August 30th, 2008

Orwell’s 6 Rules for Writers

George Orwell was all for clarity and economy in writing. In his essay “Politics and the English Language”, he set forth 6 rules for writers wishing to keep their writing effective and free of ambiguity and unnecessary frills.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Orwell wrote many essays in this no-nonsense manner, one such being Antisemitism in Britain, which takes an honest look at society in Britain at the time and tries to pin down the causes and sources of antisemitism.

By this stage in his career there is obviously a conscious attempt to put a stop to his own antisemitism which is quite noticable in his first book, “Down and Out in Paris and London”. I was reading this book recently and that’s how I came to all of this — I wanted to know more about Orwell’s opinion of antisemitism. Lo and behold, he wrote a whole essay on it. Here’s an excerpt from the closing paragraph:

The point is that something, some psychological vitamin, is lacking in modern civilisation, and as a result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that whole races or nations are mysteriously good or mysteriously evil. I defy any modern intellectual to look closely and honestly into his own mind without coming upon nationalistic loyalties and hatreds of one kind or another. It is the fact that he can feel the emotional tug of such things, and yet see them dispassionately for what they are, that gives him his status as an intellectual. It will be seen, therefore, that the starting point for any investigation of antisemitism should not be “Why does this obviously irrational belief appeal to other people?” but “Why does antisemitism appeal TO ME? What is there about it that I feel to be true?” If one asks this question one at least discovers one’s own rationalisations, and it may be possible to find out what lies beneath them. Antisemitism should be investigated–and I will not say by antisemites, but at any rate by people who know that they are not immune to that kind of emotion. When Hitler has disappeared a real enquiry into this subject will be possible, and it would probably be best to start not by debunking antisemitism, but by marshalling all the justifications for it that can be found, in one’s own mind or anybody else’s. In that way one might get some clues that would lead to its psychological roots. But that antisemitism will be definitively CURED, without curing the larger disease of nationalism, I do not believe.

August 30th, 2008

Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems

Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems are on Bartleby in their entirity. Excellent!

I had only read a handful of them before. Here is a nice one I just happened upon:

IF you were coming in the fall,
I ’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I ’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I ’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I ’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

Oh and

I ENVY seas whereon he rides,
I envy spokes of wheels
Of chariots that him convey,
I envy speechless hills

That gaze upon his journey;
How easy all can see
What is forbidden utterly
As heaven, unto me!

I envy nests of sparrows
That dot his distant eaves,
The wealthy fly upon his pane,
The happy, happy leaves

That just abroad his window
Have summer’s leave to be,
The earrings of Pizarro
Could not obtain for me.

I envy light that wakes him,
And bells that boldly ring
To tell him it is noon abroad,—
Myself his noon could bring,

Yet interdict my blossom
And abrogate my bee,
Lest noon in everlasting night
Drop Gabriel and me.

oh and

HEART, we will forget him!
You and I, to-night!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you’re lagging,
I may remember him!

August 24th, 2008

nanoo nanoo

Some exciting real life applications of nanotechnology are in the works, including miniscule data storage, artificial DNA (as a highly efficient means of data storage), cancer cures, super durable razor blades, invisibility cloaks, spy robots, super efficient solar panels, and more.

Web Urbanist has a rundown of these applications with brief explanations. via Neatorama

August 17th, 2008

a healthy balance

Have you had your Recommended Daily Allowance of poetry today? is a nice website. It’s got lots of poems sorted thematically and by author, with a bio for each author and links to other poems they wrote.

I was just browsing the site and found a lot of nice poems to share. How about three sad poems followed by three happy poems so as to retain a healthy balance and not spoil your day?

I Do Not Love Thee
by Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton

I do not love thee!—no! I do not love thee!
And yet when thou art absent I am sad;
And envy even the bright blue sky above thee,
Whose quiet stars may see thee and be glad.

I do not love thee!—yet, I know not why,
Whate’er thou dost seems still well done, to me:
And often in my solitude I sigh
That those I do love are not more like thee!

I do not love thee!—yet, when thou art gone,
I hate the sound (though those who speak be dear)
Which breaks the lingering echo of the tone
Thy voice of music leaves upon my ear.

I do not love thee!—yet thy speaking eyes,
With their deep, bright, and most expressive blue,
Between me and the midnight heaven arise,
Oftener than any eyes I ever knew.

I know I do not love thee! yet, alas!
Others will scarcely trust my candid heart;
And oft I catch them smiling as they pass,
Because they see me gazing where thou art.

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder
by A. E. Housman

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder,
And went with half my life about my ways.

The Barrier
by Claude McKay

I must not gaze at them although
Your eyes are dawning day;
I must not watch you as you go
Your sun-illumined way;

I hear but I must never heed
The fascinating note,
Which, fluting like a river reed,
Comes from your trembing throat;

I must not see upon your face
Love’s softly glowing spark;
For there’s the barrier of race,
You’re fair and I am dark.

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master;
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run–
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

August 16th, 2008

oiling the machine

I like the idea of the human body as a machine that requires certain fuels and chemicals and minerals etc to run optimally. I have also noticed the benefits of eating well and the benefits of, for example, getting enough vitamin C when ill.

So this page on is very handy and interesting to read. It lists all the vitamins and minerals we need and what they do. The biology student in me finds that very neat — I just dug up my biology textbook from secondary school. The article linked above also notes which foods provide these vitamins and minerals, how much you should have per day, etc..

August 12th, 2008

Tom Waits’ favourite music.

It’s often boring to listen to other people talking about their favourite music, but it turns out Tom Waits is a very sensual and expressive writer. In this article he passionately and creatively describes 20 of his favourite albums.

From his gushing description of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes:

Suffice it to say Dylan is a planet to be explored. For a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer and nails and a saw are to a carpenter. I like my music with the rinds and the seeds and pulp left in – so the bootlegs I obtained in the Sixties and Seventies, where the noise and grit of the tapes became inseparable from the music, are essential to me.

It’s fun to read Waits’ colouful descriptions and to learn what he enjoys in other people’s music.

Via Growabrain

August 11th, 2008

spam poetry

One spam email got through googlemail’s stringent (often overzealous) spam filter and into my inbox. Quite a rare occasion actually. Ordinarily not worth blogging about — what’s interesting is that I gladly read this email from start to finish.

The email was titled “inattention gory beachcomb albright prayer”:

southeastern cleveland hirsch? florican, walgreen hemp.
inattention suzerainty disposable lose rheostat rheostat, windowsill
weave isomorphic albright jackdaw flinch.

walgreen albright cafe

flinch prayer paranoia? pivot, seaside hemp.
extradite isomorphic grandparent reich southeastern upstair, lend
el snub disposable proust suzerainty.

albright rheostat landis

isomorphic zion decor? windowsill, disposable hemp.

cleveland storeroom.

Presumably just a (more or less) random combination of words stuck together by a script, but I think it has a nice rhythm, and the words are all fun to say.

August 7th, 2008

x x x

Meaning: A kiss, at the end of a letter.
Origin: In medieval times, when most people were illiterate, “contracts were not considered legal until each signer included St. Andrew’s cross after their name.” (Or instead of a signature, if the signer couldn’t write.) To prove their sincerity, signers were then required to kiss the X. “Throughout the centuries this custom faded out, but the letter X [became associated] with a kiss.” This is also probably where the phrase “sealed with a kiss” comes from. (From I’ve Got Goose Pimples, by Martin Vanoni)

Neatorama has a great collection of common phrase origins like the one above.

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