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Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

Monday, July 11th, 2016

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Storm of Creativity2017

wright-brothers-biographyserendipities

Paradisejssundertow

white horsewashington

 

The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

Sunday surprise the first — neat tweets from KarlreMarks

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Brexit, graphical thinking, serpents — there’s never a dull moment with Karl Sharro on Twitter! ]
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Karl Sharro is reMarkable and indeed reTweetable:

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An hour or so before I saw that tweet from Sharro, I’d tweeted a quote from Suzanne Langer:

I was quoting Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key — hat-tip: Steven H. Cullinane:

Visual forms— lines, colors, proportions, etc.— are just as capable of articulation, i.e. of complex combination, as words. But the laws that govern this sort of articulation are altogether different from the laws of syntax that govern language. The most radical difference is that visual forms are not discursive. They do not present their constituents successively, but simultaneously, so the relations determining a visual structure are grasped in one act of vision.”

I think that’s generally right, and goes some way to explaining why “reading” a HipBone Game is cognitively different, even when the game is played entirely in verbal moves, from an equivalent reading of the same “move” tests in sequence.

I noted Sharro’s visual example — worth clicking all the way through to see it full scale — because although it’s a visual representation of a cluster of texts, it follows a timeline from left to right, and is thus simultaneously sequential and synchronic. A neat trick.

BTW, Sharro is celebrated for an earlier diagram I’ve posted here — with glee, and with his amazing purely textual equivalent!

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OK so now my focal length is just right for KarlreMarks Twitter feed, and I find this beauty — also about Brexit — too:

What’s so neat here? Well, it appears to be a paradox of self-reference — ourobouros, a serpent biting its own tail if you like — and it’s very nicely done. The “large numbers of people” gathered in London, of course, aren’t the “large numbers of people” they say shouldn’t be heard, and if Sharro had tweeted —

Large numbers of people gather in London to demand that large numbers of other people shouldn’t be heard”

— the paradox would have been gone, the serpent biting its own tail morphed into a serpent biting another serpent — a far less interesting spectacle.

Or would it? At the level of particular crowds, yes, the paradox would vanish, one crowd biting another, but at the level of implied principle, a crowd voicing the denial of the principle that the voices of crowds deserve a hearing would still be self-refuting in just the way Sharro plays on.

So the paradox would be like Schrodinger’s cat, dead while alive — or even better, the Cheshire Cat, niow here now gone, perhaps?

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Life, she is rich in paradox.

I do so hate it when people speak foreign

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the Pakistani politician Imran Khan and Alec Station’s Mike Scheuer think (somewhat) alike ]
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I do so hate it when people speak foreign, and am happy when bilinguals tweet the relevant quotes in regular language:

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Imran Khan, who is being quoted from this interview as saying “George Washington was a terrorist for the English & freedom fighter for Americans” is a Pakistani cricketer (captain of the team that won the 1992 World Cup, and credited with 3807 runs batting and 362 wickets bowling in Test matches) turned politician (founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party which governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly the North West Frontier Province) — and philanthropist (founder of a cancer hospital, and more).

Comparisons, they say, are odious — and you may well think it odious to compare Osama bin Laden with George Washington.

What, though, if the comparison is between Imran Khan and Michael Scheuer, who in the runup to 9/11 was the chief of Alec Station (ie the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station). In his first book, Through our Enemies’ Eyes, published anonymously in 2002, Scheuer wrote:

I think we in the United States can best come to grips with this phenomena by realizing that bin Laden’s philosophy and actions have embodied many of the same sentiments that permeate the underpinnings of concepts on which the United States itself is established. This can be illustrated, I think, with reference to the writings or actions of such seminal figures in our history as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.

and:

Bin Laden’s character, religious certainty, moral absolutism, military ferocity, integrity, and all-or-nothing goals are not much different from those of individuals whom we in the United States have long identified and honored as religious, political, or military heroes, men such as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine. I do not argue that these are exact analogies, but only that they are analogies that seemed pertinent as I researched bin Laden.

and again, specifically:

A final analogy I found useful in thinking about Osama bin Laden in a context pertinent … Professor John L. Esposito drew me to this analogy in his fine book The Islamic Threat. Myth or Reality?, as did the editors of the respected Pakistani newspaper Nawa-i-Wakt. In his book, Esposito warned that when Americans automatically identify Islamist individuals and groups as terrorists, they forget the “heroes of the American Revolution were rebels and terrorists for the British Crown,” while the editors of Nawa-i-Waqt lamented that “it is unfortunate that the United States, which obtained its independence through a [revolutionary] movement is calling Muslim freedom fighters [a] terrorist organization.”

Like him or not as he currently presents himself and his opinions, Scheuer was plausibly the person best situated to explain bin Laden to an American audience back in 2002 — and today’s Imran Khan and yesterday’s Michael Scheuer seem to have a major analogy for assessing & explaining bin Laden in common…

The trouble with speaking foreign

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — whether it’s Arabic in America, or Welsh in, of all places, Wales! ]
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In the last couple of days, we’ve seen:

and:

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Not only is it inadvisable to speak foreign in the United States, apparently — it can also be a problem when foreign is both the local and your own native tongue!

Istigkeit, approximately

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — classification, impropriety, and a concept pretty much unique to Meister Eckhart ]
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First, here’s what I call a DoubleTweet, juxtaposing two tweets for the resonance between them — and juxtaposing two thoughts for the resonance between them is about as simple a way of demonstrating the whole being greater than the sum of its parts as I can think of.

Take 1, Obama is slippery with words:

Take 2, the Europeans outbid and finesse him:

I don’t actually know if you can outbid and finesse while playing Bridge, but you can in metaphor.

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There was also a DoubleQuote that sprang to mind, but Patti Brown got to it first, so I’ll just copy her tweet here:

Lawyers — the Clintons & POTUS.

Compare philosophers, poets, native speakers, natural language processors.

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Also worth taking into consideration here:

  • Mark Stout, War on the Rocks, Were Hillary Clinton’s emails classified? Where you stand depends on where you sit:

    the uproar about the Clinton email server ignores the reality that, for very good reasons, the CIA and the State Department have different approaches to classification and classified information. These different approaches result from the different functions of the agencies.

  • Cory Bennett, The Hill, Clinton emails reveal murky world of ‘top secret’ documents:

    The watchdog [IG] said it found a number of Clinton’s emails that currently contained “classified intelligence community information.” But the State Department has said it did not consider that language classified at the time those emails were sent.

    Both sides can be correct, said several former officials.

  • And that’s enough hipbonish excitement for one post.


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