January 31, 2009

Save the Words

For just 30 second a day, you too can save some words in the English language.  Listen to them cry out for attention at this website.

Karajan and the big box set

In a comment to my post on that the live Mackerras Beethoven symphony cycle, Kevin Edgecomb mentions that he has a special fondness for the recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto with Karajan and Alexis Weissenberg.

Kevin and everyone who loves Karajan is luck.  Last year was Karajan’s 100th anniversary, and all of the big record companies have obliged with huge, relatively inexpensive collections of Karajan recordings.

EMI has released the most ambitious projects with an extensive web site, two massive box sets, and an audio documentary entitled Remembering Karajan.

  • Complete EMI Recordings (Orchestral), 88CDs (track listing).  This is the set that contains Kevin’s favorite recording.  It is available for $148 from Amazon and £81 from Amazon UK.
  • Complete EMI Recordings (Operatic and Vocal), 72 CDs (track listing).  It is available for $130 from Amazon and £90 from Amazon UK.
  • Legendary Decca Recordings, 9 CDS.  This contains the complete orchestral recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic, including the version of Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra used in Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey.  It does not include the many outstanding operas that Karajan recorded with Decca, including the version of Die Fledermaus with the amazing gala scene.  The Decca box set is available for $72 from Amazon and £31 from Amazon UK.
  • Deutsche Grammophon Karajan Symphony Edition, 38 CDs.  Deutsche Grammophon is the label most closely associated with Karajan, and this is their big release (albeit, a limited edition).  Mostly 1970s recordings:  Beethoven symphonies 1-9 and selected overtures; Brahms symphonies 1-4, Tragic Overture, Haydn Variations; Bruckner symphonies 1-9; Haydn (“London” and “Paris”) symphonies 82-87, 93-104; Mendelssohn symphonies 1-5; Mozart symphonies 33, 35-41; Schumann symphonies 1-4; Tchaikovsky symphonies 1-6.  It is available for $90 from Amazon and apparently out of print in the UK.
  • Deutsche Grammophon Karajan Master Recordings, 10 CDs.  See the Amazon description for details.  It is available for $120 from Amazon and £68 from Amazon UK.
  • Deutsche Grammophon Complete Recordings of Mutter and Karajan, 5CDs.  The complete recordings with Karajan’s leading protégé.  This should definitely be purchased from the UK, it is $126 (!!) from Amazon but only £25 from Amazon UK.

Clearly, the super-bargains here are the (soon-to-be-out-of-print) DG Symphony Edition and the EMI “everything” box sets.  I think even Karajan detractors might enjoy these sets.

There is quite a wealth of super-classical box sets available now, but I must mention (because I think it will be out of print soon) the amazing Stravinsky 22 CD box set or conductor-supervised recordings for a mere £18 from Amazon UK.

A futuristic idea from 1981: newspapers on your PC

Here is a news segment from a local San Francisco television station suggesting what might be a wild idea at the time – making newspapers available to home PC users.  As the New York Times painfully notes, “the best part comes about one minute into the clip, when one of the Examiner’s editors explains that the paper is ‘not in this to make money.’ ”

The World’s Smallest Grand Piano

Better sound than you might expect.

J. D. Trout – do as I say

This brief interview with Loyola social philosopher J. D. Trout simply stuns me with its unintentional humor – such as suggesting that giving a child music lessons is equivalent to the (apocryphal) Roman decadent “vomitoriums” or in its revelation at the end that he has not spoken with his brother in six years.

Books on my Amazon pre-order list

Here are the latest four books on my Amazon pre-order list.  I can’t claim they are reviews – after all, the books have not even been published yet, but they look sufficiently promising for me to commit my credit card number:

The Book of Dead Philosophers – this purports to be a set of brief accounts of about 200 philosophers’ lives and deaths.  It is compiled by a well-known philosopher, Simon Critchley, Philosophy Chair at the New School and the Chief Philosopher of the whimsical International Necronautical Society.  There are page previews available at Amazon of the British edition and they had me laughing out loud.  (Note:  after I pre-ordered this, I came across this favorable article.)

The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989 – this is the catalogue of the just opened art show at the New York Guggenheim (a show that I will be seeing soon.)  Here are some sections from a New York Times review (that is written in an atrociously informal style – since when did the Times allow writers to use “for sure” in the first sentence of one of their pieces?):  “The first thing you see is a 1970 piece by the West Coast conceptualist Paul Kos: a circle of microphones clustered around a block of melting ice, picking up the sound of every crack and drip. Up the ramp is the famous ink and brush painting of a circle, triangle and square by Sengai Gibon (1750-1837). It’s a Zen Mona Lisa, on a rare loan from Japan.  And just beyond that is The Death of James Lee Byars: an open-front box, a kind of teahouse as wide as a two-car garage, lined with blazing gold leaf, with a bierlike platform inside. Mr. Byars, an American Buddhist dandy, long resident in Japan, made the piece when he was very much alive and sometimes lay on the bier ‘practicing death.’  Now that he’s gone – he died in 1997 – five small crystals take his place. The show finds the museum unusually full of sounds, however faint. Bells held in a kind of cage periodically sail down the spiral and ring. Synthesizers drone and vibrate away somewhere, and an amplified buzzing of bees has, when you get close, the roar of fighter planes.  Periodically parcels of books descend by pulley from on high, as part of an elaborate – overly elaborate – installation by Ann Hamilton. Lights flash in the dark; paintings all but disappear into walls.”  The catalogue should arrive from Amazon just before I leave on my trip, so I can study up in advance.

Blank Spots on a Map:  the Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World – so this is a bit of a ringer – I know the author Trevor Paglen.  Trevor is a graduate student in geography and an artist specializing in trying to understand US intelligence efforts.  He conducts tours of secret military sites and is interested in mapping out the “black world.”  He took photographs and co-authored one of the most amazing travel books of all time, Torture Taxi, on the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, and collected the mysterious shoulder patches (think merit badges for the military) of a number of US intelligence missions in I Could Tell You But Then I Would Have To Be Destroyed By MeSteven Aftergood has some strong opinions about this new book by Trevor, and Steven reports that it focuses a great deal on “[the] Groom Lake facility in Nevada, secret prisons in Afghanistan, secret satellite constellations in orbit, secret contractor locations around Washington, DC, and elsewhere.”  This should be out in two weeks from Amazon.

The NRSV Notetaker’s Bible – J. Mark Bertrand calls wide-margin Bibles “the thinking man’s study Bible.” Rick Mansfield says “I feel like I haven't really used a Bible if I haven't written in it.”  There is no doubt about it – wide-margin Bibles are a delight, whether for taking notes or making doodles.  Thanks in part to energetic support from those two writers, a number of publishers are releasing wide-margin Bibles.  If you read Hebrew, one of the best is this beauty, which I heartily recommend.  If you read the Bible in English you have a number of choices, but it is exciting news that the closest thing we have to a “universal English translation”, the celebrated New Revised Standard Version, is coming out in two editions (regular and deluxe).  The deluxe cloth edition looks especially thick and useful.  Sample pages posted on the Internet look great.

The new hot spot for Jewish studies?

Jerry Falwell’s college, Liberty University, reportedly has plans to open a Judaic Studies program.  Randall Price has been appointed as executive director of the new Center for Judaic Studies.

In one of his first acts as the new Judaic Studies director, Price reportedly plans an excavation in Turkey to find Noah’s Ark.

Reasons to finish that dissertation

A new research report seems to suggest that social science doctorates who finish their degree earlier are more likely to land tenure-track jobs (perhaps not so easy this year, though!)  Inside Higher Ed reports “Those doing the hiring view “time to degree” (fairly or not) as an indicator of quality. . . . The findings can suggest inappropriate considerations (favoring younger candidates) or skepticism about whether someone taking a long time to finish a dissertation may also take a long time to finish a first book or other research projects. . . . Other findings from the new analysis support the idea that graduate programs need to spend more time on helping graduate students prepare for their careers — not just their dissertation defenses. In surveys of Ph.D.’s wherein they evaluate their programs, those who finished doctorates sooner than others were more likely to give “excellent” rankings to both their mentoring and training and also to “professionalization” activities, which include programs to prepare graduate students for careers (both finding jobs and being socialized into academic life).”

The clumsy pope-academic

Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, came to the papacy with strong academic credentials, having been a faculty member at Bonn, Münster, Tübingen (together with Hans Küng), and Regensburg for nearly two decades, a participant in Vatican II, and for 24 years the chief doctrinal officer of the Vatican as in his role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Yet, for all of his academic brilliance, the Pope and his Vatican administration seem to lack common sense when it comes to inter-religious relations.  The first disaster was at Regensburg, with the Pope delivered a speech that offended Muslims around the world by quoting the “erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus” as saying “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” 

The Pope attempted an inadequate healing by moderating the quote with this footnote in the published speech:  “In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason. On this point I am in agreement with Manuel II, but without endorsing his polemic.” If you are a Muslim, would that paragraph reassure you?

The latest blunder by the Pope, of course, was his lifting of the excommunication on the far-right SSPX bishops, including Richard Williamson, who had just before denied the existence of the Holocaust on Swedish television.  The Vatican expressed surprise at at claimed to be ignorant of Williamson’s rampant anti-Semitism – but this seems to be a dubious claim at best.  A simple Google search would have turned up evidence.  As National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen wrote in his personal blog

I take at face value the assurances of Vatican officials that they were unaware of Williamson's interview, but they hardly needed Swedish television to alert them that something was amiss. In 1989, Williamson narrowly escaped prosecution in Canada for praising the writings of Ernst Zundel, a German-born Canadian immigrant whose works include The Hitler We Loved and Why and Did Six Million Really Die?, both mainstays of Holocaust denial literature. All this was documented in press coverage at the time. In 1991, Williamson published an open letter referring to “the false messianic vocation of Jewish world-dominion, to prepare the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem.” In 2000, Williamson went on record asserting that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are legitimate. His reputation was so well-known that in 2008, Shimon Samuels, director of international relations at the Simon Weisenthal Center, told the Catholic Herald in England that Williamson is “the Borat of the schismatic Catholic far-right.”

The Vatican quickly arranged for an apology from the head of the SSPX:

The containment strategy this time featured a Jan. 27 apology from Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the traditionalist Fraternity of St. Pius X, for the incendiary comments of Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied in an interview with Swedish television that the Nazis used gas chambers and asserted that no more than 300,000 Jews were killed in World War II. In a statement released by the Vatican, Fellay also said that Williamson has been barred from further comment on political or historical subjects.

but this apology really skirts the depths of anti-Semitism in the SSPX:

It would be equally misleading to style Williamson as a “lone gunman,” an isolated crank with no connection to broader currents of thought in the traditionalist world.  The folly of that view was illustrated on Thursday by Fr. Floriano Abrahamowicz, a well-known priest of the Society of St. Pius X in northeastern Italy, who gave an interview to an Italian paper in which he defended Williamson. Abrahamowicz said he wasn't sure that gas chambers had been used by the Nazis for anything other than “disinfection,” seemed to cast doubt on the number of six million Jews killed, complained that the Holocaust has been exalted by Jews at the expense of other acts of genocide, and called the Jews a “people of deicide,” referring to the death of Christ.

The fact that Abrahamowicz would voice these sentiments even after Fellay had apologized, and after Fellay insisted that the Society of St. Pius X has no competence to speak on anything other than faith and morals, illustrates how deeply entrenched they are in some quarters of traditionalist Catholicism. . . .

Meanwhile, Fr. Pierpaolo Petrucci, a prior within the Society of St. Pius X, told reporters on Thursday that traditionalists still believe that many aspects of Vatican II “contradict the teaching of previous popes.” In particular, Petrucci said the Lefebvrites [SSPX members] remain “scandalized” by Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 trip to Turkey, in which the pope paused for a moment of silent prayer in the Blue Mosque alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. Petrucci said that popes before Vatican II had rejected inter-religious relations as a matter of principle, implying that Benedict XVI (like John Paul before him) is some sort of apostate.

In the wake of all this, the leadership of the Society of St. Pius X in Italy has canceled an upcoming national meeting, in order to avoid “further polemics and confusion.” Translation: the leadership wasn't sure it could keep a lid on what might be said on the floor of the meeting, or around the edges.

What recent events make clear is that there are two camps in the small universe that rotates around the Society of St. Pius X. The first, represented by Fellay, is composed of traditionalists whose concerns are solely liturgical and doctrinal, and who see the future of their movement as a leaven within the formal structures of the church; the second, represented by Williamson and Abrahamowicz, includes people for whom theological traditionalism bleeds off into far-right politics, xenophobia, and conspiracy theories, and who are far more suspicious of any “deal” with the post-conciliar church.

While prominent American bishops and priests have been cowed into silence, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has spoken out:  “Hier ist offensichtlich ein Fehler passiert. Jemand, der den Holocaust, die Schoah leugnet, kann nicht in einem kirchlichen Amt rehabilitiert werden. Hier muss man auch eine gewisse Kritik an vatikanischen Mitarbeitern üben, die offensichtlich nicht genügend hingeschaut haben oder die in der Information sich nicht ausreichend die Sachen angeschaut haben.”  (“A mistake has obviously been made here.  Someone who denies the Holocaust, who denies the Shoah, cannot be restored to an office in the Church.  Here there must also be a criticism of the Vatican, which obviously did not research the matter or did not sufficiently examine the information that they had.”)

These constant missteps by the Pope threaten to characterize his papacy as a period in which the Catholic Church managed to antagonize much of the non-Catholic world – a step not into greater spirituality, but into greater conflict – ultimately marginalizing the moral influence of Rome to speak on matters that are not purely internal to the Catholic Church.  (See also Tzvee’s conclusion:  “this sordid affair . . . will bring down the papacy of Benedict XVI into ruin.”)

January 30, 2009

Hiring a hit man – a Talmudic analysis

Who bears religious responsibility for a murder via a hit man:  the hired man or the person who hires him?  What sort of guilt does the person who hires a hit man bear?  This is a fascinating example of Jewish analysis of religious law, and if you are interested in how Jewish analysis of religious law works, here is a shiur (lecture) by Rabbi Michael Taubes (from January 17) that you may enjoy.  It is full of excitement, as the audience challenges him.  While this is not exactly your typical sermon, it is quite interesting.  I think this is a wonderful introduction to how Talmudic analysis of Jewish law works.

(Of course, fortunately, in our secular legal system, someone who hires a hit man is fully liable, as a former Reform rabbi, Fred Neulander, discovered when he hired a hit man to murder his wife.  Neulander is currently serving a thirty year to life sentence in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.)

Swedish film on SSPX

Ruth Gledhill notes that the Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Television has now put it documentary on the traditionalist Catholic group SSPX online, complete with English subtitles.  This is the very program in which Richard Williams, an SSPX “Bishop” claims that the Holocaust never occurred (and the program discusses other extreme views of the SSPX.)  The documentary is very well done and worth watching. 

This program gained importance since it appeared just before the Pope reversed the excommunication of the SSPX clerics, sparking the largest crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations since Vatican II.

The documentary is available here.

Saving money by buying CDs from the UK

The rapid decline of the British pound has given us some remarkable UK bargains.  When shopping for CDs (or DVDs, if you have a player capable of playing region 2 PAL disks), it may behoove you to look at Amazon.co.uk.  It is worth noting, as I mentioned in my previous post, that US customers have VAT deducted from the price at checkout, which generally more than makes up for the shipping charges from the UK.  (Books have no VAT, and are more expensive to ship, so buying books from the UK is not quite the same bargain.)

An exciting Beethoven cycle recording

I am reasonably certain that the first records I ever owned were the 1960s Karajan Beethoven cycle.  And, over the years, I’ve accumulated a cycle or two most years, so by now, I have a fair number of them.  But I’ve just heard one of the most exciting renditions in the last few years:  a live cycle from August (and September 1) 2006 conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras at the Edinburgh Festival. 

The Edinburgh Festival in 2006 did something imaginative – they scheduled a series of individual concerts – going through the entire Bruckner symphony cycle and the entire Beethoven symphony cycle.  Experienced conductor (and something of a Beethoven expert Mackerras) conducted all of the Beethoven symphonies – the first with the group he is arguably closest with – the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.  The Ninth symphony was performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra (which has a “bigger sound”).  The programming was remarkable – each symphony formed the whole of an entire concert and was priced at only £10.  BBC Scotland did an excellent job of recording these performances for broadcast on BBC Radio 3.  Hyperion, a British music label which is known for the high quality of their releases and which seems to focus mainly on less-well known pieces was apparently so taken with the performance that they licensed it for CD release.  As a work of recording engineering, I found no shortcomings in these CDs.

Original reviews of these performances complained about a crying baby during the Eroica or poor vocal sonics during the “Ode to Joy”, but I found no such problems in the recordings proper.  It appears that these problems were fixed by sound engineering rather than rerecording – the work as a whole seems to have the “live excitement” that one expects in a performance.  The recording engineering is as good as I’ve seen for a live recording.

These performance generally follows Beethoven’s original tempos, which is to say, fast, and uses Del Mar’s critical edition of the scores which fixes many errors in older editions.  (Del Mar, by the way, wrote some excellent books – written in a very practical style – on conducting Beethoven and on how orchestras work.)  I learned a great deal from listening to these pieces, and especially noted how energetic and bright Mackerras’s performances were.

If you are a Beethoven fan, you can certainly benefit from this recording – at the very least you’ll enjoy the “live excitement” of this recording.

Currently Amazon US sells this recording at an overpriced $71.98, although individual Amazon merchants will sell the work for as $37.27.  Amazon UK sells the work for even less (£25.39), and US purchasers benefit from the reduction of the VAT tax (which almost makes up for the cost of shipping).

(If this is too much for you, and you want a budget Beethoven, I would recommend the Zinman cycle on Arte Nova available for $20 or less from Amazon retailers – it is not as good as the Mackerras, but it shares some of its virtues, namely the Del Mar score).

January 29, 2009

HDTV is a snap

I haven’t owned a television in quite a while.  I do, in fact, have a home theater for watching DVDs, but I haven’t found that much need to watch television.  If anything good comes on, it inevitably comes out on DVD or is available on the Web.

But it turns out I am a bit of Steeler’s fan.  Arguably, live sports photography (both still and moving picture) is especially challenging and represents a high point of the visual arts.  And the elegance of skilled athletes can rival grace of classical dance.  I wanted to find a way to see the Superbowl this weekend.

Now, when similar situations have arisen in times past I have just wrangled myself an invitation to a friend’s Superbowl party, but none of my friends appear to be holding one this year.  Of course, I could go to a sports bar, but that just isn’t my style.

So I decided to bite the bullet and buy a television receiver to hook up to my home theater.  I had considerable doubts that it would work – I live near in hills just outside the city where I have a nice view but exceptionally poor radio reception.  All of my neighbors have either cable or satellite TV (but the idea of paying $50-100 a month for something that I almost never watch seems absurd to me. 

Still . . . the Steelers – how could I resist?

So I decided to make an experiment.  For about $100, I bought a Samsung digital receiver.  This receiver is especially nice because it has a digital (HDMI) output and claims to be able to receive all 18 digital television formats (ATSC Table 3).  I was reluctant to put effort into hanging an antenna on my roof, so I just bought a $10 indoor UHF antenna.

The results pleasantly surprised me.  Digital television – even in my hostile reception environment and even with my primitive antenna – proved remarkably robust.  In seconds I was receiving perfect high definition images from stations that 60 miles away and blocked by hills.  Indeed, I am now capable of receiving some 40-50 stations.

And, it turned out there was more on the air than I had suspected.  For example, I was surprised by the variety of different foreign language programming available on television substations.  The quality was so good (much better than what I have seen, for example, in televisions in hotel rooms or at my cable or satellite subscribing neighbors) that I wonder how pay television is able to stay in business.

Now, I am still skeptical that much of the multitude of different programming is actually worth watching, but the good news is that I am going to be able to watch the game on Sunday – and I’m looking forward to it.

And then, I’ll put away the receiver and cheap antenna until the next big event.

Links: Folktales and Talmudic Comics

Here are some interesting links I’ve come across:

(Hat tips:  Entropic Memes, Menachem Mendel)

Shakespeare Teacher’s univocalic summaries of Shakespearian plays

Following up with my lipogrammatic Eunoia theme, see Shakespeare Teacher’s brilliant univocalic (one vowel only) summaries of

A:  Henry IV, Part One

E:  As You Like It

I:  Cymbeline

O:  Hamlet

U:  Measure for Measure

I should mention that Shakespeare Teacher’s blog is always full of wonderful word games and puzzle.

January 28, 2009

Racheim – gospel style


(HT: DovBear)

Writing about books

I love many things:  I love cinema and concerts and theater and recorded music and museums and photography and architecture and dance and worship and ideas and lectures and sports and even more.

But most of all, I love books.  I am happy that I know how to read.  I am happy to have contact with people and ideas that I would otherwise never encounter because of great gaps in time or space.  I enjoy “arguing” with Aristotle and having him be my teacher.

But books are suffering from a long slump.  The signs are all around us: publishers are laying off employees, sales are down, bookstores are closing . . . you can add to the list yourself.  (On the bright side, providers such as the Internet Archive, Google Books, Amazon Kindle, etc are making a wide variety of older books available, although in many cases, they are doing so with some indifference to quality, as my friend Paul Duguid has amply demonstrated in a spectacular essay.)

Here is one marker:  newspapers are writing less about books.  Motoko Rich reports that the Washington Post has just announced it is ending the publishing of its standalone “Book World” section, following in the footsteps of other major newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times.  It appears that the only major American newspapers that are still publishing separate book sections are the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.  The granddaddies of book review tabloids, the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books, are not really comparable to what they were even a decade ago – certainly even more so from the time when they featured essays from the likes of T. S. Eliot and Virigina Woolf.  And TLS and NYRB are really aimed at a very narrow audience – quite different from the hypothetical “late-thirties-something woman, a lawyer or educator or businesswoman” who was “busy with work, and also with family matters” “but that doesn't mean that she isn't interested in . . . the Book Review. She has a lively mind, she's curious. She wants to know about the public debates that are taking place. It's simply that these public debates are not her primary concern and so you have to pull her in.”

It is a sad day that the great populist medium, newspapers, are passing on their responsibility to critically discuss instances of such a fundamental atom of cultural transmission as individual books. 

This only motivates me more to write about books.  Perhaps this blog, like most, will ultimately only have a few dozen readers (which is, to be sure, most likely several times what it has at the moment).  But if someone is one day encouraged to read one book on the basis of accidentally coming across this blog through a Web search or a random link – then it will have been worth the effort.

In the meanwhile, I have even less reason to read the Washington Post now – because in the end, what really matters is not the daily blur of news from government and industry, but the long lasting ideas of significance that fill our inner core.  And that is far more likely to appear in a book.

What I learned from Aristotle about snarkiness

I don’t think I have a snarky or sarcastic personality in person.  But it is easy, especially in casual writing, to slip into a snarky mode.  For 2009, I am trying to not be snarky – and that is one of the primary reasons for starting this blog – to express my opinions about things that matter to me.

Apparently, I am not the only one who has disavowed snarky writing.  Like David Denby, I think snarky writing is “ruining our conversation.”


In the Rhetoric, Aristotle famously discussed the bases for argument:  appeals to ethos (authority), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic).  Although one could consider snarkiness as a special form of “pathos”, in my mind (and I think Aristotle’s) snarkiness is not a valid form of argument. 

I’m a passionate guy – passionate about everything!  My writing (I hope) transmits that passion – so there is plenty of pathos here.  And I hope to both sometimes speak as an authority and frequently refer to academic authorities – so there is plenty of ethos here.  And of course, most important is reason, and I trust you will find no shortage of logos here.

But help me keep my resolution – if you find me slipping into snarkiness, call me on it please!

January 27, 2009

Just four chords

A Sydney comedy song group called the Axis of Awesome claims to have analyzed all songs and to have proven that only four chords are needed to play all popular music.  Here is their medley proof.

New Kindle

I’ve been a fan of Amazon’s Kindle since its first release.  The idea of having an entire library with me everywhere is simply intoxicating.  Now, of course it cannot compare with the tactile and visual pleasure of reading a traditional paper book, but it is the ideal way to read when travelling.

It appears that the second model of the Amazon Kindle is nearing release.  There is a press release scheduled on February 9th.   The newer version is claimed to feature faster rendering thanks to the new Broadsheet microchip and better ergonomic response.

There are those who claim to have new photos online.

I’m looking forward to February 9th!


January 26, 2009

Brandeis to sell off art collection

The New York Times reports that Brandeis University will close its art museum and sell off its art collection to make up a serious budget shortfall.  See also this post.

Puppets (1)

I like puppet theater of all sorts and have been unusually fortunate to see many different styles of performances:  American types of all sorts, carnival puppets, Chinese hand puppets, Chinese shadow theater, Czech marionettes, Indonesian shadow theater, Japanese bunraku, Punch and Judy shows, Vietnamese water puppets – and I have undoubtedly left a few out.

There are some fascinating opportunities to see puppet theater on DVD now.  Let me begin my tour of puppets (in honor of the Chinese New Year) with a 2007 release:  a 10 DVD set +70 page book (for less than US$30) by the Hsiao Hsi Yuan Hand Puppet Theater [Publisher web site, Eslite bookstore].  This DVD set presents, over the course of 20 hours, the classic of the story of the Chinese classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, with accompaniment of Beijing opera music (although the narration is primarily straight – not sung, in Mandarin.)


(Since the DVD set contains no English, it helps to read the story first – if your classical Chinese is a bit rusty, I recommend Moss Robert’s translation [English-only edition, Chinese-English diglot edition].  There is also a quirky online annotated version using the archaic Brewitt-Taylor translation, although the annotations contain more errors than not!)


In many ways, watching the DVD version is better than seeing a performance is person – would you have the patience to sit through 20 hours of performance?  The performance itself is riveting, and even if you have never read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you’ll follow much of the performance with its amazing tricks, beautiful puppets, and elegant action.

We live in such a fortunate time that such cultural treasures are available to us so easily.

Michael Drout proves Hippos Go Beserk is a forgery


Wheaton College (Mass) English Chair Michael Drout has the breaking newsHippos Go Beserk is a forgery.  Professor Drout explains “A close-minded critical establishment dominated by a line of Oxford and Cambridge Professors has refused to acknowledge that Hippos Go Berserk contains inconsistencies that the real Sandra Boynton would never have included in a work.” 

The key point in his analysis relies on a meticulous reading of the text.  After the Hippos have already gone beserk and are leaving the party, the text says:

Seven hippos heading west
Leave six hippos quite distressed.
Five hippos then set forth
With four hippos headed north.
Three hippos say “good day.”
The last two hippos go their way.
One hippo, alone once more, misses the other forty-four.

In his brilliant analysis, Drout points out that the six quite distressed hippos never leave, thus, there can never one hippo left alone from the other forty-four – rather, there are thirty-eight hippos who leave. 

You must read Drout’s analysis to see his inescapable logic that the Pseudo-Boynton is actually Byrthferth of Ramsey.  More details here.

May you get rich this year


January 25, 2009

Man on a Wire

Man on a Wire (US DVD, UK DVD, UK Blu-ray, Wikipedia, US soundtrack, UK soundtrack, coffee table book, paperback book) is a firecracker documentary movie – a breathless account, full of crazy, impassioned characters who assist Philippe Petit, a tightrope walker who crossed the World Trade Center towers in 1974.  I’d liked everything about this movie – the story, the cinematography, the editing, the soundtrack – it was all great fun.


The story is driven by the artistic temperament of Philippe Petit who is convinced that it is his destiny to cross the World Trade Center Towers.  Supplemented by ample film and photography of the period, the characters come to life with dramatic switches between their 1970’s selves and their 2008 selves – it is so much fun and the characters are so outlandish that I was in stitches as I watched the movie.  The movie presents it as a bit of an elaborate heist – and perhaps that part is overdone, but the drive of the movie keeps this minor subject moving forward.  It an experience not dissimilar to spending an hour and a half with an experience raconteur. 

There is one very short scene that makes this film inappropriate for children – I thought that was the only serious flaw in this movie.

January 24, 2009

Issey Miyake Seiko Watch


More here.

What I would like for my birthday

I’d like a Model 22 Hard Drive Disintegrator.  You can see the video of it here.

Do elaborate Web sites stimulate book sales?

“But do book sites really help sell books? As in so much of publishing, no one quite knows.”  That is the conclusion reached by an article in the New York TimesI am inclined to suspect that in most cases (with a major exception, perhaps being reference works, where one may consult with a web site to “look up” a fact) Web sites do not sell books.  I suspect that book buyers are a more careful lot, not so easily impressed by a site that uses Flash and Javascript.  Moreover, most book web sites that I see are painfully non-interactive – they often do not have a method for reader interaction.  So perhaps I am setting my sights low when I say that I hope that mention of a book by me here can inspire more sales than an elaborate web site.

The blurb as an art form

Voxstefani has a semi-serious post about blurbs.  I am afraid that I have never taken blurbs very seriously; seeing my own words quoted on book blurbs has made me realize how distorted these are, and how much the person being quoted on the blurb benefits from the added publicity.

But having recently posted about wonderful book Eunoia, let me praise its blurbs – I am particularly fond of science fiction author and Temple University professor Samuel R. Delany’s blurb:

Eunoia is a novel that will drive everybody sane.

Inter-religious dialogue

Inter-religious dialogue – is it good, or is it bad?  I think it is good – as is all scholarly dialogue.  I find that I learn much whenever anyone presents a reasoned opinion – even if the opinion is completely wrong

What about inter-religious worship?   Well, this seems unnecessary.  Worship can be an individual experience (prayer) or a community experience (group prayer), but it has traditionally been based within a framework of a system of beliefs.  To say that these beliefs do not matter and we should all simply worship together is an act of anti-religion.

In many religious traditions this distinction is realized in religious law – inter-religious services are forbidden.  It seems that this is the case in Judaism, as is seen in the famous essay “Confrontation.”  (For a fascinating set of responses to this essay, including responses by a wide variety of voices, see this extensive 2003 website hosted by Boston College.)

United Methodist Minister Hobbins, whose website reflects a continuing interest in inter-religious dialogue, dryly notes here on criticism of Rabbi Lookstein for participating in an inter-religious worship service for the new inaugurated president.  But of course, the criticism of Rabbi Lookstein was based on ancient Jewish law as expressed in the Talmud which to the extent it reflects Biblical law is not subject to revision.  (Now, there is room for argument here over the interpretation of the law, as the immediately preceding link shows, but it is clear Rabbi Lookstein’s actions were in violation of the majority opinion.  Rabbi Lookstein has published a defense of his action.)

Why is there government-sponsored inauguration religious service at all?  I admire the example of John Quincy Adams, who according to his letters took the inauguration oath with his hand over a book containing the constitution and laws of the United States.  This is real oath – one that represents all the people of the US, who are bound together under the US constitution.   A private prayer service or private worship by the President is his or her own business; but the United States was founded on the ideal of religious freedom.

So, I’m not sure what the concern here is:  Rabbi Lookstein did something which many of his co-religionists view as contrary to the laws of his religion, and he received a rebuke from his colleagues (but no punishment at all.)

*    *    *

On a related note, let me also comment on the decision of the Catholic Pope’s decision to lift the excommunication on the bishops of the schismatic SSPX group, including the controversial and virulently anti-semitic Richard Williamson (who upholds the Protocol of the Elders of Zion as a factual work and denies the Holocaust).  See this opinion piece by Williamson, for example.  SSPX actively shields French collaborators who murdered Jews in its priories (e.g., the Paul Touvier affair). 

Frankly, I am surprised that the Roman Catholic Church has chosen to embrace these pro-genocidal extremists.   But on the other hand, I believe this is an issue that is purely internal to the Roman Catholic Church.  It is clear that the contemporary Roman Catholic mainstream is opposed to religious genocide, but that it is also a “big tent” that can accept those like Paul Touvier and Richard Williamson.  It seems likely that this is a first step towards welcoming back splinter traditionalist Catholic groups, but I wonder if it is worth the pain:  I suspect that many who belong to those splinter groups will not accept any Church that still embraces the revisions of the Second Vatican Council, while the Catholic mainstream will recoil from the extremism of the SSPX and other traditionalist groups.  I suspect that in retrospect, this will be seen as a serious misstep by the current Vatican, and will rank along with Vatican’s mishandling of its sex abuse scandals and its cozying up to the Beijing parallel “Catholic” Church.

*    *    *

Finally, let me comment on another attempt for apparent inter-religious dialogue:  the recent appearance of the Oxford University Press’s English Standard Version with Apocrypha

The English Standard Version (ESV) is a Protestant conservative revision of the venerable Revised Standard Version (RSV) which has been widely used as a standard English translation in academic circles for years. The ESV has appeared in a number of innovative physical editions, and has been actively advocated, particularly by conservative American Calvinists. 

The RSV was noted for being published in editions that included a particularly full set of Catholic and Orthodox Deuterocanonical books (many of which are also in appendices to many Anglican and Lutheran Protestant Bibles, including such standard versions as the Geneva and King James Bibles.)

The Oxford edition includes a minor revision of the Apocrypha by three scholars – David A. deSilva (Ashland Theological Seminary, and a bona fide scholar of the Apocrypha), Dan McCartney (Westminster Theological Seminary, reviser of the class Machen textbook on elementary Greek), and Bernard Taylor (Loma Linda University, an African-American Seven Day Adventist scholar).

I’ve spot-checked a number of verses and found no substantive changes between the RSV Apocrypha and this new ESV Apocrypha.

I’m afraid I don’t understand the market for this book.  As a scholarly edition, the minimal this edition offers no advantages over existing editions of the RSV and is certainly outpaced by more specialized editions such as the New English Translation of the Septuagint.  As a Bible for worship, most Calvinists will prefer a Bible without the Apocryphal books, Anglicans will likely prefer the RSV or NRSV with Apocrypha, Orthodox will note that no Orthodox were invited to participate in the translation, and the Catholic Church are unlikely to grant an imprimatur (given the absence of any Catholic participation in the translation).  As a Bible for casual study, certainly one of the many annotated Bibles with Apocrypha would be prefered.  As a Bible as a fine book, the work falls short – the Oxford edition has super thin “bleed through paper” and uses a san-serif font that I find a bit hard to read with the bleed-through. 

Still, even though the changes from the RSV are minimal, it is nice to have any new edition of these books, and I am certain that this text will soon be incorporated into major Bible text computer programs.  And I’ve seen at least one enthusiastic review from a Catholic minister.

January 23, 2009

Excellent advice

Thanks to E-kvetcher for the original post.


No safe haven

Sad book news:  Even the famous Oxford University Press, the grandest of all university publishers in the English language, is laying off 60 of its American employees.

January 22, 2009

Dracula (1)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a genuinely scary novel.  Read it with the lights on.  It is also a high-tech novel, full of the latest science and technology of the time: phonographic diaries, typewriters, blood transfusions, shorthand, trepanning, hypnotism – and it is a (pop) avant-garde told in the form of letters, telegrams, press cuttings, etc.  It of course has been filmed numerous times and the story is likely familiar to most of us, but that hasn’t stopped a recent range of editions from appearing.  Here are a few:

  • Leslie Klinger has prepared the New Annotated Dracula (with gorgeous illustrations) and extensive annotations – taken from the surprising perspective that Dracula describes real historical events.  The editor told me that he would not have been able to write this book without the Internet!
  • John Morgan has prepared an edition of Dracula using a variety of typefaces for the different types of material and a cover that mimics the original. (This has been released in the UK, and will be out in the US in a few weeks.)
  • Darce Stoker, the great-grand-nephew of Bram, has written a sequel called Dracula, the Undead (the original title proposed from Bram’s masterpiece until an editor rejected it) reportedly using material from Stoker’s original notes (although I suspect that the best of these already appear in Klinger’s book.)

This book is so much fun that I will need to write about it more, but I have some fun reading tonight, so please forgive me for waiting until later another day for that post!

January 21, 2009

Waiting for the post-lipogrammic book discussion

Such a point in history for us now!  Our books push limits of vocabulary and method.

I was going to kick-off this blog with a discussion of Christian Bök’s brilliant post-lipogram work, but now I cannot (it would not do!), for I found an accompanying CD, and I want to first catch it prior to saying my opinions.  My compact disk copy is on its way from Amazon.ca

Thank God that this silly post is a lipogram

During your wait for my forthcoming post, you may fancy a look at La Disparation or its translation, A Void.  (It may gratify your fancy, but I still think you will not find lipogrammic Unhooking a DD-Cup Bra without Fumbling to fill your bill.)

January 20, 2009

A brief non-introduction to this blog

First things first: this is not a blog about Aristotle; rather it is a blog about the topics that interested Aristotle, including art, ethics, logic, philosophy, poetry, rhetoric, science, and truth.  We are all indebted to Aristotle for opening our eyes and interest in these areas, but we need not slavishly follow Aristotle in all matters – rather we can celebrate what we learned from Aristotle.

There are many excellent blogs out there that discuss blogging (including “memes”, contests, awards), the effect of the Internet on contemporary society, and current events, so fortunately, this blog will not need to spend time on those topics.