Saturday, March 20, 2010

Some new photos of the kids - 2010

A few recent photos - and some from our trip to Cancun!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Elinor goes to France (and learns to speak like a native)

Oh yes, she learned to ski in Chamonix!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jack is ready to go

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In the land of ice and snow, salt and vinegar - spring has arrived!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Elinor in pink with Alissa and Lauren

Jack plays on the forward line

Jack played goalie for a game last year - everyone should try it once!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

This makes up for everything

I laughed and laughed, then I stopped laughing!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Jack is back

Jack blending in at Josh's Bar Mitzvah!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Just another Sinai Beach photo fom the 80's

Thursday, April 06, 2006


..."One of the oddest reactions to "The Selfish Gene" has been the desire expressed by more than one person to un-read it."

"The Selfish Gene" is a seminal work on the study of human nature, and more. Please visit the link provided above where you will find a discussion of the book and the influence it still has today, thiry years on.
There is a downloadable audio as well as a transcript of this remarkable gathering of minds.

MSW Digerii

MSW digital

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Happy Birthday Mike Danger

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Google analytics

I haven't blogged much in the past six months but when I heard about Google Analytics a few weeks ago, I signed up. It's free and it provides some interesting information on visitors to your blog in an easy to use graphical format. I was surprised to find that I do have visitors, so I will try to post something, may be a few pictures. If only Mike Danger was still around to agitate me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A rose is

Back in March I pointed to some observations on Camille Paglia's book on poetry "Break, Blow, Burn." Recently I found a terrific piece by Aaron Haspel in his blog "God of the Machine" Aaron knows poetry and he covers this book well in just a few paragraphs. I also found the comments interesting, revealing and educational.

"....What I cannot forgive is the violence she does to the poems themselves. Poetry achieves its effects through the relationship between sound and sense, and to elucidate them requires technical analysis. You have to read carefully and you have to know something. Zero for two, you may want to consider another line of work."


"...Everything Paglia writes about "Anecdote of the Jar" is wrong, including "and" and "the." "This cryptic poem is about art making," she says. It is not. It is about Stevens' single subject, the sterility of the human intellect, represented by the jar, and the consequent necessity of hedonism."

I hope you have the opportunity to read through Aaron's archives, its quite a trip!

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Sunday Telegraph "sacks" Theodore Dalrymple for being too old. Here

Some recent Dalrymple for your enjoyment

The Victorian lunatic asylums of my city were magnificent, from the purely architectural point of view.
Oh, to be in England

... And it so happened that one of the most powerful critics of both the asylum system and psychiatry as a whole—powerful in the sense of having had the greatest overall effect—published his attack in 1961, not long after the introduction of medications so efficacious in the treatment of psychosis that the asylum populations had already begun to decline, as patients were discharged back into the outside world. The name of the critic was Michel Foucault, and within a few years his Madness and Civilization had spawned an entire movement, though of somewhat disparate elements.

Alissa and Elinor!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Jack enjoys the nightlife while Auntie Anne looks on.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

This is a picture of Eli at her skating event. She will be 10 in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Shakespeare is a mirror in which every culture sees itself with astonishing clarity

Jonathan Bate is highly entertaining in his review of "Shakespeare Goes to Paris"

...From the French point of view, nothing could be more vulgar than the counter-example of Shakespeare: he wrote for a public theatre, mingled verse and prose, high emotion and rude puns, kings and clowns, funerals and drunkenness. Most shockingly of all, he allowed trivial domestic objects – things that a classical French author would never dream of mentioning – to play a significant role in his plots. Othello turns on a misplaced handkerchief. A humble mouchoir: quelle horreur!

Voltaire, a great Anglophile, visited London in the early 18th century and was deeply impressed by the social mix he encountered in the theatre. He learned English by sitting nightly in the auditorium at Drury Lane, and came to wonder at the sublimity of Shakespeare's tragedies while simultaneously professing himself disturbed by the presence of drunken, quipping grave-diggers in Hamlet.

In this marvellously learned, witty and wide-ranging survey of attitudes to Shakespeare in France from the 18th century to the present, John Pemble tells of how in later life Voltaire came to regret his praise of Shakespeare. The growth of a new French taste for the "provincial clown" from across the Channel marked "the end of the age of reason". By the early 19th century, Shakespeare was inextricably linked with the new generation of Romantics. "What is classicism?" asked Stendhal in his manifesto Racine et Shakespeare. Classicism (ie Racine) is "the art that appealed to our great-grandfathers". What is Romanticism? It is "the art that appeals to youth and to the present".

That art was Shakespeare's. When a company of English actors played Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet at the Odéon, all the young Romantics – Delacroix, de Vigny, Victor Hugo – were there to cheer them on. Hector Berlioz saw the play and his world was turned upside down: he fell so deeply in love with Shakespeare that he promptly married Harriet Smithson, the actress who played Juliet and Ophelia.
Victor Hugo, meanwhile, wrote an epic book that praised Shakespeare as a force of nature and proposed that the Bard of Avon should become Poet Laureate of the United States of Europe. His son translated the complete works, furnishing them with formidably learned footnotes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Well Versed

Clive James, provides some interesting insights and analysis while reviewing "Break, Blow, Burn" Camille Paglia's new "intro to poetry."

The term "a poem" is one we have to use, because our author is strong on the point that a poet should be measured by individual poems, and not by a "body" ... Good poems are written one at a time: written that way and read that way. Even "The Divine Comedy" is a poem in the first instance, not part of a body of work; and even in Shakespeare's plays there are passages that lift themselves out of context. Shakespeare the poet ...often burns through Shakespeare the dramatist, not simply in the great soliloquies that have become actors set pieces but in passages throughout his plays that can stand alone as poems.

The penalty for talking about poets in universal terms before, or instead of, talking about their particular achievements is to devalue what they do while fetishizing what they are.

This book on poetry is aimed at a generation of young people who, knowing nothing except images, are cut off from the ''mother ship'' of culture. The mother ship was first mentioned in her 2002 lecture called ''The Magic of Images.'' In the same lecture, she put down the marker that led to this book: ''The only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words.'' She can say that again, and let's hope she does, in a longer edition of a book that shows her at her true worth. When you have proved that you can cut the mustard, it's time to cut the malarkey.
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Saturday, March 26, 2005


"What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us." Gaston Bachelard

A few years ago Seamus Heaney wrote "Station Island" one of the finest English language poems of the 20th century. Spring is here and I will be going out to buy a copy before you do.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Classics in the Slums/City Journal

In 1988, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, president of the Modern Language Association, authoritatively stated (as something too obvious to require any evidence) that classic literature was always irrelevant to underprivileged people who were not classically educated. It was, she asserted, an undeniable "fact that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare do not figure significantly in the personal economies of these people, do not perform individual or social functions that gratify their interests, do not have value for them."
One should not be too hard on Professor Smith. She was merely echoing what was, at the time, standard academic opinion: that the Western classics embody a worldview that somehow "marginalizes" the poor, the nonwhite, the female, the "other," and justifies their subordination to white male "hegemony." And like so many postmodern critics, Professor Smith could be naively confident that she was in full possession of the facts, even without the benefit of research.
But her theory had no visible means of support. Whenever it was tested, the results were diametrically opposed to what she predicted: in fact "the canon" enabled "the masses" to become thinking individuals. Until fairly recently, Britain had an amazingly vital autodidact culture, where a large minority of the working classes passionately pursued classic literature, philosophy, and music. They were denied the educational privileges that Professor Smith enjoyed, but they knew that the "great books" that she derided would emancipate the workers.
Will Crooks (b. 1852), a cooper living in extreme poverty in East London, once spent tuppence on a secondhand Iliad, and was dazzled: "What a revelation it was to me! Pictures of romance and beauty I had never dreamed of suddenly opened up before my eyes. I was transported from the East End to an enchanted land. It was a rare luxury for a working lad like me just home from work to find myself suddenly among the heroes and nymphs of ancient Greece." Nancy Sharman (b. 1925) recalled that her mother, a Southampton charwoman, had no time to read until her last illness, at age 54. Then she devoured the complete works of Shakespeare, and "mentioned pointedly to me that if anything should happen to her, she wished to donate the cornea of her eyes to enable some other unfortunate to read." Margaret Perry (b. 1922) wrote of her mother, a Nottingham dressmaker: "The public library was her salvation. She read four or five books a week all her life but had no one to discuss them with. She had read all the classics several times over in her youth and again in later years, and the library had a job to keep her supplied with current publications. Married to a different man, she could have been an intelligent and interesting woman."

...Punch and other publications of that kind showed cartoons depicting the servant class as stupid and "thick" and therefore fit subjects for their jokes. The skivvy [low-level female domestic servant] particularly was revealed as a brainless menial. Many of the working-class were considered thus and Thomas Hardy wrote in Tess of the d'Urbervilles that "Labouring farm folk were personified in the newspaper-press by the pitiable dummy known as Hodge. . . . " and it was in this book that Hardy told the story of Tess, a poor working girl with an interesting character, thoughts and personality. This was the first serious novel I had read up to this time in which the heroine had not been of "gentle birth" and the labouring classes as brainless automatons. This book made me feel human and even when my employers talked at me as though I wasn't there, I felt that I could take it; I knew that I could be a person in my own right.

Read it All

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"Bad art", Alain de Botton suggests in the Art of Travel, "could be defined as a series of bad choices as to what to show and what to leave out."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

And therefore never send to know for whom the fat lady ululates; she ululates for thee.

The concept of memes is either really deep or really, really obvious. You can probably guess what side I initially came down on. But having studied the matter, I'm now obliged to say that I'm not so sure.
The term "meme" (rhymes with "dream") was coined by zoologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book about evolution, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins doesn't claim genes are selfish in the same way as, say, kids who won't share. Rather, he explains, the genes carried by each individual are the driving force behind evolution. As sentient beings we consider ourselves masters of our own fates, but in reality we're just the battlebots in which competing genes slug it out--determining, through the impersonal workings of natural selection, which will survive.
Dawkins proposes that the meme is to culture what the gene is to biology. A meme is a reproducible idea and as such is the basic unit of cultural transmission. In his words: "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation."
A meme isn't just any fleeting impression or random thought. One defining characteristic of a meme is that it reproduces itself with a fair degree of fidelity. A joke is a meme; so is the alphabet. One can argue that language is the ultimate meme (or "memeplex," as some call it). The sum of all memes is culture, transmitted from generation to generation, just as the genome is.
Meme theory proponents argue that, just as we're the pawns by which our genes compete for dominance, so are we the creatures of our memes. You've heard such expressions as "The concept took on a life of its own" or "Never underestimate the power of an idea whose time has come," right? To memeticists, these aren't mere conceits but rather reflections of the true state of affairs.
You're saying: Get out. I'm the boss of my ideas; they aren't the boss of me.
Don't be so sure. Few doubt that genes are real, and I venture to say the notion of the selfish gene is now the accepted scientific view. But genes are really coded bits of information more than they are tangible things, and though they happen to be embodied in the physical substrate of DNA, their essence can also be conveyed symbolically. Memes are much the same, and their substrates can be as varied as a book or someone's memory. Granted, some memes (a chain letter, an urban legend) are trivial or short-lived. But think about the memeplex of organized religion, instances of which have endured for millennia and to which many devote their lives.
Memes arguably have shaped our biology. Some think the human brain has evolved a built-in faculty for language acquisition. Memeticists say language offered an advantage to our early ancestors because it can transmit memes: for instance, how to make a stone ax. Memes thus tipped the evolutionary balance in favor of individuals with language skills. Through this mechanism they may even be responsible for our big brains.
What do memes add to the conventional understanding of the propagation of culture? Just this: They remove the element of conscious choice, making the process purely mechanical. Just as natural selection accounts for mankind's origins without invoking God, meme theory accounts for our cultural edifices without positing a "self" or a "soul." That solves a long-standing philosophical conundrum: If we accept the idea of an unbreakable chain of cause and effect at the molecular level and take the materialist view that our brains are just complicated arrangements of molecules, there doesn't seem to be any room for free will. Susan Blackmore, in The Meme Machine (1999), argues that with memes there doesn't need to be. Free will and the sense of self are illusions. I'm not an independent actor, just an assemblage of memes (a "selfplex"). Things happen not because "I" make choices but because of interaction between the memes of which this "I" is composed. One objects: So how did you write your book, lady? Blackmore's response: Creative types don't create; they're merely vehicles by which evolving memes manifest themselves. ("The book wrote itself.") Sounds like the woolliest college bull session ever, I know, but even if you don't buy it you've still got to think: Whoa.

How long is a piece of string theory?

Paul Davies of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University asks...

The big question: how long is a piece of string theory? The world about us looks so bewilderingly complex, it seems impossible that humans could ever understand it completely. But dig deeper, and the richness and variety of nature are found to stem from just a handful of underlying mathematical principles. So rapid has been the advance of science in elucidating this hidden subtext of nature that many scientists, especially theoretical physicists, believe we are on the verge of formulating a "theory of everything".
When Stephen Hawking accepted the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University in 1980 he chose as the title of his inaugural lecture: "Is the end in sight for theoretical physics?" What he meant was that physicists could glimpse the outlines of a final theory, in which all the laws of nature would be melded into a single, elegant mathematical scheme, perhaps so simple and compact it could be emblazoned on your T-shirt. Now Hawking has done something of a U-turn by claiming in a lecture at Cambridge last month that we will never be able to grasp in totality how the universe is put together.
The quest for a final theory began 2500 years ago. The Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus suggested that however complicated the world might seem to human eyes, it was fundamentally simple. If only we could look on a small enough scale of size, we would see that everything is made up of just a handful of basic building blocks, which the Greeks called atoms. It was then a matter of identifying these elementary particles, and classifying them, for all to be explained.
Today we know atoms are not the elementary particles the Greek philosophers supposed, but composite bodies with bits inside. However, this hasn't scuppered the essential idea that a bottom level of structure exists on a small enough scale. Physicists have been busy peering into the innards of atoms to expose what they hope is the definitive set of truly primitive entities from which everything in the universe is built. The best guess is that the ultimate building blocks of matter are not particles at all, but little loops of vibrating string about 20 powers of 10 smaller than an atomic nucleus.
String theory has been enormously beguiling, and occupies the attention of physicists and mathematicians. It promises to describe correctly not only the inventory of familiar particles but the forces that act between them, like electromagnetism and gravity. It could even explain the existence of space and time, too.
Though string theorists are upbeat about achieving the much sought-after theory of everything, others remain sceptical about the entire enterprise. A bone of contention has always surrounded the word "everything". Understanding the basic building blocks of physical reality wouldn't help explain how life originated, or why people fall in love. Only if these things are dismissed as insignificant embellishments on the basic scheme would the physicist's version of a final theory amount to a true theory of everything.
Then there is a deeper question of whether a finite mind can ever fully grasp all of reality. By common consent, the most secure branch of human knowledge is mathematics. It rests on rational foundations, and its results flow seamlessly from sequences of precise definitions and logical deductions. Who could doubt that 1+1=2, for example? But in the 1930s the Austrian philosopher Kurt Godel stunned mathematicians by proving beyond doubt that the grand and elaborate edifice of mathematics was built on sand. It turns out that mathematical systems rich enough to contain arithmetic are shot through with logical contradictions. Any given mathematical statement (eg, 11 is a prime number) must either be true or false, right?
Wrong! Godel showed that however elaborate mathematics becomes, there will always exist some statements (not the above ones though) that can never be proved true or false. They are fundamentally undecidable. Hence mathematics will always be incomplete and in a sense uncertain.
Because physical theories are cast in the language of mathematics, they are subject to the limitations of Godel's theorem. Many physicists have remarked that this will preclude a truly complete theory of everything. Now it seems Hawking has joined their ranks.
So does this mean physicists should give up string theory and other attempts at unifying the laws of nature, if their efforts are doomed to failure? Certainly not, for the same reason that we don't give up teaching and researching mathematics because of Godel's theorem. What these logical conundrums tell us is there are limits to what can be known using the rational method of inquiry. It means that however heroic our efforts may be at understanding the world about us, there will remain some element of mystery at the end of the universe.
Paul Davies is professor of natural philosophy at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University.