Reviews thread#1 - misc (hobbies: books, cinema, etc interests)

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"Dostoevsky in Love" by Alex Christofi

INTRO (Frances Wilson): The first time he fell in love, Fyodor Dostoevsky was in his mid-30s. He had written two famous novels, Poor Folk and The Double, been arrested for treason, suffered a mock-execution, and served four years of hard labour in Siberia. He was now, in 1854, serving as a private in the army and the object of his desire, Maria Isaeva, was the capricious and consumptive wife of a drunkard called Alexander.

When the Isaevas moved to the mining town of Kuznetsk, 700 versts away in southwestern Siberia (a verst is roughly equivalent to a kilometre), Dostoevsky’s love seemed doomed. But then Alexander died, leaving Maria alone and in poverty. Dostoevsky sent her his last roubles and a proposal of marriage, telling the coachman to wait for her answer before making the week-long journey back through the snow. Maria turned his offer down: she could never marry a penniless private. She then fell in love with a man who was just as poor as Dostoevsky, and also a simpleton: “I barely understand how I go on living,” Dostoevsky wrote, aware that this current melodrama was repeating the plot of Poor Folk.

He eventually married Maria, and had his first full epileptic fit on their wedding night. She never recovered from the sight of his writhing, crumpled body: “The black cat has run between us,” as he put it in The Insulted and the Injured. The couple shared not a single day of happiness, but then it is hard to find many days of happiness in his story at all.

The life of Dostoevsky was nothing if not Dostoevskian. It was suffering, he believed, that gave value to existence: “Suffering and pain are always mandatory for broad minds and deep hearts,” he explained in Crime and Punishment. “Truly great people, it seems to me, should feel great sadness on this earth.” His mother, who was also called Maria, had died of TB when he was 15; soon afterwards his father was found dead in a ditch, possibly murdered by the serfs on his estate.

Poor Folk made him a literary sensation but earned him no money, and the little money he did earn was lost on the roulette wheel. While his novels mined the psyche, he did battle with his body: myopia, haemorrhoids, bladder infections, emphysema. By the time he was writing Devils, his seizures had become so severe that he had no memory, when he regained consciousness, of either the novel’s plot or the names of his characters... (MORE)
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(UK review) Why Jews don’t count to the ‘anti-racists’

EXCERPTS: . . . These are arguments that women have with men, blacks with whites, and you know which side you must join. In the good corner are progressives ‘on the right side of history’ and in the bad are the bigots and reactionaries who block their ears so they never have to give up their unearned privileges.

Except when it comes to Jews, the roles flip. A portion of progressive opinion has decided the best way to show it is on the right side of history is to repeat anti-Semitic ideas and accuse anyone who tries to reason with them of being engaged in a plot to further Israel’s interests or divert attention from the real suffering of less privileged ethnic minorities.

David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count is out this week; a piercing 28,000-word essay that throws you back to the age of pamphlet wars. His central and unanswerable contention is that, in a time of identity politics, when every persecuted minority is listened to, there is one ethnic minority large numbers of progressives do not want to hear from: Jews, one of the most persecuted minorities in history.

Baddiel builds his argument by weaving in examples so skilfully all but the most bigoted reader has to accept he has a case. A few are familiar. The people on the UK left who stuck with Jeremy Corbyn after he defended a mural showing hook-nosed capitalists, that might have come straight out of Nazi Germany. But many are drawn from a world that is unfamiliar, to me at any rate. I never knew, for instance, that Alice Walker, author of the idolised novel, The Colour Purple, took the time and trouble in 2017 to sit down and write a poem bubbling with hate entitled ‘To Study The Talmud’.

[...] It was grotesque. But the idea that an African-American author could ever be cancelled for racism against Jews remains unthinkable to right-thinking people, even though Walker went on to endorse the works of David Icke, whose anti-vax lies could incidentally lead to the deaths of, among others, a disproportionately high number of black people suffering from Covid-19. In 2019, a musical version of the Colour Purple came to the UK. There was a hell of a fuss because Seyi Omooba, one of the cast, had once written an anti-gay post. The producers fired her, of course. Omooba’s prejudice was unforgivable, while Walker’s was, if not quite forgivable, then a matter of no consequence.

They tolerate the revival of medieval hatreds because they think all Jews are rich – itself a throwback to the Nazi and Communist stereotype of the Jew as banker and the medieval stereotype of the Jew as usurer. [...] Jews are rich and white therefore we should not worry overmuch about them. Except that not all Jews are rich or white. And even if they were, their richness and whiteness does not spare them from violence and murder.

A left that claims to be anti-fascist can only encompass anti-Semitism and genuine Jew haters by refusing to understand modern fascism. [...] Baddiel, a lifelong leftist, writes with discernible pain. 'A tiny part of me died,' he says, when he saw the actor Robert Lindsay mourn Corbyn’s departure or heard others he’d once admired dismiss anti-Jewish hatred as an incidental idiosyncrasy that in no way blemishes the shining goodness of the left’s flawless face... (MORE - details)
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BOOK: Probable Impossibilities - Musings on Beginnings and Endings, by Alan Lightman

Physicist Andrei Linde may have the most expansive conception of what infinity is

EXCERPTS: . . . The person on planet Earth who may have come up with the most expansive conception of spatial infinity is the theoretical physicist Andrei Linde, a professor at Stanford University. [...] His theory, a revision of the MIT physicist Alan Guth’s 1981 theory, itself a revision of the 1927 Big Bang model, is called “eternal chaotic inflation.” The theory posits that in its infancy, our universe went through a period of highly rapid expansion, much faster than in the standard Big Bang model. In a tiny fraction of a second, a region of space smaller than an atom “inflated” to a size large enough to encompass all the matter and energy we can see today. That much of the inflation theory was articulated in Guth’s paper. Linde’s theory goes further. It proposes that our universe is necessarily one of a vast number of universes, each of which is constantly and randomly spawning new universes in an unending chain of cosmic creation, extending into the future for eternity. Some of those universes, and perhaps our own, should be infinite in extent. In our particular universe, the period of highly rapid expansion would have been completed and done with when our universe was 0.000000000000000000000000000000001 seconds old.

[...] I visited Linde recently at his home ... get an update on his theory and its place in our view of the world. but retains a thick Russian accent. We sat at his kitchen table. ... First, I asked Linde if he believes that spatial infinity truly exists...

[...] “Do you think dinosaurs truly existed?” he replied, and paused. “Everything works as if spatial infinity exists.” Linde is careful with language. He distinguishes between reality, which we can never know, and our models and inferences about reality. He has always had a strong interest in philosophy. He remembers having debates with high-school classmates about science versus art.

I asked him how he thought about infinity, whether he attempted to visualize it. “No matter how far you go, you can go farther,” he said. Then he made an analogy to a garden: “But there’s no fence.”

Anaximander’s conception of infinity was abstract and could not reasonably be associated with physical space. In fact, the early Greek philosophers pictured the cosmos as limited in size, with an outer boundary, although they did not claim to know the actual distances. The first person to postulate in concrete terms a spatially infinite universe seems to have been a 16th-century English mathematician and astronomer named Thomas Digges...

[...] In our conversation, we talked about the manner in which scientific theories, and especially maverick theories, are confronted by the scientific community. Linde described what he calls a strong “sociological” effect: the biases and prejudices of scientists, their institutional stature, and the inherent caution of the scientific enterprise. Linde himself is not a cautious person. His colleagues describe him as someone who shoots from the hip with lots of ideas, some right and some wrong. He is a person of extreme self-confidence, a showman in his popular lectures and articles.

[...] The Guth-Linde inflation theory solves the puzzle of the cosmic radio waves, as well as other problems with the Big Bang model. During the period when the infant universe was expanding at blinding speed, a very tiny patch of space, tiny enough that all its parts could have homogenized, would have quickly inflated to encompass today’s entire observable universe. No matter what the initial conditions, inflation would have produced a universe of uniform temperature.

Most important, the inflation theory explains why such inflation would occur and includes equations for the various energies and forces involved. The key ingredient of the theory, and the cause of the extremely rapid expansion of the infant cosmos, is a kind of energy called a “scalar field.” Most energy fields, like gravity, are invisible, yet they can exert forces. Some scalar fields produce a repulsive gravitational force: They push things apart rather than pull things together.

[...] One of Linde’s ideas is that in the early universe, scalar field energy should be constantly created at various magnitudes due to quantum effects. A strange aspect of quantum physics is that energy and matter can suddenly appear out of nothing for short periods of time. If you could examine space with a strong enough microscope, you would find that it is constantly fluctuating, seething with ghost-like particles and energies that randomly appear and disappear. Quantum phenomena are normally apparent only in the tiny world of the atom, but near t = 0 the entire observable universe was smaller than an atom. If at a certain point in the infant universe sufficient scalar field energy had materialized, its repulsive gravitational effect would have caused space to expand so rapidly that an entire universe would have been created. Since such quantum fluctuations would have been going on at random places and times—this is the “chaos” in Linde’s eternal chaotic inflation theory—new universes would have been constantly forming.

Indeed, Linde’s theory requires that we redefine what we mean by universe. Some physicists now take the word to mean a region of space that will be quarantined into the infinite future, that may have been in contact with other parts of the cosmos in the past but can never communicate with the rest of the cosmos again. Because of the mind-bending way in which gravity alters the geometry of space in Einstein’s theory, there could conceivably be multiple universes, each infinite in extent.

Physicists predict that the new universes created by quantum fluctuations have a wide range of properties: Some might be infinite in extent, others finite; some might have the right conditions to make stars and planets and life; others might be lifeless and unformed deserts of subatomic particles and energy; some might even have different dimensions than our own universe. In this vision, universes endlessly spawn new universes, each with its own Big Bang beginning. Our t = 0 would not be the beginning of space and time in the larger cosmos, only in our particular universe.

[...] It is unlikely that we will ever know if Linde’s infinity of universes exists. But the rest of the Guth-Linde inflation theory is being actively tested today. [...] Yet Andrei Linde does not appear to be a man completely at peace with his place in the world. Something eludes him. When he talks about the history of the inflation theory, he seems still to be defending his ideas against naysayers and rival theorists, still competing with Guth and others for priority of discovery, still infused with a powerful desire for vindication... (MORE - details)

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