- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

‘Bete noire’

“[Sarah] Palin was assigned every view and position the Left considered unenlightened, and the response to her brought into the light all manner of implicit liberal assumptions about cultural conservatives.

“We were told that Palin was opposed to contraception, advocated teaching creationism in schools and was inclined to ban books she disagreed with. She was described as a religious zealot, an anti-abortion extremist, a blind champion of abstinence-only sex education. She was said to have sought to make rape victims pay for their own medical exams, to have Alaska secede from the Union and to get Pat Buchanan elected president. She was reported to believe that the Iraq war was mandated by God, that the end-times prophesied in the Book of Revelation were nearing and only Alaska would survive and that global warming was purely a myth. None of this was true. …

“Palin became the embodiment of every dark fantasy the Left had ever held about the views of evangelical Christians and women who do not associate themselves with contemporary feminism, and all concern for clarity and truthfulness was left at the door.”

- Yuval Levin, writing on “The Meaning of Sarah Palin” in the February issue of Commentary

Bad reviews

“Therein lies a fundamental shortcoming of the Lexicon. Reading it, one absorbs an impression that actually isn’t the case: that great composers get only bad reviews and are appreciated only after they’re dead.

“Stepping back from the melee, one discovers that while some splendid composers do take decades to sink in (and Schoenberg never entirely has), more often the true revolutionists of the past were hailed for their imagination, and their most radical pieces were quick to find an audience.

“Everybody knows about the pandemonium The Rite of Spring provoked at its Paris premiere. Few notice that the screaming had as much to do with [Vaslav] Nijinsky’s choreography as the music, and that after a concert performance of the Rite a year later, [Igor] Stravinsky was carried through the streets of Paris on the shoulders of a cheering crowd. …

“Meanwhile, [Nicholas] Slonimsky’s Lexicon encouraged composers in their delusion that scabrous reviews are a badge of honor, that if you aren’t denounced you aren’t any good. When all is said and done, I’d wager that through history the majority of lousy reviews have been bestowed on lousy pieces, but nobody collects the notices of forgotten composers.”

- Jan Swafford, writing on “Great Composers, Lousy Reviews” on Feb. 3 at Slate

Darwin economics

“Economics, too, may be helped by [Charles] Darwin. Ideas about ‘rational’ economic man are being overturned by new ones from a discipline called behavioural economics. Rather than assuming that individuals faced with economic decisions will comport themselves in what ‘classical’ economists regard as a rational manner - i.e., to maximise their future wealth - behavioural economics tries to study how real people actually behave.

“What is surprising is the degree to which human beings are not rational, and how the reasons for this are likely to involve Darwinian explanations. Take, for example, a phenomenon called the endowment effect, which is the tendency most people have to value objects they already own more highly than similar ones they have never owned - and, consequently, to be more reluctant to trade them than a classical economist would predict.

“Because this effect has been observed in three primate species, most recently in a study of chimpanzees, it suggests this effect has evolutionary roots.”

- From “Unfinished business” in the Feb. 5 issue of the Economist

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