Monthly Archives: June 2013

Orwell explains 1984

Read Orwell on Orwell as he clarifies the meaning of ‘1984’.

Following is an excerpt from a letter from George Orwell to Dwight Macdonald, written in December 1946, soon after the publication of Animal Farm in the US. According to the editor of the letters, Peter Davison, who also supplied the footnotes, Macdonald wrote Orwell that

anti-Stalinist intellectuals of his acquaintance claimed that the parable of Animal Farm meant that revolution always ended badly for the underdog, “hence to hell with it and hail the status quo.” He himself read the book as applying solely to Russia and not making any larger statement about the philosophy of revolution. “I’ve been impressed with how many leftists I know make this criticism quite independently of each other—impressed because it didn’t occur to me when reading the book and still doesn’t seem correct to me. Which view would you say comes closer to you own intentions?”

Orwell’s reply will appear in George Orwell: Life in Letters, to be published by Liveright in August.


Re. your query about Animal Farm. Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves (Kronstadt).1 If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right. If people think I am defending the status quo, that is, I think, because they have grown pessimistic and assume that there is no alternative except dictatorship orlaissez-faire capitalism. In the case of Trotskyists, there is the added complication that they feel responsible for events in the USSR up to about 1926 and have to assume that a sudden degeneration took place about that date. Whereas I think the whole process was foreseeable—and was foreseen by a few people, eg. Bertrand Russell—from the very nature of the Bolshevik party. What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictat[or]ship.2

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The aesthetic Einstein

Einstein wasn’t just a theoretical physicist. Read about Einstein and the world of his day here

einstein violin

 

Peter Forbes: rereading Einstein’s collected papers

For a supposed ivory-tower scientist, Albert Einstein had an impressive record of social and political engagement. And as the latest volume of his collected papers shows, he also had a way with fridges

Albert Einstein, his secretary and his daughter take the oath of US citizenship
Hands up … Albert Einstein, his secretary Helen Dukas (left) and his daughter Margaret take the oath of US citizenship Photograph: American Stock/Getty Images

Japan and gyroscopes, refrigerators and impressionistic travel writing – these are not topics one would associate with Albert Einstein. Nor does the following sound like the master of time and space: “The prospect of a downright normal, natural life in tranquillity, connected with the welcome practical employment in the factory, enchants me. Add to that the wonderful countryside, sailing – enviable.” This was a response to the offer by Einstein’s friend, the inventor and businessman Hermann Anschütz-Kaempfe, of work and a home in Kiel, away from pressures that plagued him in Berlin after the first world war.

The joy of the Collected Papers, which has now reached the 13th volume and the year 1922, is that it reveals these lesser known facets of this extraordinary man, allowing us to go beyond the famous mask. “Mild, intoxicating air. Steel-colored sea. Italian suggestion of solid ground diffusely cloudy. Japanese woman crawling about with children. They look rosy and bedazzled, almost as if (schematic) stylised. Black-eyed, black-haired, large-headed, pattering.” This is from the lengthy travel diary of 1922/3, and presents an unfamiliar figure, to say the least: an Einstein who sounds more like a painter taking notes for a composition.

As Kevin Jackson has pointed out in Constellation of Genius, 1922 was Modernism Year One; both The Waste Land and Ulysses were published that year. Scientific and artistic modernism were more or less contemporaneous, although on the Jackson principle, Modernist Science Year One would have to be 1905, Einstein’s annus mirabilis when, in the space of three and a half months, he wrote three epochal papers, one of which won him the Nobel prize, one confirmed beyond all doubt the existence and size of atoms, and the other introduced the mind, space and time-bending concept of special relativity.

The label Modernism Year One sits uneasily on Germany in 1922, where the reaction against all things modern, Jewish and left-wing was beginning to congeal into the horror that would emerge as Nazism. Einstein, the man who, just as much as Picasso or Stravinsky, ushered in modernism, knew this only too well.

The German republic, formed after Germany’s defeat and the Kaiser’s abdication in 1918, faced enormous economic and political problems, as the war’s victors sought unfeasibly large reparations. Hitler had already been installed as leader of the Nazi party in Munich in the summer of 1921. On 24 June 1922, in a portent of what was to come, the foreign minister Walter Rathenau was assassinated by right-wing extremists. Rathenau was Jewish and had just signed the Rapallo treaty with communist Russia. Einstein was friendly with Rathenau and was deeply affected by the killing. As a lifelong pacifist and self-proclaimed “international person”, he had been horrified at the extreme nationalistic mania engendered by the war even among scientific colleagues.

In October 1914, 93 leading German intellectuals, including some of Einstein’s closest colleagues such as Max Planck, signed a declaration, “Call to the Civilised World”, popularly known as the “Manifesto of the 93”, which denied all allegations of German atrocities in the invasion of Belgium in 1914. Einstein was involved in a counter manifesto, approaching various Prussian Academy luminaries for support, and was completely unsuccessful, lamenting: “Only men of extraordinary independence of character seem able to resist the pressure of prevailing opinion. There does not seem one single man of that calibre in the Academy.”

After the experimental vindication of Relativity in 1919, science itself had become a battleground, with some German physicists, led by Philipp Lenard, rejecting Relativity in favour of “sound German spirit”. In 1921 Lenard had written a book, Ether and Unether, expressing these views, and Hitler had written an article stating: “Science, once our greatest pride, is today being taught by Hebrews, for whom … science is only a means towards a deliberate, systematic poisoning of our nation’s soul.” Lenard was to become Hitler’s “Chief of Aryan Science”.

For a supposed ivory-tower scientist, Einstein had an impressive record of social and political engagement. Later, in 1933, soon after arriving in America as an exile from Nazism, he instigated the foundation of theInternational Rescue Committee, still flourishing and soon to be headed by David Miliband. He also worked hard to help establish the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1921 he toured America with Chaim Weizmann (later to be Israel’s first president), drumming up support for such Zionist causes. But he had reservations, writing to his great friend the Dutch physicist Paul Ehrenfest: “The Zionists are shameless and importunate; I have a hard time adopting the appropriate position in each instance, considering that I am, of course, well-disposed to the cause.” Einstein could not escape being regarded as a figurehead for world Jewry, but he did reject the post of President of Israel when it was offered in 1952.

In 1922, Einstein’s peace activism took the form of joining the League of Nations committee on intellectual cooperation, but he knew he did not possess the negotiation skills essential to political life, and all his attempts at such intervention led to frustration. He resigned from the committee in July, only to rejoin and then leave for good in March 1923. Of this first resignation he wrote to Marie Curie: “I perceived that very strong anti-Semitism prevails among those I to some extent have to represent at the League of Nations; and generally there is a mentality that makes me unsuited to be the representing and intermediary person.”

When he was warned, following Rathenau’s murder, that his own life might be in danger, he decided that, whatever his long-term plans, he would spend some time away from Germany. From October 1922 to March 1923 he toured, principally in Japan at the invitation of his Japanese publisher. Japan might seem an unlikely home-from-home for a German Jew, but Einstein was entranced by the delicacy of Japanese art and architecture, the grace of the people, the social cohesion.

He believed in a culture of aesthetic and moral harmony that clearly did not exist in Germany. He found Japanese music somewhat wanting, because the element of harmony that coursed through and gave impetus to western music was missing, but the people, the architecture and the social climate he found enchanting, declaring: “For the first time I have seen a healthy human society whose members are absorbed in it.” All of this would, within a decade, curdle, and a brutalised Japan would become an ally of Nazi Germany. But this does not invalidate Einstein’s verdict on the culture he observed.

The journey also took in brief visits to Barcelona, Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, ending in Palestine. He found the voyage, during which he was free of the many pressures of Germany, stimulating for his science, and the procession of scenes from so many un-Germanic places brought out the aesthete in him. So absorbing was the experience that the award of the Nobel prize, the ceremony for which he missed because of the trip, went unmentioned in his diary.

Einstein was a man of broad culture: music was always vital to him, and even in the hurly-burly of his early fame, when, as he said, “the great crowd seized possession of me”, he managed to arrange to play his violin in string quartets with musical friends. Fame meant that he could try to advance causes he believed in, such as international scholarly and scientific collaboration. But left to himself, he valued above all his circle of friends, mostly from his days in Switzerland.

He was a theorist, who did his greatest work while a patent clerk with no access to a laboratory. He is famous for his thought experiments, not hard, bench-top, real-time experiments. So he has become the epitome of the unpractical thinker. His pacifism and physical appearance reinforced the image of an idealist dreamer. But Einstein was deeply interested in machines. In the 1950s he wrote: “I … never ceased to concern myself with technical matters. This was of benefit also to my scientific research.”

Einstein worked with Anschütz-Kaempfe on improved designs for ships’ gyrocompasses as a co-patentee. He also took out other patents, notably for a design of refrigerator (co-patentee Leó Szilárd, later to be the key founder of the Manhattan project to produce the atom bomb). The invention of fluorocarbons in 1928 meant that the Einstein-Szilárd fridge never caught on, but it is curious to contemplate that the theorist of relativity might well also have had an appliance in every kitchen.

In the 1922 papers we see the practical Einstein at work with Anschütz-Kaempfe in a patent dispute with the American Elmer Sperry concerning the gyroscope; Einstein gives expert witness in the patent hearings. Given his background in patents this is not so surprising, but it gives a frisson to hear him switch from debating space-time to urging Anschütz-Kaempfe to “plate the aluminium sphere with a more precious metal” or to find a means of “applying a layer of graphite”. This is trial-and-error work, as far removed as possible from contemplating whether or not “God plays dice”. Anschütz-Kaempfe wrote to Einstein’s colleague Arnold Sommerfeld, stating that “weary of Berlin and everything connected with it”, Einstein “wants to go into technology”.

One technology he never went into, although popular myth suggests otherwise, is nuclear fission. The equation E=mc2 proposes the enormous energetic potential of matter, but only in the most general way. Einstein’s scientific biographer wrote that “to say that this made possible the construction of nuclear weapons is like saying that the invention of the alphabet caused the Bible to be written”. What Einstein did do was use his influence to alert President Roosevelt to the danger that Germany would acquire an atom bomb.

Einstein’s genius didn’t lie in one over-developed faculty – as the crass researchers who stole his brain for analysis believed – but in a broader-than-usual range of competencies. He was mathematician, physicist, engineer, philosopher, musician and social and political activist, and he had a highly developed visual artistic sense. He attributed his findings to his intense “curiosity, obsession, and sheer perseverance”, claiming: “I myself have no special talents”. And he attributed his elucidation of relativity to his slow development, asking questions as an adult that children might toy with only to abandon as they grow up (he was 16 when he had the first intuition of the relativity paradoxes). Einstein is the classic example of a man who “hears a different drummer”. And he remained true to this: he stepped to the music he heard “however measured or far away”. And far away for him included the deepest recesses of space-time, a place no one before even knew existed.

• Nanoscience: Giants of the Infinitesimal by Peter Forbes and Tom Grimsey will be published in October.

• This article was amended on 24 June 2013. The original referred to Einstein’s journey ending in Israel. This has been corrected to Palestine.

 

 

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Old Carolingian coin found in Norway

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An archaeological dig in Trondheim, Norway turned up quite a surprise last week, when a 1200-year-old coin was unearthed – the oldest coin from the Carolingian period ever found in Norway.

The coin reads CAR LVS (Carolus). (Photo: Ellen Wijgård Randerz, NTNU University Museum)

The coin was found at Ranheim, which lies just north of the city of Trondheim, in mid-Norway. Trondheim is the country’s third largest city and became an important pilgrimage centre starting in medieval times.

“We are looking for traces of a farm called Vik, mentioned in historical sources and recognised in surrounding place names,” says Geir Grønnesby, an archaeologist and head of the dig, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum.

“It seems it was deserted in the 17th or 18th century, and since then the exact location has been lost.  We have localized Vik from piles of cooking stones, post holes and cooking pits.”

The archaeologists found four coins during this survey – including the very early Carolingian coin.

King of the Franks

The silver coin was made during the rule of Charlemagne, also called Charles I or Charles the Great, who reigned from 768-814. It was made before he reformed coinage practices in 793-794, which means the coin must have been made between 768 and 793-794.

Aerial photo of the surveyed location. The dark areas are soil layers from the farm Vik. (Photo: Kaare Grytting, NTNU University Museum)

“Two factors make this find stand out. Firstly, this coin is older than the Carolingian coinage reform, and so far the oldest coin from Charlemagne’s reign found in Norway,” says Jon Anders Risvaag, an associate professor of numismatics and monetary history from NTNU University Museum.

“Secondly, this coin was not found in a grave, in contrast to almost all other coins from Charlemagne and his successors that have been found in Norway.”

The coin reads CAR LVS (Carolus) split in two lines on the front, and has Rx.F on the reverse. The Rx.F is short for Rex Francorum, the King of the Franks.

Viking raids

The Vikings conducted extensive raids in Frankish areas during the ninth century. In addition to looting, they held people and towns for ransom. Researchers have assumed that the reason for the relatively few coin finds in Scandinavia is that they were melted.

Most of the coins that survive were used as jewellery, usually marked with a hole or a loop for hanging.

Profile through the soil layers. The layers of rock is cooking stones. (Photo: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum)

This coin does not have any of these features, but it seems that the coin might have been gilded.  Gilding might suggest it was used for jewellery, but the Museum will have to conduct further investigations to determine certainly whether or not it was ever gilded.

“One might speculate as to how and why this coin ended up at the Vik farm in Trøndelag. The find shows very clearly that this was a great farm with international contacts,” Grønnesby says.

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The aesthetic Führer

An ardent patron of the arts, Hitler drew around him men with an aesthetic bent. (Speer was an architect; Goering, an art collector. Alfred Rosenberg had studied architecture; Goebbels had written plays and a novel.) He insisted that artists were as crucial to society as mathematicians and men of science.

– Maureen Mullarkey

Read the article, Aesthetic Drive

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Californian saves Japanese family farms in WWII

“a former California agriculture inspector who, ignoring the resentment of neighbors, quit his job in the middle of World War II to manage the fruit farms of Japanese families forced to live in internment camps”

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5 Minutes in the Middle Ages

Enjoy Anthony Esolen’s sketch of the Middle Ages.

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Leon Kass on Ten Commandments

… despite its notoriety, the Decalogue is still only superficially known, in part because its very familiarity interferes with a deeper understanding of its teachings. This essay, in aspiring to such an understanding, intends also to build a case for the enduring moral and political significance of the Decalogue—a universal significance that goes far beyond its opposition to murder, adultery, and theft.

– Leon Kass

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Kagan’s farewell speech

Donald Kagan defines and dismisses the state of education in the liberal arts.

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Poetry at the Mall

The humiliation of self-conscious culture makers is the beginning of wisdom. Like this here.

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Graphene, the strongest material

Check out this advance in science.

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