Category Archives: BL – Reading 2007

(Ed Bryant) Cinnabar

Ed Bryant (not to be con­fused with the Ten­nessee politi­cian of the same name), is a savoured taste, one of those “minor” sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers, like Chad Oliver or Lloyd Big­gle, Jr., who make explor­ing the genre such a plea­sure. A reader trea­sures an old copy of Cinnabar, with its moody, ele­gantly writ­ten sto­ries, with much more affec­tion than they can usu­ally sum­mon for any­thing by the big shots of the field. In the same way, a music fan will trea­sure vinyls of Tom Wait’s Rain Dogs, George Thoro­good & the Destroy­ers, or John Hyatt’s Rid­ing With the King. Ed Bryant may have been some­what influ­enced by Har­lan Elli­son, of whom he was some­thing of a pro­tegé, and with whom he some­times col­lab­o­rated, but I think his real styl­is­tic affin­ity is with Cord­wainer Smith. Raised on a Wyoming cat­tle ranch, he does not share Ellison’s urban aes­thetic, and his prose is not “con­tem­po­rary” and slangy in the way Ellison’s always was. Any­way, if you can dig up a copy of Cinnabar (pub­lished in 1975), not nec­es­sar­ily an easy task, you will be rewarded with a series of inter­con­nected sto­ries, none of which seems to have an obvi­ous point, but which together cre­ate an atmos­phere which will cling in your mem­ory for decades. Read more »

READINGDECEMBER 2007

15417. (Matt Rid­ley) The Red Queen ― Sex and the Evo­lu­tion of Human Nature
15418. (Celia W. Dug­ger) End­ing Famine, Sim­ply by Ignor­ing the Experts [arti­cle]
15419. (Christo­pher Boehm) Hier­ar­chy in the For­est ― The Evo­lu­tion of Egal­i­tar­ian Behav­ior
15420. (Robert R. Reilly) The Roots of Islamist Ide­ol­ogy [arti­cle]
15420. (Econ­o­mist, Oct.4, 2007) Patience, Fair­ness and the Human Con­di­tion [arti­cle]
15421. (Rebecca Grace) Does The Golden Com­pass Point to a New Athe­ism? [arti­cle]
15422. (Richard Wran­ham & Dale Peter­son) Demonic Males ― Apes and the Ori­gins of
. . . . . Human Vio­lence
Read more »

15417. (Matt Ridley) The Red Queen ― Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature

This is a well-written and inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion of the shifts in the­ory con­cern­ing the evo­lu­tion of sex­ual repro­duc­tion that took place in the 1970s and 1980s, after the old model of “sex­ual repro­duc­tion opti­mizes vari­ety in the gene pool” began to be doubted and under­mined. Some ot these con­tro­ver­sies are very abstruse, and Rid­ley did a good job of clar­i­fy­ing them for a non-professional reader. It was pub­lished a decade ago, but from what I under­stand there has been no major shift in the the­o­ret­i­cal land­scape since then, so I wouldn’t say it was out­dated. The weak­est part of the book is where Rid­ley tried to apply the bio­log­i­cal find­ings to human soci­ety. For exam­ple, he rather mis­un­der­stood the “tragedy of the com­mons” the­sis and mis­ap­plied his bio­log­i­cal model to a social ques­tion in which he had the facts wrong. [I think I’ll write more on this in a future blog, after I rus­tle up some sources]. But the book was still a good job of sci­ence pop­u­lar­iza­tion, and Rid­ley had the good taste not to turn the peo­ple he dis­agreed with into vil­lains and rec­og­nized that good sci­ence can be done by peo­ple on the wrong track (and bad sci­ence can be done by peo­ple on the right track).

READINGNOVEMBER 2007

15347. (Peter James) Cen­turies of Dark­ness ― A Chal­lenge to the Con­ven­tional Chronol­ogy
. . . . . of Old World Archae­ol­ogy
15348. (Fred Adams, David Graff, Man­asse Mbonye & Dou­glas Rich­ston) For­ma­tion of
. . . . . Super­mas­sive Black Holes in Galac­tic Bulges: a Rotat­ing Col­lapse Model Con­sis­tent
. . . . . with the Mbh-sigma Rela­tion [arti­cle]
15349. (Lawrence H. Kee­ley) War Before Civ­i­liza­tion

15350. (Tim­o­thy Kyger) Inter­na­tional Space Sta­tio (ISS): Past, Present, and Future ― A
. . . . . Cri­tique [arti­cle] Read more »

(Seamus Heaney –tr.) Beowulf ― A New Verse Translation

Wiglaf's speech in praise of Beowulf - I can't identify the artist.

Wiglaf’s speech in praise of Beowulf — I can’t iden­tify the artist.

If you’re going to get any edi­tion of Beowulf, the ancient Anglo-Saxon epic, get this one. Until now, I got along with the ser­vice­able trans­la­tion by Michael Alexan­der — noth­ing wrong with it. But this trans­la­tion by renowned Irish poet Sea­mus Heaney leaps from the page and sings. For the first time, a mod­ern reader can expe­ri­ence the poem with the imme­di­ate plea­sure that they would get from read­ing a good-quality con­tem­po­rary fan­tasy novel.

Take this sam­ple, cho­sen almost at ran­dom (I could have grabbed some­thing from any page).

Here’s the original:

Nis þæt feor heonon
mīl-gemearces, þæt se mere standeð
ofer þæm hon­giað hrinde bear­was;
wudu wyr­tum fæst wæter ofer­hel­mað.
Þær mæg nihta gehwæm nīð-wundor sēon,
fyr on flōde; nō þæs frōd leo­fað
gumena bearna þæt þone grund wite.

Heaney ren­ders it:

A few miles from here
a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the over­hang­ing bank
is a maze of tree-roots mir­rored in its sur­face.
At night there, some­thing uncanny hap­pens:
the water burns. And the mere bot­tom
has never been sounded by the sons of men.

The Eng­lish of a thou­sand years ago is so extremely dif­fer­ent from the mod­ern lan­guage that its ancient lit­er­a­ture is inac­ces­si­ble to us, except in trans­la­tion. Many bored stu­dents have been flogged through Beowulf as an oner­ous duty, but oth­er­wise the poem has not really excited the imag­i­na­tion of mod­ern read­ers. This won­der­ful trans­la­tion will change that. It has already become one of the most sur­pris­ing best­sellers on the NY Times list. I have to thank Skye Sepp for loan­ing me a copy. The paper­back, pub­lished by W.W.Norton, is hand­some. Heaney’s detailed pref­ace is illu­mi­nat­ing. I also have to thank Steve Muhlberger for draw­ing my atten­tion to it on his site, Muhlberger’s Early His­tory.

15353. (Stephen Grey) Ghost Plane ― The True Story of the CIA Torture Program

This is the essen­tial book on the sub­ject, which is too depress­ing for me go into in detail. If you have the stom­ach to learn just how pro­foundly evil the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion in the United States is, and the dis­gust­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment that cre­ated it, then read this book. Until this issue is resolved, prefer­ably by try­ing George W. Bush and his gang­ster chums for trea­son, Amer­i­cans will never be able to look any­one straight in the eye.

15350. (Timothy Kyger) The International Space Station (ISS): Past, Present, and Future — A Critique [article]

If, like me, you’ve been con­fused by NASA’s con­stantly shift­ing plans for a space sta­tion, this brief arti­cle will clear up the fog. Those of us who grew up want­ing to see a sus­tained and log­i­cal pro­gram of space explo­ration, not for imme­di­ate polit­i­cal and social motives, but for the long-term ben­e­fit of the human race, have always expe­ri­enced some frus­tra­tion with NASA. It’s as if we were gen­uinely reli­gious peo­ple who dis­cov­ered that their church was more inter­ested in pro­mot­ing bingo and church bazaars than in serv­ing god. Tim’s paper pro­vides many details that explain why manned space explo­ration has had such a lurch­ing, unsat­is­fac­tory progress. Unmanned space explo­ration, by com­par­i­son, has a his­tory of rel­a­tively smooth, log­i­cal pro­gres­sion. Hope­fully, Tim will write another paper to explain why this is so.

15349. (Lawrence H. Keeley) War Before Civilization

I rec­om­mend this study of war­fare in pre­his­toric soci­eties, based on archae­o­log­i­cal work and com­par­isons with anthro­po­log­i­cal stud­ies of non-state (tribal and hunter-gatherer) soci­eties. When Kee­ley began his work, his field was dom­i­nated by a kind of “neo-Rousseau-an” ortho­doxy that in pre­his­toric soci­eties with­out cen­tral­ized states, war­fare was unim­por­tant, triv­ial in its effects, and, if extant, more rit­ual than in earnest. This ortho­doxy was not based on any­thing more sub­stan­tial than wish­ful think­ing. Even when it held sway, the weight of archae­l­og­i­cal and anthro­po­log­i­cal evi­dence con­tra­dicted it. But it was so strong a notion that Kee­ley could not get a grant to study pre­his­toric fortresses, with clearly evi­dent moats, pal­lisades, and skele­tons of bat­tle vic­tims, until he renamed them “enclosures”.

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READINGOCTOBER 2007

15347. (Adju­tor Rivard) Chez Nous, Our Old Que­bec Home [tr. W.H. Blake, ill.A.Y. Jack­son]
15348. (Jean Pierre Waltz­ing) Étude his­torique sur les cor­po­ra­tions pro­fes­sion­nelles chez
. . . . . les Romains, vol.1
(Nelly Hanna –ed.) Money, Land and Trade: An Eco­nomic His­tory of the Mus­lim
. Mediter­ranean:
. . . . 15349. (Nelly Hanna) Intro­duc­tion [pref­ace]
. . . . 15350. (Nico­las Michel) The Indi­vid­ual and the Col­lec­tiv­ity in the Agri­cul­tural
. . . . . . . . Econ­omy of Pre-Colonial Morocco [arti­cle]
Read more »

15420. (G. P. Singh) Republics, Kingdoms, Towns and Cities in Ancient India

The above three titles are essen­tial read­ing for any­one inter­ested in the his­tory of democ­racy. When Steve Muhlberger and I wrote Democracy’s Place In World His­tory, Majum­dar (writ­ten in 1918) and Altekar (writ­ten in 1949) were impor­tant sources for us. The first book alerted us to the sig­nif­i­cance of the ancient Indian republics, which had become an unfash­ion­able area of study, and were lit­tle known to his­to­ri­ans out­side India. The sec­ond pro­vided a seri­ous analy­sis of them, and demon­strated con­clu­sively that they had to be taken just as seri­ously as the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions of ancient Athens. Ancient India was home to many hun­dreds of city-states, ter­ri­to­r­ial states, leagues, and con­fed­era­cies, and many of these were demo­c­ra­tic, or proto-democratic, in the same sense as the poli­ties of Greece. They involved far greater pop­u­la­tions, were con­tem­po­rary with the Greeks, out­lasted them, and prob­a­bly pre­ceded them. Greek trav­el­ers had no dif­fi­culty see­ing their close resem­blance to their own.

It has been very grat­i­fy­ing to see that our lit­tle essay has con­tributed to a renewed inter­est in this sub­ject. G.P. Singh’s 2003 book is an exam­ple of the renewal of schol­arly atten­tion. It’s a com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey of the exist­ing doc­u­men­tary evi­dence, with some­thing on every loca­tion that can be con­nected to proto-democratic, oligrachic, or con­cil­iar insti­tu­tions. This back­ground knowl­edge is essen­tial if any analy­sis is to take place, and Singh pro­vides up-to-date infor­ma­tion on these sources. It by no means replaces Altekar’s State and Gov­ern­ment in Ancient India, which attempts more analy­sis and inter­pre­ta­tion of the data. Altekar’s analy­sis, in my opin­ion, usu­ally hits the mark. His recon­struc­tion rings true.

Another book that was an impor­tant source for us was J.P. Sharma’s Republics in Ancient India c. 1500BC-500BC, but I haven’t reread it (I intend to). So if you have any inter­est in the republics of ancient India, start with these four books.