Category: Featured

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A Life in Shreds and Patches–An Insertion

My first love was for astronomy, which I later abandoned for chemistry.  I have no idea what drew me to astronomy, but it had little to do with speculations on cosmogony, much less on the mathematics needed to pursue any serious study in the field.   I think my first impulse was the desire to give names to what I saw in the sky.  We moderns are hopelessly “lost in the cosmos,” to borrow a phrase from Walker Percy.  Few of us can even name the trees and flowers in our yard or identify the birds that come to feed....

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Cicero, De Officiis, A ON THE HOUSE

As a Roman moralist, Cicero is seen at his best in the three books of his De Officiis, a work that Dr. Johnson said ought to be read once a year.  Officia are not public offices but duties, the responsibilities it is incumbent upon us to carry out.  Cicero  draw his primary inspiration from Plato and his followers in the Middle Academy, a phase of Platonism that emphasized epistemological skepticism.  However, he was  also very eclectic and fair-minded, seeking useful truths wherever he could find them–especially from Aristotle but also from the Stoics whose extremism he objected to.  For all his...

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The Genius of Burke–and His Limitations ON THE HOUSE

This is a slightly modified version of a piece originally published in The Spectator under the  title “Tories Back Wrong Philosopher.”  It is being made available “On the House” for five days. TWO hundred years ago, the career of Edmund Burke was drawing to a close under a cloud of accusations. The Duke of Bedford and his friends had denounced the one-time budget-cutting reformer and enemy of the royal prerogative for accepting a pension from the Crown. In his ‘Letter to a Noble Lord’, published in February 1796, Burke rebutted the charges of inconsistency and hypocrisy. It was Burke’s last stand,...

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Greece IV: On the Gulf

Greece IV We had brief interchange, four hours into the trip.  We stopped for lunch at Menidi on the Ambracian Gulf.   We were not expecting much from Menidi.  The morning had been spent on the endless drive along the superhighway, every mile under repair, from Athens to Corinth and then along the northern coast of the Peloponnesus.  It is true that the road got worse and the landscape better, after  we crossed the bridge across the Gulf of Corinth at Rhio. I thought about stopping at Missolonghi,   where Byron had died in 1824, raising money for Greek independence...

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Cicero:The Writer

Cicero Cicero was one of the most important men of the Roman world.  Although he ultimately failed as a statesman, as virtually every statesman does, but he only increased in stature as the years went on. Cicero’s style has been rightly held up as the standard for Latin prose, and his writings on rhetoric and philosophy—as well as his speeches and letters—became the basis of Roman education.  Cicero was the model for Christian orators like St. Jerome and Augustine, and his works were taught and read throughout the Middle Ages.  The Renaissance, to a considerable extent, began with the Italian...

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The Wonders of Wallington: Three

As a visit to Wallington quickly reveals, the Trevelyan notion of artistic expression was mostly satisfied by collecting dolls’ houses and preserving such family arcana as Lord Macaulay’s top hat and shaving kit.  But there was one Trevelyan—admittedly a Trevelyan by marriage—who liked to move in artistic circles.   Lady (Pauline) Trevelyan, née Jermyn, Sir Walter’s no doubt long-suffering wife, liked to play with the Pre-Raphaelites, and it was she who persuaded Sir Walter (who, left to himself, would have done nothing of the kind) to put a roof over the central quadrangle, and create a large central room. She...

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Wednesday’s Child: Music’s Autobiography

In this, my second communication from Munich, I solemnly promised myself to steer clear of politics, notwithstanding that history looms so large in my window – modern parlance for the computer screen – it nearly obliterates thought.  And so, as the president of France prepares to bend his knee to Moscow in a ludicrous pantomime of Henry IV’s Gang nach Canossa, I can only repeat Hamlet’s “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” The reason I came to Munich in the first place was to hear a recital that my wife was giving with the remarkable German...

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Islam, the Left’s Religion of Peace

Fox News commentators do not often make an intelligent criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy.  They are usually content to point out the obvious—that Obama is misguided—while offering alternatives that would hardly work any better. Nonetheless, the neoconservative establishment was right to express outrage in February,  when then-State Department spokesperson Marie Harf declared on Chris Matthews’ MSNBC program that defeating ISIS in the long-term will require addressing the “root causes” of terrorism, such as lack of jobs and poverty. This statement was palpably absurd, but it also reflected the consensus of the American and European ruling classes, a consensus that...