June 28, 2009

Leo Strauss notes online

From Hanoch Was Not:

The University of Chicago is publishing all of Leo Strauss’ surviving lecture notes online at the Leo Strauss Center. A bonus is that they will be including any surviving audio of his talks that they can dig up. You can sample one of his classes on Plato's Meno here. . . .

As Hanoch Was Not notes, the project is just beginning.

June 27, 2009

It’s Time to Learn from Frogs

From Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column:

Some of the first eerie signs of a potential health catastrophe came as bizarre deformities in water animals, often in their sexual organs.

Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians began to sprout extra legs. In heavily polluted Lake Apopka, one of the largest lakes in Florida, male alligators developed stunted genitals.

In the Potomac watershed near Washington, male smallmouth bass have rapidly transformed into “intersex fish” that display female characteristics. This was discovered only in 2003, but the latest survey found that more than 80 percent of the male smallmouth bass in the Potomac are producing eggs.

Now scientists are connecting the dots with evidence of increasing abnormalities among humans, particularly large increases in numbers of genital deformities among newborn boys. For example, up to 7 percent of boys are now born with undescended testicles, although this often self-corrects over time. And up to 1 percent of boys in the United States are now born with hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the penis improperly, such as at the base rather than the tip.

Apprehension is growing among many scientists that the cause of all this may be a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are very widely used in agriculture, industry and consumer products. Some also enter the water supply when estrogens in human urine — compounded when a woman is on the pill — pass through sewage systems and then through water treatment plants.

These endocrine disruptors have complex effects on the human body, particularly during fetal development of males.

“A lot of these compounds act as weak estrogen, so that’s why developing males — whether smallmouth bass or humans — tend to be more sensitive,” said Robert Lawrence, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s scary, very scary.”

The scientific case is still far from proven, as chemical companies emphasize, and the uncertainties for humans are vast. But there is accumulating evidence that male sperm count is dropping and that genital abnormalities in newborn boys are increasing. Some studies show correlations between these abnormalities and mothers who have greater exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy, through everything from hair spray to the water they drink.

Endocrine disruptors also affect females. It is now well established that DES, a synthetic estrogen given to many pregnant women from the 1930s to the 1970s to prevent miscarriages, caused abnormalities in the children. They seemed fine at birth, but girls born to those women have been more likely to develop misshaped sexual organs and cancer.

There is also some evidence from both humans and monkeys that endometriosis, a gynecological disorder, is linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors. Researchers also suspect that the disruptors can cause early puberty in girls.

A rush of new research has also tied endocrine disruptors to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, in both animals and humans. For example, mice exposed in utero even to low doses of endocrine disruptors appear normal at first but develop excess abdominal body fat as adults.

Among some scientists, there is real apprehension at the new findings — nothing is more terrifying than reading The Journal of Pediatric Urology — but there hasn’t been much public notice or government action.

This month, the Endocrine Society, an organization of scientists specializing in this field, issued a landmark 50-page statement. It should be a wake-up call.

“We present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology,” the society declared.

“The rise in the incidence in obesity,” it added, “matches the rise in the use and distribution of industrial chemicals that may be playing a role in generation of obesity.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is moving toward screening endocrine disrupting chemicals, but at a glacial pace. For now, these chemicals continue to be widely used in agricultural pesticides and industrial compounds. Everybody is exposed.

“We should be concerned,” said Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network. “This can influence brain development, sperm counts or susceptibility to cancer, even where the animal at birth seems perfectly normal.”

The most notorious example of water pollution occurred in 1969, when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire and helped shock America into adopting the Clean Water Act. Since then, complacency has taken hold.

Those deformed frogs and intersex fish — not to mention the growing number of deformities in newborn boys — should jolt us once again.

Museum exhibits as a commercial endeavor

I think that this criticism is well-posed (I saw this show in Los Angeles, and found it to be pure hucksterism):

Among people with a professional interest in the arts, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, which opens today at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, will merely deepen the tarnish on the reputation of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Although FAMSF curator Renee Dreyfus has swapped out four objects presented at other venues for four of her own choosing, the show in bulk comes here prepackaged by National Geographic and Arts and Exhibitions International, a subsidiary of corporate impresario AEG Worldwide, which also owns the San Francisco Examiner.

Critics have hammered every art museum that has hosted Tutankhamun. (A parallel exhibition, Tutankhamun, the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs - same size, same sources, same organizers - opens today at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.) But here, as elsewhere - except Dallas, where attendance fell about 40 percent short of projections - a vast audience probably will eat it up, even at $27.50 a head for general admission … the enveloping stagecraft will encourage no one to reflect on the reasons why these things fascinate.

A large dedicated shop connected with the show incites visitors to spend as little time as possible outside the fog of consumer desire. The commercial spirit of the affair shows even in the presence of large-type labels at the top of each case, to inform viewers of what they can only glimpse through a crowd….

Unfortunately, hard times have lent traction to the bottom-line thinking behind Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. With museums across the world - even the Met - trimming staff and programs, and sometimes taking artworks to the auction block to raise cash, the sate-the-gate approach of the Fine Arts Museums' John Buchanan … looks almost prudent….

But what will we not be seeing that we might have in the de Young's special exhibitions galleries during the nine-month span of Tutankhamun? What projects did FAMSF curators have to postpone or scrap altogether for the sake of the costly Tut gamble?…

Note that in New York, a new space has opened in Times Square that is purely commercial for the purpose of putting on these “blockbuster shows” – including Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs:

… Two years after The [New York] Times left its longtime headquarters on West 43rd Street in Manhattan, the basement of that building is being converted into a 60,000-square-foot space for large-scale exhibitions of art and historical artifacts. Called Discovery Times Square Exposition, it will open June 24 with two shows, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition and Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia, featuring the 3.2-million-year-old fossil remains of the female hominid known as Lucy. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, an expanded version of the show that has been touring North America since 2005, is to open next spring….

The enterprise is a partnership between Running Subway — a New York production company whose projects have included the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC — and the Discovery Channel…. Running Subway has taken out a 20-year lease and spent “tens of millions of dollars” on construction since spring 2008, Mr. Sanna said…. Shows will be installed in two basement rooms, each with 30-foot ceilings, and a cafe and gift shop will also be underground.

Shows like Titanic and Tutankhamun, which have been blockbuster hits, are often organized by for-profit companies instead of museums, and in some cases they have bypassed New York because no appropriate spot could be found, organizers say.

“We’ve always wanted to bring Titanic to New York, but there wasn’t really a suitable venue until this time,” said Chris Davino, chief executive of Premier Exhibitions, whose other shows include Bodies: The Exhibition. Presented in museums, science centers and casinos elsewhere around the world, in New York Bodies has been mounted in converted retail space at South Street Seaport.

The new Times Square space will also allow exhibitors to avoid the restrictions of museums. The King Tut exhibition was turned down by many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, because its organizers wanted to charge additional admission fees. Each show at the Discovery Times Square Exposition will cost $19.50 for adults and $17.50 for children….

This brings to mind a snarky quote I read long ago from Gore Vidal to the effect that, in America, education was now a branch of the entertainment industry.

Why I don’t like most study Bibles

I became interested in contemporary study Bibles because of my interest in pedagogy.  I wondered if a study Bible could be used as a self-study tool or as a resource used by a teacher.

Here, I make a distinction between a merely annotated Bible (e.g, the celebrated [RSV] New Oxford Annotated Bible – which explains difficult passages and includes summary of the pericopes, but makes for a reading text – not a teaching or study text) and a true “study Bible” intended to serve as a full teaching presentation of the Bible with commentary as well as annotations.

My conclusion is that all contemporary study Bibles I have seen are poor for teaching without substantial – often very substantial – additional materials.  They may or may not be useful as reference works, but by and large they are poor for pedagogy.

Most contemporary study Bibles suffer from the following pedagogic problems: 

(a) They attempt diversity in their selection of annotators and essayists, but if the Bible is read chapter-by-chapter, the reader has no chance to directly compare views on a single book (or even a single topic).  In this way, they are far weaker than a typical Norton Critical Edition volume which will typically include an anthology of essays which directly debate each other, providing a plurality of views that enriches the student.   In contrast, contemporary study Bibles are both wildly uneven (because of the different commentators) and also present opinions, often contentious opinions, as fact.

(b)  The physical dimensions of a study Bible necessarily limit the depth of commentary.  This is not necessarily a disadvantage for a lightly annotated Bible, but it makes for a reading text – not a teaching or study text.  (To be fair, the classic editions of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, as the title clearly indicates, claimed to be “annotated” and not “study” texts.)  In this way, I regard the Oxford Jewish Study Bible as slightly stronger than its Oxford cousins The Catholic Study Bible (2nd ed.) or the contemporary (ecumenical) New Oxford Annotated Bible (3rd Augmented ed.) – since it the JSB covers only the Hebrew Bible, it covers about 3/5ths of the material in roughly the same total dimensions (and, most promisingly, has room for much more essay material). But the JSB still suffers from the many of shortfalls of its cousins.

(c)  Evangelical study Bibles, in particular, are largely produced by a single company, the Livingstone Corporation, which has most recent apologetic study Bibles (including almost all of the recent study Bibles published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Broadman and Holman, and Thomas Nelson).  This has imposed a level of uniform mediocrity of these volumes (although they are often magnificent specimens of modern computer typesetting).

(d)  With a few significant exceptions (scholarly commentaries, most Orthodox Jewish study volumes, and the NET New Testament diglot), most study volumes include no or only superficial engagement with original language materials. 

(e)  Similarly, with a few significant exceptions, most text critical issues are avoided.  In this way, most study Bibles are significantly inferior to a typical single-volume annotated teaching text for Shakespeare.

(f)  Even “academic” study Bibles often include substantial apologetic material.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible is, perhaps, among major “academic” study Bibles the worst offender, but it creeps into all of them.  While this is is not necessarily a bad thing, it should be noted and the student should be given a perspective of different views.

What I wish is that we could see a study Bible – in multiple volumes if necessary – where different commentators could directly engage with and debate each other, in the fashion of the Rabbinic Bible.  Such works are common in English literature (e.g., the Cambridge Companions, the Norton Critical Editions, Bloom’s Modern [or Classic] Critical Views, among many, many others).  Some of these are only mediocre, but the best of these are outstanding.

Moreover, anthologies of different opinions they can easily be found for classic interpretation of Scripture (e.g., the Rabbinic Bible, the Catena Aurea).  I fail to see why it is so difficult to produce a study Bible with contemporary opinion focused on pedagogical principles.

I have seen a (mostly successful) attempt to do this with a study edition of the Jewish prayer book; where ten different commentaries (from a full spectrum of opinions) are included with full engagement of the Hebrew.  A completely different style which also succeeds is the Norton Critical Edition Writings of Saint Paul (first edition, second edition) which includes a wide array of extra-Pauline materials as well as ancient, 19th century, and modern criticism.

For the time being, I am unable to recommend a self-study volume for serious engagement with the Bible.  This strikes me as odd given that many excellent examples exist for secular literature.

June 26, 2009

Japanese Gregorian Chant

Psalm 141 in Japanese chanted in Gregorian style, by the monks of Trinity Benedictine Monastery, Fujimi.

Thursday’s tragic death of a great musician

On Thursday, one of the great musicians of our time died.  No, I am not thinking of Michael Jackson. 

I am thinking of the amazing Ali Akbar Khan, who I was fortunate enough to see many, many times, who was named as a “national treasure” by the Indian government.  He was a great classical North Indian composer and performer.  He was the leading virtuoso of the lutelike sarod, and he often performed together with his brother Ravi Shankar.


Here is a brief obituary.

Here are links to some albums: 

Pre-Dawn to Sunrise Ragas (1967)

Morning and Evening Ragas (1955)

The Emperor of Sarod, vol 1 (1970)

This is a man who touched my soul and intellect through his music.  I am sorry he is gone, but happy that we have such a rich legacy of memories and recordings.

Correction:  Khan died Thursday – last week (June 18)

June 24, 2009

The emotional weight of quantum mechanics

From SF Chronicle:

(06-24) 10:56 PDT REDWOOD CITY -- A homeless man is on trial in San Mateo County on charges that he smacked a fellow transient in the face with a skateboard as the victim was engaged in a conversation about quantum physics, authorities said today.

Jason Everett Keller, 40, allegedly accosted another homeless man, Stephan Fava, on the 200 block of Grand Avenue in South San Francisco at about 1:45 p.m. March 30.

At the time, Fava was chatting with an acquaintance, who is also homeless, about “quantum physics and the splitting of atoms,” according to prosecutors.

Keller joined in the conversation and, for reasons unknown, got upset, authorities said. He picked up his skateboard and hit Fava in the face with it, splitting his lip, prosecutors said.

Fava also fell and broke his ankle, although how this happened wasn't exactly known, authorities said.

The attack was witnessed by two other people who told police that Fava had done nothing to provoke Keller, authorities said.

Keller is expected to take the stand at his jury trial in the Redwood City courtroom of Superior Court Judge James Ellis.

June 23, 2009

Five books meme

I want to acknowledge some excellent responses to the five book memes taggings that I made:







These posts are worth reading.

Nixon on abortion

From New York Times:

WASHINGTON — On Jan. 23, 1973, when the Supreme Court struck down laws criminalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade, President Richard M. Nixon made no public statement. But privately, newly released tapes reveal, he expressed ambivalence.

Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness,” and said that “it breaks the family.” But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases — like interracial pregnancies, he said.

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding, “Or a rape.”

Social networking + blogpost-by-email = evil

This is funny.  The spamming MyLife social networking system is asking Kevin Hoffberg’s former blog if it knows Kevin Hoffberg.

More embarrassing examples (and an explanation) given here.

My favorite:

“I’m sure excited about this! Imagine — I’m Hervey’s friend now! Boy, things are gonna start popping for me now, you betcha!”

I am going to have my genomes sequenced

The price has been plunging for genome sequencing; Knome offers genome sequencing (at various levels of completeness) at prices starting at $25,000; 23andMe offers it for a mere $400. 

I’ve decided to have my genomes sequenced by 23andMe.  There are quite a few genetic personal mysteries I hope to resolve in the process.  Merely comparing my ancestry with different regions alone will be worth it to me; the genetic screening for over a hundred different traits will be bonus.

Steven Pinker discusses his experience here.

A tale of pain in URLs

Notes from the Academic Meltdown, Part 1

Notes from the Academic Meltdown, Part II

Look for the reference to "biding my time"

June 22, 2009

June 17, 2009

Books that influenced my reading of the Bible

There is one of those memes going around in which people volunteer a list of books that influenced their readings of the Bible.  The rules say that works are not limited to Biblical studies literature, but can include religious works or works of literature.  The list is nominally set at 5 books, but that is obviously an arbitrary number, and I have more than 5 books to list here.

Now, no one has actually nominated me for this meme, but I am going to nominate myself.

Ramban (Nachmanides) - Commentary on the Torahby far my favorite medieval commentary – one that directly engages the commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra and treats mysticism as a first class return.  My preferred edition is here.  A fantastic older translation is this one.  A translation with more support and matching Hebrew is here.  See also Michael Carasik’s beautiful presentation; Exodus and Leviticus are now (or soon will be) available.

John MiltonParadise Lost – a poem that creates an entire world, and that comments intelligently on esoterica drawn from Jewish and Christian tradition.  My favorite edition is here (which I greatly prefer to the Riverside Milton.)  A very clean presentation is here.  There are a vast number of commentaries on Milton – I like the older (Elledge) Norton edition (the newer Norton Teskey edition is inferior but still useful) and Fish’s first book on Milton (presenting a powerful reader-reception approach) shows his young genius; his later works have less attraction to me.

DanteDivina Commedia – another poem that comments on everything in the world, in the process, revealing a great deal of the author’s approach to Scripture.  There are many fabulous translations to choose among; Hollander’s (Inf, Pur, Par) is a nice bilingual diglot presentation; one of my friends did a nice translation of Inferno (in a bilingual diglot presentation); Ciardi’s is highly poetic and easy to read (but does not include the Italian text); Laurence Binyon’s translation is probably the most faithful (but hard to read); Singleton has the most detailed commentary in English as well as the Italian and literal translation; and the California Lecturis Dantis (Inf, Pur) series is my favorite extended discussion in English.

AugustineConfessiones – a profound meditation on the personal response to Scripture.  I recommend O’Donnell’s Latin edition for its excellent commentary (Amazon has it listed currently out of print, but you can find this for about $100 if you look around).  If you want an English translation, Chadwick’s is standard (try to get it in the original handsome but unpretentious hardcover).  There are many other translations to choose among; I thought Gary Wills four volume translation was well done (1, 2, 3, 4) (this has been republished in a one volume edition but missing some of Wills extra material).

Rambam (Maimonides)Moreh Nevuchim (Guide of the Perplexed);
Averroes (Ibn Rushd)Tahāfut al-Tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence); and
Thomas (Aquinas)Summa Theologiæ – a great trio of deep works, discussing the links (and, the absence of links) between religion and theology, with many illuminating discussions and excurses on Scripture.  The first two works also inspired me to study Arabic.  The standard edition of Moreh Nevuchim is available online (vol. 1, 2, 3); my favorite English translation is by Shlomo Pines (with an intriguing long introduction by Leo Strauss) (vol. 1, 2).  Standard editions of Tahāfut al-Tahāfut are here and here; the leading translation of Tahāfut al-Tahāfut is Simon van den Bergh, available online here (be sure to refer to the translation notes here).  There is a nice bilingual edition of the book Tahāfut al-Tahāfut refutes, al-Ghazali’s Incoherence of the Philosophers.  For Thomas there are many editions available; my own preference is the bilingual diglot Blackfriar’s edition because of its extensive notes and commentary.

Thomas (Aquinas) – Catena Aurea – Thomas’s standard collection of early Church fathers on the meaning of the Gospels – a rich and often allegorical set of meditations.  I have only read this in Newman’s English translation.  See also Toal’s Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers for a more recent and somewhat similar approach.  Kevin Edgecomb brought these books to my attention.

Schneur ZalmanTorah Ohr and Likkutei Torah – A collection of the great 18th century Chassidic teacher’s kabalistic explanations of Torah parshos (as well as the Song of Songs and Esther) as collected by his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek.  Hebrew editions of Torah Ohr and Likkutei Torah (vol. 1, 2) are readily available.  I am unaware of English translations.

Shimon bar Yochai and his school – The Zohar – a vast collection of mystical exegesis on Torah written at the start of the Common Era.  Some scholars claim this is a 13th century work by Moses de Leon.  This is easily available in Aramaic from any Judaica shop.  My friend Danny Matt has been establishing a critical text and his translation (in progress) is fascinating (although, in many ways, the Zohar is not translatable.)  The Tishby anthology (which I have only read in English translation) is a standard introduction with many passages translated.

Louis Ginzburg – Legends of the JewsI am a bit embarrassed by this book now, but as a child, this was one of the first books I read on the aggadic Torah.  While I now think there are better introductions, it is still valuable for non-religious Jews and gentiles.

Alter & Kermode – The Literary Guide to the Bible – by far the best college level introduction to the Bible I have seen – taking a literary approach to understanding Scripture.

Gerald Hammond – Making of the Hebrew Bible – a wonderful, careful examination of 16th and 17th English translations of the Bible – reminding us of all the important points that are missed in modern translations.

James Kugel – Traditions of the Bible:  A Guide to the Bible as it was at the Start of the Common Era – a wonderful modern presentation of different interpretative traditions of the Bible – both Jewish and Christian.  I think this work is much stronger than Kugel’s more general work (which I do not care for) on how to read the Bible.

OK, now the fun part – picking individuals who can continue this meme.  I nominate Tzvee, Kevin, Judy, David, Rachel, and Craig.

June 14, 2009

Michael Drout proves “redrawn” version of “But Not the Hippopotamus” is fraudulent

Faithful readers will recall that I previously reported that Boynton expert Michael Drout, English Chair at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, proved that Hippos Go Berserk was a fraudulent work.

Prof. Drout has been at work again with his expert eye and criticism.  This time, he has proved that the “redrawn” edition of But Not the Hippopotamus is fraudulent.


From the master himself:

I recently purchased a copy of But Not the Hippopotamus at the Blue Bunny bookstore in Dedham, Mass. In this copy I found the following opening lines:

A Hog and Frog
cavort in a bog.
But not the Hippopotamus.

Something did not seem right, so I consulted my personal copy of But Not the Hippopotamus. Sure enough, the opening lines are:

A Hog and a Frog
do a dance in a bog.
But not the Hippopotamus.

This variation, “cavort” for “do a dance” is an editorial hyper-correction, probably based on an attempt to force Boynton the Great's artistically flawless meter into a straightjacket of perfect regularity.

Note that in the original version, “do a dance” is a straightforward anapest. I scan the lines as:

a HOG and a FROG (iamb plus anapest)
do a DANCE in a BOG (two anapests)

Pseudo-Boynton forces both lines to be iambs followed by anapests, but examination of the rest of the poem shows that Boynton only once uses the 2 / 3 pattern in the line:

a HARE and a BEAR (iamb anapest)
have BEEN to a FAIR (iamb anapest)

In the other two stanzas we see:

are TRYing on HATS


toGETHer have JUICE

These two parallels, “are TRYing” and “toGETHer” are amphibrachs, also three-syllable feet. So there is no need to assume that the iamb in the fourth stanza needs to be followed slavishly by forcing a two-syllable foot (“cavort”) into the first stanza.

From this analysis of the forgery, we can conclude that Pseudo-Boynton is a highly trained scholar, but one for whom Boynton’s brilliant verse is not a native idiom. We can also note that as well as lacking Boynton the Great’s attention to detail (in that Pseudo-Boynton forgets to deal with the six distressed hippos who have never left in his/her version of Hippos Go Berserk), Pseudo-Boynton has a predilection for hippos. Scholars should thus re-examine the Boynton corpus to determine which other texts may have been interfered with by Pseudo-Boynton, looking for editorial hypercorrection, subtle contradictions, and hippos.

And the “Cavort” Recension of But Not the Hippopotamus must be athetized from the corpus.

Be sure to bring this vital issue to the attention of your school and public children’s libraries and librarians.

Recreating those quaint days of the last decade

The New York Times reports on a shocking anachronism – a CD store:

Boston Early Music Festival: As in Days of Yore, CDs in a Store


BOSTON — At an early-music festival, you expect to see antique instruments: pegless cellos, gambas with ornate scrolls, wooden recorders and tranverse flutes of every size, and perhaps an occasional shawm, rebec or vielle. And you expect to see re-creations of ensembles that composers no longer write for (although a few composers seem to be gravitating toward the gamba now).

But the Boston Early Music Festival has taken museumlike recreation a step further. Just outside one of the exhibition spaces at the Radisson Hotel, it has recreated a physical CD shop, called, in fact, the BEMF CD Store. You may remember those: they could be found almost everywhere as recently as two or three years ago but are quickly going extinct.

Like the historically informed ensembles that thrive on the festival’s stages, the BEMF CD Store actually works: you can browse the bins, arranged handily by composer or (for discs with mixed composers) soloist or ensemble, just as you could in CD shops of yore, and you can take some home with you in exchange for cash or plastic: another lifelike touch. The cash-register player said the shop was doing a brisk business; quite often, the instrument’s blue lights flashed totals in the hundreds of dollars.

Gender and gadgets

There is, I fear, quite a bit of resonance with stereotypes in this typically witty Maureen Dowd piece.  I wonder if it is true.  (By the way, Defining Vision is a wonderful book.):

Pixilated Over Pixels



Women are faking it in bedrooms all over America.

“When my husband says, ‘Can you believe how much better this is?’ I say, ‘Yes, honey, it’s amazing,’ ” one woman told me. “I really don’t see that much difference, but he’s so happy, I just pretend to.”

As an explosion of pixels hits our TV screens this weekend, with the digital and high-def revolution, my unscientific survey shows women are less excited about high-def than men.

I prefer life and TV to be a little gauzy. I don’t want to see every blemish in a harsh light.

Joel Brinkley, the author of Defining Vision, says HDTV technology was developed totally by men. Alfred Poor, author of the HDTV Almanac, says men drove its success, too. “Men are all about the bigger, better, more,” he said. “And sports are infinitely better in high definition.”

The advent of sleek flat screens began to shrink the gender gap. “Women went, ‘Ah, now it’s not just high-def, it’s a stylish piece of furniture,”’ said Phillip Swann, founder of the Web site TVPredictions.com, which features lists of HDTV “horribles” (Cameron) and “honeys” (Angelina).

Everywhere I look, products are being pitched for a world in keener focus.

At my eye exam last week, Dr. Jay Klessman used “Wavefront” technology, which he said could “make sort of like high-def glasses, with sharper, crisper vision.” (It was originally used to fix blurry images from the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993 and has also led to more precise Lasik.)

At the Georgetown Sephora, a big sign in the window hawks high-def makeup to use with the Sephora High Definition Air Brush. The point, said a Sephora “product expert,” Jei Spatola, is to look “like you literally have nothing on.”

In a high-def culture, we have to wear more makeup to look like we have on no makeup.

Armani offers “Lasting Silk” foundation, “a new high-definition cosmetic textile.”

“Obviously, if you are on HDTV, that’s great,” said Mara Stimac of Armani. “But we’re of the mind that there’s no more true HD than real life.”

Yet concealing can not keep up with revealing.

“The red carpet looks different,” said Jeffrey Cole, the director of the Annenberg School’s Center for the Digital Future at U.S.C. “Actresses in particular have come to hate HDTV.”

Don Malot, a top L.A. makeup artist who works with television and movie stars, says that high-def is turning Tinseltown topsy-turvy.

“People who thought they looked younger on camera than in real life see themselves in high-def and say, ‘Oh my God!’ ” he said. “We can’t use the heavy makeup that used to cover flaws like a drinker’s broken capillaries any more.”

He said that television actresses in their 40s and over are starting to insist that their contracts say they have to be shot slightly out of focus.

“It’s getting rarer to see tight shots of a woman’s face,” he said. “Now the camera guys shoot from the waist up.”

He said that “sadly” women are going to their doctors for more cosmetic fixes and gallons of Botox, but that high-def acts almost like an X-ray to show the slightly bluish tinge of some fillers or the lumpy bumps and ripples from fillers and surgery.

MSNBC’s luminous Norah O’Donnell went to New York to do a promo in high-def, in advance of unveiling new sets designed, colored and angled with HD in mind.

“I was wearing a nice dress,” she recalled, “and standing there saying, ‘MSNBC is the place for politics’ when the production had to be stopped because there was a spot on my dress that was invisible to the naked eye or the wardrobe guy with the lint brush or the director who didn’t have an HDTV set.

“The promotion folks saw it looking through the HD camera at the HD screen,” she said. “It’s impossible to achieve that level of perfection. But people like authenticity. And if it means they see more of my wrinkles and freckles, and where I tried to wipe clean where my kid spit up on my shoulder, so be it.”

David Shuster, another MSNBC anchor, says the growing prevalence of high definition is disorienting for men, too. When he started shooting his HD promo, he was asked to take his pants off so they could steam the creases. And they dulled his shiny shoes, which were picking up green tones from the green screen. Now he’s dreading high-def five o’clock shadow.

As the CBS White House reporter Bill Plante said, “You go in knowing every mole and random facial hair will be visible to somebody watching closely.”

I didn’t get the high-def glasses. I don’t want more acuity. I’m keeping it fuzzy.

June 12, 2009

Criticism made easy

If you look at a contemporary New Testament translation, you’ll see numerous footnotes on textual variants.  These range from 500-1000 (with the NKJV and New Jerusalem Bible having the most such textual notes.)  Unfortunately, these footnotes are nearly useless, since there is no explanation of the relative merits of the different versions.

And thus readers are the victims of textual criticism.  In other literary contexts, text criticism (the often quixotic search for the “perfect original text”) has gotten a bad name; with parties now preferring diplomatic texts to critical texts.  In Shakespearean studies, for example, the great synthesized plays, incorporating features from both the quartos and the folio, are on the way out – the Arden Shakespeare has now expelled the Jenkins critical Hamlet in favor of three versions: folio and the 1603 and 1623 quartos; the Oxford Shakespeare has two King Lears; while the Norton Shakespeare has three.  Similarly, who can forget the “scandal” of the Gabler Ulysses as it was played out in the pages of the NYRB (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).  Today, we can buy the Gabler critical edition, the 1934/1961 edition, the 1922 edition, and a first edition facsimile (my favorite).  (With Bloomsday right around the corner, now is the time to complete your collection.)

But for New Testament studies, there is a certain snobbery from some advocates of the latest critical editions (currently the 27th edition of Nestle-Aland [NA27] and the 4th edition of the United Bible Societies).  There are many reasons one may wish not to use these:  (a) many of the decisions behind these editions seem arbitrary; (b) the German Bible Society has expressed its intention to enforce its copyright on these editions and disallow their use in web sites (I suspect these copyrights are not enforceable, but someone who challenges the German Bible Society must be prepared to fight it out in court); (c) one may interested in variants that reflect versions known to the ancient Christian authorities, e.g., to match up quotes with the Patristic literature; (d) one may just want to understand what those 500-1000 footnotes mean.

The problem is that until recently, there was no work in English that explained the critical choices; one could refer to the apparatus of UBS4 or NA27, but these were in Greek; and Metzger’s guide also presumed prior knowledge of the Greek variants.

141431034X Well, fortunately, there is a solution for that now – Philip Comfort has written an amazing resource, the New Testament Text and Translation Commentary.  This is, without a doubt, the best book I’ve ever seen published by Tyndale House Publishers.  The bulk of Comfort’s 944 page tome is a verse-by-verse listing of every contested passage in the New Testament – some three thousand entries.  For each entry

  • Comfort gives all variants (in both Greek and English).
  • He lists the manuscript evidence for each reading.
  • He lists which readings are found in which manuscripts, the Textus Receptus (basis of the KJV and NKJV); Westcott and Hort (the earliest and arguably the best of the critical editions); or Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies (currently the favorite of most translators, but a flawed critical edition).
  • He lists which readings are found in major translations (ESV, HCSB, KJV, NAB, NASB, NEB, NET, NIV, NJB, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, REB, RSV, and TNIV).
  • He also lists which readings show up as alternatives in the notes of translations.
  • In places, he also comments on the readings in the GNT-TEV, RV, Goodspeed, Moffat, Phillips, and Williams translations.
  • He then gives at least a paragraph long explanation (sometimes much longer) discussing the relative merits of the different readings.

He also has an extensive introduction (which is an introduction to text criticism), a glossary, a number of useful appendices, and a bibliography.

This is such a useful work that I hope it is widely used and consulted.  With this work, even a non-Greek reader can meaningfully understand the different textual variants, can decipher footnotes in Bible translations, and can receive an excellent overview of the textual issues with the Greek Testament.  Perhaps its only drawback is that the book is quite large – the size of a large history book.

If you own Comfort’s book, you can be your own critic.  Or, alternatively, you can justify the readings of your favorite diplomatic text.  I recommend it.

People who hate pseudonyms

Case 1:  Here, here, here, here

Case 2:  Here, here, here

Well, I like being pseudonymous.  If I used my pseudonymity (ala April’s Mom) to exploit others, then I would be in the wrong.  But I ask all those who figure out my identity to keep it to themselves.

Judge me

In Psalm 26:1, David asks God to judge שפטני him.

In Psalm 143:2, David asks God not to enter into judgment במשפט with him.

The tension between these two requests has been the source of interesting exegesis, (e.g., see Rashi and Midrash Tehillim; see also Augustine on Psalms).   Those who argue for translations which use different root words in Latin (judicare, vindicare) have missed the tension entirely.

June 11, 2009

Isaiah Berlin’s voice

IsaiahBerlin While I would rather read Isaiah Berlin than listen to him, I must take note of the following MP3 lectures now hosted at Oxford:

Freedom and its Betrayal: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1952)

Berlin lectures on Rousseau’s The Social Contract and discusses Rousseau’s anti-intellectualism, idealism of Nature, the worryingly authoritarian implications of his philosophy. Originally broadcast by the BBC's Third Program in 1952

Alexander Herzen: His Opinions and Character (1955)

Lecture on Alexander Herzen, philosopher and founder of Russia’s first free press. He discusses Herzen’s passionate belief in individual liberty and his distaste for the new violent radicalism in Russia in his time.

A Fire at Sea (1957)

Isaiah Berlin introduces and reads his translation of Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev’s short story; 'A Fire at Sea' in which Turgenev recounts an embarrassing episode from his youth. Originally broadcast by the BBC’s Third Program in 1957.

From Communism to Zionism: Moses Hess (1957)

1957 Lucien Wolf Memorial Lecture.  Lecture on the Jewish philosopher Moses Hess, one of the founders of Zionism and a committed Socialist. Berlin also discusses Hess’s evolution as a philosopher, from International Socialism to Zionism.

Alan Ryan’s very personal impression of Isaiah Berlin

This talk by Alan Ryan was given at Wolfson College on May 28 2009 as part of the Lives and Works series of lectures.

Some other interesting links:

Quotations Berlin made of others

A good starting anthology of Berlin

Crooked Timber of Humanity by Berlin

Russian Thinkers by Berlin

Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award winning trilogy based on Berlin’s book

Wright says “Jews” keeping him from Obama

From AP:

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) -- President Barack Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is blaming "them Jews" for keeping him from speaking to the president.  Wright, the former pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, said he hasn't spoken to Obama since he became president.

"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office," Wright told the Daily Press of Newport News following a Tuesday night sermon at the 95th annual Hampton University Ministers' Conference.  "They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is. ... I said from the beginning: He's a politician; I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do."

Obama was a longtime member of the church but resigned from it and cut ties with Wright after videos surfaced during the presidential campaign showing Wright's sometimes provocative sermons. Wright's incendiary comment included shouting "God damn America" and accusing the government of creating AIDS.

Update:  If you want to hear the recording of Wright’s comments, click here (it is less than two minutes long.)

Esteban’s new home

You certainly should not miss Esteban’s new home.  Esteban has a keyboard now, and has promised to post from to time.

Esteban is running a contest:

1. First, that you announce my change of address and this giveway on your own blog, and provide a link to your announcement in the comments to this post.

2. Second, that in your comment you provide your most creative theory regarding the identity of the Qumran community (if there was one, according to your theoretical construct). Obvious things like the Essenes and the Golbian Hasmonean fortress are out of the question.

My theory:  The Qumran-ites were jokers with a vision -- who realized that with a bit of preparation, they could really throw Bible studies into a tizzy some two millennia hence.

June 10, 2009

Translating poetry

After a long series of polemical and political posts, our friend John Hobbins has begun examining Biblical poetry again.

John’s argument in brief is that poetry is best read in the original (not so easy to do when the original, Classical Hebrew, is a dead language).  Drawing apparently on a commentary (I notice a striking similarity with several recent multi-volume commentaries on the psalms, but John did not share his reference sources.  The good news is that several major commentaries share similar features – and I am able to especially recommend the Jerusalem Commentary on the Psalms, which covers all the points that John presents and more.)

John points to additional meanings of words, speculation (with varying degrees of support) about nuances associated with words, and about literary references.  It’s all a bit dazzling, but I hardly think John has succeeded in his goal of “thoroughly discredit[ing] KJV.”  John himself ends up showing how close the KJV is to many of the meanings he indicates; and he further asserts that other translations (he explicitly mentions the ESV, NLT, and the TNIV – all popular translations amongst Evangelicals) have equally serious problems (here, perhaps, I would disagree – those translations have worse problems).  John intriguingly asserts that “It remains possible to produce better Bible translations than those that currently exist,” but he has yet to put forth a candidate.

John’s article reminds of about John Skelton, a contemporary of Tyndale, a character, according to N. Dale, who was happy, in his translation of Poggio’s Bibliotecha Historica, to expand eight words in his original into a paragraph of nearly two hundred words.

I would say that concision is a key element of translation:  to reflect the original precisely, literally, but with stylistic features (including length) that match the original.

It is against this approach towards understanding poetry that I read with interest Jane Reichhold’s recent new translation:  Basho:  The Complete Haiku.  This edition is handsome – it is typeset beautifully, and illustrated with elegant line drawings by Shiro Tsujimura.  Tsujimura is a major artist; his work appears in a local Asian Art Museum as well as at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  The book is beautifully laid out, with plenty of white space and sexy black end papers. 

As befits the material, the presentation is unrushed, with plenty of white space.  For the first time, all 1012 of Basho’s contributions are translated, together with a brief description if it is given by Basho in his original work.  In the second major section, Notes (still beautifully laid out) give the poems in Japanese, romanized Japanese, and using a word-for-word precise translation of each Japanese word, along with the date of composition, and notes explaining the poems. 

What a beautiful layout.  The aesthetic experience of reading the poems in translation is presented to the audience directly – the reader understands and appreciates the poems.  As he wishes to delve deeper, he turns to a later section to read the Japanese, and if is confused by a word, a word-for-word translation is apparent.  Then, any necessary factual information is given.  What is missing here is that insidious style of Bible teachers everywhere:  “I am going to explain this poem to you and then you will understand it.”  Different people may pick up on different aspects with poems as sublime as these (or of the psalter.)  If you are explaining poetry, it is no longer poetry.  The primary reaction here is that the poem speaks to something to in our intellect, or in our soul.  Such a touching feeling disappears when the pedant shows up eager to explain each word by itself. 

What would you rather do – go to a fun movie or listen to a lecture where someone points out all the points you may have missed in a fun movie?

Should you wish to learn more, the volume also contains nice stylistic and historical essays on Basho; the classic list of 33 different techniques that can be used by Haiku; a life chronology of Basho; a glossary with more 300 technical terms defined, an English bibliography, and an index of first lines.

This book, while not expensive, is a book of art (much like a beautifully typeset edition of the Hebrew Bible is, much as a few very elegantly typeset editions of the KJV are.)

The advantage is that one can enjoy the poems as poems (without footnotes or commentary) or change the page and dig deeper.  This is really the best of both worlds.

I cannot imagine a reader of this blog who would not be delighted by this book of Basho’s poetry.  I give it a strong recommendation.

June 2, 2009

Cheap Matthew’s Bible facsimile coming

Hendrickson is continuing its program of publishing excellent editions of facsimile Bibles:  in addition to its outstanding Geneva 1560 Bible facsimile (an excellent value) and its 1526 Tyndale New Testament facsimile, it is publishing a facsimile 1537 facsimile Matthew’s Bible.

The new Matthew’s Bible is available in both leather and hardcover; although I have not seen the editions yet, I usually recommend the hardcover (if only because limp leather bindings were not used in the 16th century).  In my experience, the paper without gilding is of slightly higher quality in Hendrickson publications.

One person even had his Hendrickson rebound to give it a more antiquarian look.  But I don’t think there was anything wrong with the original Hendrickson binding.

The Matthew’s Bible was printed in Gothic script (sample text), so it takes a few minutes to orient oneself to read it, but it should be a wonderful resource.  In many ways, facsimile editions are better than original editions – you can never find an original edition in the find condition of a good facsimile.

Here are some of my other favorite facsimiles:

Facsimile Leningrad Codex

Facsimile Shakespeare First Folio

Facsimile Luther Bible (out of print, but a fantastic value when it was in print given the quality of illustrations)

Taschen publishes a wide variety of relatively inexpensive illustrated facsimile editions (e.g., check out this forthcoming version of Matisse’s Jazz or the high quality reproduction of Theuerdank.)