Politics and Consumer Motivations

Electrolite is one of my favorite blogs and I’ve spent the last half hour trying to remember the link to this brilliant piece in the Washington Post about the consumerization of our political process. I start reading Electrolite and suddenly find the link staring me in the face. Here’s part of what it says: We are watching the slow-motion collapse of American citizenship. For more than two centuries, ordinary citizens were important actors on this country’s stage.

What is Objectivity?

Philosophically the idea of objectivity is, when examined, one of the odder notions we have. So says Lorraine Datson in a review of a new book, Dying to Know: Scientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England by George Levine. ‘Objectivity’ is a word at once indispensable and elusive. It can be metaphysical, methodological and moral by turns, occasionally in the same paragraph. Sometimes it refers to the ultimate reality as seen from a God’s-eye point of view, sometimes to methods that replace judgments with algorithms, and sometimes to cool detachment from passions and interests.

Network Organizing Principles

EurekaAlert reports a new study in a recent issue of Science (damn I’m behind in my reading again). The study claims to find similar organizing principles in different types of networks: genes, neurons, the internet.

Whither Criticism?

The LA Times reports that art critics at most newspapres don’t criticize art. A new survey by the National Arts Journalism Program says that only 27% of art critics think their job is to form opinions about art, while a whopping 91% believe they are writing to educate the public. The goal sounds benign, but its courtly arrogance is actually astounding. When a writer begins with the presumption that the reader is uneducated about the subject – or at least not as well educated as he – be prepared to be bored silly by what is written.

Physics and a Reverse Sokal Hoax

Some interesting articles and discussion are coursing through the net on the work of the Bogdanov brothers, two Frenchmen who have received doctorates in physics for papers that are now being questioned for their authenticity.

Via the Chronicle of Higher Ed and RRE I offer the following pointers.

Speaking up for the Muggles

Chris Mooney pens an essay in the Washington Post in praise of Muggles - those people who aren’t wizards a la Harry Potter. Rowling’s critique of people like the Dursleys owes a great deal to two other British writers of fantasy, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Both writers believed that fantasy and the imagination – in stark contrast with technology and modernism – can help us access a deeper, more magical and enchanted existence.

Weeding Books from the Library

About 5 years ago I went through the process of moving my books from one home to another. At that time I filled a single box full of titles I planned to sell at the local used bookstore. (For comparison I probably had 25 boxes I planned to keep.) That box is still in the closet, never having been delivered to the used bookstore. The New York Times has a short article on the perils of ‘weeding’ to all of those who patronize libraries or own one themselves.

Harold Bloom on Genius

Harold Bloom has a new book out, a massive tome called Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. I ran into the 800 page book as soon as I stepped into the Ann Arbor Borders 10 days ago. I was in Ann Arbor to visit the School of Information and stopped by Borders to get a sense of the school atmosphere. Judith Shulevitz’s review from the New York Times captures some of the brilliance of Bloom’s analysis and method.

Surprise - Criminal Profilers Got It Wrong?

I stopped watching the news about the Washington D.C. sniper before the story had even really begun to bloom because I knew that the cable news channels were going to blow it with ridiculous speculation. Why not, I thought, devote every half hour to the sniper and the rest to the bombings in Bali or other world events? But no one listened to me. So now the post-mortems of the media are starting to come out and the criticisms are focusing on the complete failure of the profilers to pick out the real culprits.

Consciousness and the Novel

Via Arts and Letters Daily I found this intriguing profile of David Lodge, author of a new set of essays Consciousness and the Novel and a recent novel Thinks, about the interesection between critical theory and consciousness studies. Cognitive science and deconstructive theory may offer “a formidable challenge to the idea of human nature on which most literary fiction is based,” writes Mr. Lodge in Consciousness and the Novel. The notion of “the autonomous human self is not universal, eternally given, and valid for all time and all places.