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Wednesday, January 31, 2007
being christian is about love not laws

My favorite of all the stories told about Jesus is one of the simplest.

The story is of Jesus' surprise visit with two friends, Martha and Mary. When Jesus arrives, Martha immediately does what she should: she prepares food. The meal is in the future and her job is to get there.

Mary, in contrast, simply "sat down at the Lord's feet and listened to him speaking." Martha gets progressively more irritated with Mary's indolence and finally bursts out: "Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me."

Jesus answers: "Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken away from her."

An endorsement of idleness? Of irresponsibility? Of selfishness? In a way, Mary is guilty of all these moral failings. By the book, she's wrong. But in that very moment, she is not merely right. She is, in Jesus' formulation, doing the only thing that is right. And she is doing nothing. She is merely being with Jesus.

She has let go.
things i have had time to do
Pullman contended that the literary School of Morals is inherently ambiguous, dynamic, and democratic: a “conversation.” Opposed to this ideal is “theocracy,” which he defined as encompassing everything from Khomeini’s Iran to explicitly atheistic states such as Stalin’s Soviet Union. He listed some characteristics of such states—among them, “a scripture whose word is inerrant,” a priesthood whose authority “tends to concentrate in the hands of elderly men,” and “a secret police force with the powers of an Inquisition.” Theocracies, he said, demonstrate “the tendency of human beings to gather power to themselves in the name of something that may not be questioned.”

This impulse toward theocracy, he announced at the end of his speech, “will defeat the School of Morals in the end.” He sounded oddly cheerful making this prediction; in his books, Pullman enjoys striking a tone of melancholy resolve. He continued, “But that doesn’t mean we should give up and surrender. . . . I think we should act as if. I think we should read books, and tell children stories, and take them to the theatre, and learn poems, and play music, as if it would make a difference. . . . We should act as if the universe were listening to us and responding. We should act as if life were going to win. . . . ”

Tuesday, January 23, 2007
who is this child?

"Like a star’s light, the flickerings of a child’s mind may well be gone by the time they reach our understanding."

maestro of the human ego

"The fatal thing is to shrink, to be interested in less, sympathetic to less, desiccating to the point where life itself loses its flavor, and one’s passion for human understanding changes to weariness and distaste."

Saturday, January 20, 2007
teen keen

There is no search party for a star gone dim. The empty space between distant airs doesn't care..

jejunum n.

The middle division of the small intestine, between the duodenum and ileum; -- so called because usually found empty after death.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
saw children of men and little children over the weekend (last weekend :)

next up (hopefully) babel, volver and pan's labyrinth (oh and perfume!*)

Sunday, January 14, 2007
a certain appreciation for the slopes

What I find most fascinating about Asians is not their apparent achievements in commerce and industry, nor even their prodigious intellectual capacity, which is well known among roundeyes to "raise the curve" (as if by some conspiracy) wherever Whites and Yellows congregate. No, rather, I am enthralled by the exquisite, acutely-refined aesthetic sensibilities possessed by these mass-produced little people, which they express in innumerable ways, despite their scientifically-proven lack of immortal souls. Imagine a colony of ants producing the Parthenon, and you will understand why I am so thrilled with the Inscrutibles. Inventive? Absolutely! After all, they came up with both paper and intaglio process printing, which, upon importation, precipitated an Information Revolution in the West. The fact that Asians only employed these seminal inventions to print their paintings -- while continuing to paint their books -- should not be held against them.
japanese repair culture and distributed manufacture
So, far from being costly to develop, bicycle manufacturing in Japan paid for itself at every stage of its development. And the Japanese got much more than a bicycle industry from the exercise. They had also acquired a model for many of their other industrial achievements: imitation and a system of reducing complex manufacturing work to a number of relatively simple operations which could be done in small autonomous workshops. The pattern was applied to the production of many other goods, and underwrote the soaring economic success of Japan during the twentieth century. Sony began life at the end of the Second World War as a small shop making tubes on contract for radio assemblers. The first Nikon cameras were exact copies of the Zeiss Contax; Canon copied the Leica; Toyota Landcruisers were powered by copies of the Chrysler straight-six engine.

Friday, January 12, 2007
the five-year forecast

catastrophe bonds are selling briskly as insurers seek ways to spread risk

Thursday, January 11, 2007
robert a wilson

stanford r ovshinsky

Thursday, January 4, 2007
lost intimacy

The main components of 'Lost Intimacy' are 'Forced Intimacy' and 'False Intimacy'. This phenomenon is something relatively new to our society and it's a result of such things as the internet, instant information, blogs, tabloid and tabloid journalism and the culture of celebrity among other things.
how i knew
Those who argue that the media desensitize us underestimate the human spirit. We care as much as we ever have about our fellow people, but time- and space-constrained media do not give us people to care about. They castrate each story’s humanity to make room for more, and in the end they leave us with caricatures.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007
the art of conversation

SIR ISAIAH BERLIN, a Latvian-born Oxford philosopher who died in 1997, may well have ranked among the greatest conversationalists who ever lived. According to Robert Darnton, a Princeton historian, Berlin's friends would “watch him as if he were a trapeze artist, soaring through every imaginable subject, spinning, flipping, hanging by his heels and without a touch of showmanship”. Darnton reckoned that Berlin's only match in relatively modern times might have been Denis Diderot, an 18th-century French Enlightenment philosopher. By one account Diderot's conversation was “enlivened by absolute sincerity, subtle without obscurity, varied in its forms, dazzling in its flights of imagination, fertile in ideas and in its capacity to inspire ideas in others. One let oneself drift along with it for hours at a time, as if one were gliding down a fresh and limpid river, whose banks were adorned with rich estates and beautiful houses.”

[...]

The conversation of the French salons and dinner tables became as stylised as a ballet. The basic skills brought to the table were expected to include politesse (sincere good manners), esprit (wit), galanterie (gallantry), complaisance (obligingness), enjouement (cheerfulness) and flatterie. More specific techniques would be required as the conversation took flight. A comic mood would require displays of raillerie (playful teasing), plaisanterie (joking), bons mots (epigrams), traits and pointes (rhetorical figures involving “subtle, unexpected wit”, according to Benedetta Craveri, a historian of the period), and, later, persiflage (mocking under the guise of praising). Even silences had to be finely judged. The Duc de La Rochefoucauld distinguished between an “eloquent” silence, a “mocking” silence and a “respectful” silence. The mastery of such “airs and tones”, he said, was “granted to few”.

my dinner with andre

The idea is astonishing in its audacity: a film of two friends talking, just simply talking—but with passion, wit, scandal, whimsy, vision, hope, and despair—for 110 minutes. They are alive on the screen, breathing, pulsing, reminding us of endless, impassioned conversations we've had with those few friends worth talking with for hours and hours. Underneath all the other fascinating things in this film beats the tide of friendship, of two people with a genuine interest in one another.

[...]

The film's end is beautiful and inexplicably moving. Shawn returns home by taxi through the midnight streets of New York. Having spent hours with Gregory on a wild conversational flight, he is now reminded of scenes from his childhood. In that store, his father bought him shoes. In that one, he bought ice cream with a girl friend. The utter simplicity of his memories acts to dramatize the fragility and great preciousness of life. He has learned his friend's lesson.

Monday, January 1, 2007
a little hume

  1. But what have I here said, that reflections very refined and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, invironed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

  2. Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hoursÕ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

  3. Here then I find myself absolutely and necessarily determined to live, and talk, and act like other people in the common affairs of life. But notwithstanding that my natural propensity, and the course of my animal spirits and passions reduce me to this indolent belief in the general maxims of the world, I still feel such remains of my former disposition, that I am ready to throw all my books and papers into the fire, and resolve never more to renounce the pleasures of life for the sake of reasoning and philosophy. For those are my sentiments in that splenetic humour, which governs me at present. I may, nay I must yield to the current of nature, in submitting to my senses and understanding; and in this blind submission I shew most perfectly my sceptical disposition and principles. But does it follow, that I must strive against the current of nature, which leads me to indolence and pleasure; that I must seclude myself, in some measure, from the commerce and society of men, which is so agreeable; and that I must torture my brains with subtilities and sophistries, at the very time that I cannot satisfy myself concerning the reasonableness of so painful an application, nor have any tolerable prospect of arriving by its means at truth and certainty. Under what obligation do I lie of making such an abuse of time? And to what end can it serve either for the service of mankind, or for my own private interest? No: If I must be a fool, as all those who reason or believe any thing certainly are, my follies shall at least be natural and agreeable. Where I strive against my inclination, I shall have a good reason for my resistance; and will no more be led a wandering into such dreary solitudes, and rough passages, as I have hitherto met with. These are the sentiments of my spleen and indolence; and indeed I must confess, that philosophy has nothing to oppose to them, and expects a victory more from the returns of a serious good-humoured disposition, than from the force of reason and conviction. In all the incidents of life we ought still to preserve our scepticism. If we believe, that fire warms, or water refreshes, it is only because it costs us too much pains to think otherwise. Nay if we are philosophers, it ought only to be upon sceptical principles, and from an inclination, which we feel to the employing ourselves after that manner. Where reason is lively, and mixes itself with some propensity, it ought to be assented to. Where it does not, it never can have any title to operate upon us. At the time, therefore, that I am tired with amusement and company, and have indulged a reverie in my chamber, or in a solitary walk by a river-side, I feel my mind all collected within itself, and am naturally inclined to carry my view into all those subjects, about which I have met with so many disputes in the course of my reading and conversation. I cannot forbear having a curiosity to be acquainted with the principles of moral good and evil, the nature and foundation of government, and the cause of those several passions and inclinations, which actuate and govern me. I am uneasy to think I approve of one object, and disapprove of another; call one thing beautiful, and another deformed; decide concerning truth and falshood, reason and folly, without knowing upon what principles I proceed. I am concerned for the condition of the learned world, which lies under such t deplorable ignorance in all these particulars. I feel an ambition to arise in me of contributing to the instruction of mankind, and of acquiring a name by my inventions and discoveries. These sentiments spring up naturally in my present disposition; and should I endeavour to banish them, by attaching myself to any other business or diversion, I feel I should be a loser in point of pleasure; and this is the origin of my philosophy.
proust on the novelist's art
  1. "...none of the feelings which the joys or misfortunes of a 'real' person awaken in us can be awakened except through a mental picture of those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the first novelist lay in his understanding that, as the picture was the one essential element in the complicated structure of our emotions, so that simplification of it which consisted in the suppression, pure and simple, of 'real' people would be a decided improvement.

  2. A 'real' person, profoundly as we may sympathise with him, is in a great measure perceptible only through our senses, that is to say, he remains opaque, offers a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the strength to lift.

  3. If some misfortune comes to him, it is only in one small section of the complete idea we have of him that we are capable of feeling any emotion; indeed it is only in one small section of the complete idea he has of himself that he is capable of feeling any emotion either.

  4. The novelist's happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable by the human spirit, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is, which the spirit can assimilate to itself.

  5. After which it matters not that the actions, the feelings of this new order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth, since we have made them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are happening, that they are holding in thrall, while we turn over, feverishly, the pages of the book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist has brought us to that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid, and of a more lasting impression than those which come to us in sleep; why, then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which, only, we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the keenest, the most intense of which would never have been revealed to us because the slow course of their development stops our perception of them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and that is our worst misfortune; but we learn of it only from reading or by imagination; for in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change."

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