Book collecting as a cargo cult of knowledge

Cargo cult: “A cargo cult is a belief system among members of a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society.” Wikipedia

I have a large book collection, more than I can ever read. Yet I still acquire them.  Perhaps a hundred recent purchases are stacked next to my bed.  This is not rational behavior.

But that’s OK, because I am not a slave to rationality. Instead I am happily practicing the superstitious ritual of buying books in the hope of gaining knowledge without actually doing the work required to learn.

But really, I know I don’t have enough years left in my life to master all the knowledge I desire, and when I die, these books will remain as a tedious chore for someone else, and a sad monument to my failure to learn.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan, on the meaning of the word “cosmopolitan”, the Library of Alexandria, and the death of Hypatia:

Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People of all nations came there to live, to trade, to learn. On any given day, its harbors were thronged with merchants, scholars, and tourists. This was a city where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls, and Iberians exchanged merchandise and ideas.

It is arguably here that the word “cosmopolitan” realized its true meaning — citizen, not just of a nation, but of the Cosmos. To be a citizen of the Cosmos…

Here clearly were the seeds of the modern world. What prevented them from taking root and flourishing? Why instead did the West slumber through a thousand years of darkness until Columbus and Copernicus and their contemporaries rediscovered the work done in Alexandria? I cannot give you a simple answer. But I do know this: there is no record, in the entire history of the Library, that any of its illustrious scientists and scholars ever seriously challenged the political, economic, and religious assumptions of their society. The permanence of the stars was questioned, the justice of slavery was not. Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notions of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explained or popularized. The research benefited them little. Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. The scientists never grasped the potential of machines to free people. The great intellectual achievements of antiquity had few immediate practical applications.

Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. There was no counterbalance to stagnation, to pessimism, to the most abject surrenders to mysticism. When, at long last, the mob came to burn the Library down, there was nobody to stop them.

The last scientist who worked in the Library was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy — an extraordinary range of accomplishments for any individual in any age. Her name was Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria in 370. At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditional male domains. By all accounts she was a great beauty. She had many suitors but rejected all offers of marriage. The Alexandria of Hypatia’s time — by then long under Roman rule — was a city under grave strain. Slavery had sapped classical civilization of its vitality. The growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture. Hypatia stood at the epicenter of these mighty social forces. Cyril, the Archbishop of Aleandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, and because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism. In great personal danger, she continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work, she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril’s parishioners.

They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and, armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.

— Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Too true…

Originally shared by Helen Ikua

“I’ll make sure that no one, NO ONE, ever speaks to you again!” Oh don’t be so charming, chubby beaver!

You see, flailingly unhinged threats, are exactly how to denote your excalmatory emotions if you’re the guy who’s tasked with speaking on behalf of the numerous numerous skeletons in the empty and echo filled closet that is Rex Tillerson’s State Department. Now, for a guy who’s worked in the field of public communications for most if not for all of his adult life, Rex Tillerson’s hatchet man and guy voted most likely to go for a third helping of apple strudle pie at the State Department’s annual all-you-can-eat buffet, RC Hammond is beginning to sound rather far-aways and increasingly out of his depth when it comes to fielding tetchy and thorny queries from nosy members of the fourth estate. And it was amazing how RC Hammond who’s also affectionately known as chubby beaver to those nearest and dearest in the field of international diplomacy, it was amazing how RC most recently brought down on a poor journalist’s head such verbal excruciation as,”WE DON’T THINK YOU’RE SMART ENOUGH TO HANDLE OUR INFORMATION!” Such road rage I tell ya, such road rage! And all because Michelle Kosinski in the course of her journalistic duties, wanted to know why RC Hammond’s creaky information machine was showing itself to be a Dodo, especially when it came to responding to reporters’ e-mails and other assorted questions directed at the truly Einsteinian RC Hammond. And it’s telling how a reactive State Department, which department by the way has became reactive rather proactive, mainly because no one can get ahead of unpredictable behaviour like an American president who perceives nothing pernicious at all in spilling his guts to the chief Russian spy in Washington who also happens to moonlight as Russian ambassador to Washington from time to time, it’s telling therefore how this current State Department under its current Secretary of State can’t seem to get out of its own way for trying. Still, even for an administration that’s clearly and demonstrably falling over backwards to defy all previous convention that goes to the smooth functioning of government, a State Department Communications Adviser who demands that a journalist reveal to him the name or names of alleged “moles” within the State Department or risk losing whatever shred of credibility that she should always aspire to maintain in the eyes of the unethical, such a State Department Communications Adviser is either being deliberately obtuse or is being deliberately sinister, none of which augurs well for a country’s relations with the outside world, particularly seeing as how the State Department now clearly sees itself as the perfunctory propaganda machine of an administration rather than seeing itself as the country’s first line of defence in the ever escalating war between major powers for hearts and minds worldwide.


Laughed at who? Why that’s outrageous!


Originally shared by Helen Ikua

Laughed at who? Why that’s outrageous!

Apparently, nothing has the potential to rain on a Jeff Sessions confirmation parade than Code Pink protesters showing up unannounced to disrupt smooth as jello proceedings, and dressed as of all things, Ku Klux Klan devotees! And the whole sordid business happens to be peculiarly strange, not because one of the protesters laughed hilariously when Senator Richard Shelby climbed to the highest branch of the iroko tree and from that vantage point proceeded to boldly and unashamedly declare that Senator Jeff Sessions has an,”Extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law,” that is to say the same Jeff Sessions who once missed out on a plum legal appointment during Mr Reagan’s time in the White House, and based solely on allegations [totally unfounded of course] of using the heft of his legal office in Albama to advance a sinister agenda whose clear aim was amongst other things to hinder unfettered access to the ballot box for elderly black voters. But mostly and most importantly, this whole unseemly business of protesters trying to remind Jeff Sessions of the life that he left behind in an Albama closet, is strange because these verbal insurrectionists forgot to put on the decorum of their good manners blouses, and subsequently became willfully disruptive when in the hallowed presence of a man who once habitually referred to a black colleague who worked with him down in Alabama as,”Boy.”



‘Sean Sphincter’

Originally shared by Helen Ikua

Stemming the flow of alternative facts even as the emboldened lice continue to crawl out of the woodwork.

In the wake of the Quebec city mosque attack, some members of Donald Trump’s kitchen cabinet, notably one Sean Spicer (who’s increasingly now being fondly referred to as Sean Sphincter in many American households) looked all set to turn tragedy into an extempore moment of Carpe Diem. And that’s because according to Sean Sphincter, the Quebec city mosque attack only served to prove the necessity of the virulence of Mr Trump’s anti-Muslim EO. Except for one thing, the Quebec city mosque attack is the exact antithesis of any good that can ever come of evil policy. For, spurred on by indefatigable heroes of the cause such as Donald Trump as well as French far right diva Marie Le Pen to mention but a few of Alexandre Bissonnette’s self-confessed political influences, this young man finally managed with a profoundly macabre act of bloody blue murder to bring to fruition whatever cockamamie/nationalistic/racist/xenophobic notions that he’d secretly been brewing in his head for all these years. And so to one Sean Sphincter I’d say, don’t be shy to take meritorious credit where credit is due, especially not when an axe murderer like the Quebec city mosque killer cites your boss as one of his all time ideological gurus. You must be proud Sean, I know Jesus is, so very proud of you I mean.