May 2nd, 2007

Hitchens on The Barbary War; Cameo by Cthulhu

Here's Christopher Hitchens on Slavery and the Barbary Wars of the very young United States. It's a charming little exercise in contemporarizing history.

Quite unrelatedly, the word "Barbary" mystified me as a teenager, when during one of my first forays into the Internet (back when I was active in FidoNet), looking for role-playing game resources, I had run across the now-defunct Barbary Cthulhu, a Call of Cthulhu online multi-player interactive environment, based on the MUSH game server technology.

That game's name referred to its spatial and temporal setting, The Barbary Coast, a shady neighborhood in 19th-century San Francisco, not to northern Africa and its enslaving pirates, but I did not know that at the time, and wondered how barbarians or barbarism is related to the game's theme.

Regrettably, I ran out of time while familiarizing myself with the game, and then promptly forgot all about it until today. Now I'm nostalgic and have a hankering for some Cthulhu intrigue. I think I'll lie down till it passes.

P.S. Later in the album I'm listening to, Stevens has a track titled Decatur, after the Illinois town by the same name, itself named for Stephen Decatur, hero of the Barbary Wars.
  • Current Music
    Sufjan Stevens -- Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL

Humphrey's "Seeing Red"

Nicholas Humphrey wrote a book called Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness, wherein he proposes a novel approach to consciousness, and in particular to the "hard problem of consciousness".

I had read John Searle's long, well-written and thoughtful review of Humphrey's book in the NYRB when it came out in October 2006, and now I've read Paul Broks's shorter and less critical (but just as well-written) review of the same book in Prospect magazine.

Both reviews suggest to me that the book is a worthwhile read. Humphrey's distinction between 'perception' and 'sensation', and the counter-intuitive proposition that perception is unconscious and sensation of our perception is what creates "consciousness" and the qualia is really worth pondering, I think. All that remains is to find some time I can steal.