December 13, 2013

" Attention, perhaps, is the antidote to narcissism"

is the Distracted Life Worth Living?

Philosophy is something close to a national pastime in France, a fact reflected not just in the celebrity status of its big thinkers but also in the interest its media show in the subject.  So perhaps it’s not surprising that several French publications recently sent correspondents, interviewers, and even philosophers to the Richmond, Va. motorcycle repair shop of Matthew Crawford, mechanic, philosopher, and a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.
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Jean-Baptiste Jacquin of Le Monde… pressed Crawford on what specific things people might do to counter the endless demands being put on our attention.  Having a fuller cultural consciousness of the problem is one thing that may help, Crawford suggested.  And engaging in activities that structure our attention is another:

I think manual work, almost any form of manual work,  is a remedy.  Cooking, for example. To prepare a fine meal requires a high level of concentration.  Everything you do at each stage of preparation depends directly on the activity itself and on the objects, the ingredients.
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In a dialogue between Crawford and French philosopher Cynthia Fleurry arranged by Madame Figaro , Crawford got into the question of autonomy and its connections with attention:

We have a vision of autonomy that is overly liberal,  almost a caricature of itself, in that we take it to imply a kind of self-enclosure. Attention is precisely the faculty that pulls out of our own head and joins us to the worldAttention, perhaps, is the antidote to narcissism….

The ironic and toxic result of advertising and other information saturating the environment is, Crawford explained, to isolate the self, to flatter it with delusions of its autonomy and agency.  Children grow up pressing buttons and things happen, he elaborated, but they never acquire real mastery over the world of things.  They can only make things happen by clicking buttons. ”And there you have it,”  said Crawford , “an autonomy that is autism. ”

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In the November issue of Philosophie Magazine,  Crawford exchanged thoughts with philosopher Pascal Chabot,…

Crawford nicely summed up what might be lost to all those symbol-manipulators who think of themselves as master of the universe even as they lose a fundamental knowledge of their world:

What anthropology, neurobiology, and common sense teach us is that it’s difficult to penetrate to the sense of things without taking them in hand. …It is not through representations of things but by manipulating them that we know the world.  o say it another way, what is at the heart of human experience is our individual agency:  our capacity to act on the world and to judge the effects of our action….

But the organization of work and our consumerist culture increasingly deprive us of this experience. American schools,  beginning in the 1990s, dismantled shop classes–which for me had been the most  intellectually stimulating classes—in favor of introductory computer classes, thus fostering the idea that the world had become a kind of scrim of information over which it was sufficient to glide.

But in fact dealing with the world this way makes it opaque and mysterious, because the surface experience doesn’t require our intervention but instead cultivates our passivity and dependence.  That has political consequences.  If you don’t feel you can have a real effect on the world, then you don’t believe you have any real responsibility for it. I believe that the depoliticization we are witnessing in the modern world comes from this sense of a lack of agency. The financial crisis is another alarming symptom of the problem:  A trader makes a choice that will have an effect in three years and thousands of miles away.  The consequences of his action are a matter of indifference to him.

By contrast, repairing a motorcycle doesn’t allow you to have that kind of detachment.  If it doesn’t start, your failure jumps out at you and you know who is responsible.  In teaching you that it is not easy to ignore consequences, manual work provides a kind of moral education which also benefits intellectual activity. 

I am very much looking forward to his new book on the political economy of attention.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:56 PM | Permalink

November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis also died 50 years ago today

Today, CS Lewis is to be officially inducted into Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey

Lewis will join such greats as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, John Keats, William Blake and TS Eliot in a tradition going back 600 years.

 Cslewis Poets' Corner

CS Lewis's memorial stone is set in the floor of Poets' Corner - though he was not known for poetry - and is inscribed with lines from one of his theological lectures : "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else."

Robert Barron on The Triumph of C.S. Lewis

Two famous men died on November 22, 1963. The first did so in the most dramatic way possible, assassinated in the full glare of publicity on the streets of Dallas; the second in relative obscurity, in the upstairs bedroom of his simple home on the outskirts of Oxford, England.

John F. Kennedy's legacy has, of course, been enormous, but I wonder whether C.S. Lewis has actually, in the course of these past 50 years, had a greater impact on the culture than his counterpart.
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One reason why Lewis has proven so persuasive to so many is that he was compelled to undergo a transition -- halting, painful, anguished -- from non-belief to belief. Though he had been brought up in a Christian environment, he had lost his faith by the time he entered university. He was not someone to whom religious conviction came naturally or effortlessly; he had to work his way to it, in the face of often harsh opposition, both interior and exterior. This very personal struggle gives him credibility with the millions today who want to believe but who find ideological secularism and militant atheism enormously challenging.
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C.S. Lewis intuited something that has become a commonplace among postmodern philosophers, namely, that the avatar of one worldview overcomes another, not so much through argument, but through telling a more compelling story, by "out-narrating" his opponent. He knew that the Christian evangelist, despite any personal flaws he might exhibit or institutional baggage he might carry, still possessed the greatest story ever told. Lewis told that story with particular verve, bravado, intelligence, imagination, and panache -- and that is why it is well and good that we should celebrate him on the 50th anniversary of his passing.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:41 PM | Permalink

November 20, 2013

'Take the love you have for me and spread it around.'

Humans of New York or HONY for short is a blog by Brandon Stanton that is funny, inspiring, beautiful and addictive, attracting over a million followers in just three years.

In a review of his new bestselling book,  Humans of New York, the New York Times called him, A Fisherman in New York's Sea of Faces. 

Here’s how Brandon Stanton spends several hours each day: He walks up to total strangers in New York City, requests permission to take their pictures and then asks questions so personal they might make Oprah Winfrey blush.

Mr. Stanton — a hybrid of interviewer, photographer and eager chronicler of street life — said this week that he was still stunned by the runaway success of his book, which has more than 145,000 copies in print.

“It seemed like a stupid idea, just taking pictures of people on the street,” he said. “But there’s a comfort, an affirmation, a validation in being exposed to people with similar problems.”

Mr. Stanton is a 29-year-old Georgia native with no training as a journalist. He has owned two cameras in his life and admits he has never learned the technically correct way to use them. When he moved to New York in 2010, he was friendless, nearly broke and recently relieved of his job as a bond trader in Chicago.
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Yaniv Soha, the acquiring editor,[St Martin's Press]  said Mr. Stanton has the rare gift of being able to connect with random people. “It’s about the stories as much as it is about the photos,” Mr. Soha said. “It’s really about his ability to relate to people and convey what makes them individual.”

Humans of New York: A blog, a bestseller, a philosophy, a slideshow from the Washington Post.

In 2010, Brandon Stanton set out to create a photographic census of the biggest U.S. city. A blog of his daily encounters has grown to 1 million readers, and he has a new bestseller, called

Stanton talked with The Post’s David Beard about a few of his images — and what he’s learned on his journey.


 Hony Umbrella-Lesson


Stanton remembers this photograph fondly. It was pouring in Central Park. She let him under her umbrella and told him, in a raspy voice: "When my husband was dying, I said: 'Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?' He told me: 'Take the love you have for me and spread it around.' "

ABC News did a wonderful video of Stanton and his work which you can see here.  Photog Gone Viral

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:29 AM | Permalink

April 22, 2013

The genius of America threatened

In Seeing Things Clear Jay Nordlinger reviews Bruce Bawer's new book, The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind.”

For two centuries,“America accomplished something that would have previously seemed impossible: the creation, as Schlesinger put it, ‘of a brand-new national identity by individuals who, in forsaking old loyalties and joining to make new lives, melted away ethnic differences.’”
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To point out the “miraculous nature” of the American accomplishment, says Bawer,

is not to deny, among other things, the mistreatment of Native Americans and the blight of slavery and racism. It is simply to note that, in a world where violent intergroup enmity and conflict have been the rule rather than the exception, America found a way for increasingly diverse groups of people to live together not only in peace but with a strong sense of shared identity — an identity founded not on ethnicity but on a commitment to the values of individual liberty, dignity, and equality articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

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“The most disastrous by-product of the civil rights movement was multiculturalism, a philosophy that teaches, as Schlesinger put it, ‘that America is not a nation of individuals at all but a nation of groups.’

The problem, to be sure, is not simply a pathological fixation on group identity, but a preoccupation with the historical grievances of certain groups, combined with a virulent hostility to America, which is consistently cast as the prime villain in the histories of these groups and the world at large. If you or I had set out to invent an ideology capable of utterly destroying the America of the Declaration, the Constitution, and the melting pot, we could scarcely have done better.

Bawer has compassion — probably more than I can muster — for those who peddle multiculti nonsense: “I find my heart going out to them. They’ve been trained to parrot jargon, to regurgitate bullet points about Western imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism — and to think that this is what it means to be educated.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:57 AM | Permalink

March 27, 2013

Spy Wednesday

Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday is the day in Holy Week when Judas Iscariot made his deal with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

The Sanhedrin was gathered together and it decided to kill Jesus, even before Pesach if possible. In the meantime, Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper. Here he was anointed on his head by a woman with very expensive ointment of spikenard. In John's Gospel, this woman is identified as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Some of the disciples, particularly Judas, were indignant about this. Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on, Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

 Caravaggio - Taking Of Christ - Dublin - 2
The Taking of the Christ by Caravaggio

The painting above is the "lost' Caravaggio that is the subject of Jonathan Harr's best-selling 2005 book, The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece . 

It reads  more like a thriller with real characters that include a young female graduate student in art, a 91-year-old Caravaggio expert and a restorer at the National Gallery of Art who "ultimately discovers the lost masterpiece  grime-covered masterpiece in a house owned by Jesuit priests.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:41 PM | Permalink

March 21, 2013

Dan Brown, the fact-challenged author who makes millions

Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and The Lost Symbol will publish his new novel, Inferno, on May 14 and has already reached #5 on Amazon's best-seller list .  He's  sold 200 million copies of his books and the first printing of Inferno will be 4 million copies.

Doubleday is celebrating the 10th anniversary of The DaVinci Code which sold 81 million copies with a free download until March 24th of the entire book.  Dan Brown's Inferno: Everything we know so far

"If Dan Brown does for Dante what he did for Leonardo [Da Vinci], the general public will probably be delighted, while the scholarly community will probably tear out their hair," says Stephen Milner, the Serena professor of Italian at Manchester University, in an interview with The Independent. In the months after its release, The Da Vinci Code proved maddening for many religious scholars, who found it difficult to convince the novel's millions of fans that its dramatic "revelations" about Jesus Christ were truly fictional, and some fear that Brown's decision to tackle Dante's revered, Christianity-infused text could have a similar effect.

 Dan-Brown-Inferno

For someone who declares that his novels are based on fact, he makes an enormous number of egregious errors in fact in all three of his earlier published books.    The London Telegraph does some research and finds at least 50 factual errors in his work

Some are major, some are minor. They are divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into categories of "History", "Geography", "Science", "Symbols, Religion and Mythology", "Language" and "Miscellany".

Here are just a few:

Langdon is shown lecturing his students that the Christian tradition of communion, eating the body of their god, comes from the Aztecs. Communion has taken place since the first century; the Aztec civilisation arose during the 13th century. Europeans did not reach central America, where the Aztecs lived, until the late 15th century.

A character says Nicolaus Copernicus was murdered by the church for contradicting Biblical teaching. In fact Copernicus died of a stroke in 1543; there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Langdon's love interest, physicist Vittoria Vetra, says that Raphael's body "was relocated to the Pantheon in 1758", having previously been interred in Urbino. This is not true: Raphael was always buried in the Pantheon, as a notice now says by his tomb in response to the book.

According to one character, the BBC journalist Gunther Glick, "the Rhodes Scholarships were funds set up centuries ago to recruit the world's brightest young minds into the Illuminati." The Rhodes Scholarships, international scholarships to the University of Oxford, were established in 1902 after the death of Cecil Rhodes.

The Swiss Guard, traditional defenders of the Vatican, are said to be "rumored to have decapitated countless Muslims while defending the Christian crusaders in the fifteenth century" with their longswords. The Guard were founded in 1506. The seventh and final Crusade took place in 1270.

Brown claims that that Galileo was a member of the Illuminati. Galileo died in 1642: the Illuminati, a society dedicated to free thinking and the Enlightenment, were formed in Bavaria in 1776.

I'm guessing his editors at Doubleday could care less so long as he brings in so much money.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:29 AM | Permalink

February 4, 2013

Communism, Fascism and liberals

John Gray reviews Vladimir Tismaneanu's The Devil in History, Communism, Fascism, and some lessons of the twentieth century
in Communism, Fascism and liberals now featured in The Times Literary Supplement.

Writing about Tismaneanu's belief that

in important respects Communism and Fascism were at one. He is clear that “Communism is not Fascism, and Fascism is not Communism. Each totalitarian experiment has its own irreducible attributes”. Even so, the two were alike in viewing mass killing as a legitimate instrument of social engineering.
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Tismaneanu’s account of Communist totalitarianism will be resisted by those who want to believe that it was an essentially humanistic project derailed by events – national backwardness, foreign encirclement and the like. But as he points out, the Soviet state was founded on policies which implied that some human beings were not fully human. Lenin may have held to a version of humanism, but it was one that excluded much of actually existing humankind. …. If radical evil consists in denying the protection of morality to sections of humankind, the regime founded by Lenin undoubtedly qualifies.
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In its predominant forms, liberalism has been in recent times a version of the religion of humanity, and with rare exceptions – Russell is one of the few that come to mind – liberals have seen the Communist experiment as a hyperbolic expression of their own project of improvement; if the experiment failed, its casualties were incurred for the sake of a progressive cause. To think otherwise – to admit the possibility that the millions who were judged to be less than fully human suffered and died for nothing – would be to question the idea that history is a story of continuing human advance, which for liberals today is an article of faith. That is why, despite all evidence to the contrary, so many of them continue to deny Communism’s clear affinities with Fascism. Blindness to the true nature of Communism is an inability to accept that radical evil can come from the pursuit of progress.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:36 AM | Permalink

December 21, 2012

"Just spunk won’t be enough; you’ve got to have gumption."

James Agee was an author, journalist, poet, screenwriter and influential film critic and a hard drinker and chain smoker who died of a heart attack in 1955 when he was only 45.    He left little money for his family and an almost completed manuscript of an autobiographical novel.    His own father died when he was six.  A Death in the Family was released posthumously, winning for Agee the Pulitizer Prize for fiction in 1958 and inclusion on Time magazine's 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. 

Agee+Death In Family

Penguin Classics republished the book in 2009 on the 100th anniversary of Agee's birth, saying 

A Death in the Family remains a near-perfect work of art, an autobiographical novel that contains one of the most evocative depictions of loss and grief ever written. As Jay Follet hurries back to his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, he is killed in a car accident?a tragedy that destroys not only a life, but also the domestic happiness and contentment of a young family. A novel of great courage, lyric force, and powerful emotion, A Death in the Family is a masterpiece of American literature.

I thought of it again in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy and I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with loss and grief.  This is a quote from the book.

Just spunk won’t be enough; you’ve got to have gumption. You’ve got to bear it in mind that nobody that ever lived is specially privileged; the axe can fall at any moment, on any neck, without any warning or any regard for justice. You’ve got to keep your mind off of pitying your own rotten luck and setting up any kind of howl about it. You’ve got to remember that things as bad as this and a hell of a lot worse have happened to millions of people before and that they’ve come through it and you can too. You’ll bear it because there isn’t any choice—except to go to pieces… It’s kind of a test, Mary, and it’s the only kind that amounts to anything. When something rotten like this happens. Then you have your choice. You start to really be alive, or you start to die. That’s all.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:29 AM | Permalink

November 21, 2012

What George Vaillant has to teach us about aging happily

David Brooks,  The Heart Grows Smarter

But as this study — the Grant Study — progressed, the power of relationships became clear. The men who grew up in homes with warm parents were much more likely to become first lieutenants and majors in World War II. The men who grew up in cold, barren homes were much more likely to finish the war as privates.

Body type was useless as a predictor of how the men would fare in life. So was birth order or political affiliation. Even social class had a limited effect. But having a warm childhood was powerful. As George Vaillant, the study director, sums it up in “Triumphs of Experience,” his most recent summary of the research, “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.”
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In case after case, the magic formula is capacity for intimacy combined with persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives.

But a childhood does not totally determine a life. The beauty of the Grant Study is that, as Vaillant emphasizes, it has followed its subjects for nine decades. The big finding is that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The men kept changing all the way through, even in their 80s and 90s.

The secret to a longer life? A puppy, a happy marriage and plenty of good friends

Owning a dog, and having a happy marriage and plenty of good friends are key to longevity, according to a landmark study.

The Grant study found all these are more important than where you were born, whether you were born into a wealthy or poor family or what social class you are in.
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George Vaillant,  "Having a loving family is terribly important, but from 70 to 90 years old you'd be surprised at the people who, despite enormous deprivation, manage to find love later on.    If you want to be happy, and don't have a six-month-old baby to trade smiles with, get yourself a puppy.  The finding on happiness is that happiness is the wrong word. The right words for happiness are emotional intelligence, relationships, joy, connections and resilience."

At Amazon Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

For Older Adults, Close Connections are Key to Healthy Aging

The study shows that relationships are the key to healthy aging, said Dr. Vaillant, who advised cultivating younger friends for their energy and fresh perspective. “You must have somebody outside yourself to be interested in — not hobbies or crossword puzzles or your stock account — but flesh and blood,” he said. “That’s why volunteerism is so important — the only way to stop thinking of your own unique wonderful self is to think of others.”
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“In the same way you exercise, pay your taxes and eat a healthy diet, you need to start replacing friends as soon as you lose them, particularly around retirement age,”

At the Harvard University Press, a short video of George Vaillant and his new book

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Life reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.

Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), Triumphs of Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.

Andrew Stark reviews in The Wall Street Journal

If a lifetime of achievement is your goal, then it is better to have had an emotionally supportive childhood than a socially privileged upbringing. Pragmatic and practical men are more likely to be politically conservative, while sensitive and intuitive men lean liberal. Other findings upset conventional wisdom (Republican men are no less altruistic than Democratic men) or proved to be just downright confounding: The longer-lived a man's maternal grandfather, the more likely it is that he will enjoy mental health.
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Gradually, though, the study acquired a more literary quality as the men's lives and characters unfolded in deeply individual ways. And with this change came another: Instead of trying to predict the futures of the study's subjects, attention turned to how well they were coming to terms with their lengthening pasts.

The surviving men are now all around 90. For them, the question of the moment is "so—what'd you think?" And the answer is surprisingly complex. Harvard psychiatry professor George Vaillant tells us in "Triumphs of Experience"—the latest installment in the series of Grant Study books he has written since taking leadership of the project 40 years ago—that what a man thinks at a late stage of life much depends on how successfully he has come to terms with life's regrets.

Christopher Caldwell reviews the book in The Weekly Standard

The study does deliver surprises in describing the effects of alcoholism. Vaillant may be boasting when he writes that his work was able “to disprove the illusion that securely diagnosed alcoholics can return to successful social drinking” since that illusion had been long-dispelled by the 1980s. But he is right that alcoholism is “the most ignored causal factor in modern social science.” In this study, alcoholism is the most important factor in divorce. (Certainly it causes marital problems; it may also cause problem marriages in the first place.) Booze also affects longevity considerably more than total cholesterol, frequent exercise, and obesity do.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:19 AM | Permalink

October 25, 2012

The decline of academia and the rise of homeschooling

Bruce Bawer interviewed in the Daily Caller  about his new book,The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind.

What is the Victims’ Revolution?

Education in the humanities used to mean learning about, and learning to appreciate, the glories of Western civilization – accomplishments that were made possible, in large part, by capitalism and individualism. Now, too often, it means being taught to despise Western capitalism and individualism, and to see Western civilization as a plot by white males to oppress members of other groups. Students are trained to see everything around them in terms of the power of oppressor groups over victim groups. They’re trained to cultivate resentment and to pour out ideological, jargon-heavy rhetoric about revolution. They think they’re having their eyes opened about the world but all they’re doing is being turned into robots parroting old, worn-out Marxist slogans.
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What is wrong with “identity studies” – i.e. women’s studies, black studies, queer studies, etc.? Why aren’t they real academic disciplines?

Identity studies sum up everything that’s wrong with the humanities today. They’re about nothing other than group identity, group oppression, and group grievance. Instead of engaging in objective scholarly study of, say, black American history or women’s literature, these departments are boosters for everything having to do with the group in question. It’s all slogans. Kids don’t learn anything other than to think of themselves as having been wronged by capitalism, by the West, by America, by white men. College should bring together young people from different backgrounds so they can learn to get along, respect one another, and appreciate all that they have in common. Instead these pernicious “disciplines” encourage them to pigeonhole themselves and others and to see only differences.

From Minding the Campus  How the Colleges Skew U.S. History

The UCLA History Department offerings 2012

this semester the UCLA department website lists 16 courses in U.S. history since 1789. No courses deal with the Early Republic or the early 19th century. The only coverage of the Civil War comes in the form of small portions of thematic courses dealing either with race or gender (Slavery: Narrative, Novel, and Film, History of Women in the U.S., 1860-1980).It offers no classes on U.S. military history or U.S. constitutional history. The only standard survey comes in the class dealing with the New Deal, World War II, and the immediate postwar period.

Look what the department emphasizes. A quarter of the classes deal with race. Another two courses focus on ethnicity--including Asian-American cuisine; another two focus on gender. Fifteen or twenty years ago, students might encounter these courses in an ethnic studies department, not a history department at one of the nation's leading public universities.

Homeschoolers The Last Radicals

There is exactly one authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States, and it is not Occupy, the Tea Party, or the Ron Paul faction. It is homeschoolers, who, by the simple act of instructing their children at home, pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional. Like all radical movements, homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:54 AM | Permalink

September 19, 2012

"The moral law has become the very emblem of immorality"

A quote worth pondering via Rod Dreher from political philosopher J. Budziszewski taken from his book on the natural law, "What We Can't Not Know".

We are passing through an eerie phase of history in which the things that everyone really knows are treated as unheard-of doctrines, a time in which the elements of common decency are themselves attacked as indecent. Nothing quite like this has ever happened before. Although our civilization has passed through quite a few troughs of immorality, never before has vice held the high moral ground. Our time considers it dirty-minded to treat sexual purity as a virtue; unfeeling to insist too firmly that the sick should not be encouraged to seek death; a sign of impious pride to profess humble faith in God. The moral law has become the very emblem of immorality. We call affirming it “being judgmental” and “being intolerant,” which is our way of saying it has been judged and will not be tolerated.

From the Booklist review at Amazon:

According to the natural law, a concept Christianity adopted and modified from Greek and Roman philosophy, knowledge of God's existence and of fundamental moral principles constitutes humanity's universal common sense. It isn't innate, however, but must be inculcated through traditional moral systems, such as the Tao, the dharma, and the Ten Commandments. Budziszewski invokes the last as best known to most of his potential readers and cites Judaic and Christian scripture, yet this is no religious tract but a philosophical exposition and a disputation on current moral attitudes and issues, especially abortion. Framing the entire presentation in terms of a lost world of moral consensus, Budziszewski says the natural law grounds a rational worldview that has been discredited by sin and guilt, and displaced by world views grounded in sensation  (he is particularly cogent on the varieties of modern atheistic or agnostic feelings). But the natural law weltanschauung could be reestablished, and Budziszewski concludes his superb "guide" with broad advice on how to do so
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:28 AM | Permalink

September 17, 2012

So you never read Moby Dick

‘I have written a blasphemous book’, said Melville when his novel was first published in 1851, ‘and I feel as spotless as the lamb’.

You can read or listen to a chapter a day in the the Moby-Dick Big Read:

It's  an online version of Melville’s magisterial tome: each of its 135 chapters read out aloud, by a mixture of the celebrated and the unknown, to be broadcast online, one new chapter each day, in a sequence of 135 downloads, publicly and freely accessible.


Moby-Dick captures stars for reading voyage

David Cameron, Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry and Simon Callow jump aboard ambitious project to broadcast Herman Melville's classic novel in its entirety – 135 chapters over 135 days.

The news is so bad and so dispiriting that listening to a great book for a few minutes each day provides a healthy antidote.

I'm going to do it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:18 PM | Permalink

August 23, 2012

Pedophilia in 50 Shades of Grey?

Is 50 Shades Of Grey – Pedophilia Hiding In Plain Sight

The main character is described in pigtails, given words like “Holy Cow”  “down there”, “jeez”  “double crap” she can’t operate a computer (but is supposedly a college graduate), describes skipping and doing cartwheels, repeatedly says she is made to feel like a child, has her imaginary friend (inner goddess) feels shame, is spanked and slathered in BABY OIL, told what to say, what to eat, what to do, until finally and sadly so predictably, is physically beaten.  (But she returns to him soon after, which is again, a very common theme of abuse, including pedophilia).

This is a book I never plan to read.  That so many have read it and loved it is a disturbing comment on society today, especially  women today, who have made this the fastest selling book since Harry Potter. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:01 PM | Permalink

June 18, 2012

Books in Art 2

Carved Book Landscapes by Guy Laramee via Colossal.  See more at Laramee's website

 Laramee  Carved Book Landscape

 Laramee Booksculpture4

 Laramee Booksculture3

 Laramee Oceansurf

 Laramee Petras

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:41 AM | Permalink

June 13, 2012

Books in Art 1

Lately, I've come across several artists who use books in their art.  I've decided to feature them in a series of posts and this is the first. 

Alexander Korzer-Robinson creates 3D book sculptures by cutting around some of the illustrations and removing others.

 Alexander Korszer Robinson

A fascinating gallery of his work in the Telegraph.

 Book Sculture 2

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:37 PM | Permalink

May 9, 2012

The Most Read Books in the World

 Topten Books

This info graphic by graphic artist Jared Fanning shows the top 10 most popular books by sales over the past 50 years.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:31 AM | Permalink

April 25, 2012

Happiness Ascendant

An excerpt on happiness from Jerome Kagan's new book, Psychology's Ghosts as reviewed by Carol Tavris

In his second essay, "Happiness Ascendant," Mr. Kagan virtually demolishes the popular academic effort to measure "subjective well-being," let alone to measure and compare the level of happiness of entire nations. No psychologist, he observes, would accept as reliable your own answer to the question: "How good is your memory?" Whether your answer is "great" or "terrible," you have no way of knowing whether your memory of your memories is accurate. But psychologists, Mr. Kagan argues, are willing to accept people's answer to how happy they are as if it "is an accurate measure of a psychological state whose definition remains fuzzy."

Many people will tell you that having many friends, a fortune or freedom is essential to happiness, but Mr. Kagan believes they are wrong. "A fundamental requirement for feelings of serenity and satisfaction," Mr. Kagan says, is "commitment to a few unquestioned ethical beliefs" and the confidence that one lives in a community and country that promote justice and fair play. "Even four-year-olds have a tantrum," he notes, "if a parent violates their sense of fairness." His diagnosis of the "storm of hostility" felt by Americans on the right and left, and the depression and anomie among so many young people, is that this essential requirement has been frustrated by the bleak events of the past decades. War, corruption, the housing bubble and the financial crisis, not to mention the fact that so many of those responsible have not been held unaccountable, have eroded optimism, pride and the fundamental need to believe the world is fair.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:19 PM | Permalink

March 28, 2012

"The sacred is especially difficult for liberals to understand"

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt reviewed by David Goodhart in Prospect.

Elite colleges produce WEIRD people: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic.

[see Science Daily report: Psychological research conducted in 'WEIRD' nations may not apply to global populations]

...[i]n the formulation of a group of North American cultural psychologists, WEIRD—,,, from a sub-culture that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. They are, as we have seen, universalists, suspicious of strong national loyalties. They also tend to be individualists committed to autonomy and self-realization. Balancing that they are usually deeply concerned with social justice and unfairness and also suspicious of appeals to religion or to human nature to justify any departure from equal treatment—differences between men and women, for example, are regarded as cultural not biological.
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Haidt is a liberal who wants his political tribe to understand humans better. His main insight is simple but powerful: liberals understand only two main moral dimensions, whereas conservatives understand all five. (Over the course of the book he decides to add a sixth, liberty/oppression.
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Liberals care about harm and suffering (appealing to our capacities for sympathy and nurturing) and fairness and injustice. All human cultures care about these two things but they also care about three other things: loyalty to the in-group, authority and the sacred.

As Haidt puts it: “It’s as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning.” This does not mean that liberals are necessarily wrong but it does mean that they have more trouble understanding conservatives than vice versa.
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The sacred is especially difficult for liberals to understand. This isn’t necessarily about religion but about the idea that humans have a nobler, more spiritual side and that life has a higher purpose than pleasure or profit. If your only moral concepts are suffering and injustice then it is hard to understand reservations about everything from swearing in public to gay marriage—after all, who is harmed?

In the New York Times, Haidt himself writes "Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness"  to better understand what the cultural wars are about.
 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:27 PM | Permalink

February 7, 2012

When All Hell Let Loose

What happens when All Hell Let Loose?

Military historian Sir Max Hastings asks and answers the question

what happens when “almost everything which civilised people take for granted in time of peace [is] swept aside, above all the expectation of being protected from violence.”
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The figures themselves almost overwhelm the reader: 60 million people died between 1939-45, both combatants and civilians, often in horrifying circumstances. Russia’s sacrifice of lives was immeasurably greater than all the other countries: 65 percent of the total.
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He also shows the bungling and incompetence that are a characteristic of war and which often caused most casualties, commenting that in England “before peace came, accidents in the blackout killed more people than did the Luftwaffe.” The magnificent Churchillian rhetoric which Hastings rightly extols in his study of the wartime prime minister could not hide the fact that the British armed forces demonstrated continual “failures of will, leadership, equipment, tactics and training.” Where there was a will to win, as the author points out, it could not compete with the Russian or German brutal acceptance of the inevitability of huge
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Interestingly, given the intellectual eminence of Germany, the author suggests that Britain’s claim to genuine success lay in the superiority of its application of science and technology.  The best civilian brains were mobilised in the war effort; the work of the boffins at Bletchley Park and the cracking of the German Enigma code were more effective in defeating the enemy than the campaigns in the field.
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Yet as the author grimly reminds us, two million Russians also starved to death in territories controlled by their own governments; Stalin was as cynical about human life as was Hitler. His war aims, to grab as much territory in Eastern Europe as he could get away with, were equally selfish and at odds with human liberty.
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He is dismissive of the German defence, “We did not know” when mass atrocities came to light after the War, concluding that it was “impossible” for most German civilians credibly to deny knowledge of the concentration camps or of the slave labour system. Again, referring to the Holocaust, he judges that it was “easy”, in one of the most highly educated societies in Europe, to find people willing to murder “those whom their rulers defined as state enemies, without employing duress.”

His book available at Amazon

'Unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written’ The London Sunday Times

...an epic tale of human experience, from campaign to campaign, continent to continent.This magisterial book ranges across a vast canvas, from the Russian front, where more than 90% of all German soldiers who perished met their fate, to the agony of Poland amid the September 1939 Nazi invasion, and the 1943 Bengal famine, in which at least a million people died under British rule – and British neglect.

Via Tea at Trianon

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:33 AM | Permalink

January 7, 2012

"The religion of science can turn an intelligent man into a fool"

The most devastating book review of the year.  Leon Wieseltier in The Answers in The New Republic.

Is there a god? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck. Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding? Is there free will? Not a chance! What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral difference between them. Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral. Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes. What is love, and how can I find it? Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it. Does history have any meaning or purpose?It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.” I take this cutting-edge wisdom from the worst book of the year, a shallow and supercilious thing called The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions, by Alex Rosenberg, a philosopher of science at Duke University. The book is a catechism for people who believe they have emancipated themselves from catechisms. The faith that it dogmatically expounds is scientism. It is a fine example of how the religion of science can turn an intelligent man into a fool.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:45 PM | Permalink

November 2, 2011

A Sermon You Can't Sleep Through

Blatty Describes 'The Exorcist' as a Sermon

That I am regularly hauled out of my burrow every Halloween like some furless and demonic “Punxsatawney Phil” always brings a rueful smile of bemusement to my lips as I lower my gaze and shake my head, for the humiliating God’s-honest truth of the matter is that while I was working on "The Exorcist," what I thought I was writing was a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story – in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through -- and to this day I haven’t the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying, scale. 
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When I first heard, in 1949, of an actual case of demonic possession and an exorcism going on nearby while I was a junior at Georgetown University, I remember thinking, “Someday, somebody’s got to write about this, because if an investigation were to prove that possession is real, what a help it would be to the struggling faith of possibly millions, for if there were demons, I reasoned, then why not angels? Why not God?"

...I in fact did not base my novel on the 1949 case, but rather what my research made clear; namely, that in every period of recorded history, and in every culture and part of the world, there have been consistent accounts of possession and its symptoms going all the way back to ancient Egyptian chronicles, and where there is that much smoke, my reason told me, there is probably fire – and a lot of it, if you get my meaning. Do you? My faith is strong.


Polished and rewritten for its 40th anniversary is
The Exorcist.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

October 24, 2011

Believers are nicer

Best known for his book, Bowling Alone, the book that made "social capital" a key indicator of society, Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard a non-believer, He has co-authored a book with David Campbell, a Mormon, called, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.    

Simon Smart  summarizes the book in  God's truth, believers are nicer people

Their most conspicuously controversial finding is that religious people make better citizens and neighbours. Putnam and Campbell write that ''for the most part, the evidence we review suggests that religiously observant Americans are more civic, and in some respects simply 'nicer' ''.

On every measurable scale, religious Americans are more generous, more altruistic and more involved in civic life than their secular counterparts.

They are more likely to give blood, money to a homeless person, financial aid to family or friends, a seat to a stranger and to spend time with someone who is ''a bit down''.

A sobering note for believers is that this study reveals that the content of a person's belief isn't what matters so much as their level of involvement in a religious community.  An atheist who comes to church to support her partner will rate as well as any believer on these scores.

What can't be denied, according to Putnam and Campbell, is that there is something unique about a religious community, that has an impact on people for good.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:55 PM | Permalink

August 29, 2011

The Importance of Willpower to Individual Flourishing

In The Will in the World   Cordelia Fine reviews

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

'If there were an Olympics of desiring," the philosopher William B. Irvine once observed, "we would all make the team." Desire animates us: What, quite literally, would we do without it? Yet all too often—for about four hours a day, according to one estimate—unwanted impulses (to eat a doughnut, check Facebook, have sex with someone else's spouse) clash with our long-term goals (to be healthy, professionally productive, of good moral character). In "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength," Roy F. Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University, joins forces with the New York Times science columnist John Tierney to provide an accessible, empirically grounded guide to willpower and how best to deploy it to overcome temptation.
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an individual who is systematically unable to bring her behavior in line with her "real," carefully considered preferences lacks not just willpower but autonomy. She may enjoy an abundance of discrete freedoms: to choose between 12 kinds of doughnut and 20 kinds of fruit; to spend money she doesn't yet have or wait to earn it; to watch one of 100 TV channels or none. But if she lacks the willpower to restrain the desires that conflict with her overall blueprint of self-governance, then she is a slave to her urges and hardly free at all.

Messrs. Baumeister and Tierney point to empirical work showing its over-riding importance for academic, personal, career and financial success. (Remarkably, for example, self-control is a better predictor of students' college grades than IQ or SAT scores.) So crucial is self-discipline to individual flourishing, the authors suggest, that "research into willpower and self-control is psychology's best hope for contributing to human welfare."
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 Free-Will-Power-

This moral muscle has three important similarities to its flesh-and-blood counterpart. The first is that it becomes temporarily worn out with use.
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The second muscle-like quality of willpower is that it is fueled by glucose.
..The only bright side to this research, it seems, is the vindication it offers to those of us who find that our sedentary but mentally taxing occupations make us ravenously hungry.
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Finally, the moral muscle, like a real one, can be built up through training. Even trivial acts of self-control—like avoiding slouching—can strengthen the capacity for self-discipline in the long term
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:51 PM | Permalink

May 14, 2011

"The struggle of the Left to rationalize its positions is an intolerable Sisyphean burden. I speak as a reformed Liberal."

David Mamet is the foremost American playwright today.  He's several years along in a political conversion from left to right and Andrew Ferguson tells the tale of the playwright's progress in Converting Mamet and it's a fine read.

That’s the way it is with conversion experiences: The scales fall in a cascade. One light bulb tends to set off another, until it’s pop-pop-pop like paparazzi on Oscar night.

His last play, a comedy called November was a 'love letter' to America.

One of the themes of the play was that the country itself is much too good for politics, especially when politicians seek to govern it by serving their own selfish ends.

“I wondered, How did the system function so well? Because it does—the system functions beautifully.” How did the happiest, freest, and most prosperous country in history sprout from the Hobbesian jungle?

“I realized it was because of this thing, this miracle, this U.S. Constitution.” The separation of powers, the guarantee of property, the freedoms of speech and religion meant that self-interested citizens had a system in which they could hammer out their differences without killing each other. Everyone who wanted to could get ahead. The Founders had accepted the tragic view of life and, as it were, made it pay. It’s a happy paradox: The gloomier one’s view of human nature—and Mamet’s was gloomy—the deeper one’s appreciation of the American miracle.
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Ferguson observes that Mamet's disdain for consensus, for received wisdom of every kind is evident in nearly every aspect of his career.

One of Mamet’s favorite books has been Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, published during the First World War by the British social psychologist Wilfred Trotter, inventor of the term “herd instinct.”

“Trotter says the herd instinct in an animal is stronger even than the preservation of life,” Mamet said. “So I was watching the [2008] debates. My liberal friends would spit at the mention of Sarah Palin’s name. Or they would literally mime the act of vomiting. We’re watching the debates and one of my friends pretends to vomit and says, ‘I have to leave the room.’ I thought, oh my god, this is Trotter! This is the reaction of the herd instinct. When a sheep discovers a wolf in the fold, it vomits to ward off the attacker. It’s a sign that their position in the herd is threatened.”

His rabbi Mordecai Finley sent him books to read.

“He came back to me stunned. He said, ‘This is incredible!’ He said, ‘Who thinks like this? Who are these people?’ I said, ‘Republicans think like this.’ He said, ‘Amazing.’ ”
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Finley piled it on, from the histories of Paul Johnson to the economics of Milton Friedman to the meditations on race by Shelby Steele.

“He was haunted by what he discovered in those books, this new way of thinking,” Finley says. “It followed him around and wouldn’t let him go.”

Mamet's new book , The Secret Knowledge On the Dismantling of American Culture, will be published on June 2 with a quote from Mamet on the cover:

"The struggle of the Left to rationalize its positions is an intolerable Sisyphean burden.    I speak as a reformed Liberal."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:35 PM | Permalink

April 14, 2011

The Book That Made Your World

First,  Chinese leaders say that Christianity was the reason for the West's success, now we have an Indian philosopher who says the Bible created the soul of Western civilization and sees India's need for the "reforming power of the Bible".   

While Christianity is scorned and belittled by the secular elites in Europe and the USA, dynamic, growing,  forward-looking countries are seeing  Christianity and its positive impact on society more clearly.

Does the Bible Matter In the 21st Century?

The cancer at the heart of America’s political economy is cultural. This great nation was built by an ethic – a spirituality that taught citizens to work, earn, save, invest, and use their wealth to serve their neighbors. This biblical ethic has been replaced by secularism’s entitlement culture that teaches people that they have a right to this, that and the other without corresponding obligations to work, save, and serve. This new culture forces the state to take from productive citizens or borrow from other nations and spend it on man-made rights. This corruption of character is destroying the world’s greatest economy, but can democracy allow leaders to go against the voters’ voice?
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The West became great because biblical monogamy harnessed sexual energy to build strong families, women, children, and men.

Human history knows no force other than the Bible that has the capacity to dam sexual energy to build powerful families and nations. Indeed, no non-biblical culture has ever been able to require husbands to “love your wives” and give them the spiritual resources to do so.

The author of this piece, Vishai Mangalwadi, an Indian philosopher, is also the author of "The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization" which will be published in May.

 Vishal Mangalwadi

From his website, his bio

Vishal Mangalwadi (1949-) is an international lecturer, social reformer, political columnist, and author of thirteen books. Born and raised in India, he studied philosophy at universities, in Hindu ashrams, and at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. In 1976 he turned down several job offers in the West to return to India where he and his wife, Ruth, founded a community to serve the rural poor. Vishal continued his involvement in community development serving at the headquarters of two national political parties, where he worked for the empowerment and liberation of peasants and the lower castes.
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Vishal and Ruth are currently in the United States for the production of a television documentary, The Book of the Millennium: How the Bible Changed Civilization, a project inspired by Vishal and Ruth's recognition of India's need for the reforming power of the Bible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

March 9, 2011

The Longevity Project

How to Keep Going and Going

What can 1,500 Americans born a century ago, most of them long dead, tell us about the secret to a long life? Plenty, according to Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin, two psychologists who, in "The Longevity Project," mine an eight-decade research effort for answers to the kinds of questions that sent Ponce de León searching for the Fountain of Youth.

There are no magic potions on offer here, but many of the findings are provocative.
The best childhood predictor of longevity, it turns out, is a quality best defined as conscientiousness: "the often complex pattern of persistence, prudence, hard work, close involvement with friends and communities" that produces a well-organized person who is "somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree."
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The authors suggest that persistence and the ability to navigate life's challenges were better predictors of longevity.
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Parental divorce during childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood.
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The respondents to the study who fared best in the longevity sweepstakes tended to have a fairly high level of physical activity, a habit of giving back to the community, a thriving and long-running career, and a healthy marriage and family life. They summoned resilience against reverses and challenges— including divorce, loss of a spouse, career upsets and war trauma. By contrast, those with the darkest dispositions—catastrophizers, who viewed every stumble as a calamity—were most likely to die sooner.

The Longevity Project by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin

       The Longevity Project

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:27 AM | Permalink

February 1, 2011

"So solid a comfort, so durable a satisfaction"

In a review of the new book Never Say Die, Joseph Epstein at first credits the author Susan Jacoby for her role as "reality instructor".

--as a contributor on old-age health matters to the AARP bulletin and other magazines and newspapers, she feels that in the past she often idealized aging. "One of the reasons I am writing this book," she avers, "is that I came to feel, especially as I saw the real, not-for-prime-time struggles of much older friends, that I was presenting a half-truth that amounted to a lie."

...A longtime feminist, Ms. Jacoby expresses anger at her sisters for ignoring the plight of aging for women, especially women living alone. A majority of women will outlive their husbands—two-thirds of those over 85 in America today are women—with diminished finances and in terrible loneliness. "Old age," she writes, "is primarily a women's issue." She also underscores—no surprise here—that aging is even more difficult for the poor, of either gender.

But he wearies at her constant tirade

So complete is her attack that she is not prepared to allow the one possible reward of old age, which is the potential for acquiring wisdom through experience. Depression rather than wisdom, she holds, is more likely to be the lot of the old.

He turns to Cicero who, as Montaigne wrote, "gives one an appetite for old age".

Of course old age, bringing with it diminished strength and desires, cannot do some of things youth can; of course old age makes one more prone to illness and disease—parts, after all, do wear out; of course old age puts one closer to death. But weighed beside these serious detractions, Cicero contended, are the opportunities old age brings for "the study and practice of decent, enlightened living," accompanied by a calm that youth, and even middle age, do not allow.

----As for the attribution of such faults among the old as being morose, ill-tempered, avaricious and difficult to please, Cicero claimed, rightly, that "these are faults of character, not of age."

For Susan Jacoby, the answer to the increasing numbers of old, poor, sick, lonely women lies in benevolent care by the government and doctor assisted suicide when one has lived too long.

For me, that is more fanciful and pernicious than belief in God.

Ms. Jacoby makes no effort to hide or even subdue her politics, which, as you will have already gathered, are liberal, standard left-wing. Brought up a Catholic, she long ago shed any belief in God or the supernatural..

And so, she utterly fails to comprehend the consolations that a strong belief in God can bring. For those who have grown in their faith, aging becomes a natural monastery where one detaches from the things of the world to focus increasingly on God and eternity.

Compare what a blind monk has to say. in the gorgeous movie, ."Into Great Silence (Two-Disc Set)"

“The closer one brings oneself to God, the happier one is. The faster one hurries to meet him. One should have no fear of death. On the contrary! For us, it is a great joy to find a Father once again. … The past, the present, these are human. In God there is no past. Solely the present prevails. And when God sees us, he always sees our entire life. And because He is an infinitely good being, He eternally seeks our well-being. Therefore, there is no cause for worry in any of the things which happen to us. I often thank God that he let me be blinded. I am sure that he let this happen for the good of my soul… It is a pity that the world has lost all sense of God. It is a pity…They have no reason to live anymore. When you abolish the thought of God, why should you go on living on this earth? … One must (never) part from the principle that God is infinitely good, and that all of his actions are in our best interest. Because of this a Christian should always be happy, never unhappy. Because everything that happens is God’s will, and it only happens for the well-being of our soul. Well, this is the most important. God is infinitely good, almighty, and he helps us. This is all one must do, and then one is happy.”

Here's what Cicero has to say On the Immortality of Souls in his Discourse on Old Age which I believe should be required reading for anyone afraid of aging and of death.

" Cicero's Cato major, or discourse on old age. Addressed to Titus Pomponius Atticus. With explanatory notes. By Benj. Franklin, LL.D."

For nature appears to me to have ordained this station here for us, as a place of sojournment, a transitory abode only, and not as a fixed settlement or permanent habitation.

But oh the glorious day, when freed from this troublesome rout, this heap of confusion and corruption below, I shall repair to that divine Assembly, the heavenly Congregation of Souls!
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Now these, my friends, are the means (since it was these you wanted to know) by which I make my old age sit easy and light upon me; and thus I not only disarm it of every uneasiness, but render it even sweet and delightful.

But if I should be mistaken in this belief, that our souls are immortal, I am however pleased and happy in my mistake; nor while I live, shall it ever be in the power of man, to beat me out of an opinion, that yields me so solid a comfort and so durable a satisfaction.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:09 PM | Permalink

January 25, 2011

A modern madness

Tide of cyber-scepticism sweeps US

The way in which people frantically communicate online via Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging can be seen as a form of modern madness, according to a leading American sociologist.

"A behaviour that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological," MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes in her new book, Alone Together, which is leading an attack on the information age.

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Turkle's thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world.

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Turkle's book, however, has sparked the most debate so far. It is a cri de coeur for putting down the BlackBerry, ignoring Facebook and shunning Twitter. "We have invented inspiring and enhancing technologies, yet we have allowed them to diminish us," she writes.

---Another strand of thought in the field of cyber-scepticism is found in The Net Delusion, by Evgeny Morozov. He argues that social media has bred a generation of "slacktivists". It has made people lazy and enshrined the illusion that clicking a mouse is a form of activism equal to real world donations of money and time.


;Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other" (Sherry Turkle)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:03 AM | Permalink

January 2, 2011

The Splintering of Black America

In The Great Unraveling,  Raymond Arsenault reviews the new book by Eugene Robinson, Disintegration, The Splintering of Black America

[Robinson] demonstrates rather convincingly that no one belongs to the black community anymore. The race-based community that was a fixture of American life for generations — the traditional locus of racial experience and solidarity, the idealized entity that many of us still refer to, indeed still cling to, as an institutional and social reality — no longer exists. That, in a nutshell, is the thesis of this slim but powerful book.

During the past four decades, Robinson persuasively argues, black America has splintered into four subgroups: the Transcendent elite; the Mainstream middle class, which now accounts for a majority of black Americans; an Emergent community made up of mixed-race families and black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean; and the Abandoned, a large and growing underclass concentrated in the inner cities and depressed pockets of the rural South.

Divided by economics and culture, these four groups have little in common and little reason to identify with one another. For better or for worse — and Robinson offers strong evidence for both positive and negative effects — the ethos of racial solidarity that served blacks well during the Jim Crow era and the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s is gone. Thus, continued references to “black leaders” or the “black agenda” make no sense and serve only to obscure the complexities of race in a vast, multicultural nation.



"Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (Eugene Robinson)

This book is full of facts, figures and telling anecdotes related to the disintegration of black America, but its real power resides elsewhere. Sometimes writers tell us something familiar — something that we already know, or that we should know — but they do it in such a creative and cleareyed way and with such force that we begin to see things differently independent of any new information. This is exactly what Eugene Robinson has done in “Disintegration.”


Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 PM | Permalink

September 30, 2010

"Books produce knowledge by encasing it."

What Are Books Good For ? by William Germano at The Chronicle Review

So what are books good for? My best answer is that books produce knowledge by encasing it. Books take ideas and set them down, transforming them through the limitations of space into thinking usable by others. In 1959, C.P. Snow threw down the challenge of "two cultures," the scientific and the humanistic, pursuing their separate, unconnected lives within developed societies. In the new-media ecology of the 21st century, we may not have closed that gap, but the two cultures of the contemporary world are the culture of data and the culture of narrative. Narrative is rarely collective. It isn't infinitely expandable. Narrative has a shape and a temporality, and it ends, just as our lives do. Books tell stories. Scholarly books tell scholarly stories.
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We are the case for books. Our bodies hold the capacity to generate thousands of ideas, perhaps even a couple of full-length monographs, and maybe a trade book or two. If we can get them right, books are luminous versions of our ideas, bound by narrative structure so that others can encounter those better, smarter versions of us on the page or screen. Books make the case for us, for the identity of the individual as an embodiment of thinking in the world. The heart of what even scholars do is the endless task of making that world visible again and again by telling stories, complicated, nuanced, subtle stories that reshape us daily so that new forms of knowledge can shine out.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:02 PM | Permalink

August 30, 2010

Mutant Ninja Christians

In More teens becoming 'fake' Christians, CNN reports on a study by Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of Almost Christian

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.

--She says this "imposter'' faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

"If this is the God they're seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust," Dean says. "Churches don't give them enough to be passionate about."

This is not the first time I’ve heard about moral therapeutic deism and teenagers. Albert Mohler wrote about it five years ago about the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:

1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."

2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."

3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."

4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."

5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and "whatever."


American teen-agers, he said, are heavily influenced by the “ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture.”

As the researchers explained, "This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God's love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera.

Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."


What it brought to my mind was a quote from Flannery O’Conner in The Habit of Being: “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”


"Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church" (Kenda Creasy Dean)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:07 AM | Permalink

August 24, 2010

The Effect of the Rage Against God

Peter Hitchens, brother of Christopher, in a very interesting interview by Hugh Hewitt

He asks a penetrating question to atheists, the major theme of his new book:
"The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith" (Peter Hitchens)
they want there not to be a God. And I think that we would get so much further with them if we insisted in every discussion where they actually deign to talk to us, and treat us as so surfeit that is not to be worth talking to, that we concentrate it upon this question, which I notice the very interesting atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel admits as crucial. Why do they so much want there not to be a God?

He sees the decline of Britain the result of the receding tide of Christianity.

HH: You were saying, Peter, at the break that Methodism in its turn of the century rise around the 1800s powered a great age in Great Britain, and then the draining away of Christianity has powered the collapse of the edifice of that great age?

PH: We had this extraordinary combination, which very few nations and civilizations achieve of order and liberty. And people were free. There was no oppressive state. We were very lightly policed. The law did not weigh heavily on our shoulders. We weren’t told to do much. But we actually behaved ourselves, because as a people, we knew that there would be reasons to do so. And our language is full of Biblical allusion. And our music, certainly at that stage, also full of the great hymns of the English Church. Everybody’s minds were full of the injunctions of Christianity, and it was believed. I…there are many arguments about how its end came. I tend to think that the 1914-1918 war was probably the great blow to it, and a number of other institutions in our country. But since then, it has been in decline. And once people stopped believing in it, and become practical atheists, they’re not Dawkins, I’d say. They don’t go on and on about being atheists. They just are, and they are atheists in their everyday life. They believe that might is right, and they either act on it by being strong and frightening other people, or they act on it by being frightened, and having no recourse. There is absolutely nothing but force in the lives of many people in our country now.

Later he remarks on the explicitly non-Christian nature of the European Union.

And you’ll possibly remember the case of Signor Buttiglione, the Italian who wanted high office in the European Union, was excluded form it because he was specifically Roman Catholic. The European Union is an overtly, explicitly anti-Christian, or not exactly anti-Christian, but non-Christian body.

Altogether, the failure of the liberal experiment of the left and the waning of the effect of Christian faith on the poor is enormous .

unless we get some kind of grip on ourselves, unless particularly people begin to realize that the great left liberal experiment has failed on its own terms…what worries my particularly is the intelligent and educated people of my country are, by and large, still determined to pursue a series of ideas which can be shown to have failed. ...they’re so profoundly uninterested in the minutiae of how society operates. ..., they’re always writing about grandiose subjects like foreign policy and resistance to Islam and so forth. Well, okay, fine. These things are important. But you never, ever see them discussing how our society functions, and what’s happening, particularly what’s happening to the poor.... everything has to be grandiose and never actually focuses on what’s happening to the person struggling to get his children through schools when the schools are bad. What’s happening to the person trying to raise honest children in a dishonest, crime-ridden neighborhood? What’s happening to somebody who’s trying to keep his marriage going when all the laws of divorce and property are designed to undermine that marriage? What’s happening to people who are trying to keep their children away from dugs when the whole of our culture, all the rock music and all the movies, and all the jokes, and half of the stuff that’s pumped out in the education system says drugs are okay? These disastrous things are going on all the time, and nobody in the elite seems to be aware of the awful damage being done to millions and millions of individual lives by it.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:33 AM | Permalink

March 9, 2010

From Jihad to Jesus

A most remarkable interview in the Wall St Journal over the weekend of the 'Son of Hamas', "They Need to Be Liberated From Their God'. 

Mosab Hassan (Joseph) Yousef is the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founding leader of Hamas, the terrorist organization, and he tells his story of how he went from Jihad to Jesus while spying for Israel and shaming his family.

Mr. Yousef tells me that he was horrified by the pointless violence unleashed by politicians willing to climb "on the shoulders of poor, religious people." He says Palestinians who heeded the call "were going like a cow to the slaughterhouse, and they thought they were going to heaven." So, as he writes in the book, "At the age of twenty-two, I became the Shin Bet's only Hamas insider who could infiltrate Hamas's military and political wings, as well as other Palestinian factions."
--

"I converted to Christianity because I was convinced by Jesus Christ as a character, as a personality. I loved him, his wisdom, his love, his unconditional love. I didn't leave [the Islamic] religion to put myself in another box of religion. At the same time it's a beautiful thing to see my God exist in my life and see the change in my life. I see that when he does exist in other Middle Easterners there will be a change.
--
As the son of a Muslim cleric, he says he had reached the conclusion that terrorism can't be defeated without a new understanding of Islam. Here he echoes other defectors from Islam such as the former Dutch parliamentarian and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Do you consider your father a fanatic? "He's not a fanatic," says Mr. Yousef. "He's a very moderate, logical person. What matters is not whether my father is a fanatic or not, he's doing the will of a fanatic God. It doesn't matter if he's a terrorist or a traditional Muslim. At the end of the day a traditional Muslim is doing the will of a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist God. I know this is harsh to say. Most governments avoid this subject. They don't want to admit this is an ideological war.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:41 AM | Permalink

February 4, 2010

The immortal cells of Henrietta Lack

A book review by Dwight Garner that really makes me want to get this book.

A Woman’s Undying Gift to Science

I put down Rebecca Skloot’s first book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” more than once. Ten times, probably. Once to poke the fire. Once to silence a pinging BlackBerry. And eight times to chase my wife and assorted visitors around the house, to tell them I was holding one of the most graceful and moving nonfiction books I’ve read in a very long time.

A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” also floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of “Erin Brockovich,” “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “The Andromeda Strain.” More than 10 years in the making, it feels like the book Ms. Skloot was born to write. It signals the arrival of a raw but quite real talent.
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The woman who provides this book its title, Henrietta Lacks, was a poor and largely illiterate Virginia tobacco farmer, the great-great-granddaughter of slaves. Born in 1920, she died from an aggressive cervical cancer at 31, leaving behind five children. No obituaries of Mrs. Lacks appeared in newspapers. She was buried in an unmarked grave.

To scientists, however, Henrietta Lacks almost immediately became known simply as HeLa (pronounced hee-lah), from the first two letters of her first and last names. Cells from Mrs. Lacks’s cancerous cervix, taken without her knowledge, were the first to grow in culture, becoming “immortal” and changing the face of modern medicine. There are, Ms. Skloot writes, “trillions more of her cells growing in laboratories now than there ever were in her body.”
Laid end to end, the world’s HeLa cells would today wrap around the earth three times.
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Bought and sold and shipped around the world for decades, HeLa cells are famous to science students everywhere. But little has been known, until now, about the unwitting donor of these cells. Mrs. Lacks’s own family did not know that her cells had become famous (and that people had grown wealthy from marketing them) until more than two decades after her death, after scientists had begun to take blood from her surviving family members, without their informed consent, in order to better study HeLa.
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This is the place in a review where critics tend to wedge in the sentence that says, in so many words, “This isn’t a perfect book.” And “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” surely isn’t. But there isn’t much about it I’d want to change. It has brains and pacing and nerve and heart, and it is uncommonly endearing.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:36 AM | Permalink

January 11, 2010

Brave New World vs. Nineteen Eighty Four

1984 is long gone, we live in the Brave New World.  Aldous Huxley wrote the far more prescient and prophetic Brave New World fifteen years before George Orwell wrote his.

If you ever had any confusion about the differences between the two, check out  Brave New World vs. Nineteen Eighty Four  through the talented work of Stuart McMillen.

  Orwell V Huxley

Remembering Brave New World which I read for the first time last year, I was reminded of this piece by Mark Steyn on Sexual Liberty

In terms of sexual identity, we’re freer than almost any society in human history, at least in terms of official validation of our choice to “redefine” ourselves in defiance of biological and physiological reality.
--

At some point we will come to see that the developed world’s massive expansion of personal sexual liberty has provided a useful cover for the shrivelling of almost every other kind. Free speech, property rights, economic liberty and the right to self-defence are under continuous assault by Big Government. But who cares when Big Government lets you shag anything that moves and every city in North America hosts a grand parade to celebrate your right to do so? It’s an oddly reductive notion of individual liberty. The noisier grow the novelties of our ever more banal individualism, the more the overall societal aesthetic seems drearily homogenized—like closing time in a karaoke bar with the last sad drunks bellowing off the prompter “I did it My Way!”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:49 PM | Permalink

November 30, 2009

Reconsidering Hellman

I very much liked Lillian Hellman's Pentimento when it came out even though her reputation for honesty was challenged early on and most famously by Mary McCarthy who said of Hellman, "Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the."

But I had no idea she was Stalin's Trollop, a blackmailer and a racist to boot.  John Zmirak convinced me.

A youthful convert to orthodox Communism, Hellman never wavered in her loyalty to the Moscow Party Line. She whitewashed the artificial famine in Ukraine, praised the grotesque Purge Trials, and backed Stalin's alliance with Hitler.
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Honoring the Hitler/Stalin pact, she joined the Communist-sponsored Keep America Out of War Committee (which promptly dissolved when Hitler invaded Russia), and lauded Stalin's invasion of neutral Finland.
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As she stood up for the inalienable right of cosseted screenwriters to get rich writing scripts they'd vetted with Soviet spies, Hellman oozed approval of Communist puppet regimes from Eastern Europe to China. She denounced Roger Straus (of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) for publishing Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In fact, she created her own little KGB in the publishing world, keeping hostile books out of print and hounding her enemies. As Koenig recalls: "When a journalist wrote a piece she disliked, she told him that if he didn't print a retraction she would tell his employer (this was when such things mattered) that he frequented gay bars. It was no coincidence that the plot of all Hellman's hit plays turned on blackmail."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:47 AM | Permalink

October 18, 2009

Too much positive thinking?

From a review of Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-Side - How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America.

It’s more than a little refreshing to know that Barbara Ehrenreich doesn’t care whether you smile. Indeed, she’d rather you not. ..., she accuses positivity-freaks of corrupting the media, infiltrating medical science, perverting religion, and destroying the economy. ... she pushes back against a kind of cultural pressure so totalizing we sometimes fail to notice its existence.
--
Ehrenreich seems less worried about what positivity fans value than what they ignore. Her idea of a life well-lived, as she repeatedly tells us, involves storming into the world and demanding progressive political change. Positivity’s decidedly inward focus—in which the solution to every problem lies in a mere attitudinal shift—thus seems troubling, a “retreat from the real drama and tragedy of human events.”
--
Platitudinous happy-talk seems so harmless that most of us barely notice it, yet it can be a burdensome, even bullying, attempt to enforce emotional conformity. Consider, for instance, the “pink-ribbon culture,” a rose-tinted world Ehrenreich steps into when she is diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Positive thinking seems to be mandatory in the breast cancer world,” she writes, “to the point that unhappiness requires a kind of apology.” Dour pathology slides are out; “remembrance” teddy bears are in.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:05 AM | Permalink

August 2, 2009

"'Standing fatwa' against Islam's critics"

From Dwight Garner's review, A Turning Ride in Europe as Islam Gains Ground  of Christopher Caldwell's new book.

Through decades of mass immigration to Europe’s hospitable cities and because of a strong disinclination to assimilate, Muslims are changing the face of Europe, perhaps decisively. These Muslim immigrants are not so much enhancing European culture as they are supplanting it. The products of an adversarial culture, these immigrants and their religion, Islam, are “patiently conquering Europe’s cities, street by street.'


"Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West" (Christopher Caldwell)

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Muslim cultures “have historically been Europe’s enemies, its overlords, or its underlings,” he deposes. “Europe is wagering that attitudes handed down over the centuries, on both sides, have disappeared, or can be made to disappear. That is probably not a wise wager.”
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The problem, in Mr. Caldwell’s view, is less about sheer numbers than cultural divergence. What’s happening in Europe is not the creation of an American-style melting pot, he writes, because Muslims are not melting in. They are instead forming what he calls “a parallel society.” Newcomers to England now listen to Al Jazeera, not the BBC. They are hesitant to serve in their adopted country’s militaries. (As of 2007, Mr. Caldwell notes, there were only 330 Muslims in Britain’s armed forces.) Worse, these immigrants are bringing anti-Semitism back to Europe.
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The most chilling observation in Mr. Caldwell’s book may be that the debate over Muslim immigration in Europe is one that the continent can’t openly have, because anyone remotely critical of Islam is branded as Islamophobic. Europe’s citizens — as well as its leaders, its artists and, crucially, its satirists — are scared to speak because of a demonstrated willingness by Islam’s fanatics to commit violence against their perceived opponents. There exists, Mr. Caldwell writes, a kind of “
standing fatwa” against Islam’s critics.
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It is hard to argue with his ultimate observation about Europe today:
“When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture” (Europe’s) “meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines” (Islam’s), “it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:16 PM | Permalink

July 24, 2009

Priceless moments quantified

Count your blessings (you could be rich)

According to a new book, You Are Really Rich, You Just Don't Know It Yet, this is the monetary value of those little moments that were previously considered to be priceless. Shrewdly tapping into the mood of recessionary re-evaluation that has seen many of us question what's truly important now that our bank accounts are rattling empty, a team of researchers asked a thousand British people what made them happy.
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But the figures here are less important than the sentiments, namely the reassurance that, as a nation, deep down we prioritise human interactions above commercial transactions. Shopping wasn't cited as a life-enhancing activity, although we do it constantly; whereas being part of a community was pegged at £33,698, something many of us take for granted.


"You are Really Rich: You Just Don't Know it Yet" (Steve Henry)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:21 PM | Permalink

July 17, 2009

Terminal Bliss and the Lure of Marriage

The mysteries of love explored in Terminal Bliss, a review of  A Happy Marriage

"A Happy Marriage: A Novel" (Rafael Yglesias)

The second chapter opens on a bleak night 30 years later. Margaret, now Enrique’s wife, is in her 50s, at the end of an excruciating three-year battle with cancer. “You have to help me die,” she begs her husband. This is a tall order. She needs him to nurse her; to prevent anyone from sustaining her when she falls into a coma; and to tell her parents she won’t be buried in their family plot — tough tasks, but also concrete ways he can help. Harder is accepting that her life is ending, that “their marriage was a mystery he was going to lose, despite 27 years living inside it, before he understood who they were.”

The mystery of what’s at the heart of a marriage can’t be unlocked, or even fully captured in words. But Enrique and Margaret are anything but common, distinct both as characters and in the endurance of their love.

I missed Unfaithfully yours, the cover story in Time by Caitlin Flanagan, but it's relevant if only as a measure of what's been lost

 Time Cover Marriage

In the past 40 years, the face of the American family has changed profoundly. As sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin observes in a landmark new book called The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, what is significant about contemporary American families, compared with those of other nations, is their combination of "frequent marriage, frequent divorce" and the high number of "short-term co-habiting relationships." Taken together, these forces "create a great turbulence in American family life, a family flux, a coming and going of partners on a scale seen nowhere else. There are more partners in the personal lives of Americans than in the lives of people of any other Western country."

An increasingly fragile construct depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligation than on the ephemera of romance and happiness as defined by and for its adult principals, the intact, two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, but it exists under constant assault. It is buffeted by affairs and ennui, subject to the eternal American hope for greater happiness, for changing the hand you dealt yourself. Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your partner — this is still the way most Americans are conducting adult life, but the numbers who are moving in a different direction continue to rise. Most notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that births to unmarried women have reached an astonishing 39.7%. (See pictures of love in the animal kingdom.)

How much does this matter? More than words can say.
There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers' financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation's underclass.
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Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation's own safe passage into adulthood?
Think of it this way: the current generation of children, the one watching commitments between adults snap like dry twigs and observing parents who simply can't be bothered to marry each other and who hence drift in and out of their children's lives — that's the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:15 PM | Permalink

July 2, 2009

"Kitsch is a disease of faith" but "Beauty will save the world"

Roger Scruton on Beauty and its corruptions

Kitsch is a mould that settles over the entire works of a living culture, when people prefer the sensuous trappings of belief to the thing truly believed in. It is not only Christian civilisation that has undergone kitschification in recent times. Equally evident has been the kitschification of Hinduism and its culture. Massproduced Ganeshas have knocked the subtle temple sculpture from its aesthetic pedestal; in bunjee music the talas of Indian classical music are blown apart by tonal harmonies and rhythm machines; in literature the sutras and puranas have been detached from the sublime vision of Brahman and reissued as childish comic-strips.

Simply put,
kitsch is a disease of faith. Kitsch begins in doctrine and ideology and spreads from there to infect the entire world of culture. The Disneyfication of art is simply one aspect of the Disneyfication of faith -and both involve a profanation of our highest values. Kitsch, the case of Disney reminds us, is not an excess of feeling but a deficiency. The world of kitsch is in a certain measure a heartless world, in which emotion is directed away from its proper target towards sugary stereotypes, permitting us to pay passing tribute to love and sorrow without the trouble of feeling them.
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Scrutonbeauty
"Beauty" (Roger Scruton)


The paradox, however, is that the relentless pursuit of artistic innovation leads to a cult of nihilism. The attempt to defend beauty from pre-modernist kitsch has exposed it to postmodernist desecration. We seem to be caught between two forms of sacrilege, the one dealing in sugary dreams, the other in savage fantasies. Both are forms of falsehood, ways of reducing and demeaning our humanity. Both involve a retreat from the higher life, and a rejection of its principal sign, which is beauty. But both point to the real difficulty, in modern conditions, of leading a life in which beauty has a central place.
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To point to this feature of our condition is not to issue an invitation to despair. It is one mark of rational beings that they do not live only -- or even at all -- in the present.
They have the freedom to despise the world that surrounds them and to live in another way. The art, literature and music of our civilisation remind them of this, and also point to the path that lies always before them: the path out of desecration towards the sacred and the sacrificial. And that, in a nutshell, is what beauty teaches us.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once made an enigmatic remark, "Beauty will save the world" about which  Alexander Solzhenitsyn organized his Nobel Lecture on Literature in 1970

And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light—yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable,
unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.

And in that case it was not a slip of the tongue for Dostoyevsky to say that “Beauty will save the world,” but a prophecy. After all, he was given the gift of seeing much, he was extraordinarily illumined.

And consequently perhaps art, literature, can in actual fact help the world of today.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:56 PM | Permalink

June 8, 2009

"Our mind might not be inside our head"

From a review of  Why You Are not Your Brain via Mindful Hack

The most mysterious thing about the human brain is that the more we know about it, the deeper our own mystery becomes. On the one hand, scientists tell us that we are nothing but 3 pounds of electrical flesh inside the skull, a trillion synapses exchanging squirts of neurotransmitter.

And yet we feel like more than the sum of these cells.
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The question of how the brain creates the mind - how these subjective experiences emerge from a piece of pale gray meat - is one of the essential questions of modern science. And yet, despite decades of research, we aren't remotely close to an answer.

--

Alva Noë, a philosopher at UC Berkeley, argues that consciousness remains a mystery because we've been looking in the wrong place. In his provocative and lucid new book, Noë writes that scientists have been so eager to locate the mind in the brain that they've neglected to consider the possibility that
our mind might not be inside our head.


"Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness" (Alva Noe)

Another review from Scientific American


The reason we have been unable to explain the neural basis of consciousness, he says, is that it does not take place in the brain.

Consciousness is not something that happens inside us but something we achieve.  it is more like dancing than it is like the digestive process.

To understand consciousness the fact that we think and feel and that a world shows up for us we need to look at a larger system of which the brain is only one element.  Consciousness requires the joint operation of brain, body and world. "You are not your brain. The brain, rather, is part of what you are."

It sounds like the Cosmic Dance

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

May 20, 2009

New Look at What Babies Think

Everything we think we know about babies is wrong

In The Philosophical Baby developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik compiles the latest in her field’s research to paint a new picture of our inner lives at inceptionone in which we are, in some ways, more conscious than adults.
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Alison Gopnik: One of the things we discovered is that imagination, which we often think of as a special adult ability, is actually in place in very young children, as early as 18 months old. That ability is very closely related to children’s ability to figure out how the world works.
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Both Piaget and Freud thought that the reason children produced so much fantastic, unreal play was that they couldn’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. But a lot of the more recent work in children’s theory of mind has shown quite the contrary. Children have a very good idea of how to distinguish between fantasies and realities. It’s just they are equally interested in exploring both.
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They already seem to appreciate the difference between the kinds of morality that comes from empathy and the kind that comes from our conventional rules. From the time they are two, they recognize both are important but in different ways. That’s pretty amazing


"The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life" (Alison Gopnik)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:53 PM | Permalink

April 17, 2009

A grain of sand

"To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour."
          William Blake

I'm a big fan of microphotography and Dr. Gary Greenberg opens up a whole new world that lies under our feet.

 Grain Sand

"A Grain of Sand: Nature's Secret Wonder" (Gary Greenberg)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:57 AM | Permalink

March 2, 2009

St. David and the Empire of the Sun, leeks and lullaby

Ah the wonders of the web where all sorts of connections can be made while I wait to clear the fifteen inches of snow that appeared overnight.  Ah, the great pleasures of a snow day.

A while back, I  started a draft post on the pre-posthumous memoir by J.G Ballard after I came across this interview about his new book  in LA Weekly


I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.


I believe in the non-existence of the past, in the death of the future, and the infinite possibilities of the present.


"Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography" (J. G. Ballard)

I tucked it away in draft form until this morning when I happened upon Happy St David's Day at Brits at their Best, a favorite blog of mine.

St. David (Dewi Sant in Welsh), a bishop of Wales (c 500-589)  became its patron saint (as well as the patron saint of vegetarians and poets).  Today the Welsh wear a leek in memory of some ancient battle against the Saxons where Bishop David advised them to wear leeks on their hats to distinguish themselves from  their enemies.    Knowing that a storm was coming, coincidentally yesterday I made a potato and leek soup  (absolutely delicious with lots of bacon bits and parsley as garnish).

Checking with the Catholic encyclopedia I learned that St David was conceived in violence, the product of the rape of his mother, a nun, by Sandde, King of Ceredigion, said by some to be King Arthur's nephew.  According to legend the poor woman gave birth on a cliff top during a violent storm.

David founded a number of churches and monasteries among them Glastonbury, Bath and Leominster, all while living a life of austerity (no meat, no beer) and great holiness.  His last words  'Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about" has become a very well-known phrase in Welsh 'Do the little things in life'.    My little thing for St David.

  Stdavid Wales, Jef-1

Here's the famous Welsh singer, Bryn Terfel, who gives shivers to The Anchoress, singing a lullaby, a love song, from Wales, courtesy of the Cat and David, best Brits.

   

Sleep my baby, at my breast,
Tis a mothers arms round you.
Make yourself a snug, warm nest.
Feel my love forever new.
Harm will not meet you in sleep,
Hurt will always pass you by.
Child beloved, always youll keep,
In sleep gentle, mothers breast nigh.
Sleep in peace tonight, sleep,
O sleep gently, what a sight.
A smile I see in slumber deep,

What visions make your face bright?
Are the angels above smiling,
At you in your peaceful rest?
Are you beaming back while in
Peaceful slumber on mothers breast?
Do not fear the sound, its a breeze
Brushing leaves against the door.
Do not dread the murmuring seas,
Lonely waves washing the shore.
Sleep child mine, theres nothing here,
While in slumber at my breast,
Angels smiling, have no fear,
Holy angels guard your rest.

Was I surprised to that that lullaby was prominently featured in the movie Empire of the Sun, based on the semi-autographical novel of the same name by J.F. Ballard.  I'd come full circle

Produced by Steven Speilberg with screenplay by Tom Stoddard,  Empire of the Sun, released in 1987, tells the story of a young boy from an aristocratic British family living in Shanghai in 1941 just as the Japanese invaded.  Separated from his parents, young Jamie  is captured and taken to a Japanese POW camp for British civilians where he comes to admire both the Japanese and the captured American pilots.  Jamie is played wonderfully by a very young Christian Bale who is befriended by a laid-back captured American pilot Basie played by John Malkovich.

When I watched the trailer again, I remembered how much I loved the movie.  A critical success, it won no Oscars despite several nominations.  I just bought it on Amazon for less than $10.  You can too.


"Empire of the Sun" (Steven Spielberg)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:11 PM | Permalink

March 1, 2009

The remarkable story of the lost book of Charles Dickens

There is a lost book by Dickens, one that recorded some of the most remarkable encounters of his life. Within it, he catalogued the stories told him by the women – prostitutes, confidence tricksters, thieves and attempted suicides – whom he interviewed before they were admitted to Urania Cottage, the refuge for fallen women he established in Shepherd’s Bush in the 1840s and effectively directed for a decade or more. The money – substantial sums, for this was “high-end philanthropy” – came from the immensely wealthy Angela Burdett-Coutts, but the initial scheme and much of its everyday direction was Dickens’s alone, his most important and most characteristic charitable venture.
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He was the greatest novelist of the age, Burdett-Coutts its richest heiress, and they were determined to offer a chance to people who had none, or only bad ones. They could only help a tiny proportion of the great tide of vulnerable young women who washed up in the prisons and workhouses of mid-Victorian England, but they did so with determination, energy and imagination.

Dickens's Refuge for Fallen Women

But overall, it is striking how clear-minded the Urania project was and how realistic and thorough in execution. Dickens and Burdett-Coutts were simply unwilling to be indifferent to the suffering that surrounded them, and unfailingly energetic in pursuing the chances of change for the better. Urania gave those who entered its doors decent food and clothing, some education, a library, a garden and even music lessons from Dickens’s old friend John Hullah, Professor at King’s College London.

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"Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women" (Jenny Hartley)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:27 PM | Permalink

February 15, 2009

Living without God

Realizing they must offer more if they want to replace religion, a new new atheist like Ronald Aronson wrote that the
“the most urgent need” for secularists today: a coherent popular philosophy that answers vital questions about how to live one’s life.”

Peter Steinfels examines The New Atheism, and Something More in his review of Living without God


"Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided" (Ronald Aronson)

A “new atheism must absorb the experience of the 20th century and the issues of the 21st,” he wrote. “It must answer questions about living without God, face issues concerning forces beyond our control as well as our own responsibility, find a satisfying way of thinking about what we may know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis for morality, point to ways of coming to terms with death and explore what hope might mean today.”

“religion is not really the issue, but rather the incompleteness or tentativeness, the thinness or emptiness, of today’s atheism, agnosticism and secularism. Living without God means turning toward something.”

For Mr. Aronson, that “something” is not the ideal of an autonomous individual striding confidently into the dawning future but the drama of an interdependent humankind embedded in complex systems of forces, knit into networks of natural environment, historical legacies, social institutions and personal relations.
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More originally, he argues that this interdependence should summon gratitude — gratitude “for,” even if not “to.” Giving thanks, he recognizes, has been central to religion, and secular culture needs to be enriched with an equivalent.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:56 AM | Permalink

October 26, 2008

The Secret of Emily Post

A disastrous marriage drove her to etiquette and more startling accomplishment

along with her best-selling guide, Etiquette (1922), she wrote six novels, scads of journalism, and a 500-page book on architecture; had a long career in radio; designed her own high-fashion clothes; endorsed everything from cigarettes to gingerbread; and built a 15-story apartment house that still stands at the corner of Madison Avenue and 79th Street in Manhattan. She lived in 9B, and her friends filled the rest of the building.

Laura Claridge's Life of Emily Post a review by Laura Shapiro

"Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners" (Laura Claridge)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:35 AM | Permalink

September 10, 2008

He wrote the book on community organizing

Melanie Phillips in a Revolution You Can Believe In

The seditious role of the community organiser was developed by an extreme left intellectual called Saul Alinsky. He was a radical Chicago activist who, by the time he died in 1972, had had a profound influence on the highest levels of the Democratic party. Alinsky was a ‘transformational Marxist’ in the mould of Antonio Gramsci, who promoted the strategy of a ‘long march through the institutions’ by capturing the culture and turning it inside out as the most effective means of overturning western society. In similar vein, Alinsky condemned the New Left for alienating the general public by its demonstrations and outlandish appearance. The revolution had to be carried out through stealth and deception. Its proponents had to cultivate an image of centrism and pragmatism. A master of infiltration, Alinsky wooed Chicago mobsters and Wall Street financiers alike. And successive Democratic politicians fell under his spell.

His creed was set out in his book ‘Rules for Radicals’ – a book he dedicated to Lucifer, whom he called the ‘first radical’. It was Alinsky for whom ‘change’ was his mantra. And by ‘change’, he meant a Marxist revolution achieved by slow, incremental, Machiavellian means which turned society inside out. This had to be done through systematic deception, winning the trust of the naively idealistic middle class by using the language of morality to conceal an agenda designed to destroy it. And the way to do this, he said, was through ‘people’s organisations’.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 AM | Permalink

June 3, 2008

Voyaging Across Sexual Boundaries

Writer Jan Morris remarries wife she wed as a man.

Morris described her transformation from male to female in two autobiographical works, Pleasures of a Tangled Life and The Conundrum.

She described how,  as a man,  he never felt homosexual but always regarded himself as 'wrongly equipped'.

Morris is also the author of Pax Britannica, a three part history of the rise and fall of the British Empire, which she started writing as a man and concluded when she was a woman.

Other works include portraits of cities including Oxford, Venice and New York.

Elizabeth said yesterday: 'I made my marriage vows 59 years ago and still have them.

'We are back together again officially. After Jan had a sex change we had to divorce.

'So there we were. It did not make any difference to me. We still had our family. We just carried on.'
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The couple have already planned to be buried on a small island on the River Dwyfor behind their house, with the inscription on the headstone to read: 'Here are two friends, at the end of one life.'

 Jan Morris

I read Conondrum when it was first published and all the rage.  Morris  described her voyages across sexual boundaries in the same beautiful and haunting way she wrote about the cities she visited and lived in around the world.  She's an admirable woman and I'm delighted that she was with her true love for 59 years.

"Conundrum (New York Review Books Classics)" (Jan Morris)

"The World of Venice: Revised Edition" (Jan Morris)

"The World: Life and Travel 1950-2000" (Jan Morris)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:21 PM | Permalink

May 30, 2008

Resurrection and faith as a love story

Spengler reviews the new book by two Harvard scholars, one Jewish, one Christian, entitled "Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews in Life and death in the Bible and is so enthusiastic about it, I ordered a copy right away.


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"Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews" (Kevin J. Madigan, Jon D. Levenson)


Modern materialism has weaned the industrial world off spiritual food, like the thrifty farmer who trained his donkey to eat less by reducing its rations each day. "Just when I got I had him trained to live on nothing," the farmer complained, "the donkey had to die!" Like the donkey, the modern world has died when its spiritual rations were cut to nothing. We refuse to acknowledge that our deepest needs are no different from those of Biblical man. We fail to nourish them and we die.
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The hope of traditional society for life on this Earth - for men cannot tolerate life on this earth without the promise of eternal life - is precisely the same as it was in late antiquity. Four hundred million Christian converts in Africa and perhaps a hundred million in China are evidence enough that much of the world will abandon broken traditions and embrace the promise of life. Man is still Biblical man, and the Bible yet again may prove a guidebook to life as it did two millennia ago.

Theology should reclaim its throne as queen of the sciences because it is our guide to the issues that will decide the life and death of nations. Levenson and Madigan have done an enormous service to their own and to many other disciplines by clarifying the Biblical understanding of life and death.

Sick of politics, I find myself reading theology and biblical commentary more and more and discovering just how deep and rich it can be.  I am in awe of Pope Benedict the theologian and hang on his words.  As Gerard Baker observed in The London Times

what is most striking, as hundreds of thousands observe this Pope in person for the first time, is not the visual symbolism, the crowds or the made-for-TV events, but the imposing beauty and power of his words.

It’s already a cliche in Rome that
the crowds came to see John Paul but they come to hear Benedict. Among those familiar with his career, his reputation was always that of a fierce intellectual — the theologian and author of dozens of dense tracts on Christianity. But what was missing was an understanding of Benedict’s remarkable capacity to use words to speak to the emotional part of the human brain.

Of course, the Pope will already have known that the US, unlike the Europe he hopes still to convert, is a religious place. True, as in Europe, there are a growing number of so-called cafeteria Christians, those who like to choose from a menu of moral and doctrinal options, who believe religion should be essentially a kind of divine validation of their own lifestyle rather than a call to sacrifice and commitment. But America is still fundamentally receptive to the religious principle, the idea of a single truth rather than a moral chaos of equally valid beliefs
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Shortly before he became Pope, Benedict told a congregation:
“Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story, an event.”

This idea of
faith as a love story — God’s love for his people, and our love for Christ, the human face of God — is what Benedict seems to want us to understand as the defining theme of his papacy.

The effect of a living faith is experiencing life as a gift and living in the realms of love unbounded. Far preferable than the "living death" of much of modern culture.

Thus Christians rescued themselves from the maelstrom of death that took hold of the late Roman Empire.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:57 AM | Permalink

March 6, 2008

Our National Food is Chinese?

"Our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie," she writes.

"But ask yourself. How often do you eat apple pie? How often do you eat Chinese food?"

Are you surprised to learn that there are 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, more than the number of McDonalds, Burger Kings and KFCs combined?

New York Times reporter Jennifer 8 writes "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food"

From the review in the Chicago Tribune:

The heart of "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles" lies beyond the table to where people work and live: behind the menu, behind the cash register, behind the wok. Lee's writing is at its most compelling in her profiles of immigrants, legal and illegal, many of whom have "paid tens of thousands of dollars" to human smugglers so they can spend "twelve-hour days and six-day weeks . . . frying, delivering, waiting tables, stirring, busing, chopping" and, more often than not, risking their lives and livelihood in the process. Lee traces the journey of immigrants from Fuzhou, a region in China that is "the single largest exporter of Chinese restaurant workers in the world today" to New York, a major nerve center for job postings:

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:34 AM | Permalink

"Who's the Redneck?"

After a set at a hotel in Washington State, I was dragged into a long, drawn-out discussion with a graying, balding New Ager who just couldn't get over my evangelical background. "You seem so smart," he kept saying. "How could you buy into that stuff?"

Here's a guy wearing a crystal around his neck to open up his chakra, who thinks that the spirit of a warrior from the lost city of Atlantis is channeled through the body of a hairdresser from Palm Springs, and who stuffs magnets in his pants to enhance his aura, and he finds evangelicalism an insult to his intelligence. I ask you: Who's the redneck?

From a review by Ed Driscoll quoting Redneck Nation by Michael Graham.

"Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War" (Michael Graham)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 AM | Permalink

December 31, 2007

My Top Ten Books of the Year

Why should critics have all the fun? No reason at all, so with that, I've decided to publish my ten favorite books read of 2007 even if they weren't all published in 2007.  These were books that I read and finished with great satisfaction in all that I learned from stories well told.

Fiction.

I'm a big reader of fiction of all sorts, yet this year, thrillers were my favorites.

Since I love anything Charles McCarry writes, I was delighted with his new book Christopher's Ghosts where we learn more about Paul Christopher's childhood in Germany with an American father and a German mother and his first love, a half-Jewish beauty.  His parents are anti-Nazi and living in great peril and his mother disappears.  It takes  twenty years but Paul returns as an American spy and takes vengeance on his mother's tormentor, the Gestapo chief Stutzer.


"Christopher's Ghosts" (Charles McCarry)

Daniel Silva is a new favorite spy thriller writer who is a pleasure to reread.  Gabriel Allon is an expert art restorer specializing in Italian Old Masters and also a secret spy in Special Operations.  He walks in sadness since his infant son was killed and his wife driven irretrievably mad by a bomb in Vienna that was meant for him.  In The Secret Servant, he travels to Amsterdam to find out who killed  an Israeli professor who was compiling reports on the dangers of militant Islam when he uncovers an Al Qaeda  plot to kidnap the daughter of the American Ambassador to London.


"The Secret Servant (Gabriel Allon)" (Daniel Silva)

I liked the Secret Servant so much that I read The Messenger again and enjoyed as much as the first time.    When the Vatican is targeted for attack,  Allon must find a way to infiltrate a Saudi terrorist network which he does with a beautiful American art expert Sarah Bancroft. 

"The Messenger" (Daniel Silva)

A Vatican thriller is The Secret Cardinal by Tom Grace.  Nolan Kilkenny, a former Navy Seal, is called to Rome after the death of his wife and son to help his father's best friend, Malachy Donaher, the Cardinal Librarian of the Holy Roman Church.  There he meets Pope Leo who tells him of Yin Daoming a cardinal "in pectore",  who for twenty years has been imprisoned in a Chinese jail whom the Pope wants brought to Rome so he can be elevated to Cardinal.  Then the Pope dies, Kilkenny's team is in China and the Chinese learn of the rescue attempt.  A real thriller as well as a fascinating look at the persecution of Christians in China along with a lot of high tech toys.


"The Secret Cardinal" (Tom Grace)

What happens when a Gen X blogger named Cassandra starts ranting about the economic disaster that begins to unfold as boomers start retiring.  Call it Boomsday and another hilarious book by Christopher Buckley who brought us Thank You for Smoking.


"Boomsday" (Christopher Buckley)


Non-fiction

In his inimitable way, Mark Steyn deals with the demographic crisis in Europe and the challenge of radical Islam in America Alone, what he calls "some light reading for the new Dark Ages".  The paperback is coming out in January 08.

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"America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It" (Mark Steyn)

Gentle Regrets is the first book I'd read by Roger Scruton and he completely won me over with stories and thoughts from his life whether they be on architecture, the deadening nihilism of Communist Eastern Europe, music or his  years as a "voyeur of holiness" .


"Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life" (Roger Scruton)

With his great skill of making a complex story intelligible through the stories of the real-life characters involved,  Jonathan Harr tells a riveting detective story in The Lost Painting, The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece.  From a clue in an obscure Italian archive by one art student through  to its public unveiling in the Dublin museum in 1992, Harr tells us the story of how a lost painting by a great master was found. 


"The Lost Painting" (Jonathan Harr)

I think I bought Cultural Amnesia as much because I loved the phrase 'necessary memories' as for all the great reviews it received.
Clive James, the famous and prolific British critic, is a brilliant writer who, through a collection of 110 biographical essays that are much like a box of chocolates in that you can only read two or three at a time, "plumbs the responsibilities of artists, intellectuals and political readers."


"Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts" (Clive James)

I was most impressed with the persuasive argument Dan McAdams, a " narrative psychologist"  makes in The Redemptive Self that Americans really are different because of the stories they tell about their lives.  He finds that the highly successful, the best-adjusted, most productive and caring adults  describe their lives as overcoming adversity and transforming that adversity as a way of connecting with others with hope in the future which, in the end,  is the American story.


"The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By" (Dan P. McAdams)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:51 PM | Permalink

December 27, 2007

Out Stealing Horses

He was 18 when he knew he wanted to write, but he couldn't finish anything.
So he trained as a librarian, worked in a printing plant and then a bookstore.  Not until mid life when a friend said to him, "If you don't really take this seriously, you're going to die before you get a book out.", did he get going.

Per Petterson is Norwegian and not that many Norwegian books are translated into English.
If you're a Norwegian writer, you are not visible in the world," he says. "The door of the English language is very hard to open for a Norwegian writer."

Still Out Stealing Horses sneaks up on people.  "It snuck up on the world."

"Out Stealing Horses: A Novel" (Per Petterson)

It's appeared on several best of the year lists including the Time magazine, the National Book Critics Circle,  the New York Times and  won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in June.

Northern Light is the review that made me want to read the book.

Per Petterson is a writer who has accepted the hand fate dealt and embraced the lifelong project it implies.

"All I ever think about," he says, "is families."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:51 PM | Permalink

A wondrous enthusiasm for literature

Elizabeth Samet  has written a memoir about her ten years spent teaching English at West Point where all her stereotypes about officers were exploded and where she found a great hunger among the students for literature.

The Write Stuff

Samet attributes these young people's literary fervor precisely to their combat future. While freshmen down in Manhattan at Columbia and NYU think about jobs and paychecks they'll secure after graduation, and hook-ups they make before it, cadets have a rigorous regimented existence in class and out, and they know they will assume command of 30 men and women when it's over, probably in a hot zone. The prospect throws them into hard questions of life and death, duty and sacrifice, courage and leadership, and they probe great works to figure them out.

All of them, Samet included, "feel a palpable pressure to consider every moment's practical and moral weight." The pressure magnifies the import of Macbeth contemplating the murder of Duncan, Penelope waiting for her husband, Stevens's "Oh! Blessed rage for order"--Samet doesn't have to convince them to respect Shakespeare, Homer, and the rest. The war has done that already.
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When she  thinks back upon her Harvard/Yale years, she finds them an induction into "doubt and disenchantment," whereas "West Point won me back to a kind of idealism." She finds little sexism in the place, either: "Being a woman is immaterial to many of my colleagues." And while the 1960s counterculture "helped to make the American soldier come to seem a rather strange and exotic creature to many civilians: an anachronistic conformist," Samet encounters "outrageous, uncompromising individuals" and "arch-rebels," and alumni remain "concerned that cadets' minds be exercised with sufficient vigor."

"Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point" (Elizabeth D. Samet)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 PM | Permalink

November 8, 2007

Hell disappeared

“At some point in the nineteen-sixties, Hell disappeared. No one could say for certain when this happened. First it was there, then it wasn’t.

The Catholic Novel is Alive and Well in England by Marian Crowe explores Catholic novels in First Things.

Why Catholic Novels?

They provide an experience somewhat akin to reading those weighty Victorian novels, imbued with moral seriousness and ethical concern, in which human acts had momentous import in a meaningful universe. Christian readers have a special interest in these novels, however, for they bring to life doctrines rendered insipid and prosaic due to long familiarity and frequent repetition in creeds and liturgy.
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At this point I need to define what I mean by the term Catholic novel. I do not mean simply a novel by a Catholic or one with some Catholic material, but a work of substantial literary merit in which Catholic theology and thought have a significant presence within the narrative, with genuine attention to the inner spiritual life, often drawing on Catholicism’s rich liturgical and sacramental symbolism and enriched by the analogical Catholic imagination.

The Catholic imagination, says Andrew Greeley, is one that is sacramental, that “sees created reality as a ‘sacrament,’ that is, a revelation of the presence of God.” Some novels are deeply engaged with Catholic material, but almost exclusively in a negative or hostile sense. Such novels are sometimes considered Catholic novels, and some Catholics find it bracing and expansive to enter a fictional space that confronts them with the shadow side of the Church. Yet the Catholic novels that most engage my interest are those that include some kind of sense that Catholicism, no matter how flawed the institutional Church and no matter how weak and sinful individual Catholics, is a locus of truth.

If you know about the English Catholic novelists like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh and probably about the American Catholic novelists like Flannery O’Connor, J.F. Powers, and Walker Percy,  Crowe's piece will give you many new authors to explore.

Last week, I read and quite enjoyed the character of
"Cardinal Galsworthy" (Edward R. F. Sheehan), a book by a former reporter for The New York Times  that's become a minor cult classic.  That I had the chance to have dinner with the author last week has nothing to do with my hearty recommendation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:18 AM | Permalink

October 26, 2007

What's the Matter?

I'm reading What's the Matter with California by Jack Cashill  who went around that state asking people What's the Matter.  By far the best answer came from Larry Harvey who founded the Burning Man festival.

His answer to the question What's the Matter - "a petulant sense of entitlement."

"As he sees it, the nation's obvious abundance has spawned a lifeless materialism.  Unrelieved, this materialism has infected us with a "moral coarsening and a growing cynicism" and a "supine passivity" that Harvey finds decidedly "unhandsome."

A few other things I especially liked were some new anacronyms

SWAG as in  Sophisticated Wild-Assed Guess
ABETTO, short for A Blind Eye to the Obvious
ABATU or A Blind Acceptance of The Unproven

           

"What's the Matter with California?: Cultural Rumbles from the Golden State and Why the Rest of Us Should Be Shaking" (Jack Cashill)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:28 AM | Permalink

October 11, 2007

Mom, Please don't write, don't call

When a grown child cuts off communication with a parent,  the parent(s) feel shame, disillusion and hurt.  Even if they have done nothing wrong,  Even if their other children turned out fine. 

Joshua Coleman's new book, When Parents Hurt, can help such parents cope and carry on.


"When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along" (Joshua Coleman)

His website is here - whenparentshurt.com - along with excerpts from the first chapter

Dear Mom,

I have decided that I don’t want to have any contact with you ever again. Please don’t write or call me anymore. I can’t stop thinking about all of the ways that you were never there for me when I was growing up. Whenever I see or talk to you, I just end up feeling depressed, angry, and upset for weeks afterwards. It’s just not worth it to me and I need to get on with my life. Please respect my wishes and don’t contact me again. 

Letter from Clarice, 23 to her mother, Fiona, 48

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:50 AM | Permalink

November 20, 2006

Who Really Cares

I predict that this book is going to cause of lot of arguments among people who just can't believe it, liberals and conservatives.

"Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism" (Arthur C. Brooks)

Author Arthur Brooks, once a registered Democrat now an independent, is a professor at Syracuse University and a behavioral economist.

From Beliefnet: Philanthropy Expert: Conservatives Are More Generous.

The book's basic findings are that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans, by any measure.

Conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. They want everyone's tax dollars to support charitable causes and are reluctant to write checks to those causes, even when governments don't provide them with enough money.
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"These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, 10 years ago," he writes in the introduction. "I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book."

Still, he says it forcefully, pointing out that liberals give less than conservatives in every way imaginable, including volunteer hours and donated blood.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

October 19, 2006

The Top Ten Who Never Lived

Three "rowdy philosophers" from New Jersey have ranked the 101 most influential people who never lived in a new book.  Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Slater wanted to show how "characters of fiction, myth, legends, television and myth have shaped our society, changed our behavior and set the course of history."

Here are the top ten.

1. The Marlboro Man
2. Big Brother
3. King Arthur
4. Santa Claus
5. Hamlet
6. Dr Frankenstein's Monster
7. Siegfried
8. Sherlock Holmes
9. Romeo and Juliet
10. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

You can find the entire list at 101influential and leave your own comments once they get the site working correctly

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:20 AM | Permalink | TrackBack