de Botton – How to Think More About Sex

How Think More About Sex How Think More About SexAlain de Botton; Picador 2013WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

I read de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex on 1-2 November 2014. It was not quite what I expected; I also expected more. Then again, I gave a mixed review to The Architecture of Happiness, which suffers from some of the same issues.

But first, the contents:

I. Introduction

II. The Pleasures of Sex

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

III. The Problems of Sex

     1. Love and Sex

     2. Sexual Rejection

     3. Lack of Desire: Infrequency, Impotence, Resentment

     4. Pornography: Censorship, A New Kind of Porn

     5. Adultery: The Pleasures of Adultery, The Stupidity of Adultery

IV. Conclusion


My comments and excerpts:

de Botton writes in an overly generalized fashion, he considers few alternatives, he is quite probably contradicting himself on a couple occasions, he is often anthropomorphic and reifies to no end, and he seems to have written this book from a healthy, Euro-skinned, heterosexual of reasonably decent (or better) looks perspective. Gays, transexuals, asexuals, whatever do not appear. Do not get mention. Nor do the vast majority of people who are of mediocre appearance at best. Apparently, the only ones who should be thinking more (clearly/intelligently/humanely) about sex are healthy good-looking heterosexuals. Not.

I know this book is short but it leaves so damned much out. And that is perfectly fine and certainly expected. But if you are leaving out that much of the human experience of sex without even mentioning that you have no space for it then you do not deserve to name your book How to Think More About Sex. It really is that simple.

Based on this alone, one probably ought skip this book. But it is short and it has great moments. There are things of import to think about that he brings up. Some of his offerings for ways in and/or out of things are fine and some are bunk. But he is trying to intelligently discuss sex. I appreciate the hell out of that! But this only hits on occasion and it misses by so damned much in its general approach to ignoring much of the world’s population’s individual experiences.

Let’s dive in.

I. Introduction

I really liked this bit in the Intro. The end of that first paragraph is a bit over the top but I can’t argue really with that full one after it. He does a decent but succinct job of showing how messed up our “thinking” is about sex and, thus, why we may need to think/talk/act more intelligently about it.

“…. We [are] bothered by sex because it is a fundamentally disruptive, overwhelming and demented force, strongly at odds with the majority of our ambitions and all but incapable of being discreetly integrated within civilized society.

     Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. It is not fundamentally democratic or kind; it is bound up with cruelty, transgression and the desire for subjugation and humiliation. It refuses to sit neatly on top of love, as it should. Tame it though we may try, sex has a recurring tendency to wreak havoc across our lives: it leads us to destroy our relationships, threatens our productivity and compels us to stay up too late in nightclubs talking to people whom we don’t like but whose exposed midriffs we nevertheless strongly wish to touch. Sex remains in absurd, and perhaps irreconcilable, conflict with some of our highest commitments and values. Unsurprisingly, we have no option but to repress its demands most of the time. We should accept that sex is inherently weird instead of blaming ourselves for not responding in more normal ways to its confusing impulses.” 6-7

II. The Pleasures of Sex

He leaps right in trying to show that sex is messy and great and vengeful and loving and …. He does a good job showing that we truly are less in charge than we think when it comes to sex. This is also a bit thin for someone new to it (I am not) but he’s on the right track. Evolutionary biology can only explain so much (if it does at all) and one has to bring other theories to bear to explain more than mere biological sexual attraction for reproductive purposes. He does. Are they the right ones, or at least highly useful?

     1. Eroticism and Loneliness

          “It could sound disgusting — and that’s the point. Nothing is erotic that isn’t also, with the wrong person, revolting, which is precisely what makes erotic moments so intense: at the precise juncture where disgust could be at its height, we find only welcome and permission. The privileged nature of the union between two people is sealed by an act that, with someone else, would have horrified them both.” 22

          “Sex temporarily liberates us from the punishment dichotomy, well known to every one of us since childhood, between dirty and clean. Lovemaking purifies us by engaging the most apparently polluted sides of ourselves in its procedures and thereby anointing them as newly worthy.” 37

On fetishes:

          “In a clinical sense, a fetish is defined as an ingredient, typically quite unusual in nature, which needs to be present in order for someone to achieve orgasm.” 38

          “In this wider sense, fetishes are simply details — most often related either to a type of clothing or to a part of another’s body — which evoke for us desirable sides of human nature. The precise origins of our enthusiasms may be obscure, but they can almost always be traced back to some meaningful aspect of our childhood: we will be drawn to specific things either because they recall appealing qualities of a beloved parental figure or else, conversely, because they somehow cancel out, or otherwise help us to escape, a memory of early humiliation or terror.

          The task of understanding our own preferences in this regard should be recognized as an integral part of any project of self-knowledge or biography. What Freud said of dreams can likewise be said of sexual fetishes: they are a royal road into the unconscious.” 39

Tying our fetishes to issues of values and the good life which he’ll bring out later:

          “The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person. The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy’, the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” 44

     2. Can ‘Sexiness’ Be Profound?

          “A consensus emerges about which sorts of faces we find most appealing. From these studies [cross-cultural], evolutionary biologists have concluded that a ‘sexy’ person of either gender, far from being an unclassifiable abstraction, is in essence someone whose face is symmetrical (that is, the right and left sides match precisely) and whose features are balanced, proportionate and undistorted.” 81

          “The discipline [evol biol] absolves physical attraction of the charge of being purely superficial. While conceding that we judge people by their appearance, it holds that appearances themselves are anything but trivial and indeed point towards some rather profound qualities.” 84

     3. Natalie or Scarlett?

          “Evolutionary biology confidently predicts that we will be drawn to people on the basis of their evident health, but it has not put forward any truly convincing theories about why we should prefer one specific healthy person over another.” 63

But what about people who clearly are not “healthy” who find love and are attracted sexually to others?

          Wilhelm Worringer’s theory on art appreciation; essay, “Abstraction and Empathy,” 1907 64-8

          Worringer’s theory applied to sexual attraction 69-72

          “We then declare people ‘sexy’ when we see in them evidence of compensatory qualities, and are repelled by those who seem prone to drive us further into our extremities.” 70

          “We need both art and sex to make us whole, so it is not surprising if the mechanisms of compensation should be similar in each case. The specifics of what we find ‘beautiful’ and what we find ‘sexy’ are indications of what we most deeply crave in order to rebalance ourselves.” 72

III. The Problems of Sex

This section attempts to offer possible remedies, or at least ways in, to mitigate some of the many problems with sex. Of course, only a few are covered in the short space allowed. I am not sure how effectively he deals with some of them either.

     1. Love and Sex

          “It’s time for the need for sex and the need for love to be granted equal standing, without an added moral gloss. Both may be independently felt and are of comparable value and validity. Both shouldn’t require us to lie in order to claim them.” 79

Amen! The data on this–and he does provide some; there is much more–show what a damaging idea modern love (and marriage) truly is. Maybe someday perhaps the two can be pulled apart in a more sane and sensible way but I have my doubts.

     2. Sexual Rejection

          “We don’t have to take sexual rejection as a sure indication that another person has looked into our soul and registered disgust at every aspect of our being. The reality is usually much simpler and less shattering than that: for whatever reason, this particular individual just can’t get turned on by our body. We can take comfort in the knowledge that such a verdict is automatic, preconscious and immutable. The one doing the rejecting isn’t being intentionally nasty; he or she has no choice.” 82

If we could already use reason in regards to love and sex then this probably would be less of an issue than it is. Realigning our views on the issue, as he suggests, would be useful but quite unlikely to be of use to more than a handful of people, statistically speaking.

     3. Lack of Desire:

          i. Infrequency

               “The solution to long-term sexual stagnation is to learn to see our lover as if we had never laid eyes on him or her before.” 97

               “While going about their quite different types of business, the lover and the artist nonetheless come up against a similar human foible: the universal tendency to become easily habituated and bored, and to decide that whatever is known is unworthy of interest. We are prone to long for novelty, kitschy romanticism, drama and glamour.” 99

               “We should try to locate the good and the beautiful beneath the layers of habit and routine.” 102

          ii. Impotence

     Argues that this is a “symptom of respect.” Not buying that for a second, except in some percentage (I’m going with small) of all cases. And the reason why is all the bullshit he says about men in these paragraphs. Again, overly generalized beyond all possible acceptance. Gamergate and #teamharpy, along with way too many other things today show us that most men have not “evolved” as de Botton seems to think.

          iii. Resentment

               “By overwhelming consensus, our culture locates the primary difficulty of relationships in finding the ‘right’ person rather than in knowing how to love a real — that is, a necessarily rather unright — human being.” 121

Yes. This bit is quite valuable. Again, shows the utter destruction caused by the currently prevailing (by those in power) views of love and marriage in Western society.

     4. Pornography:

          i. Censorship

I. Just. He seems to accept, and argues, that pornography is extremely dangerous to society and that some form of censorship is necessary. He is writing in particular about the Internet. Yes, indeed, let’s let nanny-state governments censor the Internet so we can get back to work. Jackass! There are so many intermediate steps.

I should explain that my vehemence here is he because he made no real argument for pornography being an immense destructive force; just assumed via anecdata.

          ii. A New Kind of Porn

I. Just. Don’t. But now he wants a new kind of porn. “Virtue porn.”

“Yet is is possible to conceive of a version of pornography that wouldn’t force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue — a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.” 139

OK. This might work for a few folks; he should go back and re-read his discussion of fetishes though, as a first caution. And some of his examples later on make some sense; again, for a few folks. But his discussion. Oy! His example to lead us into pornography that might support our virtues is Sandro Bottticelli’s The Madonna of the Book, c.1483.

Seems to be contradicting himself in these two sections also. Porn must be censored. Oh, look, a new kind of “virtue porn.” Make a choice or choose a middle ground, sir.

     5. Adultery:

          i. The Pleasures of Adultery

               “However, the real fault in the situation lies in the ethos of modern marriage, with its insane ambitions and its insistence that one person can plausibly hope to embody the eternal sexual and emotional solution to another’s every need.

               Taking a step back, what distinguishes modern marriage from its historical precedents is its fundamental tenet that all our desire for love, sex and family ought to reside in the selfsame person. No other society has been so stringent or so hopeful about the institution of marriage, nor ultimately, as a consequence, so disappointed in it.

               In the past, these very distinct needs — for love, sex and family — were wisely differentiated and separated out from one another.” 152

          ii. The Stupidity of Adultery

This section brought out how also very middle-class and above focused it is.

IV. Conclusion

     “When every contemptuous but fair thing has been said about our infernal sexual desires, we can still celebrate them for not allowing us to forget for more than a few days at a time what is really involved in living an embodied, chemical and largely insane human life.” 175-6

I can certainly agree with this view, but while he did a decent job arguing this, if it was what he truly meant to argue then I suppose it would have been a somewhat different book. Or perhaps not.


This is the sources section.

Conditionally recommended is what I am going to say. That is, if you want to think more about sex. Then again, if you want to think more about sex then I would recommend this book [any edition would be fine], even if the focus of each is not the same.


I had to create a record at Open Library so I could use John Miedema’s OpenBook plugin. I had hoped I was done with adding so many records there but is good to be writing again. And it is a nice record.

DigiWriMo 2014

I have committed to participating in Digital Writing Month 2014, more commonly known as DigiWriMo, this November. I did it its first year in 2012 and made my goal of 50,000 digital words. Most people who know November as a writing month know it as National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. There is also Academic Writing Month, AcWriMo. Wikipedia says there’s an Academic Book Writing Month, AcBoWriMo but that’s a new one on me. Well, on Twitter there is no #AcBoWriMo but there is plenty of #AcWriMo.

I have been driven to write lately—perhaps driven by the mysterious and as yet undiagnosed illness; which is neither here nor there. I have so many ideas and there are tons of old ideas not finished, or ever even fleshed out, to work with.

Preparation has involved recording these ideas as they occur and corralling old recorded ones too, prepping my Scrivener project file (my writing tool), and spending more time learning to use it well.

This year my goal is ≥ 1k words/day, with a total of ≥ 25k words/November. Yes. I am aware of the missing 5 days. I am trying to be gracious with myself. [If this illness can possibly help teach me that idea then, OK, I’ll take the rest. I’m not counting on this being an actual lesson, though.]

I do not know how much I will do with the, thankfully, re-expanded DigiWriMo folks’ official efforts but I will be “playing along at home” at a minimum. I certainly hope and plan to interact a fair bit. I just have to manage my stress triggers and adding a #digiwrimo twitter search window to my already overflowing two twitter accounts for a month ….

I also recently acquired a new phone making the leap from an iPhone 4S to a 6. I had been eligible for an upgrade for well over a year and $200 was the most they were ever going to give me anymore for my 4S. Or that anyone was going to give me. For a lot of hoops and a delay of several weeks, I got to pay roughly $100 and a $35 activation fee to move from a 16GB 4S to a 64GB 6. I took that deal.

It was particularly tempting as I use both TextExpander and 1Password on my computer. They have also both been on my phone but were basically useless. Finally iOS 8 allows them both to be useful. [Sadly, I will not be putting iOS 8 on my iPad 2. It is struggling already.]

The point of all this is that having those 2 programs actually doing good work on my phone may let me use it to do just a couple more tasks than I would’ve before. Also, the bigger screen isn’t to laugh at with my old eyes. They will also allow me to more productively write digitally even though what I “write” on my phone will still be pretty damned minimal.

Some of what I write will be public, much as now although even more will be. Much will be kept private. I really want to start doing a better job of journaling, in a couple senses of ‘journal.’ I hope DigiWriMo will spur me to do so, or at least take advantage of the illness’ urging me to do so. I hope to get a few more blog posts up here and definitely more written on By the barrel.

Poetry, 2015 goal planning, book reviews, tweeting, and all sorts of other writing endeavors are on the docket. Some of the topics I hope to address, whether public or not, include Facebook, gender labels (as language), gender on labels (as in depiction of on beer labels), sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, body image, altered consciousness, and many others. We will see what happens.

If any of you are participating in some kind of writing month in November let me know if you would like some support and hopefully we can find a mutual venue.

Hysteria (movie)

[This, too, is a late DigiWriMo post.]

Thankfully, later after watching The Tree of Life we watched Hysteria, which we have also been wanting to see after seeing the previews a couple years ago. It by no stretch came to conservative Sioux City so we missed it in the theater. We couldn’t even find it in Omaha, although we could be wrong on that count but we had looked repeatedly while it was in theaters. Ninety miles one way is a long way to go for a film but we would have.

After we watched it I tweeted,

Cleansed my movie palate with Hysteria, based on this most excellent book by Rachel Maines [tweet]

The next morning, Karen Coyle tweeted to me:

@mrlindner One of my favorite books. See: [tweet]

Check out her review at that link. It is much better than mine.

We saw the preview for the movie in the cinema shortly after I read Maines’ excellent book and I knew that it was (somewhat) based on Maines’ book immediately. It looked hilarious and as The Technology of Orgasm is one of my favorite books of all time—which I had discussed a fair bit with Sara as I read it—we really wanted to see it. It did not come to Sioux City or environs and time went by. We moved and even more time went by. Sara got it from the public library finally and we watched it last night. The movie was as good as we hoped and we are in the process of watching the documentary (actually excerpts from Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm) that comes as an extra feature on the DVD. It is also pretty good and features a lot of Rachel Maines, along with a couple of others, so I am happy to be able to hear her talk about her research also.

The Technology of Orgasm The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual SatisfactionRachel P. Maines; The Johns Hopkins University Press 1998WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder  
Katherine Young (Ph.D. and author of Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine) puts forth the idea that the Copernican Revolution was revolutionary in another way than is typically thought. She had been outlining some long time ideas on human sexuality in that males were thought to be of the elements of fire and air, thus hot and light, and that women were of earth and water, and thus heavy, cold and wet. When the Copernican Revolution replaced the Earth (female) as the center of the solar system/universe with the sun (male) then female sexuality as a topic disappeared from discourse.

It is an extremely interesting idea but I would really like to see some good supporting evidence. If anyone knows of any books or articles that address this idea I would be most grateful. My initial skepticism leans toward the shift having started well before and that the displacement of the Earth from the center was perhaps the final straw. And even if the idea as presented is true, then I imagine it is hingeing on a highly condensed version of reality, in that the Copernican Revolution involved an awful lot of historical, political, societal and religious changes that were highly intertwined and influencing each other in multiple ways. Symbolically this idea is highly interesting, but I imagine the reality of the shift away from a supposedly fairly prevalent knowledge of female sexuality and needs to one that pretty much discounted female sexuality would have to be far more complex than a shift in symbols.

I would love to have my skepticism discounted though so please do pass along any sources you may be aware of that address this issue. [I went back and re-watched that section and got her name and the name of the book she wrote, Presence in the Flesh: The Body in Medicine, which Sara has requested for me.] So, if you are aware of any other sources that address this intriguing topic please do pass them along.


Hysteria: Good romantic comedy based on an excellent and important book.

Follow-up: Tonight (3 December) we watched the full documentary, Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm, which we got through ILL. It was good but it was only 74 minutes vs. the 47 minutes of excerpts on the DVD of Hysteria as an extra. The additional material was interesting but probably not worth going out of one’s way to acquire. You can find more information about it here.

Young’s book has also arrived by this point in time and I look forward to having a go at it, but I am highly disappointed to say that neither Copernicus nor Copernican Revolution are anywhere to be found in the index. I want to know more about this symbological interpretation but am remaining highly skeptical as to its actual explanatory depth.


Sound the Deep Waters: Women’s Romantic Poetry in the Victorian Age

Sound the deep waters Sound the deep waters: women’s romantic poetry in the Victorian ageedited by Pamela Norris.; Little, Brown 1992WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

This lovely book is full of assorted poetry under four heads, with 12 poems in each: Love’s Bitter-Sweets, Moments of Delight, Dreams and Realities, and Last Songs. The poets are all women, British and American. Each and every poem is paired with a painting from the period, many are by the Pre-Raphaelites or in that style, many are quite famous (e.g., Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott by William Holman Hunt), and many were painted by women. The poems and painting usually have a thematic connection of some sort.

The Keepsake by Kate Elizabeth Bunce, which is paired with C. Rossetti’s A Birthday

The Keepsake by Kate Elizabeth Bunce, which is paired with C. Rossetti’s A Birthday

The poets include the Brontë sisters (individually), Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, Amy Lowell, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and several others, including less well known poets.

The title is taken from the first line of Rossetti’s poem, “Sleep at Sea,” which was too long to be included (10).

Sound the deep waters:—
Who shall sound that deep?—
Too short the plummet
And the watchmen sleep.
Some dream of effort
Up a toilsome steep;
Some dream of pasture grounds
For harmless sheep.

An introduction by the editor, Pamela Norris, gives a quick overview of the stereotype of the Victorian woman as ‘The Angel in the House,’ and then goes on to provide a glimpse as to how these women poets’ reality was different as they often pushed against the stereotype, and sometimes even shattered it.

‘Love’s Bitter-Sweets’ shows that “while love was a favourite topic” it often was considered bittersweet, and thus these poems show ambivalence towards their topic (9).

‘Moments of Delight’ “celebrate life’s pleasures, which turn out to be manifold” (9).

“‘Dreams and Realities’ explore what might be termed ‘philosophies’: the poets’ attempts to read meaning and pattern into life” (9).

‘Last Songs’ explores another frequent topic, death.

There is, of course, overlap between sections. The last poem in ‘Dreams and Realities,’ Rossetti’s “Up-Hill” may well be a ‘philosophy’ but it is also certainly about death.

Hope in the Prison of Despair by Evelyn de Morgan, paired with C. Rossetti’s Up-Hill

Hope in the Prison of Despair by Evelyn de Morgan, paired with C. Rossetti’s Up-Hill

The book ends with 5 pages of short bios and text acknowledgements.

I chose to purchase and read this book as I liked its pairing of poems with images; I like the Pre-Raphaelites and their ilk enormously; I took a class on Victorian lit which I truly enjoyed; I have read Christina Rossetti’s complete poems (except the juvenalia) and while I don’t like every poem I do adore her [by the by, those were read on an iPod Touch], and I am always interested in issues of gender and the disruption of stereotypes.

Purchased 5 June 2012 from The Book Store in Des Moines $7.40

Norris, Pamela, ed. Sound the deep waters: women’s romantic poetry in the Victorian age. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992. Print.


My friend Jess talked me into participating in JaPoWriMo, or January Poetry Writing Month. At least that is how I am parsing it out.

The idea is simply to write one poem a day. She insisted they could be a short as haiku and that there was no requirement for them to be any good. I am sharing them with her and my wife, of course and, so far, one or two with the odd other here and there.

Much of my month is taken up with my Grimm’s Fairy Tale class and editing and other magazine production duties putting together this year’s issue of the Briar Cliff Review. Thus, a couple have been about Grimm’s; I foresee one or more about editing; I have written a couple about books, those I’ve read and those I won’t be reading (end-of-2011 book post); one about meetings (after a long meeting on Friday); one about our SirsiDynix Symphony ILS (subject of said and several other meetings); one about not having a subject; and so on.

There is no need to worry—not much anyway— as I will not be sharing all of them with you here. Many of them are bad, and I doubt that any of them are actually good. But I agreed to commit to this writing a poem a day in an otherwise already quite busy month as I hoped that more writing, even if mostly tossed off, would help me in assorted ways as a poet and a writer. The bottom-line is that I am a lazy poet. Perhaps this will cultivate a habit, perhaps this will leave me with a few choice phrases or lines or ideas, perhaps nothing will come of it.

With all of that said, I would like to share two that I wrote in response to my Grimm’s class. The first was written about 15 minutes before the class met for the first time; the second was written this morning and is a conflation of “Snow-white and Rose-red” and “Little Snow White,” which we read for and discussed this past Friday, along with other generic thoughts on the role of “beauty” in the tales we’ve read so far (~10).


Grimm’s excitement today
Innocents start to play
Villains and ogres slay
Justice wins come what may

3 January 2012

Beauty for its own sake, enticement.
Or is it really entrapment?

The hunter spares her …
The wicked queen poisons her …
The dwarves domesticate her …
The prince wants her … dead and mute.

Snow-white. Rose-red. Two
Halves of the same girl.
A maiden on the edge
Of womanhood.

Tame the bear,
Emasculate the dwarf,
Remain kind to the vile.
Gentleness, purity, innocence

Retained. These are the steps to
Make oneself a woman.
Chaste, yet chargedly erotic.
Snow-white. Rose-red.


8 January 2012

I may spend some time with the second as it could undoubtedly be improved. But, considering that I wrote it in about 10 minutes this morning I can live with it.

Some things read this week, 18 – 24 Mar 2007

Sunday, 18 Mar 2007

Machery, Edouard amd Luc Faucher. “Social construction and the concept of race.” Philosophy of Science 72 (5): Dec 2005 Proceedings of the 2004 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Part I Contributed Papers, ed. by Miriam Solomon: 1208-1219.

[BTW, if anyone noticed the discrepancy in my comment that I received this issue on 16 Mar and the date of this issue, well, PSA has had some issues with their publication schedule “lately.”]

This is an interesting article which tries to provide a framework that allows for the integration of the constructionist approach and cognitive/evolutionary in the domain of race. I believe it is probably a good step forward. Even more interesting, this paper is much more anthropological than philosophical, and especially good at pointing out where empirical research supports a hypothesis and where more empirical work is needed.

Thus, not everything in this journal is pure mental masturbation, which is probably one of the main reasons I still am a member of this organization. Plus, it’s cheap! $25/year for students. I’m sure I could get the contents online, but for that low price I get to indulge my highlighting and marginal writing proclivities.

Chang, Hasok. “A case for old-fashioned observability, and a reconstructed constructive empiricism.” Philosophy of Science 72 (5): Dec 2005 Proceedings of the 2004 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Part I Contributed Papers, ed. by Miriam Solomon: 876-887.

Quite an interesting article which takes on the current consensus “that observability is an attribute of objects rather than of qualities” (877). Very readable, and I find myself pretty much in agreement.

As another example of the wonderful snarkiness exhibited in philosophical writings, here is Chang commenting on the privileging of vision (“ocularism”) in observability:

Vollmer (2000, 361, 365) says that caffeine is an observable entity because we can discern its molecular structure through X-ray crystallography. I say caffeine is observable through the buzz I feel after I ingest it (and indirectly observable through the unimaginable number of people who stay awake at philosophy conferences) (879).

Svenonius, Elaine. (1988) “Design of controlled vocabularies in the context of emerging technologies.” Library Science with a Slant to Documentation and Information Studies 25 (4), December 1988: 215-227.

While somewhat dated, this is a short paper that would be good for many in our profession to read discussing the potential role for classification schemes and thesauri in online systems.

Sunday – Monday, 18 – 19 Mar

Tudhope, Douglas, Ceri Binding, Dorothee Blocks, and Daniel Cunliffe. (2006) “Query expansion via conceptual distance in thesaurus indexed collections.” Journal of Documentation 62 (4): 509-533. doi 10.1108/00220410610673873

Intriguing. I’m finding Douglas Tudhope one to watch or, at least, to read.

Monday, 19 Mar 2007

McCallum, Andrew. (2005) “Information extraction: Distilling structured data from unstructured text.” Social Computing 3 (9), Dec. 2005. Available online.

Pribbenow, Simone. (2002) “Merynomic relationships: From classical mereology to complex part-whole relations.” In Green, Bean and Myaeng, eds. The Semantics of relationships: An interdisciplinary perspective. Information Science and Knowledge Management series, v. 3. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2002.

Yes, another Green item; for fun and enlightenment. This is the companion volume to Bean & Green 2001.

Wednesday, 21 Mar 2007

Intemann, Kristen. “Feminism, underdetermination, and values in science.” Philosophy of Science 72 (5): Dec 2005 Proceedings of the 2004 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Part I Contributed Papers, ed. by Miriam Solomon: 1001-1012.

An excellent article showing that, unlike argued by some, the Duhem-Quine thesis and underdetermination do not leave a logical gap between theory and observation that might be filled with feminist political or social values. She does, though, go on to show how it might be the case that feminist contextual values can play a legitimate role in science.

My claim is that whether contextual values could play a legitimate role in justifying or applying constitutive values will depend on the content of the goals of science, or on whether contextual values can promote the aims of sicence, and not as a consequence of underdetermination (1010)

Thursday, 22 Mar 2007

Bollen, Johan, Marko A. Rodriguez, and Herbert Van de Sompel. (2006) Journal status. [pdf at arxiv]

OK, it’s only taken me a year to get to this; found at Christina’s LIS Rant last March. Interesting article, maybe I ought to go read this discussion about it, which is what she was really referencing….

Thursday – Saturday, 22 – 24 Mar 2007

Veltman, Kim H. (2004) “Towards a semantic web for culture.” Journal of Digital Information 4 (4) [abstract]

Found 10 March 2007 while doing a Google search on Carol A. Bean. Excellent article that points up many of the issues in knowledge organization not addressed by the Semantic Web vision, much less most of our current KO structures.

Traces the meaning of meaning, the definition of definition, classes of relationships, etc. over the last 2500 years and shows why the Semantic Web, AI, E-R diagram types, etc. have a very impoverished understanding of what it is that they are attempting to do.

Recommended for anyone interested in meaning, relationships, culture, the Semantic Web, databases, and/or KO.

Friday, 23 Mar 2007

Crawford, Walt. (2007) Cites & Insights 7 (4), April 2007 [pdf]

Saturday, 24 Mar 2007

Cordero, Alberto. “Contemporary nativism, scientific texture, and the moral limits of free inquiry.” Philosophy of Science 72 (5): Dec 2005 Proceedings of the 2004 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Part I Contributed Papers, ed. by Miriam Solomon: 1220-1231.

Wow! A philosophy article that everyone I know ought to be able to read and understand. It’s a pretty good article addressing an argument by Philip Kitcher that research into Darwinist psychology may very well have adverse effects on peoples already disadvantaged and, thus, that such research should be (somewhat) proscribed. Cordero puts forth a pretty good defense, but I think he clearly misunderstands typical human behavior (in our current social climate) to misuse scientific understanding—through laziness, willfulness, or any other factor—along with having too much faith in the “scientific method.” Worth the read, though.

Beghtol, Clare. (2001) “Relationships in classificatory structure and meaning.” In Bean & Green, Relationships in the Organization of Knowledge. 99-113.

Re-read this while working on my book review. Originally read 1 Feb 2007. Begthol’s premise is:

that changing knowledge structures and the increased globalization of information exchange require rethinking all aspects of bibliographic classification systems, including the kinds of relationships we habitually include in the systems (99).

While it rarely seems as radical as that statement sounds, she does a good job pointing out many of the limitations of relationship structures within our classification systems, and the kinds of new structures (very generally) that we need. This article fits quite well with the Veltman article (see above).

Paglia, Camille. Break, blow, burn. 2005. Read:

George Herbert, “Church-monuments”
George Herbert , “The Quip”

Some things read this week, 4 – 10 March 2007

Sunday, 4 Mar

Zeng, Marcia L. and Yu Chen. (2003) “Features of an integrated thesaurus management and search system for the networked environment.” In McIlwaine, I. C., Subject retrieval in a networked environment: Proceedings of the IFLA Satellite Meeting held in Dublin, OH 14-16 August 2001 and sponsored by the IFLA Classification and Indexing Section, the IFLA Information Technology Section and OCLC. München: K. G. Saur. 122-128.

Cited by Zeng, Marcia L. and Lois Mai Chan. 2004. “Trends and issues in establishing interoperability among knowledge organization systems.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55 (5): 377-395. Cited by Vizine-Goetz, et al. (read last week)

Freye, Elisabeth and Max Naudi. (2003) “MACS: subject access across languages and networks.” Also in the above, and cited by the (indented) above. 3-10.

Kuhr, Patricia. (2003) “Putting the world back together: Mapping multiple vocabularies into a single thesaurus.” Ditto, ditto. 37-42.

This article is about H. W. Wilson’s merging of their 12 individual thesauri into one megathesaurus, much of it algorithmically.

Re-read: Olson, Hope A. and Dennis B. Ward. (2003) “Mundane standards, everyday technologies, equitable access.” In McIlwaine, I. C., Subject retrieval in a networked environment: Proceedings of the IFLA Satellite Meeting held in Dublin, OH 14-16 August 2001 and sponsored by the IFLA Classification and Indexing Section, the IFLA Information Technology Section and OCLC. München: K. G. Saur. 50-58.

Monday, 5 Mar

Nicholson, Dennis and Susannah Wake. (2003) “HILT: Subject retrieval in a distributed environment.” Same source and citation as the 1st 2 articles in this list. 61-67.

Bean, Carol A. and Rebecca Green. (2003) “Improving subject retrieval with frame representations.” Same source as above. No citation though; just stumbled over an article by the duo of Bean and Green while retrieving the other cited articles. More importantly, it’s a Rebecca Green article. 114-121

Tuesday, 6 Mar

Cayzer, Steve. (2006) What next for semantic blogging? Hewlett-Packard. [pdf] Found at LIS: Michael Habib 23 Nov 06.

Tuesday – Wednesday, 6 – 7 Mar

Cordeiro, Maria I. (2003) “From library authority control to network authoritative metadata sources.” Also In McIlwaine, I. C. (see above). 131-139. This was a good article, but poor editing led to approx. one-quarter of its cited references not being in the reference list.

…, the field of authority work appears as one of immediate feasibility and effect by which libraries can gain ground in the Internet environment. It does not represent investments from scratch, it carries an added value that is almost a library exclusive and it has a strong learning and linking potential for the integration of traditional library activities in the interactive network reality. It is like finding a market niche for owned and under-exploited values, with the advantage of contributing to help libraries’ penetration in the WWW environment, while maintaining their traditional role of bibliographic control, extending it to the Web resources, at their own pace (137).

Wednesday, 7 Mar

Lakoff. Chap. 13 of Women, fire, and dangerous things.

Thursday, 8 Mar

Farmer, Linda. “Automatic categorization: What’s it all about?” The Serials Librarian 51 (2), 2006: 91-101. doi:10.1300/J123v51n02_07

Paglia, Camille. Break, blow, burn. 2005. Read the Introduction.

Friday, 9 Mar

Spiteri, Louise F. “The Use of folksonomies in public library catalogues.” The Serials Librarian 51 (2), 2006: 75-89. doi:10.1300/J123v51n02_06

Shakespeare and Paglia. Sonnet 73 and Sonnet 29, and accompanying commentary. In Paglia, above. 3-11.

Friday – Saturday, 9 – 10 Mar

Wilson, T.D. (1994). Information needs and uses: fifty years of progress, in: B.C. Vickery, (Ed.), Fifty years of information progress: a Journal of Documentation review, (pp. 15- 51) London: Aslib. [Available at]

Some things read this week, 18 – 24 Feb 2007

Sunday, 18 Feb

Section 5, “Review of current terminology service activity,” in Tudhope, Douglas, Traugott Koch and Rachel Heery. Terminology Services and Technology: JISC State of the Art Review [pdf version] Read for Independent Study.

Henson, Jim, The Muppets and Friends. It’s not easy being green and other things to consider. Reviewed by The Gypsy Librarian.

Don’t care what they say, ’cause I know where to find my way,
It won’t be the way they said to go.

But I’m not like they say, I just want to find my way,
I’m goin’ the way I’ve got to go.

So show me a way to go and I’ll go free, I hope you’ll see
That I’m goin’ the way I’ve got to go.

Cotterpin Doozer (56)

Well, when the path is steep and stony and the night is all around
And the way that you must take is far away
When your heart is lost and lonely and the map cannot be found
Here’s a simple little spell that you can say:

You’ve got to face facts, act fast on your own
Preparation, perspiration, dynamite determination
Pack snacks, make tracks all alone
Don’t be cute. Time to scoot. Head out to your destination.

Chase the future, face the great unknown.

Gobo Fraggle (63)

Monday, 18 Feb

Lakoff, George. Women, fire and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Began reading.

Monday – Wednesday, 18 – 21 Feb

Harley, Heidi. Chapter 6 “Lexical semantics” in A Linguistic introduction to English words. Not sure exactly why I had this. I had recorded that on 9 Feb 2006 a search on my blog had me at #1 and this at #2; but a search on what terms is the open question. Oh well; at least I recorded the URL.

Tuesday, 20 Feb (my birthday)

Crawford, Walt. Cites & Insights 7 (3): March 2007. I wasn’t feeling so hot come evening, so I curled up with the newest issue of C&I and read it. It was a nice”birthday present” to find myself quoted in this issue.

Wednesday, 21 Feb

Sections 6 & 7, “Standards” and “Conclusion,” in Tudhope, Douglas, Traugott Koch and Rachel Heery. Terminology Services and Technology: JISC State of the Art Review [pdf version] Read for Independent Study.

Wednesday – Thursday, 21 – 22 Feb

Original Penguin Classics Introduction by Q. D. Leavis to Silas Marner. Seems I was confused last week about the intro and the original Penguin intro is hidden away as an appendix. So, both the current and the original intros are very good.

Thursday, 22 Feb

Finished Chap. 2 and read chap. 3-5 of Women, fire, and dangerous things.

Willpower Information. Thesaurus principles and practice. Very basic description of the use of thesauri for the museum field. Read for Oranization and Representation.

Mai, Jens-Erik. “Contextual analysis for the design of controlled vocabularies.” ASIST Bulletin Oct/Nov 2006. Read for Oranization and Representation. Did not find the slightest bit useful; sort of like “feeding” a starving man a savory aroma—no real substance.

Friday – Saturday, 23 – 24 Feb

Chapters 5 and 6 of Svenonius, Elaine. (2000) The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. These are for Representation & Organization this week.

Saturday, 24 Feb

Olson, Hope A. The Power to name: Locating the limits of subject representation in libraries. Began this; read Preface and Chapters 1 and 2. For fun.

See. This is exactly the crap I’ve been complaining about! I might like to buy this book for myself, but it is $103.00! One hundred + three dollars! That is so freaking wrong.

And please spare me the lectures on supply and demand. I do get it; I truly do. And if I didn’t, I’d ask either my sister or her husband (both Econ PhDs working at the Federal Reserve).

It’s still wrong.