Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scaups at Play

(deep/down/diving …(

Bbbbb-bb-lllll- ……………   ((  o      o        o       .   .     .       .         .


(p)pOP!   uP !!!

(such fun …)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

“I’ll Keep It With Mine”

One of Bob Dylan's more intriguing songs, in treble time, whacked out on a tinny but strangely haunting piano, not commercially released at the time, was "I'll Keep it with Mine".
The un-commercially released version, informally recorded in the basement of Big Pink, seems not to have made it onto the internet.  Yet here is a creditable cover, in the affectless yet somehow affecting delivery of the German singer Nico:

Nico’s cover:
Her Thorazine voice  is here buoyed by unusually crisp orchestral accompaniment.

The lyrics don't really make sense;  but such is the seduction of the delivery (warm in Dylan's case, hypnotic-robotic in Nico's) that you are lulled or lured into a state of mind in which they seem to.

A possibly-Dylan  visuo-harmonica  teaser  (not the real thing):

Dylan "demo tape" -- without the slow magical piano ...

Dylan indeed but -- a lousy version -- still looking for the good one:

Another "demo" -- much better despite  murky acoustics;  still searching for the magical piano:

Der Pinguin ohne Eigenschaften

The following object  is a pure abstraction, 
being neither more nor less  than the value “+1”
for the parameter Penguinicity.

Falls dieser einen Anti-Pinguin begegnet, so verschwindet er im Nu

The Antipenguin is correspondingly defined
by the value “-1”.

[For penguins with qualities -- albeit imaginary ones,
click here: ]

[Na ja, nun schon doch -- if you insist : ]

[For an intelligent alternative  to this truly stupid post:  ]

Für psychologisch tiefgreifende Krimis,
in pikanter amerikanischer Mundart,
und christlich gesinnt,
klicken Sie bitte hier:


Sunday, November 25, 2012


[Today’s level of machine translation is quite impressive.  But its success on typical materials  gives a false impression of its applicability to more marginal (literary, or SIGINT-cryptic) texts:  the increase in difficulty is non-linear.
An earlier post gave a shout-out to a German-to-English translation team.  I simply do not have time to illustrate their many instances of excellence (though if someone would like to fund such an effort, simply mail me a large package of Swiss Francs).  Herewith a Spanish-to-English case in which, in a letter to friends, I did take the time;  enjoy.]

After a month during which, inspired by an excellent class, I did nothing but Arapaho all the day long, a prospect of unlimited choice opened up, and I found myself reading, for the first time in years, a Spanish novel.  And discovered to my delight  that my Spanish is still entirely intact -- like a back room in which you store all your college mementos, and seldom enter:  but there it is, pristine.

The book in question is La Sombra del Viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  A critical and commercial success, it’s an erudite spooky thriller, and a real page-turner;  I had the sensation, not of reading in Spanish, but of transparently accessing the plot.

Even at that, there were expressions I didn’t get.   And rather than snuffle around in dictionaries, I borrowed a translation.   Every since Gregory Rabasa won a National Book Award for his rendering of Rayuela, standards of Spanish-to-English translation have been very high (Garcia Marquez once said, jokingly or not I do not know, that he preferred Rabasa’s prose to his own).  And this book is no exception, expertly rendered by Lucia Graves. 

In the following instances, with one or two exceptions  I knew the meaning of each individual word, yet the full sense of the whole still eluded me until the linguist unpeeled it.

mis penas de sainete  =>  my melodramatic woes
Alabados sean los ojos!  =>  “Do mine eyes deceive me?”; and, in another chapter,  “Who is this I see before me?” [Note the Arabic cast of this idiom, btw.  More anon, ojalá.]
Yo me apunto a un bombardeo  =>  “I’ll eat anything that’s thrown at me.”
Quite.  =>  Come off it.
Con un médico  va que se mata.  =>  A doctor will do fine.
a medio No-Do  =>  during the newsreel
El argumento le traía al pairo.  =>  As far as he was concerned, the plot was superfluous .
que no le sepa mal  =>  Don’t let that upset you.
una visita al puesto de chucherías del vistíbulo  para reponer existencias.  =>  a visit to the candy stand in the lobby to take on supplies.
Ya será menos.  =>  Aren’t you exaggerating?
Tú calla, desgraciado, a ver si te pego una leche que te mando a La Rioja.  =>  Zip it, bonehead, or I’ll kick you all the way to the Rock of Gibraltar.
Una ha de hacer de tripas  corazón.   =>  You just have to rise above it and get on with things.  [Here the translator could not quite render that colloquial use of una -- like French on only feminine.]
una cupletera en salto de cama  =>  a music-hall siren in a negligee
unas pantorillas helénicas  =>  classically proportioned calves
Yo que vosotros llamaba a la policía.   =>  If I were you, I’d call the police.
Pues mire usted por dónde.  =>  Funny you should say that.
Dile que me diga el qué.  =>  Ask him to let me know what to do about it.

This is masterly.   It rather puts in its place our own dull workmanlike labor…

Eigenschaften ohne Männer

I am at present engaged in gnawing away at a novel that everyone praises but few actually read, at least not all the way through.  It is Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (vol. I: 1930; vol. II: 1932) by Robert Musil, better known to  algolagniacs  as the author of Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (1906).   It’s the sort of book that you (and by “you” I mean, that tiny segment of humanity that is the sole intended audience of this blog) -- that you always mean to read, it’s on your list, along with A la recherche du temps perdu and other hefty, worthy tomes, but you keep putting it off, and putting it off;  until one day  there comes a knuckly knock on the door, and there he stands, The Reaper, with his hollow skull and even hollower grin;  and your jaw drops and you stammer “B-but - but - but … I haven’t yet had time to read Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften !  Just give me another year!”
Then slowly, slowly, Death shakes his head:  “I haven’t yet got around to it either;  and I have all the time in the world -- this world and the next.”

The enigmatic title of this novel (“The Man Without Qualities”/”L’Homme sans propriétés”) is part of its media appeal:  though in truth, it would seem a more promising premise for a sketch.   To labor through over a thousand dense pages concerning an individual who lacks … qualities (characteristics, traits), recalls the Monty Python skit about the “Invisible Man” (“O….ver…. heeerrrrrre, … Dave …..”)

It is one of the few major novels whose protagonist is presented as being a mathematician.    Now, mathematicians are (if you please) god-like beings;  yet with very few exceptions (Galois,  Erdös ..) they do not lead colorful lives.  The man who settled Fermat’s Last Theorem, for instance, Andrew Wiles, is … um …. ahh… actually, I cannot think of a predicate -- he just is.   As a group, they are less given to florid personalities than, say, theoretical physicists:  one labors in vain to recall a figure so publically obstreperous as Murray Gell-Mann or Wolfgang “What Professor Einstein says is not so stupid” Pauli.   (Well okay, Grothendieck;  but he is extra-terrestrial.)  You might say:   A mathematician swims so deeply in the realm of ideas (qualities of transcendent reality) that he has no time for foibles of his own.

And this particular médaille has an appropriate revers -- its mathematical dual, we might  posit.  For:  Mathematical properties might well be described as Eigenschaften ohne Männer, since  in their essence  they are independent of whatever species happens to perceive them (or whether they are perceived at all, here below).  
Nay more:  Though a Platonist, I readily concede that mathematical “objects” could be described as dingsda ohne Eigenschaften, since individually they have neither heft nor taste, but only patterns linking them:  the patterns are primary, the ‘objects’ are but nodes.


Falls Sie im Doktor-Justiz-Sammelsurium
weiterblättern möchten,
hier klicken:


[Notice to obligate anglophones]
Obligate anglophones, like obligate anaerobes, are severely stenotopic.  Nevertheless, we at the World of Dr Justice  have a heart  as big as all outdoors, and solicitously cater to one and all, however severe their disability;  and accordingly bring you the good news  that Musil's massive work  has been expertly re-translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (available from Knopf  for the low-low price of sixty dollars).    Some German writers, like Christian Morgenstern or Karl Kraus, are halt unübersetzbar; but Musil manages to fall within the subtle toils of this fine translation-team.

[Even so, a stab at translating Morgenstern  here.]

Für psychologisch tiefgreifende Krimis,
in pikanter amerikanischer Mundart,
und christlich gesinnt,
klicken Sie bitte hier:


(Update 12 III 14) Listening to a bit of “Fresh Air” re the movie “Grand Budapest Hotel”, sent me back to reading that other MittelEuropa-phile work by an American, Jonathan Franzen’s The Kraus Project.  Slowly taking in each sentence.  The work has been superbly translated, and is very dense -- though its depth does not match its density.  And I’ll have to revise that halt unübersetzbar:  Franzen and his German collaborators have done a splendid job. More here.


Consult as well:  der Bube ohne Eigenschaften


Saturday, November 24, 2012


[The present snippet is a further chapter in this essay.  We print it separately here  since, unlike the parent essay, it presents some linguistic interest, and is indexed as such by the Labels.]

Nun dämmert mir aber  ein neuer Sachverhalt.  Die Zärtlichkeit des Traumes  gehört nicht zum latenten Inhalt, zun den Gedanken hinter dem Traume;  sie steht im Gegensatz zu diesem Inhalt …
-- S. Freud, Die Traumdeutung, IV.


Die Traumarbeit kann mit den Affekten der Traumgedanken  noch etwas anderes vornehmen, als sie zuzulassen  oder zum Nullpunkt herabzudrücken.  Sie kann dieselben in ihr Gegenteil verkehren.
-- S. Freud, Die Traumdeutung, VI.

Dream-interpretation, like literary criticism (or intelligence analysis), has its inevitable part of subjectivity;  yet here, we feel dismay.   If, a given dream feature  failing to prove analytically fruitful, we may equally replace it with its opposite,  then truly, there are no rules.
This recalls the 18th-century quip against the then-unscientific pastime of etymology, as being one “in which consonants matter little, and vowels  not at all.”    The poster-boy for such woolly lack of methodology is
lucus a non lucendo

lit. ‘It is called a grove because it doesn’t shine’ (or, freely: ‘… because it doesn’t grieve’)  which actually was itself a satire, not a genuinely proposed etymology.

Freud’s gambit was abetted by his reliance upon then-fashionable erroneous theories of primitive language, according to which there was once no negative particle, and a word might mean equally a given thing  and its opposite.  The latter thesis has been maintained (sometimes in earnest, sometimes in jest) with respect to early Arabic, summarized in the chestnut:  “In Arabic, any given word can mean: (1) a given thing; (2) the opposite of that; (3) something obscene; and (4) something about a camel.”  I have addressed (and refuted) that assertion, in the chapter “Enantiosemantics” in The Semantics of Form in Arabic.

And yet and yet … That connection of lucus with lucere [the latter from lux ‘light’) is not nearly as absurd as generally made out:  in fact, the suggestion of such a connection is correct.
To point the apparent absurdit, the Latin word lucus in that phrase is often translated ‘dark grove’ (this is what you’ll find online).  But it doesn’t mean ‘dark grove’:  it denotes ‘a clearing (in the woods)’.  And here the present of lux  is plain.  Indeed, it becomes explicit in the German word Lichtung ‘clearing’, compare Licht (light).

Falls Sie im Doktor-Justiz-Sammelsurium
weiterblättern möchten,
Bitte hier klicken:


A link to lost literature

Some little-known and rarely-anthologized Elizabethan gems  are on loan to us from a seldom-frequented underground chamber of the Vatican library, and are published here for the first time, with appropriate musical and painterly accompaniment

In  praise of Muses, and in time’s despite,
with courtly music, and paintings of the time,
seek many a rare and curious rhyme
for thine own  rare  delight.
-- Anon, sixteenth century

~  Posthumous Endorsement ~
"If I were alive today, and in the mood for a mystery,
this is what I'd be reading: "
(I am the Bard of Avon, and I approved this message.)
~         ~
Also, the most celebrated sonnet ever written in Latin, available here for the first time:

     A Lost Sonnet of St Augustine


Friday, November 23, 2012

A crack in the Riemann Conspiracy!

The iron-clad COMSEC of the notorious Riemann Conspiracy  has suffered its first-ever cryptological leak.  “This is definitely a break in the case,” confided a code-breaker (since deceased) at Bletchley Park (current cover-name: GCHQ).

Do you dare deny  the evidence of your eyes ??

Incredibly, the security lapse occurred in the form of a wayward carrier-pigeon code-named X-17, part of the feared-and-fabled Dove Corps, that  over the centuries  has carried many of the most sensitive messages.   British Intel is putting out the story that the bird was found dead in a chimney (shades of Santa Claus;  don’t believe it for a minute);  whereas in fact, according to findings of the WDJ contra-espionage team, this feathered messenger was captured alive, but chomped down on its cyanide pellet  before revelation of its destination could be tortured out of him.   So those Limey fools are left with nothing but a hopelessly encoded scrap of paper -- which they will never decipher, never !

The secret  dies  with the bird
For further revelations, enter your level-3 pass-phrase and click here.

Do not click here:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Grace

Some fool just published an opinion-piece in the Washington Post, suggesting that it was time to “put a fork in” the Thanksgiving tradition of pardoning some turkeys;  saying the tradition was “silly”.

First of all - “tradition” and “silly”  -- schliesen sich aus -- anything traditional, is  in so far  redeemed.
True, the ceremony is typically light-hearted (something we sorely need, about now), much like the Groundhog Day enactment with Punxsutawney Phil.  Such things need no defense;  cf. Chesterton on Christmas, passim.

Yet the need goes deeper, deeper, to have this act of Grace.
For that same huge hand, that shaped our sire, and fashioned our dam -- even Adam, and e’en Eve -- did mould the Humble Woodchuck and his kin.
That we are permitted to eat of these creatures,  we know for certain, from Scripture;  but that fact is a kind of moral miracle.  So it behoves us to take note, and sanctify, and solemnify, this fleshly sacrifice.  (Indeed, it may go deeper than we can know.)  To pardon -- nay, to ask permission -- to beg forgiveness -- of these modest beasts, is meet;  nay more, incumbent on us.

Weekend Reading for the Thanksgiving Holidays

So -- You’ve stuffed yourself with turkey (which itself was already stuffed -- encapsulated like Russian dolls);  agreed to disagree with the in-laws (you were right and they were wrong, but you’ll let that pass); and now are casting about for something to while away the hours of leisure. 
Cast no more!   What better move than to relish the treasures of classic world literature?  --  No,  not A la recherche des temps perdus, or Der Zauberberg, or Война и миръ  -- too long.  Huckleberry Finn is a good thing in a small package, but you’ve already read it.  No, what you need is a wise-cracking pistol-packing pair of private detectives -- none other than the fabulous Murphy Brothers !

To begin the adventure, click here:

A Special Thanksgiving in Mali

[Note:  What follows is the funny stuff.  For something more serious, click here: ]

Speaking in Touareg through an interpreter, the Azawadi Minister of Tourism, Dr Justice, issued the following announcement on behalf of the People’s Freedom-Loving Welcoming Committee:

Free and independent Popular People’s Azawad welcomes its newest Western guest.  Gilberto, vous êtes le bienvenu!  We here in people’s freedom-loving Azawad love freedom -- and you will too, Gilberto, when you regain yours, just as soon as your loving government (“Uncle Sugar”, we call him) pays the ransom, as they always do!

The French Ministère du Tourisme et du Rapt  issued the following appreciative statement:

La victime s'appelle Gilberto Rodriguez Léal. Il a été enlevé mardi soir  dans la région de Kayes, à l'ouest du Mali. Le Français, dont la profession reste inconnue, circulait à bord d'un véhicule Peugeot immatriculé en France. Selon des sources sécuritaires et administratives maliennes, il aurait été enlevé «par au moins six hommes armés à la peau claire».

Azawadi Minister of Free Enterprise, Abu-Mitt ag-Romney, who has taken up asylum in freely independent Azawad after a spot of bother back in the States, praised the arrangement.  “This is small business at its best.  We look forward to doing much more such commerce with our French friends in the future.”

[Update 27 November 2012]  Turns out his name is (as pronounced by himself) Rodriguez Leal Gilberto.   You can see him here thanking his captors hosts for their hospitality.  “Je suis bien traité,” he reveals -- which is saying a lot, since the same thing cannot be said, for instance, by diners at Denny’s, or folks standing in queues at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Here I am housed and fed for free, and catered-to by an attentive staff

[Update 24 December 2012]
Repercussions and bavures from the Islamist/jihadi takeover of northern Mali:

Ansaru justifie le kidnapping de mercredi soir par le rôle de la France dans la préparation d'une intervention militaire au Mali.

[Update 26 Dec 2012]  A good summary here:

Abu El Hamid Abu Zeid: "I offer you my friendship..."

[Update 28 December 2012] From the NYTimes:

Moctar Touré was strapped to a chair, blindfolded, his right hand bound tight to the armrest with a rubber tube. A doctor came and administered a shot. Then Mr. Touré’s own brother wielded a knife, the kind used to slaughter sheep, and methodically carried out the sentence.
“I myself cut off my brother’s hand,” said Aliou Touré, a police chief in the Islamist-held north of this divided nation. “We had no choice but to practice the justice of God.”

Such amputations are designed to shock — residents are often summoned to watch — and even as the world makes plans to recapture northern Mali by force, the Islamists who control it show no qualms about carrying them out.
After the United Nations Security Council authorized a military campaign to retake the region last week, Islamists in Gao, Mr. Touré’s town, cut the hands off two more people accused of being thieves the very next day, a leading local official said, describing it as a brazen response to the United Nations resolution. Then the Islamists, undeterred by the international threats against them, warned reporters that eight others “will soon share the same fate.”

This harsh application of Shariah law, with people accused of being thieves sometimes having their feet amputated as well, has occurred at least 14 times since the Islamist takeover last spring, not including the recent vow of more to come, according to Human Rights Watch and independent observers.
But those are just the known cases, and dozens of other residents have been publicly flogged with camel-hair whips or tree branches for offenses like smoking, or even for playing music on the radio. Several were whipped in Gao on Monday for smoking in public, an official said, while others said that anything other than Koranic verses were proscribed as cellphone ringtones. A jaunty tune is punishable by flogging.

Thank you for not smoking


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

“A Child Is Being Beaten”

We here publish, for the first time on this site, a fragment of a hitherto-suppressed manuscript, known among connoisseurs of incunabula as Murphy: the Early Years.  It begins with his time in the reform school for wayward boys.


            “You been bad.”
            “Yes’m, I know’m.”
            “You know what that means.”
            (Incredulous.)  “ ‘No-ma’am’?!  You don’t know by now?  --   It means you get whipped.”
            “Yes’m.  I know’m.   Reckon that’ll happen.  Happens alla time.  But I -- just don’t  -- know what it -- means….”

            Murphy was never alone in the empty corridors.  Always there was the echo of his footfalls:  sometimes on the heels of his steps, sometimes slightly in anticipation, leading him on.
            “I know you’re there,”  he said.

            “You been thinking those bad thoughts again.”
            “Better tell ‘em to me Murphy.”
            “Better tell me or I whip you good.”
            “Yes’m.  Reckon you’ll whup me either way.”
            (The keen and screwed-up eye.)  Was that a smart remark?!  -- Why I’ll--“ (reaching for the switch.)
            “No’m -- not smart.  A really dumb remark -- I see that now.”  (Trembling as he spies once more, the instrument of his sharp distress.)  “But a true one, ma’am. -- Can’t help it, ma’am.”  (Wincing, wincing;  shriveling beneath the blows.)  “Can’t half help it.”  (Wincing deeper now -- wincing even beneath the wincing skin.)  “Gotta find some’n, someth’n, help me help it….”
            (Furious)  I’m helping you!”
            (More in sorrow)  “No’m.  All respect, ma’am, but -- no, you’re not helping, not helping at all.”
            (The blows fall thick and fast -- herself almost at liquefaction, as in a dream -- while young Murphy shrivels, dwindles, to but a tiny remnant of his former self.)


            Sometimes, by himself in a room,  his eyes would turn inwards;  thoughts would buzz around his head like flies.
            He did not belong here;  so it seemed.  And yet -- he definitely belonged here.  They had sent him here, and he was not allowed to leave.
            He was in the place, but not of it.
            Slowly, he began to leave it, through a tiny hole in the back of his brain.

            Murphy, small of shoulders, bowed of head,  shuffles up to the office.
            “Ma’am I?  -- ‘scuse me, ma’am.”
            (Looks up sharply.)  “Murphy!  Young rascal.  What brings you here.”  (Softening a bit, though;  the boys seldom show up spontaneously, voluntarily.)
            “Well I -- no-one else to ask, ma’am.  I just got nobody, no, not one person, in the whole wide world.”
            Definitely softening, and settling back -- almost reflective.  “So… What’s on your mind, young Irish scamp?”
            Awkward;  fumbling for words -- then finding them.  “Well I -- I just wonder what --  what it is, really:  that makes me so bad.”
            She frowns;  is silent;  purses her thin lips.  “I reckon it was just… a bad seed…”
            “Bad seed, ma’am?”
            She purses further.  “There are two seeds in the spirit -- two of them, and don’t you forget it.   You just happened to get the bad one. “
            He is silent, not understanding;  and yet, and yet … yet beginning to understand.
            She decides to level with him.  “You know -- you were conceived in iniquity, by a very bad woman, with a very bad man.  But bad as she was -- he still should have stuck by her;  made an honest woman of her, or near as anybody could with material like that. -- But he skedaddled, soon after soiling your young mother’s bed.  He was a coward, and a welsher, was your dad.   And the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
            Had he ever known the man, this might strike Murphy like a blow;  but he had never known the man.   “So… I guess I was just -- born to sin;  that right?  Just plain -- simmered in it, ‘fore I was ever even born.  That so?”
            (Somewhere  her heart smarts her;  yet she must be stern in the truth.)  “That is so, Master Murphy.  You were born in sin, like a squid in ink;  and will certainly be damned.”
            Since this prognosis seems only to confirm the daily burden of his present life, it daunts him less than one might think.  He simply verifies.  “So:  no hope, is there.”
            “No;  none.  -- Well… there is… Jesus;  but he is not for the likes of orphans, or reform-school boys…”

[To read the complete series, click here: ]

[Watch as Murphy, wiser now, confronts two souls in extremis:

Flash update!!
Actual footage from Murphy's reformatory !!!

-- Alright okay ... something even deeper than that: