Monday, November 28, 2011

The Archaic Revival Revived

The psychedelic brew ayahuasca, developed by the indigenous people of South America and used as a sacrament by the syncretic Santo Daime religion, is gaining in popularity in the US. Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) has a memoir on the subject coming out next year, spiritual searchers are holding shamanic sessions with the drug in New York yoga studios. The McKenna brothers would be proud. Alistair Appleton, TV presenter, meditation teacher and ayahuasca enthusiast, did a 30 minute documentary, "The Man Who Drank the Universe", and condicts regular retreats in Brazil to experience the drug. He's uploaded a "shiny, new" digital print to Vimeo:
The Man Who Drank the Universe from alistair Appleton on Vimeo.

Links for Later 11-28-11: Polyglots

  1.  Vladimir Skulkety speaks 11 languages. Here's his blog
  2. Mike Campbell ("Glossika" on YouTube) is learning 18 indigenous Taiwanese languages in 4 months, and speaks a number of others
  3. "Charley Cheer" speaks 6 languages
  4. A forum for polyglots & language students
  5. Alexander Arguelles reads/speaks a phenomenal number of languages present and past within the Germanic and Romance language groups, as well as a smattering of others 

Friday, November 25, 2011

For my Brother Esau is an Hairy Man

Alan Bennett - "Take a Pew" In which an Anglican priest delivers a most remarkable sermon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saved by an Idea

Grant Morrison, in Supergods and elsewhere, says that the idea of The Bomb nearly drove him to despair, but that the idea of Superman saved him by being a better idea. Helen DeWitt, in today's interview with the LA Review of Books, says that she was saved by the idea of Oxford in a similar way:
When I started college I thought I would now lead the life of the mind, rather than making good grades. It wasn’t like that. I hated the intellectual mediocrity, I did not know how to find something better; I attempted suicide for the first time at 19. Afterwards I asked myself: Is there anything, anything at all, that would make it a good thing that I did not die? And I thought: If I could go to Oxford, where the life of the mind is taken seriously, that would make it a good thing. Years later a psychologist told me it was not necessary to commit suicide when alienated by intellectual mediocrity: He had gone to Cornell, with its frat culture, but he had found one friend and it had been all right. He asked me why dealing with my publishers had led to a suicide attempt, and I said, well, if a book is technically challenging it is hard to get it through the machine, but if you want to write a work of genius it is necessary to take risks. He said: Your sanity is more important than writing a work of genius. I thought: Nobody who thinks that will ever write a work of genius. I thought: We all die sooner or later.

What I mean is. The Oxford of my imagination was not the Oxford of the actual world. But going to Oxford did transform me intellectually; it was the absolute impossibility of staying where I was, the ability to imagine something better, and the ability to work very hard for it, that took me there. In that sense the Oxford of my imagination was more powerful than the real university: I was trying to live by the standards of something that I had made up in my head, a place where everyone had read Proust in French, every classicist read the whole of Greek tragedy in the original….
Go and read the whole thing. Perhaps you will be saved by it. Who can tell? We are fortified in this life by the strangest and most happenstance of things.

Stanford Open Classes

What a great lineup of classes from Stanford, all available for free. I'm taking the Lean Startups one with Steve Blank, and maybe the Graphical Models one.

Links for Later 11-22-11

  1. Jeremy Renner's weird career
  2. Unemployment by college major (don't worry about it)
  3.  Rep. Joe Walsh is clueless about vets, OWS, child support, etc.
  4. Best review of Breaking Dawn to date
  5. New info on cancer causing airport scanners
  6. Fred Wilson on the difference between copyright infringement and theft

Umberto Eco on Conspiracies

Umberto Eco's latest novel, the Prague Cemetary, deals with the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion and related conspiracy theories. The phantom, or non-conspiracy is an ongoing theme in his work. Here, he's interviewed by Tablet magazine:
Karl Popper, the philosopher, has written a beautiful essay on the plot-paranoia syndrome. He said it starts with Homer. Everything that happens at Troy is decided the day before on Olympus with the gods. So, he says, every society in a way elaborates the paranoia of somebody on their shoulders, deciding their fates. First, it’s a way to escape responsibility. It’s not me, it’s not my fault. Second, it’s very useful, especially for dictatorships. All my youth, until the age of 10, I was educated under the fascist dictatorship. And they said there was the demo-pluto-judo-cratic plot—democracies, plutocracies, and the Jews. It was a general plot in the world to humiliate Italy. And until yesterday Berlusconi continued his campaign about the communist plot against Italy. We have no more communists! Not even with a candle can you find them.

Touching the Owl

This owl looks adorable when you pet it, but it's really thinking that you look like a giant mouse.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chancellor Katehi Walks to her Car

Following the UC Davis pepper spray incident, Chancellor Katehi held a press conference this weekend. The students surrounded the building, waited for her to come out, and greeted her with eerie silence.

Links for Later 11-21-11

  1. Texas drought reveals ghost towns beneath man-made lakes
  2. Svante Paabo finds out about your Neanderthal ancestors, and what Fox2p does for you

Saturday, November 19, 2011

UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident

Casual cruelty on display.

These examples of police brutality are beginning to have an iconic quality not seen since the 60's. A lot of people are getting pepper sprayed, truncheoned, and dragged off to jail, and each incident just feeds energy into the protests. A lot of people need to be fired over this.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Links for Later

  1. "If the human brain — with 100 billion neurons forging trillions of connections — were not complicated enough, research now suggests that every neuron may have its very own genome." (via marginal revolution)
  2. How, why and when cold calling beats AdWords
  3. Are heroin-addicted rats just unhappy with their lives? (via eli)
  4. Supercongress won't succeed
  5. Return of a 30's haircut
  6. James O'Keefe accused of doing political dirty work
  7. Against SOPA / Protect IP

Simpsons Made Real

From Reddit:

My grandma died, and a good friend asked: "Is there anything you need?" As a joke, I said, "A single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man's hat."

 This person's friend is a national treasure.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What I'm Reading

Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology. Ficino kicked off the Renaissance with his translation of Plato and the neo-Platonists from Greek into Latin, and was Lorenzo di Medici's go-to intellectual: physician, astrologer, and head of the Florentine reincarnation of the classical Academy. He was later charged with heresy, sodomy and what-have-you, but seems to have successfully defended himself. The Theology is what you end up with when a fearsomely intelligent and erudite man pulls out all the rhetorical stops and attempts to prove the immortality of the soul and the underlying unity of all religions using logic and the best science of the day. Like Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life , you may find the whole effort unconvincing, but you've got to admit that the man gave his best effort.

Edward Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. A deeply satisfying book, despite the occasional irruption of Luttwak's views on modern geopolitics into narratives about the first millennium CE, which mar an otherwise excellent, erudite and enjoyable book. Basic premises: unlike the Roman Empire and many contemporary powers, the Byzantines believed that prevarication, bribery and gradual attrition of the enemy is the least risky course; behind each defeated enemy is another enemy ready to take their place; and there is always someone who can be induced to attack your enemies, thus sparing your own resources. Fascinating view of the near 1000 year history of a civilization that I'd only read one set of books about previously (the John Julius Norwich triple decker).

North Morgan, Exit Through the Wound. I laughed out loud over the SAD therapy light sequence and the line about the typing fetish. Just a tremendously fun read, though I kept imagining a movie where main character Maine, played perhaps by Ryan Gosling, spends scene after scene staring listlessly at computer screens, family members, romantic partners, and hospital rooms. Make an iPod list of all the songs you listened to when you had a soul, consume 10mg Valium (if you have any. All I could find was a linty Midol tablet) and read this on the way to the gym.

The Lonely Forest

"Turn Off This Song And Go Outside"

Thinking about the Great Stagnation

fig 1: Technology adoption rates 1900-present, from this New York Times story, graphed by Nicholas Felton.

How Howard Sapolsky Writes

For someone who claims not to be a writer, he writes very well and with surprisingly little effort.

Links for Later 11-9-11

  1. Bacon's Four Sources of Error and Two Sources of Knowledge from Opus Majus
  2. Grand takedown of Anonymous (via Greer Gilman)
  3. Call Me Hope 
  4. The 300 look in Lightroom
  5. Why there are so many loons in the Republican nominating race: pandering, not running
  6. Union busting bill in Ohio repealed. There was much rejoicing.
  7. The six faces people make when being photographed
  8. Bill Daley being eased aside as WH Chief of Staff
  9. Agent-publishers

Monday, November 07, 2011

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Today's events include a swim meet, a football game, a book reading, a gallery tour and a funeral. Somehow, this seems like a good inventory of life.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Amanda Palmer - Science Fiction/Double Feature

with Moby, Stephin Merritt and Neil Gaiman on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.