Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
"... Rorty, true to his syncretic ambitions, suggested that such still-controversial figures in modern philosophy as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger, the latter notorious as the opaque German philosopher analysts loved to hate, might possess philosophical wisdom they needed to hear."
Why would you need to hear something that couldn't be identfied as true?
This post makes a lot of good points, actually. But I don't know who exactly is confusing "data transfer with either understanding or wisdom." Who is that thinks that the Founders' level of education "can be matched, let alone surpassed, simply by means of improvements in technology"?
There's also this: Knowledge Access as a Public Good .
I like weather - any and all weather - though I do have favorites. Right now, it's hot and humid in Philadelphia. I love it. My idea of paradise is perpetual summer, and since I grew up in Philly, that means heat and humidity, which also remind me of Mallarme's faun.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
"In the 41 sites Putnam studied in the U.S., he found that the more diverse the neighborhood, the less residents trust neighbors."
Well, I live in a pretty diverse neighborhood. It's called the Italian Market District and there are still plenty of Italian American residents and stores. But there is also a Lebanese American community - which just held its annual three-day festival. Right around the corner are the new Mexican restaurants and grocery stores. And a couple of blocks from my front door is the Wing Phat Plaza. Mexican and Vietnamese families live on my very block! And we all say hi to each other and seem to get along and if we mistrust each other it sure isn't apparent to me.
When Debbie and I venture into the suburbs what bothers us is, well, the lack of diversity. Guess we're weird.
Dana is among the most impressive - and decent - people it has been my privilege to know.
His answer? Sure it is.
I should note that Dawkins does indeed consider what Hamlet says to Horatio. He thinks it applies only to Horatio's philosophy - which demonstrates, I think, that, in addition to being a lousy philosopher, Dawkins is also a lousy literary critic. (Horatio is a philosophy student, Dick, not a philosopher himself. Hamlet is telling his friend not to place too much faith in the subject of the course he is taking.)
Monday, June 25, 2007
His objection to "urban myths about the supposed uniqueness of the young generation" is sound, I think, as is his concern over "the prevailing and embarrassing spectacle of teachers and administrators trying to conform to their perceptions of today’s youth (perceptions that are, if history is any guide, wildly wide of the mark)."
His concern over questioning "the very authority of credentialed teachers" is more questionable. I agree with some of this: "The fact is that today’s young, as do the young in every age, need to learn from those who are older and wiser; they need to acquire good habits of study and research; and they need to be exposed to and learn to experience the richness of the human record." Except that older does not always - and perhaps only rarely - equals wiser. And I can't help wondering if Gorman thought this way in the '60s when he was on the other side of the authority divide.
In the meantime, Bryan weighs in, sort of, and manages to say more in less space with fewer words, even tossing in as a bonus a must-see video clip at the end: A Debate Between Elitist, Luddite Baby Roasters.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
"True liberalism is, therefore, necessarily a tragic view, sceptical of all notions of progress."
I think this is a pessimistic view, not a tragic one. Tragedy involves the resolution of discord, not its triumph - its exemplar is Oedipus at Colonus, not Oedipus at Thebes.
"He believes in the liberal state, and believes it is worth defending, but does not do so with empty optimism or with any belief that it should attempt to impose its ways on others." Why is it worth defending? Because it is true, perhaps? And the contrary is perhaps false? Exactly what does opposition to, say, communism mean if it does not involve the substitution - not imposition - of liberal values in place of its brutal absence of values?
"Gray transforms Berlin’s basic insight into a refutation of all notions of progress or perfection and of the special destiny of humanity."
Progress and perfection are not the same. I can improve steadily without coming anywhere near to perfection. To suggest there has been no progress in human affairs is nonsense. No one will be drawn and quartered at Tyburn this week, Professor Gray. None of which is to suggest that utopianism - the quest for some sort of perfectly rational social arrangement - isn't a fool's errand.
I would also suggest that Montaigne's skepticism is of a part with his genuine religious faith.
... which doesn't mean Carlin Romano didn't have apleasant chat with Ondaatje: From 'English Patient'.
... in the meantime, Andrew Ervin found Ron Silliman's The Ageof Huts (compleat) both puzzling and fascinating: Ron Silliman, making poetry, unmaking rules.
... Chris Hedges, however, finds Christopher Hitchens grievously wanting: Atheist polemic refuses to engage authentic religion.
... Sarah Weiman looks at the messy side of crime: Crime scenes, the ultimate clean-up jobs.
... and Katie Haegele is much taken with Rebecca Stead's First Light: Young Adult Reader | Beautiful book about 2 worlds, realities tenuously linked.
During the past week ...
... Peter Rozovsky looked at Swedish crime fiction: Killing's not the key to Swedish novelists.
... and Ed Colimore studied some tunneling: Historian digs up tale of a tunnel dreamer .
Saturday, June 23, 2007
... in 1626 a theological treatise eventually published as Vox Piscis was delivered top Cambridge University.
... Anna Akhmatova was born in 1889.
.. Jean Anouilh was born in 1910. ("Beauty is one of the rare things that do not lead to doubt of God. ")
... Dr. John Fell was born in 1625:
Tom Brown, author of The Dialogues of the Dead, about to be expelled from Oxford for some offence, was pardoned by Fell on the condition of his translating extempore the 33rd epigram of Martial:
"Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere - quare; Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te."
To which he immediately replied with the well-known lines:
- I do not love thee, Dr Fell,
- The reason why I cannot tell;
- But this I know, and know full well,
- I do not love thee, Dr Fell.
Friday, June 22, 2007
What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority,” as Edward Shils once put it, “the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”
I wouldn't have guessed this about me.
What Dickens Character Are You?
Esther Summerson, from the book Bleak House. You are the nicest person EVER! You have so many friends because you treat everyone with respect. You're also very idealistic and root for the underdog, which is ironic because you're mother is a Lady and super rich. You have many admirers but you don't seem to notice becuase you don't have very high self esteem. You end up marrying the honey of your dreams, Allan Woodcourt, who's a doctor! You go girl!
Take this quiz!
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"... I can’t see obeisance to authority as either a practical solution or a social good. Rather, let the principles of open societies flourish in a world made flatter by the liberating potential of the Internet. ... On whom then should today’s students rely? On a wealth of sources, on the thoughtful guidance of good teachers, and on their own ever-growing understanding—the same things as ever. "
Thursday, June 21, 2007
"... no quantity of information, however defined, will solve our problems or advance us in the project of building a genuine civilization. "
True enough, though I'd like to know who has argued to the contrary. Moreover, lack of information is certainly not useful. The title of the post indicates what the body of the post ignores - that this is not about about information: It is about access and authority.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
"... we now have a whole generation of digital idealists who believe that information should be free, that it’s liberating, and that computers are emancipating our intellects, unbottling our creativity."
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
"As various of the contributors to the forum have mentioned, if only in passing, what is more important than the quantity or average quality of information that is available is what users of it do with it. Here is where the phrase “critical judgment” or some such usually makes its appearance. What we’d all like is to believe that most users employ keen critical judgment in seeking and assessing information. What we rather suspect is that they don’t."
That isn't what we'd like to think at all - and we don't think it. The issue from the dawn of civilization has been the nature of discourse. It's a perennial. Where the information or data resides is beside the point. How it used by whoever uses it has always been the fundamental issue. The point of all of this verbiage seems to be to disguise the main worry: that anyone can have access to the information, that gatekeepers are no longer able to keep the gates closed to those they deem unworthy of entrance. It still comes down to the experts know best. Well, read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's the Black Swan: They don't.
When I was a kid, I lived about a 15-minute walk from the Delaware. You never saw gulls or terns there. Now, you not only see them there - which is to say all up and down the river, way beyond the bay - but also here in the Italian Market (which isn't very far from the river) and even in suburbs like Abington (which isn't too near the river). Why? Fast-food joints for one. Also, animals are neither as dumb nor as programmed as humans seem to think. Wildlife in the city has less to do with humans destroying the animals' habitat than it does with many animals' discovery that human habitation is safer than the wilderness and has more abundant food. As the owner of an outfitters' store in Potter County (which advertises itself as "God's country"), told me, you can find more bears around Harrisburg than you can in Potter now - you can't hunt outside Harrisburg, and there's lots more garbage.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
... Roger Miller checks out the Waugh family: Analysis, great gossip from 4th-generation Waugh.
... Katie Haegele discovers how art is faring on the Net: State of 'Net art' way of the future?.
... Jen Miller weighs dog days in Manhattan: Brought together by their canines.
... Sandy listens, enchanted, to Khaled Hosseini's latest: Hosseini's second Afghan novel is, like its title, splendid.
... Carlin Romano finds yet another book solacing atheists: Slim, portable gift book for atheists. (I question whether Einstein was an atheist. He seems to me to have been a Spinozan, which is hardly the same thing. I also wonder about Voltaire, who I always thought of as a deist.)
During the past week ...
... Huntly Collins wrote a wonderful review of Jeff Gammage's story his daughter's adoption: An adoption story with beautiful depth.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
It is both brave and good of Lars to speak of this. It may be of help to others who suffer from the same. Let us keep them all in our prayers (one such person is always in mine).
Update: Thanks again to Dave Lull, here is one of my contributions to that Bloomsday package: Who's afraid of Joyce? The key to Ulysses.
"In Call It Sleep I invented a victim to cover over the true me," he told Jonathan Rosen, who profiled him for Vanity Fair. But with his later novels, he said, "I tried to reconcile myself to the louse I was. Who I detested. I loathed. And maybe get the reader to do it too."
Friday, June 15, 2007
The most intelligent thing I've seen said on this subject of late comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb: "Religion has very little to do with 'belief'; it is an indivisible package of aesthetics, ethics, social-emotional commitments, and transmission of κηρύγμα, a set of customs and rituals inherited from the elders. Indeed the complication of 'belief' is mostly a Western Christianity type of constructed problems, and a modern one at that: ask an Eastern Orthodox monk 'what he believes', and he will be puzzled: he would tell you what he practices. [I discussed the 'amin' in an earlier note]. Orthodoxy is principally liturgy, fasting, practices, and tradition; it is an ornate religion that focuses on aesthetics and requires a very strong commitment. 'Belief' is meaningless; practice is real. What we now translate by 'veneration', προσκυνει is literally bowing down to the ground a very physical act [Note that I am not partaking of the current debate on religion out of disrespect for almost all the participants: aside from being journalistic in the worst bildungsphilistinistic sense, particularly when they talk about 'probability', most are not even wrong]."
With admirable succinctness, the GOB responds to Michael Gorman:
Thursday, June 14, 2007
It is a great poem - language authentically encountering reality, the sort of utterance that makes all discussions of style and technique sound foolish.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I'm surprised more peoplehaven't noticed how often the ranting against religion leads to a deterioration of an author's writing and thinking skills. Judged by the standard of his own work, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion is second-rate.
There is a lot of this that I agree with, particularly with regard to the falseness of a juridical model for book reviewing. Though I happen to think there are certain objective standards - having to do with inconsistencies, contradictions, amd just plain bad writing - I agree that "the whole point of a review is to set one mind against another, and see what sparks fly."
But I can't agree with this: 'The blog form, that miscellany of observations, opinions, and links, is not well-suited to writing about literature ..." What's this "blog form" business? There is hardly any one-size-fits-all blog format. And consider this very piece by Adam Kirsch. It's just about the right length for reading on a screen. It comes with hyperlinks. It's elegantly written and clearly - if not altogether convincingly - reasoned. In short, it's perfectly suited to a blog. I would suggest that, just for starters, Kirsch visit Anecdotal Evidence or Grumpy Old Bookman.
In the meantime, you can read another take here: Book Reviewers Out of Touch, Blogs Blamed. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
I certainly agree that litbloggers are among the least of print reviewers' worries - and that alienating them is among the dumber strategies. But I guess I've gone over to the dark side.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Monday, June 11, 2007
"... the complex emotional interactions between the characters seemed to be a demonstration of the fact that as long as dangerous extremes of belief are avoided, the love and understanding we show each other is more important to living a good human life than the beliefs we intellectual subscribe to."
Sunday, June 10, 2007
... Bryan Appleyard ponders an unusual take on science and religion: He thinks physics proves Christianity.
...Edward Pettit looks at some murders in St.Petersburg: Mystery sequel concocted from 'Crime and Punishment'.
... I offer praise for Gregory Djanikian's poems: Poems of atrocity, and of joyfully Americanizing.
... Susan Balee likes some Philly tales: A collection that loves you back.
... Katie Haegele is much taken with an odd chess story: Young Adult Reader | 'Chess Set' opens up a realm of imagination and insight.
During the past week, Carlin Romano chatted with John Updike: The playful literary legend. (You can also listen to Audio: John Updike .)
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
Chelsea Rathburn (left) and April Lindner after the panel discussing Kay Ryan's work that I was also on.
From left: Yours truly, Kay Ryan, April Lindner, and Chelsea Rathburn. (David Mason is a very fine poet. He is a less fine photographer.)
Conference director Mike Peich takes a much-needed break.
Participants gather for lunch.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
For whatever reason, apocalypse sells.
So much for this:
1: Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them ....
2: ... when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do ... that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3: ... let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth ...
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
I wonder about this:
I have some waistcoats myself and I usually forget to button the last button for some reason, so ...
I might add that young men all over the world are actually succeeding in their "earnest attempt to look as dumb and deformed as possible" by wearing huge, creased baggy cargo shorts.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Sunday, June 03, 2007
One slight demurrer: "Next to the Himalayas of Newton and Einstein everyone else looks as flat as Norfolk." Eveyone except, perhaps, J. Willard Gibbs. As the Encyclopedia Britannica points out: Gibbs's "application of thermodynamics to physical processes led him to develop the science of statistical-mechanics; his treatment of it was so general that it was later found to apply as well to quantum mechanics as to the classical physics from which it had been derived."
The point of departure for all of this Richard Schickel's recent hissy fit, which I have commented on here and here.
In his Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Albert Jay Nock tells of a test devised by a college president he knew, who administered it to all of his incoming freshmen. The test consisted of a few paragraphs of standard English prose. The students were instructed to read the text to themselves, then read it aloud, and then look it over for a moment before writing down in their own words the gist of what it said. Nine out of 10 failed. They would write down what they thought the passage meant, or what it reminded them of, or a chain of thought the passage triggered in their minds. They would interpret it. But they could not write down in their own words what it said. They were literate enough. They just couldn't read.
One of the pitfalls of professional reviewing - yes, Mr. Schickel, there are such - is that one can begin reading a book not for its own sake, but for the sake of writing about it. The fundamental flaw in Schickel's reasoning is that where one writes has little bearing on the value of what one writes. Would one of Schickel's preciously well-informed reviews suddenly become eminently dismissible if he perversely posted it on a blog?