Thursday, May 24, 2012

The wind in the forest

The living presence of the Great World was very very present to me. It was always clear to me from my own life that where we were nature could have just swept us away in a moment. It seemed ancient and authoritative and tolerant – but not terribly tolerant! – of our being there. My grandparents had a house that was built on Victorian notions of health. There was a sleeping porch so that you could sleep in the open air when it wasn't terribly cold. We would be out there in the middle of the night. No light anywhere except the stars. And you would hear the wind in the forest. It was amazing.
 -- Marilynne Robinson, interviewed by Matthew Sweet (from about 25 minutes in)

Welcome to Life

h/t Simon Ings

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Èig, n. Gaelic: the quartz crystals on the beds of moorland stream-pools that catch and reflect moonlight, and therefore draw migrating salmon to them in late summer and autumn.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Big business

A reasonable list of prosecutable crimes committed during the bubble, the crisis, and the aftermath period by financial services firms includes: securities fraud, accounting fraud, honest services violations, bribery, perjury and making false statements to US government investigators, Sarbanes-Oxley violations (false accounting), Rico (Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organisations Act) offences, federal aid disclosure regulations offences and personal conduct offences (drug use, tax evasion etc).
-- Charles Ferguson

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Richardson's dream

Imagine a large hall like a theatre, except that the circles and galleries go right round through the space usually occupied by the stage. The walls of this chamber are painted to form a map of the globe. The ceiling represents the north polar regions, England is in the gallery, the tropics in the upper circle, Australia on the dress circle and the Antarctic in the pit.

A myriad computers [i.e. human individuals doing computations] are at work upon the weather of the part of the map where each sits, but each computer attends only to one equation or part of an equation. The work of each region is coordinated by an official of higher rank. Numerous little "night signs" display the instantaneous values so that neighbouring computers can read them. Each number is thus displayed in three adjacent zones so as to maintain communication to the North and South on the map.

From the floor of the pit a tall pillar rises to half the height of the hall. It carries a large pulpit on its top. In this sits the man in charge of the whole theatre; he is surrounded by several assistants and messengers. One of his duties is to maintain a uniform speed of progress in all parts of the globe. In this respect he is like the conductor of an orchestra in which the instruments are slide-rules and calculating machines. But instead of waving a baton he turns a beam of rosy light upon any region that is running ahead of the rest, and a beam of blue light upon those who are behindhand.

Four senior clerks in the central pulpit are collecting the future weather as fast as it is being computed, and despatching it by pneumatic carrier to a quiet room. There it will be coded and telephoned to the radio transmitting station. Messengers carry piles of used computing forms down to a storehouse in the cellar.

In a neighbouring building there is a research department, where they invent improvements. But these is much experimenting on a small scale before any change is made in the complex routine of the computing theatre. In a basement an enthusiast is observing eddies in the liquid lining of a huge spinning bowl, but so far the arithmetic proves the better way. In another building are all the usual financial, correspondence and administrative offices. Outside are playing fields, houses, mountains and lakes, for it was thought that those who compute the weather should breathe of it freely.
--  Lewis Fry Richardson (1922)

Images: View across Loch na h-Uamha to Aird Bheag, the ENIAC (the electronic computer which realized Richardson's dream).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The photography of Edward Burtynsky

P.S. 14 June; 'What these ruined and discarded objects show is not the end of oil, writes Tony Wood, but the obsolescence of these particular machines; not the exhaustion of a civilisation addicted to petroleum, but its oblivious self-perpetuation.'

Friday, May 11, 2012

Future money

Assuming that we aren’t about to see a swift unravelling of the contemporary world into a far lower degree of complexity, the left will need to imagine and propose credit systems and monetary authorities that can prise apart debt and hierarchy, exchange and inequality. Money, and therefore debt, is always an abstraction. But justice too can be abstract, and there is no reason in principle why money and debt must serve injustice rather than justice.
-- Benjamin Kunkel

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Tracks and wonders

All things are engaged in writing their history...Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting, a map of its march. The ground is all memoranda and signatures; every object covered over with hints. In nature, this self-registration is incessant, and the narrative is the print of the seal.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson quoted by Robert Macfarlane in the preface to The Old Ways. "The eye is enticed by a path and the mind's eye also."

Emerson and Macfarlane are thinking of an essentially benign wild and/or rural environment. Will Self suggests that in the electronically-mediated ['smart'] city, walking is often "analogous to a clinically defined psychotic state."

P.S. 14 May: Marmaduke Dando: 'Growing up in a suburb outside of the city of Portsmouth, we didn’t do God and we didn’t do nature. We just did what we were told.'

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Potentially infinite

An astonishing concept has entered mainstream cosmological thought: physical reality could be hugely more extensive than the patch of space and time traditionally called “the universe”. We've learnt that we live in a solar system that is just one planetary system among billions, in one galaxy among billions. But there are signs that a further Copernican demotion confronts us. The entire panorama that astronomers can observe could be a tiny part of the aftermath of our Big Bang, which is itself just one band amount a potentially infinite ensemble. In this grander perspective, what we've traditionally called the laws of nature may be no more than parochial bylaws – local manifestations of “bedrock” laws that must be sought at a still deeper level.
-- Martin Rees

M57 - the Ring Nebula

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Mutual aid

...when then Twin Towers collapsed nobody trampled each other, nobody panicked, all that savage social Darwinism you could promise didn’t happen. People aided each other in kind of extraordinary ways: a quadriplegic accountant was carried down sixty-nine stories by his coworkers who didn’t do any accounting for what he owed them on the way.
...there was this moment in which relations were completely different, both at a practical level but also at an emotional level. Everybody says everybody made eye contact, they cared about how you were, boundaries came down. And that was terrifying to the Bush administration and to Wall Street, which was essentially Al Qaeda’s target. And they had to get us back to business—remember that campaign, America Open For Business and all that other stuff? This is a long way around saying that what actually happens in disasters is that they demonstrate that people are actually very good at being communists in the sense that they instantly abandon capitalism, that they love these relationships of mutual aid, because the astonishing thing about disasters is that people are often weirdly joyous in them, because they’ve recovered a sense of agency, a sense of power, etc...
-- Rebecca Solnit