December 31, 2006
The Lives They Lived
This issue doesn’t try to be a definitive document of the lives and deaths of the most important or influential. Instead, it’s largely an idiosyncratic selection, chosen by our editors and writers, who are often following their own passions and curiosities. There are some big names: the playwright Wendy Wasserstein, the photographer Gordon Parks, Betty Friedan. But there are also many minor characters — Victoria Jackson, Gray Adams, who was involved in desegregating the Mississippi delegation of the Democratic Party; Rupert Pole, the other husband of Anaïs Nin; Nena O'Neill: co-author of a 1970s best seller about “open marriage.” By embracing its own form of obituary, this issue tries to capture ideas and moments across the century and also to convey the richness of individual lives.
Top 10 stories of 2006
The stories that got the most comments from you, our readers.
December 30, 2006
But Didion and Davis are only tourists in the "empire" of inland California, with a tourist's ability to be both accurate and oblivious when they write about what it's like to actually live in San Bernardino, Riverside or the badlands beyond. The road through "Inlandia" (a somewhat awkward designation for the Southern California interior) stops at other accounts of home. M.F.K. Fisher remembers Hemet in the 1940s: "There are many pockets of comfort and healing on this planet ... but only once have I been able to stay as long and learn and be told as much as there on the southeast edge of the Hemet Valley." J. Smeaton Chase wakes to a July dawn in the Mojave, circa 1920: "To lie at dawn and watch the growing glory in the east, the pure ... light stealing up from below the horizon, the brightening to holy silver, the first flash of amber, then of rose, then a hot stain of crimson, and then the flash and glitter, the intolerable splendor...." Percival Everett in 2003 defines the "badlands" of the 909 area code: "Technically, the Badlands is chaparral. The hills are filled with sage, wild mustard, fiddleheads and live oaks. Bobcats, meadowlarks, geckos, horned lizards, red tailed hawks, kestrels, coach whip snakes, king snakes, gopher snakes. Rattlesnakes and coyotes. We don't see rain for seven months of the year and when we do we often flood. In the spring, the hills are green. They are layered and gorgeous. This is in contrast to the rest of the year when the hills are brown and ochre and layered and gorgeous."
more from the LA here.
hilton kramer: against academic twaddle, commercial hype or political mystification
Kramer’s most provocative judgment is to insist upon Modernism as an essential component of bourgeois culture. He admires Modernist art and has less patience for the artworks made “after” Modernism, which he tends to interpret in terms of decline or degeneration. Contemplating Matisse’s achievement, Kramer laments, “It is hard to believe that we shall ever again witness anything like it, now or in the foreseeable future.” Today, instead, we endure “the nihilist imperatives of the postmodernist scam.”
Not that Kramer hates everything that came after Matisse. Many of the items in the book, though slight and descriptive, perform a modest, useful function for newcomers to subjects including Jackson Pollock (“a triumph of ambition and short-lived inspiration over a severely handicapped and unruly personality”), Helen Frankenthaler (“a major artist”), Odd Nerdrum (“a first-rate dramatic imagination”) and Alex Katz (“one thinks of Monet at Giverny”). He also discusses Richard Diebenkorn and Christopher Wilmarth, not to mention past masters like Courbet, Bonnard, Braque and Beckmann. In all, an eclectic group, and Kramer writes interestingly and engagingly about each one.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.
Hitchens on Ford
One expects a certain amount of piety and hypocrisy when retired statesmen give up the ghost, but this doesn't excuse the astonishing number of omissions and misstatements that have characterized the sickly national farewell to Gerald Ford. One could graze for hours on the great slopes of the massive obituaries and never guess that during his mercifully brief occupation of the White House, this president had:
1. Disgraced the United States in Iraq and inaugurated a long period of calamitous misjudgment of that country.
2. Colluded with the Indonesian dictatorship in a gross violation of international law that led to a near-genocide in East Timor.
3. Delivered a resounding snub to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at the time when the Soviet dissident movement was in the greatest need of solidarity.
Instead, there was endless talk about "healing," and of the "courage" that it had taken for Ford to excuse his former boss from the consequences of his law-breaking. You may choose, if you wish, to parrot the line that Watergate was a "long national nightmare," but some of us found it rather exhilarating to see a criminal president successfully investigated and exposed and discredited. And we do not think it in the least bit nightmarish that the Constitution says that such a man is not above the law. Ford's ignominious pardon of this felonious thug meant, first, that only the lesser fry had to go to jail. It meant, second, that we still do not even know why the burglars were originally sent into the offices of the Democratic National Committee. In this respect, the famous pardon is not unlike the Warren Commission: another establishment exercise in damage control and pseudo-reassurance (of which Ford was also a member) that actually raised more questions than it answered. The fact is that serious trials and fearless investigations often are the cause of great division, and rightly so. But by the standards of "healing" celebrated this week, one could argue that O.J. Simpson should have been spared indictment lest the vexing questions of race be unleashed to trouble us again, or that the Tower Commission did us all a favor by trying to bury the implications of the Iran-Contra scandal. Fine, if you don't mind living in a banana republic.
Why military honor matters
Elaine Scarry in the Boston Review:
In 1998, an article by Colonel Charles J. Dunlap Jr. appeared in the United States Air Force Academy’s Journal of Legal Studies warning that a new form of warfare lay ahead. Because our military resources are so far beyond those of any other country, Dunlap argued, no society can today meet us through symmetrical warfare. Therefore, our 21st-century opponents will stop confronting us with weapons and rules that are the mirror counterparts of our own. They will instead use asymmetrical or “neo-absolutist” forms of warfare, resorting to unconventional weapons and to procedures forbidden by international laws.
What Dunlap meant by “unconventional weapons” is clear: the category would include not only outlawed biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons (the last of which, in the view of the United States, only itself and a small number of other countries are legally permitted to have) but also unexpected weapons such as civilian passenger planes loaded with fuel and flown into towering buildings in densely populated cities.
But the term “neo-absolutism,” as used by Dunlap, applies not just to the use of unconventional weapons but to conduct that violates a sacrosanct set of rules—acts that are categorically prohibited by international law and by the regulations of the United States Air Force, Navy, and Army (along with the military forces of many other nations). For example, though warfare permits many forms of ruse and deception, it never permits the false use of a white flag of truce or a red cross.
BEWARE THE ONLINE COLLECTIVE
Jaron Lanier at Edge.org:
It's funny being an "old timer" in the world of the Internet. About six years ago, when I was 40 years old, a Stanford freshman said to me, "Wow Jaron Lanier—you're still alive?" If there's any use to sticking around for the long haul — as computers get so much more powerful that every couple of years our assumptions about what they can do have to be replaced — it might be in noticing patterns or principles that may not be so apparent to the latest hundred million kids who have just arrived online.
There's one observation of mine, about a potential danger, that has caused quite a ruckus in the last half-year. I wrote about it initially in an essay called "Digital Maoism."
Here's the idea in a nutshell: Let's start with an observation about the whole of human history, predating computers. People have often been willing to give up personal identity and join into a collective. Historically, that propensity has usually been very bad news. Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought. Fascists, communists, religious cults, criminal "families" — there has been no end to the varieties of human collectives, but it seems to me that these examples have quite a lot in common. I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob.
Turbulent year for books
Josh Getlin in the Los Angeles Times:
It started off with bestselling author James Frey admitting his memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," was in fact a work of fiction, and ended with celebrity publisher Judith Regan getting fired for allegedly making anti-Semitic comments after her proposed O.J. Simpson confessional book-TV deal got shot down.
In between came charges that 19-year-old Harvard novelist Kaavya Viswanathan had lifted passages from a rival chick-lit author, and hotly disputed allegations that Ian McEwan, one of the most respected names in modern literary fiction, may have been guilty of plagiarism.
John McWhorter in the New York Sun:
In the rush of the holiday season you may have missed that a white buffalo was born at a small zoo in Pennsylvania. Only one in 10 million buffalo is born white, and local Native Americans gave him a name in the Lenape language: kenahkihinen, which means "watch over us."
They found that in a book, however. No one has actually spoken Lenape for a very long time. It was once the language of what is now known as the tristate area, but its speakers gradually switched to English, as happened to the vast majority of the hundreds of languages Native Americans once spoke in North America.
The death of languages is typically described in a rueful tone. There are a number of books treating the death of languages as a crisis equal to endangered species and global warming. However, I'm not sure it's the crisis we are taught that it is.
There is a part of me, as a linguist, that does see something sad in the death of so many languages. It is happening faster than ever: It has been said that a hundred years from now 90% of the current 6,000 languages will be gone.
Each extinction means that a fascinating way of putting words together is no longer alive. In, for example, Inuktitut Eskimo, which, by the way, is not dying, "I should try not to become an alcoholic" is one word: Iminngernaveersaartunngortussaavunga.
Some Kurdish Reactions to to Saddam's Execution
Some responses by Kurdish Media readers can be found here.
Iraq’s highest court upheld Saddam Hussein’s death sentence for killing of nearly 150 Shiite Arabs, paving the way for the former dictator to be hanged within 30 days. The execution order still needs to be approved by the office of Iraqi president, Mr. Jalal Talabani.
Saddam is also on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide that he and his regime committed in Southern Kurdistan. These atrocities resulted in killing of over 200,000 civilian Kurds and were part of a final solution code named Anfal that also included use of weapons of mass destruction such as chemical bombs. Executing Saddam prior to concluding the current trial will deny justice to Kurdish victims and strips Kurds from the possibility of serving justice to Anfal survivors. Proving the case for Kurdish genocide has enormous values for Iraqi Kurds and Kurdish nation. There are still people in Iraq and Arab world that deny the systematic genocide against Kurds. Saddam's trial for crimes against humanity and genocide committed against Kurdish nation is a rare opportunity for Kurds to validate the depth and scope of the atrocities committed against Kurdish nation in a Iraqi court of law.
Joy of Capture Muted at the End
CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 29 — The capture of Saddam Hussein three years ago was a jubilant moment for the White House, hailed by President Bush in a televised address from the Cabinet Room. The execution of Mr. Hussein, though, seemed hardly to inspire the same sentiment.
Before the hanging was carried out in Baghdad, Mr. Bush went to sleep here at his ranch and was not roused when the news came. In a statement written in advance, the president said the execution would not end the violence in Iraq.
After Mr. Hussein was arrested Dec. 13, 2003, he gradually faded from view, save for his courtroom outbursts and writings from prison. The growing chaos and violence in Iraq has steadily overshadowed the torturous rule of Mr. Hussein, who for more than two decades held a unique place in the politics and psyche of the United States, a symbol of the manifestation of evil in the Middle East.
Now, what could have been a triumphal bookend to the American invasion of Iraq has instead been dampened by the grim reality of conditions on the ground there.
Long Walk to Freedom
From The Washington Post:
"A leader is like a shepherd," Nelson Mandela proclaimed more than a decade ago in his autobiography. "There are times when a leader must move out ahead of his flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people in the right way."
It's an arrogant statement -- could any other democratically elected politician get away with equating his constituents with sheep? -- and yet supremely apt. For Mandela is arguably the greatest political leader of our time, the one person worthy of mention alongside FDR, Churchill and Gandhi. Mandela led the political and moral crusade for majority rule in South Africa against a white supremacist police state, risking his life, surrendering his personal freedom and his family's well-being. He spent 27 years in prison only to emerge as a wise, dynamic and conciliatory figure binding black and white together as father of his nation and inspiration for the world.
The danger, of course, is that in extolling Mandela's virtues, it's all too easy to turn him into a saint -- worshipped and untouchable and therefore of no practical value as a guide for our own behavior -- and to lose track of the flawed, flesh-and-blood human being whom we can learn from and seek to emulate. As George Orwell once warned, "Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent."
December 29, 2006
Genghis Khan: Law and order
Jack Weatherford in the Los Angeles Times:
Genghis Khan recognized that victory came by conquering people, not land or cities. In contrast to the Americans in 2003, who sought to take the largest cities first in a campaign of shock and awe, the Mongols in 1258 took the smallest settlements first, gradually working toward the capital. Both the Mongols and the Americans used heavy bombardment to topple Baghdad, but whereas the Americans rushed into the capital in a triumphant victory celebration, the Mongols wisely decided not to enter the defeated — but still dangerous — city. They ordered the residents to evacuate, and then they sent in Christian and Muslim allies, who seethed with a variety of resentments against the caliph, to expunge any pockets of resistance and secure the capital. The Americans ended up as occupiers; the Mongols pulled strings, watching from camps in the countryside.
The Mongols also immediately executed the caliph and his sons on charges that they spent too much money on their palaces and not enough defending their nation. They killed most members of the court and administration. The Mongols took no prisoners and allowed no torture, but they executed swiftly and efficiently, including the soldiers of the defeated army who, they believed, would be a constant source of future problems if allowed to live. The first several months of a Mongol invasion were bloody, but once the takeover ended, the bloodshed ended.
By contrast, the American military campaign was quick, with comparatively few Iraqi (or coalition) casualties, but the bloodshed has continued for years. Constrained from decisively dispatching enemies of a new Iraq, the United States has allowed Iraqi terrorists to select who lives and who dies, including women and children, in a slow-motion massacre.
Jolly Old London, but Definitely Not Prim and Proper
From The New York Times:
Laughter may be universal, but what provokes it is not. Even within a culture, humor can change drastically over a relatively short period. This truth is abundantly documented in “City of Laughter,” Vic Gatrell’s study of comic prints produced in London during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a period he deems the golden age of satire.
The humor on display in the prints of James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, and George Cruikshank — the big three in Mr. Gatrell’s pantheon — was often coarse, bawdy, scatological and obscene. Private parts were on graphic display. Chamber pots and their contents stood front and center. Prostitutes cavorted with princes. Everything that the readers of Jane Austen regarded as private or shameful was shown in living color, on large, beautifully printed sheets hung in the windows of dealers for all London to see, and to laugh at.
Probably the central dispute about abstract art in the 20th century hinged on the ostensible spiritual content or impact of the work. Some, like Barnett Newman, insisted that his paintings were “religious art which through symbols will catch the basic truth of life.” Others were profoundly superficial materialists like Frank Stella, who famously opined, “What you see is what you see.” While I have never found Newman’s paintings very convincing arguments, the same cannot be said for the work of Mark Rothko, whose shimmering veils of color can — under the right conditions — produce something resembling an out-of-body experience.
more from the LA Weekly here.
Money, like virtue, is as it does.
Mutual intoxications of art and money come and go. I’ve witnessed two previous booms and their respective busts: the Pop nineteen-sixties, which collapsed in the long recession of the seventies, and the neo-expressionist eighties, whose prosperity plummeted, anvil fashion, in 1989. In each instance, overnight sensations foundered and a generation of aspiring tyros was more or less extirpated. (They were out of style before the market revived.) But tough economic times nudge artists into ad-hoc communities and foster what-the-hell experimentation. The seventies gave rise to gritty conceptual maneuvers, supported by government and foundation grants, nonprofit institutions, and a few heroically, or masochistically, committed collectors. The nineties were dominated by festivalism: theatrical, often politically attitudin-izing installations that were made to order for a spreading circuit of international shows and contemporary museums and Kunsthallen. I disliked the nineties. I knew what all the righteously posturing art was for, but not whom it was for. It invoked a mythical audience, whose supposed assumptions were supposedly challenged. I missed the erotic clarity of commerce—I give you this, you give me that—and was glad when creative spunk started leeching back into unashamedly pleasurable forms. Then came this art-industrial frenzy, which turns mere art lovers into gawking street urchins. Drat.
more from The New Yorker here.
Tillim wins first Gardner Fellowship
From The Harvard Gazette:
As a young photojournalist in South Africa in the 1980s, Guy Tillim found that photography could be a way of bridging the racial gap that apartheid had imposed on his society. "A camera was the perfect tool to cross those boundaries, to see what was going on in my own country." Working for both local and foreign media, Tillim produced a powerful body of work and won a number of important awards for his documentation of social conflict and inequality in the countries of Africa. He has exhibited his photos in more than a dozen countries and has published in numerous volumes and journals.
Tillim's powerful images and his commitment to using photography as a way of exploring the human condition so impressed members of a search committee representing the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology that they chose him as the first recipient of the Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography.
Attuned to chemistry of a genius
Eric Berger in the Houston Chronicle (via Accidental Blogger):
A starter violin costs about $200. A finely crafted modern instrument can run as much as $20,000. But even that's loose change when compared with a violin made three centuries ago by Antonio Stradivari.
His 600 or so surviving violins can cost upward of $3.5 million.
For more than a century, artists, craftsmen and scientists have sought the secret to the prized instruments' distinct sound. Dozens have claimed to have solved the mystery, but none has been proved right.
Now, a Texas biochemist, Joseph Nagyvary [in photo above], says he has scientific proof the long-sought secret is chemistry, not craftsmanship. Specifically, he says, Stradivari treated his violins with chemicals to protect them from wood-eating worms common in northern Italy. Unknowingly, Nagyvary says, the master craftsman gave his violins a chemical noise filter that provided a unique, pleasing sound.
More here. [Thanks to Ruchira Paul.]
Bill Gates: A Robot in Every Home
William Henry Gates in Scientific American:
Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell highly specialized devices for business use and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce innovative toys, gadgets for hobbyists and other interesting niche products. But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when--or even if--this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world.
Of course, the paragraph above could be a description of the computer industry during the mid-1970s, around the time that Paul Allen and I launched Microsoft. Back then, big, expensive mainframe computers ran the back-office operations for major companies, governmental departments and other institutions. Researchers at leading universities and industrial laboratories were creating the basic building blocks that would make the information age possible. Intel had just introduced the 8080 microprocessor, and Atari was selling the popular electronic game Pong. At homegrown computer clubs, enthusiasts struggled to figure out exactly what this new technology was good for.
But what I really have in mind is something much more contemporary: the emergence of the robotics industry, which is developing in much the same way that the computer business did 30 years ago.
The Audacity of Hope
Barack Obama in the New York Times:
It's been almost ten years since I first ran for political office. I was thirty-five at the time, four years out of law school, recently married, and generally impatient with life. A seat in the Illinois legislature had opened up, and several friends suggested that I run, thinking that my work as a civil rights lawyer, and contacts from my days as a community organizer, would make me a viable candidate. After discussing it with my wife, I entered the race and proceeded to do what every first-time candidate does: I talked to anyone who would listen. I went to block club meetings and church socials, beauty shops and barbershops. If two guys were standing on a corner, I would cross the street to hand them campaign literature. And everywhere I went, I'd get some version of the same two questions.
"Where'd you get that funny name?"
And then: "You seem like a nice enough guy. Why do you want to go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"
I was familiar with the question, a variant on the questions asked of me years earlier, when I'd first arrived in Chicago to work in low-income neighborhoods. It signaled a cynicism not simply with politics but with the very notion of a public life, a cynicism that-at least in the South Side neighborhoods I sought to represent-had been nourished by a generation of broken promises.
December 28, 2006
When, in the 1920s, the Italian Futurists had fantasies about concreting over the canals of Venice and turning them into roads, they were not just indulging in gratuitous vandalism but reacting against the accumulated weight of dead-city literature that the Symbolist and Decadent writers of the fin de siècle had generated. The fin-de-siècle cities ended in whimpers, but the Futurists wanted them to go with a bang. It needed a big, bloody war – violent death and the flattening of entire towns under mortar shells – to revise the way people thought about the deaths of cities and their human inhabitants. The exaggerated exultation of the Futurists and Vorticists about machine-age death and destruction can partly be traced to the glut of pallid degeneration narratives on which they would have been drip-fed: dead-city poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and Henri de Régnier and Gabriele D’Annunzio, wispy lyrical novels and countless atmospheric travelogues that revisited the same tropes and clichés of urban exhaustion and desuetude.
The central figure in the dead-city cult was the Belgian poet and novelist Georges Rodenbach, and the totemic city was Bruges, or, to give it its full fin-de-siècle name, Bruges-la-Morte, the title of Rodenbach’s novel of 1892.
more from the TLS here.
Ernst Tugendhat thinks about god and death
Faust avoided Gretchen's question "Do you believe in God?" But what should someone say who refuses to avoid the question and yet isn't naive? I believe that on the one hand the need to believe in God is not only a cultural, but also an anthropological phenomenon, founded in the structure of human being. Today, however, people can't give in to this need without fooling themselves. What we have here is a contradiction between need and feasibility. Seen logically, such contradictions are harmless, and relatively normal in human life.
Let me clarify this with an example. People – at least in general – have a need to go on living. That too is anthropologically founded. Yet this need stands in contradiction to reality: all individual life ceases to exist after a time. However the need to go on living is so deeply rooted that people in all cultures have attempted in one way or another, with or without religion, to construct a life after death.
more from Sign and Sight here.
Am Anfang war die Tat
Following up on Abbas' post, in this video, Akeel Bilgrami discusses Gandhi's nonviolence and how it stands in contrast to the moral psychology of liberalism and the Enlightenment.
Akeel Bilgrami argues that Gandhi, who was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, believed the adoption of moral principles generated criticism of others and eventually led to violence. In contrast with Western understanding, Bilgrami argues that Gandhi believed exemplary actions, not principles, are at the root of his philosophy on non-violence.
Countering Google and Anglo-Saxon Cultural Imperialism
You think the French would've learned from the model of national champions, the Concord, minitel, etc., but apparently not:
The war waged by French president Jacques Chirac against “Anglo-Saxon” cultural imperialism suffered a blow today when the Germans announced they were pulling out of a rival European search engine to Google.
Earlier this year Mr Chirac announced a series of ambitious technological projects designed to challenge the global dominance of the US. They included Quaero, a Franco-German search engine whose name is Latin for “I search”, but which was swiftly dubbed “Ask Chirac”.
Today German officials confirmed they were abandoning the €400m (£270m) project. Senior officials in Germany’s economics and technology ministry said they had decided to dump Quaero because they had been sceptical it would ever be able to challenge the might of Google and Yahoo!
Cooperation with France had “not been simple,” they said. Asked today what had gone wrong, a ministry spokeswoman told the Guardian: “There were disagreements. The French wanted a search engine. We wanted something else.”
Instead, Germany has now decided to launch its own national search engine, Theseus.
Would the Left and Everyone Else Have been Better Off Had Ford Won in 1976?
In Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn makes the case:
If Ford had beaten back Carter's challenge in 1976, the neo-con crusades of the mid to late Seventies would have been blunted by the mere fact of a Republican occupying the White House. Reagan, most likely, would have returned to his slumbers in California after his abortive challenge to Ford for the nomination in Kansas in 1976.
Instead of an weak southern Democratic conservative in agreement to almost every predation by the military industrial complex, we would have had a Midwestern Republican, thus a politician far less vulnerable to the promoters of the New Cold War.
Would Ford have rushed to fund the Contras and order their training by Argentinian torturers? Would he have sent the CIA on its mostly costly covert mission, the $3.5 billion intervention in Afghanistan? The nation would have been spared the disastrous counsels of Zbigniev Brzezinski.
Those who may challenge this assessment of Ford's imperial instincts should listen to the commentators on CNN, belaboring the scarce cold commander-in-chief for timidity and lack of zeal in prosecuting the Cold War. By his enemies shall we know him.
The Most Dangerous Roads in the World
From Thrilling Wonder:
2. Bolivia's "Road of Death"
North Yungas Road is hands-down the most dangerous in the world for motorists. If the previous road is just impassable, this one clearly endangers your life. It runs in the Bolivian Andes, 70 km from La Paz to Coroico, and plunges down almost 3,600 meters in an orgy of extremely narrow hairpin curves and 800-meter abyss near-misses. A fatal accident happens there every couple of weeks, 100-200 people perish there every year. In 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank named the La Paz-to-Coroico route "the world's most dangerous road."
5. Most Dangerous Tourist Hiking Trail (China)
Not a car road, but the most hair-raising experience you can have on your own two legs. This is a heavy-tourist traffic area in Xian (Mt.Huashan); this link explains more about the area:
An Animal Holocaust?
Regular 3QD contributor Justin E. H. Smith in Dissident Voice:
In his 1954 essay, "The Question concerning Technology," the philosopher and unrepentant Nazi Martin Heidegger wrote: "Agriculture is now a mechanized food industry, in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in the gas chambers and death camps." The former rector of Freiburg has by now been (almost) universally denounced for his equation of Auschwitz and agribusiness, notwithstanding a few academic disciples who remain convinced that their master could do or say no wrong. Heidegger, it seems, wanted nothing short of peasants in quaint national costumes dirtying their hands to bring viands to his austere Black Forest table (machine-picked cabbage is so inauthentic). Among European philosophers, Heidegger's contemptuous idiocy would remain unrivaled until Jean Baudrillard's quip about the World Trade Center's former workers that "the horror for the 4,000 victims of dying in those towers was inseparable from the horrors of living in them – the horror of living and working in sarcophagi of concrete and steel."
Yet there is one respect in which the comparison of modern farming methods to the mass killing of humans cannot but strike one as fair. To wit, 10 billion cows, pigs, lambs, chickens (and scattered other creatures) are slaughtered per year in the United States alone, bringing a painful end to their short, miserable, lives in squalid and stinking crates. As with what I have written on the death penalty, my inclination is to spare the reader the details. We all know them, after all, and any ignorance at this point is only of the willful variety.
Play the game here.
A relatively dark conversation with Frank Gehry
Akhil Sharma in the Wall Street Journal:
Probably more than most architects, one sees Mr. Gehry's buildings--buildings that have been described as resembling ruffling sails or looking like they are melting--and has a sense that there is a single personality behind them.
"I don't know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do," Mr. Gehry says. "Architects have to become parental. They have to learn to be parental." By this he means that an architect has to listen to his client but also remain firm about what the architect knows best, the aesthetics of a building. This, Mr. Gehry says, is what makes an architect relevant in the process that leads to a completed building. "I think a lot of my colleagues lose it, lose that relevance in the spirit of serving their client, so that no matter what, they are serving the client. Even if the building they produce, that they think serves the client, doesn't really serve the client because it's not very good."
The Curse of Oil
John Ghazvinian in the Virginia Quarterly Review:
The Niger Delta is made up of nine states, 185 local government areas, and a population of 27 million. It has 40 ethnic groups speaking 250 dialects spread across 5,000 to 6,000 communities and covers an area of 27,000 square miles. This makes for one the highest population densities in the world, with annual population growth estimated at 3 percent. About 1,500 of those communities play host to oil company operations of one kind or another. Thousands of miles of pipelines crisscross the mangrove creeks of the Delta, broken up by occasional gas flares that send roaring orange flames into the already hot, humid air. Modern, air-conditioned facilities sit cheek-by-jowl with primitive fishing villages made of mud and straw, surrounded with razor wire and armed guards trained to be on the lookout for local troublemakers. It is, and always has been, a recipe for disaster.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that for fifty years, foreign oil companies have conducted some of the world’s most sophisticated exploration and production operations, using millions of dollars’ worth of imported ultramodern equipment, against a backdrop of Stone Age squalor. They have extracted hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, which have sold on the international market for hundreds of billions of dollars, but the people of the Niger Delta have seen virtually none of the benefits. While successive military regimes have used oil proceeds to buy mansions in Mayfair or build castles in the sand in the faraway capital of Abuja, many in the Delta live as their ancestors would have done hundreds, even thousands of years ago—in hand-built huts of mud and straw. And though the Delta produces 100 percent of the nation’s oil and gas, its people survive with no electricity or clean running water. Seeing a doctor can mean traveling for hours by boat through the creeks.
Gerald Ford: Steady Hand for a Nation in Crisis
He was not only an accidental President but a famously and endearingly accident-prone one as well. Fate evidently had elaborate designs on Gerald Rudolph Ford and fulfilled them on the world's stage in a dazzling combination of high pomp and low slapstick.
He was the nation's first appointed Vice President, chosen in October 1973 by President Richard Nixon under the terms of the recently ratified 25th Amendment to succeed the disgraced Spiro Agnew. Less than a year later, on Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon resigned rather than face a Senate trial on three articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives, and Ford took the oath to be the 38th President of the U.S.
Hidden delights you may have missed ...
Nasrin Alavi's We Are Iran (Portobello £9.99, pp384) comprises blogs, which would normally be my idea of hell. But to people living under Iran's totalitarian regime, blogging has a point, and that is probably why 64,000 Farsi-language bloggers are at work. This beautifully organised book has you learning the long history of Iran almost by sleight of hand. Evocative and weirdly gripping, it makes you feel more like an eavesdropper than a reader.
I am not sure that the audience of 211 Things a Bright Boy Can Do by Tom Cutler (Harper Collins £10.99, pp288) is, as its author claims, boys of 16 to 106. I urge all thinking - or, for safety's sake, unthinking - women to buy a copy. Part of the satisfaction of grazing through this compendium is not needing to undertake any of the activities within. Imagine, instead, the menfolk at play. The book is written with an intelligent brio that is in contrast to its material. It made me laugh aloud and often.
December 27, 2006
What About the Iraqis?
Christian Caryl in the New York Review of Books:
Americans, by now, can be forgiven for believing that we know something about the situation in Iraq; we hear about it, after all, every day, in what seems like benumbing detail. And yet, in reality, what we know about the lives of individual Iraqis rarely goes beyond the fleeting opinion quote or the civilian casualty statistics. We have little impression of Iraqis as people trying to live lives that are larger and more complex than the war that engulfs them, and more often than not we end up viewing them merely as appendages of conflict. The language of foreign policy abstraction and a misplaced sense of decorum on the part of the press and television also conspire to sanitize the fantastically disgusting realities of everyday death.
A Discussion on Tan Dun's The First Emperor
A roundtable discussion with Columbia faculty and the distinguished artists who are collaborating on the production of Tan Dun's The First Emperor, which has its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House on December 21.
In what promises to be the most elaborate Met production since Prokofiev's War and Peace, composer Tan Dun creates an epic new opera set in the ancient court of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. The First Emperor is a story of love, power and betrayal. Legendary tenor Plácido Domingo sings the role of the emperor.
- Tan Dun, composer, conductor and co-librettist (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Tea; The Map: Concerto for Cello, Video and Orchestra; Water Passion after St. Matthew)
- Zhang Yimou, film director (House of Flying Daggers; Hero; Raise the Red Lantern)
- Ha Jin, National Book Award-winning novelist and co-librettist of The First Emperor (Waiting; War Trash)
- Lydia Liu, professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature and author (The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making)
- James Schamus (program moderator), screenwriter, film producer and film executive (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Ice Storm; Brokeback Mountain)
Devious Butterflies, Full-Throated Frogs and Other Liars
Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:
A croak is how male green frogs tell other frogs how big they are. The bigger the male, the deeper the croak. The sound of a big male is enough to scare off other males from challenging him for his territory.
While most croaks are honest, some are not. Some small males lower their voices to make themselves sound bigger. Their big-bodied croaks intimidate frogs that would beat them in a fair fight.
Green frogs are only one deceptive species among many. Dishonesty has been documented in creatures ranging from birds to crustaceans to primates, including, of course, Homo sapiens. “When you think of human communication, it’s rife with deception,” said Stephen Nowicki, a biologist at Duke University and the co-author of the 2005 book “The Evolution of Animal Communication.” “You just need to read a Shakespeare play or two to see that.”
As Dr. Nowicki chronicled in his book, biologists have long puzzled over deception. Dishonesty should undermine trust between animals. Why, for example, do green frogs keep believing that a big croak means a big male? New research is offering some answers: Natural selection can favor a mix of truth and lies, particularly when an animal has a big audience. From one listener to the next, honesty may not be the best policy.
India's IT industry not as successful as it seems?
Athar Osama at SciDev.net:
Since India, Ireland, and Israel emerged as 'software super-powers' in the mid-to-late 1990s, many developing countries have joined the race for economic development led by information technology (IT).
Information and communications technology can level the playing field between advanced and under-developed countries in terms of access to information and knowledge. But it cannot be a panacea for the developing world's quest for economic growth and prosperity.
Many countries have tried to replicate India's success by developing IT-led economic development strategies, designed to "propel their economies into the twenty-first century". Serious effort and precious resources have been spent on these endeavours.
But new evidence suggests that this might not be a viable way forward.
The YouTube cultural clearinghouse
Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times:
Here in the Western world, we live defined by media: We are what we watch, what we listen to. (A few of us are still the papers we read.) And because this identification is so strong and thoroughgoing, one can feel that anything that has ever been recorded or taped or filmed should be available to hear or see, and that there is even something heroic, in a Promethean way, about those who arrange to make this happen. In earlier days, this fire-stealing manifested itself as the bootleg-record industry, whose High Baroque period, marked by expensive and often beautifully designed boxed sets, was cut dead by the Internet, where such fast and efficient file-sharing technologies as bit torrent have created vast networks dedicated to getting the music and pictures of the music out for free.
One vision of the Net maintains that it ought to be controlled and owned and exploited, farmed and ranched and arranged in such a way that nothing moves without the owner (which is not necessarily to say the creator) getting his cut. The other — the Wikipedia, OpenOffice, open-source way of no-business — holds that it is common ground, free and open, a place built and shaped by the people who use it, where sharing is the ultimate good.
Both approaches are manifest in YouTube, which is at once a commercial enterprise, now cutting revenue-sharing deals with major labels to legally show their videos, and a tool for moving around other people's intellectual property.
William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism
Glenn C. Altschuler reviews the new biography by Robert D. Richardson in the Boston Globe:
Since his death, in 1910, James has not been forgotten. Along with brother Henry and sister Alice, James has been hailed as a member of America's premier intellectual family. His great books -- "The Principles of Psychology," "Pragmatism," "The Will to Believe," and "Varieties of Religious Experience" -- continue to be read. For his contributions to the structure of philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead ranked him with Plato, Aristotle , and Leibni z. James remains a patron saint of anti-imperialism. Howard Feinstein, R. Laurence Moore, and Louis Menand have written brilliant books about James's decision to abandon art for a career in science, his interest in religion and parapsychology, and his membership in Cambridge's Metaphysical Club. But no full-length narrative biography of him has appeared in a generation.
In "William James," Robert Richardson, whose previous subjects were Thoreau and Emerson, seeks to understand James's "life through his work, not the other way around." Richardson presents no new interpretations of James's theories of pragmatism and pluralism. Nor does he attempt to critique them. But he has a knack for explaining complex ideas clearly and elegantly and for bringing to life a fascinating character. Various William Jameses, Richardson suggests, lived inside the man: As he willed himself into optimism, he was often sad, irritable, and depressed. But the "central" or "essential" James was an apostle of activity, spontaneity, doubt, chance, and chaos, "astonishingly, even alarmingly open to new experiences," including a headlong plunge into the maelstrom of American modernism.
In his personal as well as his professional life, Richardson points out, James was an irrepressible experimenter. He smoked opium , and recorded his responses to it in his diary. He climbed mountains, even after he was diagnosed with angina. He invited W.E.B. DuBois, a graduate student at Harvard, to his home, when few professors had social relations with African-Americans. And he was a "natural philanderer " who refused to conceal his crushes from his wife.
Ancient insects used advanced camouflage
A fossil of a leaf-imitating insect from 47 million years ago bears a striking resemblance to the mimickers of today.
The discovery represents the first fossil of a leaf insect (Eophyllium messelensis), and also shows that leaf imitation is an ancient and successful evolutionary strategy that has been conserved over a relatively long period of time. Scientists led by Sonja Wedmann of the Institute of Paleontology in Bonn, Germany, unearthed the remains at a well-known fossil site called Messel, in Hessen, Germany.
The 2.4-inch-long insect had physical characteristics similar to the oblong leaves of trees living there at the time, including Myrtle trees, legumes, such as alfalfa, and Laurel trees.
Don't Surrender Any More Teeth to the Tooth Fairy
From Scientific American:
Stem cells from pulled teeth regenerate new roots, might some day replace dental implants. For Christmas, a few miniature pigs in a University of Southern California lab got new roots for their front teeth, courtesy of stem cells from human teeth. This regeneration of mammalian tooth root, reported in last week's inaugural issue of PloS ONE, could have clinical applications that would have a big impact on oral surgery procedures such as root canals.
An international team headed by dentistry researcher Songtao Shi focused its efforts on stem cells found in the root apical papilla, tissue connected to the tip of the root that is responsible for the root's development. Previous efforts by Shi and his colleagues involved the harvesting of stem cells from the dental pulp, the tissue at the center of a tooth, commonly referred to as the nerve.
December 26, 2006
The Case of the Grinning Cat
Approaching 85, cine-essayist Chris Marker remains as lively, engag ed, and provocative as ever—and no less fond of indirection. (His La Jetée is not only a movie about the pathos of time travel, but a rumination on film-watching as well.) Marker's hour-long video The Case of the Grinning Cat meditates on the state of post–9-11 French politics, taking as its apparent subject the enigmatic M. Chat, who in late 2001 began appearing, as if by magic, on Paris rooftops, walls, and métro stations.
This anonymously produced graffito—a wide-eyed, broadly smiling, boldly cartooned, bright-yellow feline—spread to other cities, and Marker does his part, matting M. Chat into artworks from cave paintings to van Goghs. During the 2002 French election that saw right-wing centrist Jacques Chirac defeat right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, M. Chat took to the streets. Cat placards and masks dotted the anti–Le Pen demonstrations and appeared in crowds rallying against Bush's war.
Beyond Monogamy and Polyamory
Via Political Theory Daily Review, on monogamy and polyamory, evolutionary psychology and human spirituality, in Tikkun.
For a variety of evolutionary and historical reasons, polyamory has had “bad press” in Western culture and spiritual circles—being automatically linked, for example, with promiscuity, irresponsibility, inability to commit, and even narcissistic hedonism. Given the current crisis of monogamy in our culture, however, it may be valuable to explore seriously the social potential of responsible forms of nonmonogamy. And given the spiritual potential of such exploration, it may also be important to expand the range of spiritually legitimate relationship choices that we as individuals can make at the various karmic crossroads of our lives.
It is my hope that this essay opens avenues for dialogue and inquiry in spiritual circles about the transformation of intimate relationships. It is also my hope that it contributes to the extension of spiritual virtues, such as sympathetic joy, to all areas of life and in particular to those which, due to historical, cultural, and perhaps evolutionary reasons, have been traditionally excluded or overlooked—areas such as sexuality and romantic love.
The culturally prevalent belief—supported by many contemporary spiritual teachers—that the only spiritually correct sexual options are either celibacy or monogamy is a myth that may be causing unnecessary suffering and that needs, therefore, to be laid to rest. It may be perfectly plausible to hold simultaneously more than one loving or sexual bond in a context of mindfulness, ethical integrity, and spiritual growth, for example, while working toward the transformation of jealousy into sympathetic joy and the integration of sensuous and spiritual love. I should add right away that, ultimately, I believe that the greatest expression of spiritual freedom in intimate relationships does not lie in strictly sticking to any particular relationship style—whether monogamous or polyamorous—but rather in a radical openness to the dynamic unfolding of life that eludes any fixed or predetermined structure of relationships. It should be obvious, for example, that one can follow a specific relationship style for the “right” (e.g. life-enhancing) or “wrong” (e.g., fear-based) reasons; that all relationship styles can become equally limiting spiritual ideologies; and that different internal and external conditions may rightfully call us to engage in different relationship styles at various junctures of our lives. It is in this open space catalyzed by the movement beyond monogamy and polyamory, I believe, that an existential stance deeply attuned to the standpoint of Spirit can truly emerge.
James Brown, 1933 - 2006
Truly a great loss. In Rolling Stone:
Fifty years after recording his first hit song, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business has played his final encore. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, died of congestive heart failure early Christmas morning, after a brief bout with pneumonia in an Atlanta hospital. By his count, he was seventy-three years old.
One of the most influential performers of the 20th century, Brown had a hard-charging, hypnotically rhythmic signature sound that inspired peers and successors from doo-wop to hip-hop. Among his many chart successes – more than forty Top Forty hits and dozens more on the R&B charts — were the timeless classics “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and civil-rights anthems such as “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” His best-known album, 1962’s Live at the Apollo, is often cited as the most exciting live album of all time. One of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, Brown received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1992.
Brown, as some of his elaborate nicknames (“The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk”) imply, was best known for his indefatigable showmanship. His revue-style shows were designed to take his audience to ever-higher levels of delirium, and he was famous for “fainting” near the end of the evening, only to be revived by his band mates.
More on Torture Experiments in Virtual Worlds
In news@nature, more on whether experiments in virtual worlds can bypass ethical concerns in physchological tests.
Half the volunteers could see the woman and half could not, communicating with her only through text. Both were told to give her 'electric shocks' of increasing voltage when she gave incorrect answers to test questions. The woman responded to these with protests and discomfort, asking for the test to stop as the voltage was ramped up.
The group from whom the virtual woman was hidden delivered shocks up to the maximum voltage, like many of those in Milgram's experiment. Those who could see her were more likely to stop before reaching this limit2.
Almost half of those who could see the woman said afterwards that they had considered withdrawing from the study, and several actually did. "Of course, consciously everybody knows nothing is happening," says Slater. "But some parts of the person's perceptual system just takes it as real. Some part of the brain doesn't know about virtual reality."
And instead of becoming accustomed to the virtual person and ceasing to empathise, many volunteers became more anxious as the study continued.
Is Neuroscience Threatening Liberalism?
In the Economist, what do discoveries in neuroscience imply about free will?
IN THE late 1990s a previously blameless American began collecting child pornography and propositioning children. On the day before he was due to be sentenced to prison for his crimes, he had his brain scanned. He had a tumour. When it had been removed, his paedophilic tendencies went away. When it started growing back, they returned. When the regrowth was removed, they vanished again. Who then was the child abuser?
His case dramatically illustrates the challenge that modern neuroscience is beginning to pose to the idea of free will. The instinct of the reasonable observer is that organic changes of this sort somehow absolve the sufferer of the responsibility that would accrue to a child abuser whose paedophilia was congenital. But why? The chances are that the latter tendency is just as traceable to brain mechanics as the former; it is merely that no one has yet looked. Scientists have looked at anger and violence, though, and discovered genetic variations, expressed as concentrations of a particular messenger molecule in the brain, that are both congenital and predisposing to a violent temper. Where is free will in this case?
he spat on our graves
In 1946, Boris Vian—novelist, poet, playwright, songwriter, jazz trumpeter, screenwriter, actor, and general scourge of anyone failing to have enough fun in Paris in the postwar era—came to New York. He made the trip from France by submarine, caused a small international incident upon arrival, and had lunch. Then he ventured forth to discover America.
Vian was impressed by the state of American progress, which, he concluded, was far ahead of that of his native country, and not so impressed by American girls, whom he deemed silly things with large behinds. He ran into Hemingway but didn’t recognize him, and failed to say hello. He went to see the Empire State Building, only to discover that it had recently been demolished. He came across the Surrealist André Breton living in Harlem camouflaged as a black man and calling himself Andy. He spent a morning sitting in front of his hotel, hoping to see a lynching, but was disappointed.
more from the New Yorker here.
The premise of Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Road, is simple: In a ruined, postapocalyptic future, a nameless father and his young son—"each the other's world entire"—trudge down a road toward the ocean, with the hope of finding a warmer, more hospitable locale. Along the way, they scrounge for cans of food in cities and countryside already thoroughly pillaged by other refugees. Death from starvation and exposure hovers, but a more immediate terror is the constant threat of dismemberment by roving bands of cannibals, for this is what most survivors have been reduced to. There is an urgency to each page, and a raw emotional pull in the way McCarthy, the poet laureate of violence, known for brutal and biblical novels like Child of God (1973) and Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West (1985), renders the father's attempts to keep alive the hopes of the young boy as well as his own, making it easily one of the most harrowing books you'll ever encounter. Nearly unreadable in its heartbreaking detail, it is also, once opened, nearly impossible to put down; it is as if you must keep reading in order for the characters to stay alive.
Hardcore fans would have forgiven the seventy-three-year-old legend (the galley cover announces "His New Novel," as if God himself had written the book) had he produced another in his recent string of accessible novels. Some might see it as a return to form, but The Road diverges from his earlier work as McCarthy switches the focus from the hunters to the hunted. And some might see this free-floating futuristic nightmare as a radical departure, yet for true believers who'd followed the signs in his previous work, this is where they hoped he would arrive.
more from Bookforum here.
Poem Without Forgiveness
The husband wants to be taken back
into the family after behaving terribly,
but nothing can be taken back,
not the leaves by the trees, the rain
by the clouds. You want to take back
the ugly thing you said, but some shrapnel
remains in the wound, some mud.
Night after night Tybalt’s stabbed
so the lovers are ground in mechanical
aftermath. Think of the gunk that never
comes off the roasting pan, the goofs
of a diamond cutter. But wasn’t it
electricity’s blunder into inert clay
that started this whole mess, the I-
echo in the head, a marriage begun
with a fender bender, a sneeze,
a mutation, a raid, an irrevocable
more of Dean Young's poem at Paris Review here.
Hotel log hints at desire that Freud didn't repress
Maybe it was just a Freudian slip. Or a case of hiding in plain sight. Either way, Sigmund Freud, scribbling in the pages of a Swiss hotel register, appears to have left the answer to a question that has titillated scholars for much of the last century: Did he have an affair with his wife's younger sister, Minna Bernays?
Rumors of a romantic liaison between Freud and his sister-in-law, who lived with the Freuds, have long persisted, despite staunch denials by Freud loyalists. The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, Freud's disciple and later his archrival, claimed that Miss Bernays had confessed to an affair to him. (The claim was dismissed by Freudians as malice on Jung's part.) And some researchers have even theorized that she may have become pregnant by Freud and have had an abortion.
What was lacking was any proof. But a German sociologist now says he has found evidence that on Aug. 13, 1898, during a two-week vacation in the Swiss Alps, Freud, then 42, and Miss Bernays, then 33, put up at the Schweizerhaus, an inn in Maloja, and registered as a married couple, a finding that may cause historians to re-evaluate their understanding of Freud's own psychology.
A yellowing page of the leather-bound ledger shows that they occupied Room 11. Freud signed the book, in his distinctive Germanic scrawl, "Dr Sigm Freud u frau," abbreviated German for "Dr. Sigmund Freud and wife."
No two alike
Some biblical scholars argue that Eve pulled down the suggestive pomegranate, not an apple, in the Garden of Eden. In the Koran, as in Persian iconography and poetry, images of pomegranates symbolized fertility, and in China, a bride and groom went to bed with seeds scattered on their covers to assure conception. In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish carried crateloads of them across the sea because the vitamin C-rich fruit guarded sailors against scurvy. The friars on board, meanwhile, brought roots to plant in the New World, where the fruit flourishes four hundred years later in California's Mediterranean climate.
Folk healers have long used every part of the fruit to staunch wounds and treat illnesses like dyspepsia and leprosy. And these days, scientists in Israel have been actively researching the fruit's pharmaceutical properties (the country harvests three thousand tons annually) to battle everything from viruses to breast cancer and aging skin.
The pomegranate contains a flavonoid that is a powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant. The fruit is also rich in estrogen, and one company is now marketing pomegranate-derived EstraGranate as an alternative to hormone-replacement therapy. In the works is a condom coated with pomegranate juice that will reportedly fend off HIV. In rural Sonoma County, California, where I live, stores now carry pomegranates from fall through winter, but we are offered only one variety, called Wonderful, grown by Paramount Farms, the corporate farm giant. Our nurseries carry only Wonderful seedlings, so when I wanted to plant a pomegranate, it had to be Wonderful.