ARE HISTORICAL BOOKS ABOUT PROGRESS “COMFORT HISTORY”? Pinker’s book is a sequel to his THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE, which was discussed in several posts on this blog some six years ago. You can find those posts by using the Archive feature with the name “Pinker”. Here is a post which summarizes some of our discussion. Note that the caption on that post is “A COMFORT BLANKET FOR THE SMUG”, and the title of Wootton’s review is “COMFORT HISTORY”. The same phrase is still being used to attack Pinker’s optimistic view (a variant of the Whig Theory) that the world has gotten better over time.
In his review, David Wootton says that the graphs in Pinker’s book do something “enormously important”: “they kill off the idea that things are getting better for some of us, it must be because others are suffering so that we may thrive. Improvements in Western life expectancy have not been purchased by shortening the lives of others….”
THE REJECTION OF THE WHIG THEORY OF HISTORY. When I was a college student some fifty years ago, the Whig Theory of History seemed to be dominant. This wikipedia entry defines the theory as: “an approach to historiography that presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy.”
David Wootton reviews Steven Pinker’s ENLIGHTENMENT NOW in the TLS (February 16, 2018). In the review, Wootton says: “Historians, at least since the 1970’s, have refused to write about progress even in cases where progress is obvious and important—medical care, for example. When I wrote a book on progress in medicine a distinguished Harvard professor wrote that I shouldn’t be earning a living as a historian because I had broken a fundamental professional taboo.”
EURISH—A BUREAUCRAT’S LANGUAGE. A large number of the Europeans who speak Eurish interact with other Europeans at European Union functions. This article by Selina Sykes on the Express website quotes Emily O’Reilly, a European Union ombudsman, who disapproves of the influence on the English language of continental bureaucrats talking together. O’Reilly points out that:
*”In Euro-English legislation never ‘provides’ but it ‘foresees’;
*Documents are not held on file but on a ‘dossier’ and work is not assigned to staff but it is ‘attributed’.”
*”Procedures are not subjected to checks but to ‘controls’; decisions are never made but they are ‘adopted’.
* A senior person never says or states something but he ’emphasises’ or ‘stresses’; or if those words have already been used you’ll find him ‘underlining’.
And, of course, Bureaucratic Eurish relies heavily on the passive voice.
EURISH. This article by Michael Skapinker in the Financial Times/ Straits Times (February 14, 2018) discusses the theory that “continental Europeans are developing their own variety of English, a process that will accelerate when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union….” The result would be a form of English like American or Australian English. Skapinker calls the current English spoken by continentals “Eurish”.
Skapinker gives examples of current Eurish grammar:
* European uncountable noun – singular in native-speaker English but plural in Eurish: “We have a lot of informations”.
*”I will answer to your question”.
* “I am coming from Spain” rather than “I come from Spain”.
There are conflicting predictions. One is that because there are some 24 other first languages in the EU, there will be little agreement on alternative formulations, and no one alternative version of English will develop. The second is based on history in countries with multiple languages: multiple versions of English will develop, as happened in India, Singapore, Nigeria and South Africa.
ANOTHER USE FOR PHILOSOPHY. During the 1950’s, when I was a college student, Sartre was a dominant figure in philosophy. Agnes Poirier has written LEFT BANK, a history of Parisian life from the end of World War II until 1950. At the time, Sartre’s BEING AND NOTHINGNESS was a key book.
James Campbell reviewed LEFT BANK in the Wall Street Journal (Feb.10-11) and quoted Poirier’s explanation of one of the reasons for the popularity of this difficult book of philosophy: its usefulness to housewives. “Since the book weighed exactly one kilogram, people were simply using it as a weight, as usual copper weights had [been] melted down to make ammunition.”
‘OUMUAMUA. When I began this blog (see here), I marveled at how radio waves from the Big Bang could be detected in radio static on earth. Now, an object from another galaxy has visited our solar system, and our scientists have been able get an idea of its orbit and movement.
This article by Brooks Hays on the UPI website (February 12, 2018) tells about ‘Oumuamua, an intergalactic object which appeared last fall, traveled through our solar system and past the sun, and is now moving away from the sun. Scientists were able to train several telescopes on the object. This wikipedia entry says that the date of the discovery was October 19, 2017. The name is from the Hawaiian language. The first character is a Hawaiian okina, not an apostrophe, and is represented by a single quotation mark and pronounced as a glottal stop. The object is featureless and colored red. Its size is 230 meters by 35 meters by 35 meters (a football field is, very roughly, about 100 meters in length and about 50 meters wide).
Brooks Hays says that: “The latest investigation of ‘Oumuamua suggests the orb doesn’t spin or rotate like most asteroids. Instead, it tumbles ….”
Research suggests ‘Oumuamua has been tumbling about the universe for at least a billion years. Hays quotes a scientist who says: “Our modeling of this body suggests the tumbling will last for many billions of years to hundreds of billions of years before internal stresses cause it to rotate normally again….”
AN EXPLANATION FOR WHY SO MANY DISEASE SYMPTOMS ARE THE SAME (COMMENT). Nick commented here that: “Not to be melodramatic, but whenever I read about some exotic or rare disease which can be lethal, it seems as though the symptoms are always initially described as ‘flu-like.’” This article by Maggie Fox on the NBC News site has a good explanation of how sepsis results from an overreaction of the body’s immune system.
In the article, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins, explains that the body’s immune response causes the typical “flu-like symptoms” that bring misery from flu and other infections.
“The muscle aches, the fever — all of that is the result of the immune system responding to the virus,” Adalja said. That’s why so many diseases cause similar symptoms: it’s the body’s response, not the particular invader, that’s to blame.
JAMES JOYCE COMES TO MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. Below is a comment, based on the last paragraph of “The Dead”, which Nick and Collin Whitchurch wrote about the pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who is coming to the end of his long and successful career.
“Yes, the newspapers were right: runs were general all over Chicago. They were falling softly upon the Bog of Dick Allen and, farther eastward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Lake Michigan waves. They were falling, too, upon every part of the lonely bullpen where Michael Pelfrey lay buried. They lay thickly drifted in the crooked numbers and home runs, on the walls of the little outfield, in the barren gaps. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the runs falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
MONEYBALL AND BASEBALL PROSPECTUS. The 2018 edition of BASEBALL PROSPECTUS has been published. The annual book is essential for fans who are interested in the statistical approach to baseball that I refer to as Moneyball. The heart of BASEBALL PROSPECTUS is a set of statistics based on an algorithm, called PECOTA, which was begun by Nate Silver before he moved on to applying statistics to politics in his FiveThirtyEight website. PECOTA forecasts a player’s statistics for 2018 based on his past statistics. The book has commentary and statistics for each of more than 2100 players. In addition to statistics for each player, the book has commentary which brings the player, and his statistics, to life.
Nick and his colleague Collin Whitchurch wrote the comments for White Sox players.
THE RUM CAKE—A VALENTINE’S STORY. Annalisa sent me a story from Reddit. In 1956, while attending Fordham, the actor Alan Alda met Arlene Weiss, who was attending Hunter College. They bonded at a mutual friend’s dinner party; when a rum cake accidentally fell onto the kitchen floor, they were the only two guests who did not hesitate to eat it.
They have been married for over 56 years.