Archive for the 'News' Category

A web of words

September 24, 2018

Today, a collection of links on, mostly, literary matters:

  • Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating story about one man’s efforts to read a collection of burned papyrus scrolls recovered from Pompeii. These scrolls are so damaged that they cannot be unrolled, and Brent Seales is putting high tech imaging to use to try to peer inside them. Whether he will finally succeed or not is uncertain, but it’s a great story.
  • A few months ago I heard an interview with a medievalist, Rachel Fulton Brown, about her most recent book, Mary and the Art of Prayer, which I thought sounded excellent. I was surprised to discover, poking around, that she is at the center of a brouhaha, in the resistance, over incursions of identity politics and all its works into medieval studies departments. You’d think such departments might be sleepy backwaters, immune from the tender ministrations of the politically ambitious, but apparently not.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of the most famous in the annals of psychology. I am a little surprised to learn, therefore, that it ought to be taken with a giant grain of salt, and may in fact have been fraudulently presented to the public. Ben Blum writes a fascinating analysis at Medium.
  • When I wrote, a few months ago, about my first encounter with the poetry of Catullus, I made particular mention of his short epic, “The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis”. Writing at the LA Review of Books, Daisy Dunn takes a more detailed, and more appreciative, look at this remarkable poem.
  • At The New Yorker, Brian Phillips writes in praise of the children’s novels of Joan Aiken. We have The Wolves of Willoughby Chase at home, but I am unfamiliar with her other books, which sound delightful.
  • In a similar vein, Michael Dirda recommends a mostly forgotten children’s book by Walter de la Mare, whom I know only through his poetry, and that only slightly.
  • Speaking of children’s books, there are plenty of people investing plenty of time and money to keep your children’s eyes on screens instead of books. Richard Freed describes the powerful science and technology being leveraged to ensure kids become addicted, and Nicholas Tampio reviews the effects this screen time, at home and at school, is having on children. Essential reading for parents.

Meanwhile, elsewhere

October 26, 2017

A few recent items that might be of wider interest:

  • The next volume in Bob Dylan’s “Bootleg Series” is scheduled for a November issue. Trouble No More, the thirteenth volume in the series, will treat Dylan’s “Gospel period” of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Gospel records are not among my favourites, but there is likely to be some good, previously unreleased material in this set. In fact, we know there is, because we can listen to “Making a Liar Out of Me”, which is pretty fabulous by just about any measure.
  • David Bentley Hart has had, I think, 4 books published in the past year. There were three collections of essays on various subjects, and his translation of the New Testament appeared this week. I am indifferent to the Bible translation; I’m sure it will be interesting, and controversial (on account of the “pitilessly literal” course he set himself), but another Bible translation is likely to just sink beneath the flood of Bible translations. I’d prefer to have fewer translations than more, and this project strikes me as an unfortunate distraction for a man whose talents are so prodigious. Anyway, all that aside, there was a nice essay by Brad East at the LA Review of Books about his recent essay collections, and I highly recommend it. Hart also delivered a good lecture at Fordham on the topic “Orthodoxy in America and America’s Orthodoxies”, very much worth hearing.
  • At City Journal, Heather Mac Donald takes a critical look at the idea of “unconscious bias”. A good and instructive read.
  • Following up on the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2017, which was for the discovery, a few years ago, of a black hole collision using gravitational waves, the same technique has now been used to discover a collision of neutron stars. Physicists were able to identify the direction from which the space-time ripples were coming with sufficient precision for optical telescopes to turn and see the electromagnetic radiation from the collision as well. Amazing. This happened in August, but I was on holiday and missed it.
  • Everybody knows that Stradivarius made the best violins, right? Right? A group of French and American researchers asked several renowned violin soloists to blind-test modern violins against old Italian instruments, including a few by Stradivarius. The result: they could not reliably distinguish the old from the new, and they generally preferred the sound of the new.  Adding insult to injury, a follow-up study of audience perceptions found that they, too, could not reliably tell the difference between old and new, but generally preferred the newer instruments. How to fittingly bid farewell to the beloved myth of the Stradivari? Here is the Tokyo String Quartet, all playing Stradivari instruments, performing Barber’s sad Adagio:

Vindication!

September 9, 2015

Forcing staff to start work before 10am is tantamount to torture and is making employees ill, exhausted and stressed, an Oxford University academic has claimed.

Before the age of 55, the circadian rhythms of adults are completely out of sync with normal 9-to-5 working hours, which poses a “serious threat” to performance, mood and mental health.

I’ve been saying this for years, based on hard personal experience. Read all about it. Now, if only there were a way to make the circadian rhythms of children align with those of adults we’d be laughing.

Jean Vanier

March 12, 2015

I am delighted to learn that Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, has been awarded the Templeton Prize this year. The Templeton Prize is awarded annually to a person “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.

Vanier is a Canadian, the son of a distinguished Canadian family, who has devoted his life to living with and caring for those with severe disabilities. I have had the privilege to hear him speak on two occasions, both of them unforgettable. It is hard to put into words the effect his presence had on me. The man is luminous. There is a simplicity and gentleness about him that is very attractive. If I had to wager on anyone I have met being a saint, I would wager on him.

Previous winners of the Templeton Prize have included the Dalai Lama, Charles Taylor, Freeman Dyson, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Billy Graham, but one would have to reach all the way back to the very first award, which went to Mother Teresa, to find a more deserving recipient. Just thinking of Jean Vanier affirms life’s spiritual dimension.

(Hat-tip: Rod Dreher)

…some say in ice.

December 23, 2013

A big ice storm swept through our area this weekend. A local rag has captured some photos from around the city. The biggest problem seems to have been tree branches falling on power lines, leaving many people without electricity. A good proportion of traffic lights are out, with massive traffic jams in consequence. The silver lining is that the ice on the trees is quite beautiful.

As for me and my house, we were fortunate that our power stayed on (despite some odd intermittent dimming in the evening hours). Our car was encased in a thick layer of ice yesterday; we had to chisel it out in order to open the door. And on our driveway and sidewalk the ice is an inch thick. But the kids love it, and they say that the temperatures will rise in the spring, so I’m not too worried.

Gehry’s Guide to Toronto

November 20, 2013

The celebrated architect Frank Gehry is in Toronto this week to smoke crack give advice to city council over an application to demolish some “heritage buildings” to make way for large towers (which he has designed).

Not surprisingly, Gehry is in favour of demolishing whatever is currently on the site of the proposed towers. But I was a little surprised when he began to enumerate the city’s buildings — just two! — which in his judgement should be protected from demolition: our old city hall (certainly not our new city hall!) and Osgoode Hall, home of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Now, this list is incomplete in important ways, but it is notable that Gehry did not list the Art Gallery of Ontario, which he himself designed to much mystifying fanfare a few years ago. This seems to be a case of refreshing honesty. His sketch for that project must surely be a minor classic in the annals of modern architecture:

At the Art Gallery of Ontario, one can actually buy souvenirs with this “design” on them. Did I mention that Gehry is a celebrated architect?

Later in his address, he let slip his reasons for saving particular buildings from the wrecker’s ball, and they may not survive public scrutiny. “I think you should preserve [Old] City Hall because I used to go there when I was a kid,” he argued. He then added, “the old General Hospital building I was born in should have been sacred. It was torn down.” He did not mention whether he used to lunch at Osgoode Hall.

Make room for Jack.

November 18, 2013

This Friday will be the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. I’ve just learned that on that day a memorial plaque bearing his name will be installed in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. This is obviously a great honour for any English author — and for an Irish one too. More.

Being, consciousness, bliss

October 15, 2013

It is not exactly a secret around here that I harbour a certain admiration for the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart. Not only do I generally delight in what he says (insofar as I understand it), but I am besotted by the way he says it. I am therefore happy to discover today that he has written another book: The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, published last month by Yale University Press.

hart-small

I imagine I will not be too wide of the mark if I speculate that the book’s arguments are at least partly reflected in the following lecture, which bears a title matching the book’s subtitle. It’s a very good lecture in any case:

An aside: If anyone knows of a way to set an ‘alert’ which would notify me when a favourite author publishes a new book, I’d appreciate knowing about it.

The papal telephone game

October 3, 2013

From JasonBachCartoons (Via The Chant Cafe)

Although I’m not sure this sort of thing can entirely account for the odd things Pope Francis is lately said to have said…

Forthcoming

July 15, 2013

This is a pleasant surprise to me, and may be to you too:

Flannery

The publication date will be in November; I know what I want for Christmas. A brief description from The Millions:

When Flannery O’Connor was in her early 20s and a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she kept a journal which focused on her relationship with her faith. Recently discovered, this journal should be a fascinating prospect for anyone with an interest in O’Connor’s writing, inseparable as it is from her Catholic belief in sin and redemption. It dates from 1946-47, around the time she was writing the stories that would converge into her debut novel Wise Blood. It looks to have been an exercise in bringing herself closer to her God through the act of writing: “I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always fugitive. This way I have it every instant.”