Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thought for the day ...

Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.
- Primo Levi, born on this date in 1919

Friday, July 30, 2010

Here's a thought ...

... The Worst Movie Year Ever?

God knows, movies are sure in hell not better than ever.

He seems a good candidate ...

... to me: Was Cardinal Newman a saint?

The purpose of a university, for Newman, was to ensure that those educated there had “a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind”. This, surely, is still the central aim of preprofessional undergraduate education. Whatever discipline an undergraduate pursues, or majors in, it is not so much the acquisition of that particular body of knowledge that is important, but the acquiring, through that discipline, of a sense of the aims and methods of science and scholarship. It is the function of liberal education to make one aware of the boundaries of the domains of the sciences, and give one a grasp of which questions can and which cannot be settled by science.

This week's batch ...

... of TLS Letters: Arthur Koestler and women, Mailer’s war, Operatic beds, and more!

Dark horse ...

... as we say over here: Mandelson, the triumph.

Thoughtful ...

... An Agnostic Manifesto.

The person best-qualified to comment on this, of course, is Mark Vernon, whose After Atheism, which I read last summer, I cannot recommend highly enough.
I am well aware that many churchgoers regard their beliefs with an unwarranted certainty (unwarranted because, if one is certain, there is no need for faith). I never tire of repeating Newman's definition of faith: "being capable of bearing doubt." To assent or dissent to a belief in God is an act of faith, since you cannot be certain either way.
I think that Ron Rosenbaum is not as closely acquainted with the thought of Aquinas as he ought to be. Aquinas, after all, is the one who said that all things runs into mystery, and that we cannot know what God is, only what he is not. The agnostic is not someone who is especially attuned to the mystery of being, since any authentic act of faith must be premised on an acknowledgment of that mystery. The agnostic simply declines to make an act of faith. If agnosticism really involved a reverence for mystery, it would be rubbing elbows with faith -- as I believe Mark Vernon's does.

Thought for the day ...

I cannot express it: but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you.
- Emily Brontë, born on this date in 1818

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Literary incarceration ...

... Books Behind Bars: The Best Prison Literature.

Work in progress ...

... The Best Magazine Articles Ever. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Lots of the usual suspects, and I guess they mean best American magazine articles.

FYI ...

... via Instapundit ... REASON TV: On The Set of Atlas Shrugged — 53 Years In The Making.

A wonderful discovery ...

... courtesy of Dave Lull by way of the Maverick Philosopher: Don Colacho’s Aphorisms.

Here's one I especially like: "There is an illiteracy of the soul which no diploma cures." Indeed.

Deadline looms ...

... Essay Contest.

In the meantime ...

... here's Martin Amis on euthanasia.

Perhaps the problem with aging would seem less if we, like earlier generations, honored age instead of worshipping youth.

Spit it out, Gabe ...

...Dismissive Josipovici. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Actually, Josipovici may be on to something.

Thought for the day ...

God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.
- Dag Hammarskjöld, born on this date in 1905

The plot thickens ...

... My neighbor: Volodya Nabokov.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

His best book ....

... Paperback Writers: Henry Miller's Grecian days. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Let us pray ...

... for my friend Judith: The pen and the pain.

I'm concerned, of course. But I would even more concerned if I didn't know that Judith is tough as nails. She will more than survive.

Cruel and unusual ...



(Via Instapundit.)

Pretty pathetic ...

... Journolisters Risked Their Integrity.

I can't ever remember any of my colleagues at The Inquirer talking like this about those they disagreed with. This guy Spencer Ackerman seems especially to revel in posing as a tough guy. Watch what you ask for, Spence.

The trouble with experts ...

... according to Richard Feynman: The Difference between ‘True Science’ and ‘Cargo-Cult Science’.

… there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. … It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Noir in brief ...

... On crime & thrillers: Manhattan Noir 2, The Classics.

Not so brief may be Paul's wait for that Philly collection. The collector, sources tell me, is my former colleague Carlin Romano, who just loves to take things down to the wire.

Heavy thinking ...

... Big Questions Online. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Fascinating ...

... Richard Strauss in Life and Death. (That sounds like John Gielgud doing the voice-over.)

In this corner ...

... Shav vs. Shakes.

Also, don't miss The Smiling Genius.

More here. I never realized that "Hot Diggity" was based on Charier's España.

The artist's situation ...

... `As Charming, and As Absolute'.

I never met Guy Davenport, but he was a friend of my late friend, the composer John Davison. Both went to Harvard, and Davenport taught at Haverford College for a couple of years. John was for many years the chairman of the music department at Haverford. His music ought to be better known.

Psst ...

... Bookshelf porn.

Reading first class ...

... Collectible Travelogues.

Thought for the day ...

Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death.
- Hilaire Belloc, born on this date in 1970

See also Meditation on Statistical Method. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Amazing ...

... Oh I get it, it’s a sci-fi novel! (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

A history professor's satori ...

... It turns out that Starbucks is just a company.

The author of this excerpt is terribly confused if he thinks that people today have fewer musical choices than they once had. They might have fewer musical choices at Starbucks, but the “increased consolidation of corporate media power” doesn’t seem to be helping record companies or keeping millions of people from discovering music — tens of thousands of songs — from all over the place on the Internet. Usually the concern we hear is the opposite — that there is no longer a central cultural resource, that the gatekeepers (editors, reviewers) don’t have the power they once did, that there are too many alternatives and people don’t know what to choose and we no longer have a shared national culture.


The author of this excerpt is also not a terribly elegant writer.

Try this out ...

... I Write Like. (Hat tip, Lee Lowe.)

I plugged in something from a blog post, something from a column, and something from a review. The results? In order: Cory Doctorow, H.P. Lovecraft, and Mary Shelley.

Postscript: I just plugged in a paragraph from a review I wrote of Julian Barnes's Nothing To Be Frightened Of and was told I write like Charles Dickens. Here's the paragraph:
However much Barnes may assent intellectually to the notion that our sense of self is an illusion, it has in no way eased his fear of death, and he should perhaps be warned that faith would not entirely dispel that, either. As Newman observed, faith means “being capable of bearing doubt.” The faith that my own chain of causation forces me to profess offers, not the assurance, but the hope that God in His mercy will forgive me my many sins and allow me, eventually, to take up residence in one of the humbler corners of a much better neighborhood of being.

Yes ...

... Mencken was right:

... My Antonia: Some Observations.

... My Antonia: Another Observation.

Time for a laugh ...

... courtesy of Paul Davis.

This week ...

... at Five Chapters: What A Good Boy.

Very interesting ...

... The Limits of the Coded World. (Hat tips, Lee Lowe and Dave Lull.)

The model in question holds that the universe exists in space and time as a kind of ultimate code that can be deciphered. This image of the universe has a philosophical and religious provenance, and has made its way into secular beliefs and practices as well. In the case of human freedom, this presumption of a “code of codes” works by convincing us that a prediction somehow decodes or deciphers a future that already exists in a coded form. So, for example, when the computers read the signals coming from the monkeys’ brains and make a prediction, belief in the code of codes influences how we interpret that event. Instead of interpreting the prediction as what it is — a statement about the neural process leading to the monkeys’ actions — we extrapolate about a supposed future as if it were already written down, and all we were doing was reading it.


The monkey experiment mentioned at the outset also involves a category error. "The monkeys were ... taught to respond to a cue." Well, the reason we practice something is so we don't have to think about it when we do it later. So being able to determine that the monkeys were going to do something they had been trained to do before they "thought" about doing it tells us nothing.
One thing in particular that Egginton says is especially interesting: "I am free because neither science nor religion can ever tell me, with certainty, what my future will be and what I should do about it." Yes, indeed. I'll start taking determinism a good deal more seriously when its predictive powers become more manifest.

On Saturday, Mark Vernon posted something that seems pertinent to this: Scream for help in dreams. Mark writes that "we're far less free than we think we are. Our conscious life is, in large part, shaped by the unconscious." I have never thought of my "self" as even fundamentally, let alone exclusively, my conscious self. So I don't identify my freedom with my conscious self either. I rather like Georg Groddeck's idea that we do not live so much as we are lived by our It. But that It is us, and it is free. Our conscious self is merely its epidermis.

Thought for the day ...

Idealism is the noble toga that political gentlemen drape over their will to power.
- Aldous Huxley, born on this date in 1894

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Recommended ...

... ny my friend Lee Lowe: The White Ribbon.

I am envious ...

... San Francisco’s “finger man”: Zborowski revisited.

What I am envious of is that Cynthia is going to meet and talk with the great Robert Conquest. I can't wait to read what comes out of that. (BTW, thanks to having had friends in low places, I knew what a finger man is.)

Gird your loins ...

... for the next big Nabokov controversy: Freeing "Pale Fire" From Pale Fire. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

See and listen ...

... Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Today's Inquirer reviews ...

... 'The Hundred-Foot Journey' by Richard C. Morais: Slumdog sous-chef.

... The Washington Post and the Web revolution.

... Pearl Buck made the Chinese visible in the West.

... 'City of Lost Girls': A hard-boiled detective story with a romantic touch.

...
Factual nuggets, folksy insight in a Phillies doubleheader.

Thought for the day ...

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
- Eric Hoffer, born on this dare in 1902


(Bear this in mind the next time you hear someone from old media complaining about new media.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

OK, let's take a look ...

... I love this song (it evokes intense personal reminiscence). But let's be honest. It is utterly contrived. "I'm just livin' in a dump like this." Well, Bruce wasn't living in any dump at the time, and never had. "I'm sick of sittin' around here tryin' to write this book." Oh, come on. And yet, as I say, I love it. Maybe because I did live what he imagined. And he imagined it well.


In case you wondered ...

... Is It Safe to Eat Breakfast. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I usually don't get around to it until about noon, though I am usually up by 6. I don't usually wake up hungry and I only eat when I feel hungry. And yes, I do have coffee, but not until about 8:30. The bacon I eat is made up the street by Sonny D'Angelo and has no preservatives. I tend to eat a lot of fruit, and I prefer game meat. As for exercise, it's Chen-style tai chi and walking. Yesterday, despite blistering heat, I did nearly 10 miles.

Not so fast ...

... Your Move: The Maze of Free Will. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It’s undeniable that the way you are initially is a result of your genetic inheritance and early experience.
OK. Well, here's my move: To begin with, one could argue -- and it seems a reasonable argument to me and sounder scientifically -- that while we are conditioned by our genetic inheritance and early experience, we are not determined by them. Since when do my experiences determine my subsequent behavior? They certainly influence it. Moreover, I don 't see that the notion of free will necessarily implies full and ultimate responsibility. My responsibility and my knowledge are both as finite as I am. My judgment is imperfect, and my choices may -- and often are -- flawed. Get real, professor.

(You may also know, contrary to popular opinion, that current science gives us no more reason to think that determinism is false than that determinism is true.)


Well, apparently Ian McEwan doesn't know that, given what he is quoted as saying in the final paragraph, that the "arguments [against free will] seem watertight." McEwan also says that "I take on full accountability for the little ship of my being, even if I do not have control of its course. It is this sense of being the possessor of a consciousness that makes us feel responsible for it.” But by his logic he isn't taking on anything. That's just the way he happens to feel, and he can't help feeling that way because he has been determined from the start to feel that way. You're either free -- to whatever extent -- or you're not.

Something I missed ...

... Online reviewers cultivate 'super' status. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Say what?

... Speakers of Klingon gather in Essington.

Great story. Who knew?

Indeed ...

... Life Explained, Part Two: "Life Is A Long Discovery, Isn't It?"

Thought for the day ...

All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope.
- Alexander Dumas, born on this date in 1802

Friday, July 23, 2010

Warning ...

... this may offend. I looked on YouTube for some of the punk bands I rather liked in the early '80s. Real punk bands. Not the synthetic crap that came later and persists to this day. I still have a whole bunch of 45s that I have to transfer to CD. Anyway, this is actually quite funny, as much of the original punk was. Though it is, I forewarn thee, raunchy humor. Remember that these were Frank's wild years. And, trust me, they were quite wild. Just think: You may be so offended, you'll never visit this site again! But there is so much unnecessary seriousness among litblogs. Bet Ed Champion likes this.



Ans jere's something even more offensive (though do note that the speaker could not speak if he met them):

Most underrated ...

.. great true rocker. What's a true rocker? Well, let's put it this way. I am a first generation rock 'n' roller. Bruce Springsteen is second-generation. Hence, even his best album -- Nebraska -- is in fact mannerist. My buddies and I in high school laughed our asses off about Charlie Starkweather. Hey, give us a break. We were only teenagers. Bruce was 9 when Charlie and Caril went on their spree.

Intriguing ...

... The Struggle for the (Possible) Soul of David Eagleman. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Though Eagleman’s scientific and literary lives seem radically different on the surface, they are part of the same creative endeavor: to deepen our understanding of a complex world we can never fully grasp. Since scientists mostly talk about what they know, Eagleman’s emphasis on our ignorance may seem out of character. Eagleman offers an analogy: The work of science is like building a pier out into the ocean. We excitedly add on to the pier little by little, but then we look around and say, “Wait a minute, I’m at the end of the pier, but there’s a lot more out there.” The ocean of what we don’t know always dwarfs what we do know, he says. “During our lifetimes, we will get further on that pier. We’ll understand more at the end of our lives than we do now, but it ain’t going to cover the ocean.”

Thought for the day ...

An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence.
- Raymond Chandler, born on this date in 1888

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bumping a post ...

.. so that people can read the second comment: This looks interesting ...

Homer, Homer, Homer ...

... From Troy to the Caribbean: Homer onstage.

Derek Walcott's Omeros is a wonderful book.

Birthday boy ...

... On Edward Hopper's SUMMER EVENING.

There is an excellent poem that pertains to this painting in Seeded Light, a review of which is scheduled to run soon, I hope, in The Inquirer.

Grasping human foilbles ...

... The Paper. (Hat tip, Paul Davis.)

Obsession ...

... Lisa reads: Proust’s Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini.

Thought for the day ...

My scientific studies have afforded me great gratification; and I am convinced that it will not be long before the whole world acknowledges the results of my work.
- Gregor Mendel, born on this date in 1822

Who'd a thunk ...

... One-fourth of Democrats think Jesus will ‘definitely return’ in 40 years.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why does it not surprise ...

... that Jacques Brel would have been taken with the role of Don Quixote? For if he as a madman lived, he surely as a wise one died.

Explaining my absence ...

Blogging has been light because (a) I had a review due that I found found hard to write (only so much space and I wanted to say more than I could) and (b) I just had the first of two root canal sessions. The second is on Friday morning, then they fit the cap. Ah, the pleasures of growing old.

Birthday boy ...

... Happy Birthday, Papa. Ernest Hemingway's Life In Photos/Hemingway On Crime.

I knew it was Hemingway's birthday and thought of quoting him for the thought for the day. But, being perverse, I went with Marshall McLuhan.

Wasting passions, religious fervour ...

... and fits of torpor. What more could you want? Life in exotic Palo Alto.

Hmm ...

... Times loses almost 90% of online readership. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I already subscribe to the WSJ online and to the TLS (both Murdoch properties). I like the Times, but thought two subscriptions was enough.

Sounds good ...

... There's a new zip in the strip (and the flesh is fresh)!

Danger zone ...

... Sticking the world together with words. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Foreign languages are unsettling. They remind us how arbitrary the mental world we live in is. Silence is worse. When we try to imagine consciousness without words, when we think of a day, even an hour, without any words in the head, we are overcome by a kind of vertigo. As when we think of death.

Check out this ...

... The Children of Children Keep Coming.

In memoriam ...

... Burns in Stone. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Thought for the day ...

An administrator in a bureaucratic world is a man who can feel big by merging his non-entity in an abstraction. A real person in touch with real things inspires terror in him.
- Marshall McLuhan, born on this date in 1911

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sweet Jesus ...

... this has to be one of the best performances I've ever seen.

Philly book scene ...

... Local Area Events. Featuring Sloane Crosley. I remember when Sloane used to visit my office in the days when she was a publicist. Glad to see she's doing well.

My latest column ...

... The mystery of time.

Thought for the day ...

Often have I wondered with much curiosity as to our coming into this world and what will follow our departure.
- Petrarch, born on this date in 1304

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Now online ...

... Autumn Sky Poetry No.18.

Indeed ...

... Sentimentality is poisoning our society. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)


Sentimentalists try to make up for a lack of feeling by emotional exhibitionism. Men who feel little for women or children often have their names tattooed on their arms; the tattoo says, in effect, "Look what I am prepared to do for you." This is all too often a prelude to abandonment; the man is prepared to have himself tattooed, but not prepared for the slow grind of lasting support, which requires genuine feeling.


I am, I am pretty sure, immune to sentimentality.

Recommended ...

... by Ed Champion: Jennifer Howard's review of Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows" and William Powers's "Hamlet's Blackberry".

Today's Inquirer reviews ...

... A hunk, a hunk of burning Liz and Dick.

... An American hero time forgot.

... Halting aging and putting off death.

... 'Betsy Ross and the Making of America': Portrait of a fascinating historical figure.

... The fight to reclaim N.Y. waterfront from criminals.

Thought for the day ...

For me, poetry is always a search for order.
- Elizabeth Jennings, born on this date in 1926

Saturday, July 17, 2010

For your listening pleasure ...

Bottoms up ...

... "This perfect thing is made of gin and vermouth," Or, A toast to Bernard DeVoto.

Wow ...

... For Andrew Young: "His Last Autumn".

Oh, really ...

... The Trouble With Amazon.

The loss of serendipity that comes with not knowing exactly what one is looking for is lamented by ex-Amazon editor James Marcus: "Personalization strikes me as a mixed blessing. While it gives people what they want—or what they think they want—it also engineers spontaneity out of the picture. The happy accident, the freakish discovery, ceases to exist. And that's a problem."

This morning, the intrepid Dave Lull sent me a link to a piece in the Guardian detailing various summer reading choices. Looking through it I learned that J.A. Baker's diaries and another of his books have been gathered together into a single volume that also includes his preternaturally wonderful The Peregrine. I just went to Amazon UK and ordered a copy. All of this seems to me every bit as serendipitous as stumbling upon it while browsing in a book store, which might never happen anytime soon in this country.
The notion that the more the choices you have the worse choices you make is risible on its face. It all depends on who is doing the choosing and what mental and experiential equipment one brings to the task.

Much of interest here ...

... Let's get together: summer reading recommendations. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Some random comments:

I gather that Margaret Drabble Pharisaically exempts herself from private greed.

Richard Ford says, " think of Flem Snopes with a law degree." That would be Bill Clinton, right?

Thanks to John Gray to alerting all of us to new works by J.A. Baker.

What Richard Mabey has to say about Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's book is most interesting.

Bryan discusses ...

... Secular Britain. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler write in their book Connected, “One way to make social networks stable is to arrange them so that everyone is connected to a node that can never be removed… If God were seen as a node on a network, large groups of people could be bound together not just by a common idea but also by a specific social relationship to every other believer.”


Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. It might be better if more of his followers took him at his word. "... Smallbone is different, he is passionate. He prays intently. His relationship with God is the heart of the matter and we are intended to approve this relationship." It is so easy to think that one's political activities involve doing God's work. The work of the faithful is to pray.
If all the rich people in the world divided up their money among themselves there wouldn't be enough to go around.
- Christina Stead, born on this date in 1902

Friday, July 16, 2010

RIP ...

... Donald Windham.

Very sad news ...

... James F. Ross (1931 – 2010). (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

He has a point ...

... Breaking up is hard to do.

Excellent roundup ...

... Links: Venting.

Worth noting ...

... Eudora Welty Speaks.

... More on David Mitchell.

Interesting name ....

... Peregrine Prykke revisiting.

Haiku and more ...

... Santoka: Some Further Translations.

Occupations ...

... A planters life!

Details ...

... On the importance of the properly placed comma, or not.

Supplemental ...

... On Crime & Thrillers: Get Capone, The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster.

Mark your calendar ...

... July 31st – Fox Chase- Poets in the Park.

Neat ...

... Small Train Station at Night, 1959.

1959. The year I graduated from high school.

In case you wondered ...

... Why Translation Matters.

In memoriam ...

... Richard Harriman, R.I.P.

Poetic appreciation ...

... `A Flash of Splendour'.

Thought for the day ...

Real love is a pilgrimage. It happens when there is no strategy, but it is very rare because most people are strategists.
- Anita Brookner, born on this date in 1928

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Very sad news ...

... RIP: Sir Charles Mackerras.

He was a very fine conductor.

Conversation ...

... Hugh Hewitt and Christopher Hitchens. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)


Well, I mean, I don’t mind. It doesn’t hurt me. But for the same reason, I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there’s some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I’m in their prayers, and I can only say that I’m touched by the thought.

Unembarrassed Calivinist ...

... D.G. Myers on Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind.

Remembering ...

... Sadik Hakim, 1919-1983: A Vignette from My Diary. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Great minds ...

... Nige on Kay Ryan's Ladder.

I don't know Kay Ryan well, but I can tell you that she is super-cool. I, too, am immersed in the great Muriel Spark, for reasons that will emerge soon enough.

A terrific roundup ...

... Mid-June philosophy & literature links.

By the sea ...

... Real Beach Reads – Books About Beaches.

Student of crime ...

.. who studied in the right place: On crime & thrillers: Get Capone, the Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster.

FYI again ...

... Notes from the Anthony Powell Society.

I've probably mentioned this before, but the first book I reviewed for The Inquirer -- way back in 1976 -- was of Anthony Powell's Hearing Secret Harmonies, the concluding volume of A Dance to the Music of Time.

Conversation ...

... An Interview with Kathleen Winter About Her New Novel Annabel.

I'll go with James ...

... Freud or William James?

FYI ...

... TED Talks: Best Author Appearances.

Well worth remembering ...

... Kingsley Amis: "Instead Of An Epilogue".

Submitted for your edification ...

... "Farewell": A Fantastic and Cryptic Tale.

In the good old summertime ...

... Some Summer Poems.

I'm late with ...

... but lately I am late with everything: Spontaneous combustion (June 2010). (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Wonderful ...

... The upshot: “Guardian” contest for blurbing Dan Brown. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I would have Brown's book beyond satire, but it seems I was wrong.

Hmm ...

... Paywall. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Preview ...

... the New England Review.

Thought for the day ...

To know much and taste nothing -- of what use is that?
- St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), the Seraphic Doctor, whose feast is today

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Brilliant ...

... Chaos theory and divine action. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I am routinely astounded by Mark's clarity and insight.

Last week's batch ...

... of TLS Letters: Sporty Churchill, 'My Animal Life', Foreign Secretaries, and more!

FYI ...

... 25 Collectible Cat and Dog Books.

Something for Nige ...


... a photo by my friend Eric Mencher of a butterfly with transparent wings, taken in Guatemala.

Oh, no ...

... A Scientist Takes On Gravity. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Thought for the day ...

The very essence of literature is the war between emotion and intellect, between life and death. When literature becomes too intellectual - when it begins to ignore the passions, the emotions - it becomes sterile, silly, and actually without substance.
- Isaac Bashevis Singer, born on this date in 1904

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sad news ...

... Harvey Pekar R.I.P. (hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Book sale ...

... Robinson Street Books.

Philly book scene ...

.. featuring my friend (and former colleague) Jennifer Weiner: Local Area Events.

Something to consider ...

... Think of England: The poetry spin-off and blegging site. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Going live

I am about to conduct an online chat regarding my piece in Currents yesterday. (See .. Grading Diane Ravitch's education ideas.)
Feel free to join in.

I second this ...

... This is Not a Book Review. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It is still beyond any reasonable doubt that the age of the newspaper, at the very least, is over. Requiescat in pace, but do not weep. Wasteful, relatively expensive, and ultimately ephemeral, there is nothing that a newspaper provides in print that cannot be provided exactly as well online. (Except perhaps the deplorable registration of their high-speed print processes.) And those at the helm are not ignorant of this. Some new business paradigm will be required to successfully meet the demands of a generation that scoffs at now-quaint constraints of old print media: word count, production costs, and distribution.


This is an important piece. It gets to the heart of the matter and draws the proper distinctions. Do read the whole thing.

Sacred legends ...

... are Too Good To Check. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Well, well ...

... O'Hara's Other Home-town. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Thought for the day ...

A man's interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town.
- Henry Davis Thoreau, born on this date in 1817

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Little blogging today ...

I have been asked to lead a discussion about Wallace Stevens tonight in Lansdowne, and I like to be prepared. I also have a dinner to make. So back when I have the time.

Hmm ...

... The Medium Is the Medium. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.

A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.


Would this change if one read the book on a Kindle?


Happy birthday ...

... Harold Bloom: The Anxiety of Influence.

Bloom was one of those interviewed in a documentary I watched last night about Wallace Stevens. It seemed to me he must in fact be a very good teacher.

Bon voyage ...

... The Last Post.

Maxine reviews ...

... Book Review: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke.

A characteristically fine review.

I opine ...

... Grading Diane Ravitch's education ideas.




Today's Inquirer reviews ...

... Privilege, depravity set tone in 'Bedrooms'.

... Race, class, crime in America.

... 'Bayshore Summer': Exploring a hidden nook of South Jersey.

... A naive young American falls in with the Taliban.

Thought for the day ...

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
- Frederick Buechner, born on this date in 1926

Saturday, July 10, 2010

RIP ...

... Cesare Siepi, Renowned Italian Opera Singer, Dies at 87.



Otherwise ...

... be a journalist: How to have a deep thought. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Late with this ...

... Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Maestro.

When I was in high school, I recall only one set of the complete Mahler symphonies being available on record, conducted, I think, by Franz Konwitschny.

Quite interesting ...

... Marilynne Robinson on The Daily Show. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The man who won't go away ...

... Hayek: The Back Story. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Keynes, Hayek’s friend and lifelong intellectual opponent, called it “a grand book,” adding, “Morally and philosophically, I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it.” George Orwell, more equivocal, conceded that Hayek “is probably right” about the “totalitarian-minded” nature of intellectuals but concluded that he “does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse . . . than that of the state.”
I'm with Keynes on this, To begin with, he certainly knew about economics than Orwell did. And Hayek advocated free competition, not "free" competition.

I wrote about this almost exactly year ago: A growing disconnect? Surge in sales of two books offers political hints.

Here's the Hayek-Keynes rap video.

Proto Pop ...

... that still sparkles: Where Paint and Poetry Meet. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Now online ...

... Triple Canopy Issue #9.

Peculiar ...

... Serious Questions About the Veracity of Michael Bellesiles’s Latest Tale.

If Bellesiles is found to be fabricating again, it isn't his veracity that's in question; it's his sanity.

Inquirer News ...

... Philly papers' new owners, Newspaper Guild reach tentative agreement on contract. (Hat tip, Paul Davis.)

The wages of viral ...

... Bryan on Winnebago Man. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Check out Star Wars Kid on YouTube. a chubby boy clumsily plays at being a Jedi knight in his school studio and, fatally, videos the whole thing and then, doubly fatally, leaves the tape behind. The video has been watched 19 million times in its YouTube version and 900 million times in a version with authentic Star Wars music and sounds. That poor boy is Star Wars Kid forever.


I'd have thought, in this era of celebritism, most people would be glad to have celebrity in whatever form it came their way. Oh, yeah, Alec Baldwin doesn't need the bad publicity, but Star Wars Kid could easily take pride in just being known as Star Wars Kid. What is the kid doing that all of us haven't done ... when were kids? He's playing, for God's sake. Just like the people who stand in front of their loudspeakers and pretend to conduct the symphony they're listening to are playing. I do silk reeling while listening to music.
I almost envy Rebney living in that shack on the mountain with his dog. As for what Bryan says about "a very American form of loneliness," I'm not so sure. Some of the happiness moments of my life have occurred when I've been by myself in the middle of nowhere. It isn't loneliness. It's a delicious feeling of aloneness. There are certain Americans who revel in that feeling. And, of course, there are others who just feel lonely, the way one can on a crowded city street.
You can easily see Winnebago Man and Stars Wars Kid if you go to YouTube. I just watched them. Rebney strikes me as a pretty amiable pro just trying to get things right and having a bad time of it. I've had days like that, and felt much the same way.

Also born today ...

... in 1895, Carl Orff.


Thought for the day ...

As long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost and science can never regress.
- Marcel Proust, born on this date in 1871

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Indeed ...

... REMEMBER, THESE ARE THE SAME INTERNATIONAL ELITES WHO LECTURE YOU ABOUT YOUR “CARBON FOOTPRINT.”

I can't make up my mind if it's hypocrisy or ignorance at work here.

Blogging report ....

Blogging has been sporadic for a number of reasons. For one thing, I have been busy trying to meet deadlines. But my blogging is also in a state of transition, reflecting my life, which has also been in transition. Of course, everyone's life is always in transition. Life, like the weather, is a chaotic system.
But patterns do emerge. In my case I am only now beginning to settle into a routine replacing the one I had followed for so many years when I was employed. I think I tried to maintain a simulacrum of that after I retired, and I don't think that was a good idea. Actually, it wasn't an idea at all, just a mater of reflex, a habit. Underneath lay a certain anxiety, an unsureness over what exactly I should do next.
Lately, I have found myself, for some reason, feeling more relaxed, prepared to do at any moment whatever it occurs to me to do at that moment. I also find myself more open to improvisation, with less of a need to follow any clear and distinct plan of operation.
I think this change will start to be reflected more and more on this blog. Which is good. If anything should reflect one's life as one lives it, a blog of this sort should.

Journeys ...

... `Solitary, Silent, Compellingly Warm'.

Sniffing out crime ...

... The Unscratchables: Shaggy-Dog Noir.

Perennial ...

... Ancient Greeks Speak to Us. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

'Twas ever thus ...

... apparently: Down with Doom: How the World Keeps Defying the Predictions of Pessimists.

Thought for the day ...

Death never takes the wise man by surprise, he is always ready to go.
- Jean de La Fontaine, born on this date in 1621

Death, Literature, and Beauty

A troubled history...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Philosophy

What's it good for? A discussion...

God bless him ...

... Roger Moore Wants the Brits to Speak the Queen's English - like Bond, James Bond.

You don't say ...

... 'Climategate' was 'a game-changer' in science reporting, say climatologists.

"The release of the emails was a turning point, a game-changer," said Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia. "The community has been brought up short by the row over their science. Already there is a new tone. Researchers are more upfront, open and explicit about their uncertainties, for instance."
Apparently, the National Academy of Sciences has not learned of this: Writing for PJM Helped Make Me Enemy of the State Number #38.

Update (vis the intrepid Dave Lull): 'Climategate' review clears scientists of dishonesty over data.
This doesn't bother me and doesn't preclude the outcome mentioned in the earlier link. I don't want Phil Jones persecuted. I think that he 's basically a good man and a good scientist. And he's acknowledged mistakes. Now, Michael Mann of Penn State? I don't put him on a par with Jones. But the point of all this is not to get even with people, but to clear the way for discovery of the truth.
(Bumped.)

Also born today ...

... in 1911, Gian-Carlo Menotti.

Thought for the day ...

One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.
- Robert A. Heinlein, born on this date in 1907

Quandary ...

... Is the Lobster Zone disturbing?

I object to boiling lobsters both because it is unnecessarily cruel and because it isn't the best way to cook them. Lobsters should be steamed. I don't think they can live at a temperature higher than 98 degrees. Steaming puts them into a gentle, fatal sleep. It also does not cause adrenalin to rush through their bodies, as dropping them into boiling water does -- which is turn makes the flesh tougher and less sweet.
BTW, I think Scott is right: There is something creepy about the Lobster Zone.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Natural libertarians ...

... The Spirit of Independence: The Social Psychology of Freedom.

Another review ...

... of The Language God Talks.

I haven't read the book, but I get the impression that the rambling discursiveness the reviewer complains of is simply indicative that it is an old man's book. The very last books of John Cowper Powys had the same quality. We should learn to appreciate this, not be put off by it.

Devotional and quizzical ...

... Ron Slate on The Last Skin, poems by Barbara Ras.

Golden volumes ...

... AbeBooks’ Most Expensive Sales in June 2010.

Lifework ...

... The Singing Line. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I like that bit about Pavarotti and the cab, maybe because Pavarotti once actually bumped into me.

Correspondence ...

... Kerouac/Ginsberg: the letters. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

And the winners are ...

... the IBPC's Winning Poems for May 2010. And here is the Judge's Page: Fiona Sampson. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

FYI ...

... Sender, Carrier, Receiver.

Things to look forward to ...

... Most Anticipated Summer Reading 2010 and Beyond: The Great 2010 Book Preview Continued.

My latest column ...

... Just what kind of a horsemen is it we’re hitching a ride from?

Still cause for concern ...

... much concern: A Hatred That Resists Exorcism.

Thought for the day ...

The fiery force is nothing more than the life force as we know it. It is the flame of desire and love, of sex and beauty, of pleasure and joy as we consume and are consumed, as we burn with pleasure and burn out in time.
- Harold Norse, born on this date in 1916

Monday, July 05, 2010

Another holiday favorite of mine ...

Judith waxes lyrical ...

... regarding Marvellous W. S. Merwin. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Of course, Judith is always lyrical.

Good Lord ...

... Think You're Operating on Free Will? Think Again.

Whoever wrote this headline ought to learn to think, period. He could start by getting his terms clear. I doubt if anyone would deny that our choices are influenced by all sorts of things. Influence, however, is not determination. Nor do many people doubt that all sorts of mental processes take place unconsciously. No one who writes would deny that. Nor is it necessarily so that, in order to be free, a choice must be conscious.

British Economic History

Thinkers and Tinkerers...

Something else to ponder ...

... Beware those Black Swans. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Almost every major idea in conventional economics fails under the modification of some assumption, or what is called "perturbation", where you change one parameter or take a parameter henceforth assumed to be fixed and stable by the theory, and make it random.

And here ...

... via Glenn Reynolds is a POST INDEPENDENCE-DAY THOUGHT FOR THE DAY.

Thought for the day ...

Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying.
- Jean Cocteau, born on this date in 1889

Sunday, July 04, 2010

My (inadvertent) bad ...

... I failed to include my friend Susan's review in my list of Inquirer reviews (inadvertent, because when I did the post, it wasn't on the page): 'The Nobodies Album': A mystery, and so much more. (Hat tip to Dave Lull, who can find anything on the web, God bless him - you owe Dave one, Susan).

Money as it ought to be ...

... Bryan reviews Niall Ferguson on Warburg.

For the Fourth ...

... Random Thoughts on Fireworks. (Hat tip, Hedgie.)

In praise of diatribe ...

... The wisdom of changing your mind. ((Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

As Maynard Keynes put it: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

But I don't like the word fundamentalist used as Mark uses it. I think it should be used to refer to the movement in favor of "the fundamentals" of Christianity that started, if memory serves, at the Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1920s. That some calling themselves "fundamentalists" may be deplorable does not mean the idea behind fundamentalism is deplorable. We should try to go easy on the pejoratives.

Matter of choice ...

... Best Book Club Picks.

Dialogue ...

... The atheist and the rabbi: Arguing about God with Christopher Hitchens.

David's Why Faith Matters is a wonderful book. And David is a wonderful person.

Today's Inquirer reviews ...

... Spy wars occupy WWII-era Greece.

... Chandra Levy: True-crime tale.

... 'The Language God Talks': A search for the secrets of eternity.

... Enviable honor for 'Nothing to Envy'.

... A crime story tells a dismal tale of Philly.

Also born today ...

... Mitch Miller, 99.

Thought for the day ...

Our Creator would never have made such lovely days, and have given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above and beyond all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on this date in 1804

Happy birthday ...

... USA.

Friday, July 02, 2010

RIP ...

... Dame Beryl Bainbridge.

Now you know ...

... Yes, Of Course I was Wired Weird'. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Also from Geoffrey Hill: New Poems.

Something I missed ...

... on Bloomsday: reJoycean Amethyst Twilight.

This week's batch ...

... of TLS Letters: Do animals point?, Neapolitan gesture, Who knows?, and more!

Not that Onion ...

... Spartacus Road and The Onion.

Good choice ...

... W. S. Merwin to Be Named Poet Laureate. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Introducing ...

... The George Lippard Society.

A visit to Cyberia ...

... Muse splashes, flashes, plashes & panaches. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Thought for the day ...

Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.
- Hermann Hesse, born on this date in 1877

I second this ...

... Praying For Christopher Hitchens.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

I must demur ...

... Mr. Mimic.

Sammy was a good deal more than a mi