Friday, September 13, 2002

"Mindful that melancholy is a sin, though / Stylish at present. . . ."

If people doubt whether formal verse still matters, or for that matter is still being written, they should read the poetry of Timothy Steele. (I guess the bigger question is whether poetry still matters. Obviously, I think so.) For an interesting take on contemporary poetry generally--at least its West Coast branch--see this article.

Sapphics Against Anger

Angered, may I be near a glass of water;
May my first impulse be to think of Silence,
Its deities (who are they? do, in fact, they
Exist? etc.).

May I recall what Aristotle says of
The subject: to give vent to rage is not to
Release it but to be increasingly prone
To its incursions.

May I imagine being in the Inferno,
Hearing it asked: "Virgilo mio, who's
That sulking with Achilles there?" and hearing
Virgil say: "Dante,

That fellow, at the slightest provocation
Slammed phone receivers down, and waved his arms like
A madman. What Atilla did to Europe,
What Genghis Khan did

To Asia, that poor dope did to his marriage."
May I, that is, put learning to good purpose,
Mindful that melancholy is a sin, though
Stylish at present.

Better than rage is the post-dinner quiet,
The sink's warm turbulence, the streaming platters,
The suds rehearsing down the drain in spirals
In the last rinsing.

For what is, after all, the good life save that
Conducted thoughtfully, and what is passion
If not the holiest of powers, sustaining
Only if mastered.

Timothy Steele (1986)

Thursday, September 12, 2002

The three-digit winning number from last night's "Numbers" Lottery in New York.
This just in from MaxSpeak


[From Le Monde et La Merde, September 12, 2002] BRUXELLE

The storied war cabinet of the European Union continued to meet today, deep in deliberations on restoring order to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Florida, U.S.A. Sources said debate bogged down initially over disagreements over whether order had actually prevailed in the first place.

EU Minister of Information & Household Appliances Bo Husqvarnaquistholm from Sweden reported to the group on the present situation: "We have an across the board breakdown of the state's social and public services. The Child Welfare Department has been taken over by people who believe in flogging disobedient minors. Law enforcement agencies let perpetrators of drug offenses walk away from arrest. They prefer to focus on conducting surveillance on houses of prostitution. Election officials are ignorant of election laws. Election workers are ignorant of how to administer elections. Governor Jeb Bush is ignorant of the fact that elections are a state government responsibility. Dogs and cats have begun to try to eat each other, while alligators are eating them both. Janet Reno evades apprehension and is liable to eat anything."

Minister of State Stability Sylvio Pecorino of Italy summed up the governance problem. "Legitimacy of the state has evaporated, given the debacle of the 2000 election, compounded by this week's repeat performance. The counties don't recognize the governor and the governor can't find the counties. We must act to bring self-government to the workers, peasants, and fisherpersons, both gay and straight. Regime change is imperative."

Ministrix of Tough Love Helga Von Weinerschlanger laid out the military options. "We can have an allied force of French Foreign Legion, Swiss Guard, and Italian Carabinieri there in 48 hours. They can liberate the state in several days. Then a Dutch Psycho-Active Warfare unit can move in and dose the population into a state of blissful repose while we mop up isolated bands of Christian and Jewish fundamentalist extremists."

The Belgian Convenor of the group, Leopoldo Poirot, twirled his linguini for a moment and asked, "But is it legal? Shouldn't we go to the United Nations first? Why not start with election inspections? What's Jimmy Carter doing these days?"

French Minister of Deconstruction and Semiotics Petit Labelle objected, "Absoluement Pas! If we do the U.S. will automatically veto and we will be stymied. Meanwhile Floridians will continue to suffer. Better to intimate broad consensus and promise to form a gigantic 'coalition.' If someone says nobody supports the action, we say they will really be glad to see us act, even if they are reluctant to say so."

The Portuguese Minister of Wine and Wool, Vino Verde, offered a conciliatory idea: "We can have inspections first. We just make sure they fail; that gives us the pretext to invade."

The only residual issue was the delicate one of finance. The Spanish Minister of Platas asked, "Our per capita income is lower than Mississippi's. How can we expect to pay for this enterprise?"

Swiss Minister of Numbered Accounts Franz Lucre replied, "Simple. We drill for oil off the coast, turn the Everglades into a condominium development, and nationalize Disney World."

The assembled agreed to have their nationalized television networks immediately begin to propagandize on behalf of the mission. Dissident commentators carefully chosen for their flaccidity would be engaged to argue the anti-EU position, after having the crap kicked out of them for about forty minutes. Upon completion of the operation, it would be submitted to the European Parliament for approval.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Photographing New York, U. S. A. -- on a slender support 18 stories above the pavement of Fifth Avenue (1905).
It looks like I'm not the only blogger to ponder doing a media free day today. Obviously, I'm on the internet, so I didn't do it. To me a media free day means no: Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies, internet, books, music, etc. No media at all. What do you do? I'm not really sure. Think. Play some games. Talk with people. Take a walk in the woods?

Last year's events were probably the most well-covered stories by the U.S. media since television was invented (in terms of sheer volume). Did the media manipulate people's feelings or help them to cope better? Is this date an appropriate one to do a media free day, or is that ignoring what happened and dishonoring those who suffered? Are media free days in general a good thing, or a waste of energy?
“O qui perpetua mundum ratione gubernas . . .”

Having lit a little fuse, I will now equivocate.

William Hazlitt said, “If we wish to know the force of human genius, we should read Shakespeare. If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning, we may study his commentators.” This comes close my feelings about discussions of creation, evolution, etc--especially my own contributions. Anyway . . .

My experience tells me that the world’s—the universe’s—magnificent order suggests that something awesome has been at work, and for a very long time. Unfortunately, we’re not really equipped to do more than merely describe the small slice of it that we perceive. That small slice seems to indicate that things like planets and organisms have emerged from some earlier state, a bit of which we can reconstruct, according to laws we understand in part. And beyond that, I think we’re out of our depth, at least as far as science is concerned, because I doubt very much whether it will ever, can ever say anything meaningful about (philosophy 101 phrase alert) first origins.

I think that the notion of an origin makes recognition of a Designer inescapable. (Borges said, "One concept corrupts and confuses the others. I am not speaking of the Evil, whose limited sphere is ethics; I am speaking of the infinite.") On the one hand, I cannot help thinking that the universe is really as old as astronomy tells us it is and that humans are really products of evolution as biology tells us we are. But on the other hand, I cannot help thinking that it’s all part of a Plan and that the Plan is the work of a Designer, namely God. I cannot see how the engine of the Universe could make stars and cells without a divine plan, because it all started somewhere.

That's my attempt at a rational explanation. Here's a personal one. If I find prayer powerful—and I do; if I think that I have, or my son has, a soul—and I do; if I sense that my life and his life have some significance, some purpose—and I do; well, then, it’s not a big leap from “I owe my life to God” to “the Universe owes its origin and form to God.” See, I start small, in my own home, and figure that if its existence and its potential have anything to do with God, then everything, big or small, does.
The Human Toll

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

It's Evolution Day today on the Collaboratory, so how about

The Evolution of the Alphabet

SEE its humble beginnings as Proto-Sinaitic glyphs!!

WATCH its development into Hebrew and Aramaic!!

MARVEL at its morphing from Phoenician to Greek and then to Latin!!

WONDER as its many off shoots evolve from Greek to Cyrillic, Phoenician to Arabic!!

and much more...
One of the finest works of fantasy literature of the last twenty years is Guy Gavriel Kay's novel Tigana. This is the story of a kingdom which has been almost totally erased from memory by a powerful and evil wizard, and the struggles of its onetime citizens -- who are the only ones who remember Tigana, and who are the only ones who can even hear its name -- to restore their lost, loved land.

I was put in mind of Tigana by this TIME article about the rise of "virtual states" in today's world and the dangers they pose to "actual states". I posted the following to the message boards over at GGK's official site:

Last week, Time Magazine ran an article (which can be read here) which stated, among other things, that wars are likely to be much more dangerous in the coming century because of the rise of "virtual states", of which Al Qaeda is the prime example today. These are states that do not exist on any map; there are no natural borders, no capital city, nothing of the geographical reality that we typically take to be part-and-parcel of "statehood". But there are other aspects of statehood that exist: a trained standing army and intelligence cadre; a treasury and a source of revenue; a civil service and even a rudimentary welfare system for the families of its fighters.

The author of this article suggests that this nature of war -- i.e., that it will increasingly be waged between "real states" and "virtual states" -- will shift the moralities of war to a great degree. The author takes this to be a justification for the apparently-impending US action against Iraq, for example. (I'm not sure I buy that particular line of argument, but it's definitely the most intriguing justification for my country's wallow in unilateralism that I've seen yet.)

All this talk about "virtual states" and the nature of a war against a virtual state put me in mind of Tigana, for in some way Tigana is, in fact, a "virtual state". Even though it was once a real state on the map, now it only exists in the minds and hearts of its citizens; and the nature of Brandin's struggle against the Tigana that exists at the time of the events of the novel are completely different than the nature of the struggle of his against Tigana when it actually existed "on the map".

Of course, Tigana's hope is to rise again as a "real state"; and so, too, can that be said to be Al Qaeda's aim: the establishment of a theocratic pan-Islamic kingdom.

Any thoughts here? (BTW, if you haven't read any GGK yet, well, why on earth NOT?)

OK, I think this has the makings of a Front Page Post:

I commented on John's Vitruvian Man post that one might conclude there was a Designer.

Jason suggested (maybe only for the sake of argument, I don't know yet) that maybe natural selection could produce such results.

Then I say:

no, no, a resounding 'no'. do you think so? could natural selection have produced the beauty and intricacy we see in nature? no strings attached - what do you think? i find such a notion in-credible. which requires the bigger leap of faith - belief in a Designer (not talking Judeo-Christian God here, necessarily) or chance and natural selection? it's clear in my mind by orders of magnitude. but is that my own prejudice? what do you guys think?
The 9/11 anniversary brought this poem to mind.

The Explosion

On the day of the explosion
Shadows pointed towards the pithead:
In the sun the slagheap slept.

Down the lane cames men in pitboots
Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke,
Shouldering off the freshened silence.

One chased after rabbits; lost them;
Came back with a nest of lark’s eggs;
Showed them; lodged them in grasses.

So they passed in beards and moleskins,
Fathers, brothers, nicknames, laughter,
Through the tall gates standing open.

At noon, there came a tremor; cows
Stopped chewing for a second; sun,
Scarfed as in a heat-haze, dimmed.

The dead go on before us, they
Are sitting in God’s house in comfort,
We shall see them face to face—

Plain as lettering in the chapels
It was said, and for a second
Wives saw men of the explosion

Larger than in life they managed—
Gold as on a coin, or walking
Somehow from the sun towards them,

One showing the eggs unbroken.

Phillip Larkin (1974)

Monday, September 09, 2002

This is for Jaq. I'll admit it's not quite as elegant but, what the hell, it's a...

A 15,139 Word Palindrome!

A man, a plan, a caddy, Ore, Lee, tsuba, Thaine, a lair, Uball, EHFA,Jaela, Gant, Masai, Liana, DVS, USES, Ojai, Ruyter, Geraint, Irbid,Naman, a milliard, Nahant, Epps, Argall, Emil, Lepus, a tort, a loon,Samia, HCM, a deme, Lenaea, glebae, Keon, a cart, seraphs, a suitor,Gilly, TSF, Fargo, Trask, Orissa, NbW, a pas, Arda, Bab, Undry, Bida,Sena, Eliott, Idaho, Nadda, Jasen, Egan, Nowata, SWA, jaws, Molina,Dalpe, Paz, Ilan, Igenia, Merth, Gupta, Omarr, Ocilla, Var, Ohara,Daktyl, an anaspid, Nemea, Nedda, Bayard, a toss, Italy, AHSA, Tagore,a psalm, Cannae, Soracco, rammi, Rota, Kaela, ZANU, Imo, Johns, a dey,Assad, Imitt, a ppl, Ogaden, Ivar, a sack, Conal, a hegari, Magel,Otina, Raddi, Lydie, Hagi, Asat, Alfadir, a canaille, Roca, Saharan, acoati, Elf, Rutan, agapai, Skaw, Sunay, B. Ag. Sc., MFS, a sruti, Hwu, anoddle, Fuji, Nissan, Repeal, Ugrian, a sag, Ravens, Enarete, Olfe,Losse, veeries, Sinan, Ida, Leckie, Ryle, Volapuk, Raman, Aigneis,Hapte, Biton, Enid, orgies, Inger, Daph, Inanna, Earvin, Utter, agumi, HCF, Logan, SbE, Beberg, Ito, Mohamed, O'Malley, a cain, amonomania, Rct, Tarragona, Musa, Yesima, Cavan, a sori, PSS, Nananne,Borg, a toga, Farron, Kasai, Hejira, Hapi, Bainter, Bataan, Ilke,Dunant, Callan, Woden, Ierna, Gamin, an ace, Lanier, Even, Uranus,Llano, Snapp, Elexa, Shu, LBP, Ont, Soho, York, UFC, paise, Dali,Zaller, Rubin, navettes, Usbeg, a hag, Radack, a name, Elkin, Nagy,Tasia, sambas, Sakkara, Boer, Ivan, Rolf, G. Katona, Jariah, Camag, atsar, Egeria, Tenn, a yaffle, Paton, Ripley, a gleet, Saida, Tsai, abetel, CIF, Tepper, Tsan, a soroban, Alia, Berey, Utamaro, Leix, Imre,herdmen, Imena, Likasi, Laclos, Oeflein, Netty, Pto, Sasha, Lufkin,Dunarea, Banda, Waite, DMD, Vetter, Eipper, Pareto, O'Fallon, Kale,Cramer, Iaso, Neosho, Basile, MSME, Garate, Poppo, mota, Lapsey,Blighty, a fuel, Axe, Dagan, a say', Gun, a mow, Ital, Este, Nodab,LaSorella, Krio, Nerissa, Cilo, Neisa, Casi, Laplace, Nessus,Palaemon, Egadi, ovaria, Hank, Emily, Hannan, an agron, a lam, Ronald,Bahia, Damalas, Ramon, Issachar, RATO, genae, Terceira, Koa, IJssel,Ruhr, a dekko, Orcadian, a tier, Katti, Lossa, visas, BAgr, Ebsen,Names, Rowan, Nils, Iobates, a lie, Taka, Busiris, Edmea, Hara, ...etc etc... a canal, Panama!

Hand drawn holograms

One sunny day, William J. Beaty was walking through a car park (as you do) when he noticed a black car which appeared to have a series of interesting spots and highlights on its paint work. On closer inspection, he also noticed several hand prints which had a curious property, they didn't appear to be on the surface of the paint work at all but instead looked as though they were floating several inches below the surface and in some cases even looked like they were floating above it!

After some pondering about what he had seen he slowly came to realise that he had discovered a kind of holographic effect. But this kind of hologram didn't require all the usual paraphernalia such as lasers and mirrors nor was it caused by the traditionally understood holographic effect of light wave interference. In essence, a three dimensional image simply requires two different images to be presented, one to each eye and these images were being made up from the geometry of the scratches on the paintwork.

Imagine you are holding a piece of dark plastic outside in the sun. Now with a compass, make an arc in the plastic, (but do it softly: the arc needs to be dark and shiny not white and powdery). This arc is the equivalent of a scratch on the paintwork and when the sun hits it you will get a reflected highlight (a bright spot) at some point along the arc. If you close one eye the highlight will appear at one point on the arc, if you switch to the other eye, the highlight will appear at a slightly different place. This is because the angle of each eye is different relative to the sheet of plastic and the sun. As you vary the radius of this arc, the amount of displacement between the two highlights varies, the smaller the radius the more the positions of the highlights will differ. Now when you view the arc with both eyes open, the two highlights will combine to form a single highlight and the amount of displacement combines to create an apparent sense of how far away the highlight is from the viewer.

So that's the basic phenomena but the interesting thing is that it is possible to use it to draw 3D images or holograms of just about anything. An image is made up of many points of light and is constructed by marking a sheet of black plastic with a great number of arcs. The illustration to the left demonstrates how to construct a simple "V" shape floating a few centimetres below the surface of a black plastic sheet. The radius of the compass corresponds approximately to the virtual depth of the object. Simply place one end of the compass at some point on the "V" and then make an arc at the top of the sheet, repeat this process over and over until you have covered as much of the "V" as possible and you have a series of arcs up at the top. Now take it out to view it in the sun or under a bright point source lamp.

You can find out more details about this interesting effect on this page, as well as how to go on and make more elaborate images such as 3D polyhedra.

Today's Spam

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The Secrets of Vitruvian Man

If the work Leonardo Da Vinci is synonymous in the popular imagination with the art of the Renaissance, then surely the ubiquitous image of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man has become synonymous with Leonardo himself. The sketch which was made in one of his famous notebooks in 1492, demonstrates Leonardo's notions of ideal form and proportion. But in this he is merely illustrating the thoughts of another earlier thinker, that of the ancient Roman Vitruvius who wrote: the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and them apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height ...

Note that the square when bisected at the navel forms two rectangles which are related by the Golden Ratio (which is to say that when looking at the smaller sides of each rectangle, the ratio of the two sides is equal to the ratio of the larger side and the side of the square itself). This kind of rectangle is said to be the visually most pleasing of all rectangles and one that is extensively used in classical architecture.

But only recently a new aspect of Vitruvian Man has come to light, that as well as demonstrating proportion, it contains within it an algorithm which attempts to solve one of the most ancient and intractable problems of Greek mathematics, that of Squaring the Circle.

Here is an interesting discussion of the mathematical inspiration behind Leonardo's most iconic work.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

Ground Zero