Why /are/ there ‘y’s in the English name of Kyrgyzstan? Almost everywhere else the country is ‘Kirgistan’, ‘Kirgisia’, or something similarly y-free. Going through wikipedia, the only other non-cyrillic languages* to use y are Aceh, Cebuano (Philippines), Min, Turkmen, Vietnamese, and others whose names I don’t recognize.


It is hard to exaggerate Mr Erdös’s passion. For 19 hours a day, seven days a week, stimulated by coffee, and later by amphetamines, he worked on mathematics. He might start a game of chess, but would probably doze off until the conversation returned to maths. To find another life this century as intensely devoted to abstraction, one must reach back to Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), who stripped his life bare for philosophy. But whereas Wittgenstein discarded his family fortune as a form of self-torture, Mr Erdös gave away most of the money he earned because he simply did not need it. “Private property is a nuisance,” he would say. And where Wittgenstein was driven by near suicidal compulsions, Mr Erdös simply constructed his life to extract from his magnificent obsession the maximum amount of happiness.

Source; there’s much else on the site.

Also here are personal reminiscences. Fun to think how, in 60 years time or so, we’ll be seeing the deaths of the last mathematicians who worked with him directly. The last people who really knew (i.e. who worked with) the man himself.

Counter-view here

Sex and space

Just unearthed an old email I wrote about the relationship between sex and sexuality. Figure I may as well put it up here, since I’m not likely to do anything more with it otherwise.

The basic idea is that many elements of sexuality aren’t usually considered in terms of space — but they could be. A cluster of intimate practices are based around the restriction of space (and the associated physical sensations of pressure, darkness, the touch of whatever boundary is limiting the space). I’m thinking of hugs, bondage, the wearing of corsets and latex, perhaps with vacuum-beds as an extreme case. These tend to also be ‘about’ the complete control and presence in that restrained space and sensations of security (think of people who feel safe when a partner is sitting or lying on them). Often they’re described in the language of restricted freedom; thinking about them instead in terms of space maybe leads you to more psychoanalytic interpretations of the practices; i.e. connecting them to being in the womb. [I have no background in the area, but it certainly seems a possibility]

But you’d need, somehow, to connect that to the sensations of DISembodiment and DISplacement during sex — orgasm, in particular, seems often described in terms of being away from the surrounding environment, in a space which has shrunk to just the two(?) partners. If you cease to be separate bodies, can you still be separate bodies

in space

? To put it another way, ‘staring at the ceiling’ is a common idiomatic description of being bored during sex. If you’re aware of where you are, the sex isn’t good enough.

[based on reactions to a talk at Salon Populaire 6 months ago]


Bitchy Jones, of course:

My point is this. Femdom is broken. It’s not even there. In a way you can’t blame mandoms for thinking there are no actual dominant women. Real femdom based on the desires of dominant women and submissive men coming together to find places of intersection is gone or never was. All there is a male-desire based economy so pervasive that even people doing stuff for themselves think the women needs to be dressed like and advert for herself as if she needs the business. And it isn’t really surprising that this popular idea of femdom fake out doesn’t have the visceral power of the popular idea of mandom. Because it isn’t real.


oddly decent article by John Naughton in the Guardian:

Consider, for instance, how the views of the US administration have changed in just a year. On 21 January, secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about internet freedom, in Washington DC, which many people welcomed and most interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google. “Information has never been so free,” declared Clinton. “Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”

She went on to relate how, during his visit to China in November 2009, Barack Obama had “defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity.” Given what we now know, that Clinton speech reads like a satirical masterpiece.


Sad news for French multiculturalism, as the only (!) politician who dared wear an islamic headscarf* has left the Nouvea Parti Anti-Capitaliste. Brent Whelan:

Moussaïd gave the party its most widespread–though least welcome–burst of publicity last February when she appeared on the list of local candidates in the regional election wearing the Islamic headscarf she favors. Squeezed between the strident criticisms of feminists and secularists, she held her ground–and insisted on her qualifications as a long-time social and party activist–with grace and poise that belied her 21 years. (See my previous post, “Veiled Threat,” 2/15/10) After a storm of polemics, mostly hostile, both inside the party and in highly visible venues such as the Idées pages of Le Monde, Ilham and her local supporters had hoped the delicate issues of tolerance and diversity she raised could be fully aired in a party congress. But as that public debate receded in time–originally scheduled for November, then December, now February–she apparently lost confidence in the party’s openness to her situation, and now her chapter is closed.

* We’re not even talking about a hijab here, by the looks of it — just a hair covering. i.e. something that wouldn’t be the faintest bit controversial in any halfway-sane political climate.


The state of Wisconsin has gone an entire deer hunting season without someone getting killed. That’s great. There were over 600,000 hunters.

Allow me to restate that number. Over the last two months, the eighth largest army in the world – more men under arms than Iran; more than France and Germany combined – deployed to the woods of a single American state to help keep the deer menace at bay. [source]

Jet and Coal

Surprising to read in BldgBlog about jet engines being used to put out fires in coal mines.

The engineering field of putting out coal fires has intermittently intrigued me since I


that they (supposedly) account for as much CO2 emission as all road vehicles in the US. Putting out these fires is an incredible engineering challenge, and one that even the most narrow-minded environmentalist couldn’t object to.

So I can’t help daydreaming about the kind of organization that could put out the fires. A band of idealistic engineers — top graduates from Caltech and IIT, grizzled mechanics who’ve spent decades underground, geologists whose morals wouldn’t let them stay in the oil industry. They’re funded by a philanthropic tech billionnaire, or perhaps just from carbon offsetting. Together they cross the world, dragging exotic equipment and wrangling McGyver-like contraptions to deal with each mine. One day they land Thunderbird One in Centralia, point the engines down one of the shafts, and finally put out the fires that have been burning for decades.

Privacy, Secrecy, Pseudonyms: between Kurt and Pandora

Productivity and secrecy don’t go well together.

I’ve been slow to accept this, because my private emblem of productivity is the neurotic workaholic. I find it most comfortable to imagine people driven by self-hatred, flinging themselves into creative obsessions to justify lives they would otherwise consider unacceptable, or as a diversion from the emotional wildfires and the social obligations which would otherwise pursue them.

This, of course, says more about me than about the outside world. Sad-but-productive has always been a figure of hope for me, alongside all those people who claim to ride out emotional troubles by burying themselves in work. It’s appealing precisely because it’s never worked for me — because my ability to get


done evaporates when I’m down. I’d love to clap my hands and believe that if I just learn to mope in the right way, I could be simultaneously sad and productive.

Because the alternative model of productivity — the stronger one, the one built around self-expression rather than self-loathing — is even harder to picture myself in connection with. But this is the more internally coherent kind. It comes from treating everything you encounter with open acceptance, welcoming all of life as material for creation. From not (as I do) ramming 90% of life into the closet, and trying to show people the remaining 10%.

Using your entire life in this way necessarily means abandoning the old pseudo-Romantic lie that each lifetime tells only one story. It requires saying “I am large. I contain multitudes”

Pseudonyms form one escape. Remember Weimar’s cluster of insanely prolific intellectual streetfighters, people such as Kurt Tucholsky. Most of them were forced to write under multiple aliases. Partly this was for political reasons, partly to deal with the sheer volume of their output. Also, though, it was (was it?) to allow free rein to the different parts of their personalities, without running everything through one brand. Multiple personality as lifestyle choice, 70 years before Grant Morrison.

Nina Power on chocolate and perky passivity

Nina Power on chocolate:

Chocolate represents that acceptable everyday extravagance that all-too-neatly encapsulates just the right kind of perky passivity that feminized capitalism just moves to reward with a bubble bath and some crumbly coca solids. It sticks in the mouth a bit. In a total abnegation of her own subjective capacity as well as the entire history of huamn achievement, Fay Weldon, for example, claims that:

“What makes women happy? Ask them and they’ll reply, in roughly this order: sex, food, friends, family, shopping, chocolate”

I think there’s a very real sense in which women are supposed to say ‘chocolate’ whenever somebody asks them what they want. It irresistibly symbolizes any or all of the following: ontological girlishness, a naughty viginity that gets its kicks only from a widely-available mucky cloying substitute, a kind of pecuniary decadence [One-Dimensional Woman, pp 36-7]