Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stuff I do not fully understand

British academics have apparently voted to promote a campaign to boycott Israel or to promote a campaign to discuss boycotting Israel or to talk more about whether to boycott Israel or something like that. See here for a news report and here for commentary by opponents of the boycott.

Ironic that the vote to boycott Israeli academics (or to move forward with discussions of boycotting Israeli academics or something like that) came on the day that Iranian academics were told by their government that they would be considered spies if they have contact with foreign academics, as reported here.

Mutatis mutandi, of course. The supporters of the boycott are not asking the British government to enforce it and they would say that they are only targeting contact with certain "foreigners." But the present Iranian situation ought to serve the "republic of letters" as a reminder of the importance--and power--of the free interchange of ideas.

Speaking of British academics, I do not understand why readers of the Guardian should be interested in Richard Dawkins' travel diary.

Speaking of British atheists, I think I would rather hang out with Christopher Hitchens than Richard Dawkins.

Speaking of Christopher Hitchens, I think I understand why this reader of the Washington Post Book World might think that assigning a book criticizing religion to a religion professor might be wrong. But I still lament the ignorance of academic religious studies that the writer reveals. Obviously she didn't read my post on the various kinds of religious studies professor. I don't know which sort Stephen Prothero is but one cannot assume that the chair of the religion department at Boston University is ipso facto an apologist for religion or an enemy of atheism as the letter-writer implies.

Speaking of the Washington Post Book World, I just don't understand this review of Al Gore's book. The reviewer seems to be saying that it's nice when a politician is intelligent and erudite enough to write his own book but if that politician demonstrates intelligence and erudition, he's an annoying pedant. This kind of thing is why Al Gore can't catch a break from the media which seems stuck in junior high school mode, making fun of the smart kid.

Speaking of strange reviews of Al Gore's book, David Brooks seems not to have paid much attention to the on-going discussions of the Internet and the printing press and their roles, past and present, in creating spaces for public debate. Instead, he finds it easier just to trot out tired stereotypes about blogs and e-mail.

There are plenty of tired stereotypes about e-mail and the Internet here as well, but at least some of the participants in that discussion try to grapple with the more complex and important issues related to preservation of communications in this digital age.

Speaking of archives, let's not forget the richness of older, paper-based archives. It's nice that the Central Archives of the Jewish People may get a permanent home if a National Library is built in Israel, as reported in Haaretz.

And speaking of archives finding a home, I'm glad to see this EU collection going to Pitt. Pitt's library system is usually under-appreciated but has made enormous strides over the last few years. I don't usually blog about Pitt-related issues, but I will say that I'm glad that Rush Miller responded in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to this editorial whose animus toward Hillman Library was never clearly explained. The main criticism seems to be that the building "dates to the Johnson administration." I look forward to future calls from the Post-Gazette to replace the Cathedral of Learning which was completed during the Roosevelt administration and the Allegheny County Courthouse which was completed during the first administration of Grover Cleveland. I'm not a huge fan of 1960s modernist architecture either, but is it such a terrible thing to renovate buildings instead of tearing them down after one generation?

Plus, how can one tear down a Pittsburgh landmark that has been immortalized in Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh? Why, that would be like tearing down that Greyhound station mentioned in Simon and Garfunkel's "America."

(I wish I hadn't had that last thought because that song is now going to be stuck in my head for about a week.)

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