Monthly Archives: February 2005

From the Realms of Counterfactuality

“One Highlander on the beaches of Dunkirk was overheard telling a comrade: ‘If the English surrender too, it’s going to be a long war'” (318 qtd in. “Hitler’s England: What if Germany Had Invaded Britain in May 1940?” by Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson. In Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. Ed. Niall Ferguson. New York: Basic, 1999. 281-320).

I am currently going through Ferguson’s volume on the Rothschilds.

“At the Twilight of the Gods the serpent will devour the earth and the wolf the sun.” (Borges “The Uroboros,” Book of Imaginary Beings). It’s astounding how much this book figures in Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, though I was also wondering, what with the Riggs bank paying out eight million, how much the daily newspaper reports of torture and mayhem in South America in the seventies might have played in his mind.

Thanks to commenter Matt Weiner for suggesting the Borges, which I had somehow avoided reading up to this point.

The Eternal Flame: Two Views

“All the work Pinochet did is intact,” said Christian Labbe, a former army colonel and one of Pinochet’s closest advisers. “Nobody is fighting to change the free market that we built, not even the Socialists. We need to give credit to the person who made all of this.”

From the Post.

I watched CSPAN either last night or the night before (flu has left me in a timeless esplumeoir), and there was a panel from Davos on the Russian economy. A paternal investment banker expressed some mild annoyance at the growing pains of nationalization but was convinced that the scrappy Russians could pull through. An actual Russian economic official was there, and I have to admit that I momentarily wished for him to beat the table with his shoe and promise to bury us.

But What Did They Discuss?

Investigators determined that the man and Tran on Saturday night had argued over a pending breakup. The relationship had lasted a little more than a year but the man no longer wanted to be involved with the woman, police said.

At some point, the pair decided to have sexual relations and the man agreed to have his arms tied to a window handle above their bed.

The woman pulled out a kitchen knife severed the man’s penis, police said. She then flushed the penis down the toilet, untied the man and drove him to the hospital.

Shell said investigators gave no indication in their report whether Tran showed any remorse in driving the victim to the hospital. She assisted him to a nurses station, she said. She had parked in a no parking zone and returned to her car, Shell said.

“She decided to just go home at that point,” Shell said.

Comments are open.

Tom Wolfe’s Been Annoying the Hell out of Me Lately

I read A Man in Full in about thirty minutes, it felt like, after arriving in Atlanta; and I foolishly thought beforehand that Wolfe would be over the phrenosomatical obsession with muscles and personality I remembered being irritated by when I read Bonfire. From the reviews I’ve read of Charlotte Simmons, it’s only gotten worse.

His obituary on Hunter S. Thompson, however, only has one stray comment about “rawboned” and “rangy” men being prone to manic outbursts. It almost prompted me to write a poem called “Anecdote of the Marine Distress Signalling Device.”


“And then it was blockquote-city.”

“[. . .]”

“I put ’69’ at the end of all the bogus citations.”

“[. . .]”

“It’s a piece. Piece of. Piece of.”

“[. . .]”

“Good times.”

“[. . .]”

Do I even need to mention that one was wearing a powder-blue Izod sweater over an upturned white collar?

The Odds?

What would you guess the odds of the Cleveland Public Library being one of six libraries listed in Worldcat as owning López’s Libro de la invención y arte del juego del axedrez to be?

Speaking of Keynes

Is there any doubt that the best moment of Skidelsky’s Politicians and the Slump is the caption to the photograph of Baldwin looking particularly sententious between pp. 82-83 that reads “Mr. Baldwin has invented the formidable argument that you must not do anything because it will mean that you will not be able to do anything else?”

A Blog Is Being Obscured

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Blogs have been making google nearly useless for a long, long time. My quotation of an AP story was the number one hit for “Carisa Ashe” for at least a day, for example. That’s not what you want out of life.

And this will also help eliminate the motivation for comment and trackback spam. Thanks to Clancy for passing along the news.

Father Inire’s Catoptromancy

(I first my apologize to my classes yesterday for two things: first, I was not serious about your last papers having to be written in the hypothetical Ursprache of Tlön. Second, “catoptromancy” was the word I was looking for.)

Chapter 20 of Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer is entitled “Father Inire’s Mirrors.” The protagonist Severian is remembering a story that Thecla had told him about a visit her friend Domnina paid to Father Inire after he saw her see something strange in a mirror. (The fact that Thecla, through xenopharmaconecrophagy, is now part of Severian should not be ignored, however; though he told this story before that happened, he had not yet written it.)

“She realized when she see saw them that the wall of the octagonal enclosure through which she passed faced another mirror. In fact, all the others were mirrors. The light of the blue-white lamp was caught by them all and reflected from one to another as boys might pass silver balls, interlacing and intertwining in an interminable dance. In the center, the fish flickered to and fro, a thing formed, it seemed, by the convergence of the light.

“‘Here you see him,’ Father Inire said. “The ancients, who knew this process at least as well as we and perhaps better, considered the Fish the least important and the most common of the inhabitants of specula. With their false belief that the creatures they summoned were ever present in the depths of the glass, we need not concern ourselves. In time, they turned to a more serious question: By what means may travel be effected when the point of departure is at an astronomical distance from the place of arrival?'” (127-128)

In attempting to explain FTL to Domnina, Father Inire says that, with concentrated light and “optically exact” mirrors, “the orientation of the wave fronts is the same because the image is the same. Since nothing can exceed the speed of light in our universe, the accelerated light leaves it and enters another. When it slows down, it reenters ours–naturally at another place” (129). She then asks Inire if the fish is a reflection, and he answers that for a reflected object to exist without having an object to originate it violates the laws of the universe, and thus one will be brought into being.

Delatte’s La captoptromancie grecques et ses dérivés is just one of many sources describing the ubiquity of this practice among the Greeks, and I believe it’s likely that’s who Inire has in mind when he says the “ancients,” though the general time frame of the novel would seem to be in the unimaginably distant future. Of course, there are many direct instances of future time-travel (the Green Man) and past (the dwellers in the hut in the jungle, who are likely able to be visited by strollers in the garden via the same type of catoptromantic time-distortion that Inire describes before).

I doubt that the “fish” is accidental.

Wolfe, Gene. The Shadow of the Torturer. New York: Orb, 1980. [Shadow/Claw omnibus edition.]

Keynes and Galbraith as “Moralists”

A short review of Richard Parker’s biography of Galbraith contains the following:

If that interpretation construes the facts in a light favorable to Galbraith, Parker is consistently so inclined. Yes, he concedes, many economists consider Galbraith not really one of their own in a discipline that extolls mathematical models and aspires to the scientific rigor of physics. For example, Parker quotes MIT’s Robert Solow, who terms Galbraith ”fundamentally a moralist.”

But Parker sees nothing wrong with Galbraith’s blend of economics and moral conviction. On the contrary, he would put Galbraith in a pantheon with John Maynard Keynes, whom Parker describes as the ”model of the economist as an engaged and politically purposive intellectual.”

My question here is could the uninformed reader be forgiven for thinking that the review implies that Keynes—the author of a Treatise on Probability, the only man besides perhaps Wittgenstein Russell thought more clever than himself—wasn’t given to mathematical models? He gave the Galton Lecture to the Eugenics Society in 1937, after all.

Champagne Rhotic-Linking in the Mind

I try to keep this here blog free of “driving cornflakes to work this morning,” but I heard this monstrosity—this crime against humanity—in the gym today (and why can’t the Tech gym play the campus radio station or, better yet, the Georgia State campus radio station?); and it won’t go away.