Babel’s Library, People’s Horsebreeder, and Cellular DNALeave a comment
June 8, 2015 by libroshombre
When Larry McMurtry, author of “Lonesome Dove,” the Great American Western Novel, was 18 and first entered the Rice University library, he wrote that “The whole of the world’s literature lay before me unread, a country as vast, as promising, and, so far, as I knew, as trackless as the West must have seemed to the first white men who looked upon it.” Had McMurtry considered a moment, he might have realized that librarians had long before fully tracked, arranged, and organized that vast literary country, and they still do. Successful libraries balance the need to organize and protect its collection with providing open-hearted assistance to end-users.
Compare our finely-tuned local libraries with that imagined by Jorge Luis Borges in his dystopian short story, “Library of Babel.” The OpenCulture.com website quotes Borges’ vision of the ultimate library. It comprised “a huge number of connected hexagonal rooms lined by bookshelves. ‘Each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color.’ Each book contains a different combination of letters, and in total they contain all possible combinations of letters, with the result that the Library as a whole contain ‘Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the arch angles’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues …’”
How pleasurable would such a library be? Naturally, the Internet knows. It includes LibraryofBabel.info, designed by Jonathan Basile, which used an algorithm to start producing books as described by Borges. LibraryofBabel.info presently “contains all possible pages of 3200 characters, about 10(4677) books.” Visitors can browse these “books” and report any unusual sightings to the website’s forum. Sound fun? A typical “book” is titled “rf,xwjofl vfpvr,” and begins, “.hgudygonfgvnuvdhlsfoyck,ulxvdlvnvn jswabkegkbenojxigx.”
Speaking of strange titles, a TheGuardian.com article from last April was titled “You Call Yourself the People’s Horse Breeder? The Strange Titles World Rulers Give Themselves.” It focused on “Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (aka the headline-writer’s friend),” who recently gave himself the horse-breeder title. His predecessor “renamed the months of the year after himself and members of his family. Compared to such grandiosity, the People’s Horsebreeder, who happens to be a former dentist has so far proved to be the soul of restraint.”
The Oxford English Dictionary harbored little restraint when it announced last month, according to the Sunday Times, that it will henceforth include not only Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms., but also “the gender-neutral honorific, Mx. – pronounced ‘mix’ – to represent transgender people and people who don’t want to be identified by gender.” Pointing out that Ms. was once new, too, NY Times columnist Ben Zimmer found that a letter to the editor of a Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper dated November 10, 1901 noted “to call a maiden Mrs. is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts.”
Adopting “Ms.” was discussed off and on until 1961, when “22-year-old civil rights worker Sheila Michaels saw it on a piece of her roommate’s mail and began a crusade in public for its use. Gloria Steinem heard her in a radio interview passionately arguing for the feminist honorific. The first issue of Steinem’s ‘Ms.’ appeared in December 1971, and the rest is history.”
Honorifics help keep us categorized, but how do your individual cells organize themselves? Apparently ribbons of spinning proteins help, according to a study by John Hopkins reported in ScienceDaily.com. “Each cell is a busy warehouse of activity. To keep things orderly, protein workers are ‘assigned’ specific area of the cell where other workers are collaborating on the same project. Most of the project areas, or organelles, in the cell are cordoned off by flexible membranes that let things in and out on an as-needed basis.” The organelles that handle RNA – the blueprints for proteins used to build cells – were thought to float about like oil droplets in water. Researchers used “state-of-the-art microscopes” to see that RNA organelles are actually inside “irregularly-shaped protein cages” that stabilize them, demonstrating once again that there’s usually method to the organizational madness.