June 30, 2007
30 Second Spot
Here's the idea:
Television is a one-to-many technology, where one entity controls the flow of content out to many individuals. Companies use the 30 second spot, or short television commercial, to entice consumers to the products or services they offer for sale. "30 second spot" takes this icon of controlled corporate communication and flips it on its head.
In this ART(inter)ACTION version, artists, especially those who have little access or few outlets for the distribution of their work, are invited to talk about an artwork and why it is of value.
"30 second spot" acknowledges the current explosion of media channels, where audiences are splintering off in dozens of directions, watching TV shows on iPods, watching movies on videogame players and listening to radio on the Internet. In this case, the local art gallery becomes an additional media channel, advertising artworks in an open and eclectic format.
More here. [Thanks to Zeina Assaf.]
The Bottom Billion
Niall Ferguson favorably reviews Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (while taking swipes at Jeffrey Sachs in the process). In the NYT:
Dani Rodrik notes, 'Ferguson himself has long been a proponent of benign imperialism, so it is not difficult to see why he likes this particular prescription. [Rodrik cites Fergueson, "Reflecting on the tendency of postconflict countries to lapse back into civil war, he [Collier] argues trenchantly for occasional foreign interventions in failed states. "] But it is hard not to keep in mind "the ruins of Operation Iraqi Freedom" when thinking about the efficacy and desirability of this option.'
Now comes another white man, ready to shoulder the burden of saving Africa: Paul Collier, the director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. A former World Bank economist like Easterly, Collier shares his onetime colleague’s aversion to what he calls the “headless heart” syndrome — meaning the tendency of people in rich countries to approach Africa’s problems with more emotion than empirical evidence. It was Collier who pointed out that nearly two-fifths of Africa’s private wealth is held abroad, much of it in Swiss bank accounts. It was he who exposed the British charity Christian Aid for commissioning dubious Marxist research on free trade. And it was he who pioneered a new and unsentimental approach to the study of civil wars, demonstrating that most rebels in sub-Saharan Africa are not heroic freedom fighters but self-interested brigands.
Collier is certainly much closer to Easterly on the question of aid. (He cites a recent survey that tracked money released by the Chad Ministry of Finance to help rural health clinics. Less than 1 percent reached the clinics.) Yet “The Bottom Billion” proves to be a far more constructive work than “The White Man’s Burden.” Like Sachs, Collier believes rich countries really can do something for Africa. But it involves more — much more — than handouts.
On American Hindu Studies
In Outlook India, Aditi Banerjee discusses her book (Krishnan Ramaswamyand Antonio de Nicolas co-editors), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America:
Shortly before I began practicing law, my guru advised me to begin wearing a bindi every day--not the stick-on kind but actual kumkum mixed with water... However, I then came across Prof. David Gordon White's book, Kiss of the Yogini: Tantric Sex in its South Asian Context, in which he remarks that the bindi a Hindu woman wears represents a drop of menstrual blood.
I grew apprehensive about wearing the bindi to work--would others mistakenly see it as some primitive, (literally) bloodthirsty rite? Still, I have followed my guru's instruction and wear the bindi every day, and I have never regretted it. I do wonder sometimes, though, when catching the surreptitious curious stares of others, what exactly they think when they see the red oval between my eyebrows, and whether that perception has been shaped by the speculation of 'renowned' scholars such as White.
Because I have faced this Hinduphobia, which often shows itself in the subtlest of ways, because I have seen my friends and peers suffer from similar experiences, and because we have never had the voice or the ammunition with which to fire back--with which to say that this is wrong, not because it is offensive or politically incorrect, but because it is baseless and untruthful--because of all this, I could not say 'no' when the opportunity arose to become involved with this book. For, what starts in American universities does not remain there--it spreads globally, percolates through to mainstream culture, to primary and secondary schools, and to the way ordinary citizens interact with and react to each other.
Gordon Brown: intellectual
John Lloyd in Prospect:
In an essay in The Red Paper on Scotland, a 1975 collection that he edited, Gordon Brown revealed a youthful admiration for Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist leader of the 1920s. Such an admiration was common among leftist intellectuals at the time, including those who, like Brown, always stayed on the democratic side of socialism. Gramsci was seen as a forerunner of the acceptable, even pluralist, face of communism then being promoted by the Italian and Spanish communist parties, which offered a bridge between the so-called revolutionary and the revisionist socialists—the former still strong in the Scots labour movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Much of Brown's admiration for Gramsci has passed away—as has that for James Maxton, who inspired Brown's only proper book (based on his PhD) and whose career in "Red Clydeside" agitation in the early 20th century was also suspended between the revolutionary and democratic strains of socialism. But in one respect, Gramsci still provides a kind of motto for Brown's thought and practice. In The Modern Prince, he wrote that, "man can affect his own development and that of his surroundings only so far as he has a clear view of what the possibilities of action open to him are. To do this he has to understand the historical situation in which he finds himself: and once he does this, then he can play an active part in modifying that situation. The man of action is the true philosopher: and the philosopher must of necessity be a man of action."
Bringing India's castes to book
From The Age:
His grandmother imposed strict caste rules: non-Brahmins were not allowed in the kitchen or at the dining table and they could not to use the same dishes as the family.
"I was like a frog in a well. I knew nothing outside my community. I did not mix with other castes. My grandmother wanted me to take my own plate to the dining hall at university because non-Brahmin meat eaters might have eaten off the same plate!" he says, in his office in Saket, a Delhi suburb.
Later, as a journalist, Mr Anand, 33, was struck by media indifference towards the massacres of low caste Indians — known as "dalits", formerly called "untouchables".
His fellow journalists, on hearing about dalit women being paraded naked through villages before being raped and burnt — would merely shrug as though to say "what's new?" If reported at all, the killings usually ended up as news in brief.
Now, Mr Anand is India's only publisher devoted exclusively to books on caste. His company, Navayana, won the British Council's international young publisher of the year award in April for his pioneering work.
how to edit a magazine succesfully: Carter & Brown style
From The Dubliner:
One is English, the other is Canadian. Both have edited edited Vanity Fair, the pre-eminent glossy magazine. Tina Brown and Graydon Carter are global superstars of magazine journalism. So what's their secret? How do they judge an article? And how do they fish for new readers?
In a recent profile of Tina Brown, the Observer quotes the Queen of Buzz – a woman who was once described as "Joseph Stalin with high heels with blonde hair from England" – on the battle to seduce new readers:
"Will a racy cover line encourage a reader to read a serious and challenging 10,000 word piece? If it does, hooray. That's what it's about. . Marketing. I won't be satisfied with an issue until everything has been done to make it more exciting and more appealing. I'm completely obsessed with the need to seduce readers all the time. I feel that we're in a fight. In a war."
Graydon Carter has an alternative view on the process; or rather, a subtler justification. In 2004 he told the same newspaper how decisions to put stars on cover of a magazine are "unfortunately" a function of public prurience:
"In a perfect world, I wouldn't have celebrities on the cover of Vanity Fair. But we have to sell 400,000 to 600,000 magazines off newsstands every month and, unfortunately, attractive people sell better than unattractive people. And there are more attractive people in the movie business than in, say, the magazine business."
Storm, a poem
The storm had golden hair flecked with black
and moaned in a monotone, like a simple woman
giving birth to a future soldier, or a tyrant.
Vast clouds, multi-storied ships
surrounded us, and lightning's scarlet strands
The highway became the Red Sea.
We moved through the storm like a sheer valley.
You drove; I looked at you with love.
Adam Zagajewski's poem is at TNR here.
Otis Redding as Purveyor of Celestial Music
Music has soul. We operate as though it does. In fact, music is one of the few areas of human endeavor where the word soul, even among secular types, is liable to go unchallenged. All kinds of music are occasionally imputed to have soul. Even music that doesn’t have anything but volume or a tiresome double-kick drum sound. Ray Coniff, to a listener somewhere, has soul. Who am I to say otherwise? Soul in these cases perhaps indicates earnestness, rhetorical force, and/or vocal polyps. Nevertheless, there are persuasive indications that the word soul does indeed manifest itself in music, and so maybe it’s useful here at the outset to point to a recording that demonstrates why music belongs in any discussion about heaven. So, along these lines, I’m going to describe briefly the mechanics of one example of soul music, namely, a live recording by Otis Redding entitled “Try a Little Tenderness.”
more from Rick Moody at Salmagundi here.
Her subjects were the forsaken
History, sadly, is on Anna Politkovskaya’s side. Last Oct. 7, Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta, one of Moscow’s smallest but most daring newspapers, was murdered. A 48-year-old who was about to become a grandmother, she had gained fame in the West, and infamy at home, for her writings on the war in Chechnya. Politkovskaya fell in an all-too-common post-Soviet fashion: three bullets to the chest, one “control shot” to the head. Within days, Vladimir Putin reassured the West that Politkovskaya, the 13th journalist killed during his reign, had “minimal” influence. She was, he said, “known among journalists and in human rights circles and in the West, but I repeat that she had no influence on political life. Her murder causes much more harm than her publications did.”
Putin was callous, but right.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.
Mysterious clouds spray sky with light
A new NASA satellite has recorded the first detailed images from space of a mysterious type of cloud called “night-shining” or “noctilucent." The clouds are on the move, brightening and creeping out of polar regions, and researchers don't know why.
"It is clear that these clouds are changing, a sign that a part of our atmosphere is changing and we do not understand how, why or what it means," said atmospheric scientists James Russell III of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. "These observations suggest a connection with global change in the lower atmosphere and could represent an early warning that our Earth environment is being changed."
From The New York Times:
“Twice as Good,” by Marcus Mabry, the chief of correspondents for Newsweek, works hard to solve the Rice puzzle. It digs deep into the story of her family, including her slave ancestors, and the hugely influential figure of her father, the Rev. John Rice. We follow the family’s journey from segregation in Alabama to educational opportunity in Colorado and finally to California. We learn much — with a detail uncommon in a political biography — of her almost frighteningly intense childhood.
An only child, Rice was groomed for greatness from birth. Initially home-schooled, the 4-year-old Condi would, Mabry reports, “put on her coat, leave her front door, walk to the end of the walk and then turn around and come back inside the house.” When she wasn’t studying, she would practice the piano for hours on end: she could read music before she could read. She didn’t fidget; she didn’t seem to need to go to the bathroom like other children. Her mother would let her play with the children across the street only if their doors were open and she could see her daughter at all times. Mrs. Rice once told a friend she would have no other children because she couldn’t take “this love” from Condoleezza.
June 29, 2007
The New Maoism in India
Ramachandra Guha in The Nation:
In recent years the Maoists have mounted a series of bold attacks on symbols of the Indian state. In November 2005 they stormed the district town of Jehanabad in Bihar, firebombing offices and freeing several hundred prisoners from the jail. Then, this past March, they attacked a police camp in Chattisgarh, killing fifty-five policemen and making off with a huge cache of weapons. At other times, they have bombed and set fire to railway stations and transmission towers.
The Indian Maoists are referred to by friend and foe alike as Naxalites, after the village of Naxalbari in north Bengal, where their movement began in 1967. Through the 1970s and '80s, the Naxalites were episodically active in the Indian countryside. They were strongest in the states of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, where they organized low-caste sharecroppers and laborers to demand better terms from their upper-caste landlords. Naxalite activities were open, as when conducted through labor unions, or illegal, as when they assassinated a particularly recalcitrant landlord or made a daring seizure of arms from a police camp.
Until the 1990s the Naxalites were a marginal presence in Indian politics. But in that decade they began working more closely with the tribal communities of the Indian heartland. About 80 million Indians are officially recognized as "tribal"; of these, some 15 million live in the northeast, in regions untouched by Hindu influence. It is among the 65 million tribals of the heartland that the Maoists have found a most receptive audience.
Turning One Species Into Another
Philip Ball in email@example.com:
By transplanting their genomes, US scientists have converted one species into another.
John Glass and his co-workers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, have taken DNA from a bacterium called Mycoplasma mycoides and inserted it into cells of the closely related species Mycoplasma capricolum.
They find that the recipient cells with the new genome behave like those of the donor species, making protein molecules characteristic of the donor. It's like re-booting a cell with a new operating system, says Glass.
"The method is very impressive," says biomedical engineer Jim Collins of Boston University. "It's surprising that they could get such a large piece of DNA into the bugs, and even more surprising that they could get the new genome jump-started."
To swap the genomes, the researchers encased M. mycoides cells in a gel and used enzymes to break them apart and destroy their proteins, leaving only their naked DNA.
Bruce Feiler and Reza Aslan On Recent Islam-Related Issues
Is There Anything People Won't Do With World of Warcraft?
Ryan Olson in Red Herring:
Corporate software maker Seriosity on Thursday released a lengthy report detailing some of the ways in which people who play massively multiplayer online role-playing games are developing skills vital to business success. And the company believes these types of games are shaping the next generation of corporate leaders.
While the idea isn’t new, the study provides a detailed look at some of the ways in which gamers are learning to collaborate, stay organized, and take risks. For dedicated players, it could prove that the hours they spend each week managing their fellow warriors, mages, and priests might actually help them conquer the corporate world as well...
The Palo Alto, California-based company, which teamed up with IBM and researchers from Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the study, found that logic and visualization skills, as well as creative thinking and collaborative abilities, are widely applicable in both domains.
You can find the report here.
July 13th, Mark the Date: When Sunset Aligns with the Grid of the Streets of Manhattan
From 2001, Neil deGrasse Tyson over at the Hayden Planetarium:
[H/t Linta Varghese]
What will future civilizations think of Manhattan Island when they dig it up and find a carefully laid out network of streets and avenues? Surely the grid would be presumed to have astronomical significance, just as we have found for the pre-historic circle of large vertical rocks known as Stonehenge, in the Salisbury Plain of England. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice, when the Sun rose in perfect alignment with several of the stones, signaling the change of season.
For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes on May 30th this year, one of only two occasions when the Sun sets in exact alignment with the Manhattan grid, fully illuminating every single cross-street for the last fifteen minutes of daylight. The other day is July 13th.
Had Manhattan's grid been perfectly aligned with the geographic north-south line, then our special days would be the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the only two days on the calendar when the Sun rises due east and sets due west. But Manhattan is rotated 30 degrees east from geographic north, shifting the days of alignment elsewhere into the calendar.
still trying to figure out the damn skull
There are lots of things you can't criticise Hirst for. You can't complain about the fact that he doesn't make his work by himself—neither did Rembrandt or Rubens or Warhol. You can't complain that he's made too many similar works—Pissaro, Magritte, Dalí and many others churned out substandard stuff on demand. The real difficulty with coming to a judgement on Hirst is that contemporary art theory does not permit one to assess whether an artist's work is superficial or deep, because it's virtually impossible to tell the difference between a banal work of art and one that takes banality as its theme, or between a simple work of art and a simplistic one. A critic could spend hours trying to decide if something is superficially superficial or deeply superficial—and never come up with an answer.
The contemporary theory of the icon is also relevant. Icons were originally images of Christ and the saints. Warhol revived the icon, by making images of celebrities who were already icons in the media. Nowadays, an iconic work of art is something even simpler. If a series of works of art are acquired by a sufficient number of collectors, or achieve such a media presence that they are instantly recognisable, then they become, de facto, iconic. That's why the world's best historians of modern art, Rosalind Krauss and Benjamin Buchloh of October magazine, have remarked contemptuously that, in the art of Hirst, the aura of artistic inspiration has been replaced by the auras of media celebrity and of luxury commodity.
more from Prospect Magazine here.
that disquieting moment when you see that what you laughed at
"Playful" is probably the last adjective one would think to use for the oeuvre of the Primo Levi who wrote Survival in Auschwitz, describing the ordeal he lived through but never left behind. And yet, on reading the latest collection of his stories to be translated into English, A Tranquil Star, on the anniversary of his death twenty years ago, one cannot avoid the impression of playfulness in these small stories written between 1949 and 1986, each of which seems to be an offspring of the question "What if...?"
What if a kangaroo were to go to a dinner party? What if the weekend's entertainment were a gladiatorial battle between men and automobiles? What if there were a magic paint that brought good fortune to anyone covered with it? What if all the characters invented by novelists were to live in a theme park together?
more from the NYRB here.
the act of “making special”
In a hushed, darkened side gallery in a university exhibition space in Orange County, a series of simple glass display cases hold an array of intricately fashioned reliquaries — ornate housings for sacred objects such as slivers off the Bodhi Tree or a bone from the big toe of Mary Magdalene. The more than four dozen works on view display the gilded ornamental woodwork and oddly architectural forms that are the hallmarks of this rarely considered art-historical side stream, and they have a glow of musty intimacy and antiquarian mystery about them.
Until you look a bit closer. Then you start to see what exactly it is that’s been enshrined here: the broken neck and cap from a bottle of Orange Crush, a Jägermeister shot glass, a Morticia Addams bubblegum card, a red carpenter’s pencil, a pair of well-used black boxer shorts, a depleted can of Paul Mitchell Extra-Body Sculpting Mousse, various bits of dry wall and stucco, and a wide assortment of mass-produced touristy knickknacks and commercial premiums. What kind of religion is this, anyway?
more from the LA Weekly here.
A Scholar in the House
From Harvard Magazine:
Tradition and the twenty-first century were tangled together in Barker Center’s Thompson Room on the afternoon of February 11, when Drew Gilpin Faust conducted her first news conference as Harvard’s president-elect. Faust sketchedelements of her childhood “in a privileged family in the rural Shenandoah Valley” of Virginia in “Living History,” an essay published in this magazine in 2003. “I was the only daughter in a family of four children,” she wrote, and subject to her community’s prevailing expectations for girls. As she noted in the bracing preface to her widely acclaimed 1996 book, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War:
"When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s, my mother taught me that the term “woman” was disrespectful, if not insulting. Adult females—at least white ones—should be considered and addressed as “ladies.” I responded to this instruction by refusing to wear dresses and by joining the 4-H club, not to sew and can like all the other girls, but to raise sheep and cattle with the boys. My mother still insisted on the occasional dress but, to her credit, said not a negative word about my enthusiasm for animal husbandry.
Looking back, I am sure that the origins of this book lie somewhere in that youthful experience and in the continued confrontations with my mother—until the very eve of her death when I was 19—about the requirements of what she usually called “femininity.” “It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be,” she warned. I have been luckier than she in that I have lived in a time when my society and culture have supported me in proving that statement wrong".
Out of the desert, on to the sofa
Domestic cats have been worshiped as gods, reviled as devils and cherished as companions. News@nature.com looks at the feline family tree to find out when and where humans began to welcome cats into their homes. According to a new genetic analysis, modern-day housecats are descended from a population of domesticated wildcats that prowled the Middle East more than 100,000 years ago. Carlos Driscoll, a zoologist working at Oxford University and the US National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, and his colleagues surveyed 979 cats from around the globe, including wildcats, feral cats, various domesticated breeds, sand cats and Chinese desert cats.
By comparing genome sequences, the researchers worked out the relationships between the different animals. DNA shows that domestic cats are most similar to wildcats currently living in the deserts of Israel, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The results are published this week in Science. "We found five distinct lineages dating back 100,000 years prior to any archaeological record of cat domestication," says David Macdonald, a zoologist at Oxford University and a co-author on the study. "These appear to come from at least five female cats from the Near East whose descendants have been transported across the world by humans."
More here. (For Abbas, the cat-lover)
June 28, 2007
Save the Casbah
In Algiers, preservationists race to rescue the storied quarter. But is it too late?
Joshua Hammer in Smithsonian Magazine:
Spilling down precipitous hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this mazelike quarter of Algiers, the capital of Algeria, has long conjured up both Arab exoticism and political turbulence. Dating back to Phoenician times but rebuilt by the Ottomans in the late 1700s, the Casbah has served over the centuries as a refuge for pirates, freedom fighters, Islamic militants and petty thieves, all of whom found easy anonymity in its alleys and houses sequestered behind imposing stone walls.
But the often violent history of the Casbah has obscured an appreciation of the quarter's architectural and cultural riches. Preservationists consider it one of the most beautiful examples of late Ottoman style. Its once-whitewashed structures, facing onto narrow passages and constructed around enclosed courtyards, contain a wealth of hidden treasures—marble floors, fountains, carved lintels, intricate mosaics. For generations, writers and artists have celebrated the mystery, tragedy and rhythms of life in the Casbah in literature and painting. "Oh my Casbah," wrote Himoud Brahimi, the poet laureate of the quarter, in 1966, four years after the Algerian resistance defeated the French occupiers. "Cradle of my birth, where I came to know loyalty and love. How can I forget the battles in your alleys, that still bear the burdens of war?"
Casey Nelson Blake in Dissent:
Rorty has in recent years stepped back from his early atheist pronouncements, describing his current position as “anti-clerical,” and he has begun to explore, with increasing sympathy and insight, the social Christianity that his grandfather Walter Rauschenbusch championed a century ago. In an exchange with philosopher Gianni Vattimo, Rorty movingly evokes an ideal of holiness that Rauschenbusch might himself have offered, in roughly the same words. “My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate.” Rorty admits he has “no idea of how such a society could come about. It is, one might say, a mystery. This mystery, like that of the Incarnation, concerns the coming into existence of a love that is kind, patient, and endures all things.”
To which I—and everyone else indebted to Rorty for reminding us of this country’s most generous intellectual and political traditions—can only say, amen.
Dystopia in Kentucky
George Packer in The New Yorker:
A few miles west of Cincinnati, near the northern Kentucky town of Petersburg, there’s a gleaming new monument to Christianist ideology called the Creation Museum. It was built by an Australian Biblical literalist named Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, at a cost of twenty-seven million dollars, raised mostly in small donations. It opened over Memorial Day weekend with a blast of media attention (Edward Rothstein wrote two pieces about it for the New York Times), and since then ten thousand people a week have been flocking to its exhibits. Last Sunday, on a visit to my in-laws in Lexington, I joined them.
The sixty-thousand-square-foot museum mimics the language, layout, and technical effects of state-of-the-art science museums: mastodon fossils and mineral crystals, soaring dioramas of life-size animatronic dinosaurs, several movie theatres, conference rooms, cafés, even a planetarium, and an echoing soundtrack of bird calls. But, as you pay your $19.95 and walk through the entry hall, there are clues that this is all a sophisticated sham.
The simulation serves a primitive ideology known as “young-earth creationism,” which promote the idea that the earth is just over six thousand years old and that the fossil record appeared after the Flood, around 4300 B.C.
David Adjaye, the next 'starchitect'
Adjaye and his family moved to London when he was nine years old, and he later studied architecture at the Royal College of Art, but deep-rooted memories of Africa remain with him, as well as a continuing fascination. Currently Adjaye is working on a book documenting every major African capital and he has already visited a dozen or so.
These fascinations feed every piece of work, from Denver to Tottenham.
"My roots are on that continent, so my aesthetics are also shaped by Africa, as well as being shaped by my education in Britain and my global education. It's all a matter of choices.
"An architect like Tadao Ando might say that he looks at Shinto temples or someone else might say they look at Italian hill towns. I am deeply interested in the continent of Africa, as a project that will occupy my life."
more from The Telegraph here.
One More Martyr in a Dirty War
Brad Will always turned up where things were happening. Even to write that in the past tense seems strange, almost laughable, and nobody would laugh about it more than he would, with his conspiratorial raised-eyebrow chuckle, a laugh that let you in on a secret joke. To write it in the past tense negates the immortality that we often felt around each other. But he’s dead now, and so I have to write it that way, because it seems the only way to believe it enough so as to set some part of his story down. I still half-expect him to come rolling around the corner on his bike, dirty from traveling, eating a dumpster-dived bagel while gesticulating theatrically, recounting his latest adventures in Brazil or the South Bronx.
more from 3QD pal Matt Power at VQR here.
So I got involved with fine arts for the pettiest reason: [to say] screw you
A few years ago, Chelsea looked like a teenager going through its goth phase. Some weeks, the galleries resembled the set of a cheesy horror movie—all fangs and skulls and black makeup, with show titles like “Scream” and “Flesh and Blood.” Sue de Beer was showing videos of goth Girl Scouts, and David Altmejd was building installations around dead werewolves. And Banks Violette’s glossy black sculptures and high-contrast drawings, inspired by murder-suicides and Scandinavian black metal, were among the highest profile of them all. The 34-year-old from Ithaca played up his gloom-and-doom image, too. The guy has a giant spiderweb tattoo on his neck that, as his Adam’s apple bobs as he talks, appears to be choking him. Vanity Fair photographed him lighting a Marlboro with a blowtorch, and when a British journalist asked him if he worshipped Satan, he responded with a long-winded affirmation, citing Hegel.
more from New York Magazine here.
The Palestine follies
Jeffrey D. Sachs in The Jordan Times:
American foreign policy in the Middle East experienced yet another major setback this month, when Hamas, whose Palestinian government the United States had tried to isolate, routed the rival Fateh movement in Gaza. In response, Israel sealed Gaza’s borders, making life even more unbearable in a place wracked by violence, poverty and despair.
It is important that we recognise the source of America’s failure, because it keeps recurring, making peace between Israel and Palestine more difficult. The roots of failure lie in the US and Israeli governments’ belief that military force and financial repression can lead to peace on their terms, rather than accepting a compromise on terms that the Middle East, the rest of the world and, crucially, most Israelis and Palestinians, accepted long ago.
For 40 years, since the Six-Day War of 1967, there has been one realistic possibility for peace: Israel’s return to its pre-1967 borders, combined with viable economic conditions for a Palestinian state, including access to trade routes, water supplies and other essential needs.
The Sorted Books project
This is quite brilliant: Nina Katchadourian has found and photographed in libraries and friends' homes the spines of stacked books whose titles come together to say something more than the sum of their parts:
A Glorious Beginning: How the last invasion of England set the stage for American liberty
OUR FIRST REVOLUTION: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America's Founding Fathers By Michael Barone
Voltaire dismissed the Holy Roman Empire as not holy, Roman or an empire. Historians have long given a similar back of the hand to England's Glorious Revolution of the 1680s. It was glorious, they asserted, mostly in avoiding mass bloodshed, and compared to later revolutions in France, Russia and China, it wasn't much of a revolution.
Michael Barone disagrees. The change in English government as a result of the events of 1688-89 was not simply astonishing on its own terms, he argues, but pregnant with consequences for the English-speaking world. Barone is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, a longtime coauthor of the Almanac of American Politics and an occasional historian of recent American public life. In his current book he digs three centuries into the English past to unearth the roots of contemporary political practice on the Western side of the Atlantic -- the "Our" of his title refers to us Americans.
Bye, Bye, Miss American Empire
From Orion Magazine:
In the wake of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, frustrated liberals talked secession back to within hailing distance of the margins of national debate—a place it had not occupied since 1861. With their praise of self-rule and the devolution of power, they sounded not unlike many conservatives had in the days before Bush & Cheney & Limbaugh wedded the American Right to the American Empire. While certain proponents of the renascent secessionism were motivated by spite or pixilated by whimsy or driven by the simple-minded belief that the United States can be divided into blue and red—as though our lovely land can be painted in only two hues!—others argued with cogency and passion for a disunionist position that bordered on the, well, seditious. Emphasizing both culture ("Now that slavery is taken care of, I’m for letting the South form its own nation,” said Democratic operative Bob Beckel) and economics (Democratic pundit Lawrence O’Donnell noted that “ninety percent of the red states are welfare clients of the federal government"), writing in forums of neoliberalism (Slate) and paleoliberalism (The Nation), liberals helped to disinter a body of thought that had been buried at Appomattox. And—surprise!—three years later, the corpse has legs.
June 27, 2007
The greatest letters ever written?
When the Swiss lawyer Albin Schram died in 2005, he left behind an extraordinary collection of letters by some of Western civilisation's greatest minds. They will soon go under the hammer - but here are the highlights of the collection...
From The Independent:
Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine de Beauharnais, following a row during the preparations for their marriage on 9 March 1796. Translated from the French.
"So you thought that I did not love you for yourself! For what, then? Oh Madame, did you really think this? Could such an unworthy feeling have been conceived by such a pure spirit? I am still astonished at it, but less however than at the feeling which on my awakening brings me back to your feet, without resentment and without willpower. It is certainly impossible to be weaker or further abased. What then is your strange power, incomparable Josephine? One of your thoughts poisons my life, tears my soul apart... but a stronger feeling, a less sensitive mood, takes hold of me, draws me back and rules me again as if I were guilty. I truly feel that if we quarrel I should close my heart... And you mio dolce amor - Have you spared me even two thoughts?!!! I kiss you three times, once on your heart, once on your lips and once on your eyes."
Albert Einstein to his childhood friend Paul Habicht, written in Connecticut, 5 July, 1935. The reference in the first sentence is to Habicht's ill-health.
"I heard recently that the Devil - the only one who is never without work these days - has had his claws firmly in you. He will let you go again sooner or later, as in the long period of our separation has already happened to me twice, although he seemed to have me firmly in his paws. Do you still remember when we were young, and we were working together on those nice little electrostatic machines? Do you also remember our conversation about the politics of Germany, which you were still defending during the war, while I had already got to know at first hand the consequent dangers? I weighed anchor just at the right moment from there, so that I at least didn't get to feel the claws of the clean-cut heroes in my back. I have now set up home in this curious new world and am still brooding like an old hen on the same old scientific eggs, even if the bodily warmth which one needs for brooding has rather diminished over the years. What is so nice in this country is that the people don't sit so much on top of one another and, as a result, feel more comfortable with each other. So I sit here the whole summer in a quiet bay and sail in a little sailing boat as much as I want to. And one becomes some sort of Indian in this sun."
Virtual reality and participatory exploration
Jeff Foust in The Space Review:
NASA is currently experimenting with some ways to get the public more involved with future exploration of the Moon and other destinations, particularly through the use of virtual reality tools; the agency is hosting a “Participatory Exploration Summit” this week at the Ames Research Center on this subject. But, by doing so, does NASA run the risk of blurring the lines between hard physical reality and its computer-generated counterpart and, in the long run, make it harder to support human exploration of the solar system?
NASA’s best-known foray into this area has been its presence in Second Life, an “online digital world” in the words of its developer, Linden Lab. Second Life is one of a number of online multiplayer games that have become popular in recent years, but unlike other such games, there are no specific adventures to undertake, battles to fight, or worlds to conquer. Instead, it’s more of an unstructured environment where people can explore, interact with others, build (and buy and sell) all sorts of items, and… whatever else one might do in ordinary life, and then some. NASA’s Collaborative Space Exploration Laboratory (CoLab) has its own presence, or “island”, in Second Life, that’s used to host meetings and as a technology testbed of sorts.
Sir Salman in the sea of blasphemy
Irfan Husain in OpenDemocracy:
The decision to knight Salman Rushdie, announced in Queen Elizabeth II's birthday honours list on 15 June 2007 has provoked a vigorous reaction in Pakistan. As protests continue, they are descending from the genuine to the self-serving. While there no more public demonstrations, politicians are jumping on the bandwagon in an attempt to out-fatwa each other.
Arbab Rahim, the Sindh chief minister, was at least original when he announced he was surrendering the British awards given to his grandfather in 1937, and to his uncle in 1945. Considering that these worthies are no longer with us to voice an opinion, this was gesture of dubious value. In fact, I doubt very much that Tony Blair is greatly troubled by this post-facto, post-mortem rejection of two minor medals the colonial government handed out by the cartload to minor tribal chiefs and feudal landowners. Rahim also urged Benazir Bhutto to similarly renounce the knighthood conferred upon Shahnawaz Bhutto, her grandfather, accusing her of not being sufficiently angered by this "insult to all Muslims".
At the same time, a group of Islamabad traders decided to increase the stakes by announcing a 10-million rupee (around 80,000 pounds) reward for Rushdie's decapitation. The leader of this association, Ajmal Baluch, also called for a boycott of British goods. A ban on bootlegged Scotch would certainly hit Pakistan's elite very hard.
Apartheid Comes to New Jersey
Saifedean Ammous in the Columbia Spectator:
It was a cold Sunday morning in Teaneck, N.J. Some two-hundred-odd Jewish-Americans were entering the Orthodox synagogue Congregation B'nai Yeshurun where they were to hear a sales pitch by the Amana Settlement Movement aimed at convincing them to buy homes in illegal Israeli settlements.
America, the land that gave the world the separation of church and state, is hosting an auction where only members of one religious group can buy property.
And here I am, a Palestinian who grew up hundreds of meters away from some of these very settlements. I cannot buy any of these houses and am not admitted into the auction room. Literally and figuratively left out in the cold, I light a cigarette and get over it immediately; being denied entry is not an entirely novel experience for a Palestinian.
slovenia and the hollowed-out generation
The street is still named Marshall Tito. It is not any street but the main street of the capital, perforating the torso of a broken city that is only slowly growing back together again. It is also the witness to an unusual event in Sarajevo – a crowd at a bookshop. Even from outside, it can be seen that something is wrong. In the bookshops of the countries that emerged on the territory of the now departed Yugoslavia, writing supplies, reams of paper for copy machines, souvenirs, and even toys have proliferated like termites, invading the display windows and almost entirely pushing out the product advertised in the signs – Knjigarna, Knjizara: namely, books. They've been on the defensive since 1992. Since the Dayton peace agreement was signed, I have come every year or two to this bookshop, and this is the first time that there has been anyone else in the place besides me and the salesgirl. I had anticipated that, like always, I would see her seated in her solitary corner, her gaze penetrating the emptiness, gray fingers, a long-ashed cigarette between them, hovering over an ashtray that rests on a stack of dusty classics. And now this crowd all of a sudden; the salesgirl unrecognizably busy. Right now, she is serving a lady whose faced is covered by a feredza. I steal a glance at what kind of a book the woman holds with her left hand as she counts out convertible marks with her right. Would you think I was exaggerating if I wrote that the book she is holding is the same book that is lying on the nightstand of my hotel room? It would be a mistake if you didn't. Because the lady with the veil is purchasing a Bosnian cookbook that is not at this moment lying on the nightstand of my hotel room. As she does not have enough convertible marks, she puts down the cookbook on top of another book stacked on the sales counter among the other best sellers. And, behold, this time it is the same book that is lying on the nightstand in my hotel room and is now covered by a book about the art of Bosnian cuisine in the same way that we might cover ourselves with a blanket in an ice-cold bedroom.
more from Eurozine here.
basking in bakhtin
For the past three decades, Mikhail Bakhtin has been more of an industry than an individual. Not only an industry, in fact, but a flourishing transnational corporation, complete with jet-setting chief executives, global conventions and its own in-house journal. In the field of cultural theory, this victim of Stalinism is now big business. Most of the mouth-filling terms he coined – dialogism, double-voicedness, chronotope, heteroglossia, multi-accentuality – have passed into the lexicon of contemporary criticism. A cosmopolitan coterie of scholars, some of whom have devoted a lifetime to his texts, have long since struggled to appropriate him for their own agendas. Is he a Marxist, neo-Kantian, religious humanist, discourse theorist, literary critic, cultural sociologist, ethical thinker, philosophical anthropologist, or all these things together?
more from Terry Eagleton at the LRB here.
a boswell for borges
Adolfo Bioy Casares had his first conversation with Jorge Luis Borges in 1931 or 1932, when Bioy was about eighteen and Borges was thirty-two. From then on they enjoyed an extraordinarily intense literary friendship which lasted until Borges’s death in 1986. In 1947 Bioy started to write a diary, in which he recorded the often daily conversations that make up this gargantuan book. The diary clearly covered many other topics, and they are tantalizingly referred to by Daniel Martino, the editor of Borges, in a short, unilluminating preface. Martino says that “Bioy’s diaries open up a vast universe where his notes on his conversations with Borges coexist with his writings on everyday life and his frequent examinations of matters of conduct”. Martino seems to have had exclusive access to this material, but he does not tell us where the rest of it is, which is a pity because Bioy is a considerable writer in his own right, even if many critics still see him first and foremost as Borges’s friend, and collaborator in numerous stories and satires which they jointly wrote under the pseudonyms of H. Bustos Domecq and B. Suárez Lynch.
more from the TLS here.
A World of City Dwellers
This impending shift seems to me to be monumental. In the NYT:
By next year, more than half the world’s population, 3.3 billion people, will for the first time live in towns and cities, a number expected to swell to almost 5 billion by 2030, according to a United Nations Population Fund report released today.
The onrush of change will be particularly extraordinary in Africa and Asia, where between 2000 and 2030 “the accumulated urban growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be duplicated in a single generation,” the report says.
This surge in urban populations, fueled more by natural increase than the migration of people from the countryside, is unstoppable, said George Martin, author of the report, “State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.”
Cities will edge out rural areas in more than sheer numbers of people. Poverty is now increasing more rapidly in urban areas as well, and governments need to plan for where the poor will live rather than leaving them to settle illegally in shanties without sewage and other services, the United Nations says.
Generation Myspace: Helping Your Teen Survive Online Adolescence
From The Atlantic Monthly:
The history of civilization is the history of sending children out into the world. The child of a 17th-century weaver would have been raised and educated at home, prey to the diseases and domestic accidents of his time, but protected from strangers who meant him harm. As the spheres of home and work began to separate, cleaving parents from their sons and daughters, children faced dangers of an altogether different kind. The world is not, nor has it ever been, full of people who prey upon children. But it has always had more than enough of them, and it always will. Think of the Children's Crusade: Several thousand children marched out of Cologne to liberate the Holy Land but barely made it to Brindisi; they ended up dead or sold into sex slavery, an army of innocents easily picked off within a few weeks' march from home.
With the Internet, children are marching out into the world every second of every day. They're sitting in their bedrooms -- wearing their retainers, topped up with multivitamins, radiating the good care and safekeeping that is their lot in life in America at the beginning of the new century -- and they're posting photographs of themselves, typing private sentiments, unthinkingly laying down a trail of bread crumbs leading straight to their dance recitals and Six Flags trips and Justin Timberlake concerts, places where anyone with an interest in retainer-wearing 13-year-olds is free to follow them. All that remains to be seen is whether anyone will follow them, and herein lies a terrifying uncertainty, which neither skeptics nor doomsayers can deny: The Internet has opened a portal into what used to be the inviolable space of the home, through which anything, harmful or harmless, can pass. It won't be closing anytime soon -- or ever -- and all that parents can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Dog Bites Dog Story
There are experimental sciences, and then there are historical and observational sciences. The experimental sciences, like chemistry and physics, are easy to spot. When stuff blows up or systems don’t work right, you’ve got yourself an experiment.
Historical and observational sciences can be a little tougher to get a handle on. The researchers in these fields must adopt the Yogi Berra stance—“You can observe a lot just by watching”—and then interpret reality. Or, as the great scientist Ernst Mayr patiently explained in these pages, “Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place.… One constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.”
June 26, 2007
Christopher Hitchens in Slate:
If you follow the link, you will be treated to some scenes from the strenuous life of a professional Muslim protester in the Kashmiri city of Srinagar. Over the last few years, there have been innumerable opportunities for him to demonstrate his piety and his pissed-offness. And the cameras have been there for him every time. Is it a fatwah? Is it a copy of the Quran allegedly down the gurgler at Guantanamo? Is it some cartoon in Denmark? Time for Rage Boy to step in and for his visage to impress the rest of the world with the depth and strength of Islamist emotion.
Last week, there was another go-round of this now-formulaic story, when Salman Rushdie accepted a knighthood from her majesty the queen, and the whole cycle of hysteria started up again. Effigies and flags burned (is there some special factory in Karachi that churns out the flags of democratic countries for occasions like this?), wounded screams from religious nut bags, bounties raised to suborn murder, and solemn resolutions passed by notional bodies such as the Pakistani "parliament." A few months ago, it was the pope who was being threatened, and Christians in the Middle East and Muslim Asia who were actually being killed. Indeed, Rage Boy had a few yells and gibberings to offer on that occasion, too.
More here. [Thanks to Tariq Khan.]
Putin Strikes Again
James Gambrell in the New York Review of Books:
Russian journalists have suffered crippling attacks in recent years, as Vladimir Putin pursues his policy of strengthening the "vertical" dimension of his administration's "power pyramid." The Kremlin's geometrical terminology means enforcing, from the top down, an ideology intended to align all sectors of Russia's "managed democracy" (another key phrase of the Putin era) into tidy, clearly demarcated, easily controlled zones of activity and influence. No strong minority views, no awkward revelations in the press are to mar the sleek façades of the state. The messy disarray normally associated with functioning democracy—the irritating criticism, noisy opposition, and inconvenient news uncovered by investigative reporters (what Russians proudly called glasnost a mere seventeen years ago)—has been summarily and sometimes harshly dealt with.
The Case of Terry Schiavo
Robert Scott Stewart in Metapsychology:
Withdrawing and/or withholding life support has become completely common in American hospitals. For example, 65,000 chronic dialysis patients die each year in the U.S. due to withdrawal from dialysis (Moss, 2001), and the number of deaths in neonatal intensive therapy units due to the withdrawal of therapy has increased nearly fivefold in the last thirty years from 14% to 66% (Shooter and Watson, 2000). This is why, as the editors say in their introduction to this indispensable collection of material on the Schiavo case, "[t]o many in the bioethics, theology, and legal communities, the bitter battle over the fate of Terri Schiavo was a complete surprise. From an ethical and legal point of view many of the key issues that were being keenly debated regarding Terri Schiavo had been settled".
Challenges for Progressive Muslims
Omid Safi in Sightings (at the University of Chicago Divinity School website):
It is a commonplace today to begin a discourse on Islam with the theme of "crisis." It is not my intention here to add to that unrelenting discursive assault. Instead, I would like to describe the salient features of Muslims who self-identify as progressive, and comment upon the challenges they face in struggling to realize the full potential of the progressive movement.
Who are progressive Muslims? Progressive Islam both continues and radically departs from the 150-year-old tradition of liberal Islam, embodied by 'Abduh, Afghani, Shari'ati, and others. Unlike most earlier modernists, progressive Muslims are consistently critical of colonialism, both in its nineteenth-century and in its current manifestations. Progressive Muslims develop a critical and nonapologetic "multiple critique" vis-à-vis both Islam and modernity.
And again distinct from their liberal forefathers, another feature of the progressive Muslim movement has been the equal level of female participation and leadership, as well as the move to highlight women's rights as part of a broader engagement with human rights.
Progressives measure their success not in developing new and beatific theologies but rather by the on-the-ground transformation that they can produce in Muslim and non-Muslim societies. This movement is characterized by emphasis on a number of themes: striving to realize a just and pluralistic society through critically engaging Islam, a relentless pursuit of social justice, an emphasis on gender equality as a foundation of human rights, a vision of religious and ethnic pluralism, and a methodology of nonviolent resistance.
More here. [Thanks to Giles Anderson.]
The Baby-Name Business
Alexandra Alter in the Wall Street Journal:
Sociologists and name researchers say they are seeing unprecedented levels of angst among parents trying to choose names for their children. As family names and old religious standbys continue to lose favor, parents are spending more time and money on the issue and are increasingly turning to strangers for help.
Some parents are checking Social Security data to make sure their choices aren't too trendy, while others are fussing over every consonant like corporate branding experts. They're also pulling ideas from books, Web sites and software programs, and in some cases, hiring professional baby-name consultants who use mathematical formulas.
Best Congress Money Can Buy
It seems like it's not just the executive but also the legislative of the American state that is "but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie", as Marx and Engels said in another context. Princeton's Larry M. Bartels on Economic Inequality and Political Representation (via Ezra Klein):
I examine the differential responsiveness of U.S. senators to the preferences of wealthy, middle-class, and poor constituents. My analysis includes broad summary measures of senators’ voting behavior as well as specific votes on the minimum wage, civil rights, government spending, and abortion. In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes. Disparities in representation are especially pronounced for Republican senators, who were more than twice as responsive as Democratic senators to the ideological views of affluent constituents. These income-based disparities in representation appear to be unrelated to disparities in turnout and political knowledge and only weakly related to disparities in the extent of constituents’ contact with senators and their staffs.
A Review of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question
The title of Joseph Massad's book The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians does not do justice to the contribution this book makes to the history of Zionism, Israel, and the Jews. Massad's brilliant and scholarly work is profoundly illuminating not only for the history of Palestine and the discourses surrounding it, but for the history of Europe and the United States and, finally, as an account that raises compelling theoretical questions.
The Palestinian question is important enough to command attention in its own right: the politics of half a century have been moved by shockwaves from this epicenter of conflict. Massad offers invaluable information drawn from an array of carefully documented sources coupled with superb political and historical analysis that contributes directly to the study of Palestine.
Clever experiment shows altruism in great apes
Humans are often thought of as the only truly altruistic species. We help others out — by giving blood, donating to the poor, or committing to recycling — for no immediate payoff, and often at a cost to ourselves. But evidence is gathering that we might not be alone. Felix Warneken and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have shown that chimpanzees will do favours for unrelated chimps - even when they do not get rewarded for it. Previous studies have refuted the idea that chimps are so giving. In 2005, anthropologist Joan Silk of the University of California, Los Angeles, found that when she presented chimps with the choice of getting food just for themselves, or for their entire group, they showed no preference for feeding their pals as well.
But other work has shown that chimps can have a non-selfish streak. In a study published in Science last year, a Leipzig team reported that chimps would help their human keepers retrieve a pen that they had dropped — an action with no direct benefit for the chimp. That study involved chimps helping out human carers whom they were familiar with — and who had on other occasions provided the chimps with food. To get rid of these complications, the Leipzig team replicated the pen-dropping experiment with unfamiliar humans. As they now report in PLoS Biology, the chimps still chose to help out.