Monday, May 26, 2008

In memoriam: Bertrand Russell as a student at Cambridge

From my first moment at Cambridge, in spite of shyness, I was exceedingly sociable, and I never found that my having been educated at home was any impediment. Gradually, under the influence of congenial society, I became less and less solemn. At first the discovery that I could say things that I thought, and be answered with neither horror nor derision but as if I had said something quite sensible, was intoxicating. For a long time I supposed that somewhere in the university there were really clever people whom I had not yet met, and whom I should at once recognize as my intellectual superiors, but during my second year, I discovered that I already knew all the cleverest people in the university. This was a disappointment to me, but at the same time gave me increased self-confidence. In my third year, however, I met G. E. Moore, who was then a freshman, and for some years he fulfilled my ideal of genius. He was in those days beautiful and slim, with a look almost of inspiration, and with an intellect as deeply passionate as Spinoza's. He had a kind of exquisite purity. I have never but once succeeded in making him tell a lie, and that was by a subterfuge. "Moore," I said, "do you always speak the truth?" "No," he replied. I believe this to be the only lie he had ever told. [The Autobiography of Bertrand Russel: 1872-1914 (Volume I), pp. 84-85]

Sunday, May 25, 2008

One week ago today

"Jim Rix will be at the Tulare Historical Museum in Tulare [California] today to sign copies of his chilling book Jingle Jangle, the story of his cousin who was sentenced to death row in Arizona for a murder he didn't commit." That's the opening of Lewis Griswold's May 18 notice, "Writer signs book today about justice gone wrong," in The Fresno Bee. The notice goes on to say:
Rix grew up in Tulare. He has been friends since grade school with Tulare County Superior Court Judge William "Bill" Silveira.

The judge liked the book so much as a cautionary tale of justice gone wrong—"it caused me to examine my conscience as a judge," Silveira said—that he encouraged his old pal to come to their old hometown and talk about it.
The reading was also noticed by Luis Hernandez in the Tulare Advance-Register, "Union grad, author returns for book signing":
Retired Tulare County Superior Court Judge William Silveira says Jingle Jangle is a must read, even if the book doesn't paint a flattering picture of the judicial system.
And by Julie Fernandez in the Tulare Voice Weekly, "Former Tularean's Book a Reality Check":
"This is an important book," said retired Tulare County Superior Court Judge Bill Silveira, who was a classmate of Rix at Tulare Union High School. "This book is not just a story of someone who was on death row and gets freed because of actual proof of innocence. This goes far beyond that."
Ms. Hernandez's notice is the most thoughtful of the three, so it's unfortunate that it doesn't appear to be on the web.

Only Griswold's notice, however, includes the information that Rix "is now writing a movie proposal" (the premise of which is that, contrary to Griswold's statement that Rix's cousin was freed because "the real killer was caught," the real killers are still at large).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Idiotology

On March 18, 1958, the physicist Max Born wrote a letter to Bertrand Russell (then 85) in which he said:
I have read Khrushchev's long declaration in the New Statesman. I find it just as depressing as the letter from Dulles [Eisenhower's Secretary of State] published some weeks ago. The commentary by Kingsley Martin that these fellows are amazingly similar in their mental make-up is quite correct. One could just as well call them Khrushless and Dullchev, and, what they believe in, not an ideology, but an idiotology....
Russell replied on the 22nd:
Thank you very warmly for your letter of March 18 which expressed feelings exactly similar to my own as regards Khrushless and Dullchev and what you so aptly call their idiotology. I am sending my reflections on this matter to the New Statesman where they will be published shortly....[The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Volume III, p. 136]
I hadn't seen the obviously apt word "idiotology" employed relative to the Busheviks of our own era, but when I googled on it, the first hit was an article titled "Idiotology" (posted Sunday, 29 February 2004) in American Pundit. It begins:
There's a military term for President Bush's policy making process: incestuous amplification. It's defined as, "A condition in which one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation."

Bush has again shown his intolerance for dissenting viewpoints by firing the two members of his Council on Bioethics who advocated research on human embryo cells. He replaced them with three new members including, "a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written that abortion is immoral and biotechnology is a threat."

Of course no one but Bush himself really knows what his policy making process is like, but there have been a couple glimpses into it by high-level administration officials. John DiIulio, Bush's former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives said, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," DiIulio told Esquire. "What you've got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."
Mutatis mutandis.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A photographer's eye to believe in

If seeing is believing, then only go to my friend Ken Marks's flickr website to believe you may never have seen a better set of nature photographs. Three examples (on which you may click to see larger):

A fall scene from Nova Scotia

A scene from the Utah canyonlands

Sparrow on a rusty gate

Ken uses a Nikon D300 Digital SLR camera.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sometimes, if rarely, smoking saves your life

I found Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philsophy such a good read, I decided to read his Autobiography as well. I'm enjoying it even more than his history of philosophy, and there have been many, many passages I'd have liked to share, and might have shared if I hadn't been so preoccupied lately with moving out of our house of twenty-five years. Last night, for the first time in several weeks, I felt relatively relaxed, and today I feel up to reporting the following amusing passage. Soon after World War II, when Russell was about 75 years old, and
In the same year that I went to Germany, the Government sent me to Norway in the hope of inducing Norwegians to join an alliance against Russia. The place they sent me to was Trondheim. The weather was stormy and cold. We had to go by sea-plane from Oslo to Trondheim. When our plane touched down on the water it became obvious that something was amiss, but none of us in the plane knew what it was. We sat in the plane while it slowly sank. Small boats assembled round it and presently we were told to jump into the sea and swim to a boat—which all the people in my part of the plane did. We later learned that all the nineteen passengers in the non-smoking compartment had been killed. When the plane had hit the water a hole had been made in the plane and the water had rushed in. I had told a friend in Oslo who was finding me a place that he must find me a place where I could smoke, remarking jocularly, "If I cannot smoke, I shall die." Unexpectedly, this turned out to be true. All those in the smoking compartment got out by the emergency exit window beside which I was sitting. We all swam to the boats which dared not approach too near for fear of being sucked under as the plane sank. We were rowed to shore to a place some miles from Trondheim and thence I was taken in a car to my hotel.
    Everybody showed me the utmost kindness and put me to be while my clothes dried. A group of students even dried my matches one by one. They asked me if I wanted anything and I replied, "Yes, a strong dose of brandy and a large cup of coffee." The doctor, who arrived soon after, said that this was quite the right reply. The day was Sunday, on which day hotels in Norway were not allowed to supply liquor—but, as the need was medical, no objection was raised. Some amusement was caused when a clergyman supplied me with clerical clothing to wear till my clothes had dried. Everybody plied me with questions. A question even came by telephone from Copenhagen: a voice said, "When you were in the water, did you not think of mysticism and logic [which was the title of a book Russell published in 1917]?" "No," I said. "What did you think of?" the voice persisted. "I thought the water was cold," I said and put down the receiver. [Volume III, 1944-1967, p. 21]

Clematis

Last photo of it I'll ever take

Today is the first day that my wife and I are no longer the legal owners (since 1983) of the home where glories this clematis (and several other clematises and many other flowering or merely leafing plants).

Friday, May 2, 2008