A New Center

Galileo: Watcher of the Skies

By David Wootton

Published by Yale University Press

Copyright: © 2010

David Wootton, age 71, is the Anniversary Professor (a named professor in the British system is equivalent to a full professor in the American system…I believe) of History at the University of York in England. His work ranges from the history of the individual to the wider-ranging histories, and philosophies of ideas that shaped our world. His published interests concentrate on the Renaissance but stretch back to the Greeks and forward to the embryonic American experiment. He is an old-school historian with his scholarship supported by the evidence available coupled with the existing mores of the times. His selection of topics that I have read or perused suggests a thorough dearth of confidence in past historical interpretations and a jaundiced view of present sense and sensibilities. Or more succinctly and in his own words, “History is always about a particular time, a particular place; it is always about groups more than it is about individuals; it is always the history of somewhere.” and if I may so boldly add, it is always the history of (some)time.

Wootton’s written works (books) include:

Wootton’s lectures and pop culture additions include:

Wootton’s biography of Paolo Sarpi, a contemporary and patron of Galileo, likely provided, albeit 27 years later, the impetus and scholarship for Wootton publishing his second biography in 2006 on that aforementioned watcher of the skies. Sarpi, a devout Copernican and a supposedly not so devout Catholic supported Galileo’s heliocentric theories and shielded him, for a time, from his Roman inquisitors. Parenthetically, Wootton in his book on Galileo almost apologizes for writing biographies mainly because his peers look down on the genre, a sentiment I used to harbor but I now appreciate the category because they provide the who to the what, where, and when.

Bad Medicine, Wootton’s second book, postulates that doctors have dispensed more harm than good, beginning with Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C and continuing through to the present day. Covid or the Wuhan Flu pandemic will not provide the medical profession with the needed catharsis to dispel Wootton’s conjecture.

In The Invention of Science Wootton walks us through the birth of the scientific method starting with a supernova shining in the Renaissance night sky of the 1500s and culminating with Newton’s discovery that visible light contains a plethora, or at least 7 wavelengths and hues in the early 1700s.

In Power, Pleasure, and Profit, Wootton expands on the concept of selfishness driving all human progress. A concept, although anathema to all Christian and Western ethics and morality, was espoused by Machiavelli’s The Prince, published in the early 1500s and Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees, also known as The Grumbling Hive, first published in 1705.

Wootton’s Besterman Lecture: Adam Smith, Poverty, and Famine, we find out that charity is not a word in Smith’s vocabulary. Academics and maybe the rest us can really get into the weeds.

And finally, before I get into Galileo, The BBC devoted 40 minutes interviewing four guests, Wootton being one of them, on The Fable of the Bees, written initially as a poem, as stated above, by Bernard Mandeville and expanded into a book length dissertation sub-titled Private Vices, Publick Benefits which proposes that personal pleasure and greed drive human progress not altruism or Christian charity.

Galileo, born in the small city of Pisa, Italy in 1564, lived to the astronomical age of 77, some 25 years beyond the average lifespan for that era. He spent his final years blind, serving a life sentence, originally in a papal prison but eventually the prison was exchanged for confinement to his home located in a small village outside of Florence. His crime was for authoring a book defending the heliocentric model of the universe as theorized by Copernicus in 1543 rather than promoting the geocentric model as demanded by the Catholic Church.

Galileo was a tinkerer and thinker more akin to our modern definition of an engineer rather than a scientist, taking innovative ideas and novel inventions to the next level. He didn’t invent the telescope, Hans Lippershay of the Netherlands in 1608 did, but Galileo’s design quickly became the standard and he eventually increased Lippershay’s 3x magnification to 23-30x. His leaden tube with a convex lens in one end and concave lens in the other end discovered the mountains and plains of the moon, the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus, possibly the planet Neptune, individual stars of the Milky Way, and sunspots. Today we can purchase a 30x set of binoculars for less than $100 which we use to peep through our neighbors’ windows and watch songbirds in the meadow across the street. All his discoveries aided in the proof of a heliocentric universe, his universe being mostly what we would refer to today as the solar system. Our discoveries prove that our neighbors are weird.

Galileo was a fascinating man and genus who introduced the world to a new way of advancing our knowledge of the world and the universe. His tinkering and thinking were the rudimentary beginnings of what we now call the scientific method–observe, hypothesize, test, repeat.

His proof of Copernicus’ theory was mostly correct. The Church’s defense of the geocentric model wasn’t. The Church admitted their error in 1992.

Innocence Lost

The Third Man M Third 1950

Theaters:  September 1949

Streaming:  November 1999

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  93-108 minutes

Genre:  Classic – Crime – Drama – Film Noir – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  8.5/10

IMDB:  8.2/10

Amazon:  4.2/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Oscar

Directed by:  Carol Reed

Written by:  Graham Greene (screenplay and book)

Music by:  Anton Karas

Cast:  Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard, Orson Wells, Alida Valli

Film Locations:  Austria, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $618,173

Holly Martins (Cotton), an American writer of 3rd rate westerns, broke and drunk more often than not, is invited to post-WWII Vienna by his old friend Harry Limes (Welles). Martins arrives in Vienna in time to witness Limes’ funeral.  Martins begins to ask around about the death of his friend and slowly becomes suspicious that the official account of his death, a traffic accident, is cover for a murder. Martins, an innocent fool, sets out to discover the truth about his friend’s death, stumbling through a city filled with experienced cynics, thugs, and kriminelle.

Nazi Germany annexed Austria, known as Anschluss Oesterreichs, in March 1938 with significant support of the Austrian public.  In 1943 the Allied powers; Britain, France, US, and the USSR, agreed to nullify the German annexation and have it revert back to an independent country at the end of the war.  The Allies, in 1945, divided Austria and Vienna into 4 sectors with each sector controlled by one of the 4 powers.  This arrangement was to last until 1955 when the country agreed to maintain eternal neutrality. The allied powers initially stationed 260,000 troops in the country after 1945, which was entirely paid for by the Austrian people. The cost of the occupation coupled with the war-destroyed industries and poor harvests lead to wide-spread hunger, lack of heating for homes and businesses, and unemployment.  The post-war years of 1945-46, with little in the way of an Austrian police force, saw crime spiral out of control with Soviet troops responsible for 90% of all reported crimes. The underground economy flourished with little or no regulation or oversight.

Graham Greene, considered as the greatest English writer of the 20th century and with the publication of his 1940 novel, The Power and the Glory, cemented his reputation as one of the best writers of his generation. Early in life he joined the communist party and a few years later converted to Catholicism. He initially wrote a short novel for The Third Man, not intending to publish it, but to provide background for the screenplay. The novella was eventually published under the same name as the movie, The Third Man in 1950. The book is not very good, basically because it is in an unfinished state. Ignore the book and watch the movie.  Greene, in 1948, personally researched the book and screenplay by exploring the streets, nightclubs, and sewers of Vienna along with immersing himself into the clandestine black-markets within the city.

MU Zither 2018A pedestrian movie filmed in Vienna would require a musical score relying heavily on orchestral waltzes with dance scenes showing gay Venetians circling the glossy dance floors of resplendent Viennese palaces. Well this movie isn’t pedestrian by any means; no waltzes, no orchestras, and no palaces make an appearance.  The entire score is delivered by a single instrument; the Zither, a multi-stringed, wooden instrument played either in an upright position or laid flat on one’s lap. The movie opens with the Anton Karas playing  an instrumental on a Zither. It is initially foreign and harsh to the ear but as the movie progresses you warm to its sound and melody, eventually succumbing to its hypnotic effects, realizing in the end that no other musical approach or sound would have worked.

Carol Reed took Greene’s ok screenplay and transformed it into the greatest British film ever made.  The black and white scenes of mountainous mounds of Viennese bombed rubble, the back-lit monstrous shadows, tilted horizons that change the normal perspective to an austere strangeness fitting of the black undertones of the movie; effects that add to the downbeat story of innocence lost in the harsh glare of a crooked reality.   The movie begins and ends with a funeral, letting you know that the only happiness you will find in post-war Vienna comes with death: death of desire, death of devotion, death of decency.

The acting in this movie is superb. Joseph Cotton’s innocence, Trevor Howard’s natural stoic acceptance of a world gone bad, Alida Valli’s stubborn attachment to love, but its Orson Welles that stands out as the films larger than life anti-hero.  An auteur with only acting credits in this movie, but he still insists on bringing along his own style, ad-libbing his lines when it suited him, inserting one of the most memorable lines in the movie:

You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It doesn’t really matter that it was the German’s who invented cuckoo clocks and the Swiss were content with being bankers, sans the Hapsburgs, and providing mercenaries to the other European powers’ wars.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

A Little Package of our Past

World History: 50 Key Milestones You Really Need to Know B 50 History

Written by:  Ian Crofton

Published by:  Quercus

Copyright:  © 2011

Attempting to describe 12-15,000 years, since the big ice fields melted, of human endeavors in 200 pages and 50 topics would seem presumptuous and futile, and you would be right, but one has to start somewhere and the first steps can and should be small but decisive.  One can quibble about the exact 50 topics, and I will do just that in a bit, but the author, Ian Crofton, performs the task with aplomb, and provides the maximum amount of useful information possible given the limiting format.

This book is a quick and fun read for both those without a broad or deep introduction to human history or those that just want to refresh their memory on once familiar, but long forgotten topics. Even if you are familiar with all the topics in the book there will be a sufficient amount of new informational tidbits to make it worth your time. For myself, as one example, I found the observation that our ancestral hunter-gather cousins versus the first cereal grain farmers, were healthier, due mainly to their higher protein intake from a meat rich diet, was new and interesting.

Each “idea” or event is developed, chronologically, over 4 printed pages that includes a short thesis, an expansion of that thesis, a timeline of notable events, a famous quote(s) and an ending synopsis of the discussion.  The publisher of this book, Quercus, has published at least 27 other books of a similar nature and format that explore the great topics of the human experience including: architecture, art, astronomy, big ideas, biology, chemistry, the digital world, earth, economics, ethics, the future, genetics, the human brain, literature, management, math, philosophy, philosophy of science, physics, politics, psychology, quantum physics, religion, science, universe, war, and world history. I believe they continue to add more topics as the years go by.  I have several of the topics, listed above on my already too fat reading list.

Not to detract from the topics that the author has chosen, his are all defendable, but for myself I probably would have included 5 different topics devoted to: the Iron Age, Israelites of the 12th century BC, 1st century Christianity, Sumerians development of an alphabet in 300 BC coupled with Guttenberg’s first printing press in the 15th century AD, 18th century BC Babylonian Hammurabi’s, and 7th century BC Greek Draco’s legal codifications, and finally the advent of computers in the 20th century and beyond.  Adding 5 topics requires that 5 be removed. I would likely leave out: Empires and Kingdoms of Africa, The Bubonic Plague, the Vietnam War, integral to the late 20th century US, but will likely be a footnote on communism in the future, and lastly, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the post 9-11 topics, at a minimum, combined into a topic on 21st century divisions in civilization and culture, as if that were something new. On further thought, maybe just leave those last two topics out completely, mainly because they are too fresh to decide their seminality to our future development as a species.

That leaves our list one shy of 50. What topic(s) would you add?

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