Lancaster bombing

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement between the British Government and the major political forces in Zimbabwe, an agreement which led to Zimbabwe momentarily becoming – for the first time in its history – a British colony.  Before 1979, Rhodesia had initially been governed from the first European settlement in 1890 as a concession of the British South African Company* (advised from 1898 to 1923 by a semi-elected council), and then from 1923 as a self-governing British territory with dominion-like status.  From 1898 onwards the franchise, as in other British-controlled territories in Southern Africa starting in 1836, was a conditional one – in order to vote one had to satisfy certain conditions: age, gender, literacy, education, income, and property-ownership.   These conditions were biased against non-whites, but did not exclude them completely, as I explained here.  Because the franchise was not race-based, white Rhodesians like Ian Smith could delude sympathetic foreigners, and themselves, that they were running a democratic and non-racial government.
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That deadline

Nate Fick, whom I saluted here, had an op-ed in the NYT last week on the decision by the Obama administration to announce a deadline for withdrawal, here.  His conclusion:

Announcing the timeline was risky, and it could turn out to be our undoing. The president delivered two intertwined messages in his speech at West Point outlining his Afghan policy: one to his American audience (“I see the way out of this war”), and one to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Taliban (“I’m in to win”). The danger of dual messages, of course, is that each may find the other audience, with Americans hearing over-commitment and Afghans hearing abandonment.
The only way to reassure both is to show demonstrable progress on the ground.  A credible declaration of American limits may, paradoxically, be the needed catalyst.”

Can the obese now expect an apology from the medical profession?

Western medicine has a long history of blaming the victims of illness for their illness, attributing moral and character defects to the ill – eg, those suffering from cholera (before the mid 19th century), from physical addictions (until the mid 20th century), and from stomach ulcers (until the discovery of Helicobacter Pylori in 1982).   The most recent morality campaign waged by the medical profession has been against the obese, who are assumed by many medical practitioners to be lazy, weak-willed, or worse.  The medical professions urge the over-weight to diet and to exercise, and they even restrict treatment in some cases to people who are not obese.  Never mind that the scientific evidence for the relationship between regular exercise and appetite is weak, and suggests in any case that the former increases the latter: so that, if anything, more exercise is likely to lead to increased weight, not to reduce it.  
Now, science tells us that appetite – and hence obesity – may also be a function of one’s genes, as this article in tomorrow’s SMH reports

SOME of the children were so fat they had been listed on the British social services ”at risk” register because it was assumed their parents were abusing them with deliberate overfeeding.
”In one case, one of the children had been taken into care,” said Stephen O’Rahilly, a world expert on the genetics of obesity at the University of Cambridge.
But then his research team discovered the problem. The obese children had a section of DNA missing in their genetic code – a fault that produced a very strong drive to eat.
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Poem: Lines for a Friend 1948-1964

Writing just now about Mendelssohn’s sorrow at the death of his close friend, Edward Rietz, brought to mind this poem by Australian poet Michael Dransfield (1948-1973):

Lines for a Friend 1948-1964
“Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath.” – Tennyson
over before you knew it
misdiagnosed and done for
they cremated their error
you became some ashes a little placque a case history
paintings you did are lost also your poems
nothing but ashes in a wall of dead remains
you will not see again the way
the morning sun floods down O’Connell Street
perhaps you are the sun now
perhaps not
childhood was the salt edge of the Pacific
was the school under the old trees
it was soon after that they disposed of you
I went to the funeral you and I were the only two
there really the only two who knew the gods had gone
death and morning the only two,
damned because poets
over before we know it
we pack our lives in little souls and go
out with the tide the long procession
the ant the elephant the worker the child
even those doctors who stood around they will die sometime
their money cannot buy them out of it
we know what is to come a silence teeming
with the unfinished spirits good and bad,
and how we’ve lived determines what we’ll be
next time around, if time’s not buried with us.

Thomas W. Shapcott (Editor) [1970]:  Australian Poetry Now. Melbourne, Australia:  Sun Books, p. 210.

Deaf and blind musicology

Looking through some old scores, I come across the following note written by one Edouard Lindenberg, and copyrighted 1951:

Schumann said of Mendelssohn that his first name, Felix (happy) suited him admirably.  Mendelssohn was, in fact, of a carefree disposition, full of gaiety and optimism, and he was spared material cares.  Sorrow almost always passed him by – he never experienced any really severe shocks of any kind. Is it on this account that his music never attains the highest summits?  Or was it perhaps that he was too universally gifted – for he spoke several languages, read Greek fluently and had translated Terence; he was, moreover, one of Hegel’s best pupils and his talent as a draughtsman and painter in watercolours was very superior to that of an ordinary amateur.”

What an amazing person Lindenberg must have been!  He was clearly deaf, because even a short acquaintance with Mendelssohn’s music would tell you that the composer had experienced profound sorrows and emotions, and had expressed these in his music.  Listen to his last quartet, written after the death of his sister, Fanny, for example, or the two violin concertos.  Or listen to the opening orchestral number of the oratorio Elijah, which, again and again and again, seems about to resolve but has its resolution postponed, thereby expressing  human anguish better than any other composer before or since.
But my amazement at this man Lindenberg is even stronger.  He must also have been blind as well as deaf, since his concert note (concerning the Hebrides overture) then quotes from a letter Mendelssohn wrote from Paris on 21 January 1832.

I cannot have the Hebrides played here because I don’t consider the work finished yet.  The central section ff in D major is very stupid, and the whole development smells more of counterpoint than of seagulls and fish – whereas it should be the other way round.  And I am too fond of it to be played as is stands.”

But just two weeks later Mendelssohn wrote the following letter, immediately after hearing of the unexpected death from tuberculosis of his violin teacher and close friend, Eduard Rietz (1802-1832).  Surely, unless he was blind, Lindenberg must have also seen this, the very next letter in the published edition of Mendelssohn’s letters:

You will, I am sure, excuse my writing you only a few words to-day:  it is but yesterday that I heard of my irreparable loss.  Many hopes, and a pleasant bright period of my life have departed with him, and I never again can feel so happy.  I must now set about forming new plans, and building fresh castles in the air; the former ones are irrevocably gone, for he was interwoven [page-break] with them all.  As I shall never be able to think of my boyish days, nor of the ensuing ones, without connecting him with them, so I had hoped, till now, that it might be the same with those to come. I must endeavour to inure myself to this, but the  fact that I can recall no one thing without being reminded of him, that I shall never hear music, or write it, without thinking of  him, doubles the sorrow of such a separation.  The former days are now indeed departed, but it is not these alone that I lose, but also the man I so sincerely loved.  Had I never had any, or had I lost all cause for loving him, I must without a cause have loved him all the same. He loved me too, and the knowledge that there was such a man in the world – one on whom I could rely, who lived to love me, and whose wishes and aims were identical with my own – this is all over: it is the hardest blow that has yet befallen me, and never shall I forget it.
This was the celebration of my birthday.  When I was listening to Baillot on Tuesday, and said to Hiller that I only knew one violinist who could play the music I loved for me, L______ was standing beside me, and knew what had happened, but did not give me the letter. He was not aware indeed that yesterday was my birthday, but he broke it to me by degrees yesterday morning, and then I recalled previous anniversaries, and took a review of the past, as every one should on his birthday; I remembered how invariably on this day he arrived with some special gift which he had long [page-break] thought of, and which was always as pleasing, and agreeable, and welcome as himself.  My day was very sad; I could neither do anything, not think of anything, but the one subject.
To-day I have compelled myself to work, and succeeded.  My overture in A minor is finished.  I think of writing some pieces here, which will be well remunerated.
I beg you will tell me every particular about him, and every detail, no matter how trifling; it will be a comfort to me to hear of him once more.  The octet parts, so neatly copied by him, are lying before me at this moment, and remind me of him.   I hope shortly to recover my usual spirits, and to be able to write to you cheerfully and more at length.  A new chapter in my life has begun, but as yet there is no title.
— Your Felix. ”

[Mendelssohn-Bartholdy 1864/1870, pp. 327-329, letter from Paris (to Fanny?), dated 1832-02-04]

To imagine that a privileged person does not suffer normal human sorrows in the same way that the rest of us do is a peculiar form of irrationality, contrary to all human experience.  To further imagine that such a person is not capable of profound artistic expression despite the evidence of own’s own senses is just perverse.  But Mendelssohn seems to have attracted the perverse among his critics, from the explicit anti-semitism of Richard Wagner to the anti-Victorianism (and possible anti-semitism) of George Bernard Shaw.
Edouard Lindenberg [1951]: F. Mendelssohn  Fingal’s Cave (Hebrides Overture) Op. 26. Paris, France:  Heugel & Companie.
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy [1864/1870]: Letters from Italy and Switzerland. Translated by Grace, Lady Wallace.  Fifth Edition. London, UK:   Longman, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1870.  Includes preface to the First Edition, dated 1864-04-22.

Vale: Stephen Toulmin

The Anglo-American philosopher, Stephen Toulmin, has just died, aged 87.   One of the areas to which he made major contributions was argumentation, the theory of argument, and his work found and finds application not only in philosophy but in computer science.
For instance, under the direction of John Fox, the Advanced Computation Laboratory at Europe’s largest medical research charity, Cancer Research UK (formerly, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund) applied Toulmin’s model of argument in computer systems they built and deployed in the 1990s to handle conflicting arguments in some domain.  An example was a system for advising medical practitioners with the arguments for and against prescribing a particular drug to a patient with a particular medical history and disease presentation.  One company commercializing these ideas in medicine is Infermed.    Other applications include the automated prediction of chemical properties such as toxicity (see for example, the work of Lhasa Ltd), and dynamic optimization of extraction processes in mining.
S E Toulmin
For me, Toulmin’s most influential work was was his book Cosmopolis, which identified and deconstructed the main biases evident in contemporary western culture since the work of Descartes:

  • A bias for the written over the oral
  • A bias for the universal over the local
  • A bias for the general over the particular
  • A bias for the timeless over the timely.

Formal logic as a theory of human reasoning can be seen as example of these biases at work. In contrast, argumentation theory attempts to reclaim the theory of reasoning from formal logic with an approach able to deal with conflicts and gaps, and with special cases, and less subject to such biases.    Norm’s dispute with Larry Teabag is a recent example of resistance to the puritanical, Descartian desire to impose abstract formalisms onto practical reasoning quite contrary to local and particular sense.
Another instance of Descartian autism is the widespread deletion of economic history from graduate programs in economics and the associated privileging of deductive reasoning in abstract mathematical models over other forms of argument (eg, narrative accounts, laboratory and field experiments, field samples and surveys, computer simulation, etc) in economic theory.  One consequence of this autism is the Great Moral Failure of Macroeconomics in the Great World Recession of 2008-onwards.
S. E. Toulmin [1958]:  The Uses of Argument.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
S. E. Toulmin [1990]: Cosmopolis:  The Hidden Agenda of Modernity.  Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press.