different economic view, of which Magdoff and Sweezy were among the chief representatives, that suggests that the normal path of the mature capitalist economies, such as those of the United States, the major Western European countries, and Japan, is one of stagnation rather than rapid growth. In this perspective, today's periodic crises, rather than merely constituting temporary interruptions in a process of accelerated advance, point to serious and growing long-term constraints on capital accumulation.

A capitalist economy in order to continue to grow must constantly find new sources of demand for the growing surplus that it generates. There comes a time, however, in the historical evolution of the economy when much of the investment-seeking surplus generated by the enormous and growing productivity of the system is unable to find sufficient new profitable investment outlets. The reasons for this are complex having to do with (1) the maturation of economies, in which the basic industrial structure no longer needs to be built up from scratch but simply reproduced (and thus can be normally funded out of depreciation allowances); (2) the absence for long periods of any new technology that generates epoch-making stimulation and transformation of the economy such as with the introduction of the automobile (even the widespread use of computers and the Internet has not had the stimulating effect on the economy of earlier transformative technologies); (3) growing inequality of income and wealth, which limits consumption demand at the bottom of the economy, and tends to reduce investment as unused productive capacity builds up and as the wealthy speculate more with their funds instead of investing in the "real" economy - the goods and services producing sectors; and (4) a process of monopolization (oligopolization), leading to an attenuation of price competition - usually considered to be the main force accounting for the flexibility and dynamism of the system.

Historically, stagnation made its presence felt most dramatically in the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was interrupted by the economic stimulus provided by the Second World War and by the exceptionally favorable conditions immediately after the war in the so-called "Golden Age." But as the favorable conditions waned stagnation resurfaced in the 1970s. Manufacturing capacity utilization began its secular decline that has continued to the present, averaging only 79.8 percent in the 1972-2007 period (as compared to an average of 85 percent in 1960¿69). Partly as a result net investment has faltered (see chart 2).
[pp. 101-102, also at Monthly Review]

A key element in explaining this whole dynamic is to be found in the falling ratio of wages and salaries as a percentage of national income in the United States. Stagnation in the 1970s led capital to launch an accelerated class war against workers to raise profits by pushing labor costs down. The result was decades of increasing inequality. 33 Chart 3 shows a sharp decline in the share of wages and salaries in GDP between the late 1960s and the present. This reflected the fact that real wages of private nonagricultural workers in the United States (in 1982 dollars) peaked in 1972 at $8.99 per hour, and by 2006 had fallen to $8.24 (equivalent to the real hourly wage rate in 1967), despite the enormous growth in productivity and profits over the past few decades.

This was part of a massive redistribution of income and wealth to the top. Over the years 1950 to 1970, for each additional dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent of income earners, those in the top 0.01 percent received an additional $162. In contrast, from 1990 to 2002, for each added dollar made by those in the bottom 90 percent, those in the uppermost 0.01 percent (today around 14,000 households) made an additional $18,000. In the United States the top 1 percent of wealth holders in 2001 together owned more than twice as much as the bottom 80 percent of the population. If this were measured simply in terms of financial wealth, i.e., excluding equity in owner-occupied housing, the top 1 percent owned more than four times the bottom 80 percent. Between 1983 and 2001, the top 1 percent grabbed 28 percent of the rise in national income, 33 percent of the total gain in net worth, and 52 percent of the overall growth in financial worth.

The truly remarkable fact under these circumstances was that household consumption continued to rise from a little over 60 percent of GDP in the early 1960s to around 70 percent in 2007. This was only possible because of more two-earner households (as women entered the labor force in greater numbers), people working longer hours and filling multiple jobs, and a constant ratcheting up of consumer debt.
[pp. 130, also at Monthly Review]

Treasury Secretary Paulson¿s request to Congress in September 2008, for $700 billion with which to bail out the financial system may constitute a turning point in the popular recognition of, and outrage over, the economic problem, raising for the first time in many years the issue of a political economy. It immediately became apparent to the entire population that the critical question in the financial crisis and in the deep economic stagnation that was emerging was: Who will pay? The answer of the capitalist system, left to its own devices, was the same as always: the costs would be borne disproportionately by those at the bottom. The old game of privatization of profits and socialization of losses would be replayed for the umpteenth time. The population would be called upon to "tighten their belts" to "foot the bill" for the entire system. The capacity of the larger public to see through this deception in the months and years ahead will of course depend on an enormous amount of education by trade union and social movement activists, and the degree to which the empire of capital is stripped naked by the crisis.

There is no doubt that the present growing economic bankruptcy and political outrage have produced a fundamental break in the continuity of the historical process. How should progressive forces approach this crisis? First of all, it is important to discount any attempts to present the serious economic problems that now face us as a kind of "natural disaster." They have a cause, and it lies in the system itself. And although those at the top of the economy certainly did not welcome the crisis, they nonetheless have been the main beneficiaries of the system, shamelessly enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of the population, and should be held responsible for the main burdens now imposed on society. It is the well-to-do who should foot the bill - not only for reasons of elementary justice, but also because they collectively and their system constitute the reason that things are as bad as they are; and because the best way to help both the economy and those at the bottom is to address the needs of the latter directly. There should be no golden parachutes for the capitalist class paid for at taxpayer expense.
[pp. 137, also at Monthly Review]