Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Lecture – Open Thread

can be found here.

Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental.

Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school – I want to tell you about three of them: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.

A typhoon hits the Pequod. Captain Ahab thinks it’s a good omen. Starbuck thinks it’s a bad omen, considers killing Ahab. As soon as the storm ends, a crewmember falls from the ship’s mast and drowns, foreshadowing what’s to come. A Quaker pacifist priest, who is actually a bloodthirsty businessman, tells Flask, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness.”

Everything is mixed in. All the myths: the Judeo Christian bible, Hindu myths, British legends, Saint George, Perseus, Hercules – they’re all whalers. Greek mythology, the gory business of cutting up a whale. Lots of facts in this book, geographical knowledge, whale oil – good for coronation of royalty – noble families in the whaling industry. Whale oil is used to anoint the kings. History of the whale, phrenology, classical philosophy, pseudo-scientific theories, justification for discrimination – everything thrown in and none of it hardly rational. Highbrow, lowbrow, chasing illusion, chasing death, the great white whale, white as polar bear, white as a white man, the emperor, the nemesis, the embodiment of evil. The demented captain who actually lost his leg years ago trying to attack Moby with a knife.

We see only the surface of things. We can interpret what lies below any way we see fit.

And much more.

I’m going to do a small plug for a friend here. Martin Pfeiffer, a graduate student in anthropology known on Twitter as @NuclearAnthro, has a new blog. He has some unique takes on how nuclear weapons affect our thinking. Also gay humor. His first post is on advertising for the nuclear weapons laboratories. Go check out his blog.


And – Open Thread!


What Do We Know About Carter Page?

I’ve just published a long piece on Carter Page at Nuclear Diner. I think I won’t publish it here, because it’s mainly a resource piece. I know some Juicers are interested in this sort of thing, though. Here’s the intro:

The story of Donald Trump’s Russia connections has so many players and connections that it’s hard to to follow it in any cogent way, let alone connect all the dots. A great many dots still seem to be missing.

What I often find illuminating is to look carefully at details. In my scientific career, I found that the most enlightening path might start with a small piece of information seemingly out of place. I’ve been collecting information about the various players. Putting that information in chronological order seems most helpful to me.

In the service of telling a story, news reporters do not follow chronology. They jump back and forth in time to bring together details they believe help to make the story. I’ve had to spend a lot of time unraveling news articles. This post es a resource rather than conclusions.

Carter Page is one of those odd, out of place characters. Or so it seems to me. One can argue that with Trump’s connections to Breitbart and Infowars, an oddball like Page is fully expected. Page is typical of some of Trump’s predelictions: his connections with Russia are financial and ideological, he is outside the foreign-policy establishment, and he seems a little looney. The currents that brought him into Trump’s orbit may show something about how other people arrived there. And Page himself may have been a significant player.

I’ve distilled material down to a chronology, Page’s contacts, and interviews with him. Because I have been following news about him for a while, I’m including my posts. I also include questions that remain unanswered.

Thanks, Everyone!


Many, many thanks to Scav, Betty, and everyone here for the good wishes on The Hunt for Vulcan making the Royal Society’s book prize finals.

I feel like I have to thank the book itself as well.  I love all my book-children equally (if not always for the same things), but HoV was definitely the kindest one I’ve ever worked on.  I’d wake up, grab my coffee, and go to my desk, and it would tell me what it wanted to be that day, so I’d write that.  Then damned if it wouldnt’ do it again the next day … and the next, until we agreed that it was done.   That’s kindness.

I’d be remiss in my authorly duty if I didn’t also note that it’s just out in paperback in the US and will be so next week in the UK. (You can always get the hardcover, the e-book, or the audiobook if you’d like — at all the usual suspects. (see below).

ETA, per commenter Mike J.:  here’s the Amazon link for the hardcover, the paperback, the kindle edition, and the audiobook.  As Mike J. notes, buying via the affiliate link helps the site.  I’d only add that communities and all those books that don’t get the Oprah/Fresh Air/zeitgeist boost utterly depend on the support of independent bookstores — and the relatively few remaining Barnes and Nobles and the like too.  So if you’ve got a brick-and-mortar store near you, and you can stand the higher price you’ll pay compared to Amazon, I’d urge you to help them out, and me (and any other writer you like), by telling the actual humans there that they might like to talk the book up.

OK — back to your regularly scheduled programming:

To answer a couple of questions from Betty’s thread:

Alas, no owls.  I found out a few days ago from my UK publisher, Head of Zeus (no, really).  The Royal Society lets the various publishers know under embargo to help with the promotion of the prize and the short listed books.

What am I going to do with the money? A) never price the unborn calf. B) most of the shortlist winnings are already allocated to Q3 estimated taxes ;-( (and whew for the windfall). C)  I might splurge on a new and faster bicycle. (Noting, as ever that the bike may change but, alas, the rider does not.)

Who did I tell first? My wife and son, obviously. My agent and editor over here.  And one more member of my household.  He was strangely unmoved by the news:

Tikka-you talking to me?

Questioned more closely, he restated his position:

Tikka hot c:u

Again:  my thanks to everyone, and especially to those who have or will read about the planet that was and wasn’t there.

Image: Jacques-Émile Blanche, The Readers, 1890.



Friday Morning Open Thread: Happy News

Speaking of film-makers, let’s have a round of applause for our own Tom Levenson, Guggenheim Fellow:

Tom Levenson writes and makes documentary films about science, its history, and the interplay between scientific inquiry and the broader culture and society in which the work takes place. This extremely gratefully received Guggenheim Fellowship will support work on a new book that uses the history of the South Sea Bubble – a watershed event in early-modern capitalism – to explore the connection between the scientific revolution and the emergence of new ideas about money and exchange. A revisionist history, this project aims at both new insights into the scientific revolution as lived, and in the evolution of finance over the last three centuries, with all the wealth and woe thus produced. ..

He began work as a documentarian in 1987, and he has since produced, directed, written, and or executive-produced more than a dozen films on science, mostly for the NOVA series on PBS, among them the Origins mini-series and the two-hour biography Einstein Revealed, both for the NOVA series on PBS. He won the National Academies Science Communication Award, shared a George Foster Peabody Award, and won the AAAS science communication prize, among other honors. His short-form writing has appeared in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and digital publications, and he is currently an Ideas columnist for The Boston Globe

Congratulations, Tom!

Apart from that, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up another long week?

Cheers! Open Thread


Friday night drinks with my sweetheart. Two Caipirinhas – slightly more tart than I like, but just what I needed after an arsehole of a week. Sweet vermouth (Punt e mes, I suspect) on ice with an olive and a slice of orange for me, and a London Calling for him. A Gretzel with beer and cheese sauce. Tuna crudo with fermented chilli, onion, dill and flat bread. Shots of Tapatio Reposado to celebrate Gregory’s birthday. Some concoction with Poor Tom’s gin and who knows what else whipped up by Jamie, the adorable Scottish bartender. Two perfect replications of a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish, except crunchier and cheesier and oh-so-much-more-Filet-O-Fishier. An Old Fashioned made with rye, and a Red Hook. Two chocolate chip cookie and blackberry ripple ice cream sandwiches. Whisky from some damp and peaty god knows where, and a spectacular rum from Guyana that tasted of brown sugar toffee, even though we were just a little bit drunk by that point, because Jamie did the sexy eyebrow thing. One taxi home for special snuggles.

Don’t mind if I do, thanks.

Drunk posting on Balloon Juice very late at night and oversharing while giving your local a plug.

Life could be worse.

Happy Friday, kiddies. How have you all been?

I should inset some witty comment here about how the evil squirrel that lives in Donald Trump’s hair and controls him with little levers connected to steam-driven pistons has been huffing antifreeze and getting his Mexican birth certificate rape babies on, or how our entire political system is even more fucked than Jeb!’s chances of securing the Republican nomination.

But it’s time for bed – or maybe another drink.

Seriously though, come to Sydney. Come and see my friends Gregory, Naomi and the rest of the team at the Gretz. They’re lovely. And Gregory’s American. So you folks will understand what the fuck he’s saying.

This is your open thread.

Much love, and fuck you all.


P.S. The real me is somewhere in the photo above. It’s like Where’s Waldo if Waldo was a grumpy, fictional old lady with impulse control issues and a pottymouth.