Friday, April 25, 2003

An excerpt from Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
Robbins is not just the kind of author you want to forgive for being self-indulgent. You want to pay him to be more self-indulgent. Note that behind all the fireworks he's not a superficial guy on a bad trip, but one of the more thoughtful novelists of our era.

Nietzschean Anarchy and the Post-Mortem Condition by Max Cafard
In which the author skewers postmodernists (via Derrida via Sartre via Heidegger via Nietzsche) for completely missing the positive side of Nietzsche's philosophies. Of course Nietzsche didn't have much respect for academics even in his day, so he probably wouldn't be surprised that Cafard was driven to write this.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Easter Bunnies and Egg on Your Face by Andrew H. Malcolm
Easter, which merges weird Christian beliefs with weirder Pagan symbols, can be hard to explain to Easterners. Andrew Malcolm decided to give it a try anyway.

Miles and Miles of Smiles in the LA Times Weekend Editorials
"Smiles express pleasure, delight, satisfaction, a nonthreatening demeanor. Or do they?" A new study reveals the difference between women's smiles and men's smiles; teen girls' smiles and teen boys' smiles;, and American and French smiles.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Terry Eagleton on Stanley Fish
Perhaps you are familiar with these critics. If not, Eagleton is a British champion of the school that says all interpretations of a text are valid. Fish is an American deconstructionist and Milton scholar, who claims that enforcing tolerance means being intolerant of intolerance. Thus, tolerance relies on intolerance. Is that too simplistic? Alas. Read Eagleton and --if you have time-- read Fish on Bush v. Gore.

Speaking of Galen Strawson
"It is an insult to God to believe in God. For on the one hand it is to suppose that he has perpetrated acts of incalculable cruelty. On the other hand, it is to suppose that he has perversely given his human creatures an instrument -- their intellect -- which must inevitably lead them, if they are dispassionate and honest, to deny his existence. It is tempting to conclude that if he exists, it is the atheists and agnostics that he loves best, among those with any pretensions to education. For they are the ones who have taken him most seriously." - Galen Strawson, in the Independent (London, June 24, 1990).

The Book Against God by James Wood
reviewed by Galen Strawson
I have been a fortunate reader of James Wood's reviews in the New Republic since I began subscribing to that magazine in 1999. His insight and rigor are commendable, even though he does bash excitement (in the form of, say, magical realism) too much. As Strawson points out, he's also grandiloquent. Now he's written his first novel and Strawson gives it a mostly favorable review in the Guardian. Read the interesting introduction to the review, a treatise on belief and choice, if you don't have enough time for the whole item.

Like Father, Like Son: A Personal Note
The first confirmed case of SARS in India had his blood samples tested at the National Institute of Virology (also called the Virus Research Centre) in Pune, India. My late father worked there as a research assistant when he was in early 30's. Now I'm in my late 20's and working on CDC's SARS site.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

I won't be able to update my blog frequently because of this.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Brett Marston on Shopping
Fellow Davidson alum Marston points out that Germany is slowly moving towards the U.S. culture of 24-hour shopping. While the new German law that allows states to keep their shops open on Saturday until 8 p.m. is only a marginal change, it is a loss. And as Marson writes, "Law also has an expressive function. Laws that indicate that there is more to life than shopping are, as far as I'm concerned, a good thing." I concur.

Friday, April 11, 2003

On Michael Polanyi's Tacit Dimension
Michael of summarizes the ideas of the Polanyi, a philosopher of science. Polanyi appears to describe the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge. He then extends--or maybe forces--them as an analogy of how one does science. Polanyi is commendable both for his willingness to do ethnographic research and his lucid style.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Jose Serebrier shares his recollections of Leopold Stokowski with Simon Callow
Stokowski built an aura of fake mysticism around himself, replacing his English accent with an Eastern European one, but he had a true mystical quality, too. He could bring out a certain orchestral glow even in his later years that has never been matched. In this interview, the composer Serebrier talks about Stokowski's amazing hand technique that replaced didactic speeches. For formalists, he also mentions that Stokowski eventually treated every piece like a tone poem and carefully timed the silence between movements.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Granta 81: Best of Young British Novelists 2003
It's now a tradition for Granta to pick the best young British and American novelists once every decade. While their effort has, of course, generated the expected controversy, Granta's editors have been the Warren Buffett's of the literary trade. Their first British list included Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Julian Barnes. The second, Will Self, Helen Simpson and Jeanette Winterson. Both included Kazuo Ishiguro.

A + D: LA's New Architecture Museum
Los Angeles has finally established an architecture museum in the glorious Bradbury building, whose conception was influenced by Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward [full text]." The Bradbury was designed with the assistance of George Wyman, a draftsman with no architectural or engineering training. The A + D museum is directed by Elizabeth Martin, who came to architecture via music. (Ironically some of the exhibits are in the hallways, so it now seems harder to appreciate the Bradbury itself.)

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Tummies and Tongues from an e-mail
For those of you who watch what you eat...

Here's the final word on nutrition and health. It's a relief to know
the truth after all those conflicting medical studies.

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks
than the British or Americans.
2. The Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than
the British or Americans.
3. The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart
attacks than the British or Americans
4. The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer
heart attacks than the British or Americans.
5. The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and
fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
reviewed by The Economist
Applebaum revisits the West's distinction between communist and Nazi brutality, a topic inadequately and self-indulgently covered by Martin Amis in Koba the Dread. Westerns are definitely more disdainful of communism now, but they don't treat it with the visceral repulsion that they do Nazism. Perhaps it's because there were no gas chambers and victims merely worked themselves to death, so it was a sin of omission. Also, a majority of mid-20th-century Western intellectuals believed in communism and thought Stalin's brutality was accidental rather than essential to communist governments. Even now, McCarthy is probably reviled more than Stalin in the U.S. Among other forgotten holocausts: the British empire's Bengal famine that killed millions.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Two Orchestras of Note
Speaking of Greg Sandow, I have him to thank for my discovery of the Wild Ginger Philharmonic [sound samples] an amateur orchestra that breathes much more life into classical music than the average professional symphony. They remind me of the semi-professional Boston Philharmonic who blew me away when I heard them live in Boston. The Boston Phil has released five CD's and their music director, Benjamin Zander, also records with the Philharmonia Orchestra and often includes an additional disc with his commentary. (Zander and his wife also write self-help.)

The Music of Gesture by Greg Sandow
What conductors actually do is something of a mystery even to many regular classical listeners. Perhaps it's a mystery to symphony performers as well, because conductors sometimes create a communicative bond that is so implicit that no one can articulate how it works. Sandow reviews two new videos that capture some conductors at their best but as he points out, they fail to show the marvellous intuition they also show in rehearsals. Sandow's also has some good insights in this article on Jansons and Eschenbach.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The Straight Story (1999) dir. David Lynch
Alvin Straight is the subject of the film that progresses with an un-Lynchian straight linearity. Straight, in his 70's, decides to drive an old tractor straight across Iowa and into the middle of Wisconsin to visit his ailing but estranged brother. The film, produced by Disney, is about the journey, not the destination, and it manages to warm the heart without sappiness, partly because Lynch's sense of terror pervades the film and because the characters that Straight encounters along with the way are all to real.

Suspicion (1941) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
A weak ending mars this otherwise suspenseful tale of a woman (Joan Fontaine) who is too passionately in love with her husband (Cary Grant) to care that he is a reprobate who steals and lies. When he contemplates murder, though -- her murder -- she realizes what she has done. Hitchcock makes you envy the woman's delirious passion, thus deepening the film's tragic tone. If you watch this, read a synopsis of the book and note the latter's more effective conclusion.