Monthly Archives: April 2005

Important Note

Contrary to the dangerous doctrines of Jacob Levy expressed here, you must organize your personal books according to the Library of Congress system.

Minor variations will be tolerated, provided there is adequate justification.

My Expert NBA Playoff Predictions

I will not be predicting the second round, nor am I going to predict how long the series will last.

Eastern Conference

Nets v. Heat: On TNT one night, Charles Barkley said, with a completely straight face, that you could look at Vince Carter and tell that he didn’t lift weights. WINNER: Heat, but just barely.

Sixers v. Pistons: Ever since April of 1993, I’ve been a big fan of Chris Webber. The Sixers win over the Lakers in the first game of the 2001 championship series was a world-historical moment, so far as I recall. WINNER: Pistons by overwhelming margin.

Pacers v. Celtics: I was probably the only person watching NBA basketball in mid-nineties Jordanless interim, and I caught the Miller fourth quarter performance against the Knicks as it happened. I was also talking to the phone to Clancy when the brawl broke out earlier this season. With Artest, the Pacers would have won the East. Without him, they’re still beating the Celtics. WINNER: Indiana.

Wizards v. Bulls: Unless there’s too much Kwame, even the Jamesonian unorthodoxy of Jamison’s moves won’t prevail against the adamantine gates of the Bulls’ defense. WINNER: Bulls, big.

Western Conference

Suns v. Grizzlies: If they had to face Denver in the first round, they’d probably lose. But they don’t, and they won’t. Beware of a Smokey v. Nashy battle of “disco sucks on the front of her t-shirt”-level wizardry. WINNER: Suns.

Spurs v. Nuggets: This will be ugly. Why don’t more people compare Carmelo to Glenn Robinson? WINNER: Spurs, barely.

Kings v. Sonics: I saw the Maloof brothers on one of those cable shows, and I was distincly reminded of Ween’s “It’s Gonna Be a Long Night.” GM whoever deserves major credit for the Webber trade, but people consistently underestimate Danny Fortson (check out his free throw percentage). WINNER: Sonics, by a sliver.

Rockets v. Mavs: Nowitzki is the most entertaining player in the NBA at this stage, but I’m not sure that Avery Johnson’s got enough of the Don Nelsonian craziness to defeat a defensively minded team in a seven-game series. WINNER: Rockets.

On the Ethics of Book-Reviewing

If you repeat without qualification the scurrilous and ignorant claims of a book you review, is it fair to say that you then endorse those claims?

Discuss with specific attention to “he downplays the Holocaust and anti-Israeli terrorism. A philosopher of language, he tosses around the words genocide and terror indiscriminately” et al from Mark Bauerlein’s review of The Anti-Chomsky Reader.

Story Logic

My review-essay, “Cognitive Storyworlds,” on David Herman’s Story Logic appears in the 38.1 edition of Style.

Here’s a paragraph which touches upon one of my current research interests:

One immediate example of this is what might be termed the ontological properties of narrative for Herman. What is the relation between narrative and language? The answer is that language is an “interface between narrative and cognition” (5). Whereas the theories of language and narrative are both modular components of cognitive science, language itself is not an autonomous cognitive function but is anterior to narrative. Herman cites Turner’s argument in The Literary Mind that language use originated through principles of narrative imaging or parable, rather than genetic specialization (Turner 140-68, qtd. in Herman 379 n. 18). The strongest argument for Chomsky’s notion of Universal Grammar is the “poverty of stimulus”: that children are able to distinguish grammatical from nongrammatical sentences on the basis of a limited and conflicting exposure and that this ability must thus be an aspect of cognitive development triggered by exposure to language (Chomsky 43). Herman rejects the idea that narratives have syntactical properties in this matter, stating that all “coding strategies” are permissible at the local level of narration (50). He substitutes the idea of “preference rankings” that determine the permissible sequences of states, events, and actions that compose narratives. While it is entirely acceptable that the narrative property would have different characteristics than language, it is an open question whether, if narrative is a modular property anterior to language, it must develop on the basis of the same limited evidence and thus be constrained by the same measure of lower-level syntacticality.

Chomsky, Noam. Rules and Representations. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.
Turner, Mark. The Literary Mind. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.

What Journal Is He Talking about?

“In the U.S., there is a periodical published by scientists and intended strictly for the cognoscenti, some specialists. It abounds with parodies, in-jokes (mostly nonsensical), and crazy ideas, entirely inaccessible to outsiders.”

Lem. “Twenty Two Answers and Two Postscripts.” SFS 13 (1986): 251.

The early days of Philosophy of Science had a strange and often funny column called “A New Budget of Paradoxes” by “W.M.M.,” but that clearly isn’t it.


Two distinguished scholars, one often referred to as “the most erudite scholar of his generation” and the other a dynamic force in today’s blogosphere, wrote to me separately to say that this was likely the Journal of Irreproducible Results (now known as the Annals of Improbable Research). I agree, though I thought that what Lem described sounded a bit more esoteric than I think of that to be. Perhaps we should blame the internet.

But Why A Sword?

STUTTGART, Germany (AP) — A man wielding a sword attacked parishioners at a Protestant church in southwest Germany, killing one person and injuring several others.

The Baden-Wuerttemberg state Interior Ministry said the attack occurred during a church service. It had no immediate details on the suspect or his motives.

The “mnz” Pattern

At the end of The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel finds that Iucounu has undergone some changes. A creature from Achernar, kin to his own daimon Firx, has infected him. Now Firx, residing in Cugel’s liver or thereabouts, is unable to control Cugel’s behavior except by the negative reinforcement of internal excruciations. Iucounu, however, has managed to have the creature take over his nervous system.

The parasite uses his host to communicate with Cugel in some odd ways. “You will never learn to walk ceilings standing on your hands”; “You may now tender me the keys to the bread locker”; “I will pawn you my gold watch and chain”; “It is all one, and no longer of consequence, since all must now transpire in the ‘mnz’ pattern”; “the eluctance here is of a different order than of ‘sspntz'”; “much here puzzles me; it was never thus on Achernar” (280-282).

The consonant clusters are given in quotes and show the creature’s attempts to speak in his own tongue rather than translate his thoughts through the medium of Iucounu. Vance, in order to represent an alien mentality, shows Iucounu engaging in bizarre kinesthetic movements, but I’m more interested in the thought patterns. I’m curious what other fictional representations of alien mentality Vance might have drawn upon here.

Vance, Jack. Tales of the Dying Earth. 1966. New York: Tom Doherty, 2000.

April 1, 2005

“Liane sped down a wide avenue lined with a few stunted old cypress trees, and he heard him close at his heels. He turned into an archway, pulled his bronze ring over his head, down to his feet. He stepped through, brought the ring up inside the darkness. Sanctuary. He was alone in a dark magic space, vanished from earthly gaze and knowledge. Brooding silence, dead space…

He felt a stir behind him, a breath of air. At his elbow, a voice said” (64).

Vance, Jack. Tales of the Dying Earth. 1950. New York: Tom Doherty, 2000.