Print Story His laughter was submarine and profound
By TheophileEscargot (Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 03:46:41 PM EST) Reading, Watching, Me, MLP (all tags)
Reading: Bertrand Russell's autobiography. Watching. Politics. Me. Web.

What I'm Reading
Finally finished the Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. Excellent book covering the life of the noted philosopher, mathematician and peace campaigner. He lived nearly a century and was active into old age. Born a Victorian, he drank with Gladstone, campaigned for Women's Suffrage, was imprisoned for opposing the WW1, achieved a measure of respectability after reluctantly accepting the necessity of WW2, was imprisoned again for campaigning against nuclear weapons, and his penultimate book was an expose of the Vietnam War.

Always willing to communicate at a layman's level, the book doesn't go into any great detail on mathematics, logic or epistemology; just describing. his emotions and motivations. He talks with a degree of frankness about his marriages, but doesn't go into much detail on his alleged affairs: the picture that emerges today is of rather mundane serial monogamy.

Compared to his other works, the autobiography is particularly fascinating on two counts. Firstly he had a lot of contact with the other famous people of his lifetime, so you get glimpses of Keynes, Wittgenstein, Joseph Conrad, Einstein, T.S. Eliot and others.

Secondly you get to see the evolution of his thought. I think one of the things that made his creative live so long and significant that he was willing to change his mind. He started off as a kind of arch-idealist trying to find a firm foundation for mathematics: when he proved that impossible he ended up an arch empiricist.

He describes how one of the things that made him moderate his pacifism was running an experimental school, where he found it necessary to exert authority to stop the strong oppressing the weak.

Definitely well worth reading, though I skimmed over some of the letters which end each chapter. You're better off reading some of his other works first though, as the autobiography fits things together.


One should not demand of anybody all the things that add value to a human being. To have some of them is as much as can be demanded. p76
In 1907 I even stood for Parliament at a by-election, on behalf of votes for women. The Wimbledon Campaign was short and arduous. It must be quite impossible for younger people to imagine the bitterness of the opposition to women's equality. When, in later years, I campaigned against the first world war, the popular opposition that I encountered was not comparable to that which the suffragists met in 1907... Rotten eggs were aimed at me and hit my wife. At my first meeting rats were let loose to frighten the ladies, and ladies who were in the plot screamed in pretended terror with a view to disgracing their sex.p156

I had been able to view with reluctant acquiescence the possibility of the supremacy of the Kaiser's Germany; I thought that, although this would be an evil, it would not be so great an evil as a world war and its aftermath. But Hitler's Germany was a different matter. I found the Nazis utterly revolting cruel, bigoted, and stupid. Morally and intellectually they were alike odious to me. Although I clung to my pacifist convictions, I did so with increasing difficulty. When, in 1940, England was threatened with invasion, I realized that, throughout the First War, I had never seriously envisaged the possibility of utter defeat. I found this possibility unbearable, and at last consciously and definitely decided that I must support what was necessary for victory in the Second War, however difficult victory might be to achieve, and however painful in its consequences...

But private experience had almost as much to do with changing my beliefs as had the state of the world. In the school, I found a very definite and forceful exercise of authority necessary if the weak were not to be oppressed. Such instances as the hatpin in the soup could not be left to the slow operation of a good environment, since the need for action was immediate and imperative. In my second marriage, I had tried to preserve that respect for my wife's liberty which I thought that my creed enjoined. I found, however, that my capacity for forgiveness and what may be called Christian love was not equal to the demands that I was making on it, and that persistence in a hopeless endeavour would do much harm to me, while not achieving the intended good to others. Anybody else could have told me this in advance, but I was blinded by theory. p430
A lady, whose daughter at- tended some section of the City College with which I should never be brought in contact, was induced to bring a suit, saying that my presence in that institution would be dangerous to her daughter's virtue. This was not a suit against me, but against the Municipality of New York. I endeavoured to be made a party to the suit, but was told that I was not concerned. Although the Municipality was nominally the defendant, it was as anxious to lose the suit as the good lady was to win it. The lawyer for the prosecution pronounced my works "lecherous, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful, and bereft of moral fiber." The suit came before an Irishman who decided against me at length and with vituperation. I wished for an appeal, but the Municipality of New York refused to appeal. Some of the things said against me were quite fantastic. For example, I was thought wicked for saying that very young infants should not be punished for masturbation.

A typical American witch-hunt was instituted against me and I became taboo throughout the whole of the United States. p461
It was my first trip in a Black Maria as the last time I had been gaoled I had been taken to Brixton in a taxi, but I was too tired to enjoy the novelty.p610


What I'm Watching
Saw Synecdoche, New York at the cinema. A possibly insane theatre director builds a giant, multi-levelled theatrical representation of his life.

Couldn't get into it at all, though there are a few moderate laughs along the way. "Being John Malkovich" and even "Adaptation" kept me watching because they had a certain pace and energy, even if they didn't have a lot of plot or even sense. But "Synecdoche" just has a lugubrious whiner whine on lugubriously: there's no real tension or drama, just empty surrealism and a play-within-a-play gimmick that's a least four hundred years old.

Recommendation: avoid.

Mildly depressed at the recent BNP success. While it's easy to overestimate their significance, it's possible to underestimate it too. There's some brushing-aside talk on Metafilter and elsewhere to the effect that they're not going to gain power, and they're not going to launch a Holocaust, which is perfectly true.

But I was a mixed-race child in the Seventies and Eighties when the National Front were prominent, and a resurgent fascist movement can make things somewhat unpleasant even without any of that. It can be unpleasant to have to avoid groups of skinheads, worry about where you can go without getting beaten up, to walk past walls of racist graffiti, to have to forced to decide every time whether to respond or ignore verbal abuse.

The election result will give the racists an extra degree of confidence.

Got my blood pressure checked out: apparently it's "perfect", so hopefully the hospital reading was just stress.

Ribs seem to be healing: was able to walk with a normal gait today. Still hurts a bit if I sneeze, stoop or twist.

I posted on Bertrand Russell to Metafilter. The main thing is a YouTube interview, parts 1, 2, 3.

Video. Too big to fail. Marketing. Earthrise from Kaguya probe. Dolphins blow bubble rings. David Mitchell on man flu. Cool guys don't look at explosions.

Pics. Soviet posters (MeFI). Travel posters (MeFi). Flying dogs

Misc. New book smell. Grilled cheese sandwich.

Articles. Dani Rodrik on the Madrassa myth in Pakistan. The better you code, the worse you communicate. Stumbling and Mumbling on house prices. Will Hutton argues UK's government inefficiency is because of monarchical constitution.

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His laughter was submarine and profound | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I'm a big fan of his.. by infinitera (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 08:00:40 PM EST
History of Western Philosophy.

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

Synecdoche by Kellnerin (4.00 / 2) #2 Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 09:17:45 PM EST
Mostly agree, even if Adaptation fell flat for me as well. I guess I don't need to watch a dramatization of some artiste's "I'm a hack and will never do anything good with my life" neurosis once, let alone twice. Eternal Sunshine was brilliant, though. Maybe part of it is that Kaufman needs actors who can play the humor in his material. Synecdoche was too bleak overall.

Coding vs. communicating is a bad troll. But then again I spend a lot of effort trying to optimize my output for wetware platforms.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

Coding vs. communicating by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #3 Mon Jun 08, 2009 at 09:55:23 PM EST
Anecdotally, I've found the exact opposite. I've seen lots of coders mask incompetence through bad communication. Many coders have troubles describing their code in a clear, coherent manner because, quite simply put, they do not actually understand it.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
good code vs good coder by bobdole (4.00 / 1) #4 Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 05:14:46 AM EST
The latter is one that can communicate. The former can be written by both the good coder and the bad communicator. It is still the good coder that you would like to work with.

Very little programming to day is complete solitary work, you have to interact with other systems or even be a part of a larger system, which requires you to communicate in order to be able to create code. I am with the grand parent. Troll - or trying to be smart about something much more complex.

-- The revolution will not be televised.
[ Parent ]
I think he's trying to demonstrate by Kellnerin (4.00 / 4) #7 Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 06:05:29 PM EST
what a good coder he thinks he is.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
My opinion is by ambrosen (4.00 / 2) #6 Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 01:08:36 PM EST
that the hardest part of coding is thinking up good names for things. Once you've got what something does nicely reified, then everything else follows.

[ Parent ]
bless you by Kellnerin (4.00 / 2) #8 Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 06:07:21 PM EST
for trying to think of good names for things. From where I sit I hear people blathering on about finding the proper "noun model" but then coming up with meaningless yet overloaded terms for the stuff in the end.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
the worst is when you realized by garlic (4.00 / 2) #9 Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 07:34:22 PM EST
you've named something poorly, and it's too late to fix it.

In one of our meetings discussing our system, we were having a hard time understanding what everyone was talking about because of overloaded names for things. The SW guy came up with a good idea to just start identifying one of the hard to name parts as a kangaroo. No overlap, easily understood.

[ Parent ]
'Too bleak overall?' by MohammedNiyalSayeed (3.00 / 2) #10 Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 10:23:42 PM EST

I'm pretty sure both of you missed the point of Synecdoche. The overarching theme was not about an author, or a play, or tension or drama; it was that no moment in your life is special or unique. Everything you do is utterly pointless, and has been done countless times, and, when you think about it, this is the whole of human experience. There's nothing pretty about the notion, but it strikes me at least as being entirely accurate. If you expected it to be happy story-time, you'd be sorely disappointed (not that either of you seem to have expected that), but the film advances views that are polar opposite from the sunshine we all try to blow up each other's asses in order to avoid reality every day, and I think it did a pretty good job of it, particularly for a first-time director. Also note that the difference between Synecdoche and the other Kaufman-penned films is that Kaufman was both writer and director. From my perspective, this is what cleaned this film up for me; Kaufman didn't have someone else encouraging him to make Synecdoche more palatable to the mass public.

Bear in mind, of course, I think that 95% of the mass public are wasting oxygen that would be better consumed by rats, pigeons, or any number of other vermin.

You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
[ Parent ]
Heh by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #11 Thu Jun 11, 2009 at 02:11:52 AM EST
Why should anyone care that there's no point to life? The needs of the human animal are much the same as any other animal: food, water, shelter... possibly sexual and social contact with fellow animals. All of which the animal at the centre of Synecdoche had.

Making a two-hour movie complaining that there's no point to life is like making a two hour movie complaining that there are no rocket jetpacks in life. If you choose to give yourself an unfulfillable desire for something non-existent, the problem is simply your own self-indulgence.

It seemed like the sort of movie that an angsty fourteen-year-old might make.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Theophile pretty much covered it by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #12 Thu Jun 11, 2009 at 06:51:28 AM EST
though I'm having trouble buying the premise that a meticulously crafted pointless dramatization of a guy meticulously crafting a pointless dramatization isn't trying to say anything about drama, and how it's made.

When I say "too bleak overall" I mean it's too one-note. Even if I grant that Kaufman's agenda is to show that life, when you take the big picture view of it, is a uniform shade of shit-brown (although are you sure that's not your agenda?), there are still local maxima and minima, and if you get close enough (which the film purported to do, down to the varying colors of shit), they become visible.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
Some BNP voters simply have no empathy. by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 2) #5 Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 06:25:41 AM EST
I truly believe that most BNP voters are not racist. But what is true of all is that they lack the most basic empathy for people that have more melanin on their skin.

I would like to present to them the constitution rules of the BNP and ask them to tell me (or to any other non White face) that the party is not racist.

I felt really bad yesterday, to think that there are 1 million people in the UK that can vote for a fascist party, knowing how much pain fascism caused to this country, is beyond rational understanding....

His laughter was submarine and profound | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback