December 31, 2004
Justin E.H. Smith VS. The Dalai Lama (and others)
Justin Eric Halldor Smith is a brilliant young philosopher, the depth of whose writing and the breadth of whose encyclopedic erudition is leavened by a bracing humor. He can be contrarian (his descriptions of the Dalai Lama bring to mind the treatment meted out to Mother Theresa by the paradigmatic contrarian of our time, Christopher Hitchens), but never in a cheaply attention-getting manner. Smith's writing is infused with rational commitment as well as sincerity. The following excerpt is from a piece entitled "Where's Mao When You Really Need Him? The New Age Racket and the Left" in Counterpunch:
No, to find any authentic spiritual sentiment, or at least to market a product with the promise of authentic spiritual transformation, we must climb the Himalayas, or at least imagine ourselves on such a journey while flying to a meeting at the Kansas City branch office. The Dalai Lama serves as the best example of this tendency, and is likely also the best-selling product the New Age industry has yet put on the market. This is particularly troubling when we consider the fact that the Dalai Lama is, among other things, a political leader, whose movement has been conferred a legitimacy beyond scrutiny simply in virtue of his purported holiness.
What is so worthy about the Tibetan cause? How many if its supporters can really say? I'm not saying that it is not a worthy cause; many movements for national liberation are. But what about the Basque Country, Corsica, and Turkish Kurdistan? Nobody believes that continued occupation of these national homelands involves any sort of spiritual injustice, only the mundane political kind. This is all it should take, of course, to earn the global community's opprobrium, yet Richard Gere and the Beastie Boys remain deathly silent, for these other national-liberation struggles lack a leader sporting a robe and claiming to be a divinity. Meanwhile, his Holiness jets around, meeting with world leaders and persuading them to support his cause- including George W. Bush, whom the Dalai Lama deemed to be, like himself, a 'very spiritual person'. And even through all this, he is seen as being somehow beyond politics. This is the great illusion that sustains the New Age racket: that, because it is so spiritual, it is beyond all serious scrutiny. The proper comportment towards it is with bowed head, not open eyes.
More Best Books of 2004
My submissions for the Best Books of 2004 dwell on the lesser-known. I figure that since everybody lists roughly the same books that it might be worth drawing attention to some others. These may not be the best books published in 2004, but they're certainly great books that deserve more attention:
The Hunting of the Snark
For the past two years or so there's been an interesting discussion going on about how to review books. On one side of the divide are Dale Peck's Hatchet Jobs and the genre of the polished and witty negative book review that is supposed to be more entertaining than the book itself. There is also a mode of philistinism setting in that involves the rubbishing of challenging books, epitomized by B. R. Myers' A Reader's Manifesto and Jonathan Franzen's regrettable attack on the late William Gaddis in the New Yorker. The other main development is the philosophy of reading set out by Heidi Julavits in the inaugural issue of The Believer, which attacks the "snarkiness" of much contemporary reviewing, where fatuous savagery and faux-learned ridicule have replaced any serious consideration of authors and ideas. In this spirit, The Believer recently published a long "letter" from Rick Moody defending Nicholson Baker's novel Checkpoint from a swipe in the New York Times Book Review. The Moody/NYTBR agon brings to mind the old clash between Eggers and the Times dwelt upon at length in this Slate item.
These debates have come home to roost in the form of Charles Taylor's new Salon.com review of Nick Hornby's new book, The Polysyllabic Spree, the first title from Believer Books. The book collects Hornby's hilarious Believer columns over the last year and is a gem. Hornby is one of the funniest writers around, and the idea of his column, "Stuff I've Been Reading," is brilliant insofar as it allows him to write about whatever books he has happened upon, old or new, classic or oddity, rather than reviewing current titles alone.
Taylor has written a weird review of the book for Salon that can be read in its entirety here. It is written in praise of the book but against the mentality of The Believer, which he describes nastily as a kind of literary Up With People. Charles Taylor, who I presume is neither the great Converse sneaker-king nor the Canadian philosopher nor the Liberian war criminal - unless he is a very busy man indeed - argues that "Where [The Believer] deserves credit for bucking a trend that is harming contemporary criticism isn't in its attitude toward negative reviews but in the freedom it has given Hornby for his column." His argument is strange because it makes it seem as though Hornby's accomplishment has nothing to do with The Believer or was acheived in spite of its editorial direction.
He is also referring to the fact that The Believer doesn't print soley negative book reviews, and asked Hornby not to explicitly name books he hated when he discusses them in his columns. Is this a problem? I happen to know from personal experience that The Believer isn't in the business of puffery, or producing good reviews of bad books. In fact, the purpose of The Believer's newish one-page reviews section is to draw attention to literary fiction that isn't ordinarily picked up by larger book reviews. At any rate, all this wouldn't be worth going into if it didn't open up some bigger issues about reviewing. Personally, I don't mind extremely negative reviews, because sometimes they get me intrigued and upset and stir things up. I had never read Rick Moody, for example, until Dale Peck described him as "the worst writer of his generation" - a clearly false statement since there must be someone Moody's age writing copy for douche ads. But now I'm going to read Moody. There's nothing more curiosity-inspiring than attempted censorship or apoplectic castigation, and when somebody at Slate trashes Wes Anderson's new film The Life Aquatic I get myself to the theatre as fast as I can. There's another matter, of course, which is that some of the best nonfiction ever written, such as Mark Twain's "Cooper's Literary Offenses," takes the form of negative reviewing.
My own view, for what it's worth, is that negative reviews are a branch of humor writing, and that the best comedy comes at the expense of the powerful, pompous, and pretentious, or what Laurence Sterne called "false gravity" in Tristram Shandy. I would argue that novelists as a rule are not the enemy, and that crushing a first-time novelist or a person trying to express something is a little like pushing a baby stroller down the subway stairs.
On the other hand, a critic's first duty is honesty, and if there is no way out of an assignment then it does nobody any service to soft-pedal something one has taken a strong dislike to. Snarkiness is the mediocre mind's second-rate, knee-jerk response to the culture of puffery and hype; in fact they are two sides of the same problem (and feed off one another) rather than true adversaries. My utopian suggestion would be a restoration of the concept of real criticism - independent, honest, passionate, partial, and decently paid - rather than the devolution of book reviewing into a badly-paid arm of publishing PR or the smarmy posing of middling minds who percieve contemporary literature as an endless river of bilge that threatens the sanctity of their precious critical faculties.
After filmmaker’s murder, Dutch creed of tolerance under siege
Ian Buruma on the effects of Theo Van Gogh's murder on Dutch society, in the New Yorker:
For van Gogh, the worst crime was to look away. One of his bugbears was the long-standing refusal (since abandoned) of the Dutch press to identify the ethnic origin of criminals, so as not to inflame prejudice. He saw this as a sign of abject cowardice. To show respect for Islam without mentioning the Islamic oppression of women and homosexuals was an act of disgusting hypocrisy. In a free society, he believed, everything should be said openly, and not just said but shouted, as loudly and offensively as possible, until people got the point. It was not enough to call attention to illiberal Muslims; they were to be identified as “goat-fuckers.”
Van Gogh often expressed his admiration for the late Pim Fortuyn, the populist politician, who regularly proclaimed that there was no room for a bigoted religious minority in a liberal society, and that “Holland was full.” Van Gogh called Fortuyn, who was assassinated in 2002 by a deranged animal-rights activist, “the divine baldie,” partly to annoy the bien-pensant liberals, who were quick to denounce any criticism of minorities as racism. His friend Max Pam thinks that van Gogh’s attitude was mixed with professional rage; like Mohammed Bouyeri, van Gogh had trouble getting state subsidies, not for community centers but for his films. Yet there is no getting around van Gogh’s nasty streak.
Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases
Christopher Priest on The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, a comedy of erroneous terms, in The Guardian:
It was, as expected, a long read, comprising a large number of etiologies of diseases, some lurid, some disgusting, some surreal, all invented and diagnosed by a range of writers, from "Rev Michael Moorcock" to "Dr China Miéville".
Each etiology has the same format: a description of the origin of the disease, then its symptoms and history, and finally its possible treatment or cure. Almost all of them are written in the same sort of style: a deadpan, passive-voice, cod-serious discourse, backed up with pseudo-academic paraphernalia, the joke being the knowing voice of mock seriousness.
Julius Axelrod Dies at 92; Won Nobel in Medicine
From the New York Times:
Dr. Axelrod shared the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with two other scientists, Dr. Bernard Katz of Britain and Prof. Ulf von Euler of Sweden. Their work was essential to the development of psychiatric drugs and others and led directly to the development of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the class of antidepressants that includes Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil.
The Nobel Foundation cited the men "for their discoveries concerning the transmitters in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation." But Dr. Axelrod's influence extended far beyond the discoveries related to the prize.
In the 1940's, even before receiving his doctorate in pharmacology, Dr. Axelrod played a major role in identifying acetaminophen as the pain-relieving chemical in a common headache treatment of the day.
The newly discovered substance was later developed and marketed by Johnson & Johnson under the brand name Tylenol.
RFID Tags proliferate, stirring privacy debate
From the Christian Science Monitor:
Soon, everything from children's backpacks to the shoes you buy could be tracked by radio signal.
Nearly unknown a decade ago, a device the size of a pencil tip is beginning to infiltrate every corner and pocket of American life.
This recent technology - called RFID for "radio frequency identification" - is making everything from warehouse inventory to lost-luggage tracking to library checkouts easier, faster, and much more informed.
At the same time, the rush to harness the technology is raising a host of regulatory and other concerns, including the invasion of privacy, personal freedom, and civil rights. Those issues in turn are generating concern by lawmakers for how access to data collected by such methods should be limited and protected.
100 Years of Einstein
From The Economist:
In the span of 18 months, Isaac Newton invented calculus, constructed a theory of optics, explained how gravity works and discovered his laws of motion. As a result, 1665 and the early months of 1666 are termed his annus mirabilis. It was a sustained sprint of intellectual achievement that no one thought could ever be equalled. But in a span of a few years just before 1900, it all began to unravel. One phenomenon after another was discovered which could not be explained by the laws of classical physics. The theories of Newton, and of James Clerk Maxwell who followed him in the mid-19th century by crafting a more comprehensive account of electromagnetism, were in trouble.
Then, in 1905, a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein found the way forward. In five remarkable papers, he showed that atoms are real (it was still controversial at the time), presented his special theory of relativity, and put quantum theory on its feet. It was a different achievement from Newton's year, but Einstein's annus mirabilis was no less remarkable. He did not, like Newton, have to invent entirely new forms of mathematics. However, he had to revise notions of space and time fundamentally. And unlike Newton, who did not publish his results for nearly 20 years, so obsessed was he with secrecy and working out the details, Einstein released his papers one after another, as a fusillade of ideas.
For Einstein, it was just a beginning—he would go on to create the general theory of relativity and to pioneer quantum mechanics. While Newton came up with one system for explaining the world, Einstein thus came up with two.
December 30, 2004
Did quake trim day length?
From Newsday [via Preposterous Universe]:
Major earthquakes can change the rate of Earth's rotation, scientists said yesterday, but it's not yet clear if the 9.0 quake actually did so - and, if so, by how much.
If the rotation rate was changed, it was by less than three microseconds, said gravity expert Richard Gross of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. A microsecond is one millionth of a second.
"We won't know for weeks," said geophysicist Thomas Herring of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The most accurate measurements will take about three weeks to get all of the data processed. So it's a guess, as of now."
Sri Lankan brewery ditches beer for water
The Lion Brewery plant in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, has so far produced 120,000 bottles of water for shipment to the affected areas, with Oxfam's help.
"With so much loss of life, how could you not help?" brewery manager Nausha Raheem said.
"Once we got over the initial shock and realized the gravity of the situation, we decided to do what we could to help. It has been a bit of a logistical effort and has involved all of our staff, but it is desperately needed," she said, according to Oxfam
The switch-over took place on Monday, the day after the Tsunami smashed into the Sri Lankan coastline, killing more than 27,000 people, according to the latest figures.
I took the picture of the Lion Brewery billboard in Galle in November.
True Face of Hobbits
You may remember the reports a month or so back of the discovery of bones from a particularly diminutive race of hominids. Well, now you can meet the hobbits face to face, sort of.
The Tsunami, theodicies and science
Yesterday, I wrote that trying to understand the mechanics of the disaster is a solace of sorts. Of course, I said it without reflecting on the fact that I'm a convinced atheist and see no value in trying to integrate these things into some eschatology or divine telos. I guess a more common phenomenon is a jump back into a theodicy; even without being prompted by an occassionally assertive rationlist, like myself, believers confront the "why would an all benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent being . . ." line of questions.
Martin Kettle raised the issue a few days ago in The Guardian.
"From at least the time of Aristotle, intelligent people have struggled to make some sense of earthquakes. Earthquakes do not merely kill and destroy. They challenge human beings to explain the world order in which such apparently indiscriminate acts can occur. Europe in the 18th century had the intellectual curiosity and independence to ask and answer such questions. But can we say the same of 21st-century Europe? Or are we too cowed now to even ask if the God can exist that can do such things?"
(Norman Geras had this post on making meaning in the face of a tragedy shortly afterwards.)
"Not only does science know why the tsunami happened, it can give precious hours of warning. If a small fraction of the tax breaks handed out to churches, mosques and synagogues had been diverted into an early warning system, tens of thousands of people, now dead, would have been moved to safety.
Let's get up off our knees, stop cringing before bogeymen and virtual fathers, face reality, and help science to do something constructive about human suffering."
It's a sentiment I share, but then I was struck by the reasons Norman Geras offers for his discomfort with Dawkins' response.
"In an intellectual discussion about the grounds for belief in God, one may legitimately argue, with all the force one can muster, that there are no compelling grounds. On the other hand - and to put this point with particular sharpness by use of an extreme example - I wouldn't think it morally admirable to give out aggressive statements against religious belief at the funeral of someone from a devout family; or to advise a grief-stricken person against appealing to (their) God for solace.
Now, to be fair about this, in the letter in question Richard Dawkins may be seen merely as contributing to a reasoned discussion about religious faith in the national press. My own discomfort with the form of his concluding sentiments, however, is that the immediate context of that discussion is the vast tragedy that has just unfolded along the coasts of South-East Asia. It's hard to abstract what he says from the immediacy of that, from the scenes of loss and grief and suffering that are being relayed to us hourly. Against this background 'getting up off our knees' and 'not cringing before bogeymen and virtual fathers' have, to me, a rather brutal ring, insensitive to the complexities and vulnerabilities (final item) of the human condition."
Thinking more about it, Dawkins' letter seems to me to be far less clincal than Geras' read of it suggests. I hear in Dawkins' letter, especially its beginning, not only a "reasoned discussion about faith" but also some anger and frustration at what he perceives to be the (malevolent) role of religion in the wake of these things. The point can be debated, but I think that frustration and anger at being told that it's God's will in response to sin or that it's a Job-like test of faith is also a very human reaction, born of the immediacy of the loss.
The Beauty Academy of Kabul
I didn't have a chance to see Liz Mermin's documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, but by all accounts it was characteristically insightful and beautiful. (Liz's previous documentary On Sacred Ground, about abortion providers, is amazing, and I recommend it to all.) The Beauty Academy of Kabul is about American beauticians who go to set up beauty schools in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taleban. Here's a BBC Four interview with Liz about the film.
"BBC Four: Was it the fact that it was New Yorkers going over to Kabul that attracted you, or the beauty school project itself?
L[iz] M[ermin]: I read a story about the project in the New York Times. The reason it jumped out at me was that at that point, 2002, the news was all so dire from that part of the world. This was such a bizarre human interest story and it seemed like such naive idealism. The idea of a group of well-intentioned Americans popping into Kabul and teaching woman about hair styles seemed irresistible. But when I started talking to them I saw the other side of it, the business development angle, and it seemed like less of a joke."
December 29, 2004
Where Are All the Dead Animals? Sri Lanka Asks
Sri Lankan wildlife officials are stunned -- the worst tsunami in memory has killed around 22,000 people along the Indian Ocean island's coast, but they can't find any dead animals.
Case of the Lawyer With a Sherlock Holmes Bent
Marc Weingarten in the New York Times Book Review:
Leslie S. Klinger is not one of those Sherlock Holmes obsessives who feel compelled to actually live as if they were distant relatives of the fictional detective. He doesn't greet visitors wearing a deerstalker hat and an Inverness cape, and his cheerful contemporary home in Malibu, Calif., is a far cry from the Victorian lodging house at 221B Baker Street where Holmes and his trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson, lived in London.
But as Holmes himself could attest, first impressions can be deceiving. Step into Mr. Klinger's home office and you will find the evidence of his abiding passion: Thousands of books about one of the world's most famous crime busters. This is the raw material for Mr. Klinger's project "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes," a two-volume, 10-pound collection of all 56 Holmes short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, complete with Mr. Klinger's exhaustive footnotes. The collection, published last month by W. W. Norton is being hailed as the definitive exegesis of Holmes and his times.
Science comes to Carnaval
How much can science and popular culture intertwine? A lot, apparently, at least if some of the floats in this recent Carnaval, the sensual, samba-ridden, sexually ambiguous Brazillian festival before Lent, are an indication.
"[I]n 2003, a talented young carnavalesco (the designer of a carnaval parade; yes that's a profession in Brazil) named Paulo Barros proposed to one of the less affluent samba schools, the Unidos da Tijuca, a science theme for the February 22, 2004 parade. No one had gone down this road before—typical Carnaval themes are Amazonia, African or Portuguese heritage, sex, the sea, television stars et cetera. Unidos da Tijuca agreed to the plan, and began preparing for 'The Dream of Creation and the Creation of the Dream: Art and Science in the Age of the Impossible.'
Paulo Barros then approached the science-outreach group, called Casa da Ciência, at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The enthusiastic Casa da Ciência crowd loved the idea, and worked with the samba school for a year to get ready. The results showed, from the words of the theme samba to the costumes.
. . .
The vast majority of Brazilian scientists, even some who usually left town during Carnaval, were supportive of this incredible opportunity for science to interact with popular culture. The United States equivalent might be a science-themed halftime show at the Super Bowl."
More on the wave
I guess that it's simply natural to try to understand the mechanics of the disaster even as we wait to hear about family and loved ones that haven't been accounted for. What this simulation from the Tsunami Inundation Mapping Efforts project of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration shows can only be described as mind boggling. (Click on the simulation tab.)
The quake may have also affected the Earth's rotation.
"According to Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it's possible that the Earth's rotation did indeed speed up slightly as a large chunk of the crust fell toward the planet's core, just as a spinning figure skater speeds up when she pulls in her arms.
'I used a model of the elastic properties of the Earth along with the seismically determined source properties of the earthquake to compute the change in the distribution of the Earth's mass caused by the earthquake, and hence its effect on the Earth's rotation, including the change in the length of the day and in the Earth's wobble,' Gross told Explainer in an e-mail. 'This calculation predicts that the earthquake should have shortened the length of the day by about 2.7 microseconds, and caused the Earth to wobble by about another 1 inch.'
Stuart Sipkin, a research geophysicist who has been studying the quake at the USGS's National Earthquake Information Center, doesn't dispute the calculation but urges caution until the model's projection can be confirmed with observed data. Unfortunately, that's not possible; according to Gross, current length-of-day measurement techniques are accurate to only 20 microseconds."
In an Age of Strife, What Would Buddha Do?
William Grimes reviews An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World by Pankaj Mishra, in the New York Times:
The Indian novelist and journalist Pankaj Mishra had two ideas when he came up with the subtitle "The Buddha in the World." Always, in his rambling meditations on the history and meaning of Buddhism, he struggles to place the Buddha in historical context. He evokes the physical settings, socioeconomic changes and political tensions of Northern India six centuries before Jesus, the world in which Siddhartha Gautama first spread his radical message.
At the same time, his own spiritual quest pulls the story into the present, as he sorts out his conflicted feelings about Buddhism and its relevance to the world of terrorist bombings, multinational corporations and seething third-world discontent.
Mr. Mishra, the author of a highly praised novel, "The Romantics," has written an odd, uneasy book.
INDIRECT RECIPROCITY, ASSESSMENT HARDWIRING, AND REPUTATION
From A Talk With Karl Sigmund at Edge.org:
These ideas fed into our work on indirect reciprocity, a concept that was first introduced by Robert Trivers in a famous paper in the 1970s. I recall that he mentioned this idea obliquely when he wrote about something he called "general altruism". Here you give something back not to the person to whom you owe something, but to somebody else in society. He pointed out that this also works with regard to cooperation at a high level. Trivers didn't go into details, because at the time it was not really at the center of his thinking. He was mostly interested in animal behavior, and so far indirect reciprocity has not been proven to exist in animal behavior. It might exist in some cases, but ethologists are still debating the pros and cons.
In human societies, however, indirect reciprocity has a very striking effect. There is a famous anecdote about the American baseball player Yogi Berra, who said something to the effect of, "I make a point of going to other people's funerals because otherwise they won't come to mine." This is not as nonsensical as it seems. If a colleague of the university, for instance, goes faithfully to every faculty member's funeral, then the faculty will turn out strongly at his. Others reciprocate. It works. We think instinctively in terms of direct reciprocation — when I do something for you, you do something for me — but the same principle can apply in situations of indirect reciprocity. I do something for you and somebody else helps me in return.
More on Behzti: Talks with Sikhs backfired on theatre
The violent protests that led to the closure of the controversial play Behzti were the result of a failed attempt to work with Sikh community leaders, a leading actor in the play has said.
Yasmin Wilde, who played Min, the victim in a rape scene which sparked particular criticism, said the play had been closed despite the mixed feelings of the cast after police advised that the violence was likely to escalate.
She said the long consultation between the Birmingham Rep, where the play was performed, and Sikh community representatives in the run-up to the production had caused problems.
a country's legal history greatly affects its economy
Nicholas Thompson in Legal Affairs (via Arts and Letters Daily):
MALAYSIA AND INDONESIA COULDN'T BE CALLED TWINS, but they might be called siblings. The adjacent Southeast Asian nations possess similar natural resources and their citizens speak similar languages and follow similar strains of Islam. But Malaysia's economy is prospering while Indonesia's is floundering. Malaysia's stock market is far more vibrant than its neighbor's, and its average resident is three times richer.
Economists might explain these divergent paths by pointing to the countries' different responses to the Asian financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Sociologists might find a cultural explanation in the close-knit community of Chinese immigrants who are the most powerful force in Malaysia's business community. Historians might point out that Malaysia's struggle for independence was much less bloody than Indonesia's.
Another explanation lies in the countries' legal systems, however. Malaysia was a British colony and its legal system is based on the common law: the set of rules, norms, and procedures that has guided the legal system of England and the British Empire for about nine centuries. Indonesia was a Dutch colony and its legal system derives from French civil law, a set of statutes and principles written under Napoleon in the early 19th century and imposed upon the lands he conquered, including the Netherlands.
According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently.
Author Arthur C. Clarke loses Lanka school
The author of 2001: A Space Odyssey is Sri Lanka's most famous guest-resident:
British-born science fiction author Arthur C Clarke who has made Sri Lanka his adopted home lost his diving school with the deadly tsunami eerily echoing a plotline from his first book on the island...
"Curiously enough, in my first book on Sri Lanka, I had written about another tidal wave reaching the Galle harbour," he said.
"That happened in August 1883, following the eruption of Krakatoa in roughly the same part of the Indian Ocean."
He was referring to the submarine earthquake in the Indian Ocean off Indonesia that triggered the tsunami which devastated coastlines of seven Asian nations, with Sri Lanka one of the hardest hit.
December 28, 2004
A Duccio for New York
Jed Perl in The New Republic:
There is a heart-stopping intimacy about Duccio's Madonna and Child, a new acquisition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The little panel, less than a foot high, dates from around 1300, when a few Italian artists were beginning to take an interest in the visual possibilities of raw, unfettered emotion--emotion that was not ritualized or abstracted. Duccio gives the interactions of a mother and a child a pungency and a delicacy that's startlingly--disarmingly--familiar.
Scientists: Quake shifts islands
The massive earthquake that devastated parts of Asia permanently moved the tectonic plates beneath the Indian Ocean as much as 98 feet (30 meters), slightly shifting islands near Sumatra an unknown distance, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.
A tsunami spawned by the 9.0-magnitude quake off the northern tip of Sumatra killed an estimated 60,000 on Sunday in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and East Africa.
More here. It is recommended that one donate cash rather than supplies:
Author Susan Sontag dies at 71
I spent an evening in Susan Sontag's apartment once. She wasn't there; I was visiting a friend who was housesitting for her. As might be expected, the apartment was filled, wall-to-wall, with books. I looked through a few, and noticed that she had the interesting habit of cutting out reviews of a book from several sources, then folding and placing them in the book itself before shelving it. I tried to emulate her habit, with very little success. She was inimitable in many ways.
Susan Sontag, the author, activist and self-defined "zealot of seriousness" whose voracious mind and provocative prose made her a leading intellectual of the past half century, died Tuesday. She was 71.
Sontag died Tuesday morning, officials at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said. She had been treated for breast cancer in the 1970s.
Sontag called herself a "besotted aesthete," an "obsessed moralist" and a "zealot of seriousness."
She wrote a best-selling historical novel, "The Volcano Lover," and in 2000 won the National Book Award for the historical novel "In America." But her greatest literary impact was as an essayist.
The 1964 piece "Notes on Camp," which established her as a major new writer, popularized the "so bad it's good" attitude toward popular culture, applicable to everything from "Swan Lake" to feather boas. In "Against Interpretation," this most analytical of writers worried that critical analysis interfered with art's "incantatory, magical" power.
Tony Judt on European Anti-semitism
From The Nation:
Last February Rockwell Schnabel (the US ambassador to the European Union) spoke of anti-Semitism in Europe "getting to a point where it is as bad as it was in the 30s." In May 2002 George Will wrote in the Washington Post that anti-Semitism among Europeans "has become the second--and final?--phase of the struggle for a 'final solution to the Jewish Question.'" These are not isolated, hysterical instances: Among American elites as well as in the population at large, it is widely assumed that Europe, having learned nothing from its past, is once again awash in the old anti-Semitism.
The American view clearly reflects an exaggerated anxiety. The problem of anti-Semitism in Europe today is real, but it needs to be kept in proportion...
But whereas most Europeans believe that the problem originates in the Middle East and must therefore be addressed there, the ADL and many American commentators conclude rather that there is no longer any difference between being "against" Israel and "against" Jews: i.e., that in Europe anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have become synonymous. But that is palpably false.
Full article here.
Quantum cryptography moves from theory to lab to real products
Gary Stix in Scientific American:
The National Security Agency or one of the Federal Reserve banks can now buy a quantum-cryptographic system from two small companies--and more products are on the way. This new method of encryption represents the first major commercial implementation for what has become known as quantum information science, which blends quantum mechanics and information theory. The ultimate technology to emerge from the field may be a quantum computer so powerful that the only way to protect against its prodigious code-breaking capability may be to deploy quantum-cryptographic techniques.
Full article here.
Alexander, the Movie!
The erudite classicist, Daniel Mendelsohn, examines Oliver Stone's Alexander in the New York Review of Books:
This was, obviously, not the reaction Stone was hoping for —nor indeed the reaction that Alexander's life and career deserve, whether you think he was an enlightened Greek gentleman carrying the torch of Hellenism to the East or a savage, paranoid tyrant who left rivers of blood in his wake. The controversy about his personality derives from the fact that our sources are famously inadequate, all eyewitness accounts having perished: what remains is, at best, secondhand (one history, for instance, is based largely on the now-lost memoirs of Alexander's general and alleged half-brother, Ptolemy, who went on to become the founder of the Egyptian dynasty that ended with Cleopatra), and at worst highly unreliable. A rather florid account by the first-century-AD Roman rhetorician Quintus Curtius often reflects its author's professional interests —his Alexander is given to extended bursts of eloquence even when gravely wounded—far more than it does the known facts. But Alexander's story, even stripped of romanticizing or rhetorical elaboration, still has the power to amaze.
Continue reading here.
Do Earthquakes Affect the Earth's Rotation? How?
Sam Schechner in Slate:
In covering the massive, tsunami-generating earthquake off the northwest coast of Sumatra this weekend, many news outlets picked up a statement from Enzo Boschi, head of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics, saying the temblor was strong enough to disturb the Earth's rotation. Can an earthquake really affect the way the planet spins on its axis?
Jared Diamond shows how societies destroy themselves
Malcolm Gladwell reviews Diamond's book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in The New Yorker:
In “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Diamond looked at environmental and structural factors to explain why Western societies came to dominate the world. In “Collapse,” he continues that approach, only this time he looks at history’s losers—like the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, the Mayans, and the modern-day Rwandans. We live in an era preoccupied with the way that ideology and culture and politics and economics help shape the course of history. But Diamond isn’t particularly interested in any of those things—or, at least, he’s interested in them only insofar as they bear on what to him is the far more important question, which is a society’s relationship to its climate and geography and resources and neighbors. “Collapse” is a book about the most prosaic elements of the earth’s ecosystem—soil, trees, and water—because societies fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.
Read more here.
A Young Doctor's Hardest Lesson: Keep Your Mouth Shut
Kent Sepkowitz, M.D., in the New York Times:
As a profession, I think we do tend to run on the dry side, though till recently the reason had eluded me. Then, last month, my wife and I bumped into an acquaintance of hers while walking along the street. The person, unbeknownst to my wife, is a patient of mine, someone whom I treat for a chronic infection. After the patient and I shared a moment of mutual panic, we three chatted amicably and moved on.
Except, that evening, my wife kept asking me why I was being so quiet and, well, boring. And I suddenly saw the problem: doctors are waterlogged with secrets, hundreds of them, thousands of them.
Each day brings a new batch: patients' admissions about drug use or sexual indiscretion, a hidden family, a long-held dream, an ancient heartache, undisclosed H.I.V. infection.
Blogs Provide Raw Details From Scene of the Disaster
John Schwartz in the New York Times:
For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.
The so-called blogosphere, with its personal journals published on the Web, has become best known as a forum for bruising political discussion and media criticism. But the technology proved a ready medium for instant news of the tsunami disaster and for collaboration over ways to help.
There was the simple photo of a startlingly blue boat smashed against a beachside palm in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, at www.thiswayplease .com/extra.html. "Every house and fishing boat has been smashed, the entire length of the east coast," wrote Fred Robart, who posted the photo. "People who know and respect the sea well now talk of it in shock, dismay and fear."
At sumankumar.com, Nanda Kishore, a contributor, offered photos and commentary from Chennai, India: "Some drenched till their hips, some till their chest, some all over and some of them were so drenched that they had already stopped breathing. Men and women, old and young, all were running for lives. It was a horrible site to see. The relief workers could not attend to all the dead and all the alive. The dead were dropped and the half alive were carried to safety."
December 27, 2004
By some estimates, Quake was equal to detonating 1 million atom bombs
The term doesn't entirely capture the awesome power of the fourth largest earthquake since 1900, or the tsunami catastrophes it spawned for coastal areas around the Indian Ocean.
Despite its awesome power, the quake itself was not much of a surprise, scientists said Monday.
Asian Tragedy: How to help
In early November of this year, as my wife and I took a dawn swim at one of the loveliest beaches in the world, Unawatuna (rated the 7th most beautiful beach on Earth by Conde Nast this year!), near Galle, in Sri Lanka, we could hardly have imagined that many of the lovely people we met there would be dead less than two months later; the beautiful old hotel we stayed in, as well as Auntie Moharram's lovely seaside restaurant (where she showed off the new bar she was planning to put in) swept away. A friend of one of my closest friends, Ramani, has had her parents, husband, and both children killed. Five percent of the population of Sri Lanka is affected (homeless, injured, dead). As it happens, my wife and I had Christmas dinner two nights ago with a high-ranking offical of the Sri Lankan government, with whom we fondly shared many memories of our time there. And then the next morning, this wave of incomprehensible destruction. And as we are all too aware, it is not just Sri Lanka. We mourn also the thousands of victims in India, Thailand, and Indonesia. The New York Times has a list of ways to help here. I will update this post as I get more information on how to help most effectively.
The first picture shows me and Auntie Moharram in her restaurant, the second is where we were staying; both no longer exist. The third is a more recent picture of the area.
Science of Tsunamis
The human cost of the recent earthquake and tsunami is difficult to fathom.
For some, it probably brings to mind the terrible Lisbon earthquake that so shook the confidence of European Humanism at the time. One wonders if there will be similar repercussions on human thought from this event.
December 26, 2004
Better than Socrates
This about my teacher and friend, Sidney Morgenbesser, by James Ryerson in the New York Times:
To Bertrand Russell, he was one of the cleverest young men in the United States. To Noam Chomsky, he was one of the most profound minds of the modern era. But to anyone who visits a library to gauge his influence, Sidney Morgenbesser, who taught philosophy at Columbia University from 1955 to 1999, is practically a nonentity: the author of a small stack of seldom-cited papers, the editor of a few anthologies. Not since Socrates has a philosopher gained such a reputation for greatness while publishing so little of note. Certainly no one else shaped so many seminal thinkers while leaving behind almost nothing in the way of major doctrines or ideas. ''Moses published one book,'' Morgenbesser pleaded in his own defense. ''What did he do after that?''
''Let me see if I understand your thesis,'' he once said to the psychologist B. F. Skinner. ''You think we shouldn't anthropomorphize people?''
THE YEAR'S 10 BEST POP ALBUMS (NY Times)
From the NY Times:
1. U2, 'How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' (Interscope) Sure, it's an old-fashioned idea: an album that's ready to take on the world, with big tunes and benevolent thoughts that add up to unironic anthems. Yet that ambition is fulfilled, triumphantly, by songs with durable melodies and genuine dramatic sweep, by the Edge's most aggressive and layered guitars, and by lyrics and vocals from Bono that never get so high-minded they forget to be human.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Jared Diamond in Seed Magazine:
What became of Norse Greenland and the other societies that have been famous victims of full-fledged collapse? How could even one of these societies, once so mighty, end up collapsing? Lurking behind this mystery is a nagging thought: Might such a fate eventually befall our own wealthy societies? Will tourists someday stare mystified at the rusting hulks of New York City's skyscrapers, much as we stare today at the jungle-overgrown ruins of Mayan cities?
It has long been suspected that many of those mysterious abandonments were at least partly triggered by ecological problems: people inadvertently destroying the environmental resources on which their societies depended. In recent decades, scientists have confirmed this suspicion of unintended ecological suicide--ecocide.
HANS MORAVEC: A FUTURE OF ROBOTS
From Scientific American:
When word got around that Hans Moravec had founded an honest-to-goodness robotics firm, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Wasn't this the same Carnegie Mellon University scientist who had predicted that we would someday routinely download our minds into robots? And that exponential advances in computing power would cause the human race to invent itself out of a job as robots supplanted us as the planet's most adept and adaptive species? Somehow, creating a company seemed ... uncharacteristically pragmatic.
But Moravec doesn't see it that way. He says he didn't start Seegrid Corporation because he was backing off his predictions. He founded the company because he was planning to help fulfill them.
You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her sing
Tom Wolfe defends himself after winning the "Bad Sex" award. (See my earlier post here.) Dan Glaister writes in The Guardian:
It has often been said that Americans have no sense of irony. Now the American author Tom Wolfe has turned the tables, saying that the British literary judges who awarded him a prize for the year's worst sex in fiction simply did not understand that his description of a first encounter was meant to be ironic.
"There's an old saying - 'You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her sing'," he told Reuters. "In this case, you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can't make him get it."
Wolfe, 74, best-known for his novel Bonfire of the Vanities and for his eccentric dress - he normally wears a white suit and carries a cane - was awarded the Bad Sex award by the Literary Review last month for his novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, the story of a naïve, country girl who attends an Ivy League college. To research the novel, Wolfe, a former journalist, spent a lot of time interviewing students and observing campus life.
Boxing Day: What is it?
There is much dispute over the true origins of Boxing Day, but one common story of the holiday's origins is that servants used to receive Christmas gifts from their employers on the first weekday after Christmas, usually December 26, after the family celebrations. These were generally called their Christmas boxes. Another story is that this is the day that priests broke open the collection boxes and distributed the money to the poor.
Richard Dawkins, exploding the myth of Christmas
I am very flattered that we at 3QD were not the only ones to have celebrated December 25th as a day to remember Isaac Newton. Richard Dawkins writes in The Dubliner:
For better or worse, ours is historically a Christian culture, and children who grow up ignorant of it are diminished, unable to take literary allusions, actually impoverished. I am no lover of Christianity, but I’d far rather wish you “Happy Christmas” than “Happy Holiday Season”. Fortunately, this is not the only choice. December 25th really is the birthday of one of the greatest men ever to walk the earth, Sir Isaac Newton. His achievements might justly be celebrated wherever his truths hold sway. And that means from one end of the universe to the other. Happy Newton’s Day!
Read the whole article here.
Rushdie Redux? A.C. Grayling: You can be too tolerant
"Sikhs have every right to protest against an offending play, but the law needs reinforcing if increasing moves by extremists to curtail free speech are to be resisted."
See my earlier post here.
More from The Independent:
This week the theatrical world, and the arts world more generally, has been up in arms. You might think this happens quite a lot, arts people being fairly passionate folk. But it isn't every week that fully 700 people - many of them very eminent - put their names to a letter to a national newspaper protesting about the cancellation of a play that has offended a number of Sikhs. Well, I'm with them. Freedom of speech is not a decorative amenity in a liberal democracy. It's fundamental to its structure. Without it, other rights and freedoms are effectively empty, because they cannot be asserted, and still less defended, when free speech is forbidden.
So far, so conventionally liberal. But things are changing. The increasing assertiveness of religions in recent years is prompting a crisis. Under the generic cloak of claiming to be "offended" by whatever they do not like, religious conservatives and fundamentalists seek, with increasing insistence, to silence others and to impose on society not merely tolerance of their own preferences but actual solicitude. Thus, Britain is being asked to become a place where no criticism or challenge can be offered to any religion, whether or not we agree with its treatment of women, its practice of female circumcision, its intolerance towards the liberal attitudes of the majority, or its tendentious and sectarian education of children.
At the extreme, devotees have countered "offence" against their religion by committing mass murder, as in the 11 September 2001 atrocities, and individual murder, as of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands. The former was an expression of hatred towards a system, and the country that most exemplifies it, that many Muslims find threatening to their traditional values. The latter was an act of censorship designed to frighten people into not criticising Islam.
More here. Thanks to R.D. for bringing this to my attention.
December 25, 2004
Today, We Celebrate one who connected Heaven to Earth
He changed the way we view ourselves, our world, the universe itself. On this day, we celebrate the birth of possibly the greatest intellect of all time: Isaac Newton. He was born 362 years ago in the manor house of Woolsthorpe, near Grantham in Lincolnshire. It is shocking how few realize what he did. When asked what Newton's achievement was, most people reply, "He discovered gravity." When pressed to say what exactly that means (after all, people had known that things fall down, not up, for quite some time), many will say, "Well, he quantified gravity." When told about Galileo's laws, and how we knew quite a bit (quantitatively) about how gravity affects objects well before Newton, most people become confused. But when told about Kepler and his laws of planetary motion, and how Newton realized that they and Galileo's discoveries about balls rolling down inclined planes could be explained in one fell swoop using a couple of equations, and shown to be the result of the same phenomenon (gravity), they are usually and finally suitably impressed. Hence, Newton connected what was known about the heavens (Kepler's Laws) with what was known about earth (Galileo's Laws). This stupendously imaginative act of integration is what encouraged Einstein to do the same with the electromagnetic theory of Maxwell, and the experimental results of Michaelson and Morley regarding the speed of light. And it is what keeps physicists today hopeful about one day discovering the one true Theory Of Everything.
To celebrate Sir Isaac's birthday, give yourself a gift, and read S. Chandrasekhar's (yes, Nobel, physics) Newton's "Principia" for the Common Reader:
Representing a decade's work from one of the world's most distinguished physicists, this major publication is, as far as is known, the first comprehensive analysis of Newton's Principia without recourse to secondary sources. Chandrasekhar analyses some 150 propositions which form a direct chain leading to Newton's formulation of his universal law of gravitation. In each case, Newton's proofs are arranged in a linear sequence of equations and arguments, avoiding the need to unravel the necessarily convoluted style of Newton's connected prose. In almost every case, a modern version of the proofs is given to bring into sharp focus the beauty, clarity, and breathtaking economy of Newton's methods. Chandrasehkar's work is an attempt by a distinguished practising scientist to read and comprehend the enormous intellectual achievement of the Principia.
Buy it here or elsewhere.
December 24, 2004
3QD Editors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2004
When I posted the "10 Best Books of 2004" according to the New York Times, Matt Jones responded by asking what the 3 Quarks Daily's editors' favorite books were. Being suckers for this kind of flattery, we are happy to give a top ten list of our own, in no particular order (the other editors declined to pick books):
1. Cruising Modernism by Michael Trask
"A literary critical exploration of early twentieth-century apprehensions of class consciousness and desire, for example in the commingled alarmism over sexual deviancy, vagrancy and consumerism. A strong feature of the book is its wide-ranging attention to the aesthetic (Henry James, Stein, Hart Crane, Cather), the philosophical (pragmatism), the political (Progressive reformers) and the social-scientific (early sociology), making a strong case for its argument’s historical validity." --Asad Raza
2. A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness by V.S. Ramachandran
"Not very many people realize that over the last couple of decades, cognitive scientists have quietly been mapping the brain, figuring out how we think and perform the mental miracles that we do even in routine mentation. One of the most interesting figures in this effort has been V.S. Ramachandran, a man who has designed and performed ingenious experiments to show how the mind actually works. This is no mere theorizing, à la Freud; this is hard science, and the brain is shown to be a thing of extreme beauty. Rama, as he is affectionately known, delivered the 2003 Reith Lectures for the BBC, which have been collected into book form here. Rama is a writer of sharp wit, and his delightfully wry sense of humor shows frequently in his lively prose." --Abbas Raza
3. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies by Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit
"An interesting attempt to defend urban cosmopolitanism from an Internationalist non-Eurocentric standpoint." --Morgan Meis
4. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani
"Mamdani lays the responsibility for 9/11 at the doorstep of Reagan and his cold war policies, especially as pertaining to Afghanistan, in the most cogent and logically progressive argument I have read anywhere. Filled with important historical details, the author demonstrates an extraordinary grasp of current events and Mamdani sounds almost better than Chomsky in his criticism of the West's War on Terror." --Azra Raza
5. The Complete Elegies of Sextus Propertius, new translation by Vincent Katz
"It is tough to translate the amazing Roman poet who feels so damn modern. Vincent Katz does an admirable job." --Morgan Meis
6. Desperately Seeking Paradise by Ziauddin Sardar
"Sardar shows that Islam is as complex and contradictory and full of tensions and as resistant to simplication, as Christianity or Judaism. This is a wonderfully enlightening book, full of information and informed opinion, even revisiting the Rushdie affair in an interesting way." --Sughra Raza
7. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
"In this fictional account of the events surrounding the 1940 US elections, the pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh wins against FDR. Roth describes the events as a 7 year old Jewish boy in NJ and graphically exposes the Fascist government's attempts to assimilate the Jews into mainstream America. As the world this family has known comes crashing down in slow motion through a series of terrifying incidents, the fear being experienced by the tender little boy, the brave father, the converted older brother and the incredibly stable and brave mother is palpable. I finally understood what Arendt meant by the banality of evil." --Azra Raza
8. Selected Poems 1963-2003 by Charles Simic
"It is too hard for me to describe Simic's surreal hypnotic voice. He constantly tries to wrench meaning and hope out of dark places, and so can be deeply uplifting." --Abbas Raza
9. The Artificial White Man by Stanley Crouch
"There is no one so relentlessly Crouchy as Stanley Crouch. A unique American hero." --Morgan Meis
10. The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins
"This is Dawkins's best book in years, and he has never written less than a brilliant book. The literary conceit which lends the book its title is, of course, that of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Dawkins's tale is that of all of life. Starting in the present he travels back in time to meet the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, then further back to meet other ancestors connecting us to other life forms, and so on, until we are at the origin of life itself. At close to 700 dense pages, the book is filled with a massive amount of biological information. The sweep of Dawkins's erudition is truly astounding, and if you find yourself getting exhausted at times by the relentless and seemingly endless litany of facts, keep going: at some point toward the end, I had the supremely ecstatic experience of being absolutely awed at the majestic grandeur, variety, and tenacity of the whole history of life, as well as at the prodigious effort that has gone into classifying and understanding it." --Abbas Raza
HAVE A GOOD HOLIDAY! And please add other suggestions as comments...
World cities to celebrate Don Quixote, 400 years on
Cities on five continents will next year hold a series of cultural events in honour of Don Quixote, 400 years after Miguel de Cervantes brought the character to life, Spain's Culture Minister Carmen Calvo said.
Many consider Cervantes' work "The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha" -- one of the earliest novels written in a modern European language -- to be the greatest Spanish book in history.
The masterpiece will be celebrated with events throughout Spain but also in cities such as Dallas, Mexico City, Paris, Brussels, Oran and Saint Petersburg, set to host a string of plays, debates, exhibitions, concerts and films.
The first edition of Don Quixote came off a printing press in Madrid on December 20, 1604, and the book was made available to the public on January 16, 1605 -- becoming the world's first best-seller.
Pliable solar cells are on a roll
From New Scientist:
Imagine wearing a jacket or rucksack that charges up your mobile phone while you take a walk. Or a tent whose flysheet charges batteries all day so campers can have light all night. Or a roll-out plastic sheet you can place on a car's rear window shelf to power a child's DVD player.
Such applications could soon become a reality thanks to a light, flexible solar panel that is a little thicker than photographic film and can easily be applied to everyday fabrics. The thin, bendy solar panels, which could be on the market within three years, are the fruit of a three-nation European Union research project called H-Alpha Solar (H-AS).
The new solar panels will be cheap, too, because they can be mass-produced in rolls that can be cut as required and wrapped around clothes, fabrics, furniture or even rooftops. "This technology will be a lot easier to handle than the old glass solar panels," claims Gerrit Kroesen, the physicist from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who led the development team.
Sikhs are the real losers from Behzti
Gurharpal Singh writes in The Guardian:
The cancellation of the play Behzti (Dishonour) following protests by Sikhs in Birmingham was not, as a Sikh spokesperson claimed, without winners or losers. If anybody has lost it is British Sikhs. In a single act the community has overturned years of hard work and reverted to type as a militant tradition fixated with narrow communal interests. Doubtless the mobilisation will be seen as another nail in the coffin of freedom of speech, coming close on the heels of the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands and the proposed legislation on incitement to religious hatred. What these interpretations overlook, however, is the pioneering role of Sikhs in framing British multiculturalism, the contribution - unwittingly - of the British state in promoting the idiom of religion in public life, and the deep tensions within the Sikh community itself that have produced such a play.
Digital inheritance raises legal questions
As more of our personal lives go digital, family members, estate attorneys and online service providers are increasingly grappling with what happens to those information bits when their owners die.
Sometimes, the question involves e-mail sitting on a distant server; other times, it's about the photos or financial records stored on a password-protected computer.
This week, a Michigan man publicized his struggle to access the Yahoo e-mail account belonging to his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Justin M. Ellsworth, 20, who was killed November 13 in Iraq. Though Yahoo's policies state that accounts "terminate upon your death," John Ellsworth said his son would have wanted to give him access...
To release those messages in such circumstances, Yahoo said, would violate the privacy rights of the deceased and those with whom they've corresponded.
December 23, 2004
Presumably set to coincide with the onset of holiday gift-giving madness, Verso has reissued the three-volume biography that at one time was considered to be "the most delicious gift to smuggle to an East European intellectual." Neal Ascherson reviews Isaac Deutscher’s monumental biography of Leon Trotsky in the London Review of Books:
…Reissued by Verso in three paperback volumes, Deutscher’s biography is still tremendous. The power and excitement of his prose knock the reader down. His command of the language, late Victorian in its freedom and in the absence of secondhand imagery, in some ways surpasses that of his fellow Pole Joseph Conrad. The scholarship is enormous and – given that the Moscow archives were closed to him – comprehensive. Above all, there is Deutscher’s own enthusiasm, a sort of majestic urgency. He believed that his subject mattered. Not just because of the tragic, even messianic shape of Trotsky’s life, but because Deutscher was convinced that in writing about this dead man, he was also writing about the future.