Friday, February 29, 2008
Chris Hedges Contra The New Atheism
At Video Nation:
Why Hasn't AIDS Led to a Political Crisis in Africa?
This book argues that African governments ,civil society organizations and international institutions have proved remarkably effective at managing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a way that minimizes political threats. In doing so, they have adopted a model of response to AIDS that focuses on process rather than outcome – chiefly the smooth and coordinated functioning of their own institutions,but also adherence to certain principles, some of which are based on evidence,and some on faith.These process indicators, such as UNAIDS’s ‘three ones’, are rigorously assessed . Encouragingly for democrats, this process emphasizes human rights and the participation of civil society leaders,and it has thereby ensured that democracy in African is not threatened by the epidemic and may even be strengthened. With a few important exceptions where different intersecting stresses come together,AIDS is unlikely to cause socio-political crisis.
Another Boycott Debate
Over at Reset DOC, Mitchell Cohen, Andrew Arato, Ernesto Ferrero, Mohamed Salmawy and Daniele Castellani Perelli debate the boycott the Book Fair in Turin for asking Israel to be its guest of honour. Cohen:
This campaign is wrong-headed, often slanderous, and betrays the best ideals of the left and democracy.
I say this, indeed I would insist on this, as an American leftist who has in fact opposed many Israeli policies, especially the settlements, for decades. When these anti-Israeli campaigners hiss at “the Zionists,” they remind me of American neo-conservatives hissing at “leftists.” The hiss itself should tell you that there is something wrong. And note the fact that attempts in Britain to boycott Israeli universities were thwarted because they contravened anti-discrimination laws. From a political point of view, the efforts were also ridiculous. Israeli universities have been major bastions of dovish sentiment. Israel’s 60th anniversary should be celebrated and Israeli-Palestinian peace should be sought at the same time.
This was not the right time to make Israel the guest of honor at a book fair, unless Israeli Jewish and Arab writers were put into the center of attention. With that said, the boycott is stupid. Why boycott precisely the writers who are critical of government policies? Yes, let us support the Israel's right to exist. But a state is a people, a territory and a coercive organization. There is no question about the identity of the coercive organization, and we should accept it as such. But should we all accept every Jew (by the very uncertain standards of the Law of Return and subsequent interpretations) to be part of the people of Israel, wherever they live, whatever their religion, when people born in the present borders (1948, 1967, 2008) cannot be because of their ethnicity or religion?
Israeli Reactions to Obama
Bernard Avishai over at Jewcy:
[Obama] He asked if we can hope to move peace forward or secure Israel if we cannot look for solutions that are “non-military or non-belligerent.” He said he admires the debate in Israel, he said, where views of the Palestinians are often “more nuanced” than in the US. “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community,” Obama lamented, “that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, that you're anti-Israel. And that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel.”
YOU’D THINK OBAMA’S stance would be welcomed in Israel, and by the peace camp especially, but even the liberal Haaretz can’t hide its anxiety. The paper’s Washington correspondent, Shmuel Rosner, is exercised by Obama’s insinuation that he would, of all things, find it difficult to work with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, whom most of the paper’s columnists otherwise revile. It could be interpreted “as meddling in Israel's internal politics,” Rosner wrote, immediately adding (and as if to add to the incoherence of his misgivings) that Bill Clinton had problems with Netanyahu, too, while Israelis have themselves meddled in American electoral politics.
But this reflects a more general disquiet, which is not simply about a suspect foreign policy team, or the allegedly tortured relations between African-Americans and Jewish Americans. For most Israelis, even liberal Israelis, things have always boiled down to a single question which their politicians and diplomats have posed since Harry Truman recognized the Jewish state over the objections of his Secretary of State, George Marshall. Is this American a friend of Israel?
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.
Kosovo, Democracy and Ethnic Cleansing
It is difficult to shake off the feeling that the birth of Kosovo is really the culmination of a series of old and unhealthy trends in global politics. Major powers of Europe seem to relish the fact that for the first time a small Muslim majority state has been carved out in Europe, thus testifying to Europe’s progress. But the truth is that the birth of Kosovo is also a profound testament of the failure of the nation state form in Europe to accommodate ethnic diversity. As Michael Mann, in an important article on the “Dark Side of Democracy” had noted, modern European history has built in an irrevocable drive towards ethnic homogenisation within the nation state.
In the 19th century, there was a memorable debate between John Stuart Mill and Lord Acton. John Stuart Mill had argued, in a text that was to become the bible for separatists all over, including Jinnah and Savarkar, that democracy functions best in a mono-ethnic societies. Lord Acton had replied that a consequence of this belief would be bloodletting and migration on an unprecedented scale; it was more important to secure liberal protections than link ethnicity to democracy. It was this link that Woodrow Wilson elevated to a simple-minded defence of self-determination. The result, as Mann demonstrated with great empirical rigour, was that European nation states, 150 years later, were far more ethnically homogenous than they were in the 19th century; most EU countries were more than 85 per cent mono-ethnic.
Most of this homogeneity was produced by horrendous violence, of which Milosevic’s marauding henchmen were only the latest incarnation. This homogeneity was complicated somewhat by migration from some former colonies. But very few nation states in Europe remained zones where indigenous multi-ethnicity could be accommodated.
Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968)
It is a testament to the greatness of Martin Luther King Jr. that nearly every major city in the U.S. has a street or school named after him. It is a measure of how sorely his achievements are misunderstood that most of them are located in black neighborhoods.
Three decades after King was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn., he is still regarded mainly as the black leader of a movement for black equality. That assessment, while accurate, is far too restrictive. For all King did to free blacks from the yoke of segregation, whites may owe him the greatest debt, for liberating them from the burden of America's centuries-old hypocrisy about race. It is only because of King and the movement that he led that the U.S. can claim to be the leader of the "free world" without inviting smirks of disdain and disbelief. Had he and the blacks and whites who marched beside him failed, vast regions of the U.S. would have remained morally indistinguishable from South Africa under apartheid, with terrible consequences for America's standing among nations. How could America have convincingly inveighed against the Iron Curtain while an equally oppressive Cotton Curtain remained draped across the South?
Even after the Supreme Court struck down segregation in 1954, what the world now calls human-rights offenses were both law and custom in much of America. Before King and his movement, a tired and thoroughly respectable Negro seamstress like Rosa Parks could be thrown into jail and fined simply because she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus so a white man could sit down. A six-year-old black girl like Ruby Bridges could be hectored and spit on by a white New Orleans mob simply because she wanted to go to the same school as white children. A 14-year-old black boy like Emmett Till could be hunted down and murdered by a Mississippi gang simply because he had supposedly made suggestive remarks to a white woman. Even highly educated blacks were routinely denied the right to vote or serve on juries. They could not eat at lunch counters, register in motels or use whites-only rest rooms; they could not buy or rent a home wherever they chose. In some rural enclaves in the South, they were even compelled to get off the sidewalk and stand in the street if a Caucasian walked by.
The movement that King led swept all that away. Its victory was so complete that even though those outrages took place within the living memory of the baby boomers, they seem like ancient history. And though this revolution was the product of two centuries of agitation by thousands upon thousands of courageous men and women, King was its culmination. It is impossible to think of the movement unfolding as it did without him at its helm. He was, as the cliche has it, the right man at the right time.
Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was born Michael Luther King, Jr., but later had his name changed to Martin. His grandfather began the family's long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had graduated. After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951. With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955. In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.
In 1954, Martin Luther King accepted the pastorale of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.
In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream", he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.
At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.
"I Have a Dream" is the popular name given to the historic public speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., when he spoke of his desire for a future where blacks and whites among others would coexist harmoniously as equals. King's delivery of the speech on August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. Delivered to over two hundred thousand civil rights supporters, the speech is often considered to be one of the greatest and most notable speeches in history and was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century by a 1999 poll of scholars of public address. According to U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who also spoke that day as the President of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, "Dr. King had the power, the ability and the capacity to transform those steps on the Lincoln Memorial into a modern day pulpit. By speaking the way he did, he educated, he inspired, he informed not just the people there, but people throughout America and unborn generations."
At the end of the speech, King departed from his prepared text for a partly improvised peroration on the theme of "I have a dream", possibly prompted by Mahalia Jackson's cry "Tell them about the dream, Martin!". He had delivered a speech incorporating some of the same sections in Detroit in June 1963, when he marched on Woodward Avenue with Walter Reuther and the Rev. C.L. Franklin, and had rehearsed other parts.
For the complete text and video of "I have a dream speech", go here:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
SOCIAL NETWORKS ARE LIKE THE EYE
A Talk with Nicholas A. Christakis: It is customary to think about fashions in things like clothes or music as spreading in a social network. But it turns out that all kinds of things, many of them quite unexpected, can flow through social networks, and this process obeys certain rules we are seeking to discover. We've been investigating the spread of obesity through a network, the spread of smoking cessation through a network, the spread of happiness through a network, the spread of loneliness through a network, the spread of altruism through a network. And we have been thinking about these kinds of things while also keeping an eye on the fact that networks do not just arise from nothing or for nothing. Very interesting rules determine their structure.
Recently, Harvard professor and sociologist Nicholas Christakis has shown that there's more to think about regarding social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and Twitter than considerations of advertising and revenue models.
Each day about 1,700 juniors at an East Coast college log on to Facebook.com to accumulate "friends," compare movie preferences, share videos and exchange cybercocktails and kisses. Unwittingly, these students have become the subjects of academic research. To study how personal tastes, habits and values affect the formation of social relationships (and how social relationships affect tastes, habits and values), a team of researchers from Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles, are monitoring the Facebook profiles of an entire class of students at one college, which they declined to name because it could compromise the integrity of their research.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
SpaceSunsetLiving the Scientific Life) .
Cohen and Fried on Liberals, Conservatives and Modern Liberty
Speaking of liberals, Joshua Cohen talks to Charles Fried:
Speciation Among Liberals and Conservatives
David Sloan Wilson in The Huffington Post (via bookforum):
Thousands of American high school students had participated nationwide by providing extensive background information and being beeped for a week, for roughly 50 snapshots of their individual experience.
With this as our "field study," we began to think about altruism and other do-good behaviors as a strategy that can succeed in some environments but not others. That story is recounted in a chapter titled "The Ecology of Good and Evil" in my book Evolution for Everyone. Then, with my graduate student Ingrid Storm, we decided to make an even finer comparison between youth belonging to liberal and conservative Protestant denominations.
Get this: Everyone in our sample was an American, a teenager, and belonged to the same major religious tradition of Protestantism. In these respects they were culturally uniform. But some belonged to conservative denominations such as Pentecostal and others to liberal denominations such as Episcopalian. As Ingrid combed through the data, which involved tedious hours in front of the computer, the differences that began to emerge were astounding. It was as if these conservative and liberal religious youth were--different species.
For example, two questions that were asked as part of the background information were "Do you think of yourself as a religious person?" and "In your family, do you express opinions even when they differ?" The more liberals agreed with the first question, the more they agreed with the second. The more conservatives agreed with the first question, the less they agreed with the second. Their religions were pulling them in completely different directions.
Paul Berman on Style and Passion in Tocqueville
About the people in democratic nations, Tocqueville writes: “Perceiving the human race as a single thing, they easily conceive that a single such design presides over their destinies, and, in the actions of each individual, they are pushed to recognize the truth of the general and consistent plan according to which God governs the species.”
It has become fashionable today to argue that theological reforms are a main source of democratic liberty, and that, absent such reforms, democratic liberty can never be achieved. But Tocqueville also argued the opposite. He saw in democratic liberty a source of theological reform—a tendency that was going to lead not to a watered-down view of God but to a grander view than ever before. Whitman entertained the same idea. And, to be sure, in acknowledgment of the poetic nature of this particular thought, Tocqueville went on to say, in a one-sentence paragraph in the chapter on poetry: “This again could be considered as an abundant source of poetry, which emerges through the centuries.”
Questioning Value-Free Science
Lisa Gannett reviews Harold Kincaid, John Dupré, and Alison Wylie (eds.), Value-Free Science? Ideals and Illusions at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:
Elliott Sober's "Evidence and Value Freedom" (Chapter Five) and Heather Douglas' "Rejecting the Ideal of Value-Free Science" (Chapter Six) take opposing positions on the role of values in scientific reasoning.
Sober contends that an outright dismissal of the ideal of value-free science risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Sober argues that value-free science is properly defended by the assertion that the truth of a proposition can be determined independently of knowledge of the ethical and political consequences of belief in the proposition, and not, as the ideal's defenders frequently assume, by rejection of the view that the ethical and political consequences of belief in a proposition provide evidence for its truth. This holds in some cases, as does its entailed symmetrical claim: even if James is right that believing in God improves people's lives, these ethical consequences do not provide evidence that God exists; conversely, the theist's well-being depends only on her belief in God and not God's actual existence. But there are counter-examples: when a physician believes a drug is safe and prescribes it to her patients, their well-being depends on the drug's actual safety -- hence, the ethical consequences of the physician's decision are evidential. Nevertheless, an asymmetry between facts and values persists: the drug's safety can be discovered by scientific investigation alone, whereas the ethical judgment cannot be made without this knowledge.
Douglas reaches the opposite conclusion -- that nonepistemic values are logically necessary for scientific reasoning. Douglas emphasizes that scientists make many choices in the course of their research: what methods to use, how to delineate data, how to interpret findings. In policy-directed scientific research, where uncertainties exist and errors come with consequences, these choices will be influenced by the interplay of epistemic and nonepistemic values in weighing potential risks.
Incarceration in America
I've post on incarceration in America from time to time, but this figure in today's NYT is real reason to be ashamed of ourselves:
For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.
But taking the argument to another level there is this from the American Poetry Foundation's website:
"...to help readers discover (or rediscover) our archive, poetryfoundation.org has invited some of today’s most vital graphic novelists to interpret a poem of their choice from the more than 4,500 poems in our archive, reaching from Beowulf o the present.
Heightened language—one possible or partial definition of poetry—isn’t the first thing one associates with comics. Yet comic book artists take into account the way words appear on the page to a degree poets will find familiar. How many lines should accompany each image? How high should the dialogue balloon float? The ratio of printed words to blank space plays a role in whether a poem or strip succeeds."
Following is a poem by A.E.Stallings without graphic assistance. And here it is decked out by graphic novelist R. Kikuo in comic book finery.
Every night, we couldn’t sleep.
Our upstairs neighbors had to keep
Dropping something down the hall—
A barbell or a bowling ball,
And from the window by the bed,
Echoing inside my head,
Alley cats expended breath
In arias of love and death.
Dawn again, across the street,
Jackhammers began to beat
Like hangovers, and you would frown—
That well-built house, why tear it down?
Noon, the radiator grill
Groaned, gave off a lesser chill
So that we could take off our coats.
The pipes coughed to clear their throats.
Our nerves were frayed like ravelled sleeves,
We cherished each our minor griefs
To keep them warm until the night,
When it was time again to fight;
But we were young, did not need much
To make us laugh instead, and touch,
And could not hear ourselves above
The arias of death and love.
Toni Morrison (1931-)
From The New York Times:
What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years? "Beloved," by Toni Morrison was chosen as the best American fiction of the last 25 years. Runners up were: Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike and Don DeLillo.
Toni Morrison on Beloved:
The novel is not about slavery. ''Slavery is very predictable,'' she said. ''There it is, and there's some stuff about how it is, and then you get out of it or you don't. It can't be driven by slavery. It has to be the interior life of some people, a small group of people, and everything that they do is impacted on by the horror of slavery, but they are also people.''
''There are certain emotions that are useful for the construction of a text,'' she said, ''and some are too small. Anger is too tiny an emotion to use when you're writing, and compassion is too sloppy. Almost everything that makes you want to write, or feel like writing, is not useful in the act of writing. So it's the mediation between those two states, the compulsion and all those feelings, that make you compelled.''
For those who haven't read it, Beloved tells the story of Sethe, an ex-slave who has resettled to the outskirts of Cincinnati with her daughter, Denver. Near the beginning of the book, the two are joined by Paul D, once Sethe's fellow slave on a Kentucky plantation called "Sweet Home." (After years of thankless yearning, Paul D has at last become Sethe's lover.) It's 1873, the Civil War has been fought, and though slavery as a legal institution is over, it has only started its haunting of the African-American psyche. This Morrison dramatizes with the actual haunting of Sethe's house by Sethe's deceased baby daughter. We never learn that baby's given name, but in exchange for sex, Sethe has had a headstone carved for her girl, bearing the single word "Beloved." Paul D exorcises the house of the ghost, but later, upon returning from a carefree day spent at a carnival, Sethe, Denver, and Paul D discover a young woman sleeping near the front door of their house. The young woman goes by the name Beloved, and from all appearances she is a revenant, the embodied spirit of Sethe's dead daughter.
Morrison presents Sethe's turbulent inner life through a process both Morrison and Sethe herself call "rememory," a kind of psychic haunting in which the specifics of a traumatic incident are told and retold, even as the teller tries to block their full emergence into the conscious mind. The central traumatic episode of Beloved, to which the narrative returns again and again, is an infanticide: Twenty years earlier, Sethe beheaded her baby Beloved with a handsaw rather than allow her return to slavery. In Beloved, Morrison perfected a mode of narration, entirely her own but with roots in everything from the African griot to As I Lay Dying, built out of compulsive repetition, in which the onion, as it were, is constantly being both peeled and reconstituted; in which memories are constantly being both exhumed and buried; and in which the mind of the storyteller is both imprisoned and set free in the act of retelling. And so, like the return of Beloved, and the enduring curse of slavery itself, rememory is both a reconciliation and a vexation, both a healing and a wounding.
Beloved is indeed a work of genius. No other American novel of the past 25 years has so elegantly mapped the psychobiography of its ideal reader.
In her work Toni Morrison has explored the experience and roles of black women in a racist and male dominated society. In the center of her complex and multilayered narratives is the unique cultural inheritance of African-Americans. Morrison has been a member of both the National Council on the Arts and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
'"Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company."' (from Nobel Lecture, 1993)
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, where her parents had moved to escape the problems of southern racism. Her family were migrants, sharecroppers on both sides. Morrison grew up in the black community of Lorain. She spent her childhood in the Midwest and read voraciously, from Jane Austen to Tolstoy. Morrison's father, George Wofford, was a welder, and told her folktales of the black community, transferring his African-American heritage to another generation. In 1949 she entered Howard University in Washington, D.C., America's most distinguished black college. There she changed her name from "Chloe" to "Toni", explaining once that people found "Chloe" too difficult to pronounce. She continued her studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Morrison wrote her thesis on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, receiving her M.A. in 1955.
During 1955-57 Morrison was an instructor in English at Texas Southern University, at Houston, and taught in the English department at Howard. In 1964 she moved to Syracuse, New York, working as a textbook editor. After eighteen months she was transferred to the New York headquarters of Random House. There she edited books by such black authors as Toni Cade Bambara and Gayl Jones. She also continued to teach at two branches of the State University of New York. In 1984 she was appointed to an Albert Schweitzer chair at the University of New York at Albany, where she nurtured young writers through two-year fellowships.
While teaching at Howard University and caring for her two children, Morrison wrote her first novel, THE BLUEST EYE (1970). With its publication, Morrison also established her new identity, which she later in 1992 rejected: "I am really Chloe Anthony Wofford. That's who I am. I have been writing under this other person's name. I write some things now as Chloe Wofford, private things. I regret having called myself Toni Morrison when I published my first novel, The Bluest Eye". The story is set in the community of a small, Midwestern town. Its characters are all black. The book was partly based on Morrison's story written for a writers' group in 1966, which she joined after her six years marriage with the Jamaican architect Harold Morrison broke up. Pecola Breedlove, the central character, prays each night for the blue-eyed beauty of Shirley Temple. She believes everything would be all right if only she had beautiful blue eyes. The narrator, Claudia MacTeer, tries to understand the destruction of Pecola. Until 1983, Morrison did not publish short stories. 'Recitatif', about cross-racial friendship, appeared first in Imamu Amiri and Amina Baraka's Confirmation (1983), an anthology consisting of black women's writing.
SULA (1973) depicted two black woman friends and their community of Medallion, Ohio. It follows the lives of Sula, a free spirit, who is considered a threat against the community, and her cherished friend Nel, from their childhood to maturity and to death. The novel won the National Book Critics Award. With the publication of SONG OF SOLOMON (1977), a family chronicle compared to Alex Haley's Roots, Morrison gained an international attention. It was the main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the first novel by a black writer to be chosen since Richard Wright's Native Son in 1949. Written from a male point of view, the story dealt with Milkman Dead's efforts to recover his "ancient properties", a cache of gold.
After the success of Song of Solomon Morrison bought a four-story house near Nyack, N.Y. She was named in 1987 Robert F. Goheen Professor in the council of the humanities at Princeton University. In 1988 Morrison received the Pulitzer Prize for the novel BELOVED (1987), after an open letter, signed by forty-eight prominent black writers, was published in the New York Time Book Review in January. However, the novel failed to win the National Book Award in 1987, and writers protested that Morrison had never been honoured with either the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize.
Beloved was inspired by the true story of a black American slave woman, Margaret Garner. She escaped with her husband Robert from a Kentucky plantation, and sought refuge in Ohio. When the slave masters overcame them, she killed her baby, in order to save the child from the slavery she had managed to escape. Morrison later told that "I thought at first it couldn't be written, but I was annoyed and worried that such a story was inaccessible to art." The protagonist, Sethe, tries to kill her children but is successful only in murdering the unnamed infant, "Beloved." The name is written on the child's tombstone, Sethe did not have enough money to pay for the text ''Dearly Beloved.'' Sethe's house, where she lives with her teenage daughter, Denver, is haunted by the dead baby daughter. "Who would have thought that a little old baby could harbor so much rage?" Sethe thinks. Paul D., whom Sethe knew in slavery, comes to visit her, and manages to drive the ghost out for a while. "For a used-to-be slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a crocker sack, well, maybe you'd have little love left over for the next one." Time passes and Paul D. is seduced by Beloved, who becomes more violent. Denver leaves the house. Sethe is found at the farm, with the naked body of a very pregnant Beloved. The spell breaks, and Beloved disappears. Paul D. returns to take care of Sethe. The film version of the book from 1998 was directed by Jonathan Demme, who used much special effects and was interested in the horror aspects. Oprah Winfrey portrayed Sethe; she had optioned the book rights immediately after its publication. Three writers worked on the script: Akosua Busia, Richard LaGravenese, and Adam Brooks. "If ever a film was burdened under the strain of its own portentousness, it's Beloved. Even the music by composer Rachel Portman, dominated by an interminably moaning solo voice, is mired in its own sincerity. As for Winfrey, it was an unabashed labor of love, and she threw all the resources of her television programs and her international celebrity into its promotion." (from Novels into Film by John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, 1999)
In JAZZ (1992) Joe, the unfaithful husband of Violet, kills Dorcas in a fit of passion. The fragmented narrative follows the causes and consequences of the murder. Morrison's first novel since the Nobel Prize was PARADISE (1998). Again Morrison set story in a small community, this time in Ruby, Oklahoma. Nine men attack a former girls' school nicknamed "the Convent," now occupied by unconventional women fleeing from abusive husbands or lovers, or otherwise unhappy pasts. Moving freely between eras, Morrison explores the founding of Ruby, an all-black township and the backgrounds of the convent women and the men determined to kill them. "The book coalesced around the idea of where paradise is, who belongs in it," Morrison said in an interview The New York Times (January 8, 1998). "All paradises are described as male enclaves, while the interloper is a woman, defenseless and threatening. When we get ourselves together and get powerful is when we are assaulted."
LOVE (2003), Morrison's eight novel, moves freely in time as Paradise. It portrays Bill Cosey, a charismatic hotel owner, dead for many years but not forgotten, and two woman, his widow and his granddaughter, who live in his mansion. Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times (October 31, 2003), that "the story as a whole reads like a gothic soap opera, peopled by scheming, bitter women and selfish, predatory men: women engaged in cartoon-violent catfights; men catting around and going to cathouses." Jonathan Yardley complained in the Washington Post (October 26, 2003) that the novel has "Major Statement written all over it" - a point of view to which the politically conscious author answered already in an interview in 1974. "I don't believe any real artists have ever been non-political," she said. "They may have been insensitive to this particular plight or insensitive to that, but they were political because that's what an artist is - a politician."
The Medicated Americans: Antidepressant Prescriptions on the Rise
From Scientific American:
It is Sunday night. The Medicated American—let’s call her Julie, and let’s place her in Winterset, Iowa—is getting ready for bed. Monday morning and its attendant pressures—the rush to get out of the house, the long commute, the bustle of the office—loom. She opens the cabinet of the bathroom vanity, removes a medicine bottle and taps a pill into her palm. She fills a glass of water, places the colorful pill in her mouth and swallows. The little pill could be any one of 30 available drugs used as antidepressants—such as Prozac or Zoloft or Paxil or Celexa or Lexapro or Luvox or Buspar or Nardil or Elavil or Sinequan or Pamelor or Serzone or Desyrel or Norpramin or Tofranil or Adapin or Vivactil or Ludiomil or Endep or Parnate or Remeron. The pill makes a slight flutter as it passes down her throat.
Julie examines her face in the mirror and sighs. She hopes that by some Monday morning in the future—if not tomorrow morning, then some mythical, brilliant and shimmering Monday morning a month from now, or two months from now, or three—the pills will have worked some kind of inexorable magic. Corrected a chemical imbalance, or something, as the Zoloft commercial had said. “Zoloft, a prescription medicine, can help. It works to correct chemical imbalances in the brain,” the voiceover on the ad had intoned. Julie didn’t know she had a chemical imbalance, nor does she actually know what one is, and it had never really occurred to her that she could have a mental illness (could she?). But she does hope, fervently, that her life will become a little easier, a little less stressed—soon. She hopes, desperately, that the pills will make her feel better—that the little white powder hidden in the green capsule will dissolve in her stomach, enter her bloodstream, travel to her brain and do something. Brushing her teeth, she hopes that one day she will simply feel better.
The Truth About Autism
David Wolman in Wired (I highly recommend watching the video):
The YouTube clip opens with a woman facing away from the camera, rocking back and forth, flapping her hands awkwardly, and emitting an eerie hum. She then performs strange repetitive behaviors: slapping a piece of paper against a window, running a hand lengthwise over a computer keyboard, twisting the knob of a drawer. She bats a necklace with her hand and nuzzles her face against the pages of a book. And you find yourself thinking: Who's shooting this footage of the handicapped lady, and why do I always get sucked into watching the latest viral video?
But then the words "A Translation" appear on a black screen, and for the next five minutes, 27-year-old Amanda Baggs — who is autistic and doesn't speak — describes in vivid and articulate terms what's going on inside her head as she carries out these seemingly bizarre actions. In a synthesized voice generated by a software application, she explains that touching, tasting, and smelling allow her to have a "constant conversation" with her surroundings. These forms of nonverbal stimuli constitute her "native language," Baggs explains, and are no better or worse than spoken language. Yet her failure to speak is seen as a deficit, she says, while other people's failure to learn her language is seen as natural and acceptable.
And you find yourself thinking: She might have a point.
More here. [Thanks to Harry Walsh.]
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
State Subsidized Gender Reassignment Surgery, In Iran
In Foreign Policy:
Last fall, Passport noted that more sex-change surgeries are performed in Iran than in any other country except Thailand. Ayatollah Khomeini approved them for "diagnosed transsexuals" 25 years ago, and today the Iranian government will pay up to half the cost for those in financial need. Former FP researcher David Francis wrote, "In a country that shuns homosexuality, this makes perverse sense, as after a sex-change operation, one technically isn't attracted to one's own sex and therefore isn't gay."
For more, see here.
[H/t: Jonathan Kramnick]
On Open Minds and Equal Time
My old professor Akeel Bilgrami once remarked that he didn't get the fetish of being "open minded." "I don't keep an open mind on whether the Earth is flat," he said to drive the point home. This isn't that bad, but Sean Carroll spells out a similar problem with the fetish of "equal time."
Arts & Letters Daily is a useful website, sort of a proto-blog, that brings together links to all sorts of interesting articles about, you know, arts and letters. If you follow it just a little bit, a decided political bent becomes clear, as you read headlines like “Do professors indoctrinate students by expressing a political ideology in the classroom?” and “Ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single woman what she most longs for, and she likely won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waist: she wants a man and a baby…” The site’s impresario, Denis Dutton, is a right-tilting philosopher and entrepreneur, who occasionally enjoys ranting against the postmodern obscurantism of the left-tilting academy.
But Prof. Dutton has apparently discovered that a touch of relativist anything-goes-ism can be useful in certain circumstances: in particular, when science is telling you something you don’t want to hear. These days, science is telling us that we are bollixing up the planet by dumping tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The very idea that the unchecked engines of capitalism could somehow lead to something bad, rather than all-pervading and unalloyed good, offends Prof. Dutton’s free-market sensibilities. So he has launched Climate Debate Daily, where both “Calls to Action” and “Dissenting Voices” are given equal time in a different free market, this one of ideas.
William F. Buckley, 1925-2008
He was someone I disagreed with on almost everything and many of his ideas horrify me. Yet, in the wake of O'Reilly and Hannity, I do find myself missing Firing Line, to my own shock, which I suppose is something to be shocked by. In the NYT:
Here, Buckley v. Vidal, and Buckley v. Chomsky:
Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism — not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas — respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964, and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.
To Mr. Buckley’s enormous delight, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the historian, termed him “the scourge of liberalism.”
In remarks at National Review’s 30th anniversary in 1985, President Reagan joked that he picked up his first issue of the magazine in a plain brown wrapper and still anxiously awaited his biweekly edition — “without the wrapper.”
“You didn’t just part the Red Sea — you rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism,” Mr. Reagan said.
“And then, as if that weren’t enough,” the president continued, “you gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom.”
Déjà vu in belgrade
Driving down the Danube side of the city to my lunch appointment I saw the only Belgrade mosque, damaged by fire in a nationalist attack in 2004 and since restored, sternly guarded by a police division that had closed the entire street at both ends with a full bus of police reinforcement in anti-riot gear on stand by. Entering the nearby Theatre Museum, I remembered how I had been scheduled to give a lecture there in 1988 or 1989, on a day when Milosevic called another mass anti-Albanian protest in front of the parliament building. In the morning, I'd panicked when I could not buy milk for my baby daughter – all the stores were closed in the morning and the employees forced to march to the rally - and in the afternoon I had lectured on the history of Shakespeare productions through the centuries to some 30 people who sought sanity and diversion in the museum, while the echo of a huge angry mob could be heard outside, only a kilometre or so away. Now Belgrade was experiencing a re-run of the same hate-inducing theatrics, the same mis-en-scene of protest and destruction, the same careful orchestration of nationalist anger and the same outpouring of rabble-raising rhetoric by politicians, Orthodox bishops, academics and artists alike, filmmaker Emir Kusturica inevitably among their ranks.
more from Sign and Sight here.
art and the albatross
There’s Yves Klein’s blue, Anselm Kiefer’s black, and Jasper Johns’ gray. Dare one say that Klein’s blue is gloriously French, Kiefer’s black is dismally German, and Johns’ gray derives from the flag of the defeated Confederacy, of which Johns, being from South Carolina, is a native son? No doubt it’s an all too naïve and simplistic interpretation, but it suggests the point I want to make: Johns’ gray is about self-defeat -- the self-defeat of modernism, its dead-ending in a hallucinatory whimper. Wearing the vestment of gray, it becomes what Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner called "the Night-mare Life-in-Death." Johns is an ancient modernist mariner: corroded by gray, his alphabet, flags, maps and numbers decay into hallucinatory oblivion even as they remain charged with nightmarish life by his painterliness.
It is an increasingly rancid, ruthless painterliness: John Coplans once said to me that there was not a gesture of Johns’ that was not full of contempt. But I think it is the angry indifference (and pessimism) of Duchamp, which Johns celebrated as "hilarious" -- ironic comedy: Duchamp plus gesturalism -- intellectualism plus impulsiveness (Idea Art plus Abstract Expressionism) -- is the formula of Johns’ art.
more from artnet here.
james wood on fugitive lives
Ever since the attack on the World Trade Center, we have all heard a lot about “the Professor,” the chilling anarchist in Conrad’s “The Secret Agent,” who walks around with a bomb strapped to himself and one hand on the detonator. Far more attention has been paid to this ruthless fanatic—unsuggestively reprised by Cormac McCarthy as Anton Chigurh, in “No Country for Old Men”—than to Verloc, the harried, soft, pithless entity who is the novel’s actual protagonist. But Verloc is more interesting than the Professor because he is so much less confident. The Professor is an arrow; Verloc is a target, helplessly bearing the gouges of the various assaults made on him. He works for the anarchists, but he also works against them, as a double agent; he is despised by his handler at the embassy, and feels bullied into following the diplomat’s order to blow up the Greenwich Observatory, a job that he fatally bungles; he is a minor London shopkeeper, who sells pornography under the table; he moves through his shabby domestic existence sluggishly, as if under water.
more from The New Yorker here.
Dear Irrational Reader: Close the Door!
Yesterday Azra posted a fascinating article which seems to have been largely ignored, at least judging from the lack of comments on it, so I invite you to have another look:
John Tierney in the New York Times:
Let’s make a deal: Door Number 1? Door Number 2? Or Door Number 3?
The choice is yours when you try to rack up points in an experiment being run by Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at M.I.T. — who, by the way, is not trying to bring back Monty Hall’s “Let’s Make A Deal ” TV show. This is a different three-door game and does not have any new cars or donkeys behind the doors. It takes just a couple of minutes, and you’ll get your score at the end.
To play, click here. I’ll write about the experiment in my Findings column this coming Tuesday. [Ed note: That was yesterday.]
First try playing the game by clicking the link above, then go here for Tierney's comments.