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More opinions and views from Dan Byrnes

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Literary (International) - Useful links below plus some book reviews right here..

Applauding Gottlieb on philosophy

Dan Byrnes, a December 2017 review of Anthony Gottlieb, The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance. (Penguin, 2000/2016 ) and Anthony Gottlieb, The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy. Penguin, 2016/2017. A sales blurb on the cover of Dream of Enlightenment says, “I have never seen a discussion of philosophy as fun to read.”, and I feel much the same. This review is a joy to put together, and we should all applaud Gottlieb as a genius with philosophy and a man of humour as well. Gottlieb makes philosophy a kind of fun. (Well, all right, if you like that kind of fun.)

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These are two books that Gottlieb produced since before 2000 and 2017, and one rather suspects there is a volume three in the works, to take in the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries, Einstein and the quantum revolutions in Physics, Wittgenstein and so on. Just to be thorough as our pictures of reality have changed.

And to set the record straight, my purchase of Gottlieb’s books was due to advertising by good-old-fashioned word of mouth – I live in New South Wales, Australia, and one of my friends in Melbourne, Victoria, had gotten enthusiastic about Gottlieb and told me of his books … indeed, shoved them into my hands.

And suffice to say, Gottlieb, who thinks his own thoughts when he feels moved, knows his philosophy and his philosophers more than enough, and he writes well and wittily about them in a well-informed way. He also has a sense of humour, as with The Dream of Enlightenment, p. 243, where he compares some malcontent philosophers (Rousseau and other critics of the Enlightenment) to the slow-learner Judean leader who is slow to pick up on what the Romans had ever done for us. Go figure (this is from Monty Python’s famed movie, Life of Brian).

And Gottlieb also has a sense of scepticism about philosophy, as when in The Dream of Reason, (p. 355), Gottlieb writes, “By our standards, virtually all the theories of the ancient thinkers (except mathematicians) are wrong.”. Go figure. I have been aching for years to read someone writing this, as it’s what I think. I often wonder, why no one has yet produced a large book (or a large website) which outlines where Ancient Greek philosophers were WRONG, as a needed corrective to the way the ancient Greek philosophers are over-rated. But to move on, where are Enlightenment or later philosophers wrong??? Where are they right, or should we more say, where are they useful?

Methinks the elephant in the room here is defecating hugely, but all the universities in the world are pretending this elephant’s excreta doesn’t stink. To move back then to Gottlieb after expressing gratitude to him. Gottlieb offers a grandly-conceived introduction to the best ancient Greek philosophers. A wonderful discussion of issues current with the Enlightenment. But what is wrong with me? I do keep wondering what “philosophers” got up to in Ancient India, maybe in Ancient Egypt, with the peoples who were contemporaries of the more-famous Ancient Greeks. And where do the Egyptian Mysteries and the Greek Mysteries fit in with anything?

Philosophy after all is thinking about thinking, while we, the ordinary people, tend (across historical eras) to see the world as a kind of informative mystery and when we are older, we might wonder if our existence is but a figment in someone else’s dream Somehow I suspect the full story of ancient thinkers has not been told yet, or, to put it another way, the full story of widespread human ignorance in ancient times has still not been told … so Gottlieb will have to do until it is told. Highly recommended. (Ends)

How not to get ahead of time

Review December 2017 by Dan Byrnes of Alan Burdick, Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation. Melbourne Australia, Text Publishing, 2017.

This is a book not so much about time, as about time perception, how we perceive time and its passages. Yes, that is right, it is all more complicated than we thought.

Burdock says, physical time needs to be translated into what physiology can understand, and since all of us are time dependent, the sense of what time it is is social (and hence can be manipulated, as it once was when the world was divided into time zones to synchronize railway movements in different cities in different countries).

Burdick does update on a few points, but I consider his book a failure as it mostly treats new US research on time perception (down to nanoseconds, which is the direction that psychological research on time has gone, more so in the US). There is no discussion of music, on any scientific differences in international positions on time perception (if any). Memory is indexed but music is not.

I need to mention a proviso here … the best book I have ever read on time was by J. B. Priestley, years ago now. However, Priestley was mostly discussing our perceptions of external time. In comparison with which, the single most valuable section of this book by Burdick is his discussion of physiological or non-physical time (where physical is as in the sense of, physics). Time is outside us (as when night turns to day and time progresses, the arrow of time goes forward) – but it is also inside us, as all the cells of our body heed circadian rhythms that ultimately heed the movements of the Earth around the Sun! Burdick insists this, I feel he is right, but other questions he tends to ignore – particularly musical questions. (Music is the most time-bound art there is!)

I also want to know more than Burdick tells us about how and why children feel time moves so slowly, a question Burdick does address while old people feel that time moves oh-so-fast, a question my grandmother put me onto as she entered her early 80s. (She lived to be 92.) All this is discussed, but unsatisfactorily.

Burdick does discuss as separate topics, duration, temporal order, tense (the linguistic sense of past, present and future) and the feeling of nowness. These are all different topics. Rather surprisingly, we find time is like wine; it is of many types, it might depend in which culture or at what age it is grown (or experienced). Our sense of time is something we grow into as we get older, which is precisely why I want to know what happens for older people, but Burdick does not tell us clearly. Again, oddly, while he discusses time, Burdick does not discuss space, yet the Einsteinian revolution in quantum physics tells us that you cannot speak of one without speaking of the other. Perhaps these really are questions that are related-but-separate? Burdick also fails to discuss sex, whereas I want to know why when I was having fun in the sack, and the lady involved often seemed to agree, time got to seem to be absent, and very interesting and pleasurable it was too. Burdick does not tell me what was going on here, or seeming to be going on, he simply does not say. (Nor does Burdick index the word – sex.)

Well, enough of the grumbles. The more I grumble the more the reader will grumble, and together we will have to agree; this book on time is taking up far too much time. I think there is an American cultural problem here that Burdick cannot help reporting as by trade he is a reporter who is an American. Still, Burdick warns us that the topic of time is full of rabbit holes – and it is. Somehow, I still prefer the treatment by J. B. Priestley. Burdick, I rather think, got lost in recent American psychological experiments, got lost in their preoccupations with mixing small slices of time with drugs. A waste of time, then?

Trying to understand war

Dan Byrnes in review of John Keegan, A History of Warfare. London, Hutchinson/ Random House, 1993.

I mostly read social, political and maritime history, and rarely read military history unless I absolutely have to, so why did I bother anyway with Keegan here? Well, for one thing, he has a well-considered, philosophical outlook on the history of warfare that I have never encountered before. He also has useful dates in Ancient History I’d enjoy surveying. And once you get into Keegan’s view of Ancient History, he is a lecturer at Sandhurst military academy in the UK, you are gone as a reader, captured in more ways than one by Keegan’s views on the ugly business of war, about which he makes no bones, violently ugly it is.

Although, Keegan rather sidesteps questions about why humanity conducts war, and has done so for so many thousands of years. What Keegan has done is go into the anthropology of warfare, which he does partly as he thinks that the face-to-face combat we are used to in European theatres of war, came from Ancient Greece. Ancient Greek ways of warfare, best represented by the Spartans, became pathways for humanity’s trajectory out of more primitive ways of warfare, which used more ritual and ceremony than westerners are now used to.

The Greeks influenced the Persians and more so the Romans. The Romans transmitted their views on warfare to the edges of their empire, especially to the Germanic peoples. Earlier on, how and why did humanity adopt the habit of building defensive walls for cities? (To protect grain and other food supplies?) )The development of horse-based warfare also was a factor, and horse-using fighters learned detachment for their fighting methods, perhaps more so than any other kind of fighter.

But how are all these competing views organized by Keegan as he proceeds? His book is less than chronological, and is more devoted to themes, but I found his use of statistics about war scenarios quite riveting.

Keegan begins his book by flatly contradicting the well-known view of Clausewitz that war is the continuation of policy by other means. Keegan sees this view of Clausewitz as arising from specific times and places in European history – where Napoleon’s star shines rather brightly – a Europe of polities, states, state interests, while war in fact long predates strategy, diplomacy, more modern political realities.

Yet today we are still strung between the pacifist and the lawful bearer of arms; we know that both will prefer to die rather than give up their creed of life. Primitive man long ago felt and saw things differently, yet finally, the lawful bearer of arms had to heed orders that might mean the end of his life , even in “primitive societies”.

Society – and/or civilisation – has always had to live with such dilemmas, but the many different ways humanity has found for dealing with these issues is why Clausewitz is not so much wrong, as severely limited in his outlook, Keegan argues.

Keegan buffs his often philosophical prose with clear references to the uglinesses of war (kidnap, looting, pillage, rape, extortion, systematic vandalism) and he tells us (for example) that if there are many kinds of war, there are no simple answers, either. That in western culture there are three major elements to the conduct of war; the moral, the intellectual and the technological. (Keegan seems to want to leave it to his reader to decide if the advent of atomic warfare was highly meaningful or otherwise.)

This is a very zoom-in/zoom-out sort of book. Keegan gives us close-ups of theatres of war, or he gives us long historical perspectives to ponder, as with the use of gunpowder, the development of cannon. And he also says things such as: a world without organised armies would be uninhabitable. He is also against “cultural rigidity” in the conduct of warfare.

He mentions “military restraint” approvingly, and thinks that military practitioners and/or peacekeepers in the future will still have much to learn (or relearn) from The Orient, or from more primitive cultures. This is why an approach to the anthropology of warfare is to be recommended; it helps to promote cultural adaptiveness where military challenges are involved, or are imposed on us.

And, Clausewitz was wrong. Keegan says, politics must continue, war cannot continue. The two things are separable, they are not necessarily in harness to each other or for each other.

About a bad book about The Crusades

Dan Byrnes in review 3-9-2017 of Zoe Oldenbourg, The Crusades. (Trans from the French by Anne Carter) London, Phoenix Press, 2001. First pub in UK in 1966 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson from a French edition of 1965.

This book is re the first three crusades and the “emotional climate” that produced them, and a history of Kingship of Jerusalem till the arrival of Saladin, the Moslem general and enemy of the Crusaders. And I have to confess that this is one of the oddest books I’ve ever read and perhaps the worst, and I have to ask myself, why is this?

Firstly the book seems badly-planned, with highly erratic discussions, which seems odd, since the author, Oldenbourg, was a fan of Crusades literature. She gives useful potted histories of certain notables, such as Saladin (1137-1193) (a highly respected Moslem general, Kurdish in origins), or The Leper King of Jerusalem, and yet she doesn’t.

(The Leper King of Jerusalem, seen depicted poignantly in the splendid movie Kingdom of Heaven (2005), was Baldwin IV Anjou (1161-1185), son of King of Jerusalem Amalric I Anjou (1135-1173) and Agnes Courtney (earlier a Saxon name), daughter of Count2 of Edessa Joscelin I Courtney (d.1159) and Beatrice Hethoumia of Armenia. Which none of us will find out usefully from Oldenbourg’s book.)

Oldenbourg (she was a daughter of some Russian journalists who disliked the 1917 Russian Revolution and fled to France) reveals that many of Frances’ senior Crusaders were related (their Crusades were then a family show), but she doesn’t demonstrate this usefully. Continually, the reader finds that Oldenbourg “doesn’t” and so: why is this?

I don’t know why, it has to do with poor design of this book project, but part of the how seems to be Oldenburg's overlooking of women’s names in the genealogies she provides. Women’s names are mentioned in the text and are partly explained in the index, but are not mentioned in the genealogies appended. Nor does she mention any indigenous woman from The Holy Land, Lebanon, Armenia, that the Crusaders dealt with. So if anyone wants to pursue relevant genealogies, the index of this book is the best place to look, which is hardly good enough.

We have here a case then of a woman much relying on contemporary documents, mostly written by men, who is writing a book on male warfare and often ignoring the women they dealt with and often had children by. Oldenbourg seems besotted with The Crusades, but is only a little critical of the fact they were called in Europe, and is quite unreliable about the Moslem defence against the Crusades.Maybe she is simply a writer who cares little about casualties in warfare?

Yet she is alarmingly frank about the depredations of the Crusaders, as when during the fourth crusade they went off the rails and attacked areas they should not have, such as Constantinople in 2014. Which is another problem with this book! What is a story from the Fourth Crusade doing in a book on the first three Crusades (1095-1192)?

In short, and quite unlike Oldenbourg, who is nevertheless, and paradoxically, quite readable, despite her evident problems of nomenclature and terminology, I feel the Crusades, as far as they affected existing Holy Land placenames and nearby areas, were the greatest nonsense of jumped-up, absurd, French and German feudalism ever foisted on the world. The Kingship of Jerusalem was a sick feudal/medieval joke, but whether it was as sick as the “Caliphate” declared in 2014 by IS (Islamic State), you will not find out clearly from this book, which is just one of the many things wrong with it. A book then to stay well away from, although Oldenbourg (p. 465) will admit that the Kingship of Jerusalem became “a legal fiction”. I regard it as always and from inception a fiction. I recommend you read for starters, Runciman’s books on the Crusades. (Ends)

As climate change envelopes us ...

Review by Dan Byrnes of: Clive Hamilton, Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene. Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2017.

Have you ever noticed that almost no one talks about the effects on the atmosphere of all those jets in the sky pushing so much hot air into so much cold air? I’ve wondered about it a lot. Currently, the world's media seems full of things that aren't reported.

Clive Hamilton’s latest book, part of a series, is more than timely. Heavily oriented to philosophizing of many kinds, it is basically a dire warning that the entry of our species (homo sapiens) into the Anthropocene since about 1945 represents the crossing of a boundary into territory so new, that all language, all education, all views on human progress, all philosophy, is inadequate, Crossing the boundary has involved a rupture of a multi-dimensional kind between humanity and nature. In short, it’s all a new ball game.

The upshot is that non-believers in the idea that we probably have indeed entered the Anthropocene really don’t understand the issues or what has happened, are reliant on outmoded approaches, will only make further mistakes, and may not be worth talking to. (This of course is an area of belief that climate change sceptics will dispute, in the light of which I ought to say, I’m with Hamilton here, I more than suspect that as he says, humanity has entered the Anthropocene.)

And if half of what Hamilton says is true, this will explain why we might feel that so many of our politicians are not coping, We are right, our politicians are coping quite badly, and the effects of climate change are probably getting worse. It’s time to get serious.

One reason (I think) that our politicians are coping so badly is that they don’t know what to do with a power structure that isn’t underpinned by the world’s fossil fuel and energy supply industries; our politicians are simply terrified of the future. (If you want to see an Australian politician coping quite badly, just watch old footage of Tony Abbott munching on an onion!)

What is the Anthropocene? Oddly enough, Hamilton refrains from defining it quickly or precisely, and he says little about some other topics I thought more than worth mentioning in such contexts: the history of the Industrial Revolution(s), the use of electricity, the links between urbanisation, public transport issues, motor vehicles and roads. He commits these sins of omission about technical topics, I suppose, because it’s more important to use philosophy to assert that we are in new territory.

Importantly, the Anthropocene is a new geological epoch we might have entered, given that the epoch we are used to is called The Holocene, which stretches from the end of the last ice ages to the present. An association of Earth Scientists, The International Commission on Stratigraphy, is considering adding our new epoch, The Anthropocene, to the Geological Time Scale – meaning, our human impact on world geology (or planetary history) is now recognised. Thus the scene is set for particular understandings from Science.

We are at the end of our First Civilization, which did not free itself from the strictures of religion till the Renaissance/Enlightenment, or later. Science was groping, but now our connections with nature will mean we have no choice but to enter whatever Second Civilization that climate change leaves us with. Our First Civilization confused us definitionally about the linkages between Humanity and Nature.

Today we have Hard Science and Earth Sciences, rather out of the ambit say of modern social sciences, which probably are too devoted to First Civilization and its teachings to be useful to our present problems.

Hamilton soon moves on to mention of Earth Systems, though he does not specify them. But at least he mentions them, which is more than Naomi Klein does in her book on climate change,

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate. (2015). Philosophically, and less the Marxist, Hamilton is far more educational and clearer than Klein about what the “everything” involves.

Even more seriously, Hamilton suggests that if history has a meaning, we might be on the verge of finding out what the meaning is! Meanwhile, the Earth Sciences that Hamilton speaks of might only be 40 years old, which might be useful to remember when we wonder why more people, particularly older people, seem too unconcerned about the issues.

Stratigraphy has to do with rock layering, and if rock layer analysts say we are in trouble, Hamilton at least believes them. Hamilton does say, the changes upon us are the kind that normally take two-four generations to sink in.

The impact of humanity on Planet Earth now rivals some of the great forces of nature. We don’t need to watch tornadoes, we need to watch our industries. Our standing on the cusps of two different geological epochs is going to redefine what it means to be usefully human. (And if you want to know more about humanity’s relationships with nature, ask yourself why children so much enjoy visits to a zoo!)

New forms of evil may be upon us and we have to learn how to deal with them. Hamilton’s questions abound. The Anthropocene is the real post-modernism, it really puts Modernity in its place. How do we redefine ethics while our relationships to nature are changing? If we are or if we can be separate from nature, yet we are part of it and are bound to it, what should we do next?

Probably, Hamilton makes us look again at natural history, human history, the history of religion, the history of technological progress, and since he respects his Earth Scientists, even historical periodization. Not only is everything new again, it could be dangerous with it.

The Anthropocene Epoch means that humanity has become so powerful it has, we have, crossed a boundary, ruptured both our past and our future (and all our philosophies), and annoyed our planet so much we have endangered our future.

Basically, Hamilton is concerned that Earth Scientists find that we have released so much carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, the “cascading effects”, all negative, have included ocean acidification, species loss, disruption of the nitrogen cycle. Hamilton oddly enough has little mention of excess methane in the atmosphere, receding glaciers, changes in climate cycles, ocean currents, changes to fish food supply or for coral reefs or with the use of electricity.

What we Moderns, Post-Moderns and electricity lovers have done is made seemingly passive Earth Forces more active, and in unpredictable ways. We don’t know yet to what extent and/or how irresponsibly we have done this.

The cascading negative effects are so many that presumably, Hamilton would smile at One Nation’s climate change denier, Malcolm Roberts, “carbon expert”, who asserts that climate change has not been proved “empirically”, the way most of us would smile at the antics of kindergarten children.

The Science is in, Earth Scientists have proven things, problems show in too many zones to ignore. Mr Roberts is probably using woefully outdated approaches to our problems, For Roberts seems a methodology-free zone, and when he says “empirical”, Roberts also refrains from mentioning which methodologies he’d prefer to see used to assess problems, if any. An Earth Scientist he is not.

However, I continue to wonder why Hamilton doesn’t mention more about electricity, the advent of which seemed like one of humanity’s greatest boons, and my apartment seems to have so many things I enjoy turning on, including the computer this review is written with.

Electricity, like money, has so many uses, and I imagine, none of us want to live without electricity,. Entering the future with or without using electricity is a huge question, and I think we need to ask: what parts of the globe haven’t been electrified yet, and who lives there? One question Hamilton seems to ignore is: where do humanity and electricity stand once the Anthropocene is more deeply upon us? For example, he doesn’t treat the prospects for any use of nuclear energy.

Some Hamilton quotes. He thinks that Vatican views need updating, as with, (p. 48), nature is not as Pope Francis says, like a beautiful mother opening up her arms to embrace us. (And I’d say, if you think it is, you’d better go do some close-up tornado watching to find a corrective, or, it’d be much slower, do some watching of receding glaciers).

Hamilton (p. 155), “Gaia is no Messiah.” And, (p. 157), “The arrival of the Anthropocene contradicts all narratives, philosophies and theologies that foretell a pre-ordained and continuous rise of humankind to ever-higher levels of material, social or spiritual development.” And (p. 160), “The only response to the threats of the Anthropocene is a collective one, politics.”

This book’s blurb is right about the book’s contents. “Forget everything you know. Nature is no longer Nature. We have entered a new epoch.”

And as for any “grand narrative” about human history so far, or the meaning of life or of history, here in brief is what Hamilton sees …,. (p. 61) 193,000 years of humanity not doing much except migrate or struggle to survive, 7000 years of agriculture and “civilization”, 300 years of industry, and 70 years of rampant growth that has seen us breach the planet’s natural boundaries.” (And well, Hamilton in his earlier book, Growth Fetish, lets us know about problems with growth.) Hamilton in his introduction says his book is more a groping toward the future than a warning. But you have been warned, the future won’t be rapturous, it’ll be rupturous. We’d better get used to it. (Ends)

Velikovsky and "only in America"

Recent reading ... Dan Byrnes, review of Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Gordin’s book is more important than it seems. (Gordin was a Professor of History at Princeton University when he wrote this book.)

And I need to defend this position, since as with the US writer Hemingway, we need a good bullshit detector here, about Velikovsky and his ilk, not Gordin.

G. K. Chesterton was quite wrong when he said that if people (he meant people in the English speaking world) will not believe in Christianity, they will believe anything. Chesterton is proved quite wrong by the Twentieth Century experiences of a Christian USA, which became a nation in which anything could and would be believed. Including pseudo-science, Creationism, including belief in UFOs – which might by the way be sourced in the old beliefs of American Indian tribes, this up-in-the-air matter remains very up-in-the-air.

The updated finding for our post-Chesterton era is that …. people will believe anything, including Christianity. Period.

We now by 2017 have a USA, an only-in-America, in which, apparently, it is possible to believe anything. We owe this situation partly to the Internet, the fact that anyone can post any fool opinion on the Net (and be believed by somebody), partly to a US education system that seems increasingly poor and which encourages ignorance, and … today, we live in days when denialism about climate change is widespread. Scientists, especially climate scientists, find that their scientific methods used to identify risks arising from climate change are allowed by the media to be questioned by idiots and ignoramuses.

The situation is so bad that I have no panacea, and indeed it has gotten worse, we now live in days of “fake news”. But I do know, from having been a journalist (and a one-time university Geography student), that most journalists are not qualified to discuss the weather, let alone qualified to discuss climate, which produces our weather wherever we happen to live. Enough said.

I also often wonder why/how the idea that the Earth will end one day soon, thus destroying all our lives, really, why is this idea so popular in the USA? Of all places? The answer is probably with Colonial American Christianity, from the Mayflower days, from the days of the Witches of Salem, with Millenarian Christianity, probably, with its eschatology, its belief that relatively few people will be”saved” during the end times; most of us, like humanity during the Flood of Noah, will be left to perish. Poor us.

Millenarian Christianity, sometimes called “chialism”, is associated with an idea that “religion” will soon be associated with a major, and beneficial, change in society. Belief in an end-of-the-world can also be found in Islam, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, which leads me to suspect that such a belief should be regarded as universal – as well as destructive.

In Christian beliefs, there will be a Second Coming of Jesus and at the Second Coming, Jesus will not arrive as a harmless male baby, he will come as a fully-fledged Lord of Heaven – doing stuff big time and so kiss goodbye your and my fantasies about continuing to have a nice life on Planet Earth. The idea that the world might or will end has been around for thousands of years in in one form or another, but it was really given a workout in the 1970s when Velikovsky and the zeitgeist popularised his book, Worlds in Collision, first published in the 1950s. Which was about, say, the 15 Century BCE, when Venus was ejected from Jupiter as something like a comet and came close to crashing into Earth.

This notion was popular with readers but was found so unsatisfactory by scientists that very soon its publishers, Macmillan (a textbook publisher), mostly respected by scientists in the USA, let the publishing be done by Doubleday (not a textbook publisher). Velikovsky ended embarrassing a lot of people including himself.

And so we had Velikovsky using comparative mythology (based on old holy book writings, mostly Jewish), to drum up his bullshit science, bullshit astronomy, bullshit historical chronology and so on. Gordin thinks the Velikovsky thing blew up in the 1970s and had largely died by 1985. I was living in Melbourne Australia during the 1970s, and the second-hand bookshops were full of copies of Velikovsky paperbacks, who’d become a sort of unofficial, one-man publishing industry.

I read Velikovsky sceptically, since there was nothing that I (with my university education fresh in memory) knew about from astronomy or science, geology or ancient history, or Middle Eastern religion, that would support Velikovsky’s views. I sought the advice of a friend’s father who was a scientific geologist. This geologist confirmed my scepticism, but he did surprise me by admitting that reading Velikovsky had jolted him out of the usual old assumption used by geologists (Uniformitarianism, slow, boring, uninterrupted) and made him wonder anew about Catastrophism (interruptive, sudden and surprising) happening from time to time.

There I left matters till years later I read Gordin, provoked by latter-day findings that in the USA in our Internet days, lots of folks will believe anything, even more than they did in the heyday of Velikovsky. What’s going on? Why would it be that the USA, of all countries in the world, has become so truly-rooly only-in-America, the glad home of truly wacky ideas? Why not, well, Iceland? Or India, which has a large enough population to produce a large number of weirdos?

You’ll have to read something like Gordin’s book. Which is a bit dry, a bit slow, and doesn’t exactly tell us exactly what is scientifically wrong with Velikovsky’s views or findings – except in the footnotes. The footnotes are extraordinarily well done, but of course they slow down a reading of Gordin’s text. The point might be that what Gordin calls “the modern pseudo-scientific fringe” in US life is actually bigger and more dangerous than we thought (in our current world of “fake news”).

But one useful thing Gordin does say, is that pseudo-science is mimetic – it imitates the form and/or substance of the fruits of proper scientific inquiry. Pseudo-science is – science as if. In Velikovsky’s case, as if was written cosmologically large. However, I personally haven’t heard anyone mention Velikovsky, positively or negatively, for years. Other sorts of US nonsense I have heard mentioned, and too often, it is repeated on Australian TV by Australian accents.

Velikovsky is not, I think, the Big Daddy of Pseudo-Science in the USA, but he does stand out, partly as he has a Russian-Jewish name, not an English-based US name. Velikovsky’s scientific nonsense spilled over into all sorts of other unscientific nonsense now popular in the USA, Creationism, religiosity of various kinds, astrology, many kinds of pseudo-science, and non-science or anti-science trends such as today’s anti-vaccination groups, anti-fluoride groups, and so on.

(The anti-vaxxers are right weirdos, encouraged as they are by the USA’s excess emphasis on individualism; they seem to thrive on denying that man is a social animal, liable from time to time to be infected by other social animals near him or her. Particularly with children.)

And so, watch out for US mind viruses, they’re deadly and today they’re transmitted not by books, as with Velikovsky, but by the Internet. Given the many weird things that folks in the USA believe today about so many things, including “fake news”, we note also with our heart sinking that a climate-change-denialist named Trump is currently president of the USA …

I can only say that what the USA needs today, apart from a reliable bullshit detector, is a good solid dose, never to be forgotten, of the usual set of questions which by the way precede the win-date, November 1783, of the American Revolution. These questions are deceptively simple-seeming, They are: how, what, when, where, why, who?

Because luckily for the rationalists, there is no bullshit on earth that can stand up for long to sustained attack from these questions. (Ends this book notice).

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All 18 volumes.

Love Quotes Encyclopedia

Sophie Masson
Novelist based in Armidale, NSW (writes especially for teens/young adults) - c/- websites managed by University of New England (UNE) Armidale NSW Australia.

My Virtual Reference Desk

Writers' Resources, good links to other information sites

Handles great volumes of hard and soft copy

For WWI poetry by Wilfrid Owen see Wilfrid Owen Association at www.1914-18.co.uk.woa/

>Poetry see www.poetry.com/

Poets and Writers Directory of American Poets

Poetry - Funny Poets
With Arcadia and Duncan Flynn

Poetry - Poetry Magic
Craft and theory of poetry
Project Gutenberg
Interesting re out-of-the-way writings/manuscripts (project began in 1971!)
Publisher - Fish Publishing
For a 2000 short story competition, based in Ireland
Quotations - Wilson's Almanac Scriptorium
Quotes, sayings, witty little remarks, etc.
Well presented
Raymond Chandler Online Library
Crime fiction
Religion - Buddhism - Alan Watts
On Zen Buddhism

The Fray
An avant-garde literary journal from San Francisco

Thesaurus - Roget's Thesaurus

The Tolkein Society

Translate at Foreignword.com
Basic words and phrases

Go to it
Words - Epitaphs - Last Words
Words of wisdom and otherwise from dying/dead people

Writers' Bookcase
Books to help writers with their craft

Writers' site
Writing - Self-publishing online with iuniverse
Check the event calendar for author appearances in the US

Wordspy - Language buffs will enjoy finding out about new word usages at Wordspy at: www.wordspy.com/

This website: http://www.danbyrnes.com.au/

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Below are items still uncollected:

Literary see Classic Novels at: www.classic-novels.com/-

Writers resources, in Oz see Writer's Studio at: www.writerstudio.com.au/ - For writers interested in fiction, see Pure Fiction at: www.purefiction.com/

Classic Fairy Tales at: www.classicfairytales.com/

The Internet Grammar of English at: www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/

Literary - on creative thinker Buckminster Fuller see Buckminster Fuller Institute at www.bfi.org/ -

On languages see BBC Languages, at www.bbc.co.uk/languages/

Regarding interest in freely available books. . . .(and all sorts of info), check out: http://www.archive.org/

Literary - Medieval Bookshop - new books for medievalists: www.medievalbookshop.co.uk/

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WWW Dan Byrnes Word Factory websites

View these domain stats begun 18 December 2005