Bertrand’s Ghost

I’ll admit it.  Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography is one of my favorite books.  He was a hero of mine back in my youth, but even now, when I have no heroes, that book still enchants me.

Let us take one of Russell’s finest achievements.  Along with Whitehead, he showed in their Principia Mathematica how to deduce mathematics from axioms of logic.  The chapter in his Autobiography where he discusses that fascinates me still.

Because of Russell I was much under the sway of logicism when I was young, not only as a philosophy of mathematics, but as a philosophy of life, extending Russell’s thought to realms he never dreamed of and would have abhorred.  Now that I am older and know the meaning of life, at least for we humans, lies in metaphor, I stand corrected–even in my philosophy of mathematics.  (Big Wink)

Yet it was Russell who put me on the path to the study of mathematical logic, a path I do not regret, for at one time I mastered Godel’s On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems on my own.  It remains one of my proudest achievements.

In 1950, Bertrand received the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I thought it odd for most of my life, but now it seems so right especially after his Autobiography, which was written in the mid-Sixties.  Even his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy is a minor literary classic.  (He wrote it while in jail during World War I for opposing the war.)  Saying that makes me think he is my hero again, and I don’t hold much truck with heroes except for folks like him and U. S. Grant and such.

I own the hardback volumes and a paperback copy of Autobiography.  (Another Big Wink)

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 1:25 pm  Comments (3)  


You should have two copies of your favorite books: a hardback copy, substantial, that you hold in your lap when you read at home, and a paperback copy you carry around with you on occasion to flout one of your personae–not caring what gets spilt upon it.

When you get caught in the rain with your book exposed, you’ll be happy.  You’ll swipe the paperback book across the leg of your blue jeans and transfer the water like you transfer the day’s persona to some object of no consequence.

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Castratos of moon-mash

You love the thunder; you love the rain.

Jackson Browne

That Jackson Browne lyric played across my mind when I woke this morning.  I love those things most I can’t possess, even now when I am an old man.  I never took much notice of desire when I was younger except for how it felt.  Now, along with the feeling, comes the contemplation of it. Desire persists until death, something I never knew.


What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human revery or poem of death?

Castratos of moon-mash–Life consists
Of propositions about life. The human

Revery is a solitude in which
We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,

By the terrible incantations of defeats
And by the fear that defeats and dreams are one.

The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.

Wallace Stevens

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

A thunderstorm and Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy

The sun is up on this Sunday morning, yet it is dark, for a thunderstorm is passing through.  Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy sits beside the table.  That’s the book I’ll turn to when I finish my writing this morning.

I think I first read it when I finished college.  I didn’t learn as much as I had hoped.  I enjoyed it all the same.

Let us say the book is flawed by historical inaccuracies and personal prejudices.  Yet it has its charms: stylistically polished, witty, a brash narrative, and erudite.

I read books depending upon my mood.  Charm fits my mood these days.  Reading books for their charm makes reading a self indulgence.  However, reading is partly self indulgence, no matter what, when not done for work or some well defined goal.

But for now, a thunderstorm hovers about and I must write a little more, yet another self indulgence these days just before winter sets in.

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm  Comments (2)  


I don’t know why one night makes any difference from another these days, but I like being home alone most on Saturday nights.  A good book seems companion enough.

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

In Iowa

I’m in Iowa. It didn’t snow last night. Nice.

Published in: on November 26, 2009 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Queer Evangelists, Palin, and other disturbing elements

I read Max Blumenthal’s Republican Gomorrah, an in depth and well organized exploration of the excesses of the Fundamentalist and Evangelist Christian movement and how they shattered the Republican Party.  Whether you are on the Left or Right, it might make you queasy as you read it.  However, this isn’t a book review.  You can Google book reviews until your heart is content without my help.

James Dobson, the wannabe kingmaker of the Republican Party  (or queenmaker anyone?) is at the heart of the story.  But what fascinated me most is to discover the depth and amount of homosexuality and sexual deviancy of many of these Evangelist Christian leaders.  I’m talking about people who have spent their lives trying to squelch gay rights and consign gay  souls to the depths of Hell according to their religious view of the universe.  The central thesis of the book is that the movement is one of crisis.  For those fallen in the flock, all they have to do is repent to the father leader and all will be forgiven if they resume their onslaught against gay rights, women’s rights, and others who don’t support their version of the Conservative agenda.  The argument is well made that this movement is a party and religion of enablement similar to other forms of addiction and fear of acting freely.

The book concludes with several chapters about Sarah Palin and how her nomination and campaign assured the Republicans loss last year.  Those chapters alone are worth reading just to get a sense of what a wacko she is when it comes to her fundamental beliefs.   I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil the ending.

If Republicans think Palin can withstand any reasoned scrutiny for President of the United States, they might be in for a surprise.


Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

First step to poetry

It was in one of those “how to writer poetry books” where I read if you want to write poetry, learn to write a good sentence first.

Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Her bag

You look at her bag.  It’s big and ugly and probably plastic too.  You want it to signify something, but it refuses. Maybe that bag is just her style and nothing more.

The Earth returns to her orbit.  Everything assumes the place from whence it came.

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Annals of books: Capablanca

It was the summer of 1969 and I was working at the Camp Pendleton Brig.  Except for drinking, taking drugs, and fishing in the Pacific Ocean for fish I didn’t really like to eat, I was bored.  Then a friend challenged me to a game of chess.  I became interested, then addicted.  He left the Marine Corps shortly after that and bequeathed me his chess set and a copy of Jose R. Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals.  (Of course, we know Capablanca as World Chess Champion during the 1920’s and one of the greatest players of all time.)

I studied Chess Fundamentals every day back then.  My game got better.  I did not know it at the time, but Chess Fundamentals had been a standard text on how to play the game since its publication in 1921.  It still is a chess classic.

When I started playing chess again two years ago, I plucked Chess Fundamentals out of the stack and commenced studying it anew.  I found it just as fresh and challenging as I did in 1969.  Capablanca writes with an almost arrogant haughty diction.  I don’t know if that is an aspect of one of his personae or just because of the esteem in which he held the game.

Unfortunately, time ravaged my old copy of the book and it fell apart this year.  I bought a new copy.  It sits beside the chessboard and computer as I write this.

One measure of the personal meaning of a book is the hours spent with it over a lifetime.  I guess by that standard Capablanca’s book is one of the most important to me, for I have spent uncountable hours with it.  I doubt if I will ever master Capablanca’s teachings, but the teachings fit with the nature of chess.  The game can consume a whole lifetime and never be mastered in any significant manner except loving its purity and the pleasure it gives.

Besides all that, I wish I could write as well as Capablanca.  I’m a sucker for an austere and precise prose style.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Still annoying

I’ve had my chess addiction under control for most of the year, but now it’s back with a vengeance.  Nothing has changed either.  I still find it annoying when I lose.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 11:37 am  Leave a Comment  

After Veteran’s Day

After Veteran’s Day 2009, I think about war and that first shock when you are in a war and you realize people want to kill you, will give up their lives trying, because it is war, and war is about blindly and angrily killing no matter what the cause, for once you are in a war, it is a duel to the death.

Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  


Barnes & Noble’s new Nook e-reader is getting lots of favorable reviews vs. Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.  And the Nook won’t be on sale until the end of the month. I won’t go into the details.  You can Google the reviews written by the experts.

I use the free “e-Reader” app on my iPhone.  I have found free book sites and have been reading books from those sites.  I did not think I would enjoy the reading experience on my iPhone (I have a large paper library).  However, I find I can read faster and be just as absorbed in a book on my iPhone.  A simple flick of my thumb across the screen turns the pages.

My prediction is that e-books are the wave of the future for many readers.  The portability, ease of use, and instantaneous selection of books to download makes them perfect for people who like to read on the go.  I am half way through reading War and Peace on my iPhone.  I love having War and Peace in the front pocket of my blue jeans and a library of other free books.

Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Tal Memorial: Anand vs. Kramnik

The Tal Memorial chess tournament just started in Moscow today.  All the world’s best players are there except Topolov.  You can watch the Anand vs. Kramnik game live on the Internet early this morning on, a revenge match after Anand’s latest victory over Kramnik in the World Championship this past year.

I already have my alarm clock set for oh-dark-thirty because chess at the highest level is the best thing going in “sports”.

Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 12:27 am  Leave a Comment  

The joys of insomnia

You are an hopeless insomniac.  You wake at 3 or 4 in the morning and can’t go back to sleep.  You get out of bed, smoke a cigarette, drink some coffee, read one of Borges’ fictions, and watch the sky lighten.  Being an insomniac doesn’t seem, of a sudden, so bad.

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 1:38 am  Comments (1)  

A riff

Alone at night, I read Plutarch more and my Bible and Euclid less.

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 1:17 am  Leave a Comment  

My favorite what if question

What if the Great Library at Alexandria had not been destroyed, but thrived, remained intact, and grew through the ages?  My naive response is that the world would be a better place.  However, great learning does not always trump folly.  In fact, it may exacerbate folly’s consequences.

No matter what, wouldn’t it be fun to have all those books lost because of hate, violence, ignorance, and folly?

Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

About face

Awake at a little past 4 AM, I procrastinate over making coffee or making one last attempt at getting a decent nights sleep.  The coffee tastes good.  I watch the sky grow light.

I’m thinking about two writing spaces: blogging and Facebook.  Over the past several months, Facebook has become my postcard place and I am in a postcard mood these days except when I work on the geometry book, the book that may have no end because of the research and expertise it requires to write it.

Sometime, I feel like a voyeur when reading Facebook entries.  Why I do not know.  People do not have to bare themselves on Facebook, which in most cases they probably don’t, but sometimes reading entries titillates.

Facebook is also more restrictive on the personae I want to project.  And these days the persona is the thing with me.  While dong my best to avoid identity issues, I remain fixated on them.

Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 7:20 am  Leave a Comment