Friday, 31 July 2009

Some thoughts on the Purdy case

The Law Lords ruled in the Purdy case yesterday and the DPP has been told to issue guidance and clear principles on when prosecutions for assisting suicide will occur. I have to admit that I haven't really been following the story too closely, but, like so many other stories, this has prompted me to think of life four years ago as Dad began his final descent.

The events of that time have taken on rather a strange disconnected feeling as time has past. So many memories of the days during that period feel like it was not me taking part. I did what I felt had to be done at the time, but it is all sort of a blur now.

One of today's suuporting articles is a piece by Anastasia Parkes who has MS. Much of her article discusses how she will feel as her decline speeds up and she has to experience the reaction of her husband and children. I hadn't really thought much about this point before in respect of my Dad. Yet on one or two occasions, Dad did say one or two things that suggest that this was something he was concerned about.

I remember close to the end when I had just finished sorting out a new car for Mum and the various other financial arrangements had been finished. It was almost like Dad relaxed at that point and gave up his fight. That last conversation covered a message that Dad wanted me to pass on to Emma and his thanks for what I had done over the last few months. Anything that reminds me of that day has a major impact on the way I feel, even now, over three years later. I suspect that this will be the case for the rest of my life.

Two days later Dad moved to the hospital and died a day later. Writing this I am glancing at the cartoon on the study wall of Dad in his walking gear that he received when he retired. How much I would like to be able to go walking in the Lake District with him now.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sundry things to talk about - a London Day

Tantrism on the coach to London

On the way to London this morning I was reading a book on tantrism that I bought a few years ago. When I was learning to be a yoga teacher some years ago, tantrism sort of lurked on the fringes at various times. Of course tantrism is closely linked with various bits of yoga such as chakras and kundalini, but our course rarely made any specific comment on it. Still something to do with it would appear at Yoga Show each year in London. I was surprised at how explicit the book was on a quick skim through.

I first came across tantrism when I read Lisa Alther's Kinflicks when I was a teenager. This book made a huge impact on me at the time - especially the section of learning philosophy at University and the hippie commune section. I wonder if Lisa Alther still writes?

And of course The Dharma Bums has hints of tantrism in the "yam-yum" sequence early on. I have occasionally wondered what that would be like.
Not the cover of my edition!

Early 1970s Top of the Tops

Apparently German TV is showing episodes of TOTP from the early 1970s. By the wonders of the internet I have been able to acquire half a dozen shows and they have been quite extraordinary. First of all, I am amazed that I know so many of the songs. Secondly, there are the extraordinary depiction of black artists. Then there is the willingness to show bands with bearded guys in their late twenties. There are the extraordinary outfits the studio audiences are wearing. And what about Abba's first ever TOTP performance? What are they wearing? Finally there is Pan's People, who I don't really remember that well (Hot Gossip from the late 1970s is more my era - I particularly remember a blonde girl with sleepy doe eyes) but who I now appreciate much more.
And soon after downloading these shows I came across a retrospective documentary from the late 1990s about Pan's People (Digging the Dancing Queens) featuring John Peel. An excellent programme I thought - Peel was generally not impressed by them it seems. I was rather struck by how attractive they all were 20 years later
Classic Pan's People

John Zorn / Sonic Youth - South Bank Show

This evening, while sorting through some old video tapes, I came across an episode of The South Bank Show from the late 1980s (1987?) featuring John Zorn, Sonic Youth and, more generally, New York music from that period.
I have well over 50 John Zorn cds which might be the most I have by anyone. I can't think of anyone who has released such a variety of music. The extraordinary New Traditions in Eastern Bar Music is stupendous as are the completely different live recordings of Masada. By contrast, Sonic Youth looked quite ordinary!
John Zorn - My record collection used to look like this

Sarah Dunnant - Sacred Hearts
My main non-academic reading is currently Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts, a tale of life in a convent in Ferrara in the mid 1500s (see, even this is not totally divorced from my main reading). I have read several long newspaper articles by Sarah Dunant over the years (as well as her book on political correctness from ages ago). One was about living in Florence which inspired me to investigate the short-term letting market in the city (and which I still think it would be really good to do one of these days). A more recent one was about Julia O'Faolain's novel Women in the Wall which I read in about 1980 and had since totally forgotten.

Lecturing Birds on Flying

Another recent book in the area in which Nasim Taleb has been working is Pablo Triana's Lecturing Birds on Flying. This works the area of financial market risk management that I wrote my article on for the LSE magazine last year - perhaps I should have been more ambitious and written something like this as it covers many areas that I know well.

A somewhat clumsy preface, but I feel it will get going well later

LSE visit - thoughts on biography

My day at LSE was spent on pondering my biography project. I have a very rough idea of the work required to do this, but am still at the very early stage of sorting out a working bibliography for the person concerned and examining some fringe topics in their lives to assess whether I would have the interest to slog through the research necessary.

I am now less certain than I was about doing a PhD. I had thought this would have considerable overlap with the biography project, but I now think that perhaps it wouldn't

Monday, 27 July 2009

"Writing Biography" and current travel plans

We have recently received the annual course newspaper from the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. This pretty much always contains a really good selection of courses and this year is no exception. I am drawn to the 10 week course in Philosophy of Mathematics, a twenty week course in the History of Mathematics, and, in particular, a 20week course called "Writing Biography". Given my tentative plans, this last course could be an excellent way of assessing the reasonableness of the project.

We currently have three possible trips in the early stages of planning. Firstly, Scotland in August. This was going to have been the trip in which we borrowed Jerome's motorhome but that is no longer possible. Instead we are looking at various guesthouse itineraries. I am very excited about the idea of seeing a lot of varied places - Linda perhaps less keen on the constant movement between places

Then we have France in October. This will be an 8-night trip in the land rover linked to buying wine and other goodies. Hopefully we will be able to get as far down as the south-west of France around Carcassone. Lots of Cathar-related places beckon.

Finally there is the possibility that I at least will go to Austria in November to see the Phillip Glass opera premier in Linz. That is very tentative at this stage.

But all these should be interesting experiences - and as Linda keeps emphasising, we should be having more of these.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Northern Exposure

Watched two mid-series-three episodes of Northern Exposure - the first I have watched for a couple of years - one I seem not to have seen before where Maggie believes that a husky dog embodies the spirit of her dead ex-boyfriend, Rick, and one I had seen in which Joel dreams of a visit from his non-existent twin brother, Jules. A fine way to spend the evening

Despite not watching it often, this show remains my favourite TV series ever. The strong philosophical thread of anti-materialism that ran through the show was hugely influential on me and reflects my own philosophical views to a great degree. I still have most of series 6 still left to watch and am planning to slowly make my way towards this over the coming months

On searching the internet, I was surprised to discover that Janine Turner, who played the marvellous character of Maggie, has been involved in some sort of Christian-Yoga video - apparently enabling Christians to chant New Testament Scripture while doing Yoga, rather than Hindu sanskrit. The mind boggles!

But of course it is the character of Chris that had the most impact on me - as I suspect it did on most NE fans.

Apparently there is an annual NE get together called something like "Moosefest" - the next one occurs next week.

Three shots of Maggie

And one of Chris looking philosophical . . .

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Richard Long show in London - at last

To London for a morning at the Richard Long show. This has taken a surprisingly long time to me to go and see but was well worth the wait. The show is absolutely wonderful.

It consists of five main types of work. Firstly, there are some large vertical mud works like the one at the entrance shown on the first picture below. Secondly, there are a collection of photographs and various map-based works recording various walks and the works created on them. Wood circle in Alaska is my favourite of these (also shown below).

Then there are the written descriptions of walks printed directly onto the walls of the gallery. These include works like "Crossing Stones" which I talked about when discussing my reading of his book Walking the Line.

Fourth, and for me the real highlight of the show, were the five stone works laid out on the gallery floor. Four pictures of these are shown below. I was slightly disappointed to detect a faint red outline round the circles and the ellipse. I had thought that guide lines might have been removed. Should you be interested in making one of these shapes, then you will need several hundred pieces of rock.

And finally there was a section showing catalogues from previous shows, various books and a series of short films that he had made for Channel Four (and which I was able to find on an internet site later on).

I found the show quite overwhelming and enjoyed a slow walk from Pimlico back into the West End afterwards - lost in thought.

The redemptive power of art again. And adds considerably to my excitement about the week of backpacking that I will be doing in Scotland in August.

The mud work by the entrance

Three of the stone works. Apparently these are on loan from other galleries - so presumably will be removed and returned afterwards. There seems to be considerable work involved in these given the flat surfaces. I wonder - do the pieces have a set position or does that chance each time the work is packed up and moved?

A circle of slate - all the same height which shows the work involved in making it

Quartz circle - perhaps my favourite

This work was at the Tate but this picture comes from another gallery.

An outdoor slate work

The man himself - now 64 I was surprised to read

Installing one of the slate works.
Wood circle in Alaska - still my favourite outdoor work

Circle in the Sahara

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Immersion in the Reformation

For eight to ten hours a day I am currently immersed in reading about the Reformation. Derek Wilson's biography of Luther, Out of the Storm, Manschreck's Melanchthon from 1953, Diarmaid MacCulloch's huge work, Reformation, from a couple of years ago, Mandrou's From Humanism to Science 1480-1700 and The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Rarely have I been so immersed in one subject.

Setting the scene for the sequence: Luther to Melanchthon to Wittenberg to Tubingen to Kepler

Also thinking about travelling to see the many places where these scenes occur - something that I understand many biographers do - I have seen it described as "optical research". Maybe something I could look at doing in November when I am pondering on going to Linz to see the premier of Philip Glass's opera, Kepler

A quick internet search throws up some nice pictures

Martin Luther

Philip Melanchthon - reformer of German universities in the Reformation

Lutherstrasse, Wittenberg

Tubingen University

My hero - Johannes Kepler

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Various things of the last few days

While watching a tv drama the other night something really strange happens - one of the characters has my name. It is pretty strange to hear "your" name mentioned on tv. Unfortunately it was a fairly minor role. If it had been bigger ormore important, I would have wanted to have recorded it.

Another drama I watched this week was on a "credit-crunch" theme. It was called "Freefall" and covered the lives of three people as the mortgage market collapsed. It was almost unwatchable at times as the tragedy of all of them rolled forward. It reminded me in some ways of "Boys from the Blackstuff". The format of the show was very effective and could be used for many other current-affairs-type subjects.

For instance, the war in Afganistan. As I drove home the other night, the road was lined with people waiting around, some carrying union jack flags - turned out they were waiting for some of the soldiers who died last week to pass through.

I have had two very good trading days this week and one less good. Overall it has been my best three days since I started but the one poor day plays on my mind far more than the other days. I had forgotten this feeling, but it is common to all traders. I haven't felt it since the end of 2006. I expect it willoccur much more often.

I am mainly reading biographies at the moment. In particular, one about Martin Luther. I am studying the exact format in some detail, trying to see how it was put together and what I would have done differently. It is shorter than I would have liked and is pitched to the general reader perhaps more than I would have liked as well. But it is a very free-flowing writing style and that is very commendable.

But the papers are full of stories about how hard the book trade is at the moment - advances are being cut drastically, especially among historians.

Other reading is mainly a book of articles from the defunct US cultural magazine Lingua Franca. Some very interesting stuff and more clear examples of the way academia really is compared to the rose-tinted idea I had until around this time last year.

Emma has severe toothache - the tooth that has caused her problems over the last couple of years. She arranges an emergency appointment near her office and asked if I would go down and meet her afterwards. She seems better than I had expected, but does wilt a little as the anaesthetic begins to wear off. I left her back at her flat where she was planning to go to sleep for the afternoon. I went to LSE then set off home around 4:00. Emma rang me at 4:30 in some distress from her tooth (post root canal treatment) but I was already on the coach home. I feel really bad about not waiting a little longer and therefore being able to go and see her again - but had thought she was past the worse.

A strange dream about Naomi Wolf, whose film, The End of America, I watched a little of the other day. We were on a date and go back to her place. However we couldn't agree on what we should do in bed as everything I suggested fell fowl of her feminist ideals. I wonder if that is a problem in real life? Would wanting her to dress in a French Maid's outfit really offend her too much?

A nightmare wakes me at 3:00a.m this morning. I am working in an open-plan office and have the worst cubicle in the place. I keep thinking I should be in one of the big offices like I used to work in. I wake up in a high state of anxiety. And I am writing this at 4:15am having not got back to sleep afterwards.

Another glorious sunrise. Time to start some study

Friday, 10 July 2009

London day - The Garden and Cosmos Show

A day in London for various things. First to LSE to try and borrow three books - all of which turn out to be there (rather a surprise given past experience). Job Kozhamthadam's The Discovery of Kepler's Laws: The Interaction of Science, Philosophy and Religion; Manschreck's biography Melanchthon The Quiet Reformer; and the Schmitt/Skinner (ed) volume The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy.

Lunch with Emma at Selfridges. She is dressed in her smart work clothes, me not so smart but not too tatty either. Everything seems to be continuing well with her internship and she is optimistic that she will be offered a job for when she finishes at Cambridge. I mentioned that I was currently reading a book by a Trinity academic and it turns out that she is Emma's tutor, even though she is a historian of science (Kusukawa's The Transformation of Natural Philosophy is the book in question)

Then to the British Museum for the Garden and Cosmos show - the Royal Paintings of Jodhpur. This is a set of 56 pictures from the Royal Collection of the Mehrangarh Museum in Jodhpur from the Royal courts and painted in the 17th to 19th Centuries. I was supposed to be seeing this with my friend Fiona but she is moving back to Australia this week and various last minute problems stop us meeting, which was a great shame. Fiona is going back to University - something I always approve of.

The show has some marvellous pictures. I particularly like the sequence of pictures of Maharaja Bakhat Singh. He is always painted in the same rather stern profile (as virtually all the people are) surrounded by 20 or so female companions. The pictures titles the say that he is "revelling" or "enjoying" or "rejoicing", yet he has this stern expression. None the less, in one picture he is undoing the sari of his companion, in another he is bathing and holding a water pistol so he can soak his female companions with coloured water, and in another three pairs of ducks are shown mating as a hint to what will be happening when the Maharaja has finished enjoying the musical performance of his female companions - and he has the same stern expression each time! Being Maharaja looks like a lot of fun.

Another sequence of pictures of Krishna and the Gopi girls is also really good.

There are also some more "cosmographical" pictures showing various creation sequences and even some hatha yoga pictures. A fine contrast to the various Maharaja pictures.

Overall, an excellent show, spoilt only by the amazingly high cost of the shows guide book (> £30, amazing) which I therefore didn't buy

Maharaja Bakhat Singh and Zenana Women savour the moonlight evening

Maharaja Bukhat Singh rejoices during Holi
(as one would do surrounded by bathing beauties and armed with a water pistol!)

Krishna frolics with the Gopi Girls

Jallandhamath and the Princess Padmini fly over King Padam's Palace

The Creation of the Cosmic Ocean and the Elements

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Sandra Critelli nature photos

The current issue of Resurgence magazine has a quite extraordinary cover photo showing migrating cownose rays. This picture is by Sandra Critelli who has a really nice website of her nature pictures as I am greatly impressed by these and am thinking of buying a couple

The Resurgence cover picture. This has such a strange abstract shape - initially, when I first saw it, I didn't realise what it was at all. Apparently, just a lucky chance that she was at the right place at the right time.

Another view of the migrating rays - even odder when you see how it looked from the boat

Clouds pouring over a ridge - I have seen this happen maybe twice in my years of hill walking

Apparently a pattern on rock

A Rothko-like view in the Arctic

Something of a cliche almost - desert rock in Arizona

Fine abstract photo - glass apparently

More glass
Aeriel landscapes are rarely as good as this - still an underworked type of picture in my view

Abstract view of penguins on a cliff - this would look great really large I reckon

Sometimes I wish I could live somewhere like this!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The joy of working hard again!!

It would be fair to say that in May and June my work wasn't really at the highest level of productivity. One reason was that I seem to have had really bad hayfever this year and generally felt lousy alot of the time. Other reasons could include a bout of depression related to work questions going forward. Or it could be that I didn't enjoy having to focus on PH400 once it was clear that I would have to defer PH404. But the last few days have seen something of a bounce back with a decent amout of "proper" work getting done.

I have read the whole of Kragh's Introduction to the Historiography of Science. I had not liked the little bit of this I read some months ago but for some reason I have got far more out of it this time through. This inspired me to tackle one of the more difficult books on Kepler, James Voelkel's The Composition of Kepler's Astronomia Nova, which took me 3 days to complete (including most of a weekend while Linda was away teaching a course)

For less serious reading I have been dipping into Ferguson's Tycho and Kepler and Koestler's The Sleepwalkers. Then there is Owen Chadwick's The Reformation that I rattled through in another couple of days.

Then a trip to Oxford to copy several articles at the Radcliffe Science Library - including Westman's excellent The Comet and the Cosmos: Kepler, Mastlin and the Copernican Hypothesis. from a rare book on Copernicanism from the mid 1970s

So for the first time in ages I feel I am making good progress. In some ways it has felt like the week in Italy last August with which I began this Blog. A steady flow of material covered and a growing sense again of it all fitting together. Long may this continue

Sundry things

Emma spent an evening with us at short notice. Her work seems to be going well so far. Her main reason for coming home was the hope that I might take her down to Henley on the Saturday, where she would be meeting her boyfriend and his mum and dad. It is surprising how many kites we saw between here and Henley.

The Tour de France has started - once my favourite summer sporting event. Lance is back this year but I can't really see him winning again. Contador is the clear favourite. There are one or two decent mountain stages, including Mont Vonteau on the next to last day.

A terrific episode of the oddly-named Supersizers show set around the food of the French Revolution. I am inspired to perhaps read a book on the subject of the F.R. at some point soon

I have downloaded a movie about Luther which was also very good. I've recently bought a biography of Luther - wonder how much in the film was solidly grounded in fact?

Friday, 3 July 2009

Back studying Kepler for H of S

I definitely have an upwards trend in momentum for work at the moment - post-exams and post-Spain. So for the last couple of days I have been working through Voelkel's The Composition of Kepler's Astronomia Nova. This is a technically difficult work and has led me to thinking about appropriate levels of technicality for various users. e.g. when thinking about study back in 1982 and comparing reading Koestler's The Sleepwalkers and Koyre's Astronomical Revolution. I can still remember the excitement of reading the latter straight after the former - both have their place but Koyre is clearly the better work in history of science.

I am also thinking a lot about biographical writing in the history of science. I may do a project (time permitting of course) to compare the structure and manner of the recent biography of Dirac, The Strangest Man, with Westfall on Newton, Never at Rest. The former is a good representation of current biography aimed at the "intelligent amateur", while the latter is a scholarly work of the highest caliber

Again I am working on developing a bibliography - there are so many works to appraise and consider for a biography. For example, how much should one discuss Jardine's The Birth of History and Philosophy of Science (his book on Kepler's defence of Tycho against Ursus) in a major work on K. How important is it? Jardine's book is 300 pages but it might just be 5/6 pages of a bigger work?

Also there are questions relating to diagrams / explanations of technical terms / footnotes /uses of appendices, etc. The old adage is that every diagram cuts your readership in half - but how can you avoid having some in a work on an astronomer?

As always, lots to think about

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A new approach (for me) to study

Much of my thinking over the past month has been directed to the question of biographical writing - assessing whether I have what it might take to write a biography, how long such a book might take, and various practical points related to publication, etc. But one of the key insights of this process has also been the discovery of how this results in my approach to my own study changing.

Emma did most of her revision with her boyfriend who, due to rowing commitments, was not at Emma's level. So part of her revision had a teaching focus and this seems to have had a markedly beneficial effect on her own work. Similarly, for me, thinking about how to write about something in a biographical manner has also been something of an eye-opener. For I am now focused both on the structure of the overall narrative and also how to fit each part of the story together. So now the papers I read by Westman on early Copernicianism reveal a different role to me - something in respect of the establishment of the pre-Kepler scene. Similarly, I now look on Heath's Aristarchus of Samos or Kusukawa's The Transformation of Natural Philosophy or books by Voelkel and Methuen in a different light - what can they do for the overall work?

So take something like retrograde motion. I am thinking about a section of the main work called something like "what is to be explained" in which retrograde motion is clearly one such issue. But how best to describe it? Maybe via some really good photos or the use of modern astronomical software programmes like Redshift. But it should be possible to make the story clear and compelling. Such is my thinking at the moment, a different bias to just thinking about a final exam.

I am reminded of the detailed chronologies that Safranski produced for his biographies of Nietzsche and Heidegger. Maybe I should start to prepare such a document - particularly as I start to read more biographical material in the coming weeks.

And my plan for a 1000 word explanation of why I want to do what I am planning is also beginning to come together. I can now make a very good case for it. But as always, much more thought is required.

Mars in retrograde motion, over the period of several months in early 2005. The Pleiades are in the top left of the picture. A beautiful multi-exposure photo.

Mars during a different retrograde period. Another nice picture

The Acid tests

While in Spain recently I read the Perry/Babbs book On the Bus, an account of the trip by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters across America in 1964. Since getting back I have been reading Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, his account of the events that occurred after the bus trip. I first read this when I was about 17, following on from the usual teenage reading of Kerouac's On the Road. And like so many, I found this to be very much a model of what life could be - a wide ranging view supported by my later reading of The Dharma Bums, The Snow Leopard, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Franny and Zooey - still my four favourite books, one of which I read every year without fail.

Recent downloads have included several hours of recordings from one of the Acid tests, plus some Grateful Dead/Merry Prankster rapping and a more-recent audio interview with Carolyn Adams - "Mountain Girl" - someone who I have always rather admired and who I was pleased to discover seems to be very much thriving as a farmer in Oregon these days.

So today's musical theme (if you can call it that) is based around the Acid Test recordings and some of the early Grateful Dead records. I had forgotten how good "Live Dead" was.

Mountain Girl beside the bus

Mountain Girl with Jerry Garcia, with whom she had two children.

Ken Babbs - "Intrepid Traveller" - at one of the Acid Tests

A much later photo of Mountain Girl and Ken Kesey with the bus