10 September 2008

Midweek review

Celia Green writes about movie representations of the Gospel of Thomas which, as might be expected, are highly lurid and inaccurate.

• An academic has complained to Lucy Kellaway's agony column about vicious appraisals from one of his student groups. Ms Kellaway thinks that anonymous student feedback is "democracy gone mad", but most readers' comments are of the "get over it" variety. My own advice: realise there is a political agenda. It's part of the ethos of mediocracy that every individual should be unflatteringly assessed and judged, to keep them subordinated to the collective.

Clive Crook notes that the 'liberal' US media, unlike (say) Fox News, erroneously believe themselves to be neutral. Their relentless support for Democratic views "has nothing to do with bias, in their minds, but reflects the fact that Democrats just happen to be right about everything." A bit of a novelty: I cannot recall previously seeing an FT columnist acknowledge the left-wing superiority complex. Of course, Crook has to defend Democrat intentions: "they are disturbed by inequality [and their] concern is real and admirable." How does he know this? One group making more noise about an issue than another doesn't necessarily mean they have a greater degree of 'admirable concern'. Why should we think either side is driven by anything other than desire for power? The fact that the less well-off are more pro-Republican than they 'ought' to be might reflect justified suspicion of 'liberal' intentions, a point Crook does not address.

• Anyone who still believes 'reality TV' is about reality must finally have their illusions dashed by this. The New York Reality TV School's mission is *

to train and develop non-actors ... We are about finding and hi-lighting [sic] what makes you unique, building your confidence and examining how you package yourself ... We trains [sic] students to be exciting confident members of Reality TV casts ... Students will work rigorously through coaching sessions and on camera exercises in order to readily showcase the dynamic qualities of their personalities [etc]
Sounds about the right intellectual level for the kind of people approved by reality show producers. However, I suggest applicants should also receive some Strasberg-style coaching to ensure their performances are characterised by realism.

• Today is switch-on day for the Large Hadron Collider, the £3.5 billion machine which is supposed to advance particle physics by colliding beams of protons at even faster speeds than before. The likelihood that the the world will be destroyed by the "mini black holes" which may be formed is probably small, but so (in my opinion) is the likelihood that particle theory will become less messy rather than more. The Standard Model may have produced some successful predictions, but its level of complexity is reminiscent of Ptolemy's theory of epicycles. I suspect the money spent will neither generate the elusive Higgs boson (called "God particle" or "toilet particle", according to taste), nor shed light on 'dark matter'. (Both concepts were postulated to 'save the phenomena', i.e. rescue standard theory from internal inconsistencies.) At least one person partially agrees with me: Nobel laureate Martin Veltman.

Terence Blacker derives the following maxim from the recent hysteria generated by George Steiner's comments on race and Helen Mirren's reflections on rape: "The stupider the reaction, the more worthwhile the original remark". I'm not sure about the usefulness of Professor Steiner's remarks, but the maxim could have fruitful applications in a wider context, including reactions to climate change scepticism.

• In July I asked how many more defects of the global financial system will be blamed on computer problems. The "glitch" which wiped out most of Monday on the London Stock Exchange makes number two since I started counting. The LSE describes the source of the problems as a "black swan event" — is that going to be the new euphemism for occasional but recurrent infrastructure outages caused by lack of attention to detail? Peter Randall, chief executive of LSE rival Chi-X, has likened the catastrophe to the Terminal 5 fiasco.

Tom Paine has posted an interesting review of scientist Joseph Needham. When I was studying history of science, Needham's seventeen-volume Science and Civilisation in China was a source of both fear (overwhelming size) and fascination (lure of the exotic). Needham was one of those maverick powerhouse intellectuals for whom there is little or no room these days in academia. Like many of that breed, he was foolish enough to be seduced by left-wing ideology.

* via Marina Hyde