Monthly Archives: June 2004

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Get me rewrite 

Marcus du Sautoy may have to revise his wonderful book The Music of the Primes. Purdue mathematician Louis De Branges de Bourcia thinks he may have proved the Riemann Hypothesis.

The man who wasn’t reviewed by the Times 

Sour grapes is rarely attractive, but I think Thomas PM Barnett has a point in his latest posting:

“I can’t get reviewed by the NYT. Today they immediately put out a review of Michael Mandelbaum’s new book on sports in America — he that famous sports journalist (ahem) foreign policy expert. So Mandelbaum deconstructs the sports pages and he gets a review in the Times, but I deconstruct the Bush Administration’s national security strategy in the global war on terrorism and still no review!”

The Pentagon’s New Map is fourth on the bestseller list for foreign affairs, surrounded by books that the Times has reviewed.

Jefferson’s library suggestions 

Via Language Log, I came across Thomas Jefferson’s suggestions for “such a general collection as I think you would wish and might in time find convenient to procure”. It’s interesting to note how many of Jefferson’s books would still find a plausible place on a contemporary list. Many more than I would have thought.

The importance of a title 

Apparently Armand Leroi’s Mutants is the favourite to win this year’s Aventis science book prize. I’ve met Leroi a few times through uber-host John Brockman, who is also Leroi’s literary agent (and the agent for most scientist writers you’ve heard of).

Leroi told me how he became a Brockman client, even though he lacked the hefty reputation of many people on Brockman’s list. He sent a proposal for his book cold (I think I recall he may have even faxed it — remember faxes?). What did the trick, however, was the title: Mutants! with an exclamation mark. That got Brockman’s attention.

In conversation, Leroi was a bit worried about the sensationalism of the title, since he is a serious scientist and the book is serious science. But the title seems to have survived, minus (thankfully) that exclamation mark.

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She works for me 

The energetic people behind FaxYourMP, DowningStreetSays and other great political sites have launched TheyWorkForYou. Like another south London weblogger, Tessa Jowell works for me. I, however, like Tessa.

Transit of Venus 

I tried to see the transit of Venus this morning with a home-made pinhole viewer, projecting the image onto another piece of board. Perhaps my fabrication methods were too crude, but I ended up with a poor image of the sun and nothing really visible.

Fortunately, the European Southern Observatory came to my rescue. Lots of wonderful images and QuickTime videos to watch for this once-in-a-lifetime (excepting 2012) event.

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How the Patriot Act is being used 

One of the more obscure things I subscribe to is a book arts mailing list. Most of the postings are on issues like archive-quality paste or finding bookbinders in Portland. Today, however, came something very different from a book artist called Beverly Schlee:

“As some of you know, I make artists books as a member of a group called Critical Art Ensemble. Besides books, we also make videos and do performance art. Lately, the topic of much of our artwork has been to make people aware of genetically modified food. Recently, Hope Kurtz, who wrote most of the text for the books, died suddenly of heart failure. Her husband, Steve, is also in the group, called 911. The paramedics saw some of the props for our performance art in his house, including petri dishes and a machine that analyzes food for genetically modified ingredients, and called the FBI. The FBI, armed with the Patriot Act, searched Steve’s house, office, took his artwork, his wife’s body, and even locked up his cat. Steve is a professor of art at SUNY Buffalo. He is going to be indicted before a grand jury on June 15 on charges of possessing materials that can be used for bioterrorism. The rest of the group has been subpoenaed. So far, I have not, but the FBI was in my neighborhood on Saturday, asking the neighbors about me. The whole story can be read at”

If I didn’t have a good idea of how perverse the Justice Department seems to be these days, I’d think this posting was a particularly unusual piece of agitprop performance art.

After reading Richard Clark, it’s quite clear there is a vast amount the government should be doing to combat terrorism. Pursuing the Critical Art Ensemble shows that instead of concentrating on the important tasks, the FBI is sinking lower than the days when they hounded such potent threats to American society as my father (see below) for his anti-war activities.

Postscript: The New York Times has good coverage of the case.

D-Day + 60 

I spent a good portion of yesterday watching the coverage of the D-Day commemorations. There’s no need to add to the encomia for the soldiers who made the decisive step in the liberation of Europe 60 years ago. But I have a personal reflection.

My father was one of those soldiers, landing at Utah Beach in the first wave as a first lieutenant in the 4th Infantry Division. It was always clear to me that his participation in D-Day and many subsequent battles in the Second World War was a matter of great pride. But, perhaps characteristic of his generation (and certainly characteristic of my father), he rarely, rarely talked about his experiences. It was natural reticence, but I suspect now it was also because the experience remained too overwhelming to really talk about.

I knew about D-Day, I knew he became captain of his company when his captain was killed by a sniper in Normandy, I knew he was wounded later in the Normandy campaign, recovered in a hospital near Oxford, and rejoined for the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge and, ultimately, the liberation of Germany. I have his Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. But details or anecdotes were scarce.

My father went to the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day landings, twenty years ago. I remember him saying that he thought it would be the last of the big ceremonies, since many of them wouldn’t survive until the fiftieth. I now feel an extraordinary loss for not having seized the opportunity to go along with him in 1984.

The numbers I watched parading yesterday were, as my father predicted, far fewer than 20 years ago or even ten years ago. My father died in 1990. Although in my lifetime he was a great anti-war campaigner, particularly against the American folly in Vietnam, his small role in ridding the world of fascism was still a signal achievement. At his request, he was buried with a military tombstone, as was his right as a proud veteran.