Performativizing Papyrocentricity #40

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Humanist Hubris The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited, John Carroll (Scribe 2010)

Paw is Less – The Plague Dogs, Richard Adams (Penguin 1977)

I Like Bike – Fifty Bicycles That Changed the World, Alex Newson (Conran Octopus 2013)

Morc is LessThe Weird Shadow Over Morecambe, Edmund Glasby (Linford 2013)

Nekro-a-KokoaComfort Corps: Cuddles, Calmatives and Cosy Cups of Cocoa in the Music of Korpse-Hump Kannibale, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (University of Nebraska Press 2015)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #29

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Sky StoryThe Cloud Book: How to Understand the Skies, Richard Hamblyn (David & Charles 2008)

Wine WordsThe Oxford Companion to Wine, ed. Janice Robinson (Oxford University Press 2006)

Nu WorldsNumericon, Marianne Freiberger and Rachel Thomas (Quercus Editions 2014)

ThalassobiblionOcean: The Definitive Visual Guide, introduction by Fabien Cousteau (Dorling Kindersley 2014) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Hip-Hop Hermeneuticized

The Guardian undertakes a close hermeneutical analysis of some respected figures in the rap community and their complex and challenging lyrical interrogation of issues around neo-liberal capitalism:

In contemporary America, success in overcoming adversity (and often systemic racism) is most often represented in financial terms, and it’s a recurring theme in hip-hop. Consider Kanye West:

I treat the cash the way the government treats AIDS
I won’t be satisfied til all my niggas get it, get it?

Or Dr Dre:

Get your money right
Don’t be worried ’bout the next man – make sure your business tight
Get your money right
Go inside the safe, grab your stash that you copped tonight
Get your money right
Be an international player, don’t be scared to catch those red eye flights
You better get your money right
Cause when you out there on the streets, you gotta get it – get it

Or even TI himself:

Regardless what haters say I’m as real as they come
I’m chasin that paper baby however it come
I’m singin a song and movin yay by the ton
I bet you never seen a nigga gettin money so young.

Hip-Hop Hermeneuticized

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #22

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Plates from the GreatShots from the Front: The British Soldier 1914-18, Richard Holmes (HarperPress 2008; paperback 2010)

Math for the MistressA Mathematician’s Apology, G.H. Hardy (1940)

Sinister SinemaScalarama: A Celebration of Subterranean Cinema at Its Sleazy, Slimy and Sinister Best, ed. Norman Foreman, B.A. (TransVisceral Books 2015)

Rick PickingsLost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature, Rick Gekoski (Profile Books 2013/2014)

Slug is a DrugCollins Complete Guide to British Coastal Wildlife, Paul Sterry and Andrew Cleave (HarperCollins 2012) (posted @ Overlord of the Über-Feral)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR


Index Librorum Prohibitorum

• Multi eorum, qui fuerant curiosa sectati, contulerant Libros et combusserunt coram omnibus. — Actus Apostolorum, xix, 19.

• Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men. — The Acts of the Apostles, 19:19.

Neuclid on the Block

How many blows does it take to demolish a wall with a hammer? It depends on the wall and the hammer, of course. If the wall is reality and the hammer is mathematics, you can do it in three blows, like this:

α’. Σημεῖόν ἐστιν, οὗ μέρος οὐθέν.
β’. Γραμμὴ δὲ μῆκος ἀπλατές.
γ’. Γραμμῆς δὲ πέρατα σημεῖα.

1. A point is that of which there is no part.
2. A line is a length without breadth.
3. The extremities of a line are points.

That is the astonishing, world-shattering opening in one of the strangest – and sanest – books ever written. It’s twenty-three centuries old, was written by an Alexandrian mathematician called Euclid (fl. 300 B.C.), and has been pored over by everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Bertrand Russell by way of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Its title is highly appropriate: Στοιχεῖα, or Elements. Physical reality is composed of chemical elements; mathematical reality is composed of logical elements. The second reality is much bigger – infinitely bigger, in fact. In his Elements, Euclid slipped the bonds of time, space and matter by demolishing the walls of reality with a mathematical hammer and escaping into a world of pure abstraction.

• Continue reading Neuclid on the Block

Flesh and Binary

It’s odd that probability theory is so counter-intuitive to human beings and so late-flowering in mathematics. Men have been gambling for thousands of years, but didn’t develop a good understanding of what happens when dice are rolled or coins are tossed until a few centuries ago. And an intuitive grasp of probability would have been useful long before gambling was invented. Our genes automatically equip us to speak, to walk and to throw, but they don’t equip us to understand by instinct why five-tails-in-a-row makes heads no more likely on the sixth coin-toss than it was on the first.

Dice from ancient Rome

Dice and gambling tokens from ancient Rome

Or to understand why five-boys-in-a-row makes the birth of a girl next time no more likely than it was during the first pregnancy (at least in theory). Boy/girl, like heads/tails, is a binary choice, so binary numbers are useful for understanding the probabilities of birth or coin-tossing. Questions like these are often asked to test knowledge of elementary probability:

1. Suppose a family have two children and the elder is a boy. What is the probability that both are boys?

2. Suppose a family have two children and at least one is a boy. What is the probability that both are boys?

People sometimes assume that the two questions are equivalent, but binary makes it clear that they’re not. If 1 represents a boy, 0 represents a girl and digit-order represents birth-order, the first question covers these possibilities: 10, 11. So the chance of both children being boys is 1/2 or 50%. The second question covers these possibilities: 10, 01, 11. So the chance of both children being boys is 1/3 = 33·3%. But now examine this question:

3. Suppose a family have two children and only one is called John. What is the probability that both children are boys?

That might seem the equivalent of question 2, but it isn’t. The name “John” doesn’t just identify the child as a boy, it identifies him as a unique boy, distinct from any brother he happens to have. Binary isn’t sufficient any more. So, while boy = 1, John = 2. The possibilities are: 20, 21, 02, 12. The chance of both children being boys is then 1/2 = 50%.

The three questions above are very simple, but I don’t think Archimedes or Euclid ever addressed the mathematics behind them. Perhaps they would have made mistakes if they had. I hope I haven’t, more than two millennia later. Perhaps the difficulty of understanding probability relates to the fact that it involves movement and change. The Greeks developed a highly sophisticated mathematics of static geometry, but did not understand projectiles or falling objects. When mathematicians began understood those in Renaissance Italy, they also began to understand the behaviour of dice, coins and cards. Ideas were on the move then and this new mathematics was obviously related to the rise of science: Galileo (1564-1642) is an important figure in both fields. But the maths and science can be linked with apparently distinct phenomena like Protestantism and classical music. All of these things began to develop in a “band of genius” identified by the American researcher Charles Murray. It runs roughly from Italy through France and Germany to Scotland: from Galileo through Beethoven and Descartes to David Hume.

Map of Europe from Mercator's Atlas Cosmographicae (1596)

Map of Europe from Mercator’s Atlas Cosmographicae (1596)

But how far is geography also biology? Having children is a form of gambling: the dice of DNA, shaken in testicle- and ovary-cups, are rolled in a casino run by Mother Nature. Or rather, in a series of casinos where different rules apply: the genetic bets placed in Africa or Europe or Asia haven’t paid off in the same way. In other words, what wins in one place may lose in another. Different environments have favoured different sets of genes with different effects on both bodies and brains. All human beings have many things in common, but saying that we all belong to the same race, the human race, is like saying that we all speak the same language, the human language. It’s a ludicrous and anti-scientific idea, however widely it may be accepted (and enforced) in the modern West.

Languages have fuzzy boundaries. So do races. Languages have dialects and accents, and so, in a sense, do races. The genius that unites Galileo, Beethoven and Hume may have been a particular genetic dialect spoken, as it were, in a particular area of Europe. Or perhaps it’s better to see European genius as a series of overlapping dialects. Testing that idea will involve mathematics and probability theory, and the computers that crunch the data about flesh will run on binary. Apparently disparate things are united by mathematics, but maths unites everything partly because it is everything. Understanding the behaviour of dice in the sixteenth century leads to understanding the behaviour of DNA in the twenty-first.

The next step will be to control the DNA-dice as they roll. China has already begun trying to do that using science first developed in the West. But the West itself is still in the thrall of crypto-religious ideas about equality and environment. These differences have biological causes: the way different races think about genetics, or persuade other races to think about genetics, is related to their genetics. You can’t escape genes any more than you can escape maths. But the latter is a ladder that allows us to see over the old genetic wall and glimpse the possibilities beyond it. The Chinese are trying to climb over the wall using super-computers; the West is still insisting that there’s nothing on the other side. Interesting times are ahead for both flesh and binary.


1. Suppose a family have three children and the eldest is a girl. What is the probability that all three are girls?

2. Suppose a family have three children and at least one is a girl. What is the probability that all three are girls?

3. Suppose a family have three children and only one is called Joan. What is the probability that all three are girls?

The possibilities in the first case are: 000, 001, 010, 011. So the chance of three girls is 1/4 = 25%.

The possibilities in the second case are: 000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110. So the chance of three girls is 1/7 = 14·28%.

The possibilities in the third case are: 200, 201, 210, 211, 020, 021, 120, 121, 002, 012, 102, 112. So the chance of three girls is 3/12 = 1/4 = 25%.

Vibrancy and Vileness

Every so often you come across a news-story that isn’t just horrifying in itself but offers a sickening glimpse into the wilful neglect and toxicity of a so-called “civilized” state and its so-called “justice” system. Here’s a story like that from Scandinavia:

Rapist is sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison

The Iraqi man (35) arrived in Norway in 2003. Now he has been convicted of sexual assault twice. The 35-year-old Iraqi has now been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison and ordered to pay NoK 300,000 [$52,000/£34,000] in damages after he was arrested for participating in a gang rape in Slottsparken [the park surrounding the Royal Palace in Oslo] in October 2011. The 35-year-old also committed a particularly degrading rape at Rådhusplassen [the town square] in November 2005. On that occasion he raped a 27-year-old woman behind some pallets with granite slabs. When the victim resisted, the man put his hand over her mouth and nose and told her that he would kill her.

The woman who was raped in Slottsparken told police that she was raped by several men and that she feared that she would be killed. She is unsure of how many men who raped her, but she knows that none of the rapists used condoms. As a result she was given HIV-prevention drugs and pregnancy-termination drugs. The relationship with her fiancé came to an end and she attempted to commit suicide after the ordeal. Today she is afraid to meet men who look foreign.

(Translation of Aftenpost story, “Seks og et halvt års fengsel for voldtektsmann”, 2nd April, 2013)

But “horrifying” is perhaps understating it. I’m left shaking my head in disgust and asking one urgent question: Why, in the name of decency and justice, was this obnoxious woman not prosecuted and punished severely for her blatant auto-incitement to racial hatred and xenophobia / allophobia? Her wilfully selfish attitude reeks of toxic white privilege and obdurate refusal to sensitively engage issues around the Other. Shame on you, Norway, for creating a society in which such corrosive and egocentric individuals can exist. To flush their hateful ideology from your so-called “nation”, I suggest that you immediately double immigration from Iraq – and go on doubling it for as long as it takes. And double immigration from Somalia, Haïti and the Congo too. Until you do that, you can count yourself a thoroughly failed state.

A Slap on the Wrist — original translation, which is adapted slightly above