Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are British Authors Overrated?

Yes, says former Oxford professor Gabriel Josipovici.

The fact that such writers had won so many awards was "a mystery", Josipovici told the Guardian. He added: "It's an ill-educated public being fed by the media – 'This is what great art is' – and they lap it up."
It is a view apparently now shared by at least some others, given that the latest offerings by Martin Amis, McEwan and Rushdie were among the more prominent omissions from this year's Man Booker longlist, revealed earlier this week.
"We are in a very fallow period," Josipovici said, calling the contemporary English novel "profoundly disappointing – a poor relation of its ground-breaking modernist forebears".
He said: "Reading Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation – Martin Amis, McEwan – leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. The irony which at first made one smile, the precision of language which was at first so satisfying, the cynicism which at first was used only to puncture pretension, in the end come to seem like a terrible constriction, a fear of opening oneself up to the world.




Monday, August 30, 2010

Barr v. Behe

I'm not sure how long this has been available for viewing online, but a very good debate between Stephen Barr and Michael Behe from this past April on Intelligent Design in the science class. Naturally, I take Barr's side. I wish they had included the Q/A from the audience members as well.

Why It Didn't Help

Jay Fitzgerald lays it out:
But I’ll restate my case (made here and here and here, even before the stimulus bill was officially passed): It wasn’t a “stimulus” bill. It was more of a “stabilization” bill. The Stabilization Bill was primarily aimed at propping up the public sector, not the private sector, where the true problems lay. There was nothing wrong per se with spending money to preserve public-sector jobs. But that’s not “stimulating” the economy. That’s merely “stabilizing” the economy, i.e. preventing things from getting worse. The Dems either never understood this -- or didn’t care. They eagerly embraced the argument that federal debt spending actually creates jobs, latching onto a “jobs multiplier” theory uttered by one economist at Moody’s Economy.com, and launched a massive spending spree on programs that had nothing to do with the underlying economic problems at hand. Sure, they preserved public-sector jobs. But how can you have a new jobs multiplier effect by preserving already existing jobs? You’re merely preserving the already existing jobs-multiplier effect. Right? Repeat: The “stimulus” bill was largely a “stabilization” bill.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Memo to Mike Flynn

Razib Khan has a nice short story idea.
But, the logical conclusion of generations of genetic screening of particular Arab lineages is that the clans of the Persian Gulf will eventually transform themselves into clones with very low mutational load. Even if the power of screening shields these lineages from the ill effects of inbreeding (by literally yanking out all the deleterious alleles from the gene pool by discarding eggs with problematic genotypes every generation), biological uniformity is going to have problematic long term consequences when it comes to battling co-evolving pathogens. Monocultures aren’t built to last.

In any case, interesting idea for a science fiction short story. The formula would be to take a pre-modern custom (e.g., cousin marriage) and mix it with future technology, and iterate forward.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quote for the Day...

Via Ed Feser: As the Thomist A. D. Sertillanges once put it, a paint brush can’t move itself even if it has a very long handle. And it still couldn’t move itself even if it had an infinitely long handle.

PZ's Heart

Okay, he may be a common crackerophile, but I'm happy to see PZ's operation went well, and he'll still be blogging.

[I tried not to pray for him, but couldn't help it. Don't tell anyone.]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

PW Takes Note

Publisher's Weekly will start a new listing of self-published books, and will pick the most interesting among submissions from authors to be reviewed. Of course, authors will have to pay for it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"No True Scotsman" Gambit

And Mark Chu-Carroll has had enough if it:

If you talk to a christian about, say, the holocaust, they’ll say that the Nazi’s weren’t really christian. The crusaders who raped and pillaged their way across Europe? Not really christian. The inquisitioners, who tortured and killed all of those innocent people in the name of christianity? Not really christian. Tim McVeigh? Not really christian. Anyone who’s ever done anything bad? Not really christian. But man, those damned muslims and atheists – look at how many people they’ve murdered! They’re evil, pure evil!
And the atheists? Same damn thing. One of the atheists who persistently peppers my mailbox every time I mention my Judaism has repeatedly said “Only religious people blow themselves up, there are no atheist suicide bombers”. I pointed out a number of purely secular groups that have used suicide bombers. “They’re not really atheists; just because they’re part of a secular movement doesn’t mean that they’re atheists”. How do you know that they’re not atheists? “Because only religious people blow themselves up.” Wait, isn’t that circular? “No, because atheists are rational, and blowing yourself up is irrational, therefore if you blow yourself up, you’re not an atheist”.

Same stupid argument: People like me are good and reasonable; anyone who isn’t good and reasonable can’t be like me. It doesn’t matter what they say they think. It doesn’t matter what they say they believe. I know better – if they do something that I don’t like, then they’re not part of my group. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Frank Kermode RIP

Anything he wrote was well worth reading, more than once.
Prominent in literary criticism since the 1950s, Kermode held "virtually every endowed chair worth having in the British Isles", according to his former colleague John Sutherland, from King Edward VII professor of English literature at Cambridge to Lord Northcliffe professor of modern English literature at University College London and professor of poetry at Harvard, along with honorary doctorates from universities around the world. He was knighted in 1991, the first literary critic to be so honoured since William Empson.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Literary Immortality

Bill Vallicella has a tough piece on Hitchens and his hope to live on in his works.

For what he takes to be the illusion of immortality, Hitch substitutes literary immortality.  "As an adult whose hopes lay assuredly in the intellect, not in the hereafter, he concluded, 'Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and — since there is no other metaphor — also the soul.'" (Here) But to the clearheaded, literary immortality is little more than a joke, and itself an illusion.  Only a few read Hitch now, and soon enough he will be unread, his books remaindered, put into storage, forgotten.  This is a fate that awaits all scribblers but a tiny few.  And even they will drink the dust of oblivion in the fullness of time.
To live on in one's books is a paltry substitute for immortality, especially when one recalls Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's aphorism: Ein Buch ist ein Spiegel, aus dem kein Apostel herausgucken kann, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt. "A book is a mirror:  if an ape peers in, no apostle will look out."  Most readers are more apish than apostolic.
To live on in one's books is only marginally better than to live on in the flickering and mainly indifferent memories of a few friends and relatives. And how can reduction to the status of a merely intentional object count as living on?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

History for Squid Lovers

The inimitable Thony C. corrects PZ Myers' abysmal knowledge of history:
The three periods of ‘lift’ that he identifies were anything but periods of secular thought. Contrary to the popular claims about logos replacing mythos in ancient Greece and this being the reason for the birth of Greek science, if you actually look at the works of the leading Greek thinkers they are full of religious claims and statements. Turning to the Renaissance all of the major figures who erected the structure that became modern science were deeply and actively religious, a fact that they openly acknowledge in their scientific writings. Again in the 18th century the period of both the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution nearly all of the leading participants were again deeply and actively religious.
As I have pointed out more than once on this blog the Church was not anti-scientific during the Middle Ages and in fact members of the Church actively laid the foundations on which other members of the Church created modern science in the Early Modern Period.
I did not know that the New Atheists had started an Orwellian revisionist rewriting of history.

Biblical Fever = Influenza?

Tara Smith is all over this:
Seriously. I'm not even sure what to do with this. From the wording of the abstract, it very much appears that the authors are Christians--so are they saying that Jesus could not have miraculously cured a bacterial infection, but he could have done so for flu? Or that the flu, on its own, resolved the instant Jesus stood over/touched the ill woman, without any divine intervention? 

As the late Stanley Jaki often wrote, concordism does not good science make.

Quote for the Week...

I am reminded of Charles Darwin’s comment about his close friendship with his fellow magistrate and constant dining companion, Brodie Innes, the vicar of Downe. Darwin said that on one memorable occasion they found themselves in agreement and spent the rest of the meal in astonished silence, convinced that the other was very ill!

From Michael Ruse's poignant tribute to philosopher of science David Hull, who just passed away.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On This Day . . .

Sixty years ago today Pope Pius XII issued the first and to date only papal encyclical treating a scientific theory. Humani Generis adopted the Catholic Church's position that the evolutionary origin of the human body was a legitimate area of scientific study, provided one reserved a special status for the human soul, as directly created by God.

There is a lot more to the encyclical, which I hope to address in more depth shortly. But for now I'd like to tip my cap to a pope who has become just about everyone's favorite punching bag for other reasons, and commend his interest and enthusiasm for science. We've learned a lot in sixty years....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Notes

Hesiod and the 'mythographers' had developed the method to understand the stories of the gods, but we know of no one before Herodotos who had tried to gather memories and documents together on such a scale to tell a connected story about the past. It was a very brave undertaking: the Persian Wars had finished around the time of his birth and had been over more than a generation by the time he was writing. We owe Herodotus so much that, for all his unreliability and untidiness, it would be unjust to pick up the gibe made about him by some ancient authors who, following the lead of a prolonged and peevish attack on him by the later historian Plutarch, claimed that he was the Father of Lies rather than the Father of History.

From Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Harvard Scientist Under Scrutiny

Harvard professor Marc Hauser (author of Moral Minds), about whom I blogged last July, has taken a leave of absence from his post at Harvard while the university looks into questions about the data backing up papers of his, dating back to the mid 90s at least.

Monday, August 09, 2010

On Bad Company

Siris is all over the latest of PZ Myers' increasingly empty critiques of philosophical positions he dislikes. Worth quoting:
There was a time when he was a fairly sharp commentator, and would never have made the amateurish and in some cases, frankly, dimwitted maneuvers that he makes here. But reason is in great measure social, and that means it is heavily influenced by the company one keeps; and any look at the Pharyngula comment boxes or some of the places on the web Myers links shows exactly what the quality of company he has been keeping is. And, very noticeably, his arguments have increasingly taken on some of the worst features of the glib and mindless people with whom he is constantly interacting: the tendency to begin not with the actual arguments but with a simplistic caricature of them; the attempt to build an argument not on the basis of relevant examples but on the basis of vague, incantatory rhetoric; the tendency to assume that if his opponents argue for a qualification of some claim that they are arguing for the complete falsehood of that claim; the increasing framing of every particular point as an either/or between his preferred view and irrationality; the sneering at positions in ways that show clearly that no effort was actually made to understand the position in the first place; the appeals, which were always a weakness of Myers's and have only become more common, to pseudo-history rather than actual historical evidence; the increasingly common failure to consider that if he doesn't understand an argument that it might be better to raise an elucidating objection than to dismiss the argument out of hand. The list could be made much longer.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

There Be Dragons

Here's the new trailer for the Roland Joffe film about Josemaria Escriva and the Spanish Civil War. My friend and former classmate John Wauck, who works in Rome now at the University of Santa Croce, was an advisor on the film.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


I'm still cracking up over this post by Peter Steinfels.

Siris is finding the paperwork a major chore in the Texan August (and I don't blame him).

John Pieret dope slaps Bruce Chapman.

Steve Matheson discusses Developmental Buffering.

Lab Rat discusses models for the evolution of bacterial resistance.

And Christopher Hitchens reflects on his current battle with cancer.