Archive for December, 2013

Let me continue book blogging on The Decline of the West with the following caveat: I’ve struggled to read and understand Spengler’s chapter on the meaning of numbers. His writing style is often opaque and even quasi-mystical. Plus, my familiarity with the times, people, and places cited is sometimes limited. So even after traversing the chapter more than once, I feel my grasp is, well, a little feeble.

Spengler conceals his conclusion until the final paragraphs, namely, that the world-sense derived from mathematical thought, after its initial elucidation, takes approximately 300 years to exhaust itself through refinement, decay, and perhaps replacement. Although he mentions Egyptian, Arabian, Indian, and other mathematics in passing, the bulk of the chapter contrasts the Classical number of Greek antiquity with the modern number of the scientific era commencing just after the Enlightenment. The fullness of each sensibility is limited to adepts in the respective historical period, but the effect is foundational — enough in fact to define the deep culture of an era. This reminds me that in some undeveloped cultures, number sense is limited to 1, 2, a few, and many, and for that matter, how zero was not initially part of many number systems. Spengler does not discuss these facets in detail. The foundational effect also reminds me (à la Edward T. Hall) of divergences in appreciation of time and proxemics from place to place and era to era, which may be merely subsets of the numerical world-sense Spengler describes.


The Calculus of Christmas

Posted: December 18, 2013 in Consumerism, Culture, Economics, Tacky

Here is something I’ve never done before: go into my blog archive and bring something forward. The original post went up in Dec. 2006 and since then received fewer than 30 direct views. (The number of passive views when it was visible on the homepage is unrecorded.) I’ve kept the primary link but updated the second one. Otherwise, the blog has not been rewritten. The original has been deleted.


It’s been a long while since I’ve written about neologisms. They come across my radar with some regularity, though I don’t bother to collect them. It’s arguable, too, that since most neologisms arise in pop and hipster culture, there is no point to referring to this post as a “pop edition.” Those caveats in place, here goes:

The old prank about directing visitors to NYC to addresses on Avenue of the Americas got an update. Now the joke is to offer a restaurant recommendation: the Umbrella Room. Turns out this in-joke actually refers to one of the street vendor carts selling pretzels or hot dogs. I suppose the joke is especially gratifying in two parts: a first New Yorker initiating and then the poor sap asking a second New Yorker for help locating the damn place. I think maybe I heard this term in a movie.

Considering Miley Cyrus has been on a graceless promotional bender for most of the year, I finally got around to learning what twerking is. She didn’t originate the move (dance? really?), but she’s probably more closely associated with the term than anyone else. Like other bits of Cyrus ephemera lodged in my brain, I’m none too happy to have my mind colonized by her nonsense. But with the media gaze still firmly fixed her, the latest pop-tart sensation, it’s inevitable that some of her antics penetrate my defenses.

Editors of the estimable Oxford English Dictionary have named selfie the word of the year. Really? Word of the year? What is this, seventh grade? Google provides trend analysis for those who care. The meaning is utterly unimportant, and I’ve not bothered to provide a definition. Other than admitting new terms into the dictionary, when did such fluff warrant the attention of OED editors?

The most interesting one by far (for me, at least) is neckbeard, which refers (variously) to a nerdy enthusiast who doesn’t bother shaving his neck. It’s appeared derisively in several columns and blogs I read, though without apparent provocation or context. I especially like a definition found at Urban Dictionary:

Talkative, self-important nerdy men (usually age 30 and up) who, through an inability to properly decode social cues, mistake others’ strained tolerance of their blather for evidence of their own charm.

Other associations include excessive video gaming and social awkwardness. Is it only time before a feminine equivalent appears?

Update: I forgot to mention one that isn’t new coin exactly but is new to me, namely, four on the floor. This refers to the driving beat in dance music that is consistently weighted across the standard four-beat pattern, as opposed to the more traditional back-beat emphasis on two and four. It is no surprise to me that, while being a rather sophisticated musician, I’d never heard this term. Reason being, I don’t dwell on pop or dance or synth or rock. My tastes run more to classical and jazz. Thus, I fare very poorly at karaoke not because I can’t carry a tune but because I frankly don’t know many of the songs to sing. Plus, what’s being produced these days has little of the appealing tunefulness of, say, the Great American Songbook.