The Lure of the Writer’s Cabin

Much has been written about the writer’s cabin. Among the most notable recent books on the topic are “Heidegger’s Hut” by Adam Sharr and “A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams,” Michael Pollan’s account of  imagining and then actually constructing his own writing space. A standard Internet search can quickly yield images of the writing rooms (cabins, huts, sheds) of legendary scriveners: Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Roald Dahl, Carl Jung, Henry Thoreau and — a writer of a markedly different sort —Ted Kaczynski, to name a few. And Jill Krementz’s 1999 collection of photographs “The Writer’s Desk” gives us tantalizing glimpses of writers sitting at their desks. But why the interest? Have these places somehow become secular sites of the sacred?

A statue of Henry David Thoreau and a replica of his hut are on display at Walden Pond Reservatio

A statue of Henry David Thoreau and a replica of his hut are on display at Walden Pond Reservatio

Who has not fantasized about the books they would write if only the right conditions could be found! I have carried around just such a dream, sparked by a weekend alone in an austere mountain cabin in the Austrian Alps when I was a boy. Rumination was unstoppable, and poetry just poured out. Continue reading

‘Mellon Collie’ Mystery Girl: The Story Behind An Iconic Album Cover

It recently got a deluxe makeover, but Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadnesswas born grand. The Smashing Pumpkins‘ 1995 opus, reissued this week as a massive collector’s box full of outtakes and new artwork, did everything at double scale — two hours of music on two CDs, whose themes of day and night hinted at greater statements about life and death. It was a commercial and creative peak for Billy Corgan and his bandmates: Built to be a classic, it turned out to be a monument. Continue reading

Lies! Murder! Lexicography!

HERE’S a tip: if you see the words “dictionary” and “scandal” in a sensational headline, prepare to be disappointed.

Last week, the British newspaper The Guardian broke a story from the dictionary world that seemed, at first blush, to be quite scandalous indeed. “An eminent former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary covertly deleted thousands of words because of their foreign origins and bizarrely blamed previous editors,” it began.

But the truth, it turns out, is more prosaic. The former editor, in compiling material for four supplements to the O.E.D., had not seen fit to include everything that was in a previous supplement to the dictionary’s first edition, published in 1933, including thousands of words borrowed from foreign languages. Continue reading

Rethinking the ‘Just War,’ Part 2

The Second of a Two Part Series

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Before presenting a critique of traditional just war theory (which I call the “Theory,” for short) I should make two points of clarification. Although the Theory is largely congruent with the international law of war, the subject of just war theory is not law but morality. If the inconsistencies and absurdities I will describe were confined to the law, they would be less troubling. Because the law is an artifact and does not purport to state truths about a reality that is independent of human invention, it can tolerate considerable disunity. But just war theory is usually understood as a set of principles that have been discovered rather than designed, and that provide an objective account of the morality of war. If just war theory is more than just a set of conventions, and if the objections I will advance here are correct, the traditional version of just war theory must be rejected. Continue reading

Rethinking the ‘Just War,’ Part 1

Can war be justified? Is there such a thing as morally proper conduct in war?

With Veterans’ Day upon us and, with the Obama administration preparing to face another four years of geopolitical choices in unstable regions, The Stone is featuring recent work by Jeff McMahan, a philosopher and professor at Rutgers University, on “just war theory” — a set of ethical principles pertaining to violent conflict, whose origins can be traced back to Augustine, that still influence the politics and morality of war today. The work will be published in two parts on consecutive days — the first dealing with the background and history of the traditional just war theory, and second consisting of the author’s critique of that theory.

— The Editors (NY Times)

There is very little in the realm of morality that nearly everyone agrees on. Surprising divergences — as moral relativists delight in pointing out — occur among the moral beliefs in different societies. And there are, of course,  fundamental moral disagreements within individual societies as well. Within the United States people hold radically opposing views on abortion, sexual relations, the fair distribution of wealth and many other such issues. The disagreements extend from the particular to the general, for in most areas of morality there are no commonly recognized principles to which people can appeal in trying to resolve their disputes. But there is at least one contentious moral issue for which there is a widely accepted moral theory, one that has been embraced for many centuries by both religious and secular thinkers, not just in the United States, but in many societies. The issue is war and the theory is just war theory. Continue reading

Mutant Verbs

What verb describes the act of creating a new verb from another part of speech? Verbify, of course — or, simply, verb. Both of these words are autological — that is, they exemplify what they describe. (Other examples of autological words: pentasyllabicadjectival,nominalization.)

Any noun can be verbed. So can many adjectives: we prettify a room,neaten our desk and brown a piece of meat. As Calvin succinctly explains to Hobbes, “Verbing weirds language.”

Like mutants in nature, most newly minted verbs — Mondayize,speechifyCalifornicate — will live for only a short while and perish without progeny. A recent example is the verb Eastwood, which went viral on Twitter and YouTube in the days following Clint Eastwood’s speech to the 2012 Republican National Convention. Within weeks, the fad for Eastwooding — talking to an empty chair — had already petered out.

Mutant Verbs