Friday, January 1, 2010

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, December 26 through Friday, January 1.

1) Victor Davis Hanson reviews, The Enemy at the Gate: Hapsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft.

2) "How to Improve the Culture," by Jeffrey Tucker at the Mises Daily Blog.
The culture is going to hell in a handbag, we've been told for hundreds of years, and the free market gets a large share of the blame. The observation stretches from Left to Right and everywhere in between. It is universally agreed that letting markets run loose runs roughshod over all the finer things in life, from books to arts to clothing to manners.

Mises himself traces this ideological tendency to 19th-century critic John Ruskin, who "popularized the prejudice that capitalism, apart from being a bad economic system, has substituted ugliness for beauty, pettiness for grandeur, trash for art." The same argument appears today in conservative periodicals, every week, as a built-in bias; everyone knows that markets have unleashed a race to the bottom.

. . . So what we need is not the overthrow of private property but more freedom for cultural entrepreneurship, and more individual initiative to do more than complain that the world is not conforming to your own values. The next time someone complains about what the market is doing to the culture, ask that person what he or she has done to enter the market and make a difference. And ask what that person has done to make the world freer for those who seek to make the world a more beautiful place.
3) James Bowman at The New Criterion Blog:
Witness [President Obama's] reaction to the uproar over Janet Napolitano’s unfortunate comment that "the system worked" with respect to the apprehension of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before he could blow up his underwear, himself, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and all or as many as possible of its passengers on Christmas Day.
Why, we may wonder, did he not rather insist that a non-systemic success had occurred with the heroic action of Jasper Schuringa in preventing Mr Abdulmutallab from detonating himself? The answer can only be that he is tethered by unbreakable bonds to the media’s self-serving assumption that only the systemic counts — and only systemic failures at that, since systemic successes, of which there must be many, are rarely reported.
4 ) In The Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, Roger Scruton on "The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty":
. . . We should certainly recognize that the old cities whose organic complexity Jacobs admired show the mark of planning: not comprehensive planning, certainly, but the insertion, into the fabric of the city, of localized forms of symmetry and order, like the Piazza Navona in Rome, or the Suleimaniye mosque and its precincts in Istanbul. And those are projects entirely motivated and controlled by aesthetic values. The principal concern of the architects was to fit in to an existing urban fabric, to achieve local symmetry within the context of a historically given settlement. No greater aesthetic catastrophe has struck our cities—European just as much as American—than the modernist idea that a building should stand out from its surroundings, to become a declaration of its own originality. As much as the home, cities depend upon good manners; and good manners require the modest accommodation to neighbors rather than the arrogant assertion of apartness. . .
. . . I have concentrated on architecture since it provides such a clear illustration of the social, environmental, and economic costs of ignoring beauty. But there is another cost, too, and it is one that we witness in individual lives as well as in the community. This is the aesthetic cost. People need beauty. They need the sense of being at home in their world, and being in communication with other souls. In so many areas of modern life—in pop music, in television and cinema, in language and literature—beauty is being displaced by raucous and attention-grabbing clichés. We are being torn out of ourselves by the loud and insolent gestures of people who want to seize our attention but to give nothing in return for it. Although this is not the place to argue the point it should perhaps be said that this loss of beauty, and contempt for the pursuit of it, is one step on the way to a new form of human life, in which taking replaces giving, and vague lusts replace real loves.
5) Julia M. Klein on Iraq's Ancient Past in the WSJ:
"Iraq's Ancient Past" situates the Ur finds in the context of modern Iraqi history, provides a history of the expedition itself, and shows how the two were intertwined. The formidable Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), Iraq's honorary director of antiquities, founded what is now the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and filled it with Ur treasures. The 1924 Iraq Antiquities Law, which she wrote, mandated that half of Woolley's finds remain in Iraq. The rest were divided between the Penn Museum and its excavation partner, the British Museum.

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