Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Salvador Dali

both his work and life could mean anything and everything, and that there is always a more astonishing story around the corner. --Robert Colvile, The Telegraph, February 17, 2009, review of Dali and I: Exposing the Dark Circus of the International Art Market, by Stan Lauryssens (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Homage to Catalonia, by Robert Hughes, Guardian, March 13, 2004


Here is a handy-dandy way to determine whether the failure to order some exam or treatment constitutes rationing: If the patient were the president, would he get it? If he'd get it and you wouldn't, it's rationing. --Michael Kinsley (via KausFiles)


Lukewarm about the parish school

In the March 2009 school newsletter, principal Judi Kelley said "Despite the many rumors out there, St. Luke School is open next year". The school committee said, in bold print, "St. Luke School has committed that our school will be open for the 2009-10 school year". In a March 25, 2009 letter, the pastor, Father Kenneth Augustine, announced the school would be closing.
When asked about the parents' concern that there was a lack of communication, Lodes [David Lodes, superintendent of the archdiocesan schools office] said Fr. Augustine held all the required meetings.

Therese Nitka, president of the St. Luke home and school committee, raised the issue of lack of communication in a letter to the parish's Faith in Our Future campaign leaders. That Archdiocesan capital campaign's mission is "To strengthen Catholic education and faith formation for the future of the Church." The article doesn't quote anyone from the parish or archdiocese on what to make of this school closing in the midst of that campaign.

The newsletter message from the school committee had said that school endowment funds were supplementing the parish subsidy for the school. The school endowment will presumably now be applied to other purposes, a sore point to a commenter to this earlier post.

[Enrollment down, costs up; St. Luke School closes,
by Tracy Rusch, Milwaukee Catholic Herald, June 25, 2009]


Monday, June 29, 2009

Bertrand Russell

[In Principia Mathematica] Russell and Whitehead suggested no new numbers or arithmetical rules, but they did try to show how the simplest numbers—integers—could be built using the principles of logic. But the methods they proposed for even the simplest sums were desperately cumbersome. And for the proof that 1+1=2, readers had to wait until volume II, page 83. --The Economist, When 1, 2, 3... is not enough: Arguments over what counts as a number, December 30, 2008

Logicism posits that the vast edifice of mathematics is nothing but a working out of logic, of the rules of reasoning. This was Bertrand Russell’s view, famously worked out with Alfred North Whitehead in Principia Mathematica. Most mathematicians and most philosophers of mathematics found the book unreadable and the argument unpersuasive. --Fernando Q. Gouvea, The Book of Numbers, First Things, February 2009, review of Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio

Earth to Russell: the limits of Russell's views on space exploration, by Chad Trainer, Philosophy Now, March/April 2003

Bertrand Russell: Prophet of the New World Order, by David J. Peterson, New Oxford Review, June 2000

Love, logic & unbearable pity: The private Bertrand Russell, by Roger Kimball, The New Criterion, September 1992

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1950

Old Nick...otine

“the smoke of Satan has entered the Church” --Pope Paul VI, Mass on the 9th anniversary of the crowning of His Holiness Paul VI on the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul, June 29, 1972 (via Adoremus Bulletin)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reading Rat Vol. 3 No. 18

New and updated posts on my recommended reading...

Art and Literature

Geoffrey Wolff on John Cheever

Time on Rainer Maria Rilke

Noel Murray on John Updike

Carlin Romano on Flannery O'Connor

Joel Brouwer on Charles Wright

Stephen Pastis on interpreting William Faulkner

D. H. Tracy on Randall Jarrell

Michael Dirda on the life of Graham Greene

Society and History

Gertrude Himmelfarb on Edmund Burke

Michael Ross on Mortimer J. Adler

The Economist on Irving Fisher and John Maynard Keynes

Science and Technology

Adam Gopnik on Charles Darwin

Philosophy and Religion

Gary A. Anderson on Martin Luther

Alex Byrne on Anselm

Pankaj Mishra on The Vedas

On the recommended reading list itself, I've continued adding comments from The Harvard guide to influential books: 113 distinguished Harvard professors discuss the books that have helped to shape their thinking (1986), edited by C. Maury Devine, Kim D. Parrish, and Claudia Dissell

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Charles Wright

These accounts of language as simultaneously a fond illusion and our only hope for a stable place to stake a claim on reality pose the problem Wright wisely resists pretending poetry can solve. --Joel Brouwer, Poetry Chronicle, The New York Times, April 24, 2009, review of Sestets, by Charles Wright

Friday, June 26, 2009

A scale model replica

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., finds fault with the approach of the U.S. Bishops to implementing revisions to the liturgy.
Market testing, beta sites, learning from experience and listening to the people are not part of the hierarchy's lexicon. "We know what's best. Full speed ahead!"

If that critique applies to mere revisions of the post-conciliar liturgy, it applies with much more force to the decision to implement it in the first place. Archbishop Weakland recalls, in his memoirs, the evenings of January 11, 12, and 13, 1968, when Pope Paul VI had three versions of the proposed new form of liturgy celebrated in the Capella Matilde at the Vatican.
Since the idea was to replicate a parish Sunday Mass, he asked that a small congregation be present and for each evening invited about twenty-five people. I was among them. ... On the last night, the pope, in the chapel, thanked all of those who came, stressed that this was an "historic moment", and begged for feedback. Each evening after the Mass, Pope Paul invited a small group, five to seven of us, to discuss our reactions; I attended all three evenings. (A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, p. 205)

Archbishop Weakland has elsewhere called these three evenings test marketing the revised liturgy. Unless Father Reese wants to take issue with the 1968 procedure, the U.S. Bishops need only have a couple dozen of their number attend one Mass with the latest revisions to meet his objections.

(via Diogenes at Off the Record)


William Faulkner

Pearls Before Swine --Stephen Pastis, Pearls Before Swine, May 8, 2009

William Faulkner: 'Not an Educated Man', by Jay Parini, Chronicle Review, November 26, 2004

The Ding-Dong of Doom, review by Christopher Benfey of One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner, by Jay Parini, New Republic, November 5, 2004

William Faulkner on Horseback, by Javier Marías, Threepenny Review, Spring 2004

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949

Thursday, June 25, 2009


...the crucial step in Anselm’s argument is this: if (b) is true, and no perfect being exists, then (a) must be false—the Fool [of Psalm 14] is not thinking of a perfect being, because a perfect being has, among its other perfect-making properties or features, existence. Put the other way round: if (a) is true—if the Fool is genuinely thinking of a perfect being—then (b) must be false, and so God, the perfect being, exists. --Alex Byrne, God: Philosophers weigh in, Boston Review, January/February 2009 (via Arts & Letters Daily)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


You're only as good as your last envelope.
--Silvio Dante with advice to the laity

The U.S. Bishops work drafting a pastoral letter on the U.S. economy in the 1980s lead to the formation of "The Lay Commission" to write from a different perspective. Archbishop Rembert Weakland now recalls in his just-published memoirs,
In mid-July [1984] a few members, including [William] Simon and [Michael] Novak, flew into Milwaukee to meet personally with me to assure me that their document was to be seen as a contribution to our [Bishops'] committee's work. I could not object to this initiative since it represented the kind of dialogue we bishops had hoped for. (A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, p. 281)

He didn't describe it as the kind of meeting most people hope for in Paul Wilkes' 1992 book profiling him.
"I looked out the window," the Archbishop said, remembering the day that the group of neo-conservative Catholics was scheduled to arrive, "and up pulled these limousines with smoked windows, having whisked the occupants from their private planes, which had landed minutes before at the Milwaukee Airport. All I could think of was it looked very much like a meeting of high level Mafia leaders." (The Education of an Archbishop, p. 39)

In the ensuing "dialogue" he "listened patiently" to his visitors; his response included that "Vatican II clearly restated that the free-market economy is not the be-all and end-all." Somehow I doubt his visitors were making such a claim.


The Vedas

In fact, most Indians in the 18th century knew no Sanskrit, the language exclusive to Brahmins. For centuries, they remained unaware of the hymns of the four Vedas or the idealist monism of the Upanishads that the German Romantics, American Transcendentalists and other early Indophiles solemnly supposed to be the very essence of Indian civilization. --Pankaj Mishra, Another Incarnation, The New York Times, April 24, 2009, review of The Hindus: An Alternative History, by Wendy Doniger

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Randall Jarrell

Jarrell’s style came out of an early reaction against the Agrarians, who, he felt, had thrown the baby out with the bathwater in their rejection of romanticism. He was temperamentally opposed to the notion of poetry requiring professional explication. --D. H. Tracy, Choose A or B, Contemporary Poetry Review, review of Randall Jarrell and His Age, by Stephen Burt, and Randall Jarrell’s Letters: An Autobiographical and Literary Selection, edited by Mary Jarrell

'Death of a Ball Turret Gunner', the poem most familiar to readers of anthologies, is couched in considerable explanation. Given the compression of the poem itself (five lines long), Jarrell's commentary dwarfs it. ... Most readers would not have known, for instance, that the ball turret gunner on an American bomber was often positioned like a fetus in the womb or that at high altitude blood would instantly freeze to the fur-lined jacket. --Ernest Hilbert, Author essay, Bold Type, May, 2002

Monday, June 22, 2009

Women's Auxiliary

Talkin' 'bout your troubles an ya
ya never learn
Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin' wheel turn.
--David Clayton-Thomas

Archbishop Weakland's memoirs join the ongoing effort to rewrite the history of how Auxiliary Bishop Sklba was ordained a bishop in 1979. The Vatican had canceled his scheduled ordination because of what he had written on women's ordination. Archbishop Weakland and then-Father Sklba flew to Rome to try to get this decision reversed. They were denied a meeting with Pope John Paul II. In Paul Wilkes 1992 book The Education of an Archbishop, Archbishop Weakland gave this account of what happened next.
"Cardinal Casaroli, [Pope John Paul II's] secretary of state ... asked us to draft some sort of statement, acceptable to the Pope, that would in essence have Sklba back down from his position. We drafted something -- not a backing down but an attempt to put Sklba's statement in the context of church teaching -- and the word came back that the Pope said no. We drafted another statement and waited. Dick was to be consecrated on a Wednesday. ... Finally, late Saturday night, we got word that the Pope had approved, but with the stipulation that the statement appear in the Milwaukee papers on Tuesday, the day before Sklba's consecration. Well, the papers not only didn't play the statement as Sklba backing down but gave it the angle that he stood behind what he had originally written. We sent the articles on to Rome, but, fortunately, it being the pre-fax era, they didn't arrive in time for Rome to respond. So, while Sklba's career was certainly stalemated right off the bat, he was consecrated a bishop." (p. 59)

Something must have happened subsequently that forced the realization that this might not fit the legacy Archbishop Weakland and Bishop Sklba wanted. One might, for example, read this account and wonder if there was anything either of them wouldn't have done to get Sklba ordained a bishop, and what might have motivated that apparent desperation.

Here's Archbishop Weakland's revised version from A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, p. 247.
Several times Sklba was required to write up his position on the ordination of women, each draft of which was taken to the pope by Cardinal Casaroli. The pope kept rejecting these versions until late Saturday night when he finally gave in.

It wasn't Sklba backing down and the newspapers getting this wrong. On second thought, what really happened is Weakland and Sklba won a battle of wills with Karol Wojtyla.


Graham Greene

...Greene simply isn't all that good a letter-writer. In the novels his prose has always been somewhat drab, befitting his often doleful subject matter, but that plainness can be readily overlooked because of the cinematic vividness of his scene-setting and the lived intensity of his characters. --Michael Dirda, The Man Within, The Weekly Standard, May 4, 2009, review of Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, edited by Richard Greene (via Arts & Letters Daily)

As it turned out, the blunders of the best and the brightest in the 1960s helped give Greene a reputation for geopolitical prescience and obscured the fact that he was mostly wrong about the urgent issues (decolonization, Communism, the political potential of Catholicism) of his time. --Pankaj Mishra, Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me, The New York Times, January 2, 2009, review of Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, edited by Richard Greene

Few people know that before he found success, Graham worked as a sub-editor at The Times in London. It was around this time that he began corresponding with Vivienne Dayrell-Browning (later Vivien Greene), a deeply religious woman who had taken offense at what she thought were blasphemous remarks Graham had made against the Virgin Mary. Graham wrote back a letter of apology to her, and so began a courtship that would end in Graham's conversion to Catholicism and later marriage to Vivien. --Vikram Johri, The inner man: Graham Greene's letters reveal his complexities, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 14, 2008, review of Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, edited by Richard Greene

The Legacy, Posted by: Diogenes - Nov. 23, 2007 8:49 AM ET USA, Off the Record, on The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene, uneasy Catholic, by Ian Thomson, Times, London, August 22, 2006

Essential Graham Greene, review by Ed Conroy: Norman Sherry lays bare the 'agnostic Catholic' writer, National Catholic Reporter, November 19, 2004

Graham Greene Biography, Heavy on Sex, Draws Some Outrage, review by Dinitia Smith, New York Times, November 4, 2004

Greene at 100, review by Bernard Bergonzi of The Life of Graham Greene, Volume III: 1956-1991, by Norman Sherry, and In Search of a Beginning: My Life with Graham Greene, by Yvonne Cloetta, as told to Marie-Françoise Allain, translated by Euan Cameron, Commonweal, October 22, 2004

Review by George Walden of The Life of Graham Greene: volume three (1955-1991), by Norman Sherry, New Statesman, October 18, 2004

Damned Old Graham Greene, by Paul Theroux, New York Times, October 17, 2004

Sinner Take All: Graham Greene's Damned Redemption, review by Matthew Price of The Life of Graham Greene (3 vol.), by Norman Sherry BookForum, October/November 2004

Featured Authors: Graham Greene, The New York Times, October 17, 2004

Graham Greene: Greene has fallen from grace. Yet his worldliness remains a model for the practising writer, by Julian Evans, Prospect, September 2004

Short Cuts column, by Thomas Jones, London Review of Books, November 14, 2002

The (Mis)Guided Dream of Graham Greene, by Robert Royal, First Things, November 1999

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reading Rat Vol. 3 No. 17

New and updated posts on my recommended reading...

Art and Literature

Scott Walter on Flannery O'Connor

Noel Murray on J. D. Salinger

Gregg LaGambina on John Cheever

TS on John Updike

Dan Scheraga on Joyce Carol Oates

Len Krisak on James Merrill

Mario Vargas Llosa on Jorge Luis Borges

The Knitting Circle on Reinaldo Arenas

Society and History

Stefany Anne Golberg on Henry David Thoreau

Geoff Pevere on Abraham Lincoln

John B. Judis on John Maynard Keynes

Science and Technology

Geoff Pevere on Charles Darwin

David Kaiser on Richard Feynman

Philosophy and Religion

Kenneth Rexroth on The Kabbalah

Robert Louis Wilken on Saint Augustine

Kenneth Rexroth on The Gospel of Truth

On the recommended reading list itself, I've begun adding comments from The Harvard guide to influential books: 113 distinguished Harvard professors discuss the books that have helped to shape their thinking (1986), edited by C. Maury Devine, Kim D. Parrish, and Claudia Dissell

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Moving parishes

St. James Church is reportedly considering relocating to a site about a mile from my home. You might recall it hopes that its current site on South 27th Street (Highway 241) is in an area of commercial development. They were hoping it might be sold for enough to cover most or all the cost of buying and building at a new location. I had thought the current real estate market might have put that plan on hold, but it looks like it might be going ahead.

Since Franklin has long been the one of the state's fastest growing communities, I've wondered why no parish was started nearer the center of town. I've heard there was a parish building site nearby that was eventually sold. The published statistics for parishes serving Franklin, including St. James, indicated they have not grown with the community. It's possible, I suppose, that St. James will look at a move as an opportunity to grow.

(via Sprawled Out)


John Maynard Keynes

Today it is John Maynard Keynes, his British contemporary, who is cited, debated and followed. Yet [Irving] Fisher laid the foundation for much of modern monetary economics; Keynes called Fisher the “great-grandparent” of his own theories on how monetary forces influenced the real economy. --The Economist, February 12, 2009, Out of Keynes's shadow: Today’s crisis has given new relevance to the ideas of another great economist of the Depression era

Keynes's theory inverted the relationship between savings and investment. Instead of the amount of savings determining the amount of investment, the amount of investment determined the amount of savings. It also inverted the relationship between consumption and savings. If the inducement to invest was determined at least partly by consumer demand, then the greater the propensity to consume rather than save, the greater the inducement to invest. Consuming, in short, was preferable to saving. --John B. Judis, A Man for All Seasons: The misunderstood John Maynard Keynes, The New Republic, February 4, 2009 (via Arts & Letters Daily)

If we're all going to be Keynesians now, there is no reason our games shouldn't reflect that. And if you think these new cards make the game more arbitrary and random than it was before, or that it's unfair to simply take from some players and give to others then you can appreciate how things really are in New Jersey. --Tom, Keynesian Monopoly! Radio Free NJ, January 5, 2009 (via Jonah Goldberg at The Corner)

The Bretton Woods system, set up with Keynes's help in 1944, was the international expression of liberal/social democratic political economy. It aimed to free foreign trade after the freeze of the 1930s, by providing an environment that reduced incentives for economic nationalism. At its heart was a system of fixed exchange rates, subject to agreed adjustment, to avoid competitive currency depreciation. --Robert Skidelsky, Where Do We Go from Here? Prospect, January 2009

For all its eloquence and impressive textual authority, for all its generous willingness to take seriously critics of Keynes whom Keynesians laughed at until little more than a decade ago, Skidelsky’s attempted rescue of Keynes’s economics founders on the single greatest practical deficiency of Keynesian policy: its blind faith in the wisdom, justice, and competence of civil servants. --David Frum, The genius of capitalism, The New Criterion, April 1994, review of John Maynard Keynes: The Economist as Savior, 1920–1937 (1992), by Robert Skidelsky

Friday, June 19, 2009

Smell of Books

In case you have been missing that booky smell when you read eBooks on your Amazon Kindle – there is a solution for you – “An Aerosol E-Book Enhancer” ...

at Blog Kindle (via Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor)

A very inclusive church

Father Joseph Collova was removed from ministry by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee due to allegations of sexual abuse. Mick Trevey of WTMJ-TV reports this Accused Priest to Become Bishop in the American Apostolic Church. Asked about his new role, Father Collova said "It’s an independent church, it’s very inclusive." (via SNAP Network)

Year for Priests

Precisely to encourage priests in this striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the effectiveness of their ministry depends, I have decided to establish a special "Year for Priests" that will begin on 19 June and last until 19 June 2010. In fact, it is the 150th anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé d'Ars, John Mary Vianney, a true example of a pastor at the service of Christ's flock.

From the Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the members of the Congregation for the Clergy on the occasion of their Plenary Assembly, March 16, 2009.

Bishop Callahan adds Pray for our shepherds during Year for Priests

Atlas shrugged off

"When I was in Milwaukee, Rome seemed thousands of miles away" Archbishop Weakland recalls in his memoirs (p. 246).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mutter et Magisterium

Archbishop Weakland's memoirs recount (pp. CCCXLV-CCCXLVII) how, magna non sine difficultate, he gave religiosum voluntatis et intellectus obsequium, per Lumen Gentium XXV, to Ordinatio sacerdotalis.
Obedience to the magisterium, the teaching authority in the Church, was the most difficult part of being a Catholic, but also the rock of security. I observed too many squabbles among Christian churches because there was no ultimate authority that could break through the disputes with the final word. But I acknowledge that what is for us Catholics our strongest asset, namely the hierarchical teaching authority, is also, at times, our most burdensome and most confounding belief. (p. 347)

Or, one might say, a bishop ought to keep in mind what it's like to take hierarchy when he's dishing it out.


Jorge Luis Borges

I am quite aware of how ephemeral literary assessments can be, but in Borges’ case we can quite justifiably state that he is the most important thing to ­happen to imaginative writing in the Spanish language in modern times, and one of the most memorable artists of our age. --Mario Vargas Llosa, quoted by Richard John Neuhaus, While We’re At It, The Public Square column, First Things, December 2008

On the recommended reading by this author:

Jorge Luis Borges & the plural I, by Eric Ormsby, The New Criterion, November 1999, discussing Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley, Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman, and Selected Non-Fictions, edited by Eliot Weinberger

On this author:

If you want to know about his life, take a look in the library, by Robert Hanks, The Independent, December 19, 2004, review of Borges: A Life, by Edwin Williamson

Writer on the Couch, by David Foster Wallace, The New York Times, November 7, 2004, review of Borges: A Life, by Edwin Williamson

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peg o' His Heart

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels not only wrote the Foreward to Archbishop Weakland's memoirs, in that Foreward she discloses she edited the book. Or she attempted editing it. As she says, "I am not a book editor; five thousand words is generally my outer editing limit." (p. xi) To save time, she omitted fact-checking. For example, the real-world Archbishop Weakland who threatened a libel suit against three teachers who wrote to him about Father Dennis Pecore, and the Weakland who had archdiocesan lawyers take a judgment for costs against an abuse victim whose case was dismissed, becomes
Archbishop Weakland ... conveying in some detail his own long-standing effort to resolve cases of sexual abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. (p. ix)

The real world Archbishop Weakland who reassigned Father William Effinger, a known offender, to a parish, becomes Weakland the helpless victim of Vatican bureaucracy.
what could ordinary bishops do with priests who had abused children and yet could not be dismissed from the clergy? (p. x)

The real world Archbishop Weakland who wrote a thirteen year old boy to ask him to forgive Father Richard Nichols while the archdiocesan communication director asked the parents not to call the police becomes Weakland contending with
local police and prosecutors [who] were often reluctant ... to bring child abuse cases to the courtroom. (p. x)

She has him giving his farewell apology "at Milwaukee's St. John's Cathedral" (p. x) rather than at the Cousins Center in St. Francis. Apparently Weakland didn't read the Foreward, either.


The Gospel of Truth

In 1945 a whole library of Gnostic books was discovered at Nag-Hammadi in Upper Egypt, thirteen volumes, forty-eight treatises, more than seven hundred pages. Unfortunately, economic and political vicissitudes have kept most of these from publication. So far only the Gnostic books which are contained also in the Akhmin Codex of Berlin, the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Thomas, have appeared. --Kenneth Rexroth, Gnosticism, introduction to a new edition of Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Gnostics (1960), by G.R.S. Mead, reprinted in Assays (1961) and World Outside the Window: Selected Essays of Kenneth Rexroth (1987)

But those who are from Valentinus, being, on the other hand, altogether reckless, while they put forth their own compositions, boast that they possess more Gospels than there really are. Indeed, they have arrived at such a pitch of audacity, as to entitle their comparatively recent writing the Gospel of Truth, though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the Apostles, so that they have really no Gospel which is not full of blasphemy. For if what they have published is the Gospel of truth, and yet is totally unlike those which have been handed down to us from the apostles, any who please may learn, as is shown from the Scriptures themselves, that that which has been handed down from the apostles can no longer be reckoned the Gospel of truth. --Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, (On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis, c. 180) Book III, Chapter 11, 9.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Richard Feynman

In the early days of quantum electrodynamics (QED) in the 1920s and 1930s, calculations were notoriously convoluted, the algebra often spilling over seven and eight lines just to calculate a single quantity. Worse, these nasty calculations almost always returned infinity, even when physicists asked straightforward questions. After the war, a new crop of young theoretical physicists, including Feynman, returned to QED and its problems. He decided first to try to take charge of the algebraic morass, streamlining the laborious algebraic manipulations, before worrying about the mysteries of the infinities. And so he began his doodlings in the late 1940s. --David Kaiser, Richard Feynman's Diagrams, interview by Felice Frankel, American Scientist, September-October 2003

On this author:

Review by Kelley L. Ross, of Richard Feynman, A Life in Science, by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin (1997), at The Proceedings of the Friesian School, Fourth Series

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reinaldo Arenas

The lack of realism in his writing fell out of favour with the revolutionary cultural policy makers. In the mid-1960s the Castro regime openly persecuted homosexuals and Reinaldo Arenas abandoned the Revolution. His writings were censored and declared anti-revolutionary. --The Knitting Circle: Literature, Lesbian and Gay Staff Association, South Bank University, Last altered 18th. June, 2001

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reading Rat Vol. 3 No. 16

New and updated posts on my recommended reading...

Art and Literature

Neil Astley on Kevin Hart

Wilfred M. McClay on Lampedusa

Philip Yancey on Harriet Beecher Stowe

David Luhrssen on Kurt Vonnegut

Brooke Allen on the Dictionary of Samuel Johnson

The Economist on Flannery O'Connor

Philip Yancey on Alexander Solzhenitsyn

David Letterman on Samuel Beckett

Frank Kermode on the life of John Milton

Society and History

David Gessner on Henry David Thoreau

George Weigel on Abraham Lincoln

Science and Technology

The Onion on James D. Watson

Philosophy and Religion

David Novak on The Kabbalah

Alan Mittleman on Martin Buber

On the recommended reading list itself, I've added comments from The Great Books: A Journey through 2,500 Years of the West's Classic Literature (2009), by Anthony O'Hear

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard: A stunningly beautiful, and very Tocquevillean novel about the life of a Sicilian aristocratic family during the Risorgimento and about how one learns to live on the cusp of great historical changes. --Wilfred M. McClay, What to Give a 'First Things' Reader, First Things, December 2008

Recommended reading:
by Lampedusa at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

The Leopard’ Turns 50, by Rachel Donadio, New York Times, July 13, 2008

Sicily, Through the Eyes of the Leopard, by Adam Begley, The New York Times, July 6, 2008

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kevin Hart

This film of Kevin Hart reading eight poems was made in October 2007 during the Poetry & Philosophy Conference at Warwick University ('Poets Reading Philosophy, Philosophers Reading Poetry') which brought together poets and philosophers from the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. After reading three poems, 'The Room', 'Dark Angel' and 'Brisbane', from Flame Tree: Selected Poems, (Bloodaxe Books, 2002), he reads five new poems, 'My Name', 'That Life', 'Yes, 'Prayer' and 'The Great Truths', from his new collection Young Rain, which is published in 2009 by Bloodaxe Books in the UK, Notre Dame University Press in the US, and Giramondo in Australia. --Neil Astley, Kevin Hart, February 6, 2009, Vimeo (via Amanda Shaw at First Things)

Recommended reading:
by Kevin Hart at Reading Rat

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Seven Types of Bookstore Customer

Detailed by Matt Blind at Rocket Bomber, and recapped in his next post:
Seekers: want a book — a specific book: only this book will do.

Idiots: can only remember 1 detail, and often not a salient detail — not enough to find the book, but they still have a specific book in mind.

Grazers: love bookstores-as-a-concept, and love lingering leisurely over all the tables, racks, endcaps, promotional displays, and front-of-store placements.

Browsers: have a favourite category, and once you direct them to the appropriate section, they’ll help themselves.

Campers: They come, they sit, they stay for hours.

Independents: don’t want help, but they do want a book.

& Time-sucks: who want help, and personal recommendations, and plot synopses and books just like their favorite author’s but not their favorite author’s because they’ve read all those — and they’d like gift ideas and want to know what you’re reading, and who you’re favorite author is, etc. etc. etc.

(via Althouse)

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe a radical Christian, sought to communicate the abolitionist message to many who had blocked their ears to sermons and jeremiads. She wrote a novel instead, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that sold 200,000 copies in its first year and, as much as any other force, goaded a nation toward change. --Philip Yancey, What Art Can--and Can’t--Do, First Things, February 2009

Recommended reading:
by Harriet Beecher Stowe at Reading Rat

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

GM Mark of Excrescence

GM Design Chief Ed Welburn ... did cite his grotesquely cheesy, cartoonish new Camaro as an example of what can be created in GM's "cutting edge 21st century environment." ... Welburn seems like a nice guy. But I would say the Camaro is a firing offense (though, if he's a UAW member, it will take 6 unexcused Camaros). --Mickey Kaus June 10, 2009 2:16 A.M.

In announcing the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro Price, Car News noted marketing will include product placement in the television series "My Own Worst Enemy".

P.S. at What I Learned Today,
...$50,000,000,000 is the total amount the US Treasury has spent of GM’s survival. (That’s $30.1 billion for 60% of New GM’s equity + $20.6 billion that we spent trying to keep them out of bankruptcy.) ...

So $83,000,000,000 is what New GM would have to be worth in order for us to break even on our investment.

But $56,000,000,000 is what GM was worth at its all time peak in 2000.

(via 3rd Way at Folkbum's rambles and rants)

Henry David Thoreau

Vegetarian ideas figured prominently in 19th-century intellectual circles. Though practicing vegetarians remained outside the mainstream, as they do today, vegetarianism itself was intriguing, its arguments compelling. Thoreau, for instance, was not a strict vegetarian, but he did believe that the vegetarian diet was “the destiny of the human race.” Not because animals were cute and fuzzy and therefore ought to be saved from brutality, but because they were dirty and difficult and expensive. --Stefany Anne Golberg, Vegetable Stand: Stop paying taxes? Escape to the woods? Sit in? Why not go vegetarian instead? The Smart Set, January 26, 2009 (via Arts & Letters Daily)

One of those things is that nature isn’t over there, in Yosemite or Yellowstone, but right here in your day-to-day life. Another is that the idea of thrift, which so often feels grim and, well, just plain un-American, can actually be exciting if it frees us to better spend our time. --David Gessner, Wild and Crazy Guy, The New York Times, April 16, 2009, review of The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant, by Robert Sullivan

Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and Transcendentalism, by David M. Robinson, American Literary Scholarship, 1998

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut

As a POW he survived the American bombing of Dresden, a German city of no military value. After witnessing state-sanctioned arson on the largest scale, Vonnegut became skeptical of all the rationalizations and big systems spun-out by nations and individuals alike. --David Luhrssen, Vonnegut and Buckley, Shepherd Express, April 20,2009, review of Love As Always, Kurt: Vonnegut As I Knew Him, by Loree Rackstraw, and Losing Mum and Pup, by Christopher Buckley

Recommended reading:
by Kurt Vonnegut at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

Folk Tales, review essay by Patrick J. Deneen, Claremont Review of Books, Winter 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Is Dead at 84; Caught Imagination of His Age, by Dinitia Smith, The New York Times, April 12, 2007

His popular novels blended social criticism, dark humor, by Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2007

Vonnegut 'Sunscreen' Funeral Speech Branded Hoax, by Scott Ott, Scrappleface, April 12, 2007

Monday, June 8, 2009

Newsweek’s Evan Thomas: Obama Is ‘Sort of God’

"I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God." said Evan Thomas, editor of (The New) Newsweek, on last Friday's Hardball on MSNBC. (via Just One Minute)

In unqualified contrast, "A FROG that constantly changes colour is being worshipped as a GOD in India" reports Virginia Wheeler in today's issue of The Sun. (via Drudge Report)

James D. Watson

Penn State students were devastated Monday to learn that their commencement speaker will be "some dork scientist" who discovered DNA, authored the groundbreaking book The Double Helix, helped establish the Human Genome Project, and is not late-night talk-show host Stephen Colbert. --The Onion, Some Guy Who's Not Stephen Colbert To Deliver College's Commencement Speech, April 9, 2009

In an interview published in the October 14 [2007] edition of The Sunday Times, Watson was quoted as saying he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa."

"All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really," he was quoted as saying. --Will Dunham, Scientist Watson quits post after race remarks, Reuters, Thu Oct 25, 2007 12:00pm EDT (via Just One Minute)

James Dewey Watson, 'Glimpses', University of Chicage Magazine, July-August 2007

Science celebrates a golden anniversary, review by Michael Sims of DNA, by James D. Watson with Andrew Berry, Book Page, April 2003

A Conversation with James D. Watson, interview by John Rennie, Scientific American, March 10, 2003

James Watson, Nobel Prize winner: Welcome to the Watson Wonderland; DNA genius still ruffles feathers 50 years after extraordinary discovery, by Steve Connor, The Independent, February 3, 2003

Crystallizing a Life in Science, review by Angela N. H. Creager of Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, by Brenda Maddox, American Scientist, January, 2003

The Twisted Road to the Double Helix: Rosalind Franklin's stunningly clear x-ray photographs elucidated the structure of DNA, but her contribution was ignored at the time, by Dean H. Hamer, Scientific American, December 2002

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reading Rat Vol. 3 No. 15

New and updated posts on my recommended reading...

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Emanuel Swedenborg

Shahar Ilan on The Kabbalah

Ron Rolheiser on Soren Kierkegaard

The Economist on Rumi

The Economist on Harold Pinter

Cliffs Notes on Ernest Hemingway
Reading Rat
William Safire on Abraham Lincoln

Richard John Neuhaus on Samuel Johnson

Elaine Blair on Virginia Woolf

Felix Bennett on Ludwig Wittgenstein

Abraham Lincoln on Richard III by William Shakespeare

Kenneth Rexroth on No or Noh Plays

Alexander Provan on Franz Kafka

Tobin Harshaw on Herodotus

Joseph Bottum on Geoffrey Chaucer

On the recommended reading list itself, I've added comments on "Classics of the Japanese Tradition" from A Guide to Oriental Classics

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Emanuel Swedenborg

The thoughts in which he lived were, the universality of each law in nature; the Platonic doctrine of the scale or degrees; the version or conversion of each into other, and so the correspondence of all the parts; the fine secret that little explains large, and large, little; the centrality of man in nature, and the connection that subsists throughout all things: he saw that the human body was strictly universal, or an instrument through which the soul feeds and is fed by the whole of matter: so that he held, in exact antagonism to the skeptics, that, "the wiser a man is, the more will he be a worshipper of the Deity." --Ralph Waldo Emerson, Swedenborg; or, the Mystic, Representative Men (1850), Chapter 3

Recommended reading:
by Emanuel Swedenborg at Reading Rat

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Kabbalah

The great stumbling block for all Gnosticism has always been the Old Testament. Many Christian Gnostic sects held that it was written by the Devil. Certainly Kabbalah is nothing more nor less than an elaborate device to juggle the plain words of the Biblical narrative and make them mean the opposite of what they all too obviously do mean. --Kenneth Rexroth, The Hasidism of Martin Buber, Bureau of Public Secrets, first published in Bird in the Bush (1959) and reprinted in World Outside the Window: Selected Essays of Kenneth Rexroth (1987)

From a kabbalistic perspective, one could see Judaism and theology as identical—and thus that everyone employing God-talk outside Judaism and its traditional vocabulary is not really taking about the one true God at all. Or, at their most charitable, adherents of this view might recognize some non-Jewish speakers about God as doing some kind of derivative Jewish God-talk, even if these speakers are largely unaware of the deeper meaning of their own words. --David Novak, God-Talk, First Things, February 2009, review of Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology, by Michael Fishbane

According to kabbala (Jewish mysticism), on the night on which "that man" - a Jewish euphemism for Jesus - was born, not even a trace of holiness is present and the klipot exploit every act of holiness for their own purposes. --Shahar Ilan, For them, it's wholly unholy, Haaretz, December 24, 2004, (via Catholic and Enjoying It!)

By and large the special details of Kabbalism which distinguish it from the mainstreams of Jewish thought are what is “occult” in occultism everywhere, and most of the world’s religions can be reinterpreted in these terms. They give Kabbalism its fascination but they do not give it its substance. ... beneath the glittering and mysterious superstructure of the Kabbalah, which purports to be occult Judaism, lies — Judaism. --Kenneth Rexroth 'The Holy Kabbalah', originally published as an introduction to a new edition of A.E. Waite’s The Holy Kabbalah (1960) and reprinted in Assays (1961)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Soren Kierkegaard

He chose celibacy for what he felt was a noble reason, a deeper solidarity with the loneliness of the world. He cultivated loneliness as a means of deeper entry into the soul. --Ron Rolheiser, OMI On Cultivating or Not Cultivating Loneliness, column, August 10, 2008

Recommended reading:
by Soren Kierkegaard at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

--greyshino, Kierkegaard in '08, YouTube, February 1, 2008

Kierkegaard for Grownups, by Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, October 2004

Appropriating the Paradox, by Karl Dusza, First Things, February 1994, review of Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, by Søren Kierkegaard, and Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, by Soren Kierkegaard

What did Kierkegaard want? by Hilton Kramer, The New Criterion, September 2001, review of Kierkegaard: A Biography, by Alastair Hannay

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


...whose followers, of the Turkey-based Mawlawi order, remember him in a whirling dance, the saga, which has become synonymous in the West with all Sufism. --The Economist, Of saints and sinners, December 18, 2008

Recommended reading:
by Rumi at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

A Rumi of One’s Own: What’s lost in translation doesn’t hurt this poet’s popularity, by Rachel Aviv, Poetry Foundation, July 17, 2007

A valentine to the world: Coleman Barks delivers a new volume of Rumi's poetry, Interview by Linda Stankard, Book Page, February 2003

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Harold Pinter

In Beckett, a strong influence on Mr Pinter in his beginnings, ordinary conversations would turn metaphysical. His own were packed with menace. Words were offensive, defensive, barriers, knives, stones, a “stratagem” or a “mocking smoke screen”, as he put it, to cover nakedness. Underneath them, something else was being said. Truth was being smothered. --The Economist, Harold Pinter, playwright and polemicist, died on December 24th, aged 78: Obituary, December 30, 2008

They [his plays] were credited for creating a new brand of theatrical silence and pause with which his work became synonymous. Later, this device would become known as "Pinteresque" and be adopted by devotees of his work. --Arifa Akbar, Exit stage left: Harold Pinter dies: Harold Pinter, playwright, actor and political activist, dies aged 78, The Independent, December 26, 2008 (via Drudge Report)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ernest Hemingway

The legend is that some friends bet Hemingway that he couldn't write an entire short story in six words (some versions say that the challenge was for ten words or fewer). As the story goes, he came up with this six-word short story, considered the shortest complete short story ever: "For sale: Baby shoes. Never used." --Cliffs Notes, In which Hemingway short story is the saying, 'Children's shoes for sale'?

Recommended reading:
by Ernest Hemingway at Reading Rat

Criticism (articles, essays, reviews):

Robert Jordan is the hero of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, an American fighting Franco’s Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. And despite his radical roots, he’s a literary sensation during this election season. Senator Barack Obama told Rolling Stone that Hemingway’s novel, published in 1940, is one of the three books that most inspired him. As for Senator John McCain, few men, real or fictional, have influenced him as much as Jordan. --David Margolick, Papa’s Gift to the Fire-in-the-Belly Crowd, The New York Times, November 1, 2008

Hemingway unbound, by James W. Tuttleton, on Hemingway: A Life without Consequences by James R. Mellow, The New Criterion, December 1992

Return of Ernest Hemingway, by Edmund Wilson, The New Republic, October 28, 1940, review of For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway