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Showing posts from October 21, 2007

bodies of iron

One of the strong influences on Heinrich Kleist was a scientist well known in the Germany of the early 19th century, G.H. Schubert. The man published a book entitled Views of the Night side of Nature. Fragments from this book were first published in a review of art and science, Phoebus, that Kleist edited. Here is one of Schubert’s fragments: Among the most curious cases of so called human petrification belongs this one, to which Hülpher, Cronstädt and the scholarly Swedish almanacs have dedicated some notice. Here a corpse, which to all appearances had turned into a solid rock, fell into some sort of ash after a few years even though the attempt was made to put it under a glass bell in order to protect it from the incursions of the air. This antique miner was found preserved in the Swedish mine in Falun, as a break had been effected between the sinking of two shafts. The corpse, entirely saturated with ferric vitriol, was, in the beginning, pliable, but as soon as it was exposed t


Margaret Scobey If a big bug gets into your house from the outside, don't you sometimes try to help it back outside, instead of crushing it into its insect jellies? In the case of butterflies and crickets, we often show some respect for life. So it is with mounting anguish that I have waited, since the news was first reported at the beginning of October, for charges to be raised against Andrew Moonen – you remember Andrew Moonen. Andrew Moonen reduced an Iraqi bodyguard of President Maliki to his jellies last December. It was a Christmas present to himself. Wanting to murder an Iraqi, and having the means and the proximity, being a hired employee of Blackwater in the Green Zone, he got drunk and hunted for one. And in cold blood he slew one. This is first degree murder. He wasn’t arrested. Rather, the State Department in the Green Zone in Iraq, having been informed that he was drunk, that he slew an Iraqi man, and that he was in the custody of

vibrational man

My Name Burned In Your Skin I Am Your Nasty Sin LI has been mulling over the chapter on the sponge in Bachelard’s “The Formation of the scientific spirit”, because I think Bachelard is on to something that I want to steal. A little backstory: Bachelard,in his book, distinguishes the scientific from the pre-scientific spirit. The latter is a grab bag of epistemological ploys, although the dominant ploy is the ‘they said” – the notion that knowledge grows out of authority, intuition, common sense. Images of that authority can be varied – it can be the Bible, or it can be Aristotle, or it can be your grandmother, the witch – but the causal structure is subordinate to an essential social fact: respect for authority. Scientific experiments do not occur in the pre-scientific framework – that is, there is no latent sense of tying trials to variations of the elements of the trial, and the comparisons engendered thereby – but are replaced by ‘common sense’ observation. This doesn’t mean that t

southern cal

I’d like to dream My troubles all away On a bed of California Stars Disaster always has a backstory. It's karma-like, or at least movie-like, in that way. Of course, what inevitably happens when you combine wind, drought, and forest, shake and bake – when the fire starts – is that it will appear to us as something unexpected, something that jumped out at us, the wolf’s hairy paw coming out of grandma’s sleeve and grabbing us by the throat. But this cycle is going a little faster, and now we are getting used to it. The 2003 fires burned up 740,000 acres and 2,000 buildings. Stephen Pyne, the fire historian, has pointed to the quiltwork of fire: in 1987, and in Northern California in 1996, and in 1999, and the worst ever recorded in Arizona in 2002, and the same year, the Biscuit fire in Oregon, another worst. Pyne calls the recent fires those of the Long Drought. The water in the Los Angeles region that will be used to douse the flames will come, some of it, from Owens Lake, and

in the land of drifty drift

In other news from the land of drifty drift – Bush just asked for 46 billion more dollars to throw into the sinkhole of his vanity war . To put that in perspective, that is 10 billion more than the s-chip bill. It is, of course, a characteristic of the authoritarian right to pursue a policy of impudence – to continually shock the temporizors, that vast media machinery which spends its whole existence trying to take plutocratic inputs of the most rancid injustice, the most feeble minded racism, and the most ostentatious theft, and process them out as bipartisan suggestions that are fun for the whole family. The settings in the machinery are moved by impudence, as the Bushies know well by now. So there is a beautiful convergence here between blocking child health care, spending more in various black boxes for puffing up GOP connected mercenaries, and ranting about World War III versus Iran – thus driving up petro profits. Harry Reid, of course, replied with a stentorian voice that they w

a schmuck visionary, a drifting nation

In a column in 2005 which, rather prematurely, announced the end of the Housing Bubble, Paul Krugman made an analysis of the form of the bubble – a form that puzzled me, at least. “When it comes to housing, however, the United States is really two countries, Flatland and the Zoned Zone. In Flatland, which occupies the middle of the country, it's easy to build houses. When the demand for houses rises, Flatland metropolitan areas, which don't really have traditional downtowns, just sprawl some more. As a result, housing prices are basically determined by the cost of construction. In Flatland, a housing bubble can't even get started. But in the Zoned Zone, which lies along the coasts, a combination of high population density and land-use restrictions - hence "zoned" - makes it hard to build new houses. So when people become willing to spend more on houses, say because of a fall in mortgage rates, some houses get built, but the prices of existing houses also go up. An

terrorism on tap - is this the grimy end, or just another rerun?

The best writer on power was not Machiavelli or Clausewitz, but that little old state insurance employee, Franz Kafka. Among the things he got magically right was the odd relationship to time in authoritarian regimes. In the Great Wall of China, the narrator notes: “Our land is so huge, that no fairy tale can adequately deal with its size.” And then he tells a story that transforms that physical hugeness into time, a sort of Zeno’s paradox of power: “There is a legend which expresses this relationship well. The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his death bed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, a tiny shadow which has taken refuge at the furthest distance from the imperial sun. He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his bed and whispered the message into his ear. He thought it was so important that he had the herald repeat it back to him. He confirmed the accuracy of the verbal message by nodding his head. And in front of the entire crowd of those who’ve co