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A helpful hint

If your dissertation involves a section on mnemonic techniques,

do not

wait until exam term to chase down the references. You’ll find a lot of empty gaps on the library shelves…


On the bright side, I think I’m on target to have a draft finished by monday, which gives me a week to fiddle with it before the deadline. And I


it’s going to be good, but then I am a little biased.

In other good news, it seems somebody in the UN read my rant on water in Iraq. At least, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, cited it in his annual report to the UN human rights commission last month. Also, the rant is getting printed for the third time – the latest is a semi-academic anthology on human rights in foreign policy.

Also on the political, we have just put together a piece on the use of napalm-type weapons in Iraq. Among other things, there’s a wonderfully flat denial by Adam Ingram:

The United States have confirmed to us that they have not used Mark 77 firebombs, which are essentially napalm canisters, in Iraq at any time.[Hansard, 11 January]

Unfortunately for Ingram, the US State Department website says:

Mark-77 firebombs, which have a similar effect to napalm, were used against enemy positions in 2003


It’s trivia, but it’s always fun to find politicians lying


I’m just leaving this here as a gentle hint to lavendersparkle and jmimages…

What Pulp Fiction Character Are You?

Your name alone strikes fear into others; but maybe, just maybe, there’s a little vulnerability and weakness beneath that stoic, fierce exterior of yours.

Take the What Pulp Fiction Character Are You? quiz.

Sir William Jones: getting lucky

The Sanskrit language whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined then either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.

That comment is an obligatory part of the preface to any book involving Sanskrit. It comes from a speech William Jones gave to the Asiatic Society of Calcutta in 1786. It’s the first claim of a common root for Sanskrit, Latin and Greek, and so Jones generally gets credited with the origin of Indo-European linguistics.

I had assumed that the comment was based on some kind of reasoned argument. Then on Monday I read the paper it came from. Jones wasn’t coming up with a systematic theory of historical linguistics – he was clumping together any similarity he could find, with no regard to plausibility. He happened to get lucky this one time, but he wasn’t any saner than, say, Immanuel Velikovsky.

Here are a couple of the other brilliant ideas Jones had in that speech in Calcutta:

It is very remarkable, that the Peruvians, whose Incas boasted of the same descent, styled their greatest festival Ramasitoa; whence we may suppose that South America was peopled by the same race, who imported into the farthest parts of Asia the rites and fabulous history of Rama

Nor can we doubt, that Wod or Odin, whose religion, as the northern historians admit, was introduced into Scandinavia by a foreign race, was the same with Buddh, whose rites were probably imported into India nearly at the same time

The letters on many of these monuments appear, as I have before intimated, partly of Indian, and partly of Abyssinian or Ethiopick, origin; and all these indupitable facts may induce no ill-grounded opinion, that Ethiopia and Hindustan were peopled or colonized by the same extraordianry race

The moral of the story is that if you spin out enough wild ideas, one of them will eventually turn out to be right, and a couple of hundred years later you’ll be remembered as a great scholar and visionary.