Friday, October 30, 2009

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, October 24 through Friday, October, 30.

1) In the WSJ, Tunku Varadarajan reviews "The Great Cities in History" edited, by John Julius Norwich.

2) From, "The Pursuit of Wisdom in the Age of the Internet" by James Bowman (at The New Criterion):
As a professional critic, I notice that criticism itself is changing. I’m old enough to have been trained up to the job in the days when it was still thought by most if not all people that the object of criticism was, to use the title of our conference this weekend, the pursuit of truth.
Not definitive truth, not conclusive truth, not truth that left no room for other truths, but still truth — truth, perhaps, even as beauty, as Keats saw it, which I disagree with Peter Wood, who spoke this morning, in thinking not a lie but a poetic truth. In any case, truth certainly as something distinguishable from error. Now that a generation has grown up believing that that kind of truth is invidious, or "privileged" or authoritarian or hierarchical or, God help us, "patriarchal," and that everybody has a right to his or her own truth, what we have instead of truth as the purpose of criticism— where it is not simply Marxist political analysis — is "intertextuality." That is, we harvest as many points of connection as we can think of between King Lear and Batman and between both of them and the universe of texts awaiting us out there on the Internet — and then we put in the links between them.
It’s a highly idiosyncratic exercise, since there are an infinite number of texts and an infinite number of possible connections. That’s how you end up with that grab-bag as outlined by Professor Cowen, "a joke from YouTube, a terrifying scene from a Japanese slasher movie, a melody from iTunes," and so forth. The only real connection between them is in the fancy of the critic, who thus steps forward as the real hero of the critical enterprise whose only aim is to enhance his own "rich and varied inner experience."
3) After posting my review on Monday, I stumbled upon this excellent article: Beyond Zarathustra: Nietzsche and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

4) Monsters and the Moral Imagination by by Stephen T. Asma (At the Chronicle of Higher Education)
In a significant sense, monsters are a part of our attempt to envision the good life or at least the secure life. Our ethical convictions do not spring fully grown from our heads but must be developed in the context of real and imagined challenges. In order to discover our values, we have to face trials and tribulation, and monsters help us imaginatively rehearse. Imagining how we will face an unstoppable, powerful, and inhuman threat is an illuminating exercise in hypothetical reasoning and hypothetical feeling. . .
 People frequently underestimate the role of art and imagery in their own moral convictions. Through art (e.g., Shelley's Frankenstein, Hitchcock's Psycho, King's and Kubrick's The Shining), artists convey moral visions. Audiences can reflect on them, reject or embrace them, take inspiration from them, and otherwise be enriched beyond the entertainment aspect. Good monster stories can transmit moral truths to us by showing us examples of dignity and depravity without preaching or proselytizing.
5 ) The Manhattan Institute's Howard Hussock discusses the implications of a "to quietly raise additional billions in taxes by limiting the value of itemized deductions—such as contributions to charity."
The proposal would hold steady the deductions’ value (at 35 cents on a dollar) even as the top tax rate rises in 2011 to more than 39 percent (as the Bush tax cuts expire). When a similar proposal was advanced early this year by President Obama, the long-time head of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Martin Feldstein, estimated it would lead to a $7 billion drop in charitable giving. Such a fall would compound big losses that have already hit charities; the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that six of 10 United Way chapters saw a decline in giving last year, totaling $4 billion. Although Americans donate about $300 billion in total annually to charity, these sorts of hits are not small change. As a coalition of 15 major charitable organizations put it in a letter Finance Committee chairman Senator Baucus, “Charities have seen an increased demand for their services as individuals and families struggle with financial uncertainty.”

The implicit assumption of the proposed change: that government will do better things with that money than will philanthropy.
6) In the WSJ, Barbara Jepson asks of the new wave of young conductors. . .
Is this just the latest changing of the guard, as middle-age maestros move up the ladder and eminent conductors in their 80s—such as Sir Colin Davis, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Sir Charles Mackerras—shed important posts? Or are the latest crop of baton-wielders, like tennis phenoms, obtaining expert training and top talent agents earlier than before?
7) In the WSJ, Robert Greskovic reviews "Ancient Paths, Modern Voices," a festival of Chinese arts in NYC.

8) Shiller's Poetics of Freedom by Rüdiger Görner (at Standpoint.)

9) At City Journal, Adam D. Thierer reviews, "A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution" by Dennis Baron.

10) In the context of the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, in the WSJ, Daniel Akst discusses Vienna's Ringstrasse.
not just a landmark in the history of human freedom but a masterpiece of urban design, one that, in the words of historian Carl Schorske, "surpassed in visual impact any urban reconstruction of the nineteenth century—even that of Paris."
11) At Foreign Affairs, Jon B. Alterman reviews, "Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean For Our World" by Vali Nasr.

12) Pop Quiz: Mozart or Salieri?

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