Beyond Belief

These days, the Enlightenment project finds itself in a tense cultural competition with religion. Go around the US and ask, "how did we come to be?" and you will get different answers. Some, appealing to science and reason, the children of the Enlightenment, will look to evolution for answers. Others, with a religious bent, will refer you to the Bible or intelligent design -- which is another way of saying, God is behind it all.

Is the Enlightenment
project nearing an end? Can science and reason eventually reassert themselves, perhaps as powerfully as religion recently has? Or, can science and religion at least co-exist and address different questions?

Earlier this month, an impressive list of scientists and philosophers got together at the Salk Institute for a conference called, "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival." The presenters ranged from Richard Dawkins (Oxford's well-known evolution theorist), to Joan Roughgarden (a Stanford professor who recently wrote Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist), to Craig Venter (who helped decode the human genome). Thanks to The Science Network, the so-called "C-SPAN of science," you can watch the videos of the different conference presentations for free online. (Note: To watch the videos, you'll need QuickTime. If you don't have it, you can download it for free here.)

Robert Altman

Robert Altman has died at 81, leaving behind a legacy of ambitious films. After making his mark with MASH in 1970, Altman's career moved along in fits and starts. He would give us The Long Goodbye in 1973, Nashville in 1975, unfortunately Popeye in 1980 (and nothing else too remarkable during the 1980s), then two career-reviving films, The Player and Short Cuts, in 1992 & 1993, and Gosford Park in 2001. Despite being a five-time Academy Award nominee for best director, Altman never received an Oscar until this past year, when he received a lifetime achievement award, recognizing his distinctive film-making style. Glimpses into discrete slices of American life (Hollywood, the country music scene, the fashion world, etc.), large casts, long improvised scenes, complex mosaics of characters -- these were all trademarks of Altman's filmmaking, and what his legacy will call to mind.

Altman's complete filmography

A.O. Scott's Look Back

Variety Obit

New Yorker Review of Nashville (1975)

Here, Altman talks about the difficulties of making MASH

Free University Podcasts, Videos, and Online Courses: The Central Collection

There's a lot of free, high quality educational materials floating around the ether. It's just a question of knowing where to find them, and what's wheat and what's chaff. On the left hand side of this page, you will find carefully-selected collections of free university podcasts, free online courses and media, and free educational web resources. These pages will stay under active development. So bookmark them, watch them grow, and profit well from them.

The Pynchon Reviews Roll Out

And it's not looking too pretty. The New York Times review begins:

Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, “Against the Day,” reads like the sort of imitation of a Thomas Pynchon novel that a dogged but ungainly fan of this author’s might have written on quaaludes. It is a humongous, bloated jigsaw puzzle of a story, pretentious without being provocative, elliptical without being illuminating, complicated without being rewardingly complex.

You can read the rest here.

Also see the New Yorker review.

Milton Friedman Remembered

Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winner, architect and leading advocate of free markets, and one of the most important economists of the 20th century, died this past week at 94.

The University of Chicago, where Friedman taught since 1946, has collected a series of articles reviewing his life and accomplishments. Along similar lines, Stanford's Hoover Institution, with which Friedman was affiliated from 1977 until his death, has posted a page that includes links to videos featuring the economist. (Look for the videos under the area called "Publications.")

Finally, from the Youtube archives, you can see a short clip from 1980, where we find a younger Milton Friedman and Don Rumsfeld in conversation.

Plato To Go (The Republic Now on iTunes)

If you have some time on your hands, you can download and listen to a complete audio version of Plato's Republic on your iPod. Divided into 12 installments, this monument of political theory is written in dialogue form. And it certainly helps that these dialogues are read by an actor. This nice touch helps hold your attention, while also giving you a good feel for the aesthetics of Platonic dialogues. (They were meant to be spoken, rather than read, after all.) If you have iTunes, click here to enter. If you don't, you can download it here from Apple for free. Enjoy.

Yale Takes the Podcast Plunge

Yale announced yesterday that it's joining the podcast revolution, and they're doing it with a little bit of ooomph. (If you have iTunes, click here to enter Yale's collection. If you don't, you can download it here from Apple for free.) What you'll find on Yale iTunes are free lectures by Yale's big hitters. You'll find Vincent Scully talking about Philip Johnson's architecture, John Gaddis giving us his spiel on the future of the Bush Administration, Madeline Albright praising the virtues of public service, and Tian Xu giving us the lowdown on the state of the human genome. As a parting thought, I guess this means that Harvard should be launching something some time soon. Days? weeks? months? It's only a matter of time. We'll keep an eye on it. In the meantime, load Yale's finest on to your iPod and prosper.

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