Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Deceased--Sir Maurice Wilkes

Sir Maurice Wilkes
June 26th, 1913 to November 29th, 2010

"Father of British computing Sir Maurice Wilkes dies"

November 30th, 2010


The "father" of British computing, Sir Maurice Wilkes, has died at the age of 97.

Sir Maurice was the designer and creator of Edsac, a computer that ran its first program in May 1949.

The Cambridge machine was the first widely-useable stored program machine and was very influential on the nascent British computer industry.

It set standards for how computers should be used in academia and business that have lasted until the present day.

Following work on developing radar during World War II, Sir Maurice returned to Cambridge to begin designing the machine that would become Edsac.

Prior to the war he had studied mathematics at Cambridge and been heavily involved with the rather limited calculating machines used in the department.

Study of the design documents for what would become the US Edvac machine convinced him that computers were the future and he started the project to build one at Cambridge.

His efforts were helped by a trip to the US to attend a series of lectures, known as the Moore School, run by the American scientists who had built the pioneering Eniac computer and were working on its successor Edvac.

"Maurice Wilkes was the first to turn these ideas into a fully-functional electronic stored-program computer when the Cambridge Edsac ran its first program in May 1949," said computer historian Dr Simon Lavington.

Maurice Wilkes and Edsac (NPL) The Edsac computer ran its first program in May 1949.

Unlike earlier machines such as the Manchester Mark I which were largely experimental, Sir Maurice wanted to put his computer to practical use.

"The Edsac group was the most influential of the early British computing teams," said Dr Lavington, "most especially in setting high standards for the development of software and the organisation of a computing service to scientists and engineers."

The success of Edsac caught the attention of catering firm J Lyons which funded further development of the machine and led to the creation of the Leo - one of the first machines put to dedicated business use.

Innovations at the Cambridge computer laboratory, such as microprogramming and time-sharing, were widely influential in the industry at large.

"If any person deserves the title of the father of British computing, it is surely Professor Sir Maurice Wilkes," said Dr Lavington.

Sir Maurice Wilkes [Wikipedia]

Deceased--Mario Monicelli

Mario Monicelli
May 16th, 1915 to November 29th, 2010

"Italian cinema great Mario Monicelli 'kills himself'"

November 30th, 2010


One of the greats of post-war Italian cinema, Mario Monicelli, has killed himself by jumping out of a hospital window, media reports say.

Monicelli, 95, was dubbed "father of Italian comedy" for directing films such as Amici Mei (My Dear Friends) and I Soliti Ignoti (Persons Unknown).

He was said to have leapt from the fifth floor of a Rome hospital where he was being treated for terminal cancer.

He received numerous awards and was nominated four times for an Oscar.

Best known for his comedies, Monicelli also directed serious films

Monicelli was admitted a few days ago to San Giovanni hospital where he was being treated for prostate cancer, reports said.

He made his debut as a director in 1949 and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival 10 years later for The Great War.

The 1958 film I Soliti Ignoti - released in the US as Big Deal on Madonna Street and in the UK as Persons Unknown - helped launch the careers of Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale and Vittorio Gassman.

Mario Monicelli directed 70 films, often focusing on stories about ordinary people confronted by extraordinary circumstances.

A Very Little Man (1977) was one of his best-known works about a man who takes justice into his own hands after his son is killed in a robbery.

Monicelli was known as politically left-wing and had called last year for students to protest against the government's proposals for cuts to the culture budget.

"Mario Monicelli, Italian Director, Dies at 95"


Michael Roston

November 29th, 2010

The New York Times

Mario Monicelli, the Italian director known as one of the great “comedia all’Italiana” filmmakers for movies including “Big Deal on Madonna Street” and “La Grande Guerra” (The Great War) in the 1950s and 60s, died Monday in Rome in an apparent suicide. He was 95.

A spokeswoman for the San Giovanni hospital in Rome, where Mr. Monicelli was being treated for a pancreatic condition that appeared terminal, told news agencies that he jumped to his death Monday night from his hospital room. His body was covered by a sheet for hours as police and medical examiners investigated the circumstances of his death.

Mr. Monicelli was a contemporary of the noted Italian filmmakers Federico Fellini and Ettore Scola and worked closely with some of the nation’s greatest actors, including Marcello Mastroianni, Toto and Alberto Sordi. His career spanned more than 60 years in which he wrote and directed dozens of films, documentaries, shorts and TV series, including 2006’s “The Roses of the Desert.” He was most well-known for the comedies “Big Deal on Madonna Street” (1958) a crime caper where inept criminals bungle their robbery of a pawn shop, and “La Grande Guerra” (1959) which won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion Award for its comedic take on the tragedies of World War I. In 1991, the Venice Film Festival honored him with a lifetime achievement award.

Beyond its humor, Monicelli’s work combined comedy with serious social criticism of the difficulties faced by an Italian society that had been traumatized by wars and the Fascist movement.

“Monicelli’s films focused on the problems of people on the lower rungs of society trying to make do in a world that is just as ludicrous as their foolish attempts to get ahead,” The Times noted in a review of a 1997 retrospective showing eight of his films at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater.

In addition to the critical success of his films, Mr. Monicelli also found commercial success.

“It took something to be able to combine great art and make great money at the box office,” said Peter Bondanella the author of “A History of Italian Cinema.” “Monicelli was really a super commercially viable guy who had a touch of genius too, and he knew what he could do with really good actors with a good script.”

His influence was also felt in American cinema. Several directors have have produced work inspired by “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” including Woody Allen’s “Small Time Crooks,” Louise Malle’s “Crackers,” Alan Taylor’s “Palookaville” and the Russo Brothers’ “Welcome to Collinwood.”

Ultimately, it was the mix of tragedy and comedy that drove Mr. Monicelli’s filmmaking.

“All Italian comedy is dramatic,” he said in a 2004 interview with Cineaste magazine “The situation is always dramatic, often tragic, but it’s treated in a humorous way. But people die in it, there’s no happy ending. That’s just what people like about it. The Italian comedy, the kind I make, always has this component.”

Mario Monicelli [Wikipedia]


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Featured woman physicist and communicator--Paola Catapano

Some of you may remember Paola Catapano as the host for the final celebration of the World Year of Physics 2005 in December with a spectacular live event from CERN... Beyond Einstein .

From: CERN Courier, April 16th, 2008...

"The Large Hadron Collider runs on woman power"

Paola Catapano went in search of some of the women working on the LHC project, to find out about their work at CERN and talk about life in a mainly male environment.

In particle physics, as in much of the rest of physics and engineering, the practitioners are generally men. However, women do become involved and some even break through to important positions. In a series of interviews made for the Italian magazine, Newton, Paula Catapano found out more about some of the women working on different aspects of CERN's LHC, from environmental impact and radiation safety to the complex experiments. Their answers give some idea of what makes these talented women tick, as well as an insight into their views on working in a "man's world".

Ana-Paula Bernades
Portuguese and French
Environmental engineer

Thirty-five years old and the mother of a three-year-old child, Ana-Paula Bernades graduated in environmental engineering at the Grenoble Polytechnic. She arrived at CERN in 1999 and soon after started work on building safety and ergonomics. In 2003 she became section leader within CERN's Safety Commission and has since worked on the LHC's environmental impact, particularly on the management of acoustic disturbances generated by the sites around the 27 km ring, in collaboration with EdF. When the LHC begins operating, she will be in charge of personnel safety training and will be a consultant on general safety, acoustics and ergonomics.

Did you have any particular difficulty in working as a woman in a male-dominated environment?

Not really. Being a woman in the world of safety is an advantage. In this field it is impossible to force things, in a typically male manner, so this makes you develop negotiation techniques to convince your counterparts at CERN to invest money and time on safety issues.

Isabel Brunner
Radiation protection engineer

Isabel Brunner is 33 years old and has two children aged two and four. A graduate of the Berufsakademie in Karlsruhe, she came to CERN in 1999 as the radiation protection engineer responsible for radiation protection in the SPS West Area, the RF test facilities and the n-TOF installation. Her current tasks include radiological responsibility for the SPS North Area, the RF installations in the SPS complex and the LHC. She is the radiation protection engineer responsible for the LHC injection test and will participate in the operational radiation protection of the LHC. Measurements she made during cold tests of RF modules for the LHC provided input data for the shielding at Point 4, where the RF is located.

Have you ever encountered any disadvantages/differences in your studies and career as a result of being a woman?

My answer is a clear "no". Even during my two pregnancies – where I was not able, or allowed, to perform my work in radiation controlled areas – I can't say that I had any disadvantages. I like my job and I have a great supervisor who treats everyone as an equal. However, working in a "man's world" is not always easy and it needs plenty of self-esteem and force to stand up and get your point through. I've only had one conflict regarding gender differences, and I put an end to it when I confronted the person. This was not easy, but eventually it was the best solution to the problem.

Monique Dupont

Monique Dupont arrived at CERN in 1978 as "industrial support" within the team looking after the topography of buildings, which at the time was expanding. Today she is a member of the metrology group, comprised of 40 people. She has worked on the alignment of magnets for each new accelerator at CERN, as well as on their realignment at each shut down. These highly accurate measurements involve the use of hi-tech instruments, often designed within the metrology group. Since 1996, she has studied and worked on the alignment for the LHC, which has more than 1800 magnet systems. To check the curvature of the magnets, the group used microprobes in the beam tube, making a measurement every 50 cm with laser technology.

Have you experienced any difficulties as a woman working in a typically male career?

I was the only woman in a school of 1000 students. The profession did not attract women at the time – probably because the surveyor's work is principally outside and the instruments were heavy. Nowadays modern technologies enable you to work comfortably and I think for this reason that the number of women surveyors has increased. In my group, I have always been welcomed and appreciated for my work, but maybe CERN is an exception. The environment here is so international that there are really no differences of race, culture, religion or even gender.

Fabiola Gianotti
Experimental physicist

At 46 years old, Fabiola Gianotti is a woman who has reached one of the highest peaks during her career at CERN – that of deputy spokesperson for the largest LHC collaboration, ATLAS. She graduated at the University of Milan and completed her PhD at CERN. When physics allows, she finishes her day jogging or playing the piano – she has a professional diploma from the Milan conservatory. At the LHC, and with her experiment in particular, she would like to find dark-matter particles because of their connection with the universe. "That would be really fantastic." She is also hoping for a surprise to come from the LHC: "Something really amazing, completely new and unexpected."

Is it an obstacle to be a woman in a typically male career?

Physics is, unfortunately, often seen as a male subject; sterile and without charm or emotion. But this is not true, because physics is art, aesthetics, beauty and symmetry. Women have obstacles in the field for merely social reasons. Research does not allow you to make life plans. And the difficulties for women with a family are many. Something should be done, for instance, to develop more structures that would enable women with children to go through a physics career without too many obstacles, starting with nursery schools.

Virginia Greco
Electronics Engineer

Born in the southern Italian city of Lecce, Virginia Greco is 29 and has a degree in electronics engineering from Pisa University. She is part of a team of engineers in charge of the design and installation of electronics for data acquisition in TOTEM, one of the LHC's smaller experiments designed to focus on forward particles. Research has always been her passion and has brought her to work in many different international laboratories, from Fermilab to CERN. She also studies theatre, has worked as a radio journalist and is interested in politics, movements in ecology and international cooperation.

Was being a woman an obstacle in your career?

Undoubtedly. In Italy, in all technical and scientific environments, there's a substrate of machismo. Some professors and male colleagues at my university were often convinced that, as a woman, I would never reach the level of a man, but I was never the victim of any real discrimination. In general, I think women have to make more effort than men to be taken seriously, to show they're worth something and that they have the same skills as men. At the moment I am working in a very open international environment. I have only been here a short time and cannot make any final statements. However, I have the feeling that CERN is a meritocratic place where efficiency and productivity count more than any prejudice. But I still keep my eyes open for possible obstacles, so as not to stumble on them.

Monica Pepe Altarelli
Experimental physicist

Monica Pepe is married to a theoretical physicist and is the mother of two children aged 18 and 13. She became a physicist almost by accident, after "risking" a career first as an actress and then as an architect. Having come to CERN with a postdoctorate research grant in 1983, she now leads a team of 60 CERN physicists in LHCb, a collaboration of 700 physicists from 48 universities in 14 countries. Her main role is to coordinate interaction between the LHCb collaboration and CERN, and to manage the manpower and financial resources of the team. In addition to this largely managerial role, she also handles the technical work of preparing the online data quality monitoring, which will be crucial for acquiring immediately full control of the quality of data collected by the detector once it sees collisions in the LHC. The only "luxuries" she can afford in her little spare time are two hours of yoga per week at lunchtime and jogging with her dog on Sundays.

Is being a woman an obstacle for a physicist's career?

I was never hindered in my career by the fact of being a woman. In general, I have never seen it as a problem. And from some points of view it has even been an advantage, since people tend to remember you more easily. The real difficulty is conciliating family, children and work. In my case we had to invest a lot of organizational effort, help from my family (my parents), my partner's availability and understanding, and an important economic investment in baby sitters and carers. I've been lucky because both my husband and I have good positions from the same employer (CERN). But it is clear that working days are really long when you have small kids. The advantage is that working as a physicist you can afford some flexibility in organizing your time, which is very helpful. I always think that I will have to help my daughter Giulia, who has just started her architectural studies at EPFL Lausanne, the same way as my mother has helped me.

Eva Sanchez Corral
Computer engineer

Forty-three years old and the mother of eight-year-old twin boys, Eva Sanchez Corral gained her degree in computer engineering from the Madrid Polytechnic University in 1989. She came to CERN in 1991 as a CERN fellow and today she is one of three women in the LHC access-control group.

Any difficulty working in a predominantly male environment?

Today we are three women in the project team, and I find that extraordinary. When I arrived at CERN in 1994 I was the first "staff" woman engineer in the whole department. In the beginning, my colleagues, all men and older in general, looked at me with curiosity and even with a defiant attitude. They treated me in the way men usually treat women, rather than as a colleague. Then, little by little, the old staff were replaced by young engineers, and a few were also women. So the group started treating us as a new resource. Today, our managers especially realize that women can really make a valuable contribution to team work. We are more flexible but also more methodical, have more energy, we are less individualistic and are good at conflict solving and negotiating. These qualities are particularly appreciated now during LHC commissioning. The real challenge for us is when children come. It's really two jobs, and it demands a super level of organization between home and the office. Luckily they are not kids forever – they grow up and when they are older, our partners can help more.

Gilda Scioli
Experimental physicist

Gilda Scioli is 30 years old and is from Abruzzi in central Italy. After grammar school in Lanciano, she gained a degree in physics from the University of Bologna and arrived at CERN in a postdoctoral role in the ALICE collaboration. She helped construct the complex detectors that will record the 50,000 collisions per second between lead nuclei.

Why do you think there are more men than women in the world of physics?

Because being a researcher is not an easy profession for women. What we do can only be done here. But if I had a small child and an experiment to do, what should I do? Do I say good-bye to everybody, leave for a year and ask my husband to breast-feed the baby?

Archana Sharma
Experimental physicist

Archana Sharma is married and has an 18-year-old son. She has a PhD in physics from Delhi University and another from Geneva University. She came to CERN in 1989 as a student in the famous Charpak–Sauli group, and after many temporary contracts, where she worked mainly on the development of particle detectors, she is now a CERN staff member within the CMS Collaboration. In CMS, she works in the Technical Coordination Group, which is in charge of integration, installation and commissioning of the experiment.

Is being a woman an advantage or a disadvantage for tackling such a big responsibility?

This job requires both a good knowledge of particle detector technology, which is my field, and also excellent communication skills to be able to interact with people from diverse countries and cultures – such as the physicists from China, Pakistan, Russia and the US. And women are natural communicators. The real challenge, however, is the juggling act: work doesn't stop when you get home, where there's a family to look after.

Former "Commodore", Lionel Richie, gassed on Helium

In all fairness...

Lionel Richie [Wikipedia]

Lionel Richie's website

Ada Lovelace and computing

Ada Lovelace
December 10th, 1815 to November 27th, 1852

From: San Diego Supercomputer Center


Analyst, Metaphysician, and Founder of Scientific Computing

Ada Byron was the daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Ada never met her father (who died in Greece in 1823) and was raised by her mother, Lady Byron. Her life was an apotheosis of struggle between emotion and reason, subjectivism and objectivism, poetics and mathematics, ill health and bursts of energy.

Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies. But Ada's complex inheritance became apparent as early as 1828, when she produced the design for a flying machine. It was mathematics that gave her life its wings.

Lady Byron and Ada moved in an elite London society, one in which gentlemen not members of the clergy or occupied with politics or the affairs of a regiment were quite likely to spend their time and fortunes pursuing botany, geology, or astronomy. In the early nineteenth century there were no "professional" scientists (indeed, the word "scientist" was only coined by William Whewell in 1836)--but the participation of noblewomen in intellectual pursuits was not widely encouraged.

One of the gentlemanly scientists of the era was to become Ada's lifelong friend. Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, was known as the inventor of the Difference Engine, an elaborate calculating machine that operated by the method of finite differences. Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17, and they began a voluminous correspondence on the topics of mathematics, logic, and ultimately all subjects.

In 1835, Ada married William King, ten years her senior, and when King inherited a noble title in 1838, they became the Earl and Countess of Lovelace. Ada had three children. The family and its fortunes were very much directed by Lady Byron, whose domineering was rarely opposed by King.

Babbage had made plans in 1834 for a new kind of calculating machine (although the Difference Engine was not finished), an Analytical Engine. His Parliamentary sponsors refused to support a second machine with the first unfinished, but Babbage found sympathy for his new project abroad. In 1842, an Italian mathematician, Louis Menebrea, published a memoir in French on the subject of the Analytical Engine. Babbage enlisted Ada as translator for the memoir, and during a nine-month period in 1842-43, she worked feverishly on the article and a set of Notes she appended to it. These are the source of her enduring fame.

Ada called herself "an Analyst (& Metaphysician)," and the combination was put to use in the Notes. She understood the plans for the device as well as Babbage but was better at articulating its promise. She rightly saw it as what we would call a general-purpose computer. It was suited for "developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever. . . the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity." Her Notes anticipate future developments, including computer-generated music.

Ada died of cancer in 1852, at the age of 37, and was buried beside the father she never knew. Her contributions to science were resurrected only recently, but many new biographies attest to the fascination of Babbage's "Enchantress of Numbers."

Ada Lovelace [Wikipedia]

Biographies of Women Mathematicians

"A Serbian Film"...censorship for the common good?

I draw attention to Srđan Spasojević's A Serbian Film...a violent, pornographic film that has been dubbed by The Guardian as the "...most censored film in 16 years". Forget the film and think about the implications of a body of individuals that wish to "protect" the public and affirm a set of ethical standards. This just doesn't make a lot of sense but it is so common around the world. Understand that I have not seen the film and I seriously doubt that I will make any effort to view the film. I have read various accounts of the contents and reviewer's comments. The film is without a doubt extremely violent and pornographic and could probably, as a genre type film, be lumped with August Underground's Mordum and Cannibal Holocaust .

Regardless of the cinematic presentation, one has to question the power wielded by a select group of people that wish to establish some dubious ethical standards. This "art house" horror film will not flow successfully in the economic mainstream of film. It will have a limited theatrical run and make a few bucks, but nothing sustaining and worthy and wind up on film shelves being distributed at budget prices and revered as a cult favorite by a low cadre of horror buffs.

Such press will only stimulate short term interest and fill the treasure box, but long term ethical issues of who decides what we see or read will remain a serious issue of debate. Ethics are situational, aren't they? Just recall the Hayes Office censorship of films in the 1930s...tame by today's standards of ethics.

"A Serbian Film becomes most censored film in 16 years"

Violent thriller set in the world of pornography has had four minutes of footage edited before being granted an 18 certificate


Catherine Shoard

November 26th, 2010

The Guardian

A Serbian Film, a violent thriller set in the world of pornography has become the most cut film in 16 years, says the British Board of Film Classification.

Four minutes and 11 seconds were edited out before the board felt able to grant it an 18 certificate, a record exceeded by the Indian film Nammavar in 1994.

A board spokeswoman said: "A number of cuts were required to remove elements of sexual violence that tend to eroticise or endorse sexual violence."

The producers argued that the hardcore content was intended as an allegory of "our molestation by the Serbian government".

Cannes Review...

A Serbian Film


Jordan Mintzer

May 16th, 2010


A Contrafilm production. (International sales: Jinga Films, London.) Produced by Srdjan Spasojevic. Executive producer, Nikola Pantelic. Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic. Screenplay, Spasojevic, Aleksandar Radivojevic.

With: Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Katrina Zutic, Slobodan Bestic.

Taking the torture-porn concept absolutely literally, the bluntly titled "A Serbian Film" is a well-crafted, immensely indecent smut slasher that falls short of the original "Hostel" and "Saw," but still reps a daresay "respectable" go at the genre. Debuting helmer Srdjan Spasojevic's twisted tale of an out-of-work adult film star who (in every way) attaches himself to a deadly new project is also a warning call to budding thesps: Read the whole contract, and don't trust a director who claims that "life, art and blood" are their inspirations. Fanboys will be lapping up the ketchup in fright fests and ancillary.

Though word-of-mouth following its SXSW premiere promised a film that would make "Antichrist" and "Kinatay" look like "Leave it to Beaver," pic is actually heavier on the X-rated side than the gore, and only its final reel of carnage will give hardcore horror fans their due.

Story kicks off as a darkish, fairly entertaining deadpan comedy where Milos (Srdjan Todorovic), described as the "Nikola Tesla of world pornography," is short on cash and pouring himself a tad too many whiskeys. Stuck at home watching his own studded oeuvre, he's urged by his wife (Jelena Gavrilovic) and an S&M-garbed colleague (Katrina Zutic) to get back in the sack and make some dough.

What he's offered is to star in the next opus from ominous director Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), who claims to have held a "lifelong fascination with the world of film" and bemoans the fact that Serbia is "no country for real art." But once shooting begins, it's clear that Vukmir is no Kusturica, and his specialty is real-life versions of the work of Eli Roth and Mark Burg, with an auteur's taste for pre-adolescent girls, untold bodily violence and a special genre he dubs "newborn porn" (don't ask).

Despite such shock content, which reaches an almost criminal threshold at the very close, the film is not as off-putting as it sounds, and its sleaze-factor is distilled through clever construction, good acting and sleek widescreen lensing.

As for the title, dialogue makes reference to war orphans and the Hague tribunal, but otherwise it seems to be a stab at irony, and clearly one that won't please its homeland.

A Serbian Film [Wikipedia]

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Deceased--Ingrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt
November 21st, 1937 to November 23rd, 2010

"Ingrid Pitt dies at 73; one of Britain's best-known horror stars"

Signed by Hammer Films, she played alongside horror legend Christopher Lee in 'The House That Dripped Blood' and was known as the buxom bloodsucker in 'Vampire Lovers' and 'Countess Dracula.'

November 25th, 2010

Los Angeles Times

Ingrid Pitt, who survived a Nazi concentration camp and dodged Communist police to become one of Britain's best-known horror stars, died Tuesday in London only days after her 73rd birthday.

Her daughter, Steffanie Pitt, said her mother collapsed while on her way to a birthday dinner to be held in her honor over the weekend. The cause of death wasn't known, although Pitt had recently been in poor health.

Known in Britain principally as the buxom bloodsucker in "Vampire Lovers" and "Countess Dracula," Ingrid Pitt began her acting career with a role in the 1968 action-adventure movie "Where Eagles Dare" that starred Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.

Signed by Britain's Hammer Films — home to Christopher Lee's "Dracula" — she played alongside the horror legend in 1971's "The House That Dripped Blood" and 1973's "The Wicker Man."

Pitt's birth in Poland on Nov. 21, 1937, interrupted her parents' attempts to flee Nazi Germany and escape to Britain.

Snared by the Germans, Pitt and her mother, who was of Jewish descent, were interned at the Stutthof concentration camp. Pitt survived the war and joined the Berliner Ensemble, where she worked under actress Helene Weigel, the widow of German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

But the political climate in East Germany didn't suit Pitt, who was outspoken in her criticism of Communist officials there.

She left Berlin on the night of her planned stage debut, diving into the River Spree, which runs through the German capital. Pitt was rescued by a handsome U.S. officer, whom she would later marry.

Pitt moved to America, and — following the breakup of her marriage — to Spain, where she starred in her first movies despite a limited command of the language. Discovered while watching a bullfight, a career in Hollywood and British horror films followed.

Although Pitt had a series of other roles in film and on television, it was her 1970s vampire films that drew a cult following.

She told an interviewer in 2006 that she did not particularly enjoy watching horror movies.

"I was in a concentration camp as a child and I don't want to see horror," Pitt said. "I think it's very amazing that I do horror films when I had this awful childhood. But maybe that's why I'm good at it."

In addition to her daughter, Pitt is survived by her second husband and a granddaughter.

"Ingrid Pitt, Horror Star Who Survived Nazis, Dies at 73"


Matgalit Fox

November 25th, 2010

The New York Times

Lovely and voluptuous, the actress Ingrid Pitt was given a choice early in her film career: pornography or horror. Ms. Pitt, who had spent her childhood in a Nazi concentration camp, later scoured Europe in search of her vanished father and still later was forced to flee East Germany a step ahead of the police, chose horror. It was a genre she knew firsthand.

Ms. Pitt, long celebrated as the first lady of British horror cinema, who starred in sanguinary classics of the 1970s like “The Vampire Lovers,” “Countess Dracula” and “The House That Dripped Blood,” died on Tuesday in London. She was 73 and had lived in London for many years.

The apparent cause was heart failure, her daughter, Steffanie Pitt-Blake, said.

Known for her tousled hair, pneumatic figure and sporadically sharp incisors, Ms. Pitt was most closely associated with Hammer Film Productions, the British studio famous for the lurid, the lascivious and the low-budget. The Queen of Scream, the British press called her. Hammer billed her as “the most beautiful ghoul in the world.”

In fact, Ms. Pitt made only a handful of horror films, and not all for Hammer. But her striking, barely clad screen presence and vampirical Middle European accent — it was her real accent — secured her an international cult following that seems likely to remain undead for years to come.

She was also an enthusiastic keeper of her own flame, appearing at horror conventions and maintaining an evocative Web site, pittofhorror.com. So earnestly did Ms. Pitt continue to inhabit her screen persona that she was known on occasion to bite the necks of interviewers — not enough to draw blood but enough for dramatic impact.

Ms. Pitt was born in Poland on Nov. 21, 1937. Her precise given name has been lost to time; British news articles have often rendered it as Ingoushka Petrov. Her father was German, her mother a Polish Jew, and in 1942 the Nazis picked the family up. Separated from her father and older sister, she was sent with her mother to the Stutthof concentration camp.

They were held there for three years. In interviews Ms. Pitt spoke of having seen her mother’s best friend hanged and her own best friend, a little girl, raped and beaten to death by guards. She recalled lying in the straw, dreaming of being someone else.

After the war she and her mother trudged from one refugee camp to the next, searching for her father and sister. They eventually found them, but by then her father was a broken man. He lived only five years more.

As a young woman Ms. Pitt was determined to be an actress. In the 1950s she joined the Berliner Ensemble, directed by Helene Weigel, the second wife of Bertolt Brecht, and based in East Berlin. A vocal critic of the East German Communist government, Ms. Pitt was pursued by the police on the night of her debut performance, in Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.”

Fleeing, she jumped into the River Spree with her costume on, only to be fished out by an American serviceman, Laud Roland Pitt Jr. In fitting dramatic style, she married him soon afterward. That marriage ended in divorce, as did her second, to George Pinches, a British film executive.

Ms. Pitt began her screen career with several minor films in Spain; that she spoke no Spanish was apparently no impediment. Her first significant picture in the United States was “Where Eagles Dare” (1968), starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.

This led to an audition for James Carreras, then the head of Hammer. As Ms. Pitt recounted in a 1997 interview with The Guardian of London, she prepared meticulously:

“I turned up at Jimmy’s office in a maxicoat, a mane of hair, lots of makeup and high leather boots,” she said. “I walked up to him, threw open my coat like a flasher. I was wearing the tiniest and lowest-cut minidress you can imagine.”

She added: “He took me, darling, but not in the way film moguls are said to.”

Besides her daughter, an actress and graphic designer, Ms. Pitt is survived by her third husband, Tony Rudlin, a former racecar driver; and a grandchild. Her older sister, Brigitte, died earlier this year.

Her other films include “The Wicker Man” (1973); “The Asylum” (2000), a horror movie starring her daughter; “Minotaur” (2006); and “Sea of Dust” (2008).

Ms. Pitt wrote several books, including a memoir, “Life’s a Scream” (Heinemann, 1999), and “The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers” (Batsford, 1998).

Though horror films made her famous, Ms. Pitt rarely watched them. “I don’t want to see horror,” she told The New Zealand Herald in 2006. “I think it’s very amazing that I do horror films when I had this awful childhood. But maybe that’s why I’m good at it.”

Ingrid Pitt [Wikipedia]

Tom DeLay...convicted!


"He faces between 5 and 99 years in prison, though the judge may choose probation."

"Probation"...not good.

"DeLay Is Convicted in Texas Donation Case"


James C. McKinley Jr.

November 24th, 2010

The New York Times

Tom DeLay, one of the most powerful and divisive Republican lawmakers ever to come out of Texas, was convicted Wednesday of money-laundering charges in a state trial, five years after his indictment here forced him to resign as majority leader in the House of Representatives.

After 19 hours of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women decided that Mr. DeLay was guilty of conspiring with two associates in 2002 to circumvent a state law against corporate contributions to political campaigns. He was convicted of one charge of money laundering and one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

As the verdict was read, Mr. DeLay, 63, sat stone-faced at the defense table. Then he rose, turned, smiled and hugged his wife and then his weeping daughter in the first row of spectators. He faces between 5 and 99 years in prison, though the judge may choose probation.

A few minutes later, Mr. DeLay said outside the courtroom that he would appeal the decision. He called the prosecution a political vendetta by Democrats in the local district attorney’s office, and revenge for his role in orchestrating the 2003 redrawing of Congressional districts to elect more Republicans.

“This is an abuse of power,” he said. “It’s a miscarriage of justice. I still maintain my innocence. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system.”

The verdict ends the latest chapter in a long legal battle that forced Mr. DeLay to step down. The trial also opened a window on the world of campaign financing, as jurors heard testimony about large contributions flowing to Mr. DeLay from corporations seeking to influence him, and about junkets to luxury resorts where the congressman would rub shoulders with lobbyists in return for donations.

Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat and Travis County district attorney, said the decision to pursue charges had nothing to do with partisan politics.

“This was about holding public officials accountable, that no one is above the law,” she said.

During the three-week trial, the prosecution presented more than 30 witnesses in an effort to prove that Mr. DeLay conspired to circumvent the state law. Since 1903, Texas has prohibited corporations from giving money to candidates directly or indirectly.

Mr. DeLay was initially charged with breaking campaign finance law. But prosecutors later switched strategies because it was impossible under the law at the time to accuse someone of conspiring to break campaign finance rules, prosecutors said.

Instead, prosecutors used a novel legal theory never before tried in Texas: They argued that Mr. DeLay and two of his political operatives — John Colyandro and Jim Ellis — had violated the criminal money-laundering law.

They were charged with conspiring to funnel $190,000 in corporate donations to state candidates through the Republican National Committee.

The main facts of the case were never in dispute.

In mid-September 2002, as the election heated up, Mr. DeLay’s state political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, gave a check for $190,000 to the Republican National Committee. The money had been donated earlier in the year by various corporate lobbyists seeking to influence Mr. DeLay, several witnesses said.

On Sept. 13, the check was delivered to the R.N.C. by Mr. Ellis, who was Mr. DeLay’s top political operative in Washington and headed his federal political action committee.

At the same meeting, Mr. Ellis also gave the Republican director of political operations, Terry Nelson, a list of state candidates and an amount to be sent to each. Mr. Nelson testified that Mr. Ellis had told him the request for the swap had come from Mr. DeLay.

In early October, donations were sent from a separate account filled with individual donations to seven Republican candidates in Texas. Six of them won. Republicans took control of the Legislature for the first time in modern history and in 2003 pushed through a redistricting plan, orchestrated by Mr. DeLay, that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 and helped him consolidate power.

Jurors had to wrestle with the questions of what Mr. DeLay knew about the transaction, when he found out and whether he participated in the decision to swap the money.

Another central issue facing the panel was whether the corporate contributions could be considered illicit. To be guilty of money laundering, the prosecution had to show the money had been obtained through an illegal activity before it was laundered.

The jury consisted of a Republican, six Democrats, two independent conservatives and three independent liberals.

Prosecutors presented a mountain of circumstantial evidence — e-mails, telephone records, calendars, brochures and other documents — trying to persuade jurors that Mr. DeLay played a leading role in the plan and intended to break the Texas election law from the moment his political operatives solicited the donations.

The prosecutor, Gary Cobb, said the prosecution had a tough job in demonstrating that Mr. DeLay was responsible for the actions of his political associates, Mr. Ellis and Mr. Colyandro, who did not testify and still await trial on lesser charges.

None of the other witnesses testified directly about Mr. DeLay’s control over the decision, and the prosecution instead relied on interviews Mr. DeLay had given to prosecutors and journalists. “It was almost entirely circumstantial, and there were a lot of people with motives not to have Tom DeLay convicted,” Mr. Cobb said.

During the last day of deliberations, the jurors asked for transcripts of Mr. DeLay’s interview with prosecutors in 2005, in which he said he knew about the swap in advance. “Jim Ellis told me he was going to do it before he did it,” Mr. DeLay said in the interview.

But the lead defense lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, maintained that the money swap was legal because the Republican National Committee kept a firewall between accounts holding corporate and individual contributions.

“It’s not the same money” was his mantra during the trial.

He also presented evidence to distance Mr. DeLay from the actions of his political operatives, arguing that while Mr. Ellis told Mr. DeLay about the transaction, Mr. DeLay never gave his approval.

Judge Pat Priest has wide discretion in sentencing the former majority leader, who was known as the Hammer for his no-holds-barred style during 20 years in the House of Representatives.

Mr. DeGuerin said Mr. DeLay would try to convince an appeals court that the money-laundering statute should never had been applied to the money swap — because the original donations were legal and also because the donations to the state candidates came out of a different account than the one in which the corporate donations were deposited.

“It will never stand,” Mr. DeGuerin said.

An editorial...

"A Jury Convicts Tom DeLay"

November 24th, 2010

The New York Times

After a year of increasingly depressing news about the unbridled, unaccountable influence of big money in political campaigns, a Texas jury stood up for honesty in campaign finance on Wednesday and convicted Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, of money laundering. Unfortunately, there are now many new ways for politicians to commit acts similar to those for which Mr. DeLay was convicted, all of them perfectly legal.

During his tenure leading House Republicans, Mr. DeLay established a new low in ethical conduct among Congressional leaders. He put family members on his campaign payroll, took lavish trips paid for by lobbyists and twisted the arms of K Street lobbyists to ante up and donate to his party’s candidates and hire more Republicans. But his conviction on Wednesday came from something else entirely, a scheme to steer corporate contributions to Republicans in the Texas Legislature.

Texas bans corporations from giving money directly to state candidates, just as federal law does at the national level. But Mr. DeLay figured out a way around that barrier: In 2002, he used his state political action committee to channel $190,000 in corporate contributions to the Republican National Committee, which then donated the same amount to seven Texas House candidates. Six of them won, and Republicans took control of the Legislature for the first time in modern history, redistricting the state’s Congressional districts to the party’s benefit.

“This was a scheme to get corporate money that they knew could not be used in Texas and get it to these candidates,” one of the prosecutors, Beverly Mathews, told the jury. “Tom DeLay was in on it.”

The prosecution called that money laundering — an untested legal theory in Texas — and the jury agreed, also convicting him on a conspiracy charge. The first charge carries a penalty of up to life in prison, although it seems unlikely his sentence will be that long.

Mr. DeLay will presumably pursue multiple rounds of appeals. But whether he wins or loses personally, his larger goal of finding ways to get more corporate money into politics has already been achieved. Thanks to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., corporations are now free to donate unlimited amounts of money. They cannot give it directly to candidates, but they can give to “independent” committees that run ads for or against candidates. To most viewers, ads run by these committees — as the nation saw during the midterm election campaign — are indistinguishable from those run by the candidates themselves.

In a trend Mr. DeLay undoubtedly appreciated, most of that new corporate money went to Republicans. He may go to jail for violating the letter of the law, but a whole new generation of political operatives is still violating the spirit in which that law was written. His conviction should stand as a warning for how society regards that violation.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dump the dollar bill?

"Coin of the realm"


Michael McGough

November 23rd, 2010

Los Angeles Times

At a time when consumers pay for candy bars and cigarettes with debit cards, it might seem quaint to debate whether the dollar bill should be retired from U.S. currency. Yet debate there is, stimulated by the release of a commemorative Abraham Lincoln dollar coin on the 147th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

Like previous coins honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, the new Lincoln dollar is likely to be handled mostly by numismatists. That might change if the dollar bill were abolished. Proponents of replacing the bill with the coin note that it costs about 16 cents to make a $1 coin, which lasts for 30 years. A $1 bill costs 7 cents to produce but lasts for 21 months.

Do the math, and the coin is obviously a better investment for the Treasury (not to mention an acknowledgment of years of inflation). Vending machines that now process $1 bills could be retrofitted to take $2 bills instead, which would become familiar in places other than racetracks. And the $2-for-$1 switch wouldn't require a new tray in cash registers.

Finally, dollar coins offer ample opportunities to commemorate political figures whose supporters have demanded that they be memorialized on paper money. For example, there is a move afoot among devotees of Ronald Reagan to quickly substitute his visage for Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill. Far better would be an early striking of the Reagan dollar that will be part of a collection featuring all of the presidents. At present that coin isn't scheduled until sometime after 2016.

Reagan, who disliked excessive spending, probably would prefer the dollar coin anyway.

Justice is on hold...maybe

It has been a couple of weeks since news about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's execution. Here is the latest.

"Life of woman sentenced to death by stoning could be spared"

Adviser to Iran supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, signals that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's life could be saved


Saeed Kamali Dehghan

November 23rd, 2010


Iran has signalled for the first time that it may spare the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman whose sentence of death by stoning for adultery has sparked an international outcry.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, a top adviser to the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and the current secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights told Press TV: "Iran's Council of Human Rights has helped a lot to reduce her sentence and we think there is a good chance that her life could be saved."

The unprecedented comments by Larijani, whose brothers are holding key positions in the Islamic Republic, one as the head of parliament and the other as the chief of judiciary, came after his visit to the UN last week where he extended an invitation during a meeting with Ban Ki-moon to the UN's human rights chief to visit Iran.

Should Mohammadi Ashtiani's life be spared it will be a victory for human rights activists and the media around the world who devoted a significant amount of time campaigning against her execution.

Once again, Larijani compared Mohammadi Ashtiani's case with that of Teresa Lewis who was executed by lethal injection in the US state of Virginia for arranging the murder of her husband and stepson.

"In the US, a woman killed her husband, with the aid of her ex-lover, and even though she was suffering from mental disorder, she was sentenced to the capital punishment and was executed … The same incident took place in Iran, and the woman was condemned to capital punishment, but her case is still open for further revision," Larijani told Iran's English language TV Channel, Press TV.

In previous months, Iran has tried to distract attentions from Mohammadi Ashtiani's initial adultery charge and stoning sentence by introducing new charges against her and portraying her as a murderous woman.

Larijani said: "Nothing is said about the American woman, but there are lots of criticism regarding our judicial system [and this shows] how biased, unrealistic and hypocritical and malicious [the media is when it looks at Iran]."

Larijani, whose rights body works under the direct guidance of the judiciary, denounced a recent UN resolution that criticises Iran for violating human rights. He described the US as a "mastermind" behind the resolution and said: "Washington's main reason behind the move was Iran's new model of democracy which is not a replica of secular Western democracy."

The campaign for the release of Mohammadi Ashtiani was initially launched by her 22-year-old son, Sajad Ghaderzadeh, who is in prison after giving interviews to foreign media in support of his mother. Mohammadi Ashtiani's campaign has since been publicised by several foreign governments and her plight for freedom has been backed by activists and celebrities around the world.

Last week, Iranian state TV broadcast a statement by Mohammadi Ashtiani who described herself as a "sinner" and accused Mina Ahadi, an activist of the German-based International Committee against Stoning (Icas), of spreading her story around the world. Since then, Iran has charged the two German journalists who were arrested following an interview with Mohammadi Ashtiani's son, with espionage.

Amid international attention to Mohammadi Ashtiani's stoning case, Iran has planned to execute Shahla Jahed, a mistress of a former footballer star on 1 December. She has been charged with murdering his wife although she said later that her confessions were taken under duress. Shahla Jahed's case is one of Iran' most highly debated criminal court dossiers.

Swift justice in Iran...Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani to be hung today

Monday, November 22, 2010

A bit of Wittgenstein

"Beyond Understanding"


Andy Martin

November 21st, 2010

The New York Times

I ought to have known better than to have lunch with a psychologist.

“Take you, for example,” he said. “You are definitely autistic.”


“I rest my case,” he shot back. “Q.E.D.”

His ironic point seemed to be that if I didn’t instantly grasp his point — which clearly I didn’t — then, at some level, I was exhibiting autistic tendencies.

Autism is often the subject of contentious and emotional debate, certainly because it manifests in the most vulnerable of humans — children. It is also hard to pin down; as a “spectrum disorder” it can take extreme and disheartening forms and incur a devastating toll on families. It is the “milder” or “high functioning” form and the two main agreed-upon symptoms of sub-optimal social and communication skills that I confine myself to here.

Simon Baron-Cohen, for example, in his book “Mindblindness,” argues that the whole raison d’être of consciousness is to be able to read other people’s minds; autism, in this context, can be defined as an inability to “get” other people, hence “mindblind.”

Was Wittgenstein hinting that autism is not some exotic anomaly but rather a constant?

A less recent but possibly related conversation took place during the viva voce exam Ludwig Wittgenstein was given by Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore in Cambridge in 1929. Wittgenstein was formally presenting his “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” an already well-known work he had written in 1921, as his doctoral thesis. Russell and Moore were respectfully suggesting that they didn’t quite understand proposition 5.4541 when they were abruptly cut off by the irritable Wittgenstein. “I don’t expect you to understand!” (I am relying on local legend here; Ray Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein has him, in a more clubbable way, slapping them on the back and bringing proceedings cheerfully to a close with the words, “Don’t worry, I know you’ll never understand it.”)

I have always thought of Wittgenstein’s line as (a) admittedly, a little tetchy (or in the Monk version condescending) but (b) expressing enviable self-confidence and (c) impressively devoid of deference (I’ve even tried to emulate it once or twice, but it never comes out quite right). But if autism can be defined, at one level, by a lack of understanding (verbal or otherwise), it is at least plausible that Wittgenstein is making (or at least implying) a broadly philosophical proposition here, rather than commenting, acerbically, on the limitations of these particular interlocutors. He could be read as saying:

Thank you, gentlemen, for raising the issue of understanding here. The fact is, I don’t expect people in general to understand what I have written. And it is not just because I have written something, in places, particularly cryptic and elliptical and therefore hard to understand, or even because it is largely a meta-discourse and therefore senseless, but rather because, in my view, it is not given to us to achieve full understanding of what another person says. Therefore I don’t expect you to understand this problem of misunderstanding either.

If Wittgenstein was making a statement along these lines, then it would provide an illuminating perspective in which to read the “Tractatus.” The persistent theme within it of “propositions which say nothing,” which we tend to package up under the heading of “the mystical,” would have to be rethought. Rather than clinging to a clear-cut divide between all these propositions ─ over here, the well-formed and intelligible (scientific) and over there, the hazy, dubious and mystical (aesthetic or ethical) ─ we might have to concede that, given the way humans interact with one another, there is always a potential mystery concealed within the most elementary statement. And it is harder than you think it is going to be to eliminate, entirely, the residue of obscurity, the possibility of misunderstanding lurking at the core of every sentence. Sometimes Wittgenstein thinks he has solved the problem, at others not (“The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem,” he writes in “Tractatus.”) What do we make of those dense, elegiac and perhaps incomprehensible final lines, sometimes translated as “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must remain silent”? Positioned as it is right at the end of the book (like “the rest is silence” at the end of “Hamlet”), proposition number 7 is apt to be associated with death or the afterlife. But translating it yet again into the sort of terms a psychologist would readily grasp, perhaps Wittgenstein is also hinting: “I am autistic” or “I am mindblind.” Or, to put it another way, autism is not some exotic anomaly but rather a constant.

I am probably misreading the text here — if I have understood it correctly, I must be misreading it. But Wittgenstein has frequently been categorized, in recent retrospective diagnoses, as autistic. Sula Wolff, for example, in “Loners, The Life Path of Unusual Children” (1995), analyzes Wittgenstein as a classic case of Asperger’s syndrome, so-called “high-functioning autism” ─ that is, being articulate, numerate and not visibly dysfunctional, but nevertheless awkward and unskilled in social intercourse. He is apt to get hold of the wrong end of the stick (not to mention the poker that he once waved aggressively at Karl Popper). An illustrative true story: he is dying of cancer; it is his birthday; his cheerful landlady comes in and wishes him “Many happy returns, Mr. Wittgenstein”; he snaps back, “There will be no returns.”

Wittgenstein, not unlike someone with Asperger’s, admits to having difficulty working out what people are really going on about. In “Culture and Value” (1914) he writes: “We tend to take the speech of a Chinese for inarticulate gurgling. Someone who understands Chinese will recognize language in what he hears. Similarly I often cannot recognize the humanity of another human being.” Which might also go some way towards explaining his remark (in the later “Philosophical Investigations”) that even if a lion could speak English, we would still be unable to understand him.

Wittgenstein is not alone among philosophers in being included in this category of mindblindness. Russell, for one, has also been labeled autistic. Taking this into account, it is conceivable that Wittgenstein is saying to Russell, when he tells him that he doesn’t expect him to understand, “You are autistic!” Or (assuming a handy intellectual time machine), “If I am to believe Wolff and others, we are autistic. Perhaps all philosophers are. It is why we end up studying philosophy.”

I don’t want to maintain that all philosophers are autistic in this sense. Perhaps not even that “You don’t have to be autistic, but it helps.” And yet there are certainly episodes and sentences associated with philosophers quite distinct from Wittgenstein and Russell, that might lead us to think in that way.

Consider, for example, Sartre’s classic one-liner, “Hell is other people.” Wouldn’t autism, with its inherent poverty of affective contact, go some way towards accounting for that? The fear of faces and the “gaze of the other” that Sartre analyzes are classic symptoms. Sartre recognized this in himself and in others as well: he explicitly describes Flaubert as “autistic” in his great, sprawling study of the writer, “The Family Idiot,” and also asserts that “Flaubert c’est moi.” Sartre’s theory that Flaubert starts off autistic and everything he writes afterwards — trying to work out what is in Madame Bovary’s mind, for example — is a form of compensation or rectification, could easily apply to his own work.

One implication of what a psychologist might say about autism goes something like this: you, a philosopher, are mindblind and liable to take up philosophy precisely because you don’t “get” what other people are saying to you. You, like Wittgenstein, have a habit of hearing and seeing propositions, but feeling that they say nothing (as if they were rendered in Chinese). In other words, philosophy would be a tendency to interpret what people say as a puzzle of some kind, a machine that may or may not work.

I think this helps to explain Wittgenstein’s otherwise slightly mysterious advice, to the effect that if you want to be a good philosopher, you should become a car mechanic (a job Wittgenstein actually held during part of the Great War). It was not just some notion of getting away from the study of previous philosophers, but also the idea that working on machines would be a good way of thinking about language. Wittgenstein, we know, came up with his preliminary model of language while studying court reports of a car accident in Paris during the war. The roots of picture theory (the model used in court to portray the event) and ostensive definition (all those little arrows and labels) are all here. But at the core of the episode are two machines and a collision. Perhaps language can be seen as a car, a vehicle of some kind, designed to get you from A to B, carrying a certain amount of information, but apt to get stuck in jams or break down or crash; and which will therefore need fixing. Wittgenstein and the art of car maintenance. This car mechanic conception of language is just the sort of thing high-functioning autistic types would come up with, my psychologist friend might say, because they understand “systems” better than they understand people. They are “(hyper-)systemizers” not “empathizers.” The point I am not exactly “driving” at but rather skidding into, and cannot seem to avoid, is this: indisputably, most car mechanics are men.

My psychologist friend assured me that I was not alone. “Men tend to be autistic on average. More so than women.” The accepted male-to-female ratio for autism is roughly 4-to-1; for Asperger’s the ratio jumps even higher, by some accounts 10-to-1 (other statistics give higher or lower figures but retain the male prevalence). Asperger himself wrote that the autistic mind is “an extreme variant of male intelligence”; Baron-Cohen argues that “the extreme male brain” (not exclusive to men) is the product of an overdose of fetal testosterone.

If Wittgenstein in his conversation with Russell is suggesting that philosophers are typically autistic in a broad sense, this view might explain (in part) the preponderance of male philosophers. I went back over several sources to get an idea of the philosophical ratio: Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” (about 100-to-1), Critchley’s “Book of Dead Philosophers” (30-to-1), while, in the realm of the living, the list of contributors to The Stone, for example, the ratio narrows to more like 4-to-1.

A psychologist might say something like: “Q.E.D., philosophy is all about systemizing (therefore male) and cold, hard logic, whereas the empathizers (largely female) seek out more humane, less mechanistic havens.” I would like to offer a slightly different take on the evidence. Plato took the view (in Book V of “The Republic”) that women were just as philosophical as men and would qualify to become the philosopher “guardians” of the ideal Greek state of the future (in return they would have to learn to run around naked at the gym). It seems likely that women were among the pre-Socratic archi-philosophers. But they were largely oracular. They tended to speak in riddles. The point of philosophy from Aristotle onwards was to resolve and abolish the riddle.

But perhaps the riddle is making a comeback. Understanding can be coercive and suffocating. Do I really have to be quite so “understanding”? Isn’t that the same as being masochistically subservient? And isn’t it just another aspect of your hegemony to claim to understand me quite so well? Simone de Beauvoir was exercising her right to what I would like to call autismo when she wrote that, “one is not born a woman but becomes one.” Similarly, when she emblazons her first novel, “She Came To Stay,” with an epigraph derived from Hegel ─ “every consciousness seeks the death of the other” ─ and her philosophical avatar takes it upon herself to bump off the provincial young woman she has invited to stay in Paris: I refuse to understand, to be a mind-reader. Conversely, when Luce Irigaray, the feminist theorist and philosopher, speaks — again paradoxically — of “this sex which is not one,” she is asking us to think twice about our premature understanding of gender — what Wittgenstein might call a case of “bewitchment.”

The study of our psychopathology, via cognitive neuroscience, suggests a hypothetical history. Why does language arise? It arises because of the scope for misunderstanding. Body language, gestures, looks, winks, are not quite enough. I am not a mind-reader. I don’t understand. We need noises and written signs, speech-acts, the Word, logos. If you tell me what you want, I will tell you what I want. Language is a system that arises to compensate for an empathy deficit. But with or without language, I can still exhibit traits of autism. I can misread the signs. Perhaps it would be more exact to say that autism only arises, is only identified, at the same time as there is an expectation of understanding. But if autism is a problem, from certain points of view, autismo is also a solution: it is an assertion that understanding itself can be overvalued.

It is a point that Wittgenstein makes memorably in the introduction to the “Tractatus,” in which he writes:

I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems [of philosophy]. And if I am not mistaken in this belief … it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved.

Which is why he also suggests, at the end of the book, that anyone who has climbed up his philosophical ladder should throw it away.

[Andy Martin is currently completing “Philosophy Fight Club: Sartre vs. Camus,” to be published by Simon and Schuster. He was a 2009-10 fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers in New York, and teaches at Cambridge University.]

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889—1951) [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Ludwig Wittgenstein [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Ludwig Wittgenstein [Wikipedia]

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5