Archive for May, 2011

May 27, 2011


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May 26, 2011

Jewish Marriage Contracts

This post is a word for word (picture for picture really) rip off from the Retronaut.

From the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library:
The ketubah is the contract that Jewish law requires a groom to provide for his bride on their wedding day. Different Jewish communities adopted styles and even shapes for their ketubot that were characteristic of their localities.

Bombay India 1911

Ferrara Italy 1736

Kutaisi Georgia 1951

Jerusalem Palestine 1888

May 23, 2011

Books Unread

The Guardian published a short exchange between Umberto Eco, the novelist and Jean-Claude Carrière, a script writer. It is about books they have not read.

Says Eco (I’m quoting these out of order, to make a point):
“There are more books in the world than hours in which to read them.”
“Who has actually read the Kama Sutra? And yet everyone talks about it, and some practise it too. So we can see that the world is full of books that we haven’t read, but that we know pretty well.”
“And yet when we eventually pick them up, we find they are already familiar. How is that? First, there’s the esoteric explanation – there are these waves that somehow travel from the book to you – to which I don’t subscribe. Second, perhaps it’s not true that you’ve never opened the book; over the years you’re bound to have moved it from place to place, and may have flicked through it and forgotten that you’ve done so. Third, over the years you’ve read lots of books that have mentioned this one and so made it seem familiar.”
(I like how he playfully offers the ‘esoteric’ explanation, only to dismiss it.)
And for the best line of them all.
“We are thus deeply influenced by books we haven’t read, that we haven’t had the time to read.”

For the short article and the link to the book where the exchange was taken from, see the Guardian.

May 22, 2011

Feel That

What do I love? Embodiment of invisible things. That feeling when you walk into an old library, being in the presence of immense beauty, all the knowledge of the world, a sanctuary for thought itself: a space where it can condense, take shape, become palpable.

You can see then why I would love the idea of this project from back in 2005 by Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger. The art installation, called Soul Warmer, was set in the Abbey Library of St.Gall, one of the oldest and most important monastic collections.

Part of the accompanying text reads: “For a long time, the library was able to capture the emotions of stunned visitors. Some emotions remained stuck to the grilles in front of the books, or trickled away down the gaps in the parquet flooring…”

And then towards the end of the text “At a stroke, all stored emotions were set free. Natural powers and higher forces sprang forth; memories swung their arms and legs; the animalistic instinct was liberated; fragmented souls were warmed, put together afresh, and life breathed into them.”

I discovered this project via hila shachar who blogs at le projet d’amour. She was compelled to blog about the project when, in her words: “i was sitting in the library this morning, when a particularly moving passage from a book i was reading caught in my throat, like an unspoken sob. i wanted to tell someone about it, maybe the person sitting next to me, but the very nature of a library means silence.” After introducing the art installation she continues: “this is exactly what i wanted this morning: to capture the emotion i felt, and to literalise it.”

(note the reproduction of Holbein’s Christ at the top)

May 19, 2011

Numbers and Links

I forget what I was looking up, but I recently found out about the Erdős number. Paul Erdős was in himself a fascinating figure: a mathematician who was prolific as he was eccentric. He never had a fixed residence and would travel from one colleague’s home to another, write a paper (or several) with them and then move on. Because of his enormous output and the collaborative aspect of his work, there is a large group of mathematicians and scientists who have worked with him. Hence the origin of the Erdős number.

Those who collaborated directly with Erdős are assigned the number 1. If one collaborated with someone who directly collaborated with Erdős, they get the number 2. The Erdős number counts how many steps away one is from collaboration with Paul Erdős.

The Kevin Bacon number follows the same principle, only for show biz. The Erdős number is older, but due to its geekiness is less well known.
Given that this blog is where high geekiness meets low geekiness, we are mostly concerned with a synthesis of these two. Namely, the Bacon-Erdős number.

Danica McKellar:

         – coauthored a science paper with professor as undergraduate; graduated summa cum laude from UCLA; went on to write three math books for kids of various ages (one of which was a New York Times bestseller); Erdős number is 4.

– started as a child star on the Wonder Years; still works in movies and TV, including eight episodes of West Wing; Bacon number is 2.
Erdős-Bacon number is 6.

Daniel Kleitman:
         – physicist and mathematician; got his PhD in physics, then met Erdős who asked him “Why are you only a physicist?”; coauthored at least six papers with Erdős; teaches applied mathematics at MIT. Erdős number is 1.

– math advisor and extra in Good Will Hunting; Bacon number is 2.
Erdős-Bacon number (lowest such) is 3.


More people with Erdős-Bacon numbers here. (Thanks to Cait for this.)

May 18, 2011

Pity the Fool

On their stroll, Virgil and Dante encounter a giant (in Canto XXXI) who addresses them thusly:

“Raphél maì amèche zabì almi,”
he began screaming from his fierce mouth,
for which no sweeter psalm would be appropriate.

And my guide turned toward him: “Stupid soul,
play instead your horn, and with it vent yourself
when ire or other passions touch you!

Search your neck, and you’ll find a lanyard
to which it’s tied, o confused soul,
and you’ll find it upon to your chest.”

Then he said to me: “He blames himself;
this is Nimrod who through his evil designs
one language is now not used in the world. […]”

That’s Virgil explaining to Dante how God confounded humanity by giving it languages to prevent the Tower of Babel from being built. In the process, God also scattered people all over the world.

The part of the story that didn’t make it into the Bible is this. Right after God confounded humanity, he felt bad and took pity upon humans scattered every which way. In order to unite them again, but in such a way so that they would still be unable to complete the tower, God gave them STUPIDITY.
(That’s why Virgil calls Nimrod “stupid soul.”)
Stupidity is a sign of God’s mercy and love for humanity. Back when people used to believe in God, they knew this. Like around 1590, when this World Map in a Fool’s Head was produced.

In The Image of the World: 20 Centuries of World Maps, Peter Whitfield writes (via the Retronaut):
Its central visual metaphor is the universality of human folly and various mottoes around the map reinforce that theme. The panel of the left says: “Democritus laughed at it, Heraclitus wept over it, Epichtonius Cosmopolites portrayed it.” Although Epichtonius Cosmopolites appears to be the author’s or artist’s name, it translates roughly as “Everyman,” leaving the mapmaker’s true identity hidden.”

May 12, 2011

Double Connection

Apparently, Faulkner had a few choice words about Hemingway.

“He has no courage, has never climbed out on a limb. He has never used a word where the reader might check his usage by a dictionary.”

The other half of this double connection is that I saw this posted on a photo blog a friend of mine recently showed me. And then it was reblogged on Magic – which I follow regularly – photo and inscription. It seems the World Wide Web is not as big as all that, after all.

May 11, 2011

Dr. Feelgood

I heard an interview with Frederick Kempe, who wrote a book called Berlin 1961, about the Kennedy administration’s first year in office. My ears perked up when I heard him mention that JFK had a certain doctor, Max Jacobson, inject him with amphetamines for the Vienna Summit with Nikita Khrushchev in June of 1961. I’m sorry, who, what?!

Max Jacobson was a German-born doctor who emigrated to the US in 1936. By 1952 he had become a doctor to the stars: Anthony Quinn, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Cecil B. DeMille, Yul Brynner, Marlene Dietrich, Zero Mostel, Nelson Rockefeller all became his patients after the “vitamin injection’ treatments he had developed became famous. What was in them? Multivitamins, steroids, enzymes, hormones, bone marrow, animal organ cells, solubilized placenta, and of course, amphetamines – i.e. speed.

By 1960, he was already treating, at the time, senator Kennedy. In fact, he gave him an injection before the famous televised debate with, also at the time, vice-president Richard Nixon.

One of these men is high. The other is Nixon. Who would you vote for?

As I said, Jacobson was with Kennedy in Vienna in June of 1961 and gave him some of his miracle drug for talks with Khrushchev. By May 1962, Jacobson visited the White House thirty-four times. And he gave the president much needed boosts for the struggle with US Steel later that year and even the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Jacobson is standing, right

Jacobson eventually committed the cardinal sin for a charlatan. He bought into his own bullshit. (And in his case, who knows, there might have been actual bull shit in his cocktails.) He started taking his own injections. Speed may be fun and a temporary solution for fatigue, burn out, depression or some such, but Jacobson was ordering enough amphetamine for over a hundred doses a day! He saw thirty or more patients a day, and worked around the clock with never a day off.

In 1969, just as the fun-loving sixties came to a close, Mark Shaw, the official Kennedy photographer, died of an amphetamine overdose, age 47. This led to an investigation into Jacobson’s practices as a doctor, and the revoking of his license in 1972. He died in 1979.

During his time working with celebrities, Jacobson was called Miracle Max and Dr. Feelgood. It is entirely possible that he made it into Aretha Franklin’s song Dr. Feelgood. The lyrics towards the end:

Don’t send me no doctor
Filling me up with all of those pills
I got me a man named ‘Dr. Feelgood’
And oh, yeah that man takes care of all my pains and my ills.
His name is Dr. Feelgood in the morning.
Taking care of business is really this man’s game.
And after one visit to Dr. Feelgood
You’d understand why Feelgood is his name
Oh yeah, oh good God Almighty the man sure makes me feel real


May 7, 2011

David Hume turns 300

Today, May 7th 2011, David Hume would have turned 300.

Happy Birthday old boy!

May 3, 2011


Since I already started posting headstones…This one’s gonna be mine.
(Also, I love that the word atheist is misspelled.)