Breuillard’s ICM talk: uniform expansion, Lehmer’s conjecture, tauhat

Emmanuel Breuillard is in Korea talking at the ICM; here’s his paper, a very beautiful survey of uniformity results for growth in groups, by himself and others, and of the many open questions that remain.

He starts with the following lovely observation, which was apparently in a 2007 paper of his but which I was unaware of.  Suppose you make a maximalist conjecture about uniform growth of finitely generated linear groups.  That is, you postulate the existence of a constant c(d) such that, for any finite subset S of GL_d(C),  you have a lower bound for the growth rate

\lim |S^n|^{1/n} > c(d).

It turns out this implies Lehmer’s conjecture!  Which in case you forgot what that is is a kind of “gap conjecture” for heights of algebraic numbers.  There are algebraic integers of height 0, which is to say that all their conjugates lie on the unit circle; those are the roots of unity.  Lehmer’s conjecture says that if x is an algebraic integer of degree n which is {\em not} a root of unity, it’s height is bounded below by some absolute constant (in fact, most people believe this constant to be about 1.176…, realized by Lehmer’s number.)

What does this question in algebraic number theory have to do with growth in groups?  Here’s the trick; let w be an algebraic integer and consider the subgroup G of the group of affine linear transformations of C (which embeds in GL_2(C)) generated by the two transformations

x -> wx


x -> x+1.

If the group G grows very quickly, then there are a lot of different values of g*1 for g in the word ball S^n.  But g*1 is going to be a complex number z expressible as a polynomial in w of bounded degree and bounded coefficients.  If w were actually a root of unity, you can see that this number is sitting in a ball of size growing linearly in n, so the number of possibilities for z grows polynomially in n.  Once w has some larger absolute values, though, the size of the ball containing all possible z grows exponentially with n, and Breuillard shows that the height of z is an upper bound for the number of different z in S^n * 1.  Thus a Lehmer-violating sequence of algebraic numbers gives a uniformity-violating sequence of finitely generated linear groups.

These groups are all solvable, even metabelian; and as Breuillard explains, this is actually the hardest case!  He and his collaborators can prove the uniform growth results for f.g. linear groups without a finite-index solvable subgroup.  Very cool!

One more note:  I am also of course pleased to see that Emmanuel found my slightly out-there speculations about “property tau hat” interesting enough to mention in his paper!  His formulation is more general and nicer than mine, though; I was only thinking about profinite groups, and Emmanuel is surely right to set it up as a question about topologically finitely generated compact groups in general.








August 17, 2014

August 17, 2014

I have consistently been emotionally drawn to men like Monty Woolley, who was a close associate of Cole Porter’s, but was also a well-known actor - but for me, the very vision of the man is strictly through a series of photographs.   If I was going to grow a beard, it would be like Monty’s facial hair.   The thing is one has to pass through a lot of time and trouble to keep the beard trimmed and neat.  The one thing that I don’t like about my body is the hair.  Too much hair on my legs, arms, torso and worst of all, the back.   Also I have a thick beard.  Technically I probably need to shave twice a day, but that’s too much work for me. I tend to shave every two or three days, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t like how I look with a three-day beard.  In fact, I don’t like how I look period.

I’m approaching 60, which is old.  People say 60 is the new 40, but that is a lie.   The first thing I noticed is my neck.  My neck looks old, but my face continues being youthful.  Lately I have been using a lot of cream on my neck area, including my hairy shoulders, hoping to stop the aging that is taking place in that part of the body.  As time marches on, I find myself losing my self in step, and it is hard for me to go back in line to march for a better world for me.   On the other hand, Monty Woolley looks old, but I suspect that he was born looking old.  I tried to find images of Woolley without a beard, and it was impossible.  I assume that he was born with a full beard.  Nevertheless, I do have at least three men that I look up to in a physical fashion sense, and besides Monty, there is the pop singer Kevin Rowland and the Jazz singer, writer, and Surrealist art collector, George Melly.  I’m struck by them because they are not technically handsome (such as yours truly) but have a strong sense of style, that overcomes ugliness or any human defectively traits.   So though I do have an aging neck as well as a hairy body (with the additional middle-aged fat as well) I figure I need to bring more personality to my appearance.  The thing is all throughout my life, people always compared me to celebrities.  In fact, I was often mistaken for certain public figures.

When I was 21, I went to see “Taxi Driver” at 20 times in a movie theater.  I even adopted his look, not shaving my head mind you, but the checkered button-up shirt, Levis, and the beat-up jacket he wore through the film.  It was my uniform that year, and I pretty much wore that on a regular basis.  The thing is people began to mention that I look like Robert De Niro, which was complimentary at the time, but then people began to approach me like I was the actor.  Not only that, but famous actors who actually worked or knew him.  They would come towards me and say “HI Bobby.” They always had a weird look on their face when I told them that they are mistaken.  Also I remember going to the Whiskey to see The Screamers, and someone behind me said “that’s Robert De Niro!” I looked around to see where De Niro was, and then realized that this guy was just talking about me.  I had to leave the area because he was sort of creepy and his friends were about to approach me.

As I got older, I was compared on a regular daily basis to Martin Scorsese (I think due to the eyebrows) and the now late Robin Williams.  Which I didn’t like to be compared to, due that he had a hairy body like mine.   A lot of homeless and street people approached me on the public walkways, saying that I looked like those two guys.  It was strange, because I couldn’t see the resemblance at all when I looked at myself in the mirror. Especially for Scorsese. However, on the other hand, so many people have commented on what they think is the resemblance between me and the great film director.  It is like they are willing themselves into thinking I look like this figure.  

Lately it is now Peter Sellers.  Here I can actually see the resemblance, I think due to the glasses I wear, as well as the facial shape of our mouths and eyes.  Time-to-time, I have been called upon to send a photo of me for maybe an article or a need for a bio of some sort.  Since I don’t like any of my own photos or portraits I usually now send a photograph of Peter Sellers.  The funny thing, is that very rarely do I get anyone turning down the photo - even those who know me quite well.   I never felt I was losing my identity, probably because I have spent my whole life thinking about being someone else.  For instance, Kevin Rowland, Melly, or Wooley.  No one ever mentions that I look like those gentlemen.  Which, at the end of the day, brings me a sense of sadness.

beautiesofafrique: African ethnic group of the week: The Fulani…


African ethnic group of the week: The Fulani people

Fulani people are one of the largest ethnolinguistic groups in Africa, numbering approximately 40 million people in total. They form one of the most widely dispersed and culturally diverse of the peoples of Africa. The Fulani are bound together by the common language of Fulfulde, as well as by some basic elements of Fulbe culture, such as The pulaaku , a code of conduct common to all Fulani groups. The Wodaabe (Fula: Woɗaaɓe) or Bororo and Toroobe are small subgroups of the Fulani ethnic group.

African countries where they are present include Mauritania, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Chad, Togo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan the Central African Republic, Liberia, and as far East as the Red Sea in Sudan and Egypt. With the exception of Guinea, where the Fula make up an ethnic plurality (largest single ethnic group) or approximately 40%+ of the population, Fulas are minorities in every country they live in. So, most also speak other dominant languages of the countries they inhabit, making many Fulani bilingual or even trilingual in nature. Such languages include Hausa, Bambara, Wolof, Arabic, 

Historically, the Fulani played a significant role in the rise and fall of ancient African empires such as Ghana, Mali, Songhai and the Mossi states. They greatly contributed to the spread of Islam throughout Western Africa. More recently, slavery and colonialism dispersed Fulani throughout the Middle East, the Americas and Europe. 

Fulani people were among the first Africans to convert to Islam. Between the eighth and the fourteenth century, Fulbe-speaking people of Takrur had produced a class of Muslim clerics, the Torodbe, who would take on proselytizing activities across the entire western Sudan. Increasingly, the memory of their previous pastoral religion was lost, except in some sub-groups such as the Bororo or Wodaabe (i.e., “Isolated”), who remained animists and nomads. Between the eleventh and the seventeenth century, the Fulbe gradually extended their grazing territory from over much of the West African savanna up to Borno. They usually took no part in the political life of the surrounding entities, and were sometimes subjected to heavy taxes.

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Alexander Theroux

therouxA proponent and practitioner of amplificatio and limerence.

onthestrand: These are some seriously nerdy nails, courtesy of…


These are some seriously nerdy nails, courtesy of One Nail To Rule Them All. We very much approve!


Notes on Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is certainly the best movie I’ve seen this year, likely the best movie I’ll see this year.  But I don’t see a lot of movies.  After the spoiler bar, some notes on this one.  I meant to write this right after I saw it, but got busy, so no doubt I’ve forgotten some of what I meant to say and gotten other things wrong.

Here’s one thing I liked about this movie.  Every adult man in the movie talks to Mason about responsibility.  Following up.  Thinking about consequences of actions.  It’s the verbal glue that holds all the men in the movie together.

But here’s the thing.  Responsibility is a virtue, sure.  But it turns out that good men and bad men believe in it just the same.  You can’t tell who’s good by what they say.  Mason’s abusive alcoholic stepdad tells him to live up to the commitments he makes.  That’s good advice.  Mason’s photography teacher, presented as someone who basically cares about him and means him well, tells him he can’t just do what he pleases if he wants to make art; he has to apply himself and learn technique.  Also good advice.  Not-necessarily-alcohol-abusing-but-drunk-and-checked-out stepdad #2 tells him he should call his mother if he’s going to be out all night because she worries.  Also good advice!  The manager at the cruddy restaurant where Mason works tells him he shouldn’t screw around chatting in the back when there are families waiting for their food.  That’s good advice too!  And the movie cleverly sets up the manager as a figure of fun (giving him a dorky polo shirt and a receding hairline) but then brings him back, in a sympathetic role, at Mason’s party, forcing the audience to say, yeah, the dorky guy was right, big ups for the dorky guy.  Ethan Hawke’s second wife’s dad (following me here?) works similarly; the movie sets you up to see his gift of a gun to Mason as a piece of yokelism, but Mason visibly appreciates it, and what is the older man’s main piece of dialogue in the scene?  A reminder that a gun is a serious thing and you have to use it with safety foremost in your mind.  Great advice.

Responsibility talk isn’t really about being a good man or a bad man; it’s just about being a man.  Mason’s biological father gives him a talk about birth control (at this point, Mason is about 13, and hasn’t had a girlfriend yet, I think) which is a fine model of the “This is serious, but I’m gonna be funny, but also, remember, I’m serious” approach.  I’m sure a lot of dads of younger kids were taking notes.

But of course the context of this talk is that Mason Sr. himself didn’t use birth control, whence Mason!  Who he then — contra all the responsibility talk — ran out on, before the movie even starts.

So it’s unfair, right, that I’m giving him credit for this speech?  And for that matter, isn’t it unfair and kind of creepily patriarchal that I’m casting responsibility as part of being a man, as opposed to part of being an adult?

So the movie is working exactly to bring that into the light and then oppose it, I think.  Because who actually lives up to commitments and acts responsible is Mason’s mother.  He hears about responsibility from his dad, and every other man in the world.  But he learns it from his mom.




Kern Your Enthusiasm (17)

Amanda French PhD Diploma typeface tattooAmanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR

Ed Sanders

esanders5Without him, The Sixties as we know them might not have happened.

sickpage: Romain Jacquet-Lagreze


Romain Jacquet-Lagreze




August linkdump

  • The company that makes OldReader, the RSS reader I fled to after the sad demise of Google Reader, is from Madison!  OK, Middleton.  Still part of Silicon Isthmus.
  • I never new that Mark Alan Stamaty, one of my favorite cartoonists, did the cover of the first They Might Be Giants album.
  • Hey I keep saying this and now Allison Schrager has written an article about it for Bloomberg.  Tenure is a form of compensation.  If you think tenure is a bad way to pay teachers, and that compensation is best in the form of dollars, that’s fine; but if California pretends that the elimination of tenure isn’t a massive pay cut for teachers, they’re making a basic economic mistake.
  • New “hot hand” paper by Brett Green and Jeffrey Zweibel, about the hot hand for batters in baseball.  They say it’s there!  And they echo a point I make in the book (which I learned from Bob Wardrop) — some of the “no such thing as the hot hand” studies are way too low-power to detect a hot hand of any realistic size.
  • Matt Baker goes outside the circle of number theory and blogs about real numbers, axioms, and games.  Daring!  Matt also has a very cool new paper with Yao Wang about spanning trees as torsors for the sandpile group; but I want that to have its own blog entry once I’ve actually read it!
  • Lyndon Hardy wrote a fantasy series I adored as a kid, Master of the Five Magics.  I didn’t know that, as an undergrad, he was the mastermind of the Great Caltech Rose Bowl Hoax.  Now that is a life well spent.
  • Do you know how many players with at least 20 hits in a season have had more than half their hits be home runs?  Just two:  Mark McGwire in 2001 and Frank Thomas in 2005.


The word ‘jemble’ is taking Twitter by storm, but what does it…

The word ‘jemble’ is taking Twitter by storm, but what does it mean? Us Vs Th3m investigates

Basically ‘Jemble’ began when a guy who called himself Jemble messaged my friend on OkCupid, with a message full of jemble-level language such as signing off with ‘courtly bows’. — Alice


August 16, 2014

August 16, 2014

As a poet, I have two role models, not due to their writing, but mostly due to their lifestyle.   French poet Jules Laforgue and Los Angeles poet Charles Bukowski.   When I wrote my first book of poetry, that was published around 25 years ago, I pretty much just wanted to describe my interior as well as exterior life I had at that time and moment.   The thing is, or the problem, if I can be frank, was that my exterior life was interfering with the peace and quiet of my interior life.  At the time I had a strong love for Impressionist painting, and I somehow wanted to portray that element in my poetry.   As my wife once pointed out to me, she always felt that Impressionist painting was due to poor eyesight from both the painter as well as the viewer.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but in my case, I think my reading of impressionist poetry and painting was fuzzy at the very least.  More likely due to the excessive drinking at the time.  This is where the influence of Charles Bukowski kicks in.

At the time I was writing my poetry, I always sat in front of my Underwood typewriter with the blank paper staring back at me, in fact, I could say that it was actually mocking me.  Nevertheless I only had two albums at the time, and it was consistent soundtrack to my series of poems.  Bill Evans’ “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” and Kevin Ayers’ “The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories.” Again, I love the music by these two artists, but what impressed me is again, their lifestyles.  The fact that Evans was a heroin addict and looked so incredible, especially in the late 50s to early 60s, and Ayers…. A man who ran away from success whenever he can and when he heard a wine bottle being opened on some sunny beach.  So with the combination of Charles, Jules, Kevin and Bill, I was in excellent company.  But still, the page remained blank in front of me.  It was at this time that I realized that I have to listen to my interior world, and if I must use the images and sounds of the exterior world, then do so.

A poet is required to pull things out of their imagination and life to produce their work. It is not all that far off from Felix the Cat, who had a bag of tricks, where one can make the bag into an airplane, a car, or a flying carpet. In fact, among those above, Felix is a major influence on my writing - again, due to the image of that specific kitty cat.  When I am stuck on an idea or frustrated with a line in my poetry, I have a tendency to get up and walk around my typewriter.   Usually with my hands behind my back, head down, deep in thought - which is a movement that Felix made famous in his cartoons.  I felt that if I imitate his movement, it will somehow inspire my work.  The writer Aldous Huxley was quoted regarding Felix that “what the cinema can do better than literature or the spoken drama is to be fantastic. ”

Right now I’m attempting to write my first poem in 25 years.  I basically write on a round white table in my living room in Silverlake, and I have a portrait of Jules on my left side and Charles on the right side of the MacBook Pro.   Felix is gone, but I always have an image of him in my mind, and sadly I lost the vinyl copy of Kevin and Bill’s album many years ago.  So that too, needs to be from the memory.  Which by the way, is a perfect tool to use for jumping into the imagination and see what can be dragged from the murky waters.  Wish me luck.



Tina Modotti

Portrait of Modotti by Edward WestonA synthesis of word, image, art, and revolution.

(via Witchcraft in High Places | Brainiac Books)

(via Witchcraft in High Places | Brainiac Books)


Hugo Gernsback

amazing_stories_april1926His radio-building hobby led him to pioneer pulp sci-fi!

Kern Your Enthusiasm (16)

electronicChris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY

Georgette Heyer

HeyerShe created the Regency Romance.


amnhnyc: We’re welcoming the weekend with sharks! If you want…


We’re welcoming the weekend with sharks! If you want to experience the spectacular world of sharks, look no further than the halls of the Museum. Find sharks in fossils, dioramas, and even in IMAX and 3D

Here are some cool links from the past week:

  • Read part 1 and part 2 of Museum geologist’s expedition to “Ruby Land”
  • Did you see the Supermoon? There were actually four super moons in August!
  • New research gives insight into the long-puzzling question of scorpion tail development.
  • Robert Hooke’s illustration of his own frozen urine, from 1667.
  • See a video of Dr. Samuel Wang’s lecture on autism
  • The Aztec Sun Stone was a centerpiece of the original Hayden Planetarium, in 1935.

Have a great weekend!


When she’s not updating her popular Lumiya Second Life…

When she’s not updating her popular Lumiya Second Life viewer for mobile ,or enjoying life below the virtual sea as a mermaid avatar, Alina Lyvette contends with a fairly grim real life lived as an LGBT person in Putin’s Russia. (via New World Notes: Acclaimed Second Life Creator Alina Lyvette Describes Her First Life in Putin’s Russia)


August 15, 2014

August 15, 2014

I love power.  But it is as an artist that I love it.  I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.  The illusions in life are plentiful.  Because when you get down to it, a throne is only a bench covered with velvet.  I rather trust my vision, because I find it that imagination rules the world.   As an artist, I find one must change one’s tactics every ten years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.   I’m surrounded by fear, ever since I was a little boy.  I always felt that my world was going out-of-control, and I often felt like a tiny paper boat in a raging storm in the Pacific ocean.  To control one’s fortunes I realized that the winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.  In my social circle, I don’t fear the people who disagree with me, but those who disagree, and are too cowardly to let you know.  Due to that, I have to take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, I must stop thinking and go in.

For many years I have been addicted to various types of alcohol, but I realized even that was a prop of sorts, to separate me from my thoughts and actions regarding the act of sex.  I have very little interest in anything except for the sexual act between a man and a woman.  Some years ago, I was a commercial photographer, and I specialize in color images.  I just had the ‘touch’ to make the reds “redder” and the blues “deep.” I can reproduce a blue sky as if it was an endless ocean.  One can smell the moisture off my photographs, but alas, I’m also focused on my female models.  I don’t do fashion photography but more of architectural or product placement type of images, but I always add a female to the composition.   Without a doubt, every female that I have used in my work, I wanted to (and please excuse my language) fuck.  But even that I realize it is not really about the sex act, but more of an aesthetic than anything else.  I like being aroused by the woman.  Especially when I place her in such a manner in my photographs.  I like the idea that I’m selling a product, and it does go on billboards, magazine ads, and so forth, but what I’m really focusing on is the woman.  If you look on the surface, it reads the product, but my main interest is the woman holding or using the product.

Around this time, I lived my life in a precarious situation.  Any money that I got from my work, I would spend it all as quickly as possible.  Buying drinks at the most expensive bars was one of my favorite activities at the time.   I never was good at picking up women in a bar because I feel that wasn’t an area of strength on my part.  Instead I would relay on another male friend, who is trying to chat up a woman or two.  Usually I frown at the thought of their techniques, but as one says “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Often they tried to use me, because I was a commercial photographer, and sort of hinted to the women that I perhaps can give them a job or do a photo shoot for them.  Such small minds with big dicks!

They disgust me, because they don’t acknowledge the moment of appreciation.  Their objectivity is to get the woman in bed, which for me is not the essential part of the seduction.  What I like is to control the emotional landscape through my photographs.  I never did anything obviously erotic, but eros is plenty in my commercial work. As a photographer, I’m a dealer in hope.  So when I match the product with the appropriate face, or body, a connection is made between the product and the female.  Whatever she was holding or drinking/eating becomes a sexual fixation for me.  Many find this impossible, but that is only a word to be found in the dictionary of fools.

It has been noted that all my models look like Sylvie Vartan.  To be honest, there is some truth to that, but I think it is mostly that I like strong blondes, because they have a sense of power that is good for the product on hand, but also it triggers my imagination in the sense that I feel like I’m making love to them, not only due to their beauty, but also to their strength.   No wonder I was exhausted after a shoot!   I now spend my time looking for work here and there, but alas, my sense of pleasure leads me to areas where currency isn’t used.  So nowadays, I just live on my wit and sense of shame.

Time passes

I think I liked Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life better the first time I read it - I occasionally find myself defending him to others, and I do think it's a little unfair that he is so widely loathed when it is possible that we should consider his archness in the light of a failing he cannot help rather than an affectation for which he should be despised (he seems to serve as arch-nemesis for several writers I know)! It is an insubstantial work, in any case, but I have found in it a good epigraph for TTWC (alongside this one perhaps!):
Whatever the merits of Proust's work, even a fervent admirer would be hard pressed to deny one of its awkward features: length. As Proust's brother, Robert, put it, "The sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read In Search of Lost Time."

Time passes

I think I liked Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life better the first time I read it - I occasionally find myself defending him to others, and I do think it's a little unfair that he is so widely loathed when it is possible that we should consider his archness in the light of a failing he cannot help rather than an affectation for which he should be despised (he seems to serve as arch-nemesis for several writers I know)! It is an insubstantial work, in any case, but I have found in it a good epigraph for TTWC (alongside this one perhaps!):
Whatever the merits of Proust's work, even a fervent admirer would be hard pressed to deny one of its awkward features: length. As Proust's brother, Robert, put it, "The sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read In Search of Lost Time."

wonderful-strange: The Cat Screams by Todd Downing.


The Cat Screams by Todd Downing.


Plagiarism, patchwriting, Perlstein

Some people are complaining about Rick Perlstein’s new book, claiming that some passages are plagiarized.  Most of my friends think this is nonsense.

Here’s a passage from Craig Shirley’s Reagan’s Revolution:

Even its ‘red light’ district was festooned with red, white, and blue bunting, as dancing elephants were placed in the windows of several smut peddlers.

And from Perlstein:

The city’s anemic red-light district was festooned with red, white and blue bunting; several of the smut peddlers featured dancers in elephant costume in their windows.


Whenever he flew, Reagan would sit in the first row so he could talk to people as they boarded the plane.  On one occasion, a woman spotted him, embranced him, and said, “Oh Governor, you’ve just got to run for President!”  As they settled into their seats, Reagan turned to Deaver and said, “Well, I guess I’d better do it.”


When Ronald Reagan flew on commercial flights he always sat in the front row.  That way, he could greet passengers as they boarded.  One day he was flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  A woman threw her arms around him and said “Oh, Governor, you’ve got to run for president!” “Well,” he said, turning to Michael Deaver, dead serious, “I guess I’d better do it.”

The second passage is cited to Shirley, the first isn’t.  But I don’t think it matters!  You shouldn’t paraphrase someone else’s book sentence by sentence, even if you cite them.  If you’re going to say exactly what they said, you should quote them.

Is this plagiarism?  It is, at the very least, patchwriting:  “restating a phrase, clause, or one or more sentences while staying close to the language or syntax of the source.”  Mark Liberman at LanguageLog has a long, magisterial post about patchwriting in Perlstein’s book, pointing out some places where Shirley himself patchwrites from the New York Times.

I once came across a magazine article whose lede was patchwritten from an article of my own.  I talked to a few trusted friends about how to handle it.  Uniformly, they said:  it’s not nice, but it’s not plagiarism, and you shouldn’t accuse the other author of stealing your stuff.  In the end, I alerted the other author to the issue without accusing her, and she apologized, saying she’d done it in a hurry and didn’t realize it was so close.  Which is probably true.

So I guess it’s not plagiarism and Shirley is not going to win his $25 million lawsuit against Perlstein.  But I don’t really like it and I think when we do journalism we should strive to write our own stuff.


Rival schools of empire

At the Nation, Sam Moyn on David Bromwich's Burkeanism.

polychroniadis: Molecular Shelter, ‘Architecture x…


Molecular Shelter, ‘Architecture x Archaeology’.


Kern Your Enthusiasm (15)

kumon thumbChika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET

Watcher in the Shadows (2)

watcher"They seem to think someone is in need of protection."

The ‘switch-on’

An amazing essay by poet and musician Josephine Dickinson about hearing with a cochlear implant (via Shanna C.):
The extent to which the brain compensates for indistinction I discovered by listening to birdsong. The first time I heard a blackbird with my new high-frequency bias, I was stunned by its clarity and beauty, and by the fact that it was so loud. In a healthy ear the arrays of thousands of hair cells operate according to a ‘volleying’ mechanism, taking it in turns to transmit the very fast-moving energy impulses of high-frequency sound. The electrodes of the implant cannot do this. Yet by looking at spectrograms of birdsong, I can see that a large proportion of the sound is within the frequency limits of what I can distinguish, albeit crudely, and that is enough for me to take in and interpret these songs, many of which I have no memory of hearing before.

The missing notes for chapter six

Pretty much as soon as the style book was published, I started receiving emails from readers gently noting that there were no endnotes for chapter six! Alas, as per Alice Boone on the progress of error, somehow this omission eluded all of us as we read proofs.

In any case, I wanted to make sure that the information was available somewhere for searching, and it should be corrected in subsequent printings.

(Now that I have really looked through and pulled this stuff from the manuscript, I have a theory about what happened - note 8 is the anomaly here, it was a parenthetical aside in the manuscript and I dimly recall my editor suggesting that it should be either cut or moved to a note, but this was after I had already submitted my final manuscript and I would have sent changes by email rather than integrating them into the file myself - I suspect that tinkering with that text may have precipitated the larger omission.)

Notes for Chapter Six, "Late Style: The Golden Bowl and Swann's Way," Reading Style: A Life in Sentences:

1. Theodor W. Adorno, “Late Style in Beethoven,” in Essays on Music, intro. Richard Leppert, trans. Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2002), 565-67.

2. Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 456.

3. Henry James, The Golden Bowl, ed. Ruth Bernard Yeazell (London and New York: Penguin, 2009), 3.

4. Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp,’” in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967), 280.

5. Alan Hollinghurst, “The shy, steely Ronald Firbank,” TLS (15 Nov. 2006).

6. Ronald Firbank, Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926), in Five Novels (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, [1949]), chapter 1, 333-34. The following paragraph reveals that the entity being christened is “a week-old police-dog."

7. Quoted in the introduction to Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Penguin, 2004), xiv.

8. When my brothers and I were small children, our Scottish grandmother used to give us a sort of sachet or envelope labelled “Japanese Water Flowers” full of colored snippets that would magically unfold into blossoms when placed on the surface of a bowl of water; they are most commonly made out of paper, so that there is perhaps something additionally and self-consciously literary about the notion of reading the past from such signs.

9. André Aciman, letter, NYRB 53:6 (6 April 2006), as given at

Closing tabs

I have been remiss in the matter of closing tabs! Partly because I have a draft blog post open that I haven't gotten around to finishing - this is unusual for me, mostly I just whip 'em off, but I am due a correction for a missing chapter's worth of endnotes that vanished from the style book, I pasted in the notes but need to add numbers and check carefully so that I am not piling error upon error. Partly because I am having what is basically an amazing writing and exercise retreat in Cayman, with many posts at my other blog and much typing of quota (it's not draft as such, more notes and thoughts, but it is accumulating at a fine rate - I am at about 18K and if I keep working steadily I should have gone through the whole novel before school starts, which is the idea - sometimes I can keep writing quota for some weeks into the semester, but this September I have two major triathlons and a brand new lecture course with a clutch of seminar leaders to work with, and it is not going to be sensible even to try!).


Rebecca Mead on why it's silly to distinguish rigidly between reading for pleasure and reading for self-improvement, especially in adolescence.

A great interview with Coach Dave and his fiancee Megan, who have been burning up the trails this summer! It's the first time I've worked with a coach for quite a while, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Twin novelists: an interview with Lev and Austin Grossman.

David Gerrard on the badness of Geoff Dyer's most recent book.

“Mr. T Experience, called “We Hate All the Same Things”: “Ennui, misanthropy / Weltschmerz and anomie…”

“Mr. T Experience, called “We Hate All the Same Things”: “Ennui, misanthropy / Weltschmerz and anomie / Just think of all the things you hate / And things start looking pretty great / If there’s someone who hates them, too / And she’s with you the whole night through. . . . ””

- ‘Married’ and ‘You’re the Worst’: Pushing boundaries on the dark side of sex and relationships - The Washington Post



August 14, 2014

August 14, 2014

Very few people know this, but I’ve been writing westerns, or in my term “horse operas” for the past 30 years.  My best selling title is “Nothing But a Drifter, ” which is about a drifter who comes upon a father and daughter that is running a small cattle ranch.  He is hired at this ranch, but must deal with the jealousy of another neighboring rancher, due to him being attracted to the daughter.  Things now come to a head, with the father fighting with the daughter, and her sensual attraction to the drifter.  Add a Cheyenne attack and bingo, you have a “horse opera.” I wrote for various mass-market paperback publishers, such as Ace and Fawcett Books.   Although I wrote westerns, I was very much interested in writing science fiction novels as well.  My biggest (and best selling) title is “Always The Black Knight.” in some of my other titles I tried to match Science Fiction with the Western - specifically “Martian on the Range.” unfortunately that was my worst selling novel.

 I got into writing when I started editing a series of folk music fanzines, such as “Caravan, ” and “Gardyloo.” I hand-printed the zine and went over to Izzy young’s Folklore Center.  It sounds weird now, but a lot of the folkies during that time period loved science-fiction writing.  I think a lot of it is due to the utopian feeling that was out there, and we had to imagine that such a paradise can only exist in the outer space.  But in our hearts we just wanted to make it work here on earth.  I believe that this is why I wrote westerns as well.  For sure, there was a conflict in my soul regarding the outer-space and life on earth, as a western.

Some of my books were translated into French, and I had quite a large readership from that country.  I studied French throughout my life because I had an interest in the connection between American folk music to the French chanteuse scene that was taking place in Paris during the late 1950s.  Around this time, I was approached by a French publisher to translate the Lucky Luke comic series for the English speaking world.  I had to translate the stories by René Goscinny, which deals with the cowboy known to “shoot faster than his shadow.” While I was translating Goscinny’s script for Lucky Luke, I was interested that he based a lot of the narration on factual events that took place in the wild west.   The French are geniuses at conveying a foreign narrative and to make it have a sense for the French reading public.   For me, I just thought they were great adventure (and funny) stories, so yeah, it was successful here in the States as well.

Very few people know this, but with respect to my westerns, the book covers were actual photographs and all were taken by the photographer Terry Richardson.  I met him through his dad, Bob, when Terry was a teenager and was into being a punk musician at the time.  Years later, I was surprised when he took up the camera, just like his dad.   I never had any direct dealings with him, because I had nothing to do with the design or any say on the book cover designs for my novels.  All of that was decided by the publisher.  But beyond that, Terry had a sixth sense in choosing the right image for the cover. I don’t think he even read any of my books, but he just riffed off the titles, and bingo, there’s the cover.  For one, he always chooses a beautiful girl (of course) for the image of the book.  I should know better, but I always found his images of women a turn-on.  I always felt bad afterwards, but what can I say.  One surprising fact is that I didn’t know Terry’s step-father was the musician Jackie Lomax.    I’m a huge fan of his album he made for Apple Records, “Is This What You Want.” It’s a strange small world after all.

Through my connections with Izzy Young, I was able to combine my interest with the science fiction literary scene with music by Pierre Schaeffer.  I always felt his music would be perfect for a science-fiction narrative, and I started a record label, with Izzy helping with the distribution, that was an album of Pierre’s music, but with a story by yours truly attached to the package.  It was the only writing I did for my own pleasure.  The album package was beautifully made, with the text making an appearance as a book within the album sleeve.  Originally I wanted to have Terry take photographs as the illustrations for my narrative to be added to the package.  But sadly it was already too expensive.   The albums, were privately pressed by me, and in a limited edition of 1,000.  The title of the book/album is Orphée 53 ("Orpheus 53"), which is based on an opera by Schaeffer.  I think this project is my masterpiece and even though it won’t be seen by the great masses who purchased my westerns, I’m still honored that I can do such projects under the nose of my illustrious public out there.

Quomodocumque 2014-08-14 12:06:42

Conservative commentators on education are mad about the new AP US History standards.

The group’s president, Peter Wood, called the framework politically biased. One of his many complaints is about immigration: “Where APUSH sees ‘new migrants’ supplying ‘the economy with an important labor force,’ others with equal justification see the rapid growth of a population that displaces native-born workers from low-wage jobs and who are also heavily dependent on public services and transfer payments.”

Here’s the full text of the relevant bullet point in the standards.

The new migrants affected U.S. culture in many ways and supplied the economy with an important labor force, but they also became the focus of intense political, economic, and cultural debates.

You can decide for yourself whether the standard sweeps under the rug the fact that many people wish there were fewer immigrants.  But shouldn’t Newsweek print the whole sentence, instead of letting its readers rely on selective quotes?  Why do I have to look this stuff up myself?


xigga: xigga manifestasxigga is an afro.philo.cosmology that…


xigga manifestas
xigga is an afro.philo.cosmology that affirms how human beings practice courage, move beyond our fears, and inspire new futures. it is an acknowledgement of the complicated and beautiful ways we navigate this space on the margins and the center at the same damn time. to be wanted and feared. to want and to fear. by illuminating the intersections of fear and freedom, the xigga projeck challenges us to transform our inner fears into possibilities of bold self-expression and courageous self-creation. connect to the movement:


Kern Your Enthusiasm (14)

trade gothic thumbTony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20

The Unconquerable (7)


ageofdestruction: keziah: Exposures from Mercury-Atlas 9, 15th…


keziah: Exposures from Mercury-Atlas 9, 15th May 1963.

MA-9, aka Faith 7, was the last and longest of the Mercury flights: In a 34 hour 19 minute mission, astronaut Gordon Cooper completed 22 orbits of Earth.

The first 50 or so frames exposed during MA-9 are overexposed, underexposed, unclear, or out of focus, and are archived as uncropped sections of film - with occasionally charming results. Above are frames #5 through #10, probably from before orbit - possibly even before launch.

Image credit: NASA/JSC/ASU. 




nitratediva: From To Have and Have Not (1944).


From To Have and Have Not (1944).


August 13, 2014

August 13, 2014

San Francisco is a wonderful town full of nice people, but the hills and the architecture drive me insane.   Ever since I was a young boy I had a hard time dealing with hills or deep inclines.  If I walk up a hill, I would feel someone is pushing me to the ground.  If I was walking down the hill, I feel like I’m free-falling and I can’t control my balance.  I not only get this feeling while walking on a hill, but also in moments of great stress.  It had a profound effect on me in that I feel I have to avoid San Francisco as much as possible.  Also staircases give me a significant problem as well.  Especially if they’re grand staircase or if one has the capability to look down and see the various floors attached to the stairs.  The look of depth is a horrifying death to me.

I went with a couple of friends to San Francisco not long ago.  Elizabeth and Steven invited me to go with them, because they wanted to check out all the spots that were in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Vertigo.” They both knew about my fear issue, and they said that it was necessary to go with them because for sure they can cure my illness.  I had my doubts about that, but also I found myself being slightly attracted to Elizabeth, and I didn’t want to shame myself in front of her, so I said yes.

They picked me up in the morning and we drove up the coast, which was scenic, but also I started to feel a knot in my stomach, that wouldn’t go away.  I tried to fall asleep in the back seat of their car, but just as I was in the process of drifting into a sleep, a vision would come to my head and jolted me awake.  Yet, I kept my eyes closed during the entire trip.   When Elizabeth touched my leg, I opened up eyes and in front of me was the main character, Scottie’s apartment, located at 900 Lombard Street.  It was eerie, because the apartment hasn’t really changed at all.  Steven wanted to knock on the door, but Elizabeth tried to pull him away.   I refused to leave the car.  I was beginning to regret this trip and my stomach ache became worse.  Steven did knock on the door, where I suddenly closed my eyes.  As I peeked, I could see there was no answer, which I thought “thank God!” But then Steven tried to look through a window, and I thought “Oh no.” Luckily no one was there, and it was decided that after a late lunch we will go to Fort Point, which is underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

At first Elizabeth and Steven wanted to walk on the bridge, but I couldn’t do it, due to the space that seemed endless to me.  It made me physically ill to assume that I would find myself in the middle of the bridge, which is 4,200 feet long, and I won’t be able to either go forward or back.  Also looking down towards the water was a no-no for me as well.  We eventually ended up at Fort Point, which is the famous scene where Madeleine (the lead female character) jumps into the waters, but is saved by Scottie.  Elizabeth wanted to be in the exact same location as Madeleine before she jumped.   I had to admit that there was something erotic about Elizabeth’s obsession over this film, and watching her play herself, yet under the influence of Madeleine was a sight to behold.   Steven was out of the car and telling Elizabeth to “jump, jump.” She didn’t. I kind of wished she did, because I want to see if Steven would jump in to save her… or not.

We stayed in a large hotel near Union Square, and I had a hard time falling asleep due to the thoughts of going to the Mission San Juan Bautista the next day.  Also I was clearly having thoughts regarding Elizabeth, and I wasn’t sure what that meant to me or anything else.  Fear and eros seem to go together in my world, and I never could figure out what’s the connection is between the two.  I also felt strange because I’m so much older than the couple, that I couldn’t imagine why they would want me to go on this trip with them.   Nevertheless I was deeply scared, but also totally turned-on at the same time.

When we arrived at Mission San Juan Bautista, I was surprised to see it looking smaller than what it is portrayed in the film.   I have heard that they re-built the mission in a Universal Studios back lot, but I’m not sure about that.  I have a hard time telling what’s real or not real.  I’m one of those people who go to a movie, and totally accepts whatever is on the big screen in front of me.  I don’t go to doubt, but I go to accept the images and narration.  It doesn’t seem proper for me to question the filmmaker’s intent, because I don’t as an audience member that is my role to do so.   I did walk into the entrance with Steven and Elizabeth to the grand winding staircase.  I couldn’t even look up, because the knot in my stomach was so painful to me.  Both of them ran up the stairs screaming their head off.  Steven was first, and kept telling Elizabeth to follow him.   They were yelling at me as well, but I could only make it to the third step, and I just felt this emotional wall in front of me where I couldn’t go further.   It seemed like it took forever till they reached the top, and Steven and Elizabeth both started to drop objects on me from that immense distance above.  I think it was a car key that hit my head. Nevertheless it sort of hurt, and I was compelled to stay in place till they came down the stairs.

I didn’t hear anything.  Then all of sudden I heard a sound of two objects hitting the ground outside the door.  I yelled out their names, but I only received silence.  I walked outside, but with my eyes closed.  I walked blindly to the car, got in with the key that they dropped on me, and sat in the back seat.  I decided to stay there till they come back.

 portraits of Rinko by Jesse Frohman

 portraits of Rinko by Jesse Frohman


Kern Your Enthusiasm (13)

savannah thumbRob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN

King Goshawk (33)

cuchulain thumbCuanduine meets an Author of "Blue Bananas"



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