Here’s a part of history I was totally unaware of: The Society of Mutual Autopsy, a group of free-thinking atheist anthropologists in 19th century France who pledged to autopsy each others’ corpses after their death. And they did, too! They also had a huge influence on noted French thinkers and politicians of the time. Hecht’s history includes a healthy dose of insightful but readable analysis. Must read more of this author!
I was pretty underwhelmed by this set of essays. At least judging by this single collection, MacDonald seems to have been a latter-day H.L. Mencken, only not as good a writer. Like Mencken he was an unapologetic elitist and a sneerer at popular culture. There are even parallels with their musical taste. Mencken found no value in jazz but MacDonald did, jazz having been digested for him by the time he got to it. But MacDonald couldn’t hear anything good in what he called “Rock’n'Roll”.
But I’d much rather read Henry Louis than Dwight. Even when Mencken was wrong, which was a lot, he was still wonderfully entertaining. I found MacDonald to be a bore when right, and simply a boor when wrong.
An absolutely searing indictment of the US citizenry’s relationship to the US Army. Bacevich accuses the US population of what could probably be described as malign neglect of its professional soldier class while papering over any lingering guilt with a shallow form of patriotism. He traces the neglect to the post-Vietnam decision to eliminate the draft and create an all-volunteer professional force. This move disconnected US society at large from its armed forces and allowed each to drift apart from the other. Once that was accomplished, the malignity of endless overseas conflict with a force too small to sustain it could now begin, because policy-makers were free to start wars without the need to convince the public at large that the conflicts were worth dying for. Further evils, like the use of modern mercenaries, followed from there. Highly recommended.
How do you think about complicated things systematically? You need some thinking tools! Dennett provides a tour of his favorites, some of which he invented. You also get an overview of the philosophical problems of free will and consciousness via Dennett’s approach to them. I think Dennett is one of a relatively small number of people thinking really clearly about these problems and articulating them in a clear way. Highly recommended.
My blog post about Django and time zone is up on the Counsyl blog.
Mencken is a curious figure. He was an unabashed elitist with an absolute disdain for much of humanity. He was also a lover of civilization, or at least certain of civilization’s highest accomplishments like classical music, literature, and science. He was a devout classist, sometimes marking nine or more gradations of men (usually men) from the first-rate (a very, very select few) down through the ninth-raters and beyond. Mencken’s humanity was a pyramid and for him only the tip-top really mattered at all. But he could see Mark Twain was one of America’s most significant artists, an artist for the ages, when many others could not, or could not see past Twain’s public shtick. But jazz went right over his head, he could not hear it at all. I think perhaps he loved the past so much he was in some ways simply blind to the future, and thus by his own standards he was not a first-rate man. But he’s still worth reading anyway.
All about making Postgres go fast, everything from low-level disk I/O to query optimization and more. The chapter on using
EXPLAIN was worth the price of the book.