Jonathan Raban reviews The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back by Andrew Sullivan, in the New York Review of Books:
Like so many parties that go on past their proper bedtime, Karl Rove’s Republican Party has lately begun to break out in fights, as neocon theorists, Goldwater-style libertarians, the corporations, and grassroots Christian fundamentalists come to the aggravating discovery that they’re more defined by their differences than by what they hold in common. On climate change, government spending, stem-cell research, reproductive rights, and the Iraq war, to name just a few of the triggering issues, self-styled conservatives find themselves at loggerheads with other self-styled conservatives, each claiming the mantle of true conservatism for himself. As both symptom and diagnosis of this interesting—one might say promising—development, Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul is as engaging as it is provocative.
Sullivan is an odd duck. Born in England in 1963 to an Irish immigrant family, he grew up in East Grinstead, a town long associated with a cho-leric, class-based brand of reactionary Toryism.
Greg Ross interviews Douglas Hofstadter in American Scientist:
There’s a popular idea currently that technology may be converging on some kind of culmination—some people refer to it as a singularity. It’s not clear what form it might take, but some have suggested an explosion of artificial intelligence. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Oh, yeah, I’ve organized several symposia about it; I’ve written a long article about it; I’ve participated in a couple of events with Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec and many of these singularitarians, as they refer to themselves. I have wallowed in this mud very much. However, if you’re asking for a clear judgment, I think it’s very murky.
The reason I have injected myself into that world, unsavory though I find it in many ways, is that I think that it’s a very confusing thing that they’re suggesting. If you read Ray Kurzweil’s books and Hans Moravec’s, what I find is that it’s a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can’t possibly figure out what’s good or bad. It’s an intimate mixture of rubbish and good ideas, and it’s very hard to disentangle the two, because these are smart people; they’re not stupid.
Ray Kurzweil says 2029 is the year that a computer will pass the Turing test [converse well enough to pass as human], and he has a big bet on it for $1,000 with [Lotus Software founder Mitch Kapor], who says it won’t pass. Kurzweil is committed to this viewpoint, but that’s only the beginning. He says within 10 or 15 years after that, a thousand dollars will buy you computational power that will be equivalent to all of humanity. What does it mean to talk about $1,000 when humanity has been superseded and the whole idea of humans is already down the drain?
A technically exciting videogame of a film, 300 loses touch with a critical and moving event in Greek history.
Eugene N. Borza in Archaeology:
Herodotus, the “Father of History,” told many good stories, but there are few tales in his repertoire that surpass his narrative of the last-ditch stand of the Greeks against numerically superior forces at the pass of Thermopylae in August, 480 B.C. A huge military force led by Xerxes, the Persian King of Kings, crossed the Hellespont from Asia into Europe, intent on the subjugation of Greece. Whether Xerxes intended this invasion as revenge for the Athenian victory over the Persians at Marathon a decade earlier or whether his expedition had been planned all along as the natural extension of Persian rule into Europe is still a matter of debate among modern historians. The Greek city-states were aware of the movement of Asian land and naval forces through the areas north of them. Greek representatives met and attempted to plan a defense against an army that may have numbered hundreds of thousands (precision in numbers is impossible). A dispute among the Greeks regarding their best defense was resolved thus: the Peloponnesians, led by Sparta, would build a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth in order to protect the cities of southern Greece. Athens, which was vulnerable, would be evacuated, and the powerful Athenian fleet would be used to engage and destroy the Asian naval forces, thereby depriving Xerxes of necessary support. But time was short, and an attempt to delay the relentless advance of Xerxes’ army was necessary to enable the Athenians to abandon their city and the Peloponnesians to build their defensive wall.
Stephen Greenblatt in the New York Review of Books:
In 1998, a friend of mine, Robert Pinsky, who at the time was serving as the poet laureate of the United States, invited me to a poetry evening at the Clinton White House, one of a series of black-tie events organized to mark the coming millennium. On this occasion the President gave an amusing introductory speech in which he recalled that his first encounter with poetry came in junior high school when his teacher made him memorize certain passages from Macbeth. This was, Clinton remarked wryly, not the most auspicious beginning for a life in politics.
After the speeches, I joined the line of people waiting to shake the President’s hand. When my turn came, a strange impulse came over me. This was a moment when rumors of the Lewinsky affair were circulating, but before the whole thing had blown up into the grotesque national circus that it soon became. “Mr. President,” I said, sticking out my hand, “don’t you think that Macbeth is a great play about an immensely ambitious man who feels compelled to do things that he knows are politically and morally disastrous?” Clinton looked at me for a moment, still holding my hand, and said, “I think Macbeth is a great play about someone whose immense ambition has an ethically inadequate object.”
I was astonished by the aptness, as well as the quickness, of this comment, so perceptively in touch with Macbeth’s anguished brooding about the impulses that are driving him to seize power by murdering Scotland’s legitimate ruler. When I recovered my equilibrium, I asked the President if he still remembered the lines he had memorized years before. Of course, he replied, and then, with the rest of the guests still patiently waiting to shake his hand, he began to recite one of Macbeth’s great soliloquies…
A new biography of Albert Einstein.
John Updike in The New Yorker:
When youthful and frisky, Albert Einstein would refer to himself as “the valiant Swabian,” quoting the poem by Ludwig Uhland: “But the valiant Swabian is not afraid.” Albert—the name Abraham had been considered by his unreligious parents but was rejected as “too Jewish”—was born in Ulm, in March of 1879, not long after Swabia joined the new German Reich; he was the first child and only son of a mathematics-minded but financially inept father and a strong-willed, musically gifted woman of some inherited means. A daughter, Maria, was born to the couple two and a half years later; when shown his infant sister, Albert took a look and said, “Yes, but where are the wheels?” Though this showed an investigative turn of mind, the boy was slow to talk, and the family maid dubbed him der Depperte—“the dopey one.”
My friend Elke Zuern points me to this site, Rejected Letters to the Editor.
Our goal at Rejected Letters to the Editor (RLTE) is to responsibly expand the visible spectrum of ideas. To publish letters that will broaden public discussion beyond the boundaries set by the gatekeepers of our mental environment. We hold to the democratic conviction that public opinion must be educated by, and conversant with, the course of human events, and we will seek to publish letters that allow essential perspectives, presently unacknowledged by respected newspapers, to see the light of day.
Our purpose is not to provide a dumping ground for every letter sent to a “letters page,” but to publish letters that editors knowledgeable in a variety of fields believe will add to public under-standing of the pressing—and not so pressing—issues of our time. We are uninterested in contributing to the widespread notion of “information overload.” Through our editorial choices, we hope to add clarity and knowledge that is too often fugitive. Rather than adhering to the mind-numbing news cycle, we will be publishing fortnightly and maintaining an archive of all letters that appear in the publication.
For those who may have missed it, Michael Bérubé has returned to the blogosphere, recently joining Crooked Timber. Michael Bérubé on the debate on who really opposed the war and other internecine fights in the Left.
In the US, the Z/Counterpunch crew have a symbiotic relation to Berman, Hitchens, et al., just as in the UK the Galloway/Respect crowd have a symbiotic relation to the Eustonites. To this day, each needs the other. And it is in both camps’ interest to pretend that Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were all part of the same enterprise: all three wars were wars of liberation for the Hawks, and all three were exercises in imperialism for the Sovereignty Left. The Hawks wound up agreeing, in whole or in part, with Bush’s premise that Iraq was the next logical front in the War on Terror. And the Sovereignty Left has never quite explained what American empire was established in the Balkans, and they’ve never quite explained why they opposed the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 but opposed the Taliban’s removal after al-Qaeda’s strikes against the US. But both groups share the common goal of aligning supporters of war in Kosovo and Afghanistan with supporters of war in Iraq.
Sitting at the computer in the office of his Northampton home last month, Eric Reeves pushed the “send” button, intending to spread an idea — a modest, but potentially powerful idea.
Reeves, a professor of literature at Smith College who has become one of the world’s foremost experts on the humanitarian disaster in Darfur, has concluded that only China, as Sudan’s biggest economic and diplomatic supporter and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can stop the slaughter that President Bush has called genocide (as many as 400,000 people have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan since 2003, and more than 3 million others may face a similar fate). And China, says Reeves, can only be pressured to act by appealing to its sense of national pride and honor — forcing Beijing to choose between its lucrative relationship with Khartoum and having its coveted games lumped in the collective consciousness with Nazi Germany’s hosting of the Berlin games in 1936.
more from Boston Globe Ideas here.
‘Foreigners think we’re nuts coming back to a doomed city on a damned continent,’ Rian Malan once wrote about Johannesburg, ‘but there is something you don’t understand: it’s boring where you are.’ When I go to meet Malan, South Africa’s most controversial and charismatic writer, in his home city, I see the force of both halves of that statement.
Three stories are dominating the Jo’burg headlines. The first is the brutal murder of the ‘white Zulu’ David Rattray, friend of Prince Charles, who told the story of Rorke’s Drift from the African perspective. Rattray was shot in his bedroom by a local Zulu, a man he knew, in a botched robbery. The second story exercising the phone-in shows concerns an attempt by the First National Bank to draw attention to violent crime – murders are running at 50 per day – in an advert which talked of ‘mobilising the population’. The ANC government, jumpy about such language, had pressured the bank to withdraw the campaign. And the third story was about the extraordinary popularity of an Afrikaans song, ‘De la Rey’, a homage to a general who had fought the British with the Transvaal Bittereinders and helped forge the Afrikaans nation. The song called for the return of General De la Rey – ‘We are ready’ – and suggested that the Boer ‘nation will rise up again’.
more from The Guardian here.
Studies show that professors are three times more likely to be atheists or agnostics than the rest of the population. Is a complete separation of church and state good for the University, or should you be worried about being indoctrinated by godless liberals?
Kingson Man in The Michigan Daily:
At the moment, there is something of an atheist revival going on. Books by notable atheists – including the “unholy trinity” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett – are international bestsellers. Publications like Time, Wired and The New York Times have devoted their covers and yards of copy to the phenomenon.
“Dawkins doesn’t know a thing about religion,” said Brian Malley, a lecturer in the University psychology department’s culture and cognition program. The lights in his office were off, and it was dark enough that one couldn’t tell if he was being entirely serious. “There’s reams of research about what religion is actually like.”
He makes an important point. For his doctoral work, Malley studied the actual practices of Evangelical Christians at a local church and found that they don’t always match up with the dictates of scripture. Sometimes they don’t even believe what they think they believe. A great deal of personal interpretation often underlies their strong claims of biblical inerrancy.