More thoughtfulness

Went up to the Brown campus this afternoon in an attempt to wake up from my afternoon nap. Had a nice cup of coffee and a brownie at a little coffee shop while continuing to plod my way through Enigma (a biography of Alan Turing). This book is one of those really gratifying and solid reads that has the “dammit, I’m going to read you whether you like it or not” property. I manage about 40 pages at a sitting, and it’s around 600 pages. It’s giving a tremendous insight into the life and work of one of the founders of my field. A real tragedy, really. The man laid the theoretical and practical foundation for one entire branch of computer science, and then killed himself after the government yanked his security clearance for, you guessed it, homosexuality.

Man is fallen, we live in the third age. Turing worked when giants still strode the earth. He studied with Von Neumann (the last man who could meaningfully be said to be a master of every branch of mathematics practiced during his life), Wittgenstein, Hardy, Church, and “a variety of lesser minds.” I think that a lot of my romantic view of the university comes from reading biographies. I’m not convinced that the community of scholars still exists, as it used to. Now, instead, we have a factory of mediocrity and beaurocracy. It’s been constructed to deal with the fact that an Undergraduate diploma is the new High School, and graduate school is the new Undergrad. A PhD is no longer an academic degree, in that it grants you the keys to the academy.

While up there, I picked up Night Draws Near, Iraq’s people in the Shadow of America’s War. Both the Atlantic and the Economist reviewed it favorably, and NPR had the author on yesterday. He won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism last year. He’s fluent in Arabic, and makes a practice of wandering through Arab countries away from the imperial grunts, talking to the locals. His opinion is that by toppling Saddam, we simply freed said locals to continue their 1,000 year internal war. In this, he lines up with Kaplan, whose opinion is that we can either be an occupying force by exerting continuing control, or we can get the hell out. This middle ground is untenable.

The morning was spent wrestling two rolls of pink insulation into the attic. We’ve got ancient blown in insulation up there now, which looks nothing like the descriptions of asbestos laden insulation given here, but don’t think that wasn’t on my mind. This was hot, claustrophobic work, with lots of shifting temporary flooring around. We got a sheet of sub-floor pressboard and cut it in half lengthwise, and I used it to keep from stepping through the ceiling. A couple of times I got fairly freaked out by the close quarters and the breathing mask. It was particularly gross when the mask filled up with sweat. Icky. Anyway, our rafters are about 6 inches wider than the roll of insulation, so I wound up cutting six inch chunks and packing them in laterally. Wheee. Two rolls covered about 1/3 of one third of the space up there. I’m guessing that if we started earlier I could manage four or six rolls rather than two in a day … but this is still going to be an ongoing project. Hopefully it’ll do some good for our heating efficiency this winter. Heating oil is going to continue to get more expensive.

I feel that I’m spending too much time, as Turing put it, on the “tiny circles of everyday existence.” Maybe it would be good to set aside time to get back to the cello, or to finally start writing that series of essays.

Still Fall, by the way.

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