- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ironic shortcoming

“In the 100 or so books he wrote, co-wrote or edited, [Arthur C.] Clarke predicted, with remarkable accuracy, such developments as the moon landings, space travel, communications satellites, compact computers, cloning, commercial hovercraft and a slew of other scientific developments — though he was also, inevitably, often wide of the mark.

“In many cases, though, that was because Clarke underestimated the speed of technology’s advance.

“In his first novel, ‘Prelude to Space’ (written in 1947), he ‘scored a direct hit by giving 1959 as the date of the first lunar impact,’ but predicted manned satellites by 1970, and the moon landing no earlier than 1978.”

From “Sir Arthur C. Clarke,” March 20 in the

(London) Daily Telegraph

Quirky corners

“The Nation, scion of the Left, has joined the chorus in its disappointment with the humanities in general and English departments in particular. Probably the single greatest humanistic failure of higher education in the modern era can be summed up in a paraphrase from the essay: classicists were deposed by humanists, humanists deposed by historians, historians deposed by critics and now critics deposed by theorists. …

“There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that English departments have to justify their existences in universities. They do this by teaching rhetoric and composition (not classical rhetoric, but a thin and reedy heir to it) to every undergraduate at the institution. … The bad news, though, can be found in the other kinds of professors English departments are trying to hire and in the ‘job lists’ advertised by the Modern Language Association. …

“We’re already moving toward smaller and smaller English departments, consigning themselves to interesting and quirky corners of the academy and becoming less and less relevant to the discussion, to life, to the pursuit of knowledge and progress.”

Harrison Scott Key, writing on “The consigned and relegated department of English” on Monday at a World Magazine blog (Worldontheweb.com)

Defying death

“The phone book is the one book guaranteed to be present in every household, no matter how little else the occupants read. Even in a vacant apartment, you’ll still find old phone books in the kitchen cabinet. Yet the phone book’s ubiquity has given it an invisibility. Sure, you can find 1960 Oklahoma City directories getting bid up to $65 on eBay. … But despite being the most popular printed work ever, there’s never been a single scholarly monograph on the phone book. …

“Last year, according to the industry group the Yellow Pages Association, approximately 615 million directories were printed in the United States alone, generating revenues of $13.9 billion. …

“Ask anyone under 30 about phone books, though, and you might as well inquire about Victrola needles. The Yellow Pages Association claims that even young households use them when the occasion — a wedding, for instance — demands reliable listings. But printed phone books are a maturing industry, with only about six in 10 businesses and individuals still regularly relying on them.”

Paul Collins, writing on “The Book of the Undead,” Friday at Slate.com

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