Have the monks stopped meditating?

They all seem to be tweeting

This observation by Herzog is totemic of what seems to me like a mass self-induced autism, immersed in a vortex of banality, that society has sunk into. When I observe how oblivious people are of reality when out and about with their device, it’s easy to understand why many of us refuse(d) to be a compliant bitch at the end of a digital leash (e.g. Bowie, Elton John) — and of course Herzog who uses it for emergencies only. Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World 


Pushing ahead of the dame

It just so happens that IMHO, the two greatest musicians of the twentieth century, have the best blogs dedicated to their remarkable work. Louis Armstrong has Ricky Riccardi batting for him — someone whose praises I have repeatedly sung. Now I know that the other artist I refer to may seem a world apart but they are, at least for me, the bookends to 20th Century “popular” music. The other blog, as per the title of this post, called Pushing Ahead of the Dame, is dedicated to Bowie — the man behind it, Chris O’Leary. The blog could have been named after any number of Bowie phrases/titles, but this improbable choice denotes a blog that is very serious in the sense of being analytical, critical, well-researched, insightful, and of course very affectionate and funny. Before talking further about “Dame” a quick observation: “Pops” and Bowie are the only two artists who can so easily, plausibly and unmawkishly (unlike the “Killer” — bless!) be self-referential. Moreover, LA and DB are to my mind the only musicians whose catalog can offer up a great piece for whatever is happening in the world (a la a G. K. Chesterton quote). People with a casual interest in LA and DB may well just enjoy the blogs wherever one may care to dive into — with respect, it’s akin to the best toilet reading. Ricky’s book deals with Pops’ later years — it brought a tear to my eye. As someone who was at ground zero for TRAFOZSATSFM I’ve just gingerly reentered Heathen territory (2002) via DB’s charming “by request” show. The irony is that once the musical genius had ended (let’s be frank, in 1980), DB finally became comfortable in his own skin (he was always insightful, very very funny and well-mannered — even in a snowstorm). Now if you appreciate Ricky’s and Chris’ blogs, buy their books so that they can keep doing what they do — amuse me. Here is a brief interview with Chris. Of course, inevitably Chris is asked what his Bowie “Desert Island Disks” would be: “Ugh. Okay, but this is as of this morning and will likely change tomorrow”. Indeed! So here are my eight choices (in no particular order) and with links to Chris’ entries:

1) Moonage Daydream

2) Subterraneans

3) Lady Grinning Soul

4) Sweet Thing — Candidate — Sweet Thing (reprise)

5) Ashes to Ashes

6) The Width of a Circle

7) Station to Station

8) Changes



Beyond Radical Secularism: How France and the Christian West Should Respond to the Islamic Challenge

Here is a review by the excellent Gene Callahan of Pierre Manent’s book Situation de la France. (I’d put money on some getting their knickers in a twist about the cover)


Alice Dreger on Academic Freedom

Alice Dreger talks about the importance of academic freedom and why the corporatization of the modern university threatens free speech on campus. I’ve been aware of the wonderful work of FIRE for some sixteen years ago, an outfit first brought to my attention by the immensely brave Mary Lefkowitz (more on Mary in the near future). The first video acts as an overture to Alice’s full talk, i.e. the second video.

We Don’t Know What We Are Talking About When We talk about Religion

Another pointed article from Nassim Nicholas Taleb. My view as follows. It is correct to say that any attempt to define religion is a problematic enterprise. For a start, Judaism strictly speaking, is not a religion in the same sense that Christianity is. Christianity historically, turns on belief as the criterion of identity, an emphasis on a theology. Being a Jew is to belong to a group – beliefs are secondary. A.J. Toynbee’s search for a common essence, a statement of necessary and sufficient conditions across all religions, was doomed to failure. We are dealing with a Wittgensteinian family resemblance concept; the idea that there are overlapping similarities, typical features, between a variety of things by virtue of which we bring them under the heading of “religion.” Religion is a blending of intellectual, experiential, ritualistic, aesthetic and the institutional. Of course, for many the defining mark of religion is that there is some altered state of consciousness that is often attributed to supernatural agency. If someone has a religion, we typically expect to find: (1) An acceptance of a set of propositions, a set of beliefs, about the nature of ultimate reality; (2) A certain specific emotion of awe and reverence; (3) A desire and yearning for a different condition of oneself in the light of (1); (4) A commitment to a way of life. Two immediate comments: First, the set of beliefs in (1) would normally be thought to include a belief in God. It might appear the height of paradox to say that there can be a godless religion. Buddhism is often accounted a religion but a Buddhist does not believe in this kind of God. Second, the way of life mentioned in (4) may include: (a) ritual, ceremonial prayer and worship etc. and, (b) an ethical code. Matthew Arnold’s definition of religion as “morality touched by emotion” is generally regarded as inadequate. I, however, consider it a good reading of (2) and (4). That religion as essentially a practice is noted by many. Indeed, on this view there can’t be any such thing as religious actions in the sense of actions embodying religious beliefs because what we refer to as religious beliefs are not really such. Put another way: if, for example, “sin” is a concept without an objective correlate – if the concept and “beliefs” involving it don’t correspond to anything in the natural or supernatural world – there can’t be any sinful actions. No ontological inventory will include sin or actions embodying it. On the other hand, a person plainly can act sinfully, and be judged by others to do so, relative to practical commitments and attitudes. Some religions, for instance, stress conformity with the regulations of religious law in (4) rather more than others. Note, the ethical element is far from trouble-free. For example, are certain kinds of action good because God wills and commands them, as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham held, or does God will and command them because they are good, as Aquinas held?

IYIs, being naive and label driven, would have a different attitude towards Salafis if theirs was labelled as a political movement, similar to Nazism, with their dress code an expression of such beliefs. Banning burkinis may become palatable for them if it were made similar to banning swastikas: these people you are defending, young IYI, will deprive you of all the rights you are giving them, should they ascend to power and would force your spouse to wear a burkini.