November 2007

2007 11 28

Posted by in: Music

Says A.M. Lamey:

There are now two kinds of people in the world: those who have seen Gregorius on Youtube and those who have not. Those who have know that the Finnish singer’s version of “YMCA” was the breakout viral video of the summer, when it was watched by over a million people online.

Up until five minutes ago, I belonged in the latter category. Now that I have moved into the former category, I am not entirely certain of the wisdom of the move. If you want to chance it, here’s one, courtesy of Lamey:

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 11 26
Music lessons in Brooklyn and Manhattan

Posted by in: Music

I’ve been meaning to mention for a while now that if you live in NYC and want voice and/or piano lessons (for any age), Yoon is a great teacher. She’s got two degrees (one in piano and composition and one in jazz voice performance) and about 20 years of teaching experience. She has a studio in mid-town Manhattan and another one in our home in Flatbush (Ditmas Park area), Brooklyn. In the coming year Yoon and a friend will also be starting a program in Flatbush for three and four year olds called Musical Explorers. If you’re interested in more information, just drop me a note in the contact form.

And if you live in NYC and you’re interested in any other instrument, we know lots of very talented musicians and teachers in NYC and are always happy to give recommendations.

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2007 11 26
More pictures not taken

Posted by in: Photography

In a brief post, Jason Kottke writes about a missed photograph, reminds me of this post, and acquaints me with a website collecting pictures not taken.

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2007 11 25
Recently watched: The Devil Came on Horseback

In 2004, ex-Marine Brian Steidle signed up for a stint as an African Union observer in the Darfur region of Sudan, where he ended up a first hand witness to the genocide there. When he left, he took with him a large number of photographs of victims of atrocities and a sense of enormous frustration at his inability to do anything more than document the devastation. A Nicholas Kristoff column about his work and his pictures catapulted him into national prominence, getting him into meetings with Condi Rice, Congressional hearings, and onto a host of television programs. Later, he returned to Chad to work on further documenting the plight of villagers displaced by the brutal campaign against them in Darfur. Back in the United States again, he toured the country trying to raise awareness of the issue.

The Devil Came on Horseback follows Steidle through all this, and it does a superb, if extremely upsetting, job of documenting the genocide. But in spite of Steidle’s relentless emphasis on what to do about Darfur, the documentary seems to me much weaker on larger questions about how outsiders can play a constructive role in Sudan. Steidle appears to have little doubt that a military intervention there to prevent further attacks is a moral imperative, at one point remarking that if his camera lens had been a scope he might have destroyed a jeep of fleeing soldiers and allowed terrorized villagers to return to their village. This is, I think, a very human and understandable response to the sort of brutality Steidle witnessed. But I am not convinced it is the wisest. I have no idea what to do about Darfur, just hard questions for anyone pushing military intervention as a solution there.

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2007 11 24
Korean cuisine day!

Posted by in: Food, Pictures we took

We had some friends over today for our own little Korean cuisine festival. Pictures below the fold.

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Howls of outrage (6)

2007 11 24

Posted by in: Food, Pictures we took

Below the fold, documentation of a feast!

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2007 11 22
Chain of Fools

Posted by in: Music

You’ve no doubt heard Aretha Franklin’s version of Chain of Fools (mp3, for a limited time). But you might not have heard Norwegian Jazz Singer Sidsel Endresen’s cover of the tune. Endressen sings it unaccompanied, and the spare, lonely quality of her performance does a superb job of exploring some of the anguish in the lyrics. Endressen manages somehow to convey the impression that she’s lingering over every hurt recounted in the song, while at the same time allowing you to feel the pulse of the music moving beneath the surface, carrying everything along with it. For a very limited time, here it is, from the very good album Night Song.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 11 22
Getting ready to pressure Iran or getting ready to bomb it?

Commenter Spaz sends me this today, which certainly looks ominous.

Massive, devastating air strikes, a full dose of “shock and awe” with hundreds of bunker-busting bombs slicing through concrete at more than a dozen nuclear sites across Iran is no longer just the idle musing of military planners and uber-hawks.

Although air strikes don’t seem imminent as the U.S.-Iranian drama unfolds, planning for a bombing campaign and preparing for the geopolitical blowback has preoccupied military and political councils for months.

No one is predicting a full-blown ground war with Iran. The likeliest scenario, a blistering air war that could last as little as one night or as long as two weeks, would be designed to avoid the quagmire of invasion and regime change that now characterizes Iraq. But skepticism remains about whether any amount of bombing can substantially delay Iran’s entry into the nuclear-weapons club.

Well, I certainly hope not, since among other awful consequences, it would make me look bad: I’ve staked the reputation of this august blog on the U.S. not bombing Iran any time during Bush’s second term.

I think I’ll stick with my original predictions, though with slightly furrowed brows. I think it’s good evidence that the U.S. wants to try to pressure Iran and U.S. allies into making some sort of progress in talks, not that the U.S. is actually going to bomb Iran. I think there’s a lot of resistance to that course of action in the military, and more resistance to it among America’s political class than you might guess on first encountering the perverse incentives in American political culture to err on the side of bellicose rhetoric. Also, this is nonsense:

Attacked and humiliated, Iran might be tempted, as Mr. Ahmadinejad has suggested, to strike back, although Iran has limited military options.

Not just nonsense, but, even more important, widely understood to be nonsense. Iran has the ability to make the U.S. much more miserable in Iraq than it currently is, and probably has the ability to hit U.S. targets all over the world if it really comes down to it. Indeed, I think I would be somewhat less safe personally in New York if Bush ever did get it into his fool head to do something as rash as order a bombing campaign of Iran.

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 11 21
New books: Trying Leviathan, by D. Graham Burnett

Posted by in: Books

I wish I had the time to read this:

Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, by D. Graham Burnett

In Moby-Dick, Ishmael declares, “Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that a whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me.” Few readers today know just how much argument Ishmael is waiving aside. In fact, Melville’s antihero here takes sides in one of the great controversies of the early nineteenth century–one that ultimately had to be resolved in the courts of New York City. In Trying Leviathan, D. Graham Burnett recovers the strange story of Maurice v. Judd, an 1818 trial that pitted the new sciences of taxonomy against the then-popular–and biblically sanctioned–view that the whale was a fish. The immediate dispute was mundane: whether whale oil was fish oil and therefore subject to state inspection. But the trial fueled a sensational public debate in which nothing less than the order of nature–and how we know it–was at stake. Burnett vividly re-creates the trial, during which a parade of experts–pea-coated whalemen, pompous philosophers, Jacobin lawyers–took the witness stand, brandishing books, drawings, and anatomical reports, and telling tall tales from whaling voyages. Falling in the middle of the century between Linnaeus and Darwin, the trial dramatized a revolutionary period that saw radical transformations in the understanding of the natural world. Out went comfortable biblical categories, and in came new sorting methods based on the minutiae of interior anatomy–and louche details about the sexual behaviors of God’s creatures.

When leviathan breached in New York in 1818, this strange beast churned both the natural and social orders–and not everyone would survive.

The first chapter is here.

Howls of outrage (2)

2007 11 18
Not amused

Posted by in: Videos

I didn’t bother to post this at the time, but Yoon and I have watched it three times over the last few weeks and howled each time, which is surely a sign that it’s worth sharing. Best watched with the sound on, I think.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 11 18
Aristotle for autodidacts

Posted by in: Aristotle, Philosophy

Quite some time ago, a clever polymathic autodidact wrote to me asking for advice about reading Aristotle. A long time ago I promised a response on the blog. Eh. What can I say? I’ve been busy. Here’s a brief version of what I would write if I had more time.

Let’s begin by facing the obvious: Aristotle is really difficult. There are several reasons for that. First, almost none of what comes down to us from antiquity with Aristotle’s name attached to it was written for “publication” (i.e., wider circulation). Rather, what we have seem to be more like lecture notes, or perhaps the sort of notes you might circulate after a lecture as a sort of memory aid. It’s a pity. An author renown in antiquity for the prose style of his published writings is now enjoyed mainly by eccentrics with an odd, acquired taste for crabbed lecture notes in a dead language. Just as we would expect with notes that were circulated among the initiated, Aristotle’s writings are also filled with arcane terminology and refer to contemporary debates familiar to his audience but often not to us.

And it gets worse. Those lecture notes—or whatever they are—seem to have been stitched together, sometimes rather crudely. For example, the text we read as the Nicomachean Ethics isn’t the unity we might expect from the fact that people are always going on about Nicomachean Ethics this and Nicomachean Ethics that. To take just one example, there are two discussions of pleasure in the work, apparently in conflict, and neither of which refers to the other. Clearly someone, whether Aristotle or a later editor, has done some cutting and pasting. This adds to the general air of confusion.

Finally, Aristotle is really hard to read because he was interested in really hard problems, and his answers to those questions were often subtle, and sometimes restated in different ways over a lifetime of thinking about them.

So, one way to answer the request for advice about getting into Aristotle is: you might just want to skip it. Or perhaps, defer it until you know a bit about the context in which Aristotle is writing. You might, for example, want to begin instead with Plato. Now of course Plato has difficulties all his own. But there at least the student (often) has the benefit of a polished text, and sometimes a highly readable and entertaining one. And while the dialectical context matters there too, you can get a quite a bit from, say, the Gorgias (which is a wonderful place to begin reading Plato) even if you don’t have any background in Classical Greek philosophy or culture.

If this isn’t enough to dissuade you, then I suppose the best way into Aristotle depends on your interests. You might approach Aristotle for a number of different (but compatible) reasons. You might, for example, be looking for true claims about matters of interest to you, along with good reasons for believing those true claims. In that case, my advice would be to spend rather more time poking around in Aristotle’s ethics than anywhere else. Both this and this translation of the Nicomachean Ethics are pretty good, and if you like to go it alone, you might pick them up and just start reading. (It can be useful to compare translations when you’re working through a difficult passage, but either one will do for the first few passes through the text.)

You might, however, be interested in Aristotle because you want to know more about the influence he exercised on Western intellectual history. In that case, you might be interested in the Physics, and in particular the first three books or so.

Now, usually when I’m recommending philosophy books, I just tell people to jump right in and ignore the secondary material. (I think this is especially good advice when it comes to Plato.) But for the reasons I mentioned above, it seems to me that it might be very useful to introduce yourselves to Aristotle’s texts in conjunction with carefully chosen secondary material. If you’re interested in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, then, you might get your hands on The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, edited by Richard Kraut, and dip into it as you read through Aristotle’s text. I’ve read a few of the papers in this collection so far and they’re just superb. In particular, I really enjoyed Gavin Lawrence’s “Human Good and Human Function,” which you can read with enormous profit immediately after giving Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics a shot. Jennifer Whiting’s “The Nicomachean Account of Philia is also wonderful.

I’m a bit less sure about the best secondary material on the Physics, but I do recall being extremely impressed by Sarah Waterlow’s (=Sarah Brodie) Nature, Change, and Agency in Aristotle’s Physics a while ago when I was working through some material in the Physics. Waterlow is especially good in that book at drawing contrasts between Aristotle’s and modern approaches to the study of nature. And it seems to me that this makes reading the Physics alongside Waterlow a challenging but possibly very rewarding way of starting to get a grip on a part of Aristotle’s thought that had an enormous influence historically.

There are also other ways in, and some very good introductions to Aristotle. To name just one, the Cambridge Companion to Aristotle is pretty solid, and is good at pointing the way forward in many more directions than I’ve mentioned here. The first chapter by Jonathan Barnes is also funny and helpful as the sort of introduction that I would attempt if I were less busy.

Aristotle enthusiasts are encouraged to add further suggestions in the comments.


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2007 11 18
Useful phrase watch: “mbuki mvuki”

Posted by in: Language, Music

May you find this useful:

Mbuki Mvuki is Bantu for “to shuck off one’s clothes in order to dance.”

It’s not a single word, but I think it’s pithier than the English gloss.

Howls of outrage (4)

2007 11 17
Vertical lines, horizontal lines and a pink fire escape

At Cortelyou station

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2007 11 17
But we *are* quite worried about the violence on campus last Saturday, when some of our students beat the shit out of some students from New Hampshire (on, as it happend, our football field!)

Posted by in: Odds and ends

This (last paragraph) is absurd:

Hundreds of students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst yesterday briefly shut down the administration building and marched in the streets as part of a planned two-day strike to protest escalating fees and what they describe as a lackluster effort to recruit minorities.

Students then surged into the main administration building, where they occupied the top two floors and camped outside the chancellor’s office for more than an hour.

They departed when police, who had locked down the building after the students arrived, ordered them to evacuate. …

In an e-mail sent to students and parents, Thomas Cole, interim chancellor, tried to reassure parents that the “flagship campus is safe and secure.”

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2007 11 16

Posted by in: Odds and ends

This video made me laugh.

Howls of outrage (5)