Friday, November 6, 2009

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, October 31 through Friday, November 6.

1) Reflections on the fall of the Berlin Wall at The New Criterion, with essays by: Roger Kimball, Anthony Daniels, and Donald Kagan.

2) At City Journal, reflections on the fall from Claire Berlinski, Daniel Flynn, Judith Miller, Roger Scruton, and Guy Sorman. From Scruton's essay:
It is true that a suspicion of Communism remains, and that young people from Eastern Europe have internalized, to a great extent, the experiences of deprivation and fear that their parents still recount to them. Hence they are more open to conservative ideas than their Western contemporaries; they have a vestigial sense of the seriousness of politics and the real cost of putting fanatics and nihilists in charge. They at least have learned this lesson; many of my colleagues have not. From Horkheimer and Adorno to Foucault, Deleuze, and Badiou, fanatics and nihilists continue to dominate the university curriculum, and there prevails in our universities today the same suspicion of power, property, hierarchy, and liberty that was in the ascendant twenty years ago, when my colleagues called an emergency meeting in order to keep the official illusions in place. And when, ten years ago, the Queen made Hobsbawm a “Companion of Honour” at Tony Blair’s request, I was forced to recognize that, as far as history goes, he, and not I, was on the winning side.
3) James Bowman at The New Criterion notes:
Take that wonderfully and hilariously nonsensical bumper sticker, "God bless the whole world — no exceptions." Grammatically and historically, the "God bless" formula is an example of the "optative," a sub-class of the subjunctive. What it really means is "May God bless. . ." and, therefore, "I hope that God blesses. . ." It is a polite way of expressing a wish that someone — or, in this case, Someone — will do something. Today in French you would use the conditional. But without the knowledge of the English optative, the bumper-sticker’s writer supposes it to be an imperative. The speaker is not humbly supplicating God but imperiously ordering Him, which is ridiculous. For the writer, this is probably a matter of no great moment. Like the rest of the culture, he will long since have grown used to the idea that God, if He exists at all, is only there to be bullied by his creatures and told what he can and cannot do with His world. But that is itself both cause and consequence of the death of the optative. . .
Prayer itself is a function of the optative, and a recognition that man proposes but God disposes. Without this very basic cultural knowledge, we are led into a wilderness of absurdity from which a right understanding of our own language and its potentialities, if not of religious truth itself, might have saved us.

4) At The Scientist, Stuart Blackman discusses how, "Ill-judged predictions and projections can be embarrassing at best and, at worst, damaging to the authority of science and science policy."
Scientists have been making predictions for as long as there have been scientists. Indeed, without speculating about the future, it would be impossible to make decisions about how best to proceed. But there is reason to believe that promises are becoming more central to the scientific process.
Sir Ian Wilmut, leader of the Roslin Institute team that cloned Dolly the sheep, says that a “soundbite” media culture that demands uncomplicated, definitive, and sensational statements plays a significant role. “It’s [the media] who put the most pressure on scientists to make predictions,” he says. And in a radio or TV interview that allows perhaps only 10 or 20 seconds for an answer, “it’s very easy then to inadvertently mislead.”

But it might also pay scientists—financially and politically—to go along with such demands, and to indulge in what Joan Haran, Cesagen Research Fellow at Cardiff University, UK, diplomatically calls “discursive overbidding,” whereby they talk up the potential value of work for which they seek the support of funds, changes in legislation or public approval.

“Since the late 20th century, scientists no longer quite have that quality that we used to speak of as scientists being disinterested. They are now very interested,” says Hilary Rose, professor emerita of the sociology of science at the University of Bradford, UK and Gresham College London. “Many clearly manage to rise above this, but the basic culture of science has changed.”
5) Nick Gillespie at Reason reviews two new books on Sarah Palin and the 2008 election, discussing the "oversize" reaction to her.

6) At the WSJ, Terry Teachout celebrates the 40th anniversary of "Civilisation:"
By "civilisation" Clark meant Western civilization, and the first episode, "The Skin of Our Teeth," made it clear that he was no less firm a believer in the primacy of high culture and the genius of great men. In the opening sequence, an unseen organist thunders out a toccata as the camera pans across the face of Michelangelo's David, the façade of Chartres Cathedral and other icons of Western art. Then Clark reads the stately words of John Ruskin: "Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last." From there he embarks on a discursive tour d'horizon devoted solely to the doings of dead white giants: Charlemagne, Raphael, Bach, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, Byron, Rodin. If you think Michael Jackson was a musical master, you've come to the wrong shop.
7) At Poliwood, Roger L. Simon and Lionel Chetwynd Discuss NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman's claim that President Obama is the "most power writer since Julius Caesar." (Kudos to Chetwynd for shouting, "They are ignorant of Latin!")

8) More brilliance from Mr. Landesman. (WSJ)

9) At The Times Online (UK): The internet is killing storytelling!
Addicted to the BlackBerry, hectored and heckled by the next blog alert, web link or text message, we are in state of Continual Partial Attention, too bombarded by snippets and gobbets of information to focus on anything for very long. Microsoft researchers have found that someone distracted by an e-mail message alert takes an average of 24 minutes to return to the same level of concentration. . .
Storytelling is the bedrock of civilisation. From the moment we become aware of others, we demand to be told stories that allow us to make sense of the world, to inhabit the mind of someone else. In old age we tell stories to make small museums of memory. It matters not whether the stories are true or imaginary.
The narrative, whether oral or written, is a staple of every culture the world over. But stories demand time and concentration; the narrative does not simply transmit information, but invites the reader or listener to witness the unfolding of events.
Stories introduce us to situations, people and dilemmas beyond our experience, in a way that is contemplative and gradual: it is the oldest and best form of virtual reality.
The internet, while it communicates so much information so very effectively, does not really “do” narrative. The blog is a soap box, not a story. Facebook is a place for tell-tales perhaps, but not for telling tales. The long-form narrative still does sit easily on the screen, although the e-reader is slowly edging into the mainstream. Very few stories of more than 1,000 words achieve viral status on the internet.
Meanwhile, a generation is tuned, increasingly and sometimes exclusively, to the cacophony of interactive chatter and noise, exciting and fast moving but plethoric and ephemeral. The internet is there for snacking, grazing and tasting, not for the full, six-course feast that is nourishing narrative. The consequence is an anorexic form of culture.
10) At the WSJ, "Children's books that might help repel the armies of electronic distraction."

11) At the WSJ, an interview with conductor David Robertson, now in his fifth season as music director of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Next week here at APLV:
Mozart, Haydn, Aristotle, Bergman.
Join us.

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