- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Not so wise

“In [Bobby] Fischer’s view, there was almost no one in the world, besides him, who understood what he was doing at the chess board. Few people were even competent to compliment him, never mind offer criticism. But if he felt that way about the area of endeavor to which he devoted his life, it’s not hard to see how he could blunder into feeling that way about most everything else.

“The French philosopher Alexander Kojeve once wrote that the only defense against madness is the accord of your peers. That is, if you can convince no one that your beliefs are well-founded, then it’s probably you who are crazy, and not the herd. Fischer’s problem was that he had no peers, at least not in chess, so he had no one to check his worst tendencies. The world championship he won in 1972 validated his view of himself asachess player, but it also insulated him from the humanizing influences of the world around him. He descended into what can only be considered a kind of madness.”

Brian Carney, writing on “Victim of His Own Success,” in the Jan. 22 edition of the Wall Street Journal

Art house breakout

“I first saw Cristian Mungiu, the writer and director of ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,’ when he was at the podium in Cannes, taking questions from the press after winning the Palme d’Or, … talking modestly about how he and producer-cinematographer Oleg Mutu were family men who worked diligently and without angst at their jobs, which happened to involve making movies. ‘To be honest, we don’t live like artists,’ he said.

“A few months later, I met Mungiu during his brief visit to New York, and we discussed the conceptual origins and production process behind one of the most acclaimed European films of recent years. Despite his film’s challenging subject matter and his characters’ grueling odyssey, Mungiu sees ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ as a genre film at least as much as an art film. In fact, Mungiu may be the leading representative in a new generation of European filmmakers who grew up liking both Hollywood entertainment films and the art-house classics of Bergman and Truffaut, and his film brilliantly straddles those universes.”

Andrew O’Hehir, writing on “Conversations: Cristian Mungiu,” on Jan. 29 at Salon blog Beyond the Multiplex

Not so scientific

“In today’s political climate, it has become fairly dangerous for a young scientist or professor to step up and say: ‘This is all nonsense.’ It is increasingly difficult to challenge the global warming consensus, on either a scientific or a political level.

“Academies can be incredibly cowardly institutions, and if one of their employees was to question the discussion of climate change he or she would be pulled to one side and told: ‘You’re threatening our funding and reputation — do you really want to do that?’ I don’t think we should underestimate the impact that kind of informal pressure can have on people’s willingness to think thoroughly and speak openly.

“One way in which critics are silenced is through the accusation that they are ignoring ‘peer-reviewed science.’ Yet oftentimes, peer review is a nonsense. As anyone who has ever put his nose inside a university will know, peer review is usually a mode of excluding the unexpected, the unpredictable and the unrespectable, and forming a mutually back-scratching circle.”

Alexander Cockburn, writing on “I Am an Intellectual Blasphemer,” in the January issue of the Spiked Review of Books

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