Monday, December 09, 2013
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Monday, December 09, 2013
by Alexander Bastidas Fry
Comets have long been portents of change. They challenge the rote repetition of our skies. An astute observer of the sky will perhaps have recently noticed a new object in the sky, a comet, present for the last few weeks (you would have had to look east just before sunrise near the star Spica). This was the comet ISON. But comet ISON, having strayed too close to the Sun, has been mostly annihilated. If there is a comet in the sky and no one sees it, was it ever really there?
William Carlos William's poem, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, captures the essence of comet ISON's elusive journey around the Sun. Brueghel, the Felmish Renaissance painter, carefully recorded the event like a faithful astronomer, but the worker is not keen on the sky and Icarus goes wholly unnoticed. It is just the same to the worker, for had they noticed Icarus or not it would likely make no difference to their toils in the field. And similarly ISON went largely unnoticed.
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
sweating in the sun
the wings' wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
ISON made a brief appearance to the unaided eye for a few days before it grazed the sun and then uncoiled itself. But to the learned astronomer ISON is still interesting. Comets are rare objects in the inner solar system so even a dead comet is a chance to learn something, in fact, further spectroscopic observations of this dead comet's remains will continue to tell us exactly what it was made of. There is a legacy here.
Let us begin at the beginning. Some four or five billion years ago as the Solar System itself was forging its identity trillions of leftover crumbs were scattered into the outer solar system.
by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Exile is a state of mind and quite necessary in the kind of critical awareness, imaginative empathy and artistic autonomy that go into a work of excellence, a "global work." Our lists of poets we consider as “world poets,” assuming that “world poet” is indeed a meaningful category, may vary dramatically but the criteria we are likely to agree upon for such a category, are: an agile imagination, an intuitive bond with humanity, a finely tuned connection with history, and an ability to go beyond merely utilizing language— to reach for the universally unsayable and cast it in a renewed, common language, and above all: an ability to move the spirit in an authentic way.
I recently had the luxury of conversing with Fady Joudah and Anis Shivani— two writers I admire for their range and gift for innovation. Their approach to literature, as reflected in their poetry and prose, betrays traits of the contemporary “global writer” I’m interested in—traits that ultimately cast the larger literary moment in their art. In other words, the shared and conflicted global histories they address, the deftness with which they assemble disparate cultural perspectives, and the richness of their positions—political and aesthetic—illuminate the present, and in a sense, the future, of an increasing and an increasingly globalized readership.
My conversation with these authors was centered on the idea of our literary moment, mainly keeping Fady Joudah’s book Textu and Anis Shivani’s My Tranquil War in mind.
by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse
Why We Argue (And How We Should) is centrally concerned to elucidate the concept of a dialectical fallacy. This concept deserves comment. "Fallacy" is the name given to especially common and attractive failures of reasoning. Works in logic and critical thinking typically distinguish between formal and informal fallacies.
Formal fallacies are pervasive errors of formal inferences. Consider the argument:
If Bill is a carpenter, then Bill is handy.
Bill is handy.
Therefore, Bill is a carpenter.
This argument fails because the truth of the premises does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion: the first premise states that being a carpenter is sufficient for being handy; it does not claim that all and only handy people are carpenters. After all, Bill could be a handy car mechanic who has never cut a piece of wood. We call this error the fallacy of affirming the consequent. This error gets its own name because we are especially prone to this kind of mistake. Once one is trained to spot it, one will find that this fallacy is committed frequently.
By contrast, informal fallacies are pervasive errors in informalinferences. Informal inferences differ from formal ones in that the latter propose to demonstrate the truth of their conclusions whereas the former aspire only to show that their conclusions are most likely true. A familiar informal fallacy is the ad populum fallacy. Consider:
Most people think that Joe is guilty.
Therefore, Joe is guilty.
This argument fails because it appeals simply to what "most people" think, without any regard for questions concerning the level to which "most people" are informed of the relevant facts of Joe's case. The mere fact that "most people" agree about some claim is no evidence at all for its truth.
The important thing about fallacies is that they are attractive and so pervasive errors of reasoning. Part of what accounts for their popularity is the way in which they mimic or ride piggyback on proper inferences. The fallacy of affirming the consequent is a mimic of the obviously successful inference known as modus ponens:
If Bill is a carpenter, then Bill is handy.
Bill is a carpenter.
Therefore, Bill is handy.
Haji Habib-ur-Rehman, or Haji Sahib, who has been painting trucks, vehicles, and crafts since 1955, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
"They are everywhere. Those heavy-set Gods of the highway, those mammoth trucks in their entire jazzy splendor. The swirls, the motifs, the colours, the patterns, the tigers, the peacocks, the parrots, the lions, and the roses, the thick lashes on singular eyes, the lips, and (at times) the face of a politician, a star, thrown in for good measure ..." from Allah Rung Laave by Sonia Rehman.
Thanks to Nighat Mir.
Personal narrative on a journey to find the confluence of the Chicago River and the North Shore Channel
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving I walked, without having given it very much forethought, nor having fortified myself with breakfast, nor even with sufficient tea, a distance of about 7 miles from my home to discover the confluence of the North Shore Channel and the Chicago River. The digging of the former waterway was completed in 1909 in order to bear the sewage from Chicago’s prosperous North Shore communities away from Lake Michigan and into the Chicago River. By that time the Chicago River was itself a marvel of engineering, its flow having been reversed so that all soluble, floatable and mobile waste ran west into the Mississippi watershed rather than into the lake.
Breakfastlessly I walked alongside this water, keeping the channel to my left for the first few miles then crossing over into the parks to the east of the channel. In many places buckthorn, a dominant invasive species in the Midwest, and by some accounts the most common woody plant in Chicago, is so dense that I only rarely saw water. At its densest the soil under these plants is litter-less and rivulets have rent passageways through the channel bank.
Although it was past 10 AM when I walked under the bridge on Lincoln avenue, a homeless man swiveled in his sleeping bag, his head almost fully submerged, trying, on that cold morning, to stay aslumber. His radio played a Christmas carol on low; a paperback best seller peeped out from one of his bags. A little further along a woman behind me asked if I had enough food to keep me going. I turned but she was talking to another homeless fellow so on I walked.
I had not checked on a map where the confluence occurred, nor did I have a phone that I could consult. I knew that it could not be too far since I had kayaked the Chicago River north of Addison, though that spot was still a few miles to my south. As I walked through a park near Foster Avenue, the Canada geese glanced up from their listless grazing, and I finally spotted the fork where the two waters co-mingle. I could not, however, get close as I was separated from the water by a chain link fence and by phalanxes of those invasive shrubs. I leaned there for a moment against a spindly hackberry.
by Jalees Rehman
The Autocomplete function of Google Search is both annoying and fascinating. When you start typing in the first letters or words of your search into the Google search box, Autocomplete takes a guess at what you are looking for and "completes" the search phrase by offering you multiple query phrases. The queries offered by Autocomplete are "a reflection of the search activity of users and the content of web pages indexed by Google". Considering the fact that more than five billion Google searches are conducted on an average day, the Google Autocomplete function has a huge database of search information that it can reference. This also means that the Autocomplete suggestions are quite dynamic and can vary over time. A popular new song lyric, the name of a viral video or a recent movie quote can catapult itself to the top of the Autocomplete suggestion list within a matter of hours or days if millions of users start search for that specific phrase. Autocomplete may also take a user's browsing history or location into account, which explains why it may offer a varying set of suggestions to different users.
Autocomplete can be quite annoying because the suggested lists of queries are based on their web popularity and can thus consist of bizarre combinations which are not at all related to one's intended searches. On the other hand, Autocomplete is also a fascinating tool to provide a window into the Zeitgeist of web users, revealing what kinds of phrases are most commonly used on the web, and by inference, what contemporary ideas are currently associated with the entered keywords. The Google Zeitgeist website reveals the most widely searched terms to help identify cultural trends - based on the frequency of Google search engine queries - during any given year.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) recently used the Google Search Autocomplete function in an ad campaign to highlight the extent of misogyny on the web. Searching for "women should…" or "women need to…" was autocompleted to phrases such as "women should be slaves" or "women need to be put in their place". The fact that Autocomplete suggested these phrases means that probably hundreds of thousands of internet users have used these phrases in their search queries or on web pages indexed by Google – a reminder of how much gender injustice still exists in our world.
"And if you can't bear the thought of messing up
your nice, clean soul, you'd better give up the
whole idea of life, and become a saint."
~ John Osborne, "Look Back in Anger"
As the paeans for Nelson Mandela rolled in last week, observers might have been forgiven for thinking that it was not a single human being had passed, but rather an astonishing confabulation of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. The narrative can be encapsulated thusly: a despicable regime unjustly imprisons a passionate activist for 27 years, who upon his release goes on to lead his nation into peaceful democracy and becomes an avuncular elder statesman, unconditionally loved and respected by all. But this narrative tells us little about who Mandela actually was, and why he acted in the world in the way he did. A brief examination of Mandela's involvement in the ending of non-violence and the initiation of armed struggle in the early 1960s serves to illustrate some of this nuance.
The perpetuation of the saccharine narrative is enabled by, among other things, the cherry-picking of Mandela's own words. One endlessly quoted passage has been the end of Mandela's opening statement at the start of his trial on charges of sabotage, at the Supreme Court of South Africa, on April 20th, 1964:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
This is stirring stuff, and worthy of being engraved into the marble of a monument, but only if you bother to read the preceding 10,000 words. In a far-reaching statement notable for its pellucidity, Mandela lays out the circumstances and philosophy that resulted in armed struggle against the regime.
I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto [we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC]. I, and the others who started the organisation, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalise and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.
Without this context, Mandela's lofty concluding paragraph is as cheap as a Hallmark card. It's now clear to the reader exactly the lengths to which Mandela would be willing to go to die for his beliefs – not as a lamb to slaughter, but as a fiery revolutionary. It is difficult to conceive of Gandhi initiating such actions. But why was Mandela prepared at that point to resort to violence?
by Madhu Kaza
During the month or so that my father spent in an Intensive Care Unit in a hospital in suburban Detroit, my travel habits changed in peculiar ways. Not knowing ahead of time the duration of my stay in Detroit nor how long I would be back home in New York before being called again to the Midwest, I was hardly able to pack anything at all. Yet I could not help but take luggage with me, so more than once I travelled with an empty suitcase, which brought to mind the image of an out-of-work businessman who still carries his briefcase everywhere. What I did pack were vegetables. I found myself regularly transporting produce from one state to the other. If I had lettuce in my fridge in New York I would carry it with me on the flight to Detroit imagining the salad I would make at my parents' house. One time, I took two carrots from my mother's fridge and put them in my vacant suitcase so that I could use them in a lentil soup I planned to make when I returned to New York. Suddenly, using an airline carrier to transport the ingredients I had gathered for the day's lunch or dinner not only made sense, but also seemed vital to my well-being. I think it allowed me to feel a kind of continuity between morning in the ICU with my father in Michigan and early evening alone in my apartment in New York at a time when I felt quite dislocated from the routines of my life. During this same period of time there was another odd development, which I understood far less: I became a person who felt compelled to take a fifteen hour train journey instead of a routine one and a half hour flight.
I bought my ticket for the Lake Shore Limited departing from New York on September 21st. The #49 train departs daily from New York Penn Station at 3:40pm and reaches its final destination, Chicago's Union Station at 9:59 the following morning. Another section of the Lake Shore Limited departs from Boston. In Albany, the New York and Boston trains are hitched together for the journey to the Midwest. I would be getting off in Toledo, OH around 5:55am and would continue by car for another hour to Detroit.
I had enough experience on Amtrak's well-trafficked Northeast Corridor routes to not be romantic about American train travel. But I also knew that the railroads had been fundamental to the (often mythologized) American past. 19th century railroads, including those regional lines that were consolidated into the powerful New York Central Railroad, facilitated the economic development and westward expansion of the country. Given the proliferation of railroad companies in the 19th century, many ventures bankrupted investors and owners. On the other hand, the success of the New York Central Railroad made the Vanderbilt fortune.
by Brooks Riley
by David V. Johnson
In "San Manuel Bueno, Martir," the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno tells the fictional story of a parish priest in Valverde de Lucerna, a small Spanish town, and his successful conversion of a sophisticated favorite son, Lazaro, who had left to seek his fortunes in America and returned an atheist.
"The main thing," San Manuel says, in summarizing his ministry, "is for the people to be happy, that everyone be happy with their life. The happiness of life is the main thing of all."
When Lazaro arrives from the New World, he dismisses the town's medieval backwardness and begins confronting villagers about their superstitions. "Leave them alone, as long as it consoles them," San Manuel tells him. "It is better for them to believe it all, even contradictory things, than not to believe in anything."
Lazaro confronts San Manuel with a mixture of curiosity and respect, since San Manuel is not only beloved by Lazaro's family for his piety but also because he appears educated. Over time, the two become friends and, eventually, Lazaro rejoins the Church and takes communion, to the tearful delight of all.
The twist: Like Lazaro, San Manuel doesn't believe the articles of faith. ("I believe in one God, the Father and Almighty, Creator of heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen …") What he believes in, rather, is administering to the needs of the villagers, in putting on such a convincing performance of dedication to Christ that they all believe he is a saint and have their faith in the Church and in life everlasting sustained. Lazaro's "conversion," then, is one consistent with atheism. He becomes a lay-minister of sorts under San Manuel and eventually dies a Catholic.
I think of this story when I hear the arguments against religion of the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. If Unamuno's story were updated, I could imagine Lazaro coming home to Valverde de Lucerna with a copy of God Is Not Great under his arm, ready to do battle with San Manuel. And if the story makes sense, we can imagine someone who has imbibed the arguments of Hitchens, yet converts to the faith under the saint's arguments.
The question is why.
by Kathleen Goodwin
I think I realized the depth of my veneration of Hillary Clinton when the tumblr sensation textsfromhillary.tumblr.com appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. I saved my favorite of the (generally clever) memes which all feature a sunglasses-wearing Clinton, checking her blackberry onboard what a quick google search found to be a Tripoli-bound plane in October 2011. The meme I saved to my iPhoto collection features Obama reclined on a couch, surrounded by campaign posters, typing on his own blackberry. The bold faced type that has replaced speech bubbles in our contemporary versions of cartoons reads "Hey Hil, Whatchu doing?"
"Running the world."
I remember realizing on that day that Hillary Clinton was the role model I'd been searching for. I'm coming of age in a country where ambitious young women are urged by those who have already achieved powerful careers to "lean in," "stand tall," and "speak up." We watch some of these women enjoy momentary celebrity for their courage in initiating a dialogue about a still male-dominated political and business sphere, before they face an inevitable backlash (by both other women and men) where they are called elitist, whiny or, worst of all, bitchy. Who, then, are we supposed to emulate when every piece of advice we're given is alternately glorified or criticized?
by Dwight Furrow
Human beings fight about a lot of things—territory, ideology, religion. Food fights play a special role in this fisticuff economy—they fill the time when we are between wars. Beans or meat alone in a proper chili? Fish or fowl in a proper paella? Vegetarians vs. carnivores. Locavores vs. factory farms. These are debates that divide nations, regions, and families. But they are nothing new. Taboos against eating certain foods have always been a way of marking off a zone of conflict. Kosher and halal rules have little justification aside from the symbolic power of defining the Other as disgusting.
Conflict persists even when food is intended as entertainment. The competition for global culinary capo continues to heat up. The French jealously guarded their supremacy for centuries until supplanted by the upstart Spanish with their molecular concoctions, only to be cast out by the Norwegians who have convinced us of the savor of weeds. Meanwhile the Italians wait for the fennel dust to settle, confident that in the end we always return to pizza and pasta.
The dishes we consume or refuse express our style, our values, and the allegiances to which we pledge. And so it has always been. "Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are," wrote the gourmand Brillat-Savarin in 1825. Food not only has flavor; it apparently has a "moral taste" as well that informs our self-image as individuals and as members of communities or nations. This "moral taste" is no fleeting or inconsequential preference. It matters and matters deeply. The vegetarian not only prefers vegetables and sees herself as a vegetarian but is taking a moral stance, takes pride in the stance, sees it as a project, a commitment superior in value to the alternatives. The Italian feels the same about eating Italian. It means slow eating, communal eating, la dolce vita. A Genoan's taste for pesto is not merely a preference for the combination of garlic, olive oil, basil, pine nuts, and Parmigiano Reggiano but a moral taste that carries meaning. Contemporary foodies exhibit a similar zealous commitment. The search for the best barbeque in town is not merely a search for a good meal, but a quest for a peak experience, a realization of a standard, a moral commitment to refuse the taste of the ordinary.
by Asif Faiz
There has been a flurry of doomsday scenarios in US political circles predicting the collapse of the Afghan regime following the US/NATO withdrawal and grim consequences for Pakistan if it continues to pursue its Great Game policies of the last three decades. However, few of these dire predictions take cognizance of Afghanistan's turbulent history and the long, uneasy relationship, first between British India and Afghanistan and after 1947, between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is the internal ethnic divisions of Afghanistan that have prevented the emergence of an Afghan nation state and no foreign intervention or assistance can remedy that.
One needs to view the Afghan- Pakistan relationship through the prism of history. There have been over a dozen changes of monarchial ,republican and emirate regimes, mostly violent, in Afghanistan since 1901. The cavalcade of Afghan flags over this period (see here) is a testament to the political volatility of the country and the forces that have influenced its recent history. Pakistan was unilaterally involved (with military and financial support) in just one of those regime changes, i.e. the installation of the Taliban emirate in 1996; in another two it served as a US proxy, and in the bargain brought violence, instability, and mayhem to its borderlands and now its urban centers. What foreign intervention does in Afghanistan is unite the Afghans temporarily against a perceived common enemy and once the foreign intervention is over, they go back to their internal squabbling and scramble for power.
Overlay on this historical background, the mosaic of Pashtun tribes and clans, artificially split by the Durand Line. British India had the strategic depth to treat the Frontier as a borderland buffer to protect
its political and commercial interests in the context of the Great Game. Pakistan unwittingly has followed the same colonial policies to this day, notwithstanding the fact that the Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line have a common heritage, culture, language and history. Any mischief or turmoil on either side of the Durand Line invariably spills over to the other, with Peshawar and Quetta (and now Karachi) absorbing the shocks of instability and displacement in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Over at Philosophy Bites:
Bernard Williams was one of the most brilliant philosophers of his generation. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites, Adrian Moore, who knew him well, discusses his views about ethics.
Philosophy Bites is currently unfunded. If you enjoy our podcast, please support us by using the Paypal buttons on this site to subscribe or donate to the podcast.
John Hibbing makes the case in the Washington's Post's Monkey Cage:
Larry Bartels recently asked what studies of genes and politics — “genopolitics”– add to our “understanding of politics” and suggested the answer is “not much.” Bartels’s question is perfectly legitimate but his answer deserves more considered reflection.
I suppose those of us involved with genopolitics should be heartened by the tone of Bartels’ essay. After all, if the three stages of scientific discovery are “that can’t be true,” “that’s not important,” and “we’ve known that all the time,” it would appear that the genopolitics movement has entered the second stage.
From my perspective, it is unfortunate that Bartels focuses entirely on genopolitics given that much of the new work on biology and politics does not explicitly involve genes. Early (even pre-natal) development, salient environmental experiences, and genetics all interact to mold people’s biological predispositions, which then shape individuals’ responses to given environmental stimuli. Biology, not genetics alone, is the key and it is now possible to measure politically relevant biological predispositions with physiological, endocrinological, cognitive, and neurosciencetechniques.
But why would we want to? Here we come to an important potential contribution of work on biology and politics. Whether the preferred phrase is implicit attitudes,internalized information, motivated social reasoning, antecedent considerations, orpredispositions, much research shows that, though change is possible, people’s politics are quite consistent over the course of a lifetime.
For Azra and Sughra:
Lisa Allardice in The Guardian:
"In many ways I've been writing personal stories all my life," she said in Bailey's. If you are a Munro fan, you will know about the struggling mink and fox farm of her Depression-era childhood; the family's house at the end of the road; the burden of her mother's Parkinson's disease in her early 40s; her scholarship to university; her early marriage to a bookish student, young motherhood and divorce. And you will recognise the watermarks of shame and guilt running through each collection: "I was brought up in a community where there was shame," she says of her Scots-Irish Presbyterian rural upbringing. "We say of some things that they can't be forgiven, or that we will never forgive ourselves," she writes in the last line of Dear Life about her failure to visit her mother during her last illness or even to go to her funeral. "But we do," she continues with characteristic insistence on absolute truthfulness – "we do it all the time."
She says her feelings about her mother are "probably the deepest material of my life. I think when you are growing up you have to pull apart from what your mother wants or needs, you've got to go your own way, and that's what I did. And of course she was in a very vulnerable position, which in a way was also a position of power. So that was always a central thing in my life – that I did pull away from her when she was deeply in need. And yet I still feel I did it for salvation." Her mother's illness meant that Munro took over the housework and care of her younger brother and sister from when she was around nine. "I wanted the house always to be clean. I would bake on Saturdays and I would iron everybody's clothes. It was a way of keeping up respectability. Superficially I was very kind to my mother, but I never allowed myself to enter into her predicament or I would have stayed and become the person who ran the family until she died and then it would have been too late for me to go."
Lee Lawrence in The Wall Street Journal:
Whether recounted in sweet-smelling tea shops or presented in illustrated manuscripts, the "Shahnameh" has entertained and inspired Iranians for more than 1,000 years. Of all their artistic treasures, Abu'l Qasim Firdausi's "Book of Kings" is the one Iranians most prize. They may not have its 50,000 verses memorized, but they are all familiar with this blend of myth and history filled with tales of heroes slaying demons, portents so fierce that kings fear "their liver will split in terror," and maidens—oh, what maidens—"as elegant as cypress" and as pure as smokeless candles. From the start, however, the epic has also repeatedly served as a political tool. When Firdausi was penning his verses in 1007-10, Muslim Arab dynasties had ruled Persia for more than 31/2 centuries. Yet he avoided using Arabic words almost entirely and incorporated no elements of Islamic thought. His motive? To stir national pride and resistance to foreign rule by celebrating Persian culture. In the short run, Firdausi's gambit failed. For some 200 years the epic lay dormant, gaining traction only after the Mongols invaded in 1219. Scholars posit that courtiers advised the new rulers to win their subjects' hearts by commissioning sumptuous, illustrated copies of the "Book of Kings" or, as it is sometimes translated, the "King of Books."
Over the coming centuries, rulers gave manuscripts to dazzle, curry favor or, as happened in 1829, avoid war. Two months after the Russian ambassador was murdered in Tehran, the shah sent a lavish gift package to the czar. Its most precious offerings, says Firuza Abdullaeva, head of the Shahnama Centre at Pembroke College, included Arab horses, gold, an 88.8-carat diamond and a 1651 "Shahnameh" with 192 miniatures. The shah hoped his largesse would so appease the czar that Russia would not only refrain from retaliation but forgive some of the indemnity Iran owed as part of a recent treaty. It worked.
I Had a Revelation
I had a revelation
at the SuperCenter in the mall
I was trying on a polo shirt
of an apple-green shade
and between the two mirrors
I saw my face
and my exposed chest
and it occurred to me that I am ripening
and that soon I will drop like an apple
and will crash onto the warm ground
and a thump will sound
and the earth will not shake
and the sea will not flood
and the sun and moon will not go dark
by Mordechai Geldman
from Halachti Shanim Le-Tzidcha
publisher: Hakibbutz Hameuchad,
Mossad Bialik, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, 2011
translation: 2013, Tsipi Keller
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine:
This last weekend, I finally saw 12 Years a Slave. It was the most powerful movie I’ve ever seen in my life, an event so gripping and terrifying that, when I went to bed ten hours later — it was a morning matinee — I lay awake for five hours turning it over in my mind before I could fall asleep. I understand it not merely as the greatest film about slavery ever made, as it has been widely hailed, but a film more broadly about race. Its sublimated themes, as I understand them, identify the core social and political fissures that define the American racial divide to this day. To identify 12 Years a Slave as merely a story about slavery is to miss what makes race the furious and often pathological subtext of American politics in the Obama era.
While its depiction of physical torture has commanded the most attention, I found the psychological torture more disturbing. To make a person a slave requires making them complicit in their own subservience, through rituals of degradation, such as forcing them to clap their hands to mocking songs, dancing for their masters, or being stripped, or compared to animals. The one time Northup tries to escape, he wanders immediately onto a lynch party, which underscores the threat of violence lurking invisibly everywhere. (And the threat of the noose survived in the South a century past the threat of the lash.)
More here. [Thanks to Richard B. Bernstein.]
Bob Herbert in Jacobin:
Even though it had been expected, I was jolted when I got the phone call with the news that after many long decades the defiant fire of resistance had gone out and Nelson Mandela had died. He was the only truly great public figure I’d ever covered, an authentic revolutionary who refused to cower in the face of the most malignant of evils.
I knew that the tributes would be pouring in immediately from around the world, and I also knew that most of them would try to do to Mandela what has been done to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: turn him into a lovable, platitudinous cardboard character whose commitment to peace and willingness to embrace enemies could make everybody feel good. This practice is a deliberate misreading of history guaranteed to miss the point of the man.
The primary significance of Mandela and King was not their willingness to lock arms or hold hands with their enemies. It was their unshakable resolve to do whatever was necessary to bring those enemies to their knees. Their goal was nothing short of freeing their people from the murderous yoke of racial oppression. They were not the sweet, empty, inoffensive personalities of ad agencies or greeting cards or public service messages. Mandela and King were firebrands, liberators, truth-tellers – above all they were warriors. That they weren’t haters doesn’t for a moment minimize the fierceness of their militancy.