Scott Walker, “Little Things (That Keep Us Together)”

Every so often a song floats into your consciousness from somewhere or other. I am not sure why, but yesterday Scott Walker’s driving, rhythmic “Little Things (That Keep Us Together)” from 1970’s “‘Til the Band Comes In” drifted back into my consciousness. Perhaps it was because I was travelling at the time, and the song is redolent of propulsive motion (and references Jumbo jets crashing), or perhaps its evocation of social collapse “while the war is going on” is relevant, because it is always relevant:

Of Scott Walker songs, it reminds me most of the pseudo-martial We Came Through, and like We Came Through is sounds initially a little dated but as the years have passed by has lasted better than many of Scott’s Brel covers, some of which strike me as histrionic and over-mannered now:



Is the elderly scientist correct? Roy Sorenson on Arthur C Clarke

Following on from yesterday’s post, here is the answer from Roy Sorenson’s Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities:

“The elderly scientist is certainly correct. The reason is that any assertion of an impossibility is equivalent to a statement of possibility. ‘It is impossible that p’ is equivalent to ‘It is possible that it is impossible that p’: ~ p ↔ ~ p. So Clarke would have to assign a low probability to the impossibility statement and a high probability to the possibility statement. It would be impossible for Clarke’s two probability assignments to be both correct.

Proof of the biconditional: ~ p ↔ ~ p. The left-to-right direction, ~ p → ~ p, follows from the principle that whatever is actual is possible.

The right-to-left side, ~ p → ~ p, follows from the principle that whatever is possible is necessarily possible: p → p. (This is the characteristic formula of the popular modal system S5.) The contrapositive of this formula is ~ p → ~ p To say something is not necessary, ~ , is equivalent to saying it is possibly not the case, ~. So the contrapositive can be rewritten as ~ p → ~ p.

Conjoining the two conditionals establishes the equivalence ~ p ↔ ~ p.

(from “A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A Collection of Puzzles, Oddities, Riddles and Dilemmas” by Roy Sorensen)

August 9th 1969: Arthur C Clarke claims ‘If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong’


From “A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities: A Collection of Puzzles, Oddities, Riddles and Dilemmas” by Roy Sorensen :


“‘If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong,’ declared Arthur C. Clarke (New Yorker, 9 August 1969). An elderly but distinguished scientist replies, ‘It is impossible for Mr Clarke to be correct.’  How likely is the elderly scientist’s claim?”

Check out the answer tomorrow! And here is the original article featuring Clarke’s claim, Jeremy Bernstein’s “Out of the Ego Chamber”:


Clarke has been in the business of scientific and technological prophecy for over thirty years now, and from this experience he has evolved a set of laws and principles. There are three basic Clarke Laws. (He once remarked that if three laws were enough for Newton they were enough for him.) The First Clarke Law states, “If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.” Clarke has confirmed this law by counting up the elderly but distinguished prewar astronomers who “proved,” by portentous calculations, that space flight was technologically impossible. The Second Clarke Law was originally a simple sentence in his book “Profiles of the Future” but was promoted to a law by the translator of the French edition. It states, “The only way to find the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.” The Third, and most recently formulated, Clarke Law, which he made use of in writing the enigmatic ending of “2001,” states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In addition to the laws, there are several empirical principles, one of which Clarke feels is fully applicable to his 1945 Wireless World article on the communications satellite; namely, that in making scientific prophecies the tendency is to be optimistic in the short range and pessimistic in the long. At the time that Clarke wrote his Wireless Worldarticle, the V-2s had already fallen on London, so it was well known that high-altitude rockets were a practical possibility. Clarke felt that they would be used as high-altitude research probes, and in 1944 he predicted that this would take place within a decade, which was somewhat optimistic. However, the communications satellite, he felt, would not come into existence for half a century or more, which was pessimistic, since Syncom 3, the first synchronous TV satellite, was launched on August 19, 1964. In his “Pre-History,” Clarke has an interesting aside concerning that launching. He writes:

This event, incidentally, is a good example of the perils that beset a prophet. In October, 1961, while moderating a panel discussion at the American Rocket Society . . . I had mentioned that the 1964 Olympics would be a good target to shoot for with a synchronous satellite. (I cannot claim credit for the idea, which I’d picked up in general discussions a few days earlier.) Dr. William Pickering, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was in the front row of my audience, and he was so tickled with the suggestion that hepassed it on to Vice-President Johnson, speaker at the society’s banquet the next evening. The Vice-President, in turn, thought it was such a good idea that he departed from his prepared speech to include it; so when “Profiles of the Future” was published in 1962, I felt confident enough to predict that most large cities would carry live transmissions from Tokyo in 1964. What I had failed to foresee was that, despite heroic efforts by the White House, the Communications Satellite Corporation, nasa, and the Hughes Aircraft Company (builders of Syncom 3), a large part of the United States did not see the superb live transmissions from the Olympics, which were made available by this triumph of technology. Why? Because they arrived at an awkward time, and the networks did not want to upset their existing program and advertising arrangements!

“The Apollo Mission”, David X Wiggin, Alt Hist #2

It’s from way back in 2012 and the second issue of the now sadly defunct Alt Hist, but David X Wiggins’ “The Apollo Mission” is a story that has stayed with me.

The full story is available with a purchase of Alt Hist 2. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The legionnaire awoke, surprised to see that he was still alive. He had dreamt of fire and pain and an endless fall that filled the blue void with screams. Pink light from the rising sun oozed over the darkness of the hut around the edges of the window shades. A knock came at the door. It was time.

He dressed slowly, keeping his mind focused on each individual task. He meticulously double-checked every strap of his armour and carefully avoided the thoughts that made his heart beat like a sparrow’s. A smartly dressed regiment of Rome’s finest awaited him outside. They saluted him in the manner befitting a patriot and he returned their salute in the manner of a man too proud to show his terror. They lead him—silent but for the clank of their weapons and the beat of their sandals upon the dust—and he let himself be led like a docile ox to the slaughter. He looked up at the dawning sky as they marched and saw puffs of cloud aimlessly hanging above like Jupiter’s lost sheep. Soon he would be high above them, looking down at their backs with an eagle’s disdain. Would they look so soft and gentle then? None but the gods and Icarus had ever beheld such a view until now.

More of the premise can be gleaned from this interview with David X Wiggin. Here he is on the genesis of the story:

Apollo, being the Greek & Roman deity of the sun and archery (not to mention a symbol of the triumph of rational civilization over nature), is really the most logical choice for a program that involves shooting giant arrows into the sky. Originally this story was going to be about the moon landing hoax conspiracy theory (not something I believe in but I think there’s some wonderful potential there) and in the course of doing research on space travel I came across the story of Wan Hu, a minor Ming Dynasty official who tried to fly into space using rockets attached to his chair. Immediately this turned to thoughts about earlier civilizations starting up space programs and a program for Rome – with its expanding empire, advanced technology, loyal soldiers, and actual worship of Apollo – suddenly made way too much sense. I’m surprised we don’t see more ideas for flying machines or lunar travel in ancient texts, frankly, but I guess that was seen as pretty far fetched for even those advanced civilizations.

102 Years Ago today: A young composer cut down by World War I, George Butterworth, “Fantasia for Orchestra”

Amidst the massive toll of lives lost in the First World War were many many writers, artists and composers. The War Poets, Franz Marc, Apollonaire … and so many unknown or barely know now.

One who has in recent years been recollected is the English composer George Butterworth, 1885-1916, who died 102 years ago today. Here is a bio from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library:

One of England’s most distinctive composers, George Butterworth was born on 12 July 1885 in London, the only child of Sir Alexander Kaye Butterworth (1854-1946), a solicitor and later general manager of the North Eastern Railway Company. George first attended school in Yorkshire before entering Eton College as a King’s scholar in 1899. His aptitude for music was nurtured there as well as with Christian Padel in York. From 1904 to 1908 he was in residence at Trinity College, Oxford, where he managed a third class in the honour school of literae humaniores and was active in musical circles, holding the presidency of the university musical club from October 1906 to March 1907.

Following Oxford he worked for a short while as a music critic for The Times and also contributed to the second edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1904-1910). Following a brief teaching post at Radley College he returned to London and from October 1910 to November 1911 was enrolled at the Royal College of Music, where he studied organ and piano, as well as theory and composition.

His involvement with English folk music and dance now began and his close friendship and collaboration with a leading figure in this burgeoning movement, Ralph Vaughan Williams, which had begun in his Oxford days, was central to this. Butterworth became a collector, noting down more than 450 items, including songs, dance tunes, and dances. In 1906 he joined the Folk-Song Society and later became a prominent figure in the English Folk Dance Society, of which he was one of the founders in 1911, as well as a member of its dance demonstration team. He collected and arranged an album of Sussex folk songs and, in collaboration with Cecil Sharp, published several books of country and morris dances.

Butterworth enlisted on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and was commissioned in the 13th Durham Light Infantry. He was three times recommended for, and was twice awarded, the Military Cross. The second decoration honoured conduct on the morning of his death, 5 August 1916; when he was killed at Pozieres during the first battle of the Somme. He was buried at the front line.

I came across Butterworth via Spotify’s Discover Weekly list – specifically Fantasia, a work of haunting, piercing yearning:

This Fantasia was completed by Kriss Russmann. This page discusses Butteworth and this version and one completed by Martin Yates:


Here is some footage of Butterworth Morris Dancing:



Stained Glass from the Church of the Assumption, Ballingarry, Tipperary. Part 2.

Stained Glass from the Church of the Assumption, Ballingarry, Tipperary. Part 2.

Following my prior post, here are more traditional (albeit quite interesting and in one case quite intriguing) panels from the rest of the Church. Firstly St John and Mary Magdalen:

Then Peter and Paul. What is the story with Peter’s face?

The Sacred Heart appearing to St Margaret Mary:

The Immaculate Conception and St Michael The Archangel:

The Holy Family:

Two-thirds of the Patrons of Ireland:

I am intrigued by Peter’s face. It is radically different from the rest of these panels. Did something happen to it? Is it based on another image?

I always seem to be lamenting my poor skills in photographing pieces above altars – this is no exception. The ones I deleted were worse….

Stained Glass from the Church of the Assumption, Ballingarry, Tipperary (Part 1)

Stained Glass from the Church of the Assumption, Ballingarry, Tipperary (Part 1)

The Church of the Assumption, Ballingarry has much beautiful glass; on these days of intense sun it is particularly worth visiting as some wonderful effects are created. I am dividing this post into two, firstly considering the more modern glass with themes related to the Crucifixion. I particularly liked this window with motifs of Pilate’s handwashing and Peter’s betrayal:20180728_174209929595124.jpg
As always in these posts, I lament the quality of my pictures, and find this one of a window with a cross of thorns and the robe (with dice) didn’t capture the wonderful effect of the light:

However, the robe with dice is worth a closer look. I wonder if there is any significance to the numbers displayed?

I am a tiny bit unsure of the motif on the right below. Is it Jacob’s ladder?