Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff. And Other Stories"

5/25/10.  There is no better story writer than Joseph Epstein. In his new collection of stories, "Joseph Epstein delivers all the pleasures his readers have come to expect:  stories of ordinary men confronting the moments that define a life, told with bittersweet humor and loving irony...--- in rich, revealing detail they brim with universal longings: complex love affairs, and unspoken rivalries, family triumphs and private disappointment."

Kirkus Reviews:

Achingly beautiful stories of growing old, searching for meaning and facing death. Epstein (In a Cardboard Belt!, 2007, etc.) creates his characters with deft strokes. The story that gives the collection its title is one of the author's most typical, as well as one of his best. Three years earlier the somewhat Prufrockian Dr. A. Jerome Minkoff had lost his wife to Lou Gehrig's disease, and at a fundraiser for ALS he meets Larissa Friedman, a rich and glamorous widow in similar circumstances. They fall into an energetic affair, and for the first time since his wife's death Minkoff finds himself contemplating marriage. Larissa has much to offer, especially a gorgeous home in Los Angeles and megabucks-"All the happiness that money could buy." But at a deep, intuitive level, Minkoff senses this relationship is not going to work. The good doctor is typical of Epstein's anti-heroes: elderly, lonely, sensitive and looking to make decisions with a modicum of moral integrity. In "The Philosopher and the Checkout Girl," for instance, a retired professor of analytical philosophy finds a connection with a checkout girl (albeit one pushing 50) that he never experienced with his former academic colleagues. In a neo-Jamesian epiphany the professor belatedly discovers that "he had never known the pleasure of guileless behavior, of saying precisely what he felt and acting on those feelings. He had lived his life at a second, perhaps a third, remove."Epstein writes with intelligence, wit and flair-highly recommended.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"War is No Joke"

 5/24/10. Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University gives "A West Point Baccalaureate Address."


Jerome Groopman, M.D. "The Plastic Panic"

5/24/10. How worried should we be about chemicals in the environment?


Martin Gardner R.I.P.


"Martin Gardner, who teased brains with math puzzles in Scientific American for a quarter-century and who indulged his own restless curiosity by writing more than 70 books on topics as diverse as magic, philosophy and the nuances of Alice in Wonderland, died Saturday in Norman, Okla. He was 95.

Martin Gardner was a prolific and wide-ranging writer. "


Stefan Kanfer on "The Mathemagician," Martin Gardner.


Friday, May 21, 2010

"It's Not About How Smart You Are"


"Carol S. Dweck says that her graduate students here at Stanford University are hard-working, creative, and resilient in the face of failure. But she wouldn't call them smart.

Over the last two decades, Dweck has become one of the country's best-known research psychologists by documenting the follies associated with thinking and talking about intelligence as a fixed trait.

Most famously, Dweck and her collaborators have demonstrated that praising children for their intelligence can backfire. When young people's sense of self-worth is bound up in the idea that they are smart—a quality they come to understand as a genetic blessing from the sky—at least three bad things can happen. Some students become lazy, figuring that their smarts will bail them out in a pinch. Others conclude that the people who praise their intelligence are simply wrong, and decide that it isn't worth investing effort in homework. Still others might care intensely about school but withdraw from difficult tasks or tie themselves in knots of perfectionism. (To understand this third group, think of the Puritans: They did not believe they had any control over whether they were among God's elect, but they nonetheless searched endlessly for ways to display that they had been chosen, and they were terrified of any evidence that they were not.)"


"A Joyful Noise"

5/20/10. William Zinsser author of "On Writing Well," and so much more, brings us his world of the well-lived life.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"The Rational Optimist"

5/18/10. These are times that try optimists' souls. So I had to start reading Matt Ridley's new book. 

Matt Ridley writes:

"Life is getting better—and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down — all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people’s lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization—which started more than 100,000 years ago—has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.”

The following  is an excerpt from NYT writer John Tierney's review of the "The Rational Optimist:"

"It’s an audacious task, but he has the intellectual breadth for it. A trained zoologist and former editor at The Economist, Dr. Ridley has established himself in previous books, like “The Origins of Virtue” and “Genome,” as the supreme synthesist of lessons from anthropology, psychology, molecular genetics, economics and game theory. This time he takes on all of human history, starting with our mysteriously successful debut. What made Homo sapiens so special? Dr. Ridley argues that it wasn’t our big brain, because Neanderthals had a big brain, too. Nor was it our willingness to help one another, because apes and other social animals also had an instinct for reciprocity.

“At some point,” Dr. Ridley writes, “after millions of years of indulging in reciprocal back-scratching of gradually increasing intensity, one species, and one alone, stumbled upon an entirely different trick. Adam gave Oz an object in exchange for a different object.”


Psychologist Michael Shermer, editor of "Skeptics Magazine," reviews "The Rational Optimist:"


"The New War Between Science and Religion"


Mano Singham:

"There is a new war between science and religion, rising from the ashes of the old one, which ended with the defeat of the anti-evolution forces in the 2005 "intelligent design" trial. The new war concerns questions that are more profound than whether or not to teach evolution. Unlike the old science-religion war, this battle is going to be fought not in the courts but in the arena of public opinion. The new war pits those who argue that science and "moderate" forms of religion are compatible worldviews against those who think they are not."

"A Hidden History of Evil"

5/18/10. A look inside the archives of the Soviet Union.


Friday, May 14, 2010

"When Everything Was Jumpin'"

5/14/10. Daniel Akst reviews "Three Chords for Beauty's Sake," by Tom Nolan, tracing the many-sided life of the great clarinet player Abraham Ben-Yitzhak Arshawsky (a.k.a. Artie Shaw).


"How Childhood Has Evolved"

5/14/10. Professor Melvin Konner, an anthropologist and a physician, urges an open mind about what we are learning about evolution, childhood, relationships, emotions, and minds.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Hoard Mentality"

5/13/10. WSJ writer Philip Terzian reviews "Stuff," by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, "scholars who have studied hoarding closely and pondered its curious causes and disturbing effects."


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Believe It or Not"

5/12/10. How credible is the new atheism expressed in recent books by philosophers, scientists, historians, and others? Perhaps God only knows.



5/12/10. When I meet with kids who feel bad about being short, I tell them my definition of short:

"You are short if when you walk your feet do not touch the ground."

 Jane Brody, a short, talented NYT science writer reports on short facts.

Short comments welcome.

An excerpt from this excellent book:

"I didn’t find any studies that really supported the idea that being short was a disadvantage—even those much-publicized studies that seem to say small people earn less than taller folks. Beyond that, I knew that science can be manipulated and misused, but even I was surprised to see how far people stretched it. I spoke with David Sandberg, a researcher whose groundbreaking work showed that the overwhelming majority of short kids actually cope pretty well with being small. His studies showed that their height doesn’t cause them deep psychological stress, and in fact he found that other kids did not see them in a demeaning way. … Sandberg was startled to find that his work was being cited to the FDA to support the notion that small kids do have big problems!"

So much for the short excuse.


"For Crime, Is Anatomy Destiny?"

5/12/10. There is a developing science on the relationships between physical traits --- such as height, weight, or attractiveness --- and income, and crime, and more. Is it all in the genes?..or is evolution playing tricks on us?


"Is Courage a Masculine Virtue?"

5/12/10. Professor Harvey Mansfield says, "sort of..." I say "no." What do you say? Please comment.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Silence, PLEASE"

5/5/10. A former prison psychiatrist muses about silence.

Dr. Darlrymple notes, for example:

"...Many young people behave as if silence disturbs them in a way in which noise disturbs me. They tell me, for example, that they cannot concentrate unless there is electronic stimulus of one kind or another in their background. The bright, idle, mindless vulgar chatter of pop radio stations, or equivalent, not only does not destroy their concentration (they say), but is essential to its exercise. They do not mind, or notice, that there is more than one kind of such stimulus: cacophony is not a category to them..."