Good stuff in the latest NYRB

I’m pleased to see that the New York Review of Books decided to provide free access to a number of articles in the February 9, 2006 issue that I wanted to point out to friends:

  • Jimmy Carter & the Culture of Death is Gary Wills’ review of Jimmy Carter’s new book, Our Endangered Values : America’s Moral Crisis.

  • The Passion of C.S. Lewis, which I found entertaining because unlike many of my friends, I have never liked the Narnia books or film(s). I’ve read only one of the seven books (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and then only as a disenchanted adult. Alison Lurie offers plenty of insight into Narnia as children’s literature. Unfortunately, she overreaches in the concluding paragraphs with:

    It is no surprise that
    conservative Christians admire these books. They teach us to accept
    authority; to love and follow our leaders instinctively, as the
    children in the Narnia books love and follow Aslan. By implication,
    they suggest that we should and will admire and fear and obey whatever
    impressive-looking and powerful male authority figures we come in
    contact with. They also suggest that without the help of Aslan (that
    is, of such powerful figures, or their representatives on earth) we are
    bound to fail. Alone, we are weak and ignorant and helpless. Individual
    initiative is limited—almost everything has already been planned out
    for us in advance, and we cannot know anything or achieve anything
    without the help of God.

    This is, of course, the kind of mindset that evangelical churches
    prefer and cultivate: the kind that makes people vote against their own
    economic and social interests, that makes successful, attractive, and
    apparently intelligent young men and women want to become the
    apprentices of Donald Trump, or of much worse rich and powerful
    figures. This mindset could even be called deluded, since in this world
    a giant lion does not usually appear to see that the right side wins
    and all the good people are happy. In Narnia faith in Aslan, who comes
    among his followers and speaks to them, may make sense: but here on
    earth, as the classic folk tales have told us for generations, it is
    better to depend on your own courage and wit and skill, and the good
    advice of less than omnipotent beings.

    Nice rhetorical flourishes here — but associating The Apprentice
    with Narnia and conservative Christians?? Is Lurie saying that
    anyone who believes in a God who will ultimately set things right is “deluded”?
    Figuring out what authority is and what authority to follow are not easy
    tasks. Some of us do believe in ultimate authority that looks like neither
    Donald Trump or the “giant lion” that Lurie delights in poking fun at.

  • Genocide in Slow Motion is a review of two books on the genocide in Darfur. I miss reading Nicholas Kristof’s columns in The New York Times (but not enough to pay for TimesSelect.
    It was through Kristof’s writings that I first learned about Darfur.
    I’m grateful for writers such as Kristof who help to keep the Darfur conflict
    in front of people like me, who are so prone to forget. I’ve been
    meaning to write a letter to the editor about Darfur but have not been
    able to do so. A good starting place as I look to act is A Million Voices for Darfur.

Away from one home

This morning, I took in the news of the new minority Canadian government to be led by Stephen Harper.
When trying to explain the results to Laura, I realized how out of
Canadian politics I’ve been. At best, I could parrot what I read on the
CBC website and New York Times (!). One interesting wrinkle for me is the speculation that Michael Ignatieff might contend for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Years ago, while I was a student at the University of Toronto, I went
to a book reading of Michael Ignatieff’s. He was just a rising young
star at that time. I had since followed his career, primarily reading his articles in The New York Review of Books.
The jump from young writer to Harvard professor to
Canadian-bigshot-returned-from-USA professor at the University of
Toronto to MP was startling to take in this morning. Read what the CBC writes:

    Ignatieff has been called “the new Pierre Trudeau”
    and was labelled the “thinking woman’s crumpet” when he served as a BBC
    commentator and arts program host in the 1990s. His decision to move
    back to Canada in the summer of 2005 was greeted by breathless profiles
    in national publications, with his future as leader of the Liberal
    Party of Canada taken for granted. However, Ignatieff has rejected
    suggestions that he was drafted to come home as part of “an anti-Martin
    leadership campaign,” adding: “I would not have taken part in such
    activity.”

Prairie Fire and Indigo Children

Laura and I both read and discussed with great interest, “Prairie
Fire,” an article by Eric Konigsberg in the Jan 16?? issue of the New Yorker.
(The article is not available online.) It is a terribly sad article
about Brandenn Bremmer, the super high IQ boy from Nebraska who
committed suicide at the age of 14. Have any one of my readers also
read the article? I’m thankful for the Web that allows one to read what
others have to say about magazine articles that we read:

The article was also the second mention for me of “indigo children.” The first came from the New York Times:

    Are They Here to Save the World? – New York Times:
    If you have not been in an alternative bookstore lately, it is possible
    that you have missed the news about indigo children. They represent
    “perhaps the most exciting, albeit odd, change in basic human nature
    that has ever been observed and documented,” Lee Carroll and Jan Tober
    write in “The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived” (Hay House).
    The book has sold 250,000 copies since 1999 and has spawned a cottage
    industry of books about indigo children.

sky and clouds over Berkeley



sky and clouds over Berkeley

Originally uploaded by Raymond Yee.


I like to take walks in the afternoon to get away from my desk and to clear my head. Sometimes I feel down when I leave the building. I was reminded yesterday by these beautiful clouds and the winter light that there’s a lot more going on in the world than my own preoccupations. I sigh at the recognition, delight in the view, and then head back to my office, re-energized.

Notelets for 2006.01.13

eastbayexpress.com | News & Features | City of Warts | Let the Bulldozing Commence | 2006-01-11:

    On to the California Department of Health Services
    laboratory, at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way. On one
    end, you have the Gourmet Ghetto. On the other end, you have downtown
    Berkeley’s movie theaters, restaurants, and nightclubs. But for some
    reason, there’s an eerie no-man’s-land that keeps the two from becoming
    one grand boulevard of eateries and nightlife. That’d be the
    intervening parking lot and hideous eight-story monolith, where worker
    bees once toiled in research laboratories run by the state Department
    of Health Services.

Yes, tear it down — but just keep the parking lots!

More Companies Ending Promises for Retirement – New York Times.
Another story about how companies (even companies that are doing really
well) are moving away from their pension plans, shifting the long-term
risk to employees.

Last weekend, I learned about the Jewish concept of Lashon hara, making me more conscious of my own need for good talk.

Talking to the great but imperfect

Boy, I wish I could talk directly to Milosz or a prophet of old. As a
Christian, I believe that we can pray directly to the One In Charge,
the Lord God Almighty. Alas, that isn’t enough for me. I want to
consult unearthly wise people who had walked before me on this planet,
who struggled with pain, doubt, temptation, and defeat. I believe that
Jesus did all those things, and hence, God can sympathize with our
plight as humans. Yet Jesus did not sin. I want to commune with great
but frail people who sinned as I have. I want to ask how they kept
going even while they bumbled and messed things up. To his credit,
Jesus never screwed up — he was perfect.

Let there be no mistaking me: it’s the greatest news that Jesus was
both like us and not like us. He showed us that there is a way beyond
our own individual and collective quagmires. I don’t need a besmirched
Jesus. Yet, even as a card-carrying Protestant, I confess to the appeal
of holding up a pantheon of capital-S Saints, those who fall between us
and perfection.

Losing courage at night and the importance of stopping

For the vast majority of nights when I turn off the lights for sleep, I
have been blessed by a clear conscience. Last night, I started to lose
the courage of my convictions, which is a terrible thing to happen when
I’m trying to sleep. I need to put a stop to working too late. The
demons of self-doubt are strongest when I set out to work on a task
that is greater than the time I have before me. It’s time to reapply
what I learned when writing my Ph.D. dissertation: set a time to stop
work well before bedtime (regardless of how much I accomplished or
didn’t accomplish that day), and honor the Sabbath. When I was feeling
most desperate and helpless, working long hours for six days a week,
Sundays were the most sweet. I long to come back to that experience of
rest and freedom in the midst of busyness.