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November 2006


Before I forget … Last Tuesday, passing en route Lincoln's Inn — looking beautiful on what we might soon come to call an unseasonably cold night, I went to the Royal College of Surgeons for a Royal Institution Lecture: 'Alchemy, the occult beginnings of science: Paracelsus, John Dee and Isaac Newton' Dr Phillip Ball, freelance writer and consultant editor, Nature; Dr Peter Forshaw, British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of London; Professor William Newman, Chair of Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University, USA.

Alchemy first came across my path back in my teens (again), reading Jung and then discovering the bizarre Helios bookshop at Toddington in rural Gloucestershire. A chance to attend a Jungian therapists' informal conference quickly brought all this to a close: I was taken aback at their anti-scientific attitude, but I continued to be fascinated by alchemy, the origins of science … and, later, the NeoPlatonism of the Renaissance.

We arrived a tad late at the RCS, courtesy of the warmth and cheer of the Seven Stars, to find Philip Ball already in full spate, rushing through the life of Paracelsus, his extraordinary travels (Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, Scotland), his aspiration to devise the first "theory of everything", his rootedness in NeoPlatonism, the doctrine of signatures, chemical medicine, the tria prima (sulphur, mercury, salt), macrocosm and microcosm

Cornelius Agrippa and Marsilius Ficino investigated occult (hidden) forces and Paracelsus brought alchemy to this table. Philip Ball suggests that Paracelsus is important in the history or development of science — he worked from one observation to explain others and made central to his work the very idea of explaining the observed. Philip Ball's book, The Devil's Doctor, appeared earlier this year. The man was clearly extraordinary. From the Guardian review:

His stay in Basle [1527] had started out well. Many students had attended his unofficial courses. He told them that doctors didn't need "eloquence or knowledge of language and books", but "profound knowledge of Nature and her works". His own wisdom was, he told them, based "upon the foundation of experience, the supreme teacher of all things". 

… medicine in the early Renaissance had advanced little since Roman times. For instance, physicians did not think it necessary to examine patients, relying instead on a urine sample for diagnosis. "All they can do is to gaze at piss," said Paracelsus scornfully. He accused them of "villainy and knavery" and said that if people realised how they were being deceived, medics would be stoned in the street. They, in turn, accused him of drunkenness, and it's true that Paracelsus did prefer to expound his wisdom in taverns than in university lecture halls.

His written works, most of which were only published posthumously, could be "paranoid, repetitive, vain and self-aggrandising". But beneath the bluster and posturing were genuine insights. Giordano Bruno said of him: "Seeing how much this inebriate knew, what should I think he might have discovered had he been sober?" Paracelsus turned his back on Aristotle and Galen and embraced experience as his mentor. He taught that "every land is a leaf of the Codex of Nature, and he who would explore her must tread her books with his feet". Paracelsus brought "a new, questing spirit" to natural philosophy. He investigated the plague at considerable risk to himself, devised a "chemical diagnosis of madness" and, although celibate, wrote about "the diseases of women" at a time when medics turned a blind eye to their suffering.

… For Paracelsus, alchemy was not merely about the creation of gold, but was a medical and mystical philosophy that explained the functioning of the body (the transformation of food into flesh, blood and excrement) as well as the more general principles that revealed the mysteries of the earth. "Alchemy becomes so powerful and so beautiful in Paracelsus's hands," writes Ball, "because it is a part of a greater system: a magical vision of the universe distilled in the overheated alembic of a feverishly imaginative mind." Paracelsus saw the "great art of transformation" - alchemy - as the key to understanding man and nature. It was "a reflection of the natural art that makes a flower grow, that stores up metals in the earth, and brings wind and rain. By taking alchemy out of the smoky laboratory and setting it free in wild nature, Paracelsus stakes his claim to genius."

… writers from Blake to Borges have been captivated by his words …

Peter Forshaw took over, to speak at an equally fast pace about John Dee, adviser to Elizabeth I on matters astrological and scientific, a mathematician and a 'converser with angels'. A keen advocate of colonisation, he was the first man to use the term 'the British Empire'. Through the Propaedeumata Aphoristica (1558) to Monas Hieroglyphica (1564; Dee's glyph, right, is "explained" in this work), alchemy figures. Owner of the largest private library in England at the time, his marginalia indicate he interrogated the alchemical texts he read, testing, checking weights, recording the time taken for experiments to run and results to be achieved. His reading of Pantheus' Voarchadumia, as revealed in his marginalia to that work, was mentioned, and this is the abstract to Hilde Norrgrén's article, 'Interpretation and the Hieroglyphic Monad: John Dee's Reading of Pantheus's Voarchadumia':

John Dee's marginalia in his copy of Johannes Pantheus's Voarchadumia (now in the British Library) are an interesting source of information about the development of Dee's scientific ideas in the period between the Propaedeumata Aphoristica (1558) and the Monas Hieroglyphica (1564). In reading the book, Dee has systematically compared the text with Pantheus's earlier work, the Ars Metallicae, and noted any differences between the two largely identical works. Therefore, most of Dee's comments are not indications of his own interests, as has previously been assumed. Only the marginalia that are not concerned with comparing the two texts can be taken to express Dee's own views. These marginalia, probably written in 1559, provide evidence that Dee had already at this time a strong interest in cabbalistic methods as a means of gaining knowledge about natural substances. Cabbalistic speculation was to be central to Dee's thought in the Monas Hieroglyphica, and has previously been taken to indicate a dramatic change in Dee's scientific outlook, towards a spiritual quest. In his marginalia in the Voarchadumia, however, Dee appears to be using cabbalistic methods to gain information on wholly material, non-spiritual matters. The abundant use of the symbol of the hieroglyphic monad in the marginalia provides a further source of insight into the alchemical import of the symbol, five years before the publication of the Monas Hieroglyphica.

Finally, William Newman, author of Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature, Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution, and currently engaged in 'deciphering Isaac Newton's chymical laboratory notebooks and manuscripts' (read more at Newton's Alchemy, recreated). Boyle, Locke, Newton all believed in the possibility of transmutation. Professor Newman demonstrated some alchemical experiments performed by Newton: the "silica garden" (Newton's Alchemy, recreated: 'a 17th century version of a silica garden, made with potassium silicate and ferric chloride. In the 17th century, it was thought to confirm the fact that metals can be made to "vegetate"; 'Newton wrote an unpublished treatise about such metallic trees - for him they were an indication that metals had their own sort of life, and hence could, it was hoped, be made to multiply'); the apparent transmutation of silver into gold, as performed originally by Wenceslas Seiler (I think I have this name right) in 1677 at the Court of Leopold I; the "transmutation" of iron into copper, by immersing an iron nail in copper sulphate. (Inadequate cameraphone pics follow.)



Check out The Newton Project:

Although Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is best known for his theory of universal gravitation and discovery of calculus, his interests were much broader than is usually appreciated. In addition to his celebrated natural philosophical writings and mathematical works, Newton also wrote many theological texts and alchemical tracts. We already have texts and images of many of these works on offer on our site and our goal is to make all Newton's writings freely available online.

And the RCS needs an early re-visit …


Don Paterson, Rilke and attention

Good interview with Don Paterson in yesterday's Guardian, by Nicholas Wroe. Paterson's 'versions' of Rilke's Die Sonette an Orpheus were published recently, Orpheus — on my list of books to read this coming holiday. I first discovered Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus in my late teens in the J B Leishman and Stephen Spender (now very dated) translation. The sonnet sequence featured in a booklet on originality, in the Oxford Biology Readers series, that my Biology teacher pushed my way. I wish I could lay my hands on that booklet now: all these years later, I can remember it talked about Rilke, and the extraordinary story of the creation of these sonnets, and Kekulé's dream about the structure of benzene (Wikipedia: 'He wrote that he discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after dreaming of a snake seizing its own tail, a common symbol in many ancient cultures known as the Ouroboros. This dream came to him after years of studying the nature of carbon-carbon bonds.'). I didn't understand then, but that booklet was feeding right into my interest in cross-disciplinary studies and human psychology (something that's now so much easier to enjoy as the barriers between disciplines are being broken down more and more, not least because of the way the web is opening up knowledge to all-comers and allowing people to research and publish outside the formal constraints of faculties, research grant applications, etc).

Here's Paterson talking about his first encounter with these sonnets:

… it is a very strange piece of work and for a long time I knew something just wasn't coming through to me. It deals with some pretty fundamental things which I didn't really understand until I had had the right experiences in my own life and I became more able to ask the right questions of it.

And on jazz (Paterson has long loved music):

I knew there was something in there but I couldn't quite get at it. And then one day I realised that they were speaking to each other and I was overhearing the most remarkable conversations. It was like those 3-D pictures you stare at for hours and suddenly you see the zebra. I was listening to the John Abercrombie Quartet and suddenly I was eavesdropping on something incredibly articulate and deep.

How's that for humble attentiveness, a waiting game and some, from someone who's won accolade after accolade for his own creative work?  The same note of alert attentiveness is struck when he talks about first encountering Borges:

I remember reading Borges for the first time and falling back into my chair. This had never happened to me before. I could barely stand up. It was vertiginous. He introduced ideas that the language shouldn't really be able to accommodate.

I was also much taken with what Paterson had to say about the net and music. 'He is not professionally active as a player at the moment - although he still occasionally records with friends - but still saturates himself in music, mostly electronica and is delighted by the democratising effect of improved and cheaper technology':

The net is a remarkable resource. I came across this astonishing laptop musician from Georgia recently. Of course there's still an awful lot of crap around, but there's also some tremendous stuff.

Mark Doty reviewed Orpheus earlier this month in the Guardian. For those who don't know Rilke's poems, it pays to read what Mark says in his review:

Sonnets to Orpheus, the late sequence that came tumbling out, in a kind of manic trance, over a period of 13 days in 1922, an epic bout of inspiration that Rilke referred to as "dictation" … the marvel of these sonnets, that the nearly unsayable is given a spoken solidity, words that can point towards if not encompass the peculiar flowing fact of human presence. All nerves exposed, Rilke himself becomes the "pure receiver" of experience he calls for his readers to be. Being and becoming, those are his subjects. It is almost a poetry without the trappings of engagement in the particular messy chaos and circumstances of living - and yet somehow, miraculously, as alive as any poetry of the last century.

And of these new versions:

Paterson gives the sonnets, perhaps for the first time in English, a true sense of an inhabited skin, a pulsing body responding to the life of the senses … Paterson's translation restores to the Sonnets to Orpheus their unsettling, destabilising force, reminding us of the pure strangeness of us, the unlikely, thrilling event that human subjectivity is.

One poem:


You were still half a child. You came and went.
But you mapped the dancer, in that moment’s chance
to the empty constellation of the dance:
that dance in which we fitfully transcend

Nature’s dumb order. Only Orpheus
could stir you to the deepest listening:
you were the one still moved from that first song,
and still surprised if a tree took long to choose

whether or not to go along with you.
You knew the old still centre, that clear space
where the lyre was first raised up and rang out true.

For this you tried to shape the ceremony,
to fit the perfect steps that might one day
turn his own around, might turn his face.

Don Paterson's website is under development but will be here.

Adam Philips reviewed Orpheus in the Observer and wrote:

In three weeks, in 1922, while working on his Duino Elegies, Rilke wrote these 55 sonnets. 'They are,' he wrote later, 'perhaps most mysterious even to me, in the manner in which they arrived and imposed themselves on me - the most puzzling dictation I have ever received and taken down.'

13 days … 3 weeks … My copy of the Leishman/Spender translation says in the Introduction (Leishman's work), 'between the 2nd and the 20th of February the fifty-five Sonnets to Orpheus, which came as a complete surprise'. 13, 19, 21 days … miraculous.

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Eric Schmidt:

… what’s surprising is that so many companies are still betting against the net, trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. The past few years have taught us that business models based on controlling consumers or content don’t work. Betting against the net is foolish because you’re betting against human ingenuity and creativity. …

In 2007 we’ll witness the increasing dominance of open internet standards. As web access via mobile phones grows, these standards will sweep aside the proprietary protocols promoted by individual companies striving for technical monopoly. Today’s desktop software will be overtaken by internet-based services that enable users to choose the document formats, search tools and editing capability that best suit their needs.

Driving this change is a profound technological shift in computer science. For the past 20 years a client-server computing architecture has dominated digital infrastructures. Expensive PCs ran complex software programs and relied primarily on proprietary protocols to connect to bigger—and even more expensive—mainframe servers. The data and the power lived in these computers and their operating systems.

Today we live in the clouds. We’re moving into the era of “cloud” computing, with information and applications hosted in the diffuse atmosphere of cyberspace rather than on specific processors and silicon racks. The network will truly be the computer. … Cloud computing is hardly perfect: internet-based services aren’t always reliable and there is often no way to use them offline. But the direction is clear. Simplicity is triumphing over complexity. Accessibility is beating exclusivity. Power is increasingly in the hands of the user.

… put simple, intuitive technology in the hands of users and they will create content and share it. The fastest-growing parts of the internet all involve direct human interaction. … online communities are thriving and growing. The internet is helping to satisfy our most fundamental human needs—our desire for knowledge, communication and a sense of belonging. …

We’re betting on the internet because we believe that there’s a bull market in imagination online.


I might give Twitter a go:

1) Thomas:

Early this past summer I started playing with Twitter (then donning the moniker "twttr"). It drove me absolutely bonkers. … Since then I stopped pushing anything, but direct responses, to SMS or e-mail. This really made Twitter much better. But, then I was not peeking at it. In the past month or two I have had it running as a regular tab in my browser and it is much better, it does not scream for my attention, but acts more like me looking across a bar to see what my friends are doing. It is now a nice social space with quiet chatter. … This week I moved Twitter out to its own narrow (it needs to be even narrower - is there a Greasemonkey script to make it narrow) window. I keep it on my large monitor to my right, which is my social space (calendar, skype, YIM, AIM/iChat, and now Twitter). These are my social glancing applications and Twitter is a really nice compliment to the pack of Local InfoCloud tools, now that I have it set to match my expectations and desire for interruptions (or desire for minimal interruptions).

2) Euan:

I have been playing with Twitter over the weekend and have to confess that when I saw it I thought it would be a complete waste of time. However ...

You know that feeling when you wonder what your mates are up to - well Twitter lets you know. Users can update the system with what they are doing from their mobiles or from the web and then all of their friends can opt to be pinged with this information. … I can think of loads of times when it would have been useful to find out that someone was working on a particular thing, or about to go into a meeting that affected me or visiting my building when meeting up would be useful. If you get enough "ooh that's interesting" moments then Twitter could quickly become a useful business tool.

Roll on the next break in the weekly routine. Then, along with a zillion other things, I'll give Twitter an outing.

(I see now — about 5 minutes after posting — that I must have registered with Twitter some while ago …)

Practise reading

Zadie Smith, as reported at Orange Crate Art, from a podcast here:

… the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, "I should sit here and I should be entertained." And the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it.

In today's Observer, Peter Conrad reviews Paul Muldoon's The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures:

Poems, if they are good, need never end. A poem, as Auden said when explaining how one was written, cannot be finished: it is simply abandoned by a poet who can add no more to it. The reader then takes over and, with luck, discovers another kind of endlessness: reading leads to rereading, as the words are coaxed into releasing subtler, richer meanings, dilating into ever ampler contexts. Unlike many of his predecessors, Muldoon chooses not to generalise about poetry. Instead, he explicates individual poems, one per lecture. The procedure demands close attention, but the results are revelatory. Reading here is a collaborative recreation and, at their best, Muldoon's interpretations - sometimes whimsically tenuous, often breathtaking in their intellectual boldness - are like improvised, free associating poems. … Two-thirds of the way through each lecture, he reassuringly announces that he is about to reach a conclusion. He never does; the end comes only when the hour is up, because he has demonstrated the inexhaustibility of these poems.

Web and speed: II

Had I seen it last Monday (the BBC reported it on Thursday), I'd have linked to this Akamai press release, Akamai and JupiterResearch Identify '4 Seconds' as the New Threshold of Acceptability for Retail Web Page Response Times, in my previous posting, Web and speed:

Based on the feedback of 1,058 online shoppers that were surveyed during the first half of 2006, JupiterResearch offers the following analysis:

  • The consequences for an online retailer whose site underperforms include diminished goodwill, negative brand perception, and, most important, significant loss in overall sales.
  • Online shopper loyalty is contingent upon quick page loading, especially for high-spending shoppers and those with greater tenure.
  • JupiterResearch recommends that retailers make every effort to keep page rendering to no longer than four seconds.

You can download the JupiterResearch, vendor-sponsored (Akamai) report as a pdf via this page (requires registration). On page 9:

When it comes to page rendering, retailers must consider how well the site must perform in order to minimize shopper dissatisfaction. Based on recent survey data, JupiterResearch recommends that retailers make every effort to keep page rendering to no longer than four seconds. Overall, 28 percent of online shoppers will not wait longer than four seconds for a Web site page to load before leaving. Broadband users are even less tolerant of slow rendering. A full one-third of online shoppers with a broadband connection are unwilling to wait more than four seconds (compared with 19 percent of online shoppers with a dial-up connection). Consumers who have already invested in a high-speed Internet connection do so with the expectation that pages will load quickly. And, based on current availability, pricing, and adoption rates, JupiterResearch expects broadband adoption to reach nearly 78 percent of online households (or 58 percent of all US households) by 2010. The prevalence of broadband-connected online shoppers will continue to grow, and retailers must meet their expectations accordingly.

According to Akamai's press release, 

Close to half of the retailers on the Internet Retailer Top 500 list still experience site response times in excess of four seconds, demonstrating the need for site acceleration services.

(Akamai: 'the leading global service provider for accelerating content and business processes online'.)

Quite a gap between four seconds and the 'increments of 100 milliseconds' Greg Linden says Amazon was testing. For Marissa Mayer, half a second 'killed user satisfaction'.

Web and speed

I noticed the other day the two postings on TypePad Hacks about speeding up the rate at which your web page loads: TypePad Hacks: Keep Readers Happy With a Fast-Loading Blog, Part One and TypePad Hacks: Keep Readers Happy With a Fast-Loading Blog, Part Two. I'm not bothered by this as far as this weblog goes (I think it loads OK, though now I've mentioned it I'll probably find out that it loads incredibly slowly), and not being great as a practitioner of the dark arts of CSS coding, TypePad advanced templates, etc some of this passes me by, anyway. What did intrigue me, however, was this (from Part One):

If you have a two column blog with the sidebar on the left, consider changing your layout so that the sidebar is on the right. That way, your posts load first and your widgets can load at their leasure while visitors read your posts. If you have a three column blog, then try moving the slower widgets into the right-most column.

Now it's been mentioned, it's kind of obvious, I guess, that something must be telling the browser in which direction to read/load the blog, but it hadn't occurred to me before to think about this and I'm left wondering how universal the left/down-to-right directionality is — in weblog/webpage design generally, but also across cultures. (It's explained more fully in this quotation from A VC, cited by TypePad Hacks, about Fred Wilson's blog: 'The way things are coded in this blog layout, content is read [by the browser] first down, then to the right. This means, the browser needs to load all the widgets on the left, then your content, then the widgets on the right'.)

Then, today, I read this on Greg Linden's blog, Geeking with Greg:

Google VP Marissa Mayer just spoke at the Web 2.0 Conference and offered tidbits on what Google has learned about speed, the user experience, and user satisfaction. … Marissa ran an experiment where Google increased the number of search results to thirty. Traffic and revenue from Google searchers in the experimental group dropped by 20%. … The page with 10 results took .4 seconds to generate. The page with 30 results took .9 seconds. Half a second delay caused a 20% drop in traffic. Half a second delay killed user satisfaction.

This conclusion may be surprising -- people notice a half second delay? -- but we had a similar experience at In A/B tests, we tried delaying the page in increments of 100 milliseconds and found that even very small delays would result in substantial and costly drops in revenue.

Back in January the BBC reported some research carried in Nature:

Internet users make up their minds about the quality of a website in the blink of an eye, a study shows. Researchers found that the brain makes decisions in just a 20th of a second of viewing a webpage. … The Canadian team showed volunteers glimpses of websites, lasting for only 50 milliseconds. The volunteers then had to rate the websites in terms of their aesthetic appeal. The researchers found that the speedily formed conclusions closely tallied with opinions of the websites that had been made after much longer periods of examination.

The researchers also believe that these quickly formed first impressions last because of what is known to psychologists as the "halo effect". If people believe a website looks good, then this positive quality will spread to other areas, such as the website's content. Since people like to be right, they will continue to use the website that made a good first impression, as this will further confirm that their initial decision was a good one.

As websites increasingly jostle for business, Dr Lindgaard added that companies should take note. "Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors," she warned.

The web — where sometimes almost every millisecond counts, it seems.

Earth, from deep space

The photo that appeared on AOL some three days ago was amazing. Was it for real? A physicist colleague of mine confirms it is: it's a genuine NASA photo. This from NASA's Planetary Journal:

Not since NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft saw our home as a pale blue dot from beyond the orbit of Neptune has Earth been imaged in color from the outer solar system. Now, Cassini casts powerful eyes on our home planet, and captures Earth, a pale blue orb -- and a faint suggestion of our moon -- among the glories of the Saturn system.

Earth is captured here in a natural color portrait made possible by the passing of Saturn directly in front of the sun from Cassini's point of view. At the distance of Saturn's orbit, Earth is too narrowly separated from the sun for the spacecraft to safely point its cameras and other instruments toward its birthplace without protection from the sun's glare.

The Earth-and-moon system is visible as a bright blue point on the right side of the image above center. Here, Cassini is looking down on the Atlantic Ocean and the western coast of north Africa. The phase angle of Earth, seen from Cassini is about 30 degrees.

A magnified view of the image … taken through the clear filter (monochrome) shows the moon as a dim protrusion to the upper left of Earth. Seen from the outer solar system through Cassini's cameras, the entire expanse of direct human experience, so far, is nothing more than a few pixels across. Earth no longer holds the distinction of being our solar system's only "water world," as several other bodies suggest the possibility that they too harbor liquid water beneath their surfaces. The Saturnian moon, Enceladus, is among them, and is also captured on the left in this image, with its plume of water ice particles and swathed in the blue E ring which it creates. Delicate fingers of material extend from the active moon into the E ring. See PIA08321, for a more detailed view of these newly-revealed features. …

The image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Sept. 15, 2006, at a distance of approximately 2.1 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft angle of almost 179 degrees. Image scale is approximately 250 kilometers (155 miles) per pixel. At this time, Cassini was nearly 1.5 billion kilometers (930 million miles) from Earth.

The Cassini-Huygens mission can be found in cyberspace here and the imaging team homepage is here. The images reproduced here are courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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A lot for the Democrats to do now, but, for the moment, relief:

This was a resounding and emphatic rejection of the core, defining premises of the so-called "conservative" movement and what has morphed into the grotesque Republican Party. Nobody doubts that Americans vigorously rejected George Bush and his signature policy -- the invasion of Iraq. But it wasn't only Bush and Iraq.

Democratic candidates won -- in every part of the country and regardless of their ideology -- by committing themselves to one basic platform. They vigorously opposed what have become the defining attributes of the Republican Party and they pledged to put a stop to them: unchecked Presidential power, mindless warmongering, a refusal to accept or acknowledge realities (both in Iraq and generally), and the deep-seated, fundamental corruption fueling the Bush movement and sustaining their power.

Virtually every Democratic winner, from the most conservative to the most liberal, in the reddest and bluest states, have that in common. They all ran on a platform of putting a stop to the radicalism, deceit and corruption that drives the so-called "conservative" political movement.

… yesterday's results should galvanize everyone who recognizes the danger this country has been placed in by the radical, hate-mongering, deeply corrupt authoritarians who have been controlling (and destroying) it. That movement has been severely wounded, but not yet killed. Glenn Greenwald (Unclaimed Territory)


I was beginning to wonder if America had the ability to see. I don't now. I stayed up until 2pm eastern last night just to make sure. The american public has seen what's really going on and they have sent a message to washington.

Democrats + 27 (maybe more) in the House and take control
Democrats + 6 (I know VA is a recount) in the Senate and take control
Democrats +6 in statehouses and set the stage for 2008

But more importantly, we have a new kind of Democrat emerging. Jim Webb, former Secretary of the Navy. Claire McCaskill, tough pragmatic midwestern woman. Bob Casey and Joe Lieberman.

The Democrats are moving to the center, occupying the vacuum left by the disappearance of the moderate Republican. … america has woken up from it's tilt right. We are back in centerville. Thank God. Fred Wilson (A VC)

Today, Truth!

Today, we hold our annual upper sixth (year 13) conference, something we run jointly with St Helen & St Katharine. (For those outside the UK, upper sixth = secondary school leavers/18 year-olds.)

I've enjoyed my involvement with these conferences, brief though it's been, and recall the others with pleasure:

  • 2004: 'at the school I teach at, we are preparing for a sixth form conference on 'IT and the challenge of change'. Speakers include Cory Doctorow and Jyri Engeström. Cory will be talking about DRM and, in the run-up to this event, I have begun chatting with Colin Greenwood (Radiohead), getting the views of an artist, someone without whom there would be no music to share in the first place.'

Colin, Jyri and Cory gave memorable talks, and there was a great "panel" session with Cory sitting alongside Colin, fielding questions from some very engaged students. Jyri's talk, much admired on the day, is online here.

  • 2005: 'Today, we hold our annual conference for our school leavers and this year the theme is 'Making a Difference: changing the world'. I am delighted that we will be welcoming to speak Sir Thomas Shebbeare, James Mawdsley and Julian Filochowski: respectively, they will be addressing — How to Make a Difference, Global Democracy and Justice, Global Poverty Issues.' (More about each speaker on my original blog post.)

James Mawdsley and Julian Filochowski made a great impact, comparable only to that of Clive Stafford Smith (Wikipedia) when he spoke here last November.

And today? Truth …

  • Truth in Politics: Ann Widdecombe, MP — Wikipedia, own website
  • Truth and Satire: Craig Brown, satirist — Wikipedia
  • Truth, Diplomacy and The War on Terror: Craig Murray, formerly our Ambassador to Uzbekistan — Wikipedia, own website
  • Truth and Activism: Laurie Pycroft & Tom Holder of Pro-Test

My colleague, Jim Summerly, a historian, will talk about 'Truth and History' (official histories and propaganda vs what's really going on — from Stalinist Russia to contemporary, democratic regimes). Now, if all that doesn't get the hall a-buzzing …

I particularly enjoyed establishing that Laurie could join us: he had to get out of school for the day. That's humbling. What were we each doing, aged 16?