Black Swan Books – NYT

Black Swan Books – NYT


The Rail Bookshelf: ‘One Book at a Time’

By JULIE JUNE STEWART –  May 29, 2013, 5:48 am
Michael Courtney, 63, owner of Black Swan Books in Lexington, Ky., has led a life of books.Julie June StewartMichael Courtney, 63, owner of Black Swan Books in Lexington, Ky., has led a life of books.
Offerings at Black Swan Books, which is near the University of Kentucky and Keeneland Racecourse.Julie June StewartOfferings at Black Swan Books, which is near the University of Kentucky and Keeneland Racecourse.

After the hubbub and sensory overload of the Kentucky Derby, I always take a few days to explore Lexington, Ky. These are peaceful days. I usually visit the Keeneland Library researching topics for future stories. But there are so many books, and so little time. This year, I decided to check out Lexington’s award-winning used book store, Black Swan Books.

I have been a fan of bookstores since I was a child. My senses heighten as I wander up and down the rows of books as I seek treasures. I instantly perked up when I walked in the door. The building that houses the Black Swan was built in 1912, and it used to be a plumbing store with the showcase up front and the living quarters in the back. This produces a lovely meandering path as you wander from room to room and into the comfortable back room with a fireplace. Almost everything in the building is original.

The proprietor Michael Courtney, 63, has led a life of books. As a child, he loved the British author G.A. Henty’s historical adventure stories. At the University of Kentucky, which is just around the corner, he earned his Masters in library science, specializing in rare books. He worked in the UK Special collections as the curator of the Hillbrook political memorabilia collection. At the age of 34, he opened Black Swan Books and said that he built the bookstore “one book at a time.”

The Black Swan specializes in Kentucky authors, military history, literature and cookbooks. You know the kind; those fabulous old Southern cookbooks that are worn and notated. And of course, he has books covering all aspects of horse racing. No westerns (except maybe Zane Grey), popular fiction or romance novels to be found here, but if rare and collectible books or something special in a leather binding is your quest, this is the place for you.

Courtney escorted me back to the rare book collection, which featured a nice selection of horse books. The walkways were adorned with sturdy boxes holding Courtney’s recent purchase of 850 volumes of 20th century books by women poets. I asked him if he had the turf writer Joe Palmers (1904-1952) book “This Was Racing,” which I was hoping to purchase as I had given my copy away as a gift. I smiled because Courtney knew instantly what I was looking for. “Yes,” he said, “unfortunately it is sitting in a box on my counter waiting to be shipped to Great Britain.”

Many of Courtney’s customers are from all over the world. Out of town customers flood his store during the Keeneland meet, the local horse sales and Derby week. They are usually looking for books about thoroughbred breeding or Stud Books to complete their collections. Frederico Tesio and Ken McLean books are very popular. Many people purchase books from Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series for their kids or because they read them in their childhood and are completing their set.

Courtney’s oldest book in his store right now is a 1618 book of religious sermons in English. One of his most exciting books was a copy of John Filson’s 1784 “The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke” of which there are only 12 known copies.

The Black Swan is a one-man operation. People bring Courtney books every day looking to sell or trade.

“Some days that’s all I do all day long is look at books,” he said. “The basement is full, the building next door is full, and all the boxes on the floor are full. I can’t afford help anymore, it’s just me.”

I spent hours carefully going through the horse books and finally honed my selections down to 14 volumes. Many of the books are pristine and autographed enhancing their provenance with the mementos of previous owners. Courtney has wrapped the hardbacks individually in clear jacket book covers.

The last book he read was Frank Case’s “Tales of a Wayward Inn” about the history of the Algonquin hotel in New York, which Case owned. I asked him if there was a special book he was looking for. He responded, “There are lots of books I would love to have personally, but is there a one book that people are looking for? Not really because everything eventually shows up here at some point.” He did pause when I asked him how he felt when he was holding a book in his hands. “That is not a fair question,” he said. “I am probably more attuned to books than most people. It doesn’t matter whether it is good or bad. Notably it’s more than an object.”

Courtney has embraced modern technology. He has a Web site and a Facebook page in which he announces his latest purchases or coming poetry readings. He says Facebook is how he reaches out to the college crowd. “The point is once you get the young people in the door, then a lot of them are mesmerized,” he said. “Plus a lot of them have never seen a real book store, and they come back.”

We talked about the plight of books. Many older books have lost their audience. They are not published in electronic versions to be read on a Kindle. He has to turn away a lot of books because there is no market for them. He explained to me that many books donated to second hand stores are simply shipped away to be pulped. “They do not deserve to be pulped because we are losing information. In the “information world”, we are losing information and that is sad.”

About a week after I returned home, a box arrived from Black Swan Books. Inside was each of my purchased horse books neatly wrapped in brown butcher paper, each protected in their jacket cover. I am a patient woman. I know that I could easily find my Joe Palmer book on Amazon. But I would rather let Michael Courtney find it for me, a man who is sharing his love of books with the world, one book at a time.

In a bucket-list moment, Julie June Stewart bought a ticket to the 2008 Belmont. She hasn’t stopped going to the races since. That is when she isn’t taking on a wildfire, hurricane, volcano or oil spill as the nation’s leading expert in disaster airspace coordination. She recently won third place in the 2012 Thoroughbred Times fiction contest with her suicide prevention story “Moses Finds A Jockey.”

Old Torah Scroll Found in Italian University Library

Old Torah Scroll Found in Italian University Library

Old Torah scroll found in Italy university library

Associated PressBy NICOLE WINFIELD | Associated Press

ROME (AP) — An Italian expert in Hebrew manuscripts said Wednesday he has discovered the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225. It was right under his nose, in the University of Bologna library, where it had been mistakenly catalogued a century ago as dating from the 17th century.

The find isn’t the oldest Torah text in the world: the Leningrad and the Aleppo bibles — both of them Hebrew codexes, or books — pre-date the Bologna scroll by more than 200 years. But this is the oldest Torah scroll of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, according to Mauro Perani, a professor of Hebrew in the University of Bologna’s cultural heritage department.

Two separate carbon-dating tests — performed by the University of Salento in Italy and the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign — confirmed the revised dating, according to a statement from the University of Bologna.

Such scrolls — this one is 36 meters (40 yards) long and 64 centimeters (25 inches) high — are brought out in synagogues on the Sabbath and holidays, and portions are read aloud in public. Few such scrolls have survived since old or damaged Torahs have to be buried or stored in a closed room in a synagogue.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Perani said he was updating the library’s Hebrew manuscript catalogue when he stumbled upon the scroll in February. He said he immediately recognized the scroll had been wrongly dated by the last cataloguer in 1889, because he recognized that its script and other graphic notations were far older.

Specifically, he said the scroll doesn’t take into account the rabbinical rules that standardized how the Pentateuch should be copied that were established by Maimonides in the late 12th century. The scroll contains many features and markings that would be forbidden under those rules, he said.

The 1889 cataloguer, a Jew named Leonello Modona, had described the letters in the scroll as “an Italian script, rather clumsy-looking, in which certain letters, as well as the usual crowns and strokes show uncommon and strange appendices,” according to the University of Bologna release.

Perani, however, saw in the document an elegant script whose square letters were of Babylonian tradition, the statement said.

Perani told The Associated Press it was “completely normal” for a cataloguer to make such a mistake in the late 1800s, given the “science of manuscripts was not yet born.”

Outside experts said the finding was important, even though older Hebrew bibles do exist.

“It is fairly big news,” said James Aiken, a lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament studies at Cambridge University. “Hebrew scholars get excited by very small things, but it certainly is important and clearly looks like a very beautiful scroll.”

However, Giovanni Garbini, a leading expert on ancient Semitic languages and retired professor at Rome’s La Sapienza university, said the discovery doesn’t change much about what the world knows about Hebrew manuscripts.

“It’s an example of an ancient scroll, but from the point of view of knowledge, it doesn’t change anything,” he said in a telephone interview.

But Stephen Phann, acting president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem and an expert in ancient Jewish manuscripts, said if accurately dated, the scroll is a rare and important find. “We don’t have anything much from that period,” Phann said.

There are far older scraps of Torah scrolls that can be dated back to the 8th century, but Phann said it was rare to find a complete manuscript.

The find was also emotionally important, he said because the scroll, as opposed to a bound book, is used for reading Torah portions throughout the year in synagogue.

“It’s almost a friendship — that they have come to know the Torah scroll in their midst, and they draw their knowledge and focus on worship on how they live their daily life,” Phann said.

Perani said it remains a mystery how the scroll came to be part of the Bologna university library but that he anticipated further study would now begin.

The scroll remains in the library and doesn’t require any extra conservation precautions beyond what it already has, he said.


Diaa Hadid contributed from Jerusalem.

The Significance of the Psalms

The Significance of the Psalms

N.T. Wright on the Significance of the Psalms

May 28, 2013 By 

I don’t know if Prof. Wright has been hanging out with his colleague Dr. Grant Macaskill for too long  in St. Andrews (Grant is a Free Church of ScotlandMinister and the denomination is known for its Psalmody), but Wright is giving a plug for the Psalms that I’d normally expected from an FCC or OPC minister!

I have been privileged to have acquired an excerpt from the introduction as a teaser to Wright’s forthcoming book on the Psalms:

In some parts of contemporary Christianity the Psalms are no longer used in daily and weekly worship. This is so not least at points where there has been remarkable growth in numbers and energy, not least through the charismatic movements in various denominations. The enormously popular ‘worship songs’, some of which use phrases from the Psalms here and there but most of which do not, have largely displaced, for thousands of regular and enthusiastic worshippers, the steady rhythm and deep soul-searching of the Psalms themselves. This, I believe, is a great impoverishment. By all means write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church’s original hymn-book is crazy. There are many ways of singing and praying the Psalms; there are styles to suit all tastes. That, indeed, is part of their enduring charm. I hope that one of the effects of this little book will be to stimulate and encourage those who lead worship in many different settings to think and pray about how to re-integrate the church’s ancient prayer-book into the regular and ordinary life of their fellowships. The Psalms represent the Bible’s own spiritual root system for the great tree we call Christianity. You don’t have to be a horticultural genius to know what will happen to the fruit on the tree if the roots are not in good condition.

But I’m not writing simply to say, ‘These are important songs which we should use, and which we should try to understand.’ That is true, but it puts the emphasis the wrong way round – as though the Psalms were the problem, and we should try to fit them, whether they like it or not, into our world. Actually, again and again it is we, muddled and puzzled and half-believing, who are the problem; and the question is more how wecan find our way into their world, into the faith and hope which shine out in one Psalm after another.

As with all thoughtful Christian worship, there is a humility about this approach. Good liturgy, whether formal or informal, ought never to be simply a corporate emoting session, however ‘Christian’, but a fresh and awed attempt to inhabit the great unceasing liturgy which is going on all the time in the heavenly realms. (That’s what those great chapters, Revelation 4 and 5, are all about.) The Psalms offer us a way of joining in a chorus of praise and prayer which has been going on for millennia, and across all cultures. Not to try to inhabit them, while continuing to invent non-Psalmic ‘worship’ based on our own feelings of the moment, risks being like a spoilt child who, taken to the summit of Table Mountain with the city and the ocean spread out before him, refuses to gaze at the view because he is playing with his Game Boy.

In particular, I propose in this book that the regular praying and singing of the Psalms is transformative. It changes the way we understand some of the deepest elements of who we are. Or rather, who, where, when and what we are: we are creatures of space, time and matter, and though we take our normal understandings of these for granted it is my suggestion that the Psalms will gently but firmly transform our understandings of all of them. They do this in order that we may be changed, transformed, so that we look at the world, one another, and ourselves in a radically different way, which we believe to be God’s way. I hope my exposition of these themes will help to explain and communicate my own enthusiasm for the Psalms, but I hope even more that they will encourage those churches that have lost touch with the Psalms to go back to them as soon as possible, and those that use them but with little grasp of what they’re about to get inside them in a new way.

From the introduction of The Case for the Psalms (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2013)

Physics Envy – NYT Op-Ed

Physics Envy – NYT Op-Ed

Heroes of Uncertainty

By  —  Published: May 27, 2013

We’re living in an empirical age. The most impressive intellectual feats have been achieved by physicists and biologists, and these fields have established a distinctive model of credibility.

To be an authoritative figure, you want to be coolly scientific. You want to possess an arcane body of technical expertise. You want your mind to be a neutral instrument capable of processing complex quantifiable data.

The people in the human sciences have tried to piggyback on this authority model. For example, the American Psychiatric Association has just released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. It is the basic handbook of the field. It defines the known mental diseases. It creates stable standards, so that insurance companies can recognize various diagnoses and be comfortable with the medications prescribed to treat them.

The recent editions of this manual exude an impressive aura of scientific authority. They treat mental diseases like diseases of the heart and liver. They leave the impression that you should go to your psychiatrist because she has a vast body of technical knowledge that will allow her to solve your problems. With their austere neutrality, they leave a distinct impression: Psychiatrists are methodically treating symptoms, not people.

The problem is that the behavorial sciences like psychiatry are not really sciences; they are semi-sciences. The underlying reality they describe is just not as regularized as the underlying reality of, say, a solar system.

As the handbook’s many critics have noted, psychiatrists use terms like “mental disorder” and “normal behavior,” but there is no agreement on what these concepts mean. When you look at the definitions psychiatrists habitually use to define various ailments, you see that they contain vague words that wouldn’t pass muster in any actual scientific analysis: “excessive,” “binge,” “anxious.”

Mental diseases are not really understood the way, say, liver diseases are understood, as a pathology of the body and its tissues and cells. Researchers understand the underlying structure of very few mental ailments. What psychiatrists call a disease is usually just a label for a group of symptoms. As the eminent psychiatrist Allen Frances writes in his book, “Saving Normal,” a word like schizophrenia is a useful construct, not a disease: “It is a description of a particular set of psychiatric problems, not an explanation of their cause.”

Furthermore, psychiatric phenomena are notoriously protean in nature. Medicines seem to work but then stop. Because the mind is an irregular cosmos, psychiatry hasn’t been able to make the rapid progress that has become normal in physics and biology. As Martin Seligman, a past president of the American Psychological Association, put it in The Washington Post early this year, “I have found that drugs and therapy offer disappointingly little additional help for the mentally ill than they did 25 years ago — despite billions of dollars in funding.”

All of this is not to damn people in the mental health fields. On the contrary, they are heroes who alleviate the most elusive of all suffering, even though they are overmatched by the complexity and variability of the problems that confront them. I just wish they would portray themselves as they really are. Psychiatrists are not heroes of science. They are heroes of uncertainty, using improvisation, knowledge and artistry to improve people’s lives.

The field of psychiatry is better in practice than it is in theory. The best psychiatrists are not austerely technical, like the official handbook’s approach; they combine technical expertise with personal knowledge. They are daring adapters, perpetually adjusting in ways more imaginative than scientific rigor.

The best psychiatrists are not coming up with abstract rules that homogenize treatments. They are combining an awareness of common patterns with an acute attention to the specific circumstances of a unique human being. They certainly are not inventing new diseases in order to medicalize the moderate ailments of the worried well.

If the authors of the psychiatry manual want to invent a new disease, they should put Physics Envy in their handbook. The desire to be more like the hard sciences has distorted economics, education, political science, psychiatry and other behavioral fields. It’s led practitioners to claim more knowledge than they can possibly have. It’s devalued a certain sort of hybrid mentality that is better suited to these realms, the mentality that has one foot in the world of science and one in the liberal arts, that involves bringing multiple vantage points to human behavior. Hippocrates once observed, “It’s more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” That’s certainly true in the behavioral sciences and in policy making generally, though these days it is often a neglected truth.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 28, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Heroes Of Uncertainty.

A HYMN FOR TODAY – At the Name of Jesus


At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him King of glory now;
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

Mighty and mysterious in the highest height,
God from everlasting, very light of light:
In the Father’s bosom with the Spirit blest,
Love, in love eternal, rest, in perfect rest.

At His voice creation sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces, all the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations, stars upon their way,
All the heav’nly orders in their great array.

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom He came;
Faithfully He bore it, spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death He passed. – Caroline M. Noel, 1870

Tune: GREEK HYMN, attrib. Joseph Holbrook

#203 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, 2012

Smithsonian: What Phone Companies Are Doing With All That Data From Your Phone

Smithsonian: What Phone Companies Are Doing With All That Data From Your Phone

people on cell phones

Cell phones have become prolific data engines. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ed Yourdon

Cell phones are so many things now–computer, map, clock, calculator, camera, shopping device, concierge, and occasionally, a phone. But more than anything, that little device that never leaves your person is one amazingly prolific data engine.

Which is why last October, Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S, carrier with almost 100 million customers, launched a new division called Precision Market Insights. And why, at about the same time, Madrid-based Telefonica, one of the world’s largest mobile network providers, opened its own new business unit, Telefonica Dynamic Insights.

The point of these ventures is to mine, reconstitute and sell the enormous amount of data that phone companies gather about our behavior. Every time we make a mobile call or send a text message–which pings a cell tower–that info is recorded. So, with enough computer power, a company can draw pretty accurate conclusions about how and when people move through a city or a region. Or they can tell where people have come from to attend an event. As part of a recent case study, for example, Verizon was able to say that people with Baltimore area codes outnumbered those with San Francisco area codes by three to one inside the New Orleans Superdome for the Super Bowl in February.

In a world enamored of geolocation, this is digital gold. It’s one thing to know the demographic blend of a community, but to be able to find out how many people pass by a business and where they’re coming from, that adds a whole nother level of precision to target marketing.

Follow the crowd

But this data have value beyond companies zeroing in on potential customers. It’s being used for social science, even medical research. Recently IBM crunched numbers from 5 million phone users in the Ivory Coast in Africa and, by tracking movements of people through which cell towers they connected to, it was able to recommend 65 improvements to bus service in the city of Abidjan.

And computer scientists at the University of Birmingham in England have used cell phone data to fine tune analysis of how epidemics spread. Again, it’s about analyzing how people move around. Heretofore, much of what scientists knew about the spread of contagious diseases was based largely on guesswork. But now, thanks to so many pings from so many phones, there’s no need to guess.

It’s important to point out that no actual identities are connected to cell phone data. It all gets anonymized, meaning there shouldn’t be a way to track the data back to real people.

There shouldn’t be.

Leaving a trail

But a study published in Scientific Reports in March found that even anonymized data may not be so anonymous after all. A team of researchers from Louvain University in Belgium, Harvard and M.I.T. found that by using data from 15 months of phone use by 1.5 million people, together with a similar dataset from Foursquare, they could identify about 95 percent of the cell phones users with just four data points and 50 percent of them with just two data points. A data point is an individual’s approximate whereabouts at the approximate time they’re using their cell phone.

The reason that only four locations were necessary to identify most people is that we tend to move in consistent patterns. Just as everyone has unique fingerprints, everyone has unique daily travels. While someone wouldn’t necessarily be able to match the path of a mobile phone–known as a mobility trace–to a specific person, we make it much easier through geolocated tweets or location “check-ins,” such as when we use Foursquare.

“In the 1930s, it was shown that you need 12 points to uniquely identify and characterize a fingerprint,” the study’s lead author, Yves-Alexandre de Montijoye, told the BBC in a recent interview. “What we did here is the exact same thing, but with mobility traces. The way we move and the behavior is so unique that four points are enough to identify 95 percent of the people.”

“We think this data is more available than people think. When you share information, you look around and you feel like there are lots of people around–in a shopping center or a tourist place–so you feel this isn’t sensitive information.”

In other words, you feel anonymous. But are you really? De Montijoye said the point of his team’s research wasn’t to conjure up visions of Big Brother. He thinks there’s much good that can come from mining cell phone data, for businesses, for city planners, for scientists, for doctors. But he thinks it’s important to recognize that today’s technology makes true privacy very hard to keep.

The title of the study? “Unique in the Crowd.”

Private lives

Here are other recent developments related to mobile phones and their data:

  • Every picture tells your story: Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human Computer Interaction Center say their research of 100 smartphone apps found that about half of them raised privacy concerns. For instance, a photo-sharing app like Instagram provided information that allowed them to easily discover the location of the person who took the photo.
  • Cabbies with cameras: In the Mexican city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, taxi drivers have been provided with GPS-enabled cell phones and encouraged to send messages and photographs about accidents or potholes or broken streetlights.
  • Follow that cell: Congress has started looking into the matter of how police use cell phone data to track down suspects. The key issue is whether they should be required to get a warrant first.
  • Follow that cell II: Police in Italy have started using a data analysis tool called LogAnalysis that makes it especially easy to visualize the relationships among conspiring suspects based on their phone calls. In one particular case involving a series of robberies, the tool showed a flurry of phone activity among the suspects before and after the heists, but dead silence when the crimes were being committed.

Video bonus: If you’re at all paranoid about how much data can be gleaned from how you use your mobile phone, you may not want to watch this TED talk by Malte Spitz.

Read more:
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Free Ebook for Kindle

Free eBook – today only!

Ferrell's Travel Blog

How the Bible Came to Be is an Ebook short (about 60 pages) from The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook. It is available free today only (May 25). The link I am including is only good for the United States.

Here is a list of the subjects covered.

  • Inspiration
  • Production and Shaping of the Old Testament Canon
  • Writing, Copying, and Transmitting the New Testament Text
  • The Canon of the New Testament
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls
  • The Septuagint
  • Bible Translation and the English Bible
  • Translations for the World

Use this link.

HT: Brooks Cochran

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