Ambrose Bierce, Zhukov, Toscanini, Extinction, Idealism


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The Seventy-Four Best Entries In The Devil’s Dictionary

Anthony Madrid | Paris Review | 25th October 2017

“Admiration, n: Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves. Christian, n: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin. Piano, n: A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience” (3,100 words)

Drinking Vodka With Zhukov

Marvin Kalb | Tablet | 26th October 2017

Retired American diplomat recalls a posting to Moscow in the mid-1950s when he was required to entertain Khrushchev and Marshall Zhukov. “Zhukov was as short as he was wide, his chest was adorned with a forest of medals, and he loved his vodka. I was tall and thin and indulged in a glass of wine once every week or two, if that. I decided almost immediately that if I was to do no harm to U.S.-Russian relations, I had to find a way to drink with Zhukov without consuming any vodka” (2,090 words)

The Perfectionist

Tim Page | New York Review Of Books | 26th October 2017

In praise of a second definitive biography of Arturo Toscanini, written forty years after the first, by the same author, Harvey Sachs. “Those who read Toscanini: Musician of Conscience will be rewarded with stories about everything from the history of Italy and the rise and fall of fascism to sexual experiences and backstage opera gossip from one hundred years ago. A master narrator is required to make them come to life, and that is what Sachs has now proven himself to be” (2,700 words)

Is Modern Mass Extinction Overrated?

Kevin Berger | Nautilus | 26th October 2017

Betteridge’s Law says that any headline ending with a question mark invites the answer, “No”. The counter-intuitive case for Yes is made here by Chris Thomas, a British biology professor, who believes that we lament the species lost through human intervention without sufficiently celebrating the new species created by displacement and adaptation. “Because of humans, we might, very roughly, double the number of species on Earth over the next million years” (5,062 words)

Public Policy After Utopia

Will Wilkinson | Niskanen Center | 24th October 2017

An argument for less idealism in politics and ideology. Utopian visions inspire change and orient reform. But any Utopia is going be, almost by definition, radically different from any existing society; we cannot predict reliably the behaviour even of existing societies; so the Utopian vision is at best “a counter-factual social system that may or may not do especially well in delivering the goods”. Pragmatism is preferable. Compare existing systems and emulate those that work best (2,950 words)

Video of the day Why You Should Read Ulysses

What to expect:

Engaging introduction to James Joyce’s great novel, arguing that the pleasures of reading it outweigh the pains (5’57”)

Thought for the day

Art cannot change events, but it can change people
Leonard Bernstein

Podcast of the day Evolution Of Accents | Twenty Thousand Hertz

Kevin Edds investigates why American accents differ so much from British accents
(25'41")

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