Monday, November 30, 2009
Well, congratulations, Jon!
Thanks to people like Freud and D.H. Lawrence, a good many people feel a need to impose upon sex a weight of significance it cannot reasonably bear.
Today, each instance of custom-written scientific software is like an unknown, novel piece of scientific hardware. Each piece of software might as well be an “amazing wozzlescope” for all that anyone has experience with its accuracy and precision. No one can even tell if it has subtly malfunctioned. As a result, the peer review of scientific software does not indicate even a whisper of the same level of external objective scrutiny that the peer review of scientific hardware indicates.
So we really have no idea if the highly touted climate models are at all reliable, right? Just asking.
Heidegger prompts discomfort precisely because he was a Nazi propagating a non-Nazi philosophy. He is just not alien enough. His is a philosophical vision that sits too comfortably with many mainstream attitudes, whether it’s an environmentalist assault upon human hubris or a snobbish disdain for consumerism.
... from this man’s writings, writings in which an insurgent communism could be dismissed alongside a decaying capitalism as manifestations of human societies’ unthinking, Being-forgetting belief in their own rationality, too many disenchanted intellects have found succour – to the extent that Heidegger finds a home. His thought resonates not because he was a Nazi, but because his criticism of modernity echoes many of today’s anti-modern trends.
This an excellent critique, and it is nice to have one, finally, from someone who is actually familiar - and not just superficially - with Heidegger's thought.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The excerpt is tantalizing, frustrating, and altogether fascinating. The fascinating part is perhaps the most interesting, because it is the part that amounts to a peek inside the creative process of a great writer. For instance, in the excerpt, Laura hasn't become Laura yet. She is called Flora. Laura, in fact, is the title character of the novel My Laura written by Dr. Philip Wild, to whom Flora had been married for three years.
What impresses in the excerpt is the overwhelming sense of absurdity. Four deaths are mentioned in its five pages, all in their way ridiculous. Flora's father, Adam Lind, is "a fashionable photographer," but the final pictures he shoots are of himself shooting himself in a Montecarlo hotel. His widow - Flora's mother, "a delightful dancer, though with something fragile and gauche about her that kept her teetering on a narrow ledge between benevolent recognition and the rave reviews of nonentities" - sells "these automatic pictures for the price of a flat in Paris to the local magazine Pitch."
The daughter of the dirty old man who frequents her mother's house when Flora is a child, redolently named Hubert H. Hubert, dies of a stroke in an elevator. His daughter had been run over by a truck at the age of 12. And then, of course, Flora's mother collapses and dies during the dedication of a fountain on the very day Flora graduates from college.
It is all so very tongue-in-cheek, almost a parodistic backward glance at Nabokov's own work, what with an early reference to "a work of fiction which one dashes off, you know, to make money," and the final reference to the novel My Laura: "the 'I' of the book is a neurotic and hesitant man of letters who destroys his mistress in the act of portraying her." Oh, and there is a wonderful passing reference to "a certain Dr. Freud, a madman."
The controversy over the book's publication - dying author asks wife to burn manuscript; she fails to do so and, decades later, his son gives permission for its publication - actually fits right in with the book itself. Maybe the whole thing was arranged by Nabokov with his wife and son as a postmortem joke. The excerpt is definitely worth the price of a copy of Playboy, which presumably still offers other pleasures as well (I refer, of course, to the cartoons and the interview, if they still have an interview). It made me want to at least take a look at the book, if only because the sense I got from the excerpt is rather different from much I have seen written about the work. It can hardly be a masterpiece, but it does seem more than just a curiosity.
See also You Have the End of the Novel, and I Got a Bridge for Sale.
... Bugnini may have finally met his match in Benedict XVI, a noted liturgist himself who is no fan of the past 40 years of change. Chanting Latin, wearing antique vestments and distributing comnion only on the tongues (rather than into the hands) of kneeling Catholics, Benedict has slowly reversed the innovations of his predecessors. And the Latin Mass is back, at least on a limited basis, in places like Arlington, Va., where one in five parishes offer the old liturgy.
Benedict understands that his younger priests and seminarians — most born after Vatican II — are helping lead a counterrevolution. They value the beauty of the solemn high Mass and its accompanying chant, incense and ceremony. Priests in cassocks and sisters in habits are again common; traditionalist societies like the Institute of Christ the King are expanding.
One of those younger priests is Father Gerald Carey, the pastor of my parish, St. Paul's. Every Sunday at noon the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated there, and celebrated with precision.
... these thinkers differed, often dramatically, over the details. But on this big picture they were agreed. Contra Quine and the majority of contemporary academic philosophers, the ancients and medievals regarded the intellectual and the spiritual, reason and religion, as necessarily fused all the way down.
... Wine theft mystery is a Gallic treat.
... A father faces the unthinkable.
... Fall of the Wall, 1989: A brilliant account of a Europe transformed.
... Via simplicity, a poet attains the universal.
... Flight to simpler life from sea of troubles.
And more - Travel Bookshelf: There's a world of culinary destinations.
Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.- C.S. Lewis, born on this date in 1898.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
See also “Climategate” and the Social Validation of Knowledge.
... it’s important not to overstate the case. I don’t think we have anywhere near enough evidence to show that the academic consensus on global warming is completely bogus, or even close to it. Nor has it been proven that all or most prominent scientific supporters of global warming theory are as unethical as those exposed in this scandal.
On balance, therefore, I still think that global warming exists and is a genuinely serious problem. But I am marginally less confident in holding that view than I was before. If we see more revelations of this kind, I will be less confident still.
It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man. When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Rather than unfolding it with a predominantly linear sense of counterpoint, Mahler built the symphony in recurring heterogeneous blocks that Eschenbach treated as organic entities. When returned to, these entities had markedly different tempo and character, as if having morphed while absent. Such touches contributed to the overall musical narrative - crucial in a symphony whose five movements can seem like separate tone poems. In this performance, everything had its rightful place, even the brief mandolin and guitar solos that can be tricky to balance.
Treating science as an ideology, an occasion for polemic and abuse, and anathematising those who dissent is profoundly unscientific. It is an attitude that will, in the end, damage not just science itself but science as a public institution. Science is, as Thomas Nagel put it, a 'view from nowhere', it is a method, not a posture towards the world. It assumes - and, indeed, attains - the possibility of a superhuman perspective. As such, it is a profoundly admirable and magnificent achievement of the human intellect. But it is only one such achievement. When science aspires to be anything else - ideology, for example - it is prone to delusion, fantasy and intolerance.
... Michael Harrington, who was my first assistant, looks at Writings left behind by Vonnegut.
... also, Dan De Luca, who still works at the paper and reviewed a lot for me as well, checks out Orhan Pamuk: A life sacrificed to obsessive, hopeless love.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
We lie here silent in the dark,
Unmoving and unmoved, for that is best.
Undesired, we desire nothing, and would be
At peace, were peace not something
To be desired, a presence distracting
From the absence we would enjoy,
Could we enjoy anything.
Do not ask us who we are,
Who cannot tell and do not care,
Content to be aware of being. No,
Not content. Say only: Undisturbed.
You may hear this by clicking on the podcast at right.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho! the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Well, it looks more line none, really. But this impresses:
Atoms are 99.9999999999999 per cent empty space. As Tom Stoppard put it: "Make a fist, and if your fist is as big as the nucleus of an atom, then the atom is as big as St Paul's, and if it happens to be a hydrogen atom, then it has a single electron flitting about like a moth in an empty cathedral, now by the dome, now by the altar."If you forced all the atoms together, removing the space between them, crushing them down so the all those vast empty cathedrals were compressed into the first-sized nuclei, a single teaspoon or sugar cube of the resulting mass would weigh five billion tons; about ten times the weight of all the humans who are currently alive.