March 31, 2009
James Murray at Oxford describes two mathematical model exercises: one to model brain tumors and one to model the success of marriages based on a 15 minute interview.
March 30, 2009
Accepting a plea bargain that her attorney described as unprecedented in American jurisprudence, a 22-year-old Maryland woman yesterday agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other defendants in the death of her son under the condition that charges against her be dropped if the child rises from the dead.
“It also is specifically noted,” Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Timothy Doory said in court as he described the plea bargain to the boy's mother, “that if the victim in this case, Javon Thompson, is resurrected, as you still hold some hope he will be, you may withdraw the plea, and the charges will be nolle prossed [withdrawn] against you.”
The boy's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, is shaping up as prosecutors' star witness against a 40-year-old Baltimore woman named Queen Antoinette. Prosecutors allege that Queen Antoinette led a small cult, called One Mind Ministries, based in a West Baltimore rowhouse. In early 2007, prosecutors say, Queen Antoinette instructed Ramkissoon and others to deprive Javon of food and water because he didn't say “amen” before breakfast. . . .
IAN MCKELLAN’S KING LEAR
The Trevor Nunn/Ian McKellen King Lear (shown last week in the US) is coming out on DVD in the US on April 21 (current Amazon price $22.49). The work is currently available both on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK (the Amazon price for both is £12.98, minus the VAT refund if you are ordering from the US). I liked this production quite a bit, but Louise Kennedy (in the Boston Globe) states that it is merely “pretty decent”:
For better and worse, this isn't a film of the live performance, but an adaptation made especially for television. It’s better because codirectors Trevor Nunn (who helmed the stage version) and Chris Hunt can use the strengths of TV, such as closeups and intimately pitched conversational tones - ideal for the intrigues and family quarrels swirling around Shakespeare's aging king. But it’s worse because it robs us of the chance to see McKellen as a stage actor, rather than as the familiar filmic presence of, say, Lord of the Rings. More troublingly, it also transforms Lear from one of the world's great plays into a pretty decent TV movie. . . . That tradeoff, along with some fairly heavy cutting in key scenes and some odd choices in others - showing us the Fool’s hanging, for example, though Shakespeare has Lear mention it only late in the day - diminishes the power of this performance. Still, it’s better than not having McKellen's Lear at all.
AGE OF KINGS
The classic BBC Age of Kings series (15+ hours presenting the Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2), Henry V, Henry VI (parts 1, 2, and 3), Richard III is being released tomorrow on DVD in the US (Amazon price $34.99). J. Hoberman in the New York Times gives a review and a personal memory of watching the series as a child:
A 15-part chronicle that drew upon Richard II, the two-part Henry IV, Henry V, the seldom staged three-part Henry VI and Richard III, the project was conceived by Peter Dews, a 30-year-old stage director and former schoolmaster, who persuaded the BBC to embark upon its first extended Shakespeare series. Mr. Dews’s production would be additionally remarkable for being broadcast live, with a continuing cast of young, largely unknown players, including Sean Connery as the fiery Hotspur, Robert Hardy (known these days as Harry Potter’s minister of magic, Cornelius Fudge) as Prince Hal and Judi Dench in the role of his flirtatious future bride, Katherine of France.
Mr. Dews divided the cycle into 75-minute episodes, each with a dramatic title — The Hollow Crown, The Band of Brothers, Uneasy Lies the Head — and an opening fanfare composed by the master of the queen’s music, Arthur Bliss. Cuts were made, particularly in Henry VI, the actors’ delivery was rapid and prompted by a percussive score, even a bit rushed. The mise-en-scène was modest, if not frugal; the action was staged on an artfully cramped set that served variously as royal bedchamber, battlefield and Eastcheap tavern. There seems to have been only two cameras. Close-ups were common, and a number of scenes were shot as if through a window or against a grille.
In short, An Age of Kings was quintessential early television, immediate and intimate. (“Great men in small rooms,” was Mr. Dews’s motto.) The shows were broadcast live in Britain, beginning in the spring of 1959. If this was Shakespeare as soap opera, the British critics did not complain. On the contrary: reviews were supportive, praising both the acting and the direction. (“You are certain to have seen far, far less good at the Old Vic,” a reviewer for The Observer wrote.) The first BBC series imported to America, An Age of Kings would be telecast in the United States in a somewhat more cinematic form as a series of edited kinescopes, black-and-white 16-millimeter films shot off the original television monitor. . . .
Viewed today An Age of Kings bears little resemblance to public television as we know it. There’s nothing genteel about Mr. Dews’s production; there are no elegant drawing rooms or scenic locations. The series’s success may have made television safe for Masterpiece Theater, but its true successors are Mad Men and The Wire, serial dramas that strain the confines of the small screen with their large characters, compelling situations and narrative density, if not the power of Shakespearean English.
On the same day, there is a US DVD release of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (Amazon price $13.49) starring Ian McKellan, filmed from the 1969 Edinburgh Festival production. This production was notorious for including the first kiss between two men on British television. (This is not to be confused Derek Jarman’s affected 1991 film version.
JOHN BARTON’S PLAYING SHAKESPEARE
The DVD set of a legendary set of acting workshops is coming out on June 2 (Amazon price: $71.99). Previously, the sessions were available in video tape in very expensive editions (it did have a showing on educational television in the early 80’s). The workshops are lead by John Barton of the Royal Shakespeare Company and featuring actors such as Peggy Ashcroft, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and David Suchet. An edited transcript of the sessions was released as a book.
DAVID TENNANT’S HAMLET
The Telegraph is reporting that David Tennant’s aborted Hamlet will be coming out on DVD:
The 37-year-old Dr. Who actor and the entire cast of the RSC production are preparing to make a film version of the play in June to record for posterity his portrayal, which was described by some as the greatest Hamlet of his generation. Speaking at a lunch held at the Haymarket Hotel, Oliver Ford Davies, 69, who was nominated for his portrayal of Polonius, tells me: “We are intending to film it over two or three weeks in June. It won’t be a full feature film as there isn’t time but it will certainly be more than just the filming of the stage. It will be fantastic to work together again.”
(HT: Shakesepare Geek)
March 27, 2009
Microsoft has just launched a particularly powerful advertisement (click on the link to see it) against its foe Apple – a very real presentation by a woman who – being limited to a $1000 budget, says “I’m not cool enough to be a Mac person.” Ouch, that line completely deflates the Mac pretentiousness. (Me, I run a combination of Windows, and Linux, and if I could, I want to run all Linux, the operating system I most love.)
It’s important to keep things real. Some of us take pleasure in having computers with a cool logo – and some of us take pleasure in playing a role playing something we aren’t. I’ve recently been watching someone who desperately wants to play the role of the scholar, and he has been duly generating posts on a short book in the Bible – drawing heavily from the Anchor Bible commentary and a few remarks by celebrated Harvard professor written in a Study Bible. There’s nothing at all wrong with that: but it is important to remember that typing an idea doesn’t make one the discoverer of an idea. I value most those who bring something new to the table, some originality, some creative thought. Those are my heroes.
The Apple computer is nothing short of brilliant. However, choosing to use it does not make one brilliant. Shakespeare was a brilliant author – watching one of his plays does not make us brilliant. The Bible is full of many deep truths and profoundly beautiful language – but reading it does not make us wise or eloquent. For me, it is only by fighting, fighting, fighting with the text, with ideas – but fighting honestly – not playing childish one-upsmanship games – that I can truly learn something and prepare myself to bring something new to the table.
So rather than spewing out cliches, I want to read, understand, argue, and come up with deeper insights. So much of what I see on blogs is prejudging – as if one could measure the quality of a book without reading it – and in the end, that sort of posing comes off as so much stoogery.
These Microsoft commercials will powerful because they are honest. I hope we can all be as honest. That’s the first step towards real scholarship.
March 20, 2009
There are numerous productions of Das Kapital coming to a stage near you.
Drawing inspiration from a best-selling Japanese manga adaptation of Das Kapital, Chinese theater producers are planning to bring Marx's masterpiece to the stage.
Yang Shaolin, general manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, told the Wen Hui Bao that, together with Fudan University economics professor Zhang Jun and other experts, he is preparing a dramatization of Das Kapital. They've already decided on a director: He Nian, who directed the stage adaptation of the hit martial-arts spoof My Own Swordsman (武林外传).
He Nian says he will combine elements from animation, Broadway musicals, and Las Vegas stage shows to bring Marx's economic theories to life as a trendy, interesting, and educational play.
Delivering this timely staging is the cutting-edge Berlin-based Rimini Protokoll company, beloved of audiences at last year's Tokyo International Festival (TIF) for its searing exploration of the lives of model-train obsessives in Mnemopark. This time, as TIF morphs into Festival/Tokyo, the troupe is back with its 2007 masterpiece, Karl Marx: Capital, Volume I.
But there is more – look for revivals of this classic 1931 version:
As bizarre as this may sound, a theatrical Das Kapital is not an unprecedented undertaking. Japanese writer, translator, and civil servant Sakamoto Masaru (阪本勝) wrote a mammoth stage adaptation of Marx's masterpiece (戯曲資本論, 1931) that was translated into Chinese by Fei Mingjun and published in 1949 as A Dramatic Capital (戏剧资本论).
(If you are interested in experience Das Kapital in the old fashioned way – and in English translation, I recommend this volume.)
From a New York Times story on controversial Joseph Biederman who violated ethical guidelines:
In a contentious Feb. 26 deposition between Dr. Biederman and lawyers for the states, he was asked what rank he held at Harvard. “Full professor,” he answered.
“What’s after that?” asked a lawyer, Fletch Trammell.
“God,” Dr. Biederman responded.
March 17, 2009
Today is a traditional day to honor the contributions of Ireland – and surely, they are many. I salute the many Irish writers who have deeply influenced my thinking, among them:
- John Banville
- John Bell
- George Berkeley
- Samuel Beckett
- George Boole
- Robert Boyle
- William Congreve
- Oliver Goldsmith
- William Hamilton
- Seamus Heaney (my friend!)
- Chaim Herzog
- James Joyce
- Iris Murdoch
- Edna O’Brien
- George Bernard Shaw
- Laurence Sterne
- Bram Stoker
- Jonathan Swift
- John Millington Synge
- John Toland
- Oscar Wilde
- William Butler Yeats
But I want to speak up for snakes. I disagree with Patrick’s decision to drive them out of Ireland. Snakes are a marvelous creature of God, and not to be treated as something to be discarded or harmed.
Now of course, there is the historical fact that there were no snakes in Ireland – so the story of Patrick is really a story of religious intolerance: perhaps Patrick launched a mission of ethnic cleansing against the Druids of the time, who often used snake symbols.
And if this is the case, then we must admit that in many quarters of America, we are not much further advanced than Patrick. Those who launch invective against free-thinkers are miniature Patricks, spreading a message of intolerance. I am thinking in particular of a set of messages urging individuals to launch a jihad against Unitarians (which in this case is broadly interpreted – really it is a message of intolerance against free thinkers).
The first use of “free thinker” was, according to some accounts used by the Irish philospher George Berkeley to describe the Irish philosopher John Toland, who was, in fact, what we might call a Unitarian – in his dramatic and important works Christianity Not Mysterious and Letter to Serena.
So, on this marvelous anniversary, I side with the snakes, the free thinkers, the great Irish intellectuals, and the Irish people. And may our modern intolerant Patricks be enlightened.
March 15, 2009
Wim Wenders describes how he came to took a photograph of the Francis Ford Coppola family together with Akiro Kurosawa. As a bonus, Wender’s feet themselves appear. Even better, the photo is in black and white.
Michael Pitkowsky points to a discussion of the top ten historians. I decided to write my own list of historians that have influenced my thinking, and came up with the following list of 20 (I couldn’t restrict myself to 10). To avoid having this list become endless, I have only listed dead historians. Here they are, sorted in terms of birth order:
- Herodotus (circa 485-425 BCE)
- The Histories
- Thucydides (circa 460–395 BCE)
- The Peloponnesian War
- Josephus (circa 37-100)
- Jewish War
- Antiquities of the Jews
- Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
- The Prince
- Discourses on Livy
- Florentine Histories
- Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
- Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
- Thomas Macaulay (1800-1859)
- History of England
- Francis Parkman (1823-1893)
- The Oregon Trail
- France and England in North America
- Hubert Bancroft (1832-1918)
- Native Races of the Pacific States
- History of Central America
- History of Mexico
- History of the Northern Mexican States and Texas
- History of Arizona and New Mexico
- History of California
- History of Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming
- History of the North-West Coast
- History of Oregon
- History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana
- History of British Columbia
- History of Alaska
- W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
- Souls of Black Folk
- John Brown
- Black Reconstruction
- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
- History of Western Philosophy
- Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
- History of the English-Speaking Peoples
- The Second World War
- Charles Beard (1874-1948)
- An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution
- Rise of American Civilization
- President Roosevelt and the Coming of War
- Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
- Abraham Lincoln
- George Sansom (1883-1965)
- History of Japan
- Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976)
- Oxford History of the United States
- Growth of the American Republic
- European Discovery of America
- Christopher Columbus
- History of United States Naval Operations in World War II
- W. K. C. Guthrie (1906-1981)
- History of Greek Philosophy
- Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989)
- Guns of August
- Zimmerman Telegram
- Distant Mirror
- March of Folly
- Stillwell and the American Experience in China
- Shelby Foote (1916-2005)
- The Civil War
- Harry Hinsley (1918-1998)
- British Intelligence in the Second World War
- Codebreakers: Inside Story of Bletchley Park
- Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006)
- The Christian Tradition
I can’t resist adding two more living historians:
- Jonathan Spence (1936-)
- The Search for Modern China
- Question of Hu
- God’s Chinese Son
- Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci
- Treason by the Book
- Gate of Heavenly Peace
- Emperor of China
- Death of Woman Wang
- Simon Schama (1945-)
- Embarrassment of Riches
- Landscape and History
- Rembrandt’s Eyes
- History of Britain
- Rough Crossings
March 14, 2009
Kevin Sam has written an important blog post on preparing sermons. He calls to task the lazy religious leader:
Are you one of those people, after hearing a sermon, know that your pastor has not invested any deep thought and hard work into sermon preparation? . . . . As a layperson, I have experience this and asked myself: “Why do I want to come back to this church?” So I can relate to people who have been disappointed with church.
I am simply amazed when pastors brag about speaking extemporaneously, presumably regurgitating whatever they happened to read – perhaps on the Internet – in the last week. It’s a bit hard for me to imagine how such a sermon could be a worthwhile experience – especially compared to the carefully given and practiced sermon. (Which reminds me of the old joke about two people talking – one says: “My rabbi is such a genius that he can give a full hour long sermon on just a single verse.” The other says “Oh, that’s nothing. My rabbi can talk for two hours about absolutely nothing.”)
Kevin asks about what sort of book makes sense for preparing sermons. Here are some books that inspire me – they deal with giving sermons, but their utility for all sorts of presentations is clear. Giving good sermons or other presentations is hard work, but it shows respect for one’s audience:
Of course, I need to begin by citing my hero: Aristotle. If one views a lecture or sermon as a performance, then questions of dramaturgy arise. This is the classic exposition of the aesthetic quality of literature, and attentive readings can help a presenter raise his presentations from tedious recitations to works of art.
The best way to prepare material is to see masterful examples of it prepared. This book is a useful anthology. Some other useful collections are of John Henry Newman, Louis Jacobs, Martin Luther King Jr., and Saperstein’s collections of Jewish sermons (1, 2).
Craddock is a genius of preaching – and it is well worth tracking down CDs or online MP3s of his sermons. In this book, he gives all of his tips. In this book he gives all of his tips. Perhaps an even better book is his Overhearing the Gospel in which he analyzes Kierkegaard's style of exposition as a model of clarity.
March 11, 2009
In his apology letter to bishops over reversing the excommunication of a Holocaust denier, the Pope promises to check on the Internet next time:
I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news
Just in case a pontifical Google search turns up this blog entry: I found your letter to be genuinely moving. However, I am puzzled that in your upcoming May visit to Israel, you will reportedly refuse to enter the main Holocaust museum, over a dispute on a comment on the silence of Pius XII during the Holocaust. I do not find this decision to be in the spirit of reconciliation that you proclaim in your letter.
I recently had a nasty exchange on the blogosphere. My correspondent took umbrage when I cited unflattering statistics about his church; I was offended by his use of demeaning “terms of endearment” that refer African-American women by stereotypes about weight and sexual habits.
It is easy to search all sorts of demographic information by zip code and congressional district. My correspondent is educated, but he lives in a zip code that is clearly limited: 98% white, but only 11% with bachelor’s degrees (for residents over 25). My zip code: 75% white and 77% with bachelor’s degrees (for residents over 25.) His congressional district is among the top 5% whitest congressional districts, mine is among the bottom 10% whitest.
I think that this accounts for the difference in outlook. In a racial monoculture that has less educational opportunity, different sensitivities apply – offensive remarks may seem like witty repartee.
Barack Obama’s celebrated speech on race included mention of “the old truism that the most segregated hour of American life occurs on Sunday morning.” But at least where I live, that remark does not apply – with the exception of a few conservative Evangelical churches that address single ethnic or racial groups, churches and synagogues are fully integrated.
And that’s the way I like it. I do believe that the “black church” and the “white church” and the “Asian church” and so on are aberrations – side effects of an unfortunate past that is rapidly becoming anachronistic. We now know that race does not genetically exist – it is a purely social construct.
My America is like my President: multi-racial. And I hope that the America of the future will be post-racial.
The sold-out RSC 2007 King Lear (which also toured in New York and Los Angeles) received rave notices, particularly for the performance of Ian McKellan as Lear. The work will be broadcast on PBS on March 25th (and on NHK and UK Channel 4 around the same date.) If you want to watch it on your computer in a tiny little window, that will apparently also be an option. The Folger Library also has a web page on this production.
The stage work had a brief nude scene which will reportedly cut from the televised version.
The production has already been released on DVD in the UK (currently only £13) and a US DVD release is likely in the works.
I don’t normally recommend people to watch television, but in this case, I may make an exception.
March 6, 2009
From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Harassment of Dead Sea Scroll Scholars Leads to Arrest of Professor's Son
By STEVE KOLOWICH
The son of a prominent Dead Sea Scrolls scholar was arrested on Thursday on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation, and aggravated harassment relating to a complex online campaign designed to smear opponents of his father's theories.
The Manhattan district attorney's office alleged in a statement released on Thursday that Raphael Haim Golb, 49, son of Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and civilization at the University of Chicago, used dozens of Internet aliases to “influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls” and “harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars who disagree with his viewpoint.”
Raphael Golb’s alleged base of operations was the Bobst Library at New York University, one block away from his home. According to the district attorney's office, Mr. Golb acquired access to the university's computers by virtue of his status as an alumnus and a donor to the university's library fund.
The office contends that Mr. Golb impersonated and harassed Lawrence H. Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University and a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, by creating an e-mail account in Mr. Schiffman’s name and using it to send e-mail messages in which the sender admitted to plagiarism.
Mr. Golb also allegedly supplemented that campaign to discredit Mr. Schiffman by sending letters to university personnel accusing Mr. Schiffman of plagiarism, and by creating blogs that made similar accusations. Two blogs, each with a single entry, accuse Mr. Schiffman of plagiarizing articles written by Norman Golb in the 1980s.
Robert R. Cargill, an instructional technology coordinator at the University of California at Los Angeles's Center for Digital Humanities, has for the last two years been tracking the activity of an academic cyberbully who, writing under as many as 60 different aliases, has been waging a campaign to harass and defame opponents of Norman Golb’s theories about the origin of the 2,000-year-old scrolls.
He said that by tracking the Internet protocol addresses attached to a number of e-mail messages, blog posts, and other Web activities, he was able to conclude with reasonable certainty that the perpetrator was working from a series of computers at the Bobst Library. (An IP address is a unique number, assigned by Internet-service providers, that identifies every connection to the Internet.)
Mr. Cargill, who has carefully refrained from making any direct accusations against Raphael Golb or his father, Norman Golb, declined to say whether he had assisted the district attorney's investigation.
Mr. Cargill began tracking the cyberbully—whom he calls the “Puppet Master”—two years ago after he himself was targeted. At the time, he was a doctoral student at UCLA helping to produce a film about Khirbat Qumran—the site in present-day Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered—and its inhabitants for an exhibit on the scrolls at the San Diego Natural History Museum.
Mr. Cargill said it was then that the aliases began attacking him and his film, both in e-mail messages to his superiors and on various Web forums, for failing to give credence to Norman Golb's long-held theory about the origin of the scrolls and how they came to Khirbat Qumran.
Some scholars, including Mr. Schiffman and Mr. Cargill, believe that the 2,000-year-old documents were assembled by inhabitants of Qumran. Mr. Kolb, however, holds that they originated in Jerusalem and were transported to Qumran later.
Risa Levitt Kohn, a professor of religious studies at San Diego State University who curated the San Diego show and several subsequent Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions, said she too has been “under regular attack” by Internet aliases since then, both in Web forums and in e-mail messages addressed to her superiors.
“Sometimes the criticisms of me are straightforward and overt,” she told The Chronicle via e-mail, “and sometimes the letters appear reasonable but essentially demand that these individuals take note of previous exhibitions’ supposed ‘failings.’ Then they provide helpful suggestions to find solutions, almost always involving Norman Golb in one way or another.”
A number of other Dead Sea Scrolls scholars also said they have been harassed by mysterious Internet personas. Because the messages were written under aliases, they had little choice but to ignore them.
“This person has posted horrible stuff about me online,” said Jodi Magness, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I don't even look anymore, it makes me too upset.”
Eric H. Cline, a professor of classics and Semitics at George Washington University, was another target of an anonymous critic. “People like my grandmother would call me up and say, ‘What's the matter, why are you ignoring that guy?’ ” he said.
During the time that these Internet aliases were attacking Mr. Cargill's film and Ms. Levitt Kohn's exhibition, Norman Golb sent letters—copies of which have been provided to The Chronicle by Mr. Cargill—to both the provost of UCLA and the president of the San Diego Natural History Museum, also criticizing the film and the exhibition.
The district attorney’s office would not comment on whether it is investigating Norman Golb in connection with the allegations it has levied against his son.
Raphael Golb is charged with one felony count of second-degree identity theft, plus four misdemeanor charges. If convicted of the felony count, he could face up to four years in prison. According to news reports, he did not have a lawyer as of Thursday evening and had not yet responded to the charges. An arraignment hearing is scheduled for today in Manhattan.
March 5, 2009
March 1, 2009
The best movie I watched during February 2009 was Johnnie To’s amazing Mad Detective. (My January entry was Man on a Wire.) The movie’s plot is highly original – an insane detective (Bun) gives his boss a retirement present – his ear. After being forced to retire, he is called in again to help with a murder spree using a stolen police gun. “Don’t use logic to investigate – use your feelings!” Bun freely hallucinates to find the true inner character of various persons – in the case where there are conflicting personalities, he sees multiple people.
The movie is visually striking, as the view switches between “Bun’s” schizophrenic views and the "natural” view. The film further benefits from outstanding acting from Ching-Wan Lau, an eerie modernist soundtrack, and amazing Ka-Fai Wai script. It is the most original mystery film I’ve seen since Memento.
The film is rather violent in parts, and is not appropriate for children.
The New Yorker has published an extraordinarily painful biography-article on David Foster Wallace, a post-modern novelist who recently committed suicide.
Despite the pain of the article, I do recommend it – it is fascinating in it grimness, and briefly surveys Wallace’s completed and uncompleted works.