MORE THOUGHTS ON … An Addendum On Love.


                          Raphael's 'Angels'

Serfs like me think those gods don’t know much about love, sweet love in all its subtleties. Human love is an emotion asperger gods jest don’t get. Fer them its capture and retreat, a war game that captivates fallible earthlings too. But those complex humans, why some of them relate in ways the gods don’t dream of. Hear sweet love expressed in human poetry and song.

Schubert ‘Impatience.’  ‘Thine is my heart, and shall be thine, alone, for ever.’

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see;
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Philip Larkin.

Fragile, fraught love betwixt the sexes, maternal love and brotherly, sometimes almost other-worldly, who can explain it, who can tell yer why, fools give yer reasons, wise men nevah try…

Brotherly love? Says Michel de Montaigne, regardin’ his friendship and love fer Steven de la Boitie: ‘If a man urge me to tell wherefore I loved him, I feele it cannot be expressed but by answering, ‘Because it was he, because it was myselfe.’

Romantic love? ‘Tis mysterious … :

Somewhere I have never traveled.
gladly beyond

Somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

e e cummings.

Here’s rich metaphor fer adult love in ‘The Silken Tent,’ ‘loosely bound by countless silken ties,’graceful acceptance of responsibilities with love.

The Silken Tent.

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all the ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe nought to any single cord,
But strictly held by none is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Robert Frost.

Always serious territory with W.H, Auden.


Lay your sleeping head my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rock
The hermit’s sensual ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreadful cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but not from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of sweetness show
Eye and knocking heart may bless.
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness see you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

W.H. Auden.

And how can yer have a selection of verses about emotions without a sonnet by the bard?

Sonnet 29.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I myself am in love with the river god,
the silver perturbations on the surface
that disturb the river’s opacity, the
mysterious depths of cool indifference.

Say,how about you?



Whom the gods …

We envy the gods their longevity,
not recognizing that they envy us.
Envy the heightened drama of existence
that comes with knowledge of life’s brevity
– over before you know it,
– got to have something to show for it,
serious ambition, love, and dynasty,
creativity, can’t just sit around
like gods on Olympus clouds, dreaming
up low tricks to play on us below.

Those gods! Can’t keep their jealous eyes off us,
entertain themselves by fooling us,
mortals existing just for their sport.
Stuff of Greek tragedy, they have to fill
all those tomorrows and tomorrows
of eternity with something, theatre
of the absurd. Sometimes they even come down
to earth, like goddam randy Zeus, making
more mischief, more mayhem via god children,
like Herakles, son of Zeus, whom Hera makes mad
so that he kills his wife and children in
a frenzy. And then there’s Helen, daughter of Zeus.
Time to bring on the Trojan Wars.


Sophocles: Chorus from Antigone.

Wonders are many on earth, and the greatest of these
Is man, who rides the ocean and takes his way
Through the deeps, through wind-swept valleys of perilous seas
That surge and sway.

He is master of ageless Earth, to his own will bending
The immortal mother of gods by the sweat of his brow,
As year succeeds to year, with toil unending
Of mule and plough.

He is lord of all things living; birds of the air,
Beasts of the field, all creatures of sea and land
He taketh, cunning to capture and ensnare
With sleight of hand;

Hunting the savage beast from the upland rocks,
Taming the mountain monarch in his lair,
Teaching the wild horse and the roaming ox’
His yoke to bear.

The use of language, the wind-swift motion of brain
He learnt; found out the laws of living together
In cities, building him shelters against the rain
And wintry weather.

There is nothing beyond his power. His subtlety
Meeteth all chance, all danger conquereth.
For every ill he found a remedy,
Save only death.


William Butler Yeats: Long-Legged Fly.

That civilization may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if you move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practice a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on the scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make,
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.


Archibald MacLeish: You Andrew Marvell.*

And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night.

To feel creep up the curving east
The earthly chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow.

And strange at Echbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change.

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass.

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
Of evening widen and steal on.

And deep on Palmyra’s street
The wheel rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown

And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls

And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land

Nor now the long light in the sea
And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on …

* Reference to Andrew Marvell’s Poem, ‘To His Coy Mistress.’


Oh Ozymandias!

Well that’s all, folks …



Adrian: Though this island seems to be desert, –
It must needs be of subtle, tender and delicate temperance.

Adrian:The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.

Sebastian: As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.

Antonio: Or as ‘twere perfumed by a fen.

Gonzales: Here is everything advantageous to life.

Antonio: True; save means to live.

Sebastian: Of that there’s none, or little.

‘The Tempest.’ William Shakespeare.

Human response to landscape – repeating some lines by Nietzche:

All nature faithfully! – But by what feint
Can Nature be subdued to art’s constraint?
Her smallest fragment is still infinite! And so he paints but what he likes in it.
What does he like? He likes what he can paint.

Guess we all, you and us serfs, impose our own preoccupations upon the landscape. No such thing as the innocent eye.


Figures in a Landscape 1.

Just look at them! Hokusai’s
small figures in a landscape,
a master’s thirty-six views of
Mt Fuji, calm, serene even,
two sweeps of the calligrapher’s
brush capturing its perfect
conic symmetry.

There they are, clambering like
beavers up its slopes, though they’re
not fooled by Nature’s randomness,
know Nature gives but also takes,
look how they wrest a living
from it, pit their energy
against it, pulling together, even
against that great wave.


Figures in a Landscape 2.

In Hokusai’s woodblock-print,
Ejiri in Suruga Province,
Nature in playful mood
blows the leaves from trees,
sends scribes’ papers sailing
sky-wards, snatches hats
from the heads of peasants
who react with strange
physical contortions,
clutching flailing clothing,
grimacing into the wind.


Hunters in the Snow.

In Bruegel’s masterpiece
‘Hunters in the Snow,’
though peasants skate upon
the frozen river, no
winter wonderland is this.
Silhouettes of leafless trees
stand stark against a leaden sky
that matches matt-grey river.
Exhausted dogs, hunters with meagre prey,
peasants laboring on the snow fields,
each trying to survive the Little Ice Age.


A Pastoral in Iambic Pentametre.

So delightful, the pastoral landscapes
Of Claude Lorrain, where, bathed in misty haze
In golden valleys, comely shepherds dressed
In Grecian robes, graceful shepherdesses,
With names like Philomene and Diocles,
Beneath cerulean skies and splendid trees,
Pass halcyon days in leisurely pursuits,
Pipe madrigals, sing songs, enjoy the fruits
That Nature doth provide, each in its time,
The early cherry, fig and later lime,
While sheep, lambs, bullocks, kine and fallow deer,
On sweet pastures graze conveniently near.

One wonders what they do when Winter comes?
Retreat to one of those ancient ruins
In the Claude Lorrain landscape, spend Winter
Nights discussing Plato and playing chess.
All so golden age and innocent

The Old Couple.

Every year the forest creeps closer,
Small pines encroaching in the meadow,
Tiny outposts in enemy territory.

Seems to the aging couple, days and years
Are also changing, days seem shorter, nights darker,
Does the harvest moon wane faster than before?

Tonight there is a frost. Against the cold he selects
Another pine log from the pile, lifts it firmly
With his strong forearm, throws it on the fire.

The fire crackles and sends out sparks. In its glow
His wife looks like the girl he married long ago, hair
Glinting, shadows concealing the lines around the mouth.

Shadows, too, hide his stooped shoulders,
Bowed by years of doing battle with the elements.
In the dark forest, the bark of a lone fox.

Early morning, sun’s already melting the frost.
The postman calls, a rare event. Foreign
Postmark, the couples daughter arriving from France,
Grandchildren in tow, they’ll spend Easter on the farm.

Outside, the day grows warm. In the budding plum tree
A thrush bursts forth in song.

kelly 5

Ned Kelly – Sydney Nolan

Back-yard Haku.

Back-yard barbecue,
Oz outback dream-time, tossed down
With cold beer and prawns.

Beneath Canopies.

Something fascinating
about canopies.
Lying on your back in a meadow,
gazing up and up at a blue canopy
that seems to go on for ever. Or
here, beneath tall trees, canopy
of patterned leaves, hidden world
of green mysteries, squirrels’ abodes
in northern hemisphere, possums’
in southern hemisphere, gatherings
of birds in both. Or kinda’ in reverse,
you’re peering, at ground zero,
into forests of clover, watching
ants following scented trails,
mantids that lurk in thickets like
ancient dinosaurs. Then there’s
the magic of familiar things, walking
in wet weather, the pavement
shining beneath your feet, rain
drumming down on your umbrella.



LIBERTY – whatever.


‘Houston, we have a problem…’

Yer may have read an earlier post here on Serf Underground, 8th Edition, ‘The Case for Dynamic Disequilibrium,’ where I discuss Joseph Schumpeter’s famous book, ‘Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.’ In his book, Schumpeter attributes the prosperity of the West, post the Industrial Revolution, to people’s freedom to innovate. The innovative process of dynamic disequilibrium that Schumpeter identifies in the West, moving resources from the old and obsolete, to new and more productive employment, is the very essence of its economic development and a nation’s prosperity. Schumpeter argues that a modern economy is always in disequilibrium. It is not a closed system like John Maynard Keynes macro economy, but is forever growing and changing. It is biological rather than mechanistic.

In the process of dynamic disequilibrium, Schumpeter argues, the only genuine profit is the profit created by the innovator. Profit is not surplus value stolen from the workers but is the cost of staying in business, the cost of capital formation to defray the costs of the future, the cost of maintaining jobs and creating new ones. .

Relating to profit, Schumpeter later identified the problem, during the First World War, of government mobilizing liquid wealth. Through taxation and borrowing, the State had acquired the power to shift income and control the distribution of the national wealth. Where Keynes saw this as a magic wand to achieve social justice, Schumpeter saw it as an invitation to irresponsibility because it eliminated safe guards against inflation. In the past, the inability to tax or borrow more than a small proportion of the country’s wealth had made inflation self limiting, now the only limit against was political self discipline.

Schumpeter was skeptical that governments would be politically self disciplined and argued that capitalism would be destroyed by the very democracy that had helped make possible. For in a democracy, to be popular, governments would buy votes to stay in power. Nations would increasingly become ‘tax states,’ shifting profits from producers to non-producers. Capital for tomorrow would be consumed, democracy would come under increasing inflationary pressure and eventually, Schumpeter predicted, inflation would destroy both democracy and capitalism.

Reflecting on the French Revolution – etcetera.

Edmund Burke, writing in 1791, his cautionary letter ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France,’ saw threats to the basic principles whose observance sustained western constitutional government and free society. Burke recognized the problem of cavalier exercise of authority demonstrated by events in Paris that were based on Rousseau’s doctrine of natural rights, a doctrine that Burke perceived as gaining ground in England. Burke wanted to shake the complacency of those who believed that the French were simply imitating the modest English Revolution of 1688, which he argues was restorative of constitutional and established rights and very different from the clean slate reconstructing of society from scratch, which was taking place in France. Wary of the untutored and unsocial impulses that lie beneath men’s acquired civility, Burke considered that the social institutions that have evolved in a complex, historical process and have stood the test of time are what allow men to live together in any degree of peace and freedom.

The political creed to which Burke subscribed, an off-shoot of the ‘Glorious Revolution of 1688,’ was united by hatred of arbitrary power and by a wish to be guided by and governed by the certain rule of law. Burke argues that the Revolution of 1688 did not seek to overthrow constitutional law but to preserve ‘ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that antient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty.’ (‘Reflections,’ Oxford Press, P31.) Without the means of some change the State is without the means of its conservation, he argues. Without such means of correction it might even risk the loss of what it most wishes to conserve and these ‘ two principles of conservation and correction acted strongly at the two critical periods of the Revolution and the Restoration.’ (R. P22.)

‘We wished at the period of the Revolution and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers.’(‘R P31.) ‘ In the famous law of the 3d of Charles 1, called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, ‘Your subjects have inherited this freedom, ‘claiming their franchises, not on abstract principles ‘as the rights of men,’ but as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.’( R P32. ) Whereas, says Burke, the revolutionaries in France, operating from first principles rather than empiric study are so taken up by their principles that they totally forget man’s nature. To legislate on the principle of human rationality is to present a one dimensional picture forgetting that men may also be irrational, self serving and violent. With regard to the excesses and social misery brought about by the revolutionary government’s ad hoc decisions, Burke argues that if the parliament had been not been dissolved, it may have acted as a balance and corrective of the excesses of the National Assembly and its judiciary owing its place to the National Assembly, not knowing by what law it judges nor under what authority it acts. ( R.PP 208/9.) .

In Burke’s account there is much to be said for his comparison between the stability of English politics and a non-arbitrary rule of law, and the anarchy in France. The English recognized that property, in its widest definition, defined as certain rights, land, goods and including the value in labor of a pair of hands, each defined and guaranteed in law, was what brought men from the savage to the political state and kept them there. Burke was horrified that the French revolutionaries attacked the corporate property of the Church and émigré nobility and questioned what property could be claimed secure when the French taught examples such as these.

The Abandoned Road.

Friederich Hayek, a century and a half after Edmund Burke, shares many of his views on the nature of society and the proper task of government. Writing in the period of another European cataclysmic event, The Second World War, Friedrich Hayek, in his classic book on human liberty, ‘The Road to Serfdom’ argues that while the crisis to the freedom of nations by German fascism is very real, for at least the twenty-five years before that, the spectre of totalitarianism had become a real threat:

‘We had been progressively moving away from the basic ideas on which European civilization had been built. That this movement on which we have entered with such high hopes and ambitions could have brought us face to face with the totalitarian horror has come as a great shock to this to this generation, which still refuses to connect the two facts. Yet this development merely confirms the warnings of the liberal philosophy which we still profess. We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which political and personal freedom has never existed in the past.’(‘The Road to Serfdom.’ Routledge. 2010. P13.)

Western Civilization, observes Hayek, is also abandoning that basic individualism inherited from classical antiquity, from thinkers such as Thucydides, Pericles, ( say, I’m adding Socrates to this list, ) Cicero, Tacitus through to thinkers of the Renaissance like Montaigne and Erasmus, defined as:

‘the respect for the individual man qua man, that is the recognition of his own views and tastes as supreme in his own sphere, however narrowly that is circumscribed, and the belief that it is desirable that men should develop their own individual gifts and bents.’ (P14.)

With the increasing prosperity of western nations as an outcome of the free growth of economic activity, itself the undersigned and unforeseen by-product of political freedom, for some classic liberal philosophy came to be regarded as a negative creed because it could offer to particular individuals little more than a share in progress, a progress that came to be taken more and more for granted.

Some people turned to socialism to replace the impersonal mechanism of the market by collective direction of social forces to consciously chosen goals. What the ‘democratic’ socialists failed to recognize and what the founders of socialism had understood was that their ideas could only be put into practice by a strong dictatorial government with much in common with fascist and communist nations like Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Lenin’s old friend, Max Eastman, felt compelled to admit that ‘instead of being better, Stalinism is worse than fascism, more ruthless … anti-democratic, unredeemed by any hope or scruple.’ (M. Eastman,’ Stalin’s Russia and the Crisis of Socialism.’1940 P82.) Foreign correspondent Francis Voigt, writing of developments in Europe in 1939, observed that ‘Marxism has led to Fascism and National-Socialism because, in all essentials, it is Fascism and National-Socialism.’ (F A Voigt. ‘Unto Caesar.’ 1939. P 95.)

To allay these suspicions and connect with the strongest of all political motives, people’s craving for freedom, says Hayek, increasingly the socialists began to make use of the promise of a ‘new freedom,’ not ‘freedom from coercion,’ since all pulling together is a must in a collective state, but ‘freedom from the despotism of want,’ necessitating a new authoritarian principle in human affairs.



Planning For Freedom?

To assert the complexity of civilization as an argument for central planning is to misapprehend the working of competition, argues Hayek. The very complexity of the division of labor under modern conditions precludes one person or central body from consciously balancing all the details of changes that continually affect the conditions of demand and supply of commodities. Only the price system under competition, because it enables entrepreneurs to gain the information they require by watching comparatively few prices, allows this to happen.

Not only is a central board of experts unsuited to survey and act upon the complexities ‘out there,’ there’s the historical record of failed long term plans and great leaps forward based on ‘expert’ predictions. If you’ve read Nassim Taleb’s ‘The Black Swan’ concerning unexpected ‘black swan’ events in history and understand the folly of assuming the future will mirror the past, you’ll be wary of long term plans. In Taleb’s chapter entitled, ‘ The Scandal of Prediction,’ he cites a study by Philip Tetlock showing that highly qualified ‘experts’ are not significantly more reliable in their predictions than their less qualified associates and no different from the rest of us when it comes to learning from our mistakes. Having ‘skin in the game,‘ or personal liability that concentrates your decision making is another factor missing in the think tank predictions of a bureaucracy, ie. Paul Ehlich, Joseph Stiglitz et al, but we won’t go into that!

Relating to complexity of modern society, Hayek also states: ’It is no exaggeration to say that if we had to rely on conscious central planning for the growth of our industrial system, it would never have reached the degree of differentiation, complexity and flexibility that it has attained.’ ( P52.) Supporting this, Jane Jacobs (ref my Serf Underground, 21st Edition,) cites the development of Venice and mushroom towns, and other case studies demonstrating that the growth of cities and import replacement is a messy process independent of government planning, and in fact hindered by it. ( Jane Jacobs, ‘Cities and The Wealth of Nations.’)

Arbitrariness All Over Again.

The creation of a broad, permanent framework of laws within which the productive activity is guided by individual decisions, the ‘Rule of Law,’ is very different from the laws governing economic activity by a central authority, which is necessarily arbitrary.

‘When the government has to decide how many pigs are to be reared or how many buses are to run, which coal mines are to be operated, or at what price boots are to be sold, these decisions cannot be deduced from formal principles, or settled for long periods in advance. They depend inevitably on the circumstances of the moment … and in the end somebody’s view will decide whose interests are more important.’ (P77.)

You are now replacing formal law by substantive rulings, imposing moral decisions at the discretion of a central authority or a judge. So here comes the moral imperative bit. Because successful planning requires the creation of a common view, we must all be persuaded to pull together, come to regard the central social plan as ‘our’ social plan.

‘Socialists,‘ says Hayek,’ the cultivated parents of the barbarous offspring they have produced, traditionally hope to solve this problem by education.’ (P117.) But what does education,’ in this sense mean? Why it means the general acceptance of a common weltanschauung, a definite set of values, and the problem becomes how to develop a movement supported by a single world view? An Austrian socialist , speaking of the socialist movement of his country, reports that its characteristic feature was its pervasiveness, creating special organizations for every field of activity of its workers and employees. ( G Wieser. ‘Ein Staat Stirht,’1938. P41.)

Then of course, we have creation of myths, there’s a long tradition in history, from Plato’s ‘Noble Lie,’ to Hitler’s myth of ‘The Master Race,’ those assertions about the connections between facts, which, once they have become ideals directing the activity of a whole community, may not be questioned. Those who retain an inclination to criticism must be silenced because they could weaken public support. Coercion, persuasion and pervasiveness, the methods, the whole apparatus for spreading knowledge, schools, press, radio, cinema, used to strengthen the belief in the rightness of the decisions taken by the central authority.(P164)

A serf sum up.

Well this serf’s not too happy with the way guvuhmints are spending our money as though there’s no tomorrow, no likely black swans on the horizon or inflation. What would Schumpeter or Nassim Taleb say? Then there’s the matter of that individualism we inherited from classical antiquity and the Renaissance, from Socrates, Tacitus to ,Montaigne, Erasmus etcetera, that ‘respect fer the individual man qua man?’ With the need ter have everyone all pulling together towards a single goal, everyone’s activity’s supposed ter derive its justification from a united, social purpose. There must be no art fer art’sake, no science fer science sake – no spontaneous, misguided activity that may produce unforeseen and perhaps seditious results. Ferget individuality. Oh Socrates!

Back ter the turnip field.





In the Xmas break, drove with a coupla’ family members from Melbourne, Oz’ largest city in the south, ter our northern largest city, Sydney. Interstate rivalry, ‘Sydney versus Melbourne’ has been going on fer evah, like barracking fer football teams, but hafta’ say I luv Sydney – these photographs will show you why.



Stayed in an apartment block at McMahon’s Point looking directly across the harbour through the Sydney Harbour Bridge ter that other Sydney icon, the Sydney Oprea House. Is there another harbour anywhere, in all its changing moods, save Venice maybe, as glorious? OMG!




There it is. The Sydney Harbour Bridge. An Australian icon, symbol of the strength and resilience of a nation hit hard by the 1930s’ Great Depression, and symbol also of the wondrous construction capabilities of a nation’s people. When it was built, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a feat to celebrate, the erection of the largest steel-arch bridge in the world, 612 feet longer than the bridge built in 1916 over the East River in New York.



In Australia in 1788, the first English settlement, with its contingent of convicts, was established at Sydney Cove on the southern shore of Port Jackson. As new arrivals came, the settlement spread to the north shore. If settlers wanted to get from one shore to the other, they were obliged to cross the harbour by ferry or punt, or travel the long way round by road. In 1815, ex-convict and architect Francis Greenway considered the question of the building of a harbour bridge that would allow the settlement on the north shore to expand, but it was not until a century later that the proposal could be taken up.

Two people, Dr John Bradfield, and Premier Jack Lang, were largely responsible for getting it up. Dr Bradfield, of the New South Wales Public Works Department, in 1912 proposed the building of a bridge across the harbour as part of his grand vision for a suburban railway network in Sydney. Plans had to be put on hold with the outbreak of the First World War, but after the War, bills were pushed through Parliament for its construction. A report by The Bulletin, Newspaper, 23/03/1932, (P3.) acknowledges Bradfield’s efforts:

‘While the matter was before the Parliament, Bradfield almost lived on the premises. The Minister made a speech or two on the floor of the house. Bradfield made a hundred in the lobbies and the party rooms.’

The second mover and shaker, the New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang, raised the necessary finances for the building of Bridge and ensured its completion during the difficult Depression years.



The winning designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was Ralph Freeman, consulting engineer to the English bridge contractors Dorman, Long and Co. Some facts of its construction. The Bridge is held together by rivets only. There are no welded or bolted joints essential to the main structure. Approximately six million rivets add around 3,200 tonnes to the weight of the Bridge. An Australian firm, McPherson Pty Ltd of Melbourne, supplied all the rivets to Dorman, Long and Co. To ensure the rivets would withstand heavy loads, a system of quality control was set up in which two or three rivets from each batch were tested to the recommended levels.

The Bridge’s arch was built in two separate halves stretching out over the harbour until they were joined in the middle. In August 1930 the steel cables which were anchoring the two halves were loosened and both sides of the bridge were lowered to allow them to be set into place. The completion of this major phase was celebrated with a half day holiday and bonus of two shillings for the bridge workers. The Sydney Morning Special Bridge Number, 16/03/32 describes the response by the Director of Construction to the drama of the event:

‘Mr Lawrence Ennis, a big man who did a big job, has confessed to stress of emotion at the critical stage when the half arches were about to meet. It was night time. He was unable to speak as the parts joined and settled into place. Then after some little time he said, ”Well boys, that ‘s that, and thank God she is home.” Those present shook hands They had achieved something that many engineers in various parts of the world had said was impossible.’




Controversy? Say, when is there not? The Bridge’s official opening, 19th of March, 1932, a gala event. But lots of politics behind it. Say when is there not?

Premier Jack Lang’s loan raising for public works, the ‘Lang Plan,’ which included finance of the Bridge, was highly controversial to many. His threat to suspend interest payments to English bond holders had raised the threat of socialism, even communism.

A rallying protest movement , ‘The New Guard,’ (1)  led by returned service man Eric Campbell, collected 400 000 signatures on a petition calling for Lang’s dismissal. While the movement seems to have revealed some latent fascist tendencies to restructure parliamentary democracy, the New Guard was predominantly a protest response that came to nothing after Lang was later on dismissed from office.  A comic element during the opening ceremony on the day was the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon by a member of the New Guard, Captain Francis De Groote, in a dash on horse back.  Lang had decided to by pass royalty in the Bridge ceremony and cut the ribbon himself. De Groote was seized and taken into custody and later fined five pounds. The ribbon was retied and Lang performed the honours.  The Bridge was now open!




The Sydney Harbour Bridge was to cost 4,217,721 pounds, 11 shillings and 10 pence, but came in at twice that amount. To pay for it a toll was approved. The Sydney Morning Herald,  on 16/03/1932 published the schedule of charges:

‘Motor cars and sidecars, including the drivers, will be charged /6 each and a charge of /3 will be made for each adult (other than the driver, ) travelling on these vehicles.  Each child in a vehicle will be charged /1.’

The Bridge was paid for in full in 1988. Beauty and order out of controversy. Icons and controversy. Hmm … and then there’s that other controversy, the Sydney Opera House. But that’s another story.

(1) Eric Campbell ‘The Rallying Point. My Story of the New Guard.’MUP. 1965.




Art historian Ernst Gombrich, in his essays relating to expression and communication, ‘Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art,’ examines an expressionist theory that art and music are the natural language of emotion.

According to this theory, the resonance theory, a natural equivalence exists between emotional states and sensations, sights and sounds. We experience, for example, sensations such as ‘warm, light, bright, red, fast, high,’ as ‘friendly,’ while sensations such as ‘cold, heavy, dark, blue, slow, deep,’ are experienced as ‘hostile.’ Gombrich uses an analogy from wireless to describe the resonance theory, ‘the artist as transmitter, the work as medium, and the spectator as receiver,’ the artist broadcasting his message in the hope of reaching a mind that will vibrate in unison with his own. Say, sounds romantic don’t it? (p 56.)

While Ernst Gombrich accepts that there is some inborn disposition in all of us to equate certain sensations with certain feeling tones, he argues that whatever message an unstructured canvas of blue paint conveys to the applauding critic is not inherent in the blue paint itself but relies on its meaning within a context. Gombrich argues that expression and communication do not function in a void but take place within an evolving traditional art form and genre. Without such shaping, messages would die on route from transmitter to receiver, ‘not because we fail to be ‘attuned’, but simply because there is nothing to relate them to.’ (p 68.) Without acquaintance with the potentialities of the artist’s medium and tradition in which he works, the natural equivalence which interests the expressionist could not come in to play. What strikes us as dissonance in a Haydn symphony, for instance, would pass unnoticed in a post Wagnerian context, and even the fortissimo of a string quartette may have fewer decibels than the pianissimo of a symphony orchestra.

Gombrich explores form and function in the visual arts, which, though they play no part in the resonance theory, are the great divide between traditional conceptual art and the illusionist styles of China, ancient Greece and the Renaissance. Concerning form and function in the evolution of art, Gombrich observes that substitution may precede portrayal. Meditating on a child’s creation of a hobby horse, Gombrich identifies two conditions needed to turn a stick into a hobby horse, firstly, that its form makes it possible to ride on, and secondly, that riding is something that matters. For the child creating a hobby horse, as for the conceptual artist creating his image, the creation does not need to be a faithful imitation of an object’s external form, it needs only those relevant aspects that function as a key that fits some biological or psychological lock. A baby sucks its thumb as a substitute for the breast, a child rides a stick as if it were a horse. The stick, in another setting might function as a sword, or in the context of ancestor worship act as a fetish for a dead king. (p 7.)

Keeping in mind that representation is originally substitution, the greater a child’s wish to ride, the fewer may be the features that will do for his hobby horse. But at a certain stage a horse will need eyes for how else can it see? In Egyptian funerary art, the man- made image must be complete, the servant for the grave will need hands and feet, but must not be dangerously life-like to take on, perhaps, a life beyond strict conventions. (p 8.)


H.Wolfflin makes the observation in ‘Principles of Art History,’ (New York, 1932.) that all pictures owe more to other pictures than they do to nature. All art is image-making and even the ‘illusionist’ artists made the ‘conceptual’ image of convention their starting point and trial and error process of schema and correction.

Archaic art starts from the schema, the symmetrical frontal figure conceived from one aspect only. The conquest of naturalism is a gradual process of corrections, based on observation of reality. The witty Alain cartoon encapsulates the problems of style, of function, schema and correction.


Once the idea develops that an image need not exist in its own right, but may refer to something outside itself, as Gombrich argues, the basic rules of archaic art can be transgressed. The image of the man on the Greek vase no longer needs an arm or a leg in full view and when medieval art broke away from the narrative symbolism into which the formulas of classical art had frozen, Giotto made particular use of the figure viewed from behind. The idea of the picture as a reality outside itself leads us to a rationalization of space, the filling in and development of perspective as the picture becomes a window into the world the artist creates for us there. ( p10.)



And once we think of the artist and public less as minds mysteriously attuned to one another, and more as people ready to appreciate a choice of alternatives within an organized medium, we recognize the firm guidance which tradition and experience give us. As Gombrich notes, ‘we are all marvelously adept at playing the game of ‘classifiers’ and ‘modifiers’. Our ability to separate what is called the local colour of things from the colour of illumination is based on this skill. We easily recognize the difference between a white wall in the shade and a grey wall in sunlight.’ ( p66.)

In traditional art forms, genre offers the first pointer. Without this context, a grim scherzo or a melancholy waltz would not deliver its ‘resonance.’ In the visual arts as well as music and literature, the artist’s breach of decorum and the ‘receptor’s’ readiness to receive hints create the fizz. Contrasts in tempo and meter, tone and key, intensity of colour or volume, even breaches in form may strike the artist’s audience with expressive force.

A dissonant splash of red in a green canvas in a painting by Judith Alexandrovics.


In a Rembrandt’s self portrait, the light focused on unimportant details while the eyes are in shadow, inviting the viewer’s co-operation in reading expression.


Wordsworth writes in his poem ‘The Prelude,’

‘Like harmony in music, there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.’

In reference to artistic form he’s not wrong. So introducing a deus ex machina dramatic element in a play, you might say is a no-no. When Greek dramatist Euripides, makes Medea the hero of his tragedy, ‘Medea,’ her violent actions and deus ex machina rescue by the gods likely challenged his Athenian audience as a breach of artistic decorum.

But Euripides’ puzzling play needs to be understood in terms of its context. When Athens’ three tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote their plays, Athens was experiencing a period of political and social experiment. Their plays were presented at the annual Athenian Festival, in an outdoor theatre accommodating around 1700 spectators. These festivals were considered more than mere entertainment. The dramas of the festival, E.F Watling tells us, were expected to ‘touch the deepest centers of a man’s individual and corporate consciousness.’ ( Preface to Penguin translation of Medea.)

When Euripides wrote his tragedy, he had many variants of the Medea myth to draw on but chose to create a more shocking version than any of the old stories. By the version he presented, and by Medea’s heroic language and his surprise ending, Euripides was certainly challenging his audience’s individual and corporate consciousness.

When Jason dismisses his oath breaking as insufficient cause for Medea’s act of vengeance, she replies:

‘And is that injury
A slight on, do you imagine, to a woman?’

Medea does not doubt that the gods do not find it a slight injury and by the deus ex machine ending where the gods rescue Medea, they show that it is not. Euripides is posing a challenging question to his audience. ‘Should a society where men have the power to carelessly break a marriage vow with impunity be surprised if moral chaos and social disintegration follow?’

Some more fizz from Shakespearean tragedy. Hamlet, Macbeth ,Othello and their kin are among the most charismatic speakers in the world of drama. The language of these Shakespearean tragic heroes owes much to the development of a poetic language suitable for tragedy.

Russ McDonald in ‘The Language of Tragedy’ looks at this development through Christopher Marlow’s break from the monotony of an earlier fourteen syllable line to explore the rhythmic possibilities of the iambic pentameter. Following Marlow, Shakespeare further exploited the possibilities of the iambic pentameter to create the eloquent language of his tragic heroes. In all of Shakespeare’s tragedies he manipulates word patterns and modifications of the expected forms to express the visionary propensities of the hero and to signal or underscore the emotional and psychological moods that move the audience. Shakespeare’s control of meter, in addition to employing other dramatic devices, is revealed in the tragedy of ‘Othello,’ by the contrast in its protagonist’s early sonorous language with its later deterioration.

Here in Act 1, Scene 2 Othello’s poetic lines:

‘Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them,
Good signior, you shall more command with years …’ (Act 1 Scene 2.)

His speech to the senate in the same scene, a maneuver in defence of his marriage, is the language of an accomplished story teller, romantic, poetically powerful and commanding:

‘My very noble and approv’d good masters,
That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her:
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more. Rude am I in my speech,
And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace;
For since these arms of mine had seven years pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have us’d
Their dearest action in the tented field;
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle;
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnished tale deliver
Of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,
What conjurations and what mighty magic,
For such proceeding I am charged withal,
I won his daughter.’

Contrast the above with Othello’s abuse of his innocent wife in Act 3, Scene 3, an outburst that depends for its force on its triply repeated verb and the spondee, ‘lewd-minx.’ ‘Damn her, lewd minx! O damn her! Damn her.’

And now as a finale let’s hear that dark inscrutable workmanshop of harmony in music. No one does it better than Bach, here the Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in G Major.

Some context. Within the classical tradition of the sonata, the symphony and the concerto, the Brandenburg Number 5 conforms to their three movement structure, first movement exposition in the dominant key and ending in the tonic chord, second movement of development and digression, and third movement of recapitulation that returns us to the opening key and theme once more. That’s the form. But lots of surprises along the way.

In his Brandenburg Concertos Bach adopted the concerto grosso orchestration of the Italian composers like Vivaldi, in which a large ensemble alternates with a soloist or solo group. Bach uses this orchestration to create oh so lovely contrasts in texture, dynamics and melody. Listen at 3.07 – 4.22 to the fugue between violin and flute with its heavenly bird piping and trills. OMG! Then there’s the harpsichord, usually a supporting, unifying part of the ensemble, but not here at 6.38 – (really hotting up by 8.40,) surprising us with a pounding virtuoso performance , tempo furioso. Lots of fizz in this!



Fer R.T. a trial and error practitioner.
Trial and error, messiness and fizz, that’s it! Ferget top-down forward planning and efficiency regarding human innovation and adapting ter circumstances. Trial and error and serendipity rule, in human affairs, as in naychur.

In Naychur.


Primo Levi in ‘The Periodic Table,’ described somewhere as the best science book ever written, is a book yer’d think is all about chemistry, and yes it is, but it’s also a mixture, messy yer might say, an interaction of Primo Levi’s profound human experience and the meaning of chemistry. What comes across in his book is not chemistry as an arcane experience, but as the underlying reality of organic and inorganic stuff, trees, rocks, clouds, you and me.

Primo Levi describes his first months as a student at the University of Turin in the late 1930’s, and the day in his classes in General and Inorganic Chemistry, that he is assigned to the preparation of zinc sulfate. He describes the laboratory process:

‘The course notes contained a detail which at first reading had escaped me, namely, that the so tender and delicate zinc, so yielding to acid which gulps it down in a single mouthful, behaves, however, in a different fashion when it is very pure: then it obstinately resists the attack. One could draw from this two conflicting philosophical conclusions, the one in praise of purity, which protects from evil like a coat of mail; the praise of impurity, which gives rise to changes, in other words, to life.’ ( P.L. Ch 3.)

As an Italian Jew living under Mussolini’s Fascist political system, Primo Levi reflects on his Jewishness. Since the publication of the magazine ‘Defence of Race,’ there was much talk about racial impurity and Levi says he began to feel proud of being ‘impure,’ where before he had scarcely considered his origins:

‘In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed. Fascism does not want them, forbids them, – wants everybody to be the same.’

Primo Levi offers parallels between the reactions in a test tube and the larger world.
In his chapter on ‘Potassium,’ he recounts how, during the War, when he had to distil benzene and couldn’t find the sodium necessary for its purification, he uses its twin in the periodic table, potassium, which reacts with air and water with even greater energy and is liable to ignite. After distilling the benzene Levi washes the now empty flask and it explodes, almost blowing up the laboratory. Now that’s fizz! From this he notes that one dare not trust the ‘almost-the-same,’ and concludes:
‘The differences can be small, but they may lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad’s switch points; the chemist’s trade consists in good part in being aware of those differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects.’

To which he adds, ‘And not only in the chemist’s trade.’

Jane Jacobs and Messiness in Cities.

Lots of people think we’d be better off without large cities, that large cities are inefficient and impractical. Certainly, as we know, there are problems in large cities regarding the most routine activities, getting people to work, moving goods around, making space for playgrounds, disposing of garbage and so on. While cities magnify an economy’s practical problems, they can also solve them by new technology and new work. Town planners, though, would like to create more efficient cities, have people and factories moved on to other places.

But here’s a paradox for you. Jane Jacobs is arguing in her book, ‘The Economy of Cities,’ that large cities are economically valuable, not in spite of their inefficiencies and impracticalities but rather because of them. She makes her case with comparisons of various cities in different countries and times, beginning with two English manufacturing cities, Manchester and Birmingham.

A Tale of Two Cities.

Back in 1844, because of the stunning efficiencies of its immense textile mills, Manchester was viewed as the poster city for the Industrial Revolution and a portent of the cities of the future. Marx based much of his analysis of capitalism on Manchester. Birmingham with relatively few large industries was just the kind of city that seemed to have been outmoded by Manchester, a muddle of all sorts of hardware and tool manufacturing that had been added to its earlier manufacture of horse saddles and harnesses. Most of Birmingham’s manufacturing was carried out by small concerns employing a dozen or less workmen. A lot of these small factories did piecework for other organizations and there was a lot of waste motion and overlapping that might have been eliminated through consolidations.

But today, says Jacobs, only two of all Britain’s cities remain economically vigorous. One is London. The other is Birmingham. For Birmingham’s fragmented and inefficient little industries kept adding new work and splitting off new organizations while Manchester’s efficient specialization contained the seeds of its own stagnation. For when people in cities in other countries learned to spin and weave cotton efficiently and began replacing imports Manchester had no other industries sufficient to compensate for
its lost markets. Where Manchester was pouring its economic energy into efficient repetition of the same work, Birmingham was evolving by trial and error development leading to new successful activities. Today Manchester is a city in long decline.

Efficiency is Not the Name of the Game.

Efficiency of operation, in any case, is a sequel to earlier and messy development, time-consuming development work by trial and error, with no guarantee of success, like the beginnings of the car industry in Detroit. But the exorbitant amount of time and energy involved and high rates of failure doesn’t mean that development work is being done ineptly. As even the U.S. Air Force analytical organization, the Rand Corporation notes, this is part of the process. Duplication of effort in development work, while theoretically wasteful, is empirically necessary, for one thing, because people bring different preconceptions to development work.

Jane Jacobs looks at cities of the distant and recent past that stagnated when development work ceased. The prehistoric cities of the Indus valley, Mohenjo and Harappa, were marvelously developed, but when development work ceased, the two cities continued endlessly producing inefficient tools and clumsy solid wheels for chariots while other people were developing the spoked wheel and efficient bronze tools and weapons.

In the United States, in the 1920’s, Detroit, after its earlier innovative successes has shown a low development rate. Jacobs asks why cities like Detroit, highly efficient in developing large industries, do not afterwards succeed in developing new goods and services. One factor that Jacobs identifies is that large, efficient industries, creating company towns if you like, discourage breakaways from the company by workers who seek to start up their own enterprises. Breakaways are a successful means of developing new work. But parent companies do not like breakaways and when the parent company is powerful enough, it will inhibit them, as Kodak did in Rochester, New York.

Jacobs argues that cities with many small and overlapping suppliers of bits and pieces of work are indispensable to a high rate of development. Both Buick and Dodge themselves began as suppliers in this way, Buick in sheet metal and Dodge in motor engines. Back in 1903, Henry Ford got started by assembling car parts that were made by other people. Later, these overlapping small suppliers were no longer an efficient arrangement for the big car manufacturers who came to dominate the Detroit Automobile Industry.

Another factor for developing new work is access to capital. But the most efficient way to invest capital is through few large investors putting capital into already efficient
producers of goods and services, not into new work enterprises. For a city to develop new work, however, access to inefficiently dispensed capital is a crucial requirement.

Seems like the messy process of trial and error promoting development work, that Jane Jacobs describes in ‘The Economy of Cities,’ appears to be in jeopardy with the conditions that promote efficiency.

A Vindication of Trial and Error.

Nassim Taleb has a chapter in ‘Antifragile’ concerning misconceptions of what he calls ‘History Written by the Losers,’ (Ch 13.) the losers being those historians and Harvard Business School professors prone to misattribution of technical innovation across domains, from its real life sources to academizing science. Taleb labels this effect as ’lecturing birds how to fly.’ He questions whether academic science has lead to technology rather, whether universities have prospered as a consequence of national wealth created by technology.

Nassim Taleb charts his investigations of the origin of developments across many fields. The first section of the chart describes the development of the jet engine. Turns out that engineers had been building and using jet engines in Britain in a completely trial and error experiential manner before anyone fully understood the theory. Theory came later. Jane Jacobs refers to the jet engine, in 1937, already being developed in Birmingham, when a committee of experts in the United States were coming to the conclusion that it was impracticable to attempt. (JJ Ch 3.)


About architecture in Table 5, Taleb asks us to consider how the Romans, admirable engineers, built their aquaducts. Roman numerals did not make quantitative analysis easy. Seems they built their aquaducts without benefit of mathematics. Then there’s the medieval cathedral builders relying on heuristics, empirical methods and tools. According to medieval historian, Guy Beaujouan, before the thirteenth century no more than five people in the whole of Europe knew how to perform a division.


Regarding cybernetics, which led to the ‘cyber’ in cyberspace, seems that Norbert Wiener, in 1946, was articulating ideas about feedback control and digital computing that had been in practice in the engineering world, long before Wiener’s mathematics.

In conversation with a well known economist who wondered how traders could handle complicated transactions without understanding the Girsanov theorem, Nassim Taleb was struck by the incongruity of such a statement, having worked as a pit trader himself in Chicago and observed veteran traders who refused to touch mathematical formula.
Yet these people had survived, their prices were more sophisticated and more efficient than those produced by formula and it was obvious to Taleb which came first. This conversation led to Taleb and a partner investigating the question.

The investigation produced proof that traders had vastly more sophistication than the formulas and preceded them by a century of trading experience. Taleb says that he himself has been an eye witness to results ‘that owe nothing to academizing science, rather evolutionary tinkering that was dressed up and claimed to have come from academia.’ (p 275.) Taleb claims ‘that two fragilistas, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton, got the memorial prize in Economics called ‘Nobel,’ for the packaging of a formula that other people discovered in much more sophisticated form before them.
(p 220.)

In the case of medicine, lots of serendipity by way of researchers who failed to follow the tight scripts of academic programs. James Le Fanu, doctor and science writer, finds that a large number of effective therapies of the post war years were not ignited by scientific insight but came ‘from the realization by doctors and scientists that it was not necessary to understand in any detail what was wrong, but that synthetic chemistry blindly and randomly would deliver the remedies that had eluded doctors for centuries.’ (p 231.)

Statistics illustrate, says Taleb, the gap between public perception of academic contribution and the truth, that private industry develops nine drugs out of ten.

Easy to show the Industrial revolution and technology owed little to science but were very much the result of trial and error tinkering and the curiosity of the enlightened amateur. The main technologies that led to the jump to the modern world were the empirical efforts of craftsmen like James Hargreaves who invented the spinning jenny that mechanized spinning, John Kay who invented the flying shuttle that mechanized weaving, Richard Arkwright who invented the water frame, and talented amateurs like the Reverend Edmund Cartwright, who invented the power loom.

Taleb is not saying that theories or academic science are not behind some practical technologies but questions the role of the epistemic base has played in the history of technology. He likens the process to the recipes used in cooking derived without conjectures about the chemistry of taste buds. ‘We can observe ancestral heuristics at work : generations of collective tinkerings resulting in the evolution of recipes. These recipes are imbedded in cultures. Cooking schools are entirely apprenticeship based.’
( p 224.)

Seems collaboration on the ground, says Taleb, letting ideas interbreed can have explosive consequences, forget the long term plan, ‘since you cannot forecast collaborations and cannot direct them, you can’t see where the world goes. All you can do is create an environment that facilitates these collaborations, and lay the foundations for prosperity and, no you can’t centralize innovations. We tried that in Russia.’ (P 234.)
Well that’s it! Yer may have noticed little reference ter ‘fizz.’ That’s because I was goin’ ter add another section herewith on ‘Trial and Error, Art and Fizz,’ but me essay was becoming’ too long and messy, so I’ll postpone that until the next New Year edishun. And to anyone readin’ this, I’ll wish you a Happy New Year and conclude with a brief.

NGS Picture ID:422890


The Evolution of Birds.

Making do with what’s at hand,
In this case ‘hands,’ –
Used to be ‘legs’ but they became
Useless little arms with
Claw appendages, the kind
You find on odd marsupials like kangaroos
And on that two-legged oddity
Of the Jurassic, dinosaur Therapod.
By God! There’s a black swan development
If ever there was one.

Fossils unearthed in limestone quarries
By homo sapien with evolutionary tools,
Stone axes won’t do it,
Record the evolution of the therapod hand
From flexing wrist of Velociraptor to
Unenlagla’s wing-like flaps and
Primitive feathers of Caudipteryx,
Say there’s a giant step for birds,
Then the momentous uncovering of
Flight feathers on fossil Archaeoterix
And we have lift off!

While precisely ‘how’ or maybe ‘why,’
The wings of birds evolved remains a mystery.   Bird-Flock-In-Blue-Sky
Just when homo sapiens think – they – may
Have some sort of handle on the evolution of
Birds, tricky Nature calls up another black swan,
Or cygnet maybe, seems some new and
Up – to – now unknown phenomenon
Has been at work in the evolution of birds.
For yet another evolutionary technology,
X-ray CT scanning of birds’ skulls
Throws some light on their progression,
Or rather regression, progenesis
They call it, seems birds are really
Baby dinosaurs. Precocious maturation of birds
In just a few weeks, a portion of the life span
Of therapods becomes the whole life span
Of a new successful species.

A new successful species, Praise be
To tricky Nature for the evolution
Of birds! Lords of the air, of updraft
And perilous tumbling,
Of utterance of sweet song, of joy
To the world and tremulous longing,
Of feathers rivaling in pattern and profusion
The spangled universe, touching the imagination
Of homo sapien, inspiring the visionary words
Of poets, expressive of delights and lamentations
Of mature lovers and yearning dreams of adolescents.