Archive for August, 2005

Search (to) your (heart’s) content

I’m assuming everybody is already familiar with Google’s plans to scan all the books in the libraries of Stanford, Harvard and the University of Michigan and make the contents of all those books searchable. Not a problem for books in the public domain or whose publishers have given permission for them to be searchable, but publishers aren’t too happy about the fact that Google plans to scan every book and make them all searchable via Google Print. Now Google is planning to hold off on scanning copyrighted works for which they haven’t already received permission until November to give publishers a chance to opt out (ð: eWeek).

The Association of American Publishers and its extremely annoying chair, Patsy Schroeder, are moaning about this opt-out policy:

“The great concern of not just publishers but the entire intellectual property community is Google’s turning copyright law on its head,” [Schroeder] said. “All the burden is now on the rights holder.”

Okay, she might have a point except for one important thing: if Google turns up a search term in a copyrighted work they haven’t received permission to reproduce, you only get a couple of sentences of context around that search term. Even in books for which they have received permission, you only get a couple of pages (sounds complicated, but these screenshots pretty much tell the whole story). And, having tried it for quite a while today in a couple of different books, I can definitely say that trying to read even just ten pages on each side of a search term in a book for which permission had been given is not only extremely laborious, but probably impossible.

In any case, a couple of sentences from a 300-page book is pretty tiny, certainly no more than is regularly excerpted in book reviews, scholarly papers, etc. and nobody ever raises a fuss about those usages. Of course, that’s exactly Google’s defense: that what they’re doing is covered by fair use. Patsy disagrees. Which pretty quickly boils down to a legal argument, which I don’t particularly care about (and which isn’t clear-cut one way or the other).

The more important issue is this: even if what Google’s doing is technically illegal, why in the world would any publisher object? Google Print not only makes the books you already own easier to use, but provides great advertising for new books. As is my wont, let’s see an example of the latter first: today I plugged my father’s name into Google Print and was surprised to see that he’s mentioned in a couple of books. It turns out that the only interest I would have in those particular books is pure morbid fascination with people who take words like “process” way too seriously, but, if I’d been more seriously interested in any of the books that popped up, there are links to buy from several different vendors right there. In other words, this is a great way to find new books on topics of interest and, therefore, is great directed advertising for book publishers. Put a Nokia 770 in my hands, the entire Stanford library on Google Print and the desire to learn about some new topic in my head (it happens every once in a while), I’ll be buying books left and right (or, rather, I would be, if publishers could get their goddamned act together and back some universal electronic publishing standards [ð: TeleRead]).

As for the second point, between my brother, my father, and myself, we probably own every book Mark Twain’s ever wrote. My father also owns Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which quotes Twain as having written:

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

It’s a great quote, but, despite knowing Twain wrote it and owning probably every Twain book ever, it would take forever to track down just exactly where he wrote it. However, judicious use of Google Print demonstrates that this quote comes from Life on the Mississippi and, furthermore, that it concludes a very amusing little paragraph. Now that’s what I call making my books more useful! Point is, publishers should be thanking Google for both the directed advertising of their books and for making those same books better (and, therefore, more desirable) at no cost. Instead, there are rumblings of lawsuits.

Note that Amazon‘s (selective) full-text search of the books they sell is the only comparable (though less ambitious) service already available. Of course, it should come as no surprise that Google and Amazon are at the front of this curve, since they’re about the only companies out there with both the vision to dream up something like this and (more importantly) the resources to implement it (though a nod of the head is due to the resourcefulness of both Project Gutenberg and Wikimedia).

Speaking of cool Amazon stuff, they’ve now got a feature in their maps section that allows you to see street-level photographs of locations on the map. It’s only available in 24 US cities (so far, anyway), but basically what they did is drive down a whole bunch of streets in a lot of big cities with digital cameras rolling and hooked into a GPS receiver, so you can not only see where the bar I went to last night is on the map, but what it looks like (not much). Of course, Google Maps are easier to search, but the street-level view is a hell of an idea and a nice complement to Google’s aerial photos.

In fact, one can only hope that someone out there is working on combining Google Maps’ search flexibility and aerial photographs, Amazon’s street-level pictures, JiWire’s hotspot finder and the Gmaps pedometer into one world-destroying über-map.

When yippies are also yuppies

“London-based Iraqi novelist” Haifaa Zangana claims that “Iraqi women know that the enemy is not Islam…The enemy is the collapse of the state and civil society. And the culprit for that is the foreign military invasion and occupation.” Um…I’m not sure how a set of ideas could be an enemy in any case, but if she has in mind Islamists and not the abstraction “Islam,” why exactly should we think of it as an either/or situation? Doesn’t “the collapse of the state and civil society” (if you could call Saddam’s government that) work in tandem with Islamist aspirations, so that people, in a time of chaos, run to them because their espousing of simple, brainless, exceptionless, absolute rules seems like an appealing bastion of stability and certainty? Of course, one might think that those same Islamists are partly responsible themselves for the “collapse of the state and civil society” through their bombing of police stations, power generators, randomn crowds of people, etc. but no, it’s solely the fault of those American devils and their use of “a modern form of napalm.”

Free-market morals

As someone whose basic ethical framework is predicated upon the effects that actions have upon those affected by them rather than dogmatic a priori principles (some, including my brother, call me a consequentialist), I have often thought that the best thing that could happen to utilitarianism is to be saved from utilitarians. Because, as I have noted before, the basic criterion for the success of a social system that it needs to provide the greatest benefits possible to the greatest numbers is virtually axiomatic to any political philosophy, and yet somehow this insight has been claimed (and, what is more, largely conceded) to a particular heavily socialist-oriented school. It is in my opinion a more remarkable reversal than the identification of “liberal” in America with quasi-socialism.

And if the valid elements of utilitarianism are to be preserved it is precisely a more liberal understanding of social ethics that is necessary. As any student of introductory economics will know, maximizing wealth does not necessarily (and in fact rarely) equalizes wealth among the various participants in commerce. Creating the greatest economic well-being will in other words probably not result in everyone being equally well-off. The analogy to social philosophy is crude but essentially valid. There too the utilitarians have deceived by dogmatic presuppositions into believing that the greatest total well-being must be defined by equality among the greatest possible numbers. A brief example to illustrate (which is economic in nature, but only because that is more easily quantifiable): a man taking this as his normative goal would probably then try to do an equal amount of good to as many people as possible. When it came time for him to draw up his will, he should logically divide up his money into the smallest equal fractions possible so as to distribute it among as many people as possible. Quite apart from the special claims upon him that those close to him are traditionally supposed to have, need it be said that the total benefit of his generosity would most likely be considerably less than had he chosen to give it only to a small group of friends and family. Because the penny or less that each of that large number will receive is unlikely to be of much value to any of them, and in fact for the small number that could reasonably expect more it will probably in fact have a negative effect, and seem insulting if not catastrophic. Whereas a considerable gift to those who are already close to him and presumably care and are cared for by him will be of considerably more value to them, and probably also of greater reciprocal value to him, who will enjoy their gratitude (leaving aside the question of whether he will even be alive at that point to notice). Of course some at this point might notice a strange parallel between this conclusion and the mechanism of genetic kin selection that I discussed earlier, and decide that it is then merely a rationalization of the operation of “the selfish gene,” but firstly it would probably be premature to make any grandiose claims about an area still so little-understood as the nexus between society and biology and secondly even if it were the case it would take austere conception of morals to imagine that they don’t or shouldn’t provide some gratification to our biological impulses.

End platitude dependency!

I’m no lover of the Saudi royal family or SUV’s, but it strikes me the trendy environmentalist battle cry to “end oil dependency” would sound a lot less attractive if it were “let’s impoverish the Middle East,” which is what it really means. Of course creating or sustaining poverty is the dark unstated goal of the environmental movement as a whole, since wealth is a function of consumption of resources and the environmental movement generally takes as its cue the witholding of natural resources from human use. But in this case I find it particularly amusing that the environmentalist bleating happens to accord so nicely to nationalist economics and politics.

Isn’t the problem with the Middle East not that it profits too much from international trade but that it is not involved enough? I don’t deny that the situation is far from ideal to today, when a single region and culture holds near-monopolistic control over a single critical natural resource, which comprises virtually the whole of its economic output. But the call to “end oil dependency” is a purely negative step: subtract oil, thus cutting off the Arab world’s cash flow, and what will you have? Africa. Less dangerous internationally for the immediate future? Undoubtedly. Better overall for humanity? Only the callous and myopic would believe that. As I recall a debate of a somewhat similar nature ensued during the occupation of Germany after World War II. Since the German political system had seemingly showed itself incorrigibly expansionist, autocratic and militant, some believed that the country should be reduced to a pre-industrial pastoral state to spare the rest of the world. Fortunately, some people (here’s looking at you, Mr. Hayek) recognized that the problem was not that Germany needed to be cut off from the rest of the world but that it had never really been integrated enough, with its nationalist-based economy and political system. Say what one will about the EU, its undoubted achievement has been to make Germans, and all Europeans, realize that they really cannot exist without each other.

The oil industry pretty much functions as a giant welfare program for Middle Eastern nations. It produces huge amounts of money but, due to its particular nature, it doesn’t actually require the residents to engage in economic activity to any great degree. It is a resource, essentially inalienable, that just sits underground until someone pays the owner of the ground above to let them tap it. No need to produce anything that consumers wish to buy–the product is already there, so these nominal producers don’t have to do anything. The change in social institutions and personal habits that usually accompanies the birth of a commercial society is thus not necessary. It should be no surprise then that the political liberalization that usually ensues from this development has not obtained in the Middle East to a degree commensurate with the amount of wealth created. And that money has given greater reach and influence to the non-liberal ideals of these societies even though it has not had the power to liberalize them. But just because the money derived from oil has not brought about sufficiently deep changes in these societies, does not mean that subtracting that money will be any kind of solution to the basic problems. How much oil is there in Pakistan? Afghanistan? Somalia? Chechnya? Morocco? Are these states any less problematic to their own citizens or Westerners? In short, while I definitely concur that it is highly desirable that the nature of trade with the Middle East change, it seems to me that the only true solution to the problems in our relationship to the Middle East is a broader economic investment in those states, not a lesser one.


I have to admit, I’m a bit confused about the uproar about San Francisco Giants radio host Larry Krueger’s comments last week. For those that don’t watch ESPN every single day, here’s what he said:

I just cannot watch this brand of baseball any longer. A truly awful, pathetic, old team that only promises to be worse two years from now. It’s just awful. It really is bad to watch. Brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.

He went on to compare Giants’ manager Felipe Alou’s brain to a bowl of cream of wheat. Alou is understandably upset, though not so much at the Cream of Wheat thing as the “brain-dead Caribbean hitters” crack. Alou refuses to accept Krueger’s apology on the grounds that “hundreds of millions of people” were offended and that he doesn’t speak for all of them.

Now, first off, it seems to me that ol’ Felipe is speaking for “hundreds of millions of people” when he categorically claims that they’re offended. Second, there aren’t anywhere close to 100 million people living in the Caribbean. Most importantly, though, I just can’t see what is so terrible about what Krueger said.

Now, let me back up a bit and say that, from all that I’ve read, Krueger is probably an asshole, so I don’t want to defend the guy as a person. And calling people “brain-dead” isn’t a very nice thing to do, nor is comparing the brain of a man generally regarded as one of the best managers in baseball to a bowl of Cream of Wheat.

However, these things are not what have Felipe Alou steamed; he’s mad about the word “Caribbean” in the above statement. Alou apparently took this to be Krueger saying that all ballplayers of Caribbean descent (including both Felipe and his son Moises, who plays on the Giants) are “brain-dead”. Which may be what Krueger thinks, but what Krueger actually said seems to be more indicative that he’s sick and tired of seeing Deivi Cruz swinging at pitches over his head night after night. Of course, if Krueger was talking about Deivi Cruz or Alex Sanchez (both born in the Caribbean and both with a tendency to swing at anything thrown in their general direction), he should have called them out specifically, rather than making a more general statement. I’m ever a proponent of not generalizing about groups of people and, on those grounds, I agree with the condemnation of what Krueger said; I just don’t understand the level of vehemence being voiced by Alou and various talking heads on TV.

Now, Alou and everybody else knows that Krueger is participating in the stereotype that Caribbean (and, for that matter, Latino players generally) are a free-swinging lot (epitomized by the phrase “you don’t walk off the island,” which has been apocryphally ascribed to various players born in the Dominican Republic). As with all stereotypes, this one fails in many particular examples, but, as with many stereotypes, it’s also largely true. If you look at JC’s data, Hispanic players in 2004 had a batting average of .275 and an on-base percentage of .334, whereas non-Hispanic players had a BA of .272 and an OBP of .345. The difference between BA and OBP is almost entirely accounted for by walks, so the differential indicates pretty clearly that Hispanic players walk less (and, therefore, presumably swing more freely) than their non-Hispanic counterparts.1

Furthermore, the Giants themselves certainly aren’t very selective at the plate. According to statistics, they’re currently 4th in the National League in batting average while sitting 12th in OBP. They’re 15th (out of 16) in walks (though this may in part be due to the fact that Giants hitters have played the fewest games and had the fewest plate appearances of any team in the league), last in pitches per plate appearance and 15th in walks per plate appearance. All of that pretty conclusively proves that the Giants are indeed swinging at a lot of “slop”.

So, although Krueger’s comments were unnecessarily broad, he’s not entirely wrong, either. Latin players generally are more free-swinging than other players and the Giants in particular are a very free-swinging team. On the other hand, the statistics I cited above don’t distinguish between Hispanic and non-Hispanic players on the Giants. Although I’m much too lazy to break down the data on each individual player, I’ve seen arguments that, aside from Cruz and Sanchez (who are mostly bench players, anyway), most of the Hispanic players on the Giants (Alou, Alfonzo, Vizquel) are actually playing pretty well this year; in fact, the bigger problem seems to be Americans Grissom, Ellison and Snow, and even the non-Hispanic players who are playing well (Matheny, Niekro) apparently don’t walk very much (of course, the Giants’ biggest problem is that they’ve cheapskated on pretty much their entire lineup aside from Barry Bonds for years, which doesn’t work so well when Bonds hasn’t played in a single game all year).

Anyway, I’ve now utterly forgotten my point (if I ever had one to begin with), but I think it was something along the lines of the following: what Krueger said was pretty stupid and “insensitive” (whatever that term even means in this day and age of universal victimhood); on the other hand, the outrage expressed by Alou in particular and the commentariat in general seems (to me) somewhat overblown and, to be honest, a bit manufactured.

  1. The careful reader has, presumably, already noticed that I’ve shifted my emphasis from Caribbean players to Latin or Hispanic players. This is primarily because the data I’ve been able to find is only distinguished between Hispanic and non-Hispanic players. Moreover, most Hispanic players in major league baseball are from the Caribbean and, of those that aren’t, the majority are from countries that border the Caribbean (primarily Mexico and Venezuela) and so arguably fall under the “Caribbean ballplayers” rubric, anyway.


I was thinking recently about getting Freakonomics, the super popular book by the economist Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, despite annoyance at the “rogue economist” pose adopted by a totally institutional figure (he teaches economics at U. Chicago, for God’s sake!) applying archiorthodoxe economic analytical premises and methodology to standard market questions. But I come to find out soon after that the most important contention in the book, that the legalization of abortion has caused crime to decrease, had already erupted in factual despute a full six years ago. Here is a debate between Levitt and his primary critic on this issue, Steve Sailer (you have to click on the different days to read all the responses and counter-responses). It’s a good example of how two presumably intelligent people with two different sets of statistics can talk entirely at cross-purposes.

Levitt shows a pretty strong correlation between falling crime and the advent of legalized abortion, being that crime rates began to fall 18 years after Roe v. Wade, that crime rates in the four states that legalized abortion three years earlier began to fall three years earlier as well, that states with higher abortion rates experienced a greater fall in the crime rate in the ’90’s than states with low abortion rates, and that the fall in crime for those years is restricted to the under-25 demographic. Quite suggestive, though hardly conclusive.

Then Sailer introduces a bit of a non sequiter. Rather than offering an alternative explanation for the decrease in rate of crimes as a whole, he chooses to concentrate only on the fluctuations in murder rate. Why, I’m not sure, though I seem to recall him in another article that he wrote claiming that he felt general crime statistics to be unreliable, since murder is virtually the only crime that almost by definition does not suffer much from under- or over-reporting. However, as I have indicated before, statistics can have comparative validity even if their absolute validity is suspect. In other words, a difference in numbers between different locations or groups or a change over time may indicate a definite trend or difference even if the figures themselves are dubious. If the same methodology is applied constantly, then changes or variations are probably caused by something real. The other problem is that focusing only on murder narrows both the number and type of cases, making the data more suspeptible to distortions that do not affect the whole spectrum of crimes. And in fact the principal factor that Sailer identifies, the crack epidemic of the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, is even by he himself acknowledged to be something of an aberration. Despite Levitt’s insinuations, he is not really suggesting that the crack problem had anything to do with abortion, but its statistical effect was probably disproportionately concentrated in a few types of crime: murder, drug trafficking (obviously), and maybe a few incidental categories like burglary and weapons charges. Probably few people, certainly not I nor Levitt, would dispute that Sailer’s analysis of what was happening with the murder rate during these years is probably correct, but it is precisely the factor he identifies as the primary culprit which makes it hard for me to believe that the murder rate is a better indication of the true state of crime during this period than general crime statistics (unless one could argue that the effect of abortion on crime would also be concentrated to the same degree in the same categories as crack, but there is no support offered for that possiblity).

However, rather than settling for a response of that nature, Levitt launches an even stranger non sequiter. He bizarrely insists that for Sailer’s hypothesis to be plausible the murder rate has to conform to the pattern of his general crime statistics over the time period in question and that for some reason there has to be a correlation between areas of high abortion rates and the epicenters of the crack explosion. These criteria are so obviously random and unrelated that I cannot believe them to be purely the result of confused thinking, particularly by an economist of good standing (who is reputed by his supporters to be a genius), and I am forced to conclude that it is probably a deliberate obfuscation of the issue on the part of Levitt. Levitt seems either blind or averse to the fact that Sailer never accepted the general crime statistics upon which he bases his analysis in the first place, and hence the two cannot even agree on the nature of the phenomenon that they are analyzing, let alone what caused it. Sailer is not so much disputing the reasons for the drop in crime as disputing that there even was a drop in crime. And yet one would expect the growth of an enormously profitable narcotics industry to temporarily overwhelm long-term structural changes that cause reduced crime, much as the advent of the heroin trade 30 years earlier caused a similar spike in mafia-type crime. And even Sailer acknowledges that the rise in the murder rate might have been even greater had abortion not been legal.

So Levitt seems to me to have a stronger case, but I have my doubts that abortion really decreases crime, not least because it is not certain that it is even an isolable phenomenon. Sailer very perceptively notes at the end that abortion has accompanied a broad number of social trends associated with the growth of the underclass which are not exactly conducive to decreased crime (see Dalrymple again). I think he is quite right that the number of unwanted babies aborted may be overwhelmed by the even greater number of babies conceived casually because it was assumed that thanks to abortion contraception was unnecessary and then not aborted for whatever reason. That, of course, we will probably never know. Secondly, I’m not sure that the abortion/crime statistics for other countries would back Levitt up. In much of Europe, for example, where abortion has been legal (except in Ireland) for at least as long as in the States, crime has been rising in recent years, esp. in the U.K., where crime rates have surpassed those in the U.S. in all major categories except murder. But then again, one can only debate that issue if one believes that crime in the U.S. has actually gone down in the first place…

Justice is a funny thing

Something inherent in the necessities of successful action . . . carried with it the moral degradation of the idea.

                                      --Joseph Conrad

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

                                       --J.R.R. Tolkien

The racist gene

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the concept of “ethnic nepotism,” the idea that racial/ethnic discrimination is grounded in kinship selection, a.k.a. The Selfish Gene, which posits that organisms seek to maximize the evolutionary fitness of their genes even if this involves a sacrifice of their personal reproductive fitness. This is the standard biological explanation of altruism to which most biology textbooks nowadays adhere. But of course using it to explain racial and ethnic discrimination has proven considerably more controversial, partly for scientific reasons, partly no doubt because it is feared that doing so would in a sense legitimize it. For all that it might still be the case.

This posting gives a good summary of some of the main issues and a decent selection of links. As I understand it, the main objection to the linkage of ethnic nepotism to kin selection is crystallized in the following analogy from The Selfish Gene:

“Kin selection is emphatically not a special case of group selection…If an altruistic animal has a cake to give to relatives, there is no reason at all for it to give every relative a slice, the size of the slices being determined by the closeness of relatedness. Indeed this would lead to absurdity since all members of the species, not to mention other species, are at least distant relatives who could each therefore claim a carefully measured crumb! To the contrary, if there is a close relative in the vicinity, there is no reason to give a distant relative any cake at all. Subject to other complications like laws of diminishing returns, the whole cake should be given to the closest relative available.”

But this is not sufficient to rebut the possibility that other forms of “group selection” adhere to the same basic principle, i.e. degree of genetic relatedness. This is because Dawkins seems to overlook the shifting nature of group identification. Sure, if there were only one tribe or one family in the world to divide up its resources, it would probably make sense for individuals to look after only their own offspring or “closest relative available,” to the prejudice of all the others. Perhaps the nearest real counterpart to this are dynasties in despotic states. The more a single family monopolizes power, the greater and more vicious the level of intra-familial competition that usually ensues. But confronted with a rival outside the family the group will tend to cohere to a much greater extent. This is the insight implied in the old saw that the world will only unite in the face of an extra-terrestrial invasion. So maybe within a group kin selection will favor only the nearest relatives, but in the face of competition from outside the group solidarity among all the members will likely increase. In essence, then, Dawkins seems to be attacking the linkage between kin selection and other forms of group selection on the grounds that there is a firm division rather than a gradation between altruistic and competitive favor. However, that is not to say that that division does not vary depending on the situation and the nature of the competition. We see this on a daily basis in, for example, the greater social solidarity in times of war or other (perceived) general emergency. Racial and ethnic variation are not bad proximate indications of genetic difference and, although eluding a rebuttal is certainly not a convincing argument for a theory, given the greater explanatory power and simplicity ethnic nepotism gives to the theory of kin selection I see no reason to dismiss the possibility at this point. And if it should prove to be true it would also seem clear that even avoiding the naturalistic fallacy racial and ethnic differences are not the meaningless or arbitrary distinctions that they are generally portrayed as being, nor, having a biological basis, could they probably be culturally conditioned out any more than can be sexual jealousy.

Crisis in Bavaria!

Some of you may have scoffed when I suggested a while back that socialized medicine means your health decisions become public policy, but now we have further confirmation: the EU wants to outlaw dirndls in Bavarian beer gardens on the grounds that revealing so much cleavage is a serious skin cancer risk. Aside from the obvious blow this would deal to the masturbation fantasies of millions of men (and maybe a few women) and to the Oktoberfest revenue stream, I can’t help but think this is just another step on the road to mandatory one-piece grey jumpsuits for everybody.

In other news, if you haven’t already, you should definitely check out and start using:

  • S5 — Short for Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System, S5 is an XHTML/CSS/JavaScript alternative to PowerPoint, which means you can view and display your presentation with any browser on any computer using any operating system. Admittedly, PowerPoint sucks, but if you must do a PowerPoint presentation, you should be a true geek and use S5.
  • Gmaps Pedometer — If you haven’t already realized that Google Maps is ten times better than pretty much any other online map service out there, get with the program. And if you want to know how long your morning run really is or whether the Magnificent Mile is really a mile (it’s not), well, the Gmaps pedometer is like cartographic crack.

Also, it’s not really a web app like the above, but it’s cool that you can put ebooks on your iPod (if you have one). Of course, the iPod screen is still pretty damn small; has anybody out there found a workable solution for reading books off, say, Project Gutenberg? I read all of The Count of Monte Cristo with my laptop perched on my chest, but, in general, it’s too much of a hassle not to make it worthwhile just to buy the damn book from the bookstore.

Nietzsche’s checking out Katharine Neville’s ass

After hitting up the bookstore tonight and picking up more Dumas, more Klosterman and the first book of Frank Miller’s Sin City, I stopped off at a local deli to pick up a cheesesteak and some stout. In other words, I was pretty much supplied for the weekend (except, of course, that I have to spend most of my day tomorrow grading exams, doing laundry and getting a haircut).

Anyway, as I was walking home, I couldn’t help but think to myself that I could hardly have picked three more dissimilar books, at least superficially (well, I could have made it even more of an odd collection if I’d remembered to stop back by the Philosophy section and pick up The Ego and its Own as I’d originally intended). Which is, to be honest, not entirely unusual for me. Here, for example are nine consecutive books from one of my shelves:

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
Chaos Theory, by Robert P. Murphy
The Man Without Qualities, vol. I, by Robert Musil
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
Complex Analysis in One Variable, by Raghavan Narasimhan and Yves Nievergelt
Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada/Cien sonetos de amor, by Pablo Neruda
The Eight, by Katherine Neville
Basic Writings of Nietzsche, ed./trans. by Walter Kaufmann
Roads to Santiago, Cees Nooteboom

For some reason, I’m always constantly amused by the odd conjunctions imposed by an alphabetical ordering system. Here’s Bob Murphy, with whom I’ve interacted quite extensively in online forums and who now teaches at a college I once (briefly) considered attending, sandwiched in between the incredibly hip Murakami and the modernist/obscurantist hero Musil. Neruda and his legion of soft-headed fans are looking down their noses at Neville’s formulaic plotline while Nietzsche checks out her ass. Nooteboom and Nabokov are trying to have an intelligent conversation, but with the Neville/Nietzsche melodrama looking like it’s headed for violence and 10 million annoying teenagers telling Neruda he’s “so, like, brilliant”, they’d settle for merely being able to hear each other.

As for poor old Narasimhan, I can’t decide if he’s trying to get someone, anyone to listen to his elegant proof of the Corona Theorem, or if he’s just sitting there wondering “What the fuck happened to me? Who are these people?”