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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Just Finished Reading: Fright by Cornell Woolrich (FP: 1950)

Prescott Marshall has a plan. It’s a good plan. It’s a simple plan where nothing can go wrong. He’s young, a man about town, he’s popular a fun to be with and he has a girlfriend with family connections. After they get married he’ll be a member of that family too, her connections will become his clients and the money will start rolling in. It’ll be perfect, it’ll be easy. He has a ring, he has the speech all ready and he’s waiting at the restaurant ready to go…. And the phone rings and the waiter says it’s for him. His girl is in tears, her aunt and uncle have just been killed and she needs to comfort her mother. She hopes he understand. He does and promises to be there for her and her mother whenever they need him. At a loose end he has a drink at the bar, and then another angry at his bad luck. Moving onto another bar and another drink he picks up a woman and then another. Soon the night is a vague memory and he wakes in his bed, in his apartment fortunately alone except for a pounding headache. Getting ready for work there’s a knock on the door and a girl waiting outside. Without being invited she walks in and smiles. Marshall has never seen her before but she knows him alright. About last night, she says. We has a swell time didn’t we, she says. So how about $50 just to cover expenses. Angry at her crude hustle Marshall starts to through her out and then he starts to remember and starts to worry. What if his real girl found out? What if the hustler ruined his plans? Surely $50 is worth it just to get her to leave him alone? Months pass and the young hustler is just a bad memory. It’s the wedding day. The Best Man is on his way and there’s a knock at the door. It’s her again, the hustler. Its $250 this time and a lifetime of blackmail ahead of him, each payment more and more as his fortune grows. There’s only one way out. The only way to make the girl go away – permanently. Before Marshall knows what he’s done the girl is on the floor, dead and the Best Man is knocking. With a body in his bedroom there’s no way Marshall can stay in New York. It’s only a matter of time before the police catch up with him. All of his plans are in tatters. Everything he does, everywhere he goes, and everything he says to everyone he meets needs to be filtered through the memory of that body in that city. He needs to be constantly on alert for strangers asking questions, funny looks, and mention of other women and a host of other things both trivial and profound. He needs to be his guard. Now, always, forever…..

I have a thing, a problem you might say, with the idea of the unreliable narrator. If a story or movie is being narrated and the viewer/reader is being directed in certain ways then it behoves the narrator to be truthful. They can leave gaps for the reader to fill in, they might mislead or misdirect (especially if they’re the villain of the piece) but the actively lie, to fabricate things that do not exist doesn’t sit well with me – especially when you can’t tell if anything in the story actually happened or is the fantasy of a fevered imagination. This is how I felt for well over half the book. I constantly asked myself – did that actually just happen? Is this real? Or is it just paranoia? I must admit it did get rather wearing after a while! The ending didn’t really help as it threw everything I thought I knew about the narrative up in the air never to come down again. Honestly, I struggled at times to finish this. It wasn’t particularly badly written – except that none of the characters were actually likable and none of them seemed to deserve my attention much less my sympathy. The only one who had much of a character to be honest was the hustler and she didn’t last too long! Overall, despite the very positive write up, and the fact that the author apparent wrote ‘Rear Window’ this was a slow and painful ready which barely kept my attention. Not really recommended except, maybe, if you have trouble sleeping. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Good advice............. You can also stab stupid people with your head.

An Attempt at Future Significance

As some of my readers may be aware I have a somewhat surprising ‘inferiority complex’ where my reading is concerned. OK, it might be a bit on the strong side (being actually quite proud of my reading achievements) but I am moderately haunted by the whisper of an idea that my reading just isn’t ‘up to snuff’. Maybe at some point in my long lost youth I was told that I was ignorant, ill-informed or some such because I hadn’t read a particular obscure book? Who knows? But I do have a nagging feeling that, although the quantity of the books I read is good – and at over twenty times the national average I’d hope so – but that the quality falls short. Maybe it’s because I haven’t (yet) read a great many of the classics that come up in conversation. I mean, until a few months ago I’d never read Dickens! I’m yet to read Woolf or Hemingway or Tolstoy or Steinbeck. Classically I’m barely literate (working on that) and in other ways I’m ignorant of many of the books that have changed the course of human affairs. I call these books ‘Significant’ and have, lately, been trying to increase my knowledge of them. My aim is to read at least three significant books every year. So far I think I’m doing OK despite the fact that I’m starting from a very low level and from a deep ignorance of what actual books I should be reading to address my perceived inadequacy. The list as it appears presently is this (with the latest additions in bold):

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
The War of the Flea – A Study of Guerrilla Warfare Theory & Practice by Robert Taber
Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P Newton
Seize the Time – The Story of The Black Panter Party and Huey P Newton by Bobby Searle
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
The Autobiography of Malcolm X with the assistance of Alex Haley
Achtung Panzer! – The Development of Tank Warfare by Heinz Guderian
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore
About Looking by John Berger
A Vindication of The Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
War on Wheels – The Evolution of an Idea by C R Kutz
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Design as Art by Bruno Munari
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
The Rebel by Albert Camus
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
A Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara 

All in all that’s not a bad list. It’s not a great list but it’s not bad. There’s quite a few obviously significant books that have yet to make it on there and I’ll see about addressing that as soon as I can. I do have one significant book in my review pile and another two coming soon so I’ll definitely make my minimum again this year. I might even get around to reading some classical philosophy from cover to cover. It’s high time I did. I might, just might, sneak in come classic political texts – from the Left naturally…..

Saturday, January 13, 2018

I'm guessing an isolated spot???
Light shed on mystery space radio pulses

By Paul Rincon for BBC News

10 January 2018

Astronomers have fresh insight on a mysterious source of recurring radio pulses from space. Fast radio bursts (FRB) are one of the most persistent puzzles in astronomy. While usually short-lived, one source in the sky was sending out repeated flashes. Now, a team says the emission may be caused by a dead star located in a very powerful magnetic environment. Details were reported here at the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting. The first FRB was discovered in 2007, in archived data from the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. Astronomers were searching for new examples of magnetised neutron stars called pulsars, but found a new phenomenon - a radio burst from 2001. Since then, 18 FRBs - also referred to as "flashes" or "sizzles" - have been found in total. The mystery surrounding their nature has spawned a variety of different possible explanations, from black holes to extra-terrestrial intelligence. Only one of these sources of radio energy has erupted more than once - a so-called burster catalogued as FRB 121102. This FRB has sent out around 150 flashes since its discovery in 2012. Now, in the journal Nature, a team of scientists explains how the emission might come from a neutron star, perhaps one near a black hole or one embedded in a nebula.

The researchers found something interesting about the polarisation of the radio waves - which describes the direction in which they vibrate. When polarised radio waves pass through a region with a magnetic field, the polarisation gets "twisted" by an effect known as Faraday rotation. And the stronger the magnetic field, the greater the twisting. "The only sources in the Milky Way that are twisted as much as FRB121102 are in the galactic centre, which is a dynamic region near a massive black hole. Maybe FRB121102 is in a similar environment in its host galaxy," said Daniele Michilli, a co-author from the University of Amsterdam. "However, the twisting of the radio bursts could also be explained if the source is located in a powerful nebula or supernova remnant," he added. Vishal Gajjar, from the Breakthrough Listen project and the Berkeley SETI Research Center, commented: "At this point, we don't really know the mechanism. There are many questions, such as, how can a rotating neutron star produce the high amount of energy typical of an FRB?" The team used the Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia to probe the source at higher frequencies than ever before.

Andrew Seymour, a staff astronomer at the Arecibo Observatory, said: "The polarisation properties and shapes of these bursts are similar to radio emission from young, energetic neutron stars in our galaxy. This provides support to the models that the radio bursts are produced by a neutron star." A year ago, the research team pinpointed the location of FRB121102 and reported that it lies in a star-forming region of a dwarf galaxy at a distance of more than three billion light-years from Earth. The enormous distance to the source implies that it releases a monstrous amount of energy in each burst - roughly as much energy in a single burst of one millisecond as the Sun releases in an entire day.

[The Universe is indeed a very strange place and chocked full of strange phenomena like this. I’d never heard of FRB’s until today. They are truly bizarre events. I can see why some people immediately jumped on the ET bandwagon. But if they are natural phenomena as suggested at least we still have hope that at some point in the future they’ll pick up a message or a warp signature or something and we’ll finally know we’re not alone…. At least we can hope….. [grin]]