Friday, 31 May 2013

Jeremy Bentham

Siris has an interesting essay at First Things about newly published material from the Grandfather of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham
Hold up before you say ‘but this is evil’, the indications are that Bentham was a classic high functioning Aspergers. A paper written by two forensic psychologists details the evidence from his own writing and the reports of those that knew him. It’s fascinating and to this civilian clear that we must take an objective stance to the sage’s daft maundering.
lucas & Sheeran
In a wittier and more acerbic style William Hazlitt in Spirit of the Age who was once a tenant of Bentham’s and knew him well, depicts the extreme oddness of the man.
Spirit of the Age

Finally to rectify the picture of enlightened recipes for the proper conduct of society on rational grounds we have the dessicated dean (sorry!) himself John Stuart Mill whose essay on Bentham stresses the partial genius of the man.

Mill on Bentham

What is to be made of the modern Utilitarians such as Singer, McMahan and Tooley whose lack of empathy has no diagnosis of Aspergers to modify a natural revulsion? Can I have some more degrees of separation please, preferablely to a world far from this one, an ubermensch penal colony planet. Or a well appointed Panopticon.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

Appointment in Samarra (1934) as a first book at 29 has in it more than the promise to abolish the sneer on the face of those WASP college-men that patronise me. Slights to a short arsed Irishman are magnified into cosmic drama but this book got away on O’Hara. Edmund 'Bunny’ Wilson was one of those types that went to Princeton with Fitzgerald given a clip by O’Hara. And while I’m on about it, what’s this about him assaulting a midget outside 21? He was only just over 5' himself and those guys have a low centre of gravity and can be quite difficult to knock down. Terrific upper body strength too.

Anyways Caroline the wife of our preppie hero Julian English went out with:

. Joe Montgomery could be classified under many headings. Drunk. Snake. Rich boy. Well-dressed man. Debbies’ delight. Roué. Bond salesman. War veteran. Extra man. And so on. They all added up to the same thing. His chief claim to distinction was that he had known Scott Fitzgerald at Princeton, and that made him in Caroline’s eyes an ambassador from an interesting country, full of interesting people whom she wanted to meet and to see in action. She did not know, of course, that she was a member in good standing of the community which she thought Joe Montgomery represented, which Fitzgerald wrote about.

I said that this book got away on O’Hara and became bigger than the clip it was to deliver and I was about to say that Wilson was wrong in his assessment of too much focus on peripheral characters. Now Julian English is not a Star of India or a Koh-i-Noor so to set him off he needs lesser gems. A Grundrisse analysis would say that anthracite is setting enough and certainly O’Hara gives those hewers of wealth the Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Polish miners their due but leaves them in the underground. To offer a facile opposition 'the underworld’ plays a greater role in Appointment. Booze had to be sourced in those far-off days of Prohibition when as someone remarked ‘inebriety was a national pastime’. Ed Charney comes into it, he’s the bootlegger. Al Greco is there too as the all-purpose hood, delivery boy and minder of Ed’s mistress. There are others and for a slim book it has a large population and is like a suitcase that is getting overfull. You have the sense that maybe he had to sit on it to fasten the catches. But never mind like the novels of Wodehouse which hover eternally over a single warm summer in the 1930‘s, O’Hara likes to revisit and revise. In a novella Imagine Kissing Pete he makes a glancing mention of Julian English’s throwing a drink in Harry Reilly’s face. Jim Malloy as O’Hara’s alter ego is telling that story and he remarks how it seemed just a trivial spat.

But it wasn’t because the lump of ice hit Reilly under the eye and blackened it. You can’t be giving a man a black eye and not expect war. Particularly a man to whom you owe a lot of money. The mind of the gentleman lush is well drawn by someone who was a tricky drunk himself. The interior monologue captures that blend of drunken paranoia and testing the gods by an act of folly - yes I will swim way out past my normal length and if can make it back the universe may be quits with me and the slate will be clean. But out on that ocean is a lonely place and there is little patience with yet another fine mess.

Julian English the protagonist of Appointment is the cynosure of all the young marrieds who were born into Lantenengo Street. He is generally reckoned to be a good sort with a stylish way of handling a cigarette, a drink, a car and a woman as they come into his purview. Everyone seems in thrall to his charm, the bootleggers like him - he’s not stuck up like the rest of them on that street. Yet he’s no longer quite as young as he was and his Cadillac dealership of which he is the front man and the emblem of sophistication, a hood ornament, is faltering. This is 1930 and corrections to the market have been occurring after a general outbreak of irrational exuberance. Nobody holds a grudge like the Irish particularly when your name is English and the undertaker Pat Quilty who seemed to be ready to pay cash is looking at a rival offer. Sorry for your trouble, Ju.

This is part of the American canon, even Hemingway admitted as much.
"If you want to read a book by a man who knows exactly what he is writing about and has written it marvelously well, read Appointment in Samarra."

Monday, 27 May 2013

New Improved Daniel Dennett

Have you noticed or has anybody not noticed the niceification of D.D. In the marketing dept. someone has been coaching him and now there are the newfound principles of charity being promulgated in interviews for his new book. Do you want that new G.P.S. navigation system Dan? Well stop being an elitist snot. Forget about ‘brights’ the tide has turned against atheist schmarters. Scorn and contumely are a turn off.

I miss the old Dan. I liked his ideas about consciousness and if you look at them from a certain angle and squint they have a pan-experiential feel. Being nowhere is a way of being everywhere kind of. Consciousness can’t be separated out because it doesn’t exist as a thing is not quite the same as saying that it doesn’t exist.

Is the new book a Greatest Hits? or Now that’s what I call Philosophy?

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Haybote and Turbary

Philosophy or mysticism won’t fail or falter because they go with the land, they go with consciousness. Like serfs we have haybote and turbary. We’re alright, that’s for sure. How do you begin? At the beginning, go on to the end, and then, stop said Alice. The Advaitins of all the merry serfs that I have encountered in my peripatetic peregrinations keep the closest to that original face, the face you had before you were born. Pratibodha videtam or known with every state of consciousness is what the Katha Upanisad declares. How? Because every state is self-luminous, it knows itself as it exists in every moment. Famously the Buddhist Nihilists or Scholiasts of the Void drew this ort from the Vedic matrix and by isolating it made consciousness incoherent, strictly incoherent because there is nothing to bind it together. They ignored the binding problem being fascinated by the synchronic and left the diachronic out of their considerations. All those bundles of perceptions and no one to gather them up. Haybote not exercised lapses as you well know.

The Advaitins keep it very simple and direct. There are mental modifications or vritti, perceptions, experiences, cerebral events or what you will. They are well aware of illusions but are not tempted into founding their philosophy on them rather they take their stand on the normal, everyday veridical.

I see the stone. The stone is in my mind. But how? In one redaction of the original turn of consciousness which is paradoxically called empirical, that is all we have to go on. That fingerpost points to the quaking bog where turbary has lapsed and only the ignis fatuus flits. Advaitins amongst others find that intentionality establishes the object and look for a metaphysical grounding for knowledge in the unity of the substratum that is to say consciousness itself.

Quite obviously you don’t have to think this out in a programmatic way to know it. Here the merry mystic swaggers in with three broad and pointless divisions in his ananda. You have the nature boy, the savikalpa samadhi realisation in which there is the feeling of the absolute unity of everything. This is the aesthetic unity of the substratum. There is following this and regarded as an intensification, the nirvikalpa samadhi or the complete absorption and dissolution of the subject/object division. At this point the devotees panic and begin trying to pour milk and food into the guru’s mouth as they fear he may die and leave them. Next having been brought round or coming round there is the sahaj samadhi, the everyday in which there is no difference in consciousness, it always is what it is.

Zen Saying: First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is....

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The author of The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper
had a severe bout of post-partum depression after the birth of her only child, a daughter. We don’t know whether wallpaper entered into the symptomology but her famous story has a creepy power that leaves you unsure whether there may not be an uncanny element at work. Certainly there was spiritual oppression of a well-meaning kind, the fog of psychology that came down between doctors and the mentally ill and in general between all those with enlightened recipes and their patients.
Gilman strikes early and often:

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.

John is a physician, and PERHAPS—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.

You see he does not believe I am sick!

And what can one do?

If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?

Double bind spotters will notice “You see he does not believe I am sick!”. The point is that he does believe that she is sick and is keeping a close watch on her in case that in her distress she might injure herself. Thus there are bars on the windows and a gate on the stairs. It might well be the first Mrs. Rochester under a more benign regime. Even the house is a baronial type JacoBethan mansion of some sort that they are renting while there own house is being done up, refitted. The Gothic even medico-Gothic always lays these stumbling block symbols in our path.

The room that she is in or confined to or confined tout court may have been the nursery or schoolroom of yore. But why is this mansion so cheap to rent, is it that it is haunted? The yellow wallpaper writhes as wallpaper does. Who has not experienced this? But I digress. This story builds to a climax and as Oscar Wilde remarked: Either the wallpaper goes or I do.

An excellent story in the narrow but select canon of woman-question horror. She was also well known as a speaker and a progressive thinker.Gillman A paper of hers on the negro question demonstrates the blind spots of that cadre of high minded racists and eugenicists.
negro question

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Enda Kenny: The constitution made me do it.

Here below is the note I received from Sean Kyne T.D (member of parliament) the local lobby fodder for the party led by Kermit Kenny. It is notable for its mastery of Truth Speak and obfuscation. A bill for instance called Protection of Maternal Life is in fact about providing abortion in what is claimed to be limited circumstances. The objection to it is that it offers abortion in the case of suicidal intent where that seems a genuine intent and abortion would be a cure for it. How is this to be assessed? By two psychiatrists and an obstetrician. The scenario of expert coaching to present the correct clinical picture suggests itself. How could you expect a psychiatrist to take the risk of being wrong? Pro abortion groups will be on the look out for women who might be prepared to flout the intention of the constitution. A sort of suicide mission will be devised.

Sean Kyne will receive my answer at the ballot box at the next election. Brian Walsh (F.G.) if he sticks to his position and defies the whip will do well. I expect Eamon O’Cuiv and the Fianna Fail party to do well. This is a voting issue.


Re: Abortion Bill
Sean Kyne
14/05/13 11:14


Thank you for your email on this matter. Please accept my apologies for the delay in getting back to you. I’m certain you’ll appreciate that I’ve received a great deal of correspondence on this issue alone, along with correspondence on all the other various issues.

Shortly after the last election I began to receive correspondence on the issue of abortion. I made abundantly clear to everyone who contacted me, irrespective of their views, that the Constitution and the decisions of the Supreme Court must be respected at all times. This is not only based on Articles 6 and 34.4.6 of the Bunreacht but also on the fact that respect for the Constitution and the legal process is what marks us out as a democracy.

This is an issue on which very strong and disparate views are sincerely held. However, I think all citizens expect and rightly demand that pregnant women receive all necessary medical treatment.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill will bring clarity, certainty and safety to both women and medical personnel. It will, in effect, codify the law as it already exists since the 1992 Supreme Court decision – a decision that was made within the parameters of the earlier 1983 Constitutional Amendment.

This legislation deals with the situation where there is a significant threat to the life of an expectant mother, and there is no alternative except for a medical intervention. It also recognises the extremely rare cases of suicidal intent on the part of the expectant mother and proposes a rigorous but fair system of assessment. It’s important to remember that the rigorous assessment is necessary because of the Constitution which provides equal protection to the lives of both mother and unborn child.

From this Friday, for three days, the Oireachtas Health Committee will hold a series of hearings on the Heads of the Legislation. This will again provide a forum for examination and respectful debate in advance of the debate which will accompany the passage of the legislation through the Oireachtas over the next two months.

Le gach dea-ghuí,

Seán Kyne TD

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth

Writes 25 Busterdog in a post on a you tube version of the Radetzky March

Emperor Franz Joseph was appointed Colonel in Chief of the British King's Dragoon Guards (KDG) by Queen Victoria in 1896. The Emperor authorised the KDG to wear the double headed eagle as their cap badge and presented the regiment with the Radetzky March which they adopted as their regimental march. As far as I'm aware the successor regiment to the KDG, who were amalgamated with the Queen's Bays in 1959, the Queen's Dragoon Guards, continue to wear the double headed eagle and march to Radetzky.

I will take his word for it and add the Irish observation on the relation between Queen Victoria and Emperor Franz Joseph: Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile (one earwig recognises another)

The novel of the same name as the sprightly march with the intro drum rolls like those of a shako capped windup monkey begins at the battle of Solferino. It is a perfect tune to go round the U bend of history with. It is notable that this battle was the last in which actual commanders fought or were present, Emperor Napoleon III, King Victor Emmannuel II against Emperor Franz Joseph I. The slaughter was severe and Henri Dunant who wanted to see Napoleon on business arrived after the battle to see many thousands of dead and wounded abandoned on the battlefield. This was the original impetus to the setting up of the Red Cross.

The Austrian Emperor was defeated, his inexperience as a general leading to tremendous loss of life. He should have taken Granny’s advice: Is fearr rith maith ná droch-sheasamh. - Good running is better than bad standing. Joseph Roth’s novel The Radetzky March begins and ends in war. Infantry Lieutenant Trotta in the heat of the battle being near to the Emperor and seeing him raise a field glass to view the position of the enemy and realising that this made him a worthy target for a marksman pulls him down and takes the bullet meant for the young fool. His collarbone is shattered:

Four weeks later, Trotta was much better. By the time he returned to his regimental headquarters in southern Hungary, he had been promoted to the rank of captain, awarded the highest military decoration, the Order of Maria Theresa, and ennobled. Henceforthhis name was: Captain Joseph Trotta of Sipolje.

That plain language is one of the few islands of it that are in the book which reflects what one might term the abnegation of Michael Hoffman its translator who exceeds his brief with a rich, textured prose which may of course reflect the author’s original . Generally though in the matter of translation we have to be content to 'see through a glass darkly’.

Though Joseph Roth was Jewish we are not asked to come to terms with that fateful condition until page 79 to be precise and then in the character of Dr. Max Demant the regimental medico where the grandson of the ‘Hero of Solferino’ is serving. It is a cavalry regiment but Carl Joseph Trotta and Dr.Demant are both poor horsemen. They are thus both misfits preferring to walk upon the earth rather than ride upon it like their betters. One of the few extant pictures of Roth show him riding with his wife in full riding fig. He seems quite a caballero and contrary to the dictum that Jews are for the infantry that the book mentions. Young Carl becomes friendly with the unhappily married Doctor, whose wife is a flighty ambitious woman who despises him. One night at the theatre she flounces out and leaves him on his own. Carl going by finds himself in the unenviable position of having to escort her home knowing that if one of the officers sees him they will spread scabrous rumours. The mocking drunken Count Tattinger forces the Doctor into a duel by screaming ‘yid’ thrice. That it would turn into an affair of honour is perhaps an indication of the open nature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So it happens that a career with snags turns into a life with snags.

The doctor is short sighted, a fog descends when he takes off his glasses so that taking them off at the signal to ready himself seems to indicate that he is willing to die and have all snags freed at last but the curious thing is that the fog does not descend, without his glasses he can still see clearly. He resolves to look into this phenomenon.

The regimental doctor raised his pistol. He felt brave and free, yes, for the first time in his life, even a little exuberant. He aimed as he had done once as a one-year volunteer at target practice(even then he’d been a wretched shot). I’m not short-sighted at all, he thought, I’ll never need my glasses again. In medical terms it was a mystery. The regimental doctor promised to look into ophthalmology.

Through all the book the Emperor Franz Joseph lives on becoming a remote yet powerful; ectoplasmic yet potent, figure; acting through his channels. In the end heeding the pleas of Carl’s father on the boy’s behalf, the karmic circle being complete he dies. The Archduke has been assassinated and the stage is set for the Great War any of whose major battle make Solferino look like cucumber sandwiches on the lawn of the rectory and the hazard of Tombola.

The characterisation of the relation between the generation of the Trottas is very finely and movingly delineated, reticence being more than effusion as in life. Nobody shares. Don’t let me put anybody off it by excessive praise. It’s just a masterpiece.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

I loaf and invite my soul

And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart. (Ps. 104)

If you can tie your laces you can make yeast bread. I generally make two 2lb. loaves using 3 lbs. of plain flour (not the strong sort) and 1lb. of coarse stone ground wholemeal flour. I use the sponge method. Into 4 cups or so of lukewarm water I add a sachet of yeast. To this I add a tablespoon of sugar stirring it in and leaving it for 5 mins. after which I add 1lb. of white flour and mix it up well. After an hour set aside it will be quite active. I then add the rest of the flour with 4 teaspoons of salt, you can add less if you want. The dough should be quite wet and as you knead it will be sticking to the table but staying quite intact. Push it away from you with the heel of your hand and fold it back on itself to capture some air. My experiments with wetness of the mix have led me to conclude that the only problem with too wet is that it makes voids in whole wheat bread as it steams. Sticking to the table but not in massive lumps is the golden mean.

That mix will take a few hours to double in size. Then you knock it back, divide and put into greased tins to double once more. Into a pre-heated oven of 210 C. for 40 mins. The secret of non-sticking bread tins is never to wash them.

The bread in the pic looks more done that it is.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Wonderful are the works of the wheelbarrow

I often find interesting things to read in that excellent aggregator 3quarks

Here’s Louis Wolpert talking about his 5 books of the moment at louis wolpert

Obviously in a longer discussion he would qualify the following observation which seems to have struck him with the power of insight as he mentions it a few times:
....tool making drove human evolution, and in order to make tools you had to have a concept of physical cause and effect.

This seems wrong. It might be more correct to say that tool using gave us the concept of tool using. Tool using is about all that it implies. You don’t have to have a concept of the lever and fulcrum to use a spade or a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow and the spade realizes that. It takes an Archimides to discover the general principle and the law about length of lever and position of fulcrum.

This separation of thinking and doing is probably what Ryle impugned in The Concept of Mind. Mindless digging can be clever or stupid. Wolpert says that the Chinese had great technology but no science. The Greeks had Science but if you had to shift a very heavy load you’d definitely prefer a Chinese wheelbarrow.

It must have been Psalm 40 which inspired that mocking paean: ‘wonderful are the works of the wheelbarrow’

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Kermit Kenny and the New Magdalene Laundries

No that’s not fair, with this country’s experience of keeping dirt out of sight behind the walls of convents and washing away your sins with good red plenary carbolic, everything should be shriven clean and bleach blessed by a committee of an obstetrician and two psychiatrists. In the bad old days women were driven into the Magdalen laundries now they will drive themselves there fully authorised with a suicidal ideation note. It will be a modern version of the same loveless world offering the same loveless solution. There will be no redress boards however, you have to admit there’s a saving there.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Rab and His Friends by John Brown

The other Dr.John Browns were a lineage of Scotch Presbyterian secessionist ministers. The great-grandfather was a simple shepherd boy who taught himself Greek, Latin and Hebrew such was his desire for learning. How a Greek N.T. came into the possession of his family as a valued heirloom is a story that seems odd enough to be true. David Hume said of him that he preached as though Christ were at his elbow.
But of course I’m not here going to delineate, were it possible, the lurid dooms of Calvinism, Secessionism and the fraught abyss of atonement; my Dr. Brown (1810 - 1882)John Brown is the medical man of Edinburgh, the essayist and writer of the famous Rab and his Friends. In the book Horas Subsecivae also known as Spare Hours to be found on the Gutenberg Project site under that title, he goes into the family history in My Father’s Memoir: A Letter to Dr.Cairns. That is a very moving account of the life and times of his father who could combine stern resolution with an emotionalism that was deliquescent. The man was a great preacher. His congregation were almost afraid of his uncanny power that inclined to shrillness.

As to quantity, as to quality, as to manner and expression, he flung away his life without stint every Sabbath-day, his sermons being laboriously prepared, loudly mandated, and at great expense of body and mind, and then delivered with the utmost vehemence and rapidity. He was quite unconscious of the state he worked himself into, and of the loud piercing voice in which he often spoke. This I frequently warned him about, as being, I knew, injurious to himself, and often painful to his hearers, and his answer always was, that he was utterly unaware of it; and thus it continued to the close, and very sad it was to me who knew the peril, and saw the coming end, to listen to his noble, rich, persuasive, imperative appeals, and to know that the surplus of power, if retained, would, by God’s blessing, retain him, while the effect on his people would, I am sure, not have lost, but in some respects have gained, for much of the discourse which was shouted and sometimes screamed at the full pitch of his keen voice, was of a kind to be better rendered in his deep, quiet, settled tones. This, and the great length of his public services, I knew he himself felt, when too late, had injured him, and many a smile he had at my proposal to have a secret sub-congregational string from him to me in the back seat, to be authoritatively twitched when I knew he had done enough; but this string was never pulled, even in his mind.

‘Ay, the minister took a quare lang tyme the day’.

Do you like dogs and their varied personalities and quirks that go by breed and individual? Dr.John related the history of his dogs and they are many; Toby, Wylie, Rab, Wasp, Jock, Duchie and Dick.

Toby’s method of effecting entrance to the house was by use of a coup de queue

When he wished to get into the house, he first whined gently, then growled, then gave a sharp bark, and then came a resounding, mighty stroke which shook the house; this, after much study and watching, we found was done by his bringing the entire length of his solid tail flat upon the door, with a sudden and vigorous stroke; it was quite a tour de force or a coup de queue, and he was perfect in it at once, his first bang authoritative, having been as masterly and telling as his last.

The most famous dog story is Rab and His Friends, more mastiff than shaggy. It is beautifully written. How was surgery in the early 19th.century before chloroform?

The operating theatre is crowded; much talk and fun, and all the cordiality and stir of youth. The surgeon with his staff of assistants is there. In comes Ailie: one look at her quiets and abates the eager students. That beautiful old woman is too much for them; they sit down, and are dumb, and gaze at her. These rough boys feel the power of her presence. She walks in quickly, but without haste; dressed in her mutch, her neckerchief, her white dimity short-gown, her black bombazine petticoat, showing her white worsted stockings and her carpet-shoes. Behind her was James with Rab. James sat down in the distance, and took that huge and noble head between his knees. Rab looked perplexed and dangerous; forever cocking his ear and dropping it as fast.
Ailie stepped up on a seat, and laid herself on the table, as her friend the surgeon told her; arranged herself, gave a rapid look at James, shut her eyes, rested herself on me, and took my hand. The operation was at once begun; it was necessarily slow; and chloroform—one of God’s best gifts to his suffering children—was then unknown. The surgeon did his work. The pale face showed its pain, but was still and silent. 

For those who like to read in a physical book I first came across this writer in an Everyman edition which also includes the memoir of Marjorie Fleming the child diarist and prodigy. As the Dublinman said: “you’ll fill up”.