Friday, August 28, 2009

God in the Quad

James Wood in the New Yorker writes about the new academic defense of religion, principally Terry Eagleton's largely incoherent attack on Dawkins et al. Annoyingly the piece is behind a subscription wall, so I can't link to it, but it's well worth a read.

This quote struck me:

"When the pianist Andras Schiff says, as he did recently, that , while Beethoven is human, "Mozart was sent from Heaven, he's not one of us," is he merely making use of a post-religious language, or is an actually religious language using him? ABolishing the category of the religious robs non-believers of some surplus of the inexpressible; it forbids the contrails of uncertainty to pass over our lives. What is most repellent about the new atheism is its intolerant certainty; it is always noon in Dawkin's world, and the sun of science an liberal positivism is shining brassily, casting no shadows."

Why Evolution is True has no truck with such fine shading.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Night To Speed Up Truth

Lord knows how I missed this.

Mew - No More Stories

Discovering an undiscovered hankering for Danish proglite, I've been feeling Mew's No More Stories.

Here comes music journalism: there's a song called "Silas the Magic Car". With a children's choir. Mmm.

Yeah, exactly.

Here's the video for the first single, "Introducing Palace Players", a song angular in much the same manner as the Giant's Causeway, but with a brilliant little video:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leviathan, or The Whale

High on the list of books I must read this decade, certainly much higher than any number of gloomy Russians or periphrastic Frenchmen, is Melville's Moby Dick. It was James Wood's essay, unpromisingly titled "The All and the If: God and Metaphor in Melville" that got me hooked on this shaggy mammal story. The way Woods tell it, Melville is second only to Shakespeare in his awesome attempt to encircle a world with a mad effusion of words. I've tried before, only to be done in by the awesome tedium of that chapter-long sermon which, I'm ashamed to say, occurs before our heroes have even left the land.

Clearly I'm just going to have to skip the damn thing, having just read Philip Hoare' quite wonderful Leviathan, or the Whale. The book, an intoxicating hybrid, mixes W.G. Sebald's gloomy peregrinations and gnomic musings with a bloody history of whaling. Hoare, depressed by the murk of London and the death of his mother, travels to New England and meditates upon the obscure biology of the sperm whale, describing how a great American industry was founded upon the wholesale slaughter of this fabulous beast. We see just how uniquely dangerous the life of a whaling Nantucketer really was, as they rowed in their tiny boats to the Whale's blind side, hoping to harpoon it before it panicked and stove in their puny vessel. We also follow the feckless Herman Melville, the new enfant terrible of American letters who's hoping to write a great adventure novel but who instead meets Nathaniel Hawthorne and is gripped by the transcendental fever that would elevate Moby Dick from the merely picturesque into a new American mythic.

We've killed hundreds of thousands of sperm whales in the last three centuries. Whale oil has been used in surprising ways, even lubricating the moving parts of the Voyager satellite. Here's a video where the balance is, however fleetingly, redressed:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Carol Brown

They said it wasn't as good as the first season. Pfft. 'They". They know nothing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


We saw Tom Stoppard's Arcadia last night. I don't need to tell you that it's a wonderfully mind-bending couple of hour that touches on literary authenticity, 18th trends in gardening, the second law of thermodynamics, Lord Byron and his devilish ways, the heat death of the universe, iterated equations and much else besides.

Iterated equations? Yes. Feed X into equation, get Y. Let Y be the next X and repeat. From such humble beginnings can come all the patterns of nature. For instance, take a look at these truly extraordinary computer generated flowers:

This dance is like a weapon

A new song played at Latitude:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From Normblog:

The claim made by Richard Dawkins, and mentioned by Martin in passing here, 'that imposing parental beliefs on children is a form of child abuse' surely merits some clarifying explanation before we assent to it. It is, of course, easy as well as necessary to draw a distinction between putting a belief to children in a way that makes it plain to them that there are alternatives to, questions about, disagreements over it, and insisting on the belief as the sole unchallengeable truth. There's a difference between trying to educate children in a spirit that encourages interest in the world and finding out about it, on the one hand, and indoctrination, on the other. However, teaching people anything at all must involve putting across some points, beliefs, theses, in a more favourable light than others. If nothing else, education in a non-doctrinaire spirit means explaining the different modes of holding a belief and why leaving them open to falsification in the light of counter-evidence or the demonstration of internal inconsistency is an intellectual virtue. Again, must we not discriminate better from worse as between maintaining some standards of personal cleanliness and not doing so, or between behaving with consideration and kindness and being rude and dishonest? More generally, educating children involves, willy-nilly, the imparting of moral beliefs. This cannot be done without the presentation of some things as good and others as less good or downright bad. Even done in a non-doctrinaire way, it must involve a degree of active direction. It's misleading, therefore, to pretend that only dogmatists and fanatics narrow the minds of their children to the available sum of human beliefs. Everybody does it to some extent. Socialization of any kind would be impossible without it. It begins with the teaching of language.