July 31, 2008
decay turns into form that decays again
Standing in David Altmejd’s gothic-surreal show is like being in a forest of freakish giants from the dawn of time. Nine twelve-foot-tall colossi tower above you like oversize werewolves, rotting Wookiees, or sculptures of pharaohs from some sci-fi porn planet. It’s an Oedipal grove of powerful deteriorating fathers and beautiful but monstrous sons. These creatures have mirrored derrières, plump penises decorated as if by a jeweler, gashes in colorful torsos, dozens of hands holding giant testicles or crystalline daggers. One figure has a peacock encircling each thigh; two have twisting energy fields or stigmata sprouting from hands and heads.
Altmejd’s exhibition is a combination sideshow, intergalactic cyborg showroom, and kitsch emporium. It’s simultaneously hideous and beautiful—and transitional. He’s gone from integrating hairy decapitated wolfmanish figures into room-filling architectural-sculptural installations, complete with sprawling bases that were themselves surreal landscapes, to the figures alone.
more from New York Magazine here.
The Žižek Conundrum
Daniel Miller in The Nation:
Žižek's mounting eccentricities and difficulties go beyond Bloomsbury. Over the last twelve months, between an Argentinean dance club being launched with his name, and the International Journal of Žižek Studies selling doggie T-shirts embossed with its logo, Žižek has championed the Hollywood action film 300 (a comic-book adaptation of the Battle of Thermopylae) as a suitable model for left politics, advanced the almost LaRouchian view that "liberal communists" (Silicon Valley CEOs, plus George Soros and court philosophers like Thomas Friedman) "are the enemy of every true progressive struggle today" and appeared in the advert breaks of the British television station Channel 4 as a sort of human screen wipe, delivering pearls of gnomic wisdom in fifteen-second bursts. As a result of these incidents, many of Žižek's former allies in his natural constituency of the para-academic blogosphere have begun to desert him. "The gruesome spectre of another Hitchens looms," noted one former admirer in the wake of the 300 rave, while another, blogging under the pithy title "Žižek the Embarrassment," suggested that "the dialectical 'double movement' that used to serve Žižek's uncompromising intellect has become a contemptible tool for his egotism."
brideshead not-so-worth revisiting
But do not, when attempting any course of reading aimed at appreciating Waugh's wit, give undue attention to Brideshead Revisited, a misfit of a book, much loved, and often loved in the wrong way, as the vomitous stupidity of Miramax's new film adaptation attests. There's a comic novel in there, but it is not, as the common expression goes, struggling to get out. It's lodged there quite contentedly; the book's acid portraits of dull dons and rich oafs are enmeshed with its affectingly tender peeks at lost youth and also with its eagerly overwrought splendor and its sincerely bogus religiosity. This was the seventh novel Waugh published—the eighth he attempted—a grasp at grandeur written in a mere four months, during a leave from the British army in early 1944. "Waugh wrote Brideshead with great speed, unfamiliar excitement, and a deep conviction of its excellence," Martin Amis once remarked. "Lasting schlock, the really good bad book, cannot be written otherwise."
more from Slate here.
Adina Roskies and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in Scientific American:
Cognitive science and moral philosophy might seem like strange bedfellows, but in the past decade they have become partners. In a recent issue of Cognition, the Harvard University psychologist Joshua Greene and colleagues extend this trend. Their experiment utilizes conventional behavioral methods, but it was designed to test a hypothesis stemming from previous fMRI investigations into the neural bases of moral judgments (see here and here).
In their study Greene et al. give subjects difficult moral dilemmas in which one alternative leads to better consequences (such as more lives saved) but also violates an intuitive moral restriction (it requires a person to directly or intentionally cause harm to someone else). For example, in the “crying baby” dilemma subjects must judge whether it is wrong to smother their own baby in order to save a large group of people that includes the baby. In this scenario, which was also used by the television show M.A.S.H., enemy soldiers will hear the baby cry unless it is smothered. Sixty percent of people choose to smother the baby in order to save more lives. A judgment that it is appropriate to save the most lives, even if it requires you to suffocate a child, is labeled “utilitarian” by Greene et al., whereas a judgment that it is not appropriate is called “deontological.” These names pay homage to traditional moral philosophies.
Based on previous fMRI studies, Greene proposes a dual-process model of moral judgments. This model makes two central claims. First, when subjects form deontological judgments, emotional processes are said to override controlled cognitive processes. In other words, the subjects who are unwilling to smother the baby are being swayed by their emotions, and they can’t bear the idea of hurting a helpless child. This claim has been supported by a flurry of recent behavioral studies and neural studies. Greene’s dual-process model also claims that controlled cognitive processes cause utilitarian moral judgments. The new Cognition study puts that second claim to the test.
Kymlicka on Multiculturalism and Liberal Democracy
In Eurozine, an interview with the philosopher Will Kymlicka:
Filimon Peonidis: You were the first person who showed to us the significance of minority protection, cultural membership, and multiculturalism for mainstream Anglo-Saxon political philosophy. In the past all these were regarded as political, sociological or legal issues. A long period separates the publication of your first book on this topic, Liberalism, Community and Culture (1989), and your latest one, Multicultural Odysseys (2007). Have your views on liberal multiculturalism undergone any significant change during all these years?
Will Kymlicka: I'm still very interested in the general question of how the claims of ethno-cultural minorities relate to the basic principles of liberal-democratic theory, but my motivation for addressing this question has evolved over the years. Originally, I chose this topic as a test case for exploring the "liberal-communitarian debate" that dominated Anglo-American political philosophy in the 1980s. In the 1970s, liberals like John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin had developed new theories of liberal egalitarian justice that I personally found very attractive. In the 1980s, however, communitarians like Charles Taylor criticized these theories for being too individualistic and "atomistic", and his main proof for this critique was the example of ethnic minorities. According to Taylor, a Rawlsian or Dworkinian theory of liberal justice could not defend the sorts of group-specific rights that minorities need to protect themselves from assimilation. And he concluded that this made liberalism particularly inappropriate for my own country – Canada – where a range of minority rights for the indigenous Aboriginal peoples, for the Quebecois, and for immigrant groups are well-established, widely-accepted, and indeed are vital to the survival of the country.
This argument really worried me, because I wasn't willing to abandon support for Canada's minority rights, but nor was I willing to shift from liberalism to communitarianism to defend them, since I think that communitarianism has a dangerous tendency to limit the freedom of individuals to question and revise traditional ways of life.
Abigail Tucker in Smithsonian Magazine:
Paul Polak has been helping people escape poverty in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and elsewhere for 27 years. In Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail, the 74-year-old former psychiatrist and founder of International Development Enterprises—a nonprofit that develops low-cost equipment for farmers—argues that simple tools such as a $25 water pump can do more than large cash donations to aid many of the world's "dollar-a-day" people, of which there are an estimated 1.2 billion.
Why did you switch from psychiatry to poverty?
In working with mentally ill people in Denver, I learned that their poverty was a bigger contributor to their state of mind than psychiatric illness. We found them housing and access to employment. Those things helped so much. But I was curious about people who lived on $30 a month or less, so I went to Bangladesh.
Growing food indoors is not a new concept, and Columbia University Professor Dickson Despommier says global climate change will require that we re-examine it. This is from an interview at Big Think, a site that I recommend you take a look at:
A suicide note from the music industry
The deal between record companies and ISPs will drive music-swapping underground and erode their profits still further.
Cory Doctorow in The Guardian:
This month's announcement of a back-room deal between ISPs (internet service providers) and the big record companies to spy on suspected copyright infringers and reduce the quality of their internet connections is just the latest paragraph in the record industry's long, self-pitying suicide note, and it's left me wishing they'd just pull the trigger already and stop beating their chests and telling us all how unfair it all is.
Under the new scheme, the rule of law is replaced by a cosy inter-industry deal. Whereas before, anyone who wanted your ISP to spy on your internet connection would have had to show evidence to a judge and get a court order, now any joker who claims to be an aggrieved copyright holder can do so.
And whereas actual criminals are punished by judges who make rulings that are proportional to the offence, and which are calculated to minimise external harm, the new scheme allows ISPs and their pals in the record industry to randomly shake up your connection like a snow-globe, dropping some or all of your services – whether you're using your VoIP phone to speak to your dying granny in Australia or downloading the latest hit single from the guy who did the "Crazy Frog Song".
Physics is fun!
Richard Lea reviews Natalie Angier's new book in the Times Literary Supplement:
The genre of popular-science writing has something of the paradoxical about it, owing its very existence to science’s lack of popularity at school and its peripheral role in our cultural life. In a world where an American President can claim that the “verdict is still out” on evolution, where half of the population of the European Union has no idea that an electron is smaller than an atom, and where only 7 per cent of English teenagers between the ages of thirteen and seventeen think science is “cool”, science’s unpopularity is matched only by its importance in shaping our lives.
It is a situation of which Natalie Angier, the author of this popular-science primer, The Canon, is keenly aware. After a quarter of a century working as a science writer, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for a series of features in the New York Times, when people call science “bo-o-oring” she takes it personally. But how to interest a society as indifferent to scientific ideas as it is hungry for their technological results? Dispensing rapidly with the usual arguments for greater public understanding of science, Angier makes a direct appeal to intellectual enjoyment, which sets the tone for the whole of her whirligig tour.
“Of course you should know about science, for the same reason that Dr Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gack: These things are fun, and fun is good.” With fun as her watchword, armed with interviews of “hundreds” of scientists, Angier sets off in pursuit of everything “nonspecialist nonchildren” should know about science, what she calls the “beautiful basics”.
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
We have a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.
That's fine with us. Every morning
We glow and in the evening we glow again.
They say there's no future for us. They're right.
Which is fine with us.
Translation:Coleman Barks with John
Religions thrived to protect against disease
From The Telegraph:
Prof Richard Dawkins the atheist and sceptic, has condemned religion as a "virus of the mind" but it seems that people became religious for good reason - actually to avoid infection by viruses and other diseases - according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences. Dr Corey Fincher and Prof Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, come to this conclusion after studying why religions are far more numerous in the tropics compared with the temperate areas. "Why does Cote d'Ivoire have 76 religions while Norway has 13, and why does Brazil have 159 religions while Canada has 15 even though in both comparisons the countries are similar in size?" they ask.
The reason is that religion helps to divide people and reduce the spread of diseases, which are more common the hotter the country, the research suggests. Any society that increased its coherence by adopting a religion, and dealt less with local groups with other beliefs as a result of cultural isolation, gained an advantage in being less likely to pick up diseases from its neighbours, and in the longer term to have a slightly different genetic makeup that may offer protective effects, for instance by making them less susceptible to a virus. Equally, societies where infectious diseases are more common are less likely to migrate and disperse, not because of the effects of disease itself but as a behaviour that has evolved over time.
NASA turns 50
50 years ago today, US president Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act, sparking the birth of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – better known to us as NASA. The first of nine objectives for NASA in that space act was “The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space”. Here, Nature News looks back at triumphs and tragedies from the agency’s history.Hubble's highs and lows
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, and has had a career filled with many scientific highs, and some technical lows. In 1994, the telescope managed to watch Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smash into Jupiter. It has also seen the birth and death of many stars, including the Cat's Eye Nebula - a glowing gas plume produced in a star's death throes - pictured here by Hubble. Space Shuttle Atlantis will fly to Hubble to carry out essential maintenance in October, possibly the last repair job before the aged telescope is pensioned off.
July 30, 2008
The Mathematics of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, and Islam
Fernando Q. Gouvêa at the Mathematical Association of America website:
It is also an impressive editorial achievement. Victor Katz has put together five experts: Annette Imhausen on Egypt, Eleanor Robson on Mesopotamia, Joe Dauben on China, Kim Plofker on India, and Len Berggren on Islam. These are all well-known historians, and several of them are writing or have written books on the mathematics of these cultures. They have done a wonderful job of selecting, annotating, and contextualizing sources.
Apart from the Greek mathematical tradition, these five are the best-documented and most impressive pre-modern mathematical cultures. (Well, one could argue that one is missing: the Medieval European tradition, which has also been too little studied, as Menso Folkerts points out.) At least a few translations of primary sources for the Greek tradition are available, including several sourcebooks. That is not the case for Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and Islam: a few items have been published here and there, but this is the first systematic collection of such translations; in fact, several of the sources presented here have been newly translated. The editors include detailed introductions emphasizing the current state of knowledge about each area and period.
There are two ways to introduce readers to a new mathematical tradition: the expert can act as a tour guide, pointing out the sights at every point, or can give us an overall idea of the layout of the terrain, and then allow us to go out an explore on your own. It is the second approach that characterizes a "sourcebook": after some general orientation, we are left to study the sources on our own.
The Man Who Would Be King
Ruchira Paul in Accidental Blogger:
The Man Who Would Be King is the improbable life story of American Josiah Harlan, a young Quaker from Chester County, Pennsylvania. In 1822, Harlan, an earnest young man of twenty two, robust in health and florid in his imagination, set out to seek a new life with nothing more at his disposal than a love of adventure, history (especially the exploits of Alexander the Great of Macedonia) and botany. His journey began in Philadelphia and landed him in Calcutta, India, by way of China in 1824. In India he enlisted as an assistant surgeon in the army of the East India Company (the precursor to the British Raj) although the only medical knowledge Harlan possessed came from a medical manual he read during his ocean crossing. After being injured during battle in Burma, Harlan obtained his discharge from the Company's army and traveled to northwest India and Afghanistan, seeking to realize his fondest dream - to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.
For several years, Harlan crossed and re-crossed the border between India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan. In a political climate, where every man was spinning in a private orbit of political ambition, alliances were made and broken with dizzying pace. Harlan played the field on several different sides with the keen eye of a mercenary. He accumulated considerable wealth, acted as a doctor and a governor to a powerful Indian king, sided with and opposed the British and conspired for and against several Afghan aspirants to the throne.
dickinson: pure and terrible
In April of 1862, Emily Dickinson wrote to a stranger, initiating a fervent twenty-four-year correspondence, in the course of which they managed to meet only twice. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, thirty-eight, was a man of letters, a clergyman, a fitness enthusiast, a celebrated abolitionist, and a champion of women’s rights, whose essays on slavery and suffrage, but also on snow, flowers, and calisthenics, appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. “Letter to a Young Contributor,” the article that inspired Dickinson to approach him, was a column addressed to literary débutantes and—despite his deep engagement with the Civil War—a paean to the bookish life: “There may be years of crowded passion in a word, and half a life in a sentence,” he wrote, evoking Dickinson’s poetry without yet having seen it. “Mr. Higginson,” she began, with no endearment. “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?”
more from The New Yorker here.
40 Days in Hebron and You Are a Khalili
Nawal Slelmiah - the only female stallholder in the market in the Old City of Hebron, or El Khalil, as it's called in Arabic - attaches great significance to the black and white portrait on display among the hand-woven clothes and fabrics in her shop. Before the British artist, Caspar Hall, arrived in Hebron for a three-month residency sponsored by Art School Palestine, no one had ever painted her portrait before. More importantly, she believes the portrait sends an important signal to the Israeli settlers and soldiers who often pass her shop near the entrance to the souk. "They often stop and look at it, and it tells them that it's my shop - I'm the owner, and I'm not leaving," she says.
more from The Guardian here.
two chords, an appoggiatura, a sigh, the wispy hint of a ninth chord
The long voyage is nearly over, and the great ship is at last approaching land. But we are not quite yet in harbour; for Henry-Louis de La Grange’s revision of Gustav Mahler: Volume One still awaits translation into English. Then the labours of a dedicated lifetime may be at an end. Meanwhile, we have here, at over 1,750 pages, the longest of the four volumes, and in every way the climactic one. So much in it is new, or newly re-explored, or freshly and radically re-interpreted. The portrait that emerges is surprising because it is so straightforward: that of a great conductor at the height of his powers and a great composer striking out boldly into new territory. What has previously been obscured and diminished by mythmaking, melodrama and malice is now at last given its full stature. That this new depiction is the underlying intention of the author is made quite clear from the first page: to realize how well he has succeeded, it is necessary to read the whole book. But this is not just a biography: it is more of a Mahler-Lexicon, almost a history of the age. De La Grange has found himself irresistibly drawn down every avenue that offers itself, and his interests are wide. By the time one has read through all thirty-three of the Appendices, and has discovered in the last one the recipe for Mahler’s favourite dessert (Marillonknödel – and it sounds delicious), one feels not only triumphant but replete.
more from the TLS here.
Pass the pretzels – it's Bush, the movie
He put Nixon and JFK on screen. Now Oliver Stone has a living President in his sights. As the trailer for 'W' goes viral, Tim Walker says this biopic shouldn't be misunderestimated.
From The Independent:
Is it a Saturday Night Live skit? Is it the Dead Ringers Christmas Special? No – it's the teaser trailer for W (pronounced, of course, "Dubya"), Oliver Stone's forthcoming film about the 43rd US President, George W Bush.
Stone is an obsessive chronicler of modern American history. In the past, he's given us movies about presidents, including the life of one (Nixon), and the death of another (JFK). He's done movies about US campaigns in El Salvador (Salvador) and Vietnam (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven & Earth); movies about the rise of unscrupulous capitalists (Wall Street), and the fall of the Twin Towers (World Trade Center). But W is a departure, even for him. A biopic of a sitting President, due for release on the eve of the next election, its producers even intend to advertise right alongside TV broadcasts for John McCain's campaign.
Stone has called the film "satire", "magic realism biography", but also "a fair, true portrait of the man".
More here. And here's the trailer:
Scandal in Africa
Joshua Hammer in the New York Review of Books:
With his ruthless seizure of power in the June 27 runoff election in Zimbabwe, following a well-organized campaign to intimidate and murder members of the opposition, Robert Mugabe joined Myanmar's military junta at the top of the list of the world's most despised dictators. Both the Burmese generals and Mugabe's inner circle have enriched themselves while reducing their people to near starvation. They have jailed, tortured, and killed supporters of democracy, and shrugged off years of international condemnation. Moreover, unlike Myanmar's secretive regime, Mugabe and the cabal that supports him have seemed to enjoy flaunting their contempt for democracy and their easy embrace of violence.
That cabal is led by hard-line members of the Zimbabwean military and a handful of cabinet officials who served alongside Mugabe in the independence war of the 1970s. They include the commander in chief of Zimbabwe's armed forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, and Emerson Mnangagwa, an heir apparent to Mugabe who, as minister of national security in 1983, allegedly oversaw the massacre of thousands of political opponents in Matabeleland. "He is a man with the capacity to be more vicious than Mugabe," I was told by University of Zimbabwe political analyst John Makumbe.
The Beautiful Lie
He was about four, I think... it was so long ago.
In a garden; he'd done some damage
behind a bright screen of sweet-peas
- snapped a stalk, a stake, I don't recall,
but the grandmother came and saw, and asked him:
"Did you do that?"
Now, if she'd said why did you do that,
he'd never have denied it. She showed him
he had a choice. I could see, in his face,
the new sense, the possible. That word and deed
need not match, that you could say the world
different, to suit you.
When he said "No", I swear it was as moving
as the first time a baby's fist clenches
on a finger, as momentous as the first
taste of fruit. I could feel his eyes looking
through a new window, at a world whose form
and colour weren't fixed
but fluid, that poured like a snake, trembled
around the edges like northern lights, shape-shifted
at the spell of a voice. I could sense him filling
like a glass, hear the unreal sea in his ears.
This is how to make songs, create men, paint pictures,
tell a story.
I think I made up the screen of sweet peas.
Maybe they were beans; maybe there was no screen,
it just felt as if there should be, somehow.
And he was my - no, I don't need to tell that.
I know I made up the screen. And I recall very well
what he had done.
Take a Deep Breath--and Thank Mount Everest
Next time you pause to view a scenic mountain vista, consider that the oxygen your lungs are taking in resulted from the same process that raised those peaks. Researchers have connected the periodic formation of supercontinents in Earth's geological past to the nourishment of tiny, oxygen-producing sea creatures, and the process continues to this day.
At least seven times, the massive plates that make up Earth's continents have slammed together--sometimes two at a time, and sometimes all of them--forming what geologists call supercontinents. Those gradual collisions severely warped the intervening crust and pushed up high mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas. Each time, over millions of years, wind and rain wore down those mountains into dust that was flushed into the sea. There, minerals containing iron, phosphorus, and other elements became food for microscopic plant life that flourished and, through photosynthesis, boosted the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. The result, a team reported on 27 July in Nature Geoscience, was that atmospheric oxygen content rose from what they call negligible levels about 2.65 billion years ago to about 21% today.
The White Tiger
From The Independent:
Towards the end of this debut novel, its voluble, digressive, murderous protagonist makes a prediction: "White men will be finished in my lifetime," he tells us. "In 20 years time it will just be us brown and yellow men at the top of the pyramid, and we'll rule the world." He's talking about the phenomenon at the heart of this dazzling narrative: the emergence of that much-heralded economic powerhouse, the "new India". You have, no doubt, read about it. In fact, you may have done so courtesy of Aravind Adiga, who is Time magazine's Asia correspondent. But with The White Tiger, Adiga sets out to show us a part of this emerging country that we hear about infrequently: its underbelly. We see through the eyes of Balram, who was born into the "darkness" of rural India, but entered the light that is Delhi via a job as driver to Mr Ashok, the son of a rich landlord. Now, though, Balram has escaped servitude and is himself a rich businessman. What's more, his unlikely journey involved a murder.
The result is an Indian novel that explodes the clichés – ornamental prose, the scent of saffron – associated with that phrase. Welcome, instead, to an India where Microsoft call-centre workers tread the same pavement as beggars who burn street rubbish for warmth. Adiga's whimsical conceit is to give us Balram's story via seven letters to the Chinese prime minister, who, Balram has decided, must be told the truth about India before a forthcoming state visit. So Balram begins: he tells of Delhi's servants, who live in rotting basements below the glass apartment blocks that are home to their employers. He tells of how Ashok's family bribe government ministers, and how national elections are rigged. Ashok, trendy and liberal, is forever expressing guilt over Balram's treatment, but his fine words never come to anything.
July 29, 2008
a revolution of empanadas and red wine
With his tailor-made suits and thick black glasses, Salvador Allende did not look the part of a revolutionary. Indeed, his love of high-end clothing and fine wine would seem to belie his status as a champion of the working class. It is widely reported that at dinner parties in the Chilean presidential palace, Allende would approach nattily attired guests and say, half in jest, "That's a nice jacket you're wearing, but it would look even better on a president, don't you think?" By night's end, the guests would have dutifully contributed their jackets to Allende's already extensive wardrobe.
But make no mistake about it: even though he was not as earthy or tousled as his contemporaries in Cuba, Allende was every bit as dedicated to revolutionary change. He simply disagreed with the means through which such change could come about. Instead of adhering to then ruling leftist practice of revolutionary change through violence and terror, Allende proposed an unprecedented democratic route to socialism, one where ballots would replace arms. It would be, in his words, "a revolution of empanadas and red wine"—socialism Chilean style.
more from n+1 here.
If you set aside the incomparable cruelty and stupidity of human beings, surely our most persistent and irrational activity is to sleep. Why would we ever allow ourselves to drop off if sleeping was entirely optional? Sleep is such a dangerous place to go to from consciousness: who in their right mind would give up awareness, deprive themselves of control of their senses, volunteer for paralysis, and risk all the terrible things (and worse) that could happen to a person when they’re not looking? As chief scientist in charge of making the world a better place, once I’d found a way of making men give birth, or at least lactate, I’d devote myself to abolishing the need for sleep. Apart from the dangers of letting your guard down, there’s the matter of time. Instead of trying to extend the life of human bodies beyond their cellular feasibility, the men and women in lab coats could be studying ways to retrieve all the time we spend asleep. A third of our lives, they say – and that probably doesn’t take the afternoon nap into account. Even if we died aged what is these days a rather youthful 70, finding a way to stay awake would increase our functional life to the equivalent of 93. And if we happened to live to 93 then we’d effectively be . . . oh, even older. Plus the nap time. Sleep, we’re told, is essential, repairing the wear and tear on body and mind, but sex was once solely for the purpose of propagating the species and we pretty much found a workaround for that biological constraint.
more from the LRB here.
mencken would not be amused
H.L. Mencken famously called the martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet." The sonnet, as anyone who took freshman English may remember, is a poem with a specific meter, a structure of exactly 14 lines and a strict rhyme scheme. This being the age of free verse, no one writes sonnets anymore. Which is just as well, since almost no one reads poetry anymore.
I've been tasting a lot of silly drinks lately, and I believe we have entered the age of free verse in cocktails. Not long ago, for example, I attended an event that featured 10 of the best bartenders in the Washington area, all trying to out-mix one another. Here are some of the ingredients used in that evening's cocktails: rose hips, yuzu juice, truffle oil, tarragon soda, homemade celery bitters, Sichuan pepper, tonka bean syrup and cherrywood-smoked white pepper meringue. Sometimes I think we're all losing our minds; Mencken would not be amused.
more from the Washington Post here.
Money's all there is, it makes the world go 'round
Money and only money, it can't be denied.
Whatever you think about it
You won't be able to do without it
take a tip from one who's tried
.............................--Dob Bylan (sic)
Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.'
So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don't keep it upstairs.
By now they've a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life
- In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can't put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won't in the end buy you more than a shave.
I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long French windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.
At the dawn of the 21st century, reflections on the war that defined the 20th
Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
I have just been watching Niall Ferguson bestride the globe. He does it in his documentary The War of the World, aired on PBS over the last three weeks. The documentary is the film version of his recent book of the same name. In the book he does a lot of bestriding, too. He ranges over the history of the 20th century, reordering and re-prioritizing as he sees fit. Ferguson is, to say the least, not very interested in the traditional historical narratives of the epoch. He is prepared to see things differently and to let everyone know that he is something of a maverick. Indeed, the documentary is chock full of lingering shots of Ferguson as he drives through or walks around important sites of the 20th century. Here he is, gazing wistfully up at the buildings as his car moves through the streets of Berlin. Next, see him standing meaningfully amidst the ruins of a village near the Greek/Turkish border as he talks about the forms of ethnic cleansing that went on in the area.
As far as technique goes, it is the very opposite of, for instance, the influential documentary makers Ric and Ken Burns (The Civil War, New York). For the Burns brothers, historical filmmaking is not so much about arguing over possible interpretations as about getting to the immediacy of the stories that are beyond interpretation. The Burns Brothers never show themselves. They keep the craftsman out of the picture. Tellingly, they pioneered the innovative technique of moving the camera slowly across or zooming in and out of still pictures and historical documents. The technique becomes a metaphor for the unbiased but sympathetic eye of "The Historian" writ large. The Burns brothers suggest that they are merely ciphers, mediums through which this 'Historical Eye" can carry the definitive story of history directly out of the past and into the living present.
Ferguson puts himself front and center. Handsome, Scottish, bold. He wants to shock us with the audacity of his interpretations. This is part and parcel of his historical approach, in which the events being narrated and the characters doing the narration are tangled up in one another. History is a realm of contestation.
Frank Gehry Comes to Brooklyn
Charles Taylor in Dissent:
Like many utopian visions that someone is crazy enough to attempt to realize, modernist architecture has always contained an element of fascism. It wasn’t just that a cuckoo notion like Le Corbusier’s “radiant city,” those celery stalks of lone skyscrapers surrounded by a verdant wasteland, was meant to simplify life, but that it was in some basic sense meant to replace it.
The light and space essential to early modernist design were a response to the darkness and claustrophobia of Victorian architecture in which so many poor were imprisoned. But the modernists’ own language suggested that the masses would simply be serving a new master. You can’t describe a dwelling as a “machine for living,” as Le Corbusier did, without having abandoned what most of us associate with the word “home”: comfort, refuge, freedom from regulation, a respite from routine. If a house or a high-rise apartment building is a machine, those living in it must be the cogs. The ultimate fulfillment of Le Corbusier’s vision might be like a Prozac version of the workers trudging off to the mines in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, drudgery tidied up and narcotized.
It’s no accident that the fascist potential in modern architecture has been clearest to those who saw it firsthand. Writing about the shift in Britain from the semi-detached suburban homes of the 1930s to the anonymous blocks of estate housing built after the Second World War, the filmmaker John Boorman said, “Le Corbusier’s manic followers descended like shock troops bringing more destruction to England than Hitler.”
Homosexuality in India
Namit Arora in Shunya's Notes:
As a boy in India, I often heard rumors of "buggering" being commonplace in elite boarding schools for boys. This was partly spoken of as a passing phase of rakishness and fun, the subtext being: they'll discover what real sex is when they grow up. In their lucid new book, The Indians, Sudhir and Katherina Kakar recount a story about Ashok Row Kavi, a well-known Indian gay activist. Apparently when Ashok was young and being pressured to marry by his family, especially by his aunt, he finally burst out that he liked to fuck men. "I don't care whether you fuck crocodiles or elephants," the aunt snapped back. "Why can't you marry?"
As in many other societies, procreation also underpins the Indian sense of social and familial order. Any threat to this social order is instinctively resisted, though the resistance takes many forms. In the Christian West, homosexuality was persecuted as a sin against god (less often, it was seen as a disease). Indians, on the other hand, denied the very idea of homosexuality, while tolerating homosexual acts—a trick made possible by regarding these acts not as sex but as a kind of erotic fun, or masti. Sex is only what happens in the context of procreation, usually within marriage. Sex is what makes babies, and the truly virile men, of course, produce male babies.
It is no surprise then, that the notion of a homosexual liaison as a proud and equal alternate to a heterosexual one doesn't exist outside a small set of urban Indians; that would be seen as a threat to the social order. Instead, the Indian response is: As long as men fulfill their traditional obligations to family and progeny, their homosexual acts are (uneasily) tolerated.
More here. Namit also provides this video of gay Indian-American comedian Vidur Kapoor:
The Nature of Glass Remains Anything but Clear
From The New York Times:
It is well known that panes of stained glass in old European churches are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-moving liquid that flows downward over centuries. Well known, but wrong. Medieval stained glass makers were simply unable to make perfectly flat panes, and the windows were just as unevenly thick when new. The tale contains a grain of truth about glass resembling a liquid, however. The arrangement of atoms and molecules in glass is indistinguishable from that of a liquid. But how can a liquid be as strikingly hard as glass? They’re the thickest and gooiest of liquids and the most disordered and structureless of rigid solids,” said Peter Harrowell, a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney in Australia, speaking of glasses, which can be formed from different raw materials. “They sit right at this really profound sort of puzzle.”
Philip W. Anderson, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Princeton, wrote in 1995: “The deepest and most interesting unsolved problem in solid state theory is probably the theory of the nature of glass and the glass transition.” He added, “This could be the next breakthrough in the coming decade.” Thirteen years later, scientists still disagree, with some vehemence, about the nature of glass. Peter G. Wolynes, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, thinks he essentially solved the glass problem two decades ago based on ideas of what glass would look like if cooled infinitely slowly.
Now That's a Party Animal
Nine beers in one night could put even a seasoned drinker under the table. But the pen-tailed tree shrew in Malaysia consumes the equivalent of that in alcoholic nectar several nights a week, researchers have discovered, and six other species of animals there consume smaller amounts of alcohol as well. Unlike humans, the animals seem to suffer no ill effects from their habit. How they have evolved to tolerate alcohol could teach us something about the origins of human alcohol consumption and abuse, researchers say. The pen-tailed tree shrew (Ptilocercus lowii) is a small, ratlike animal that inhabits the jungles of Southeast Asia. It feeds on the nectar of an ever-flowering plant, the bertam palm, which is a primary food source for many other species as well, says Frank Wiens of the University of Bayreuth in Germany. Wiens was observing tree shrews feed in the Malaysian jungle when he noticed an oddly familiar odor: "The palms smelled like a brewery," he says.
Wiens realized that some of the animals might be consuming huge amounts of alcohol, which prompted him and colleagues to spend more than 3 years in the field studying the ecology of the bertam palm. Yeast cells in the palm's flowers ferment its nectar, they discovered, which can contain up to 3.8% alcohol--among the highest concentrations ever found in natural foods. The researchers observed seven mammalian species feeding on the nectar. The pen-tailed tree shrews guzzled the stuff longer than they did any other food source, for an average of 138 minutes per night, in the process helping to pollinate the plants. From the rate at which palm flowers were drained and refilled, the team calculated that, on average, the tree shrews meet or surpass the legal intoxication limit of 1.4 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body mass once every 3 days.
July 28, 2008
Tongues of Fire, Plains of Grace: Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Sixty-three years ago on August 6, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The bombs, upon contact with the earth, appeared as brilliant flashes that incinerated living beings and urban life within seconds. Those who did not die immediately, suffered slow, excruciating death from exposure to high-levels of radiation. Present generations continue to suffer the affects of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan more than six decades ago.
In May 1945, The Target Committee at Los Alamos led by Robert Oppenheimer, deliberated on which cities would receive the bombs. Hiroshima, Niigata, Yokohama, and the Japanese city of temples, Kyoto, were top contenders as they met the following requirements:
"(1) they are larger than three miles in diameter and are important targets in a large urban area (2) the blast would create effective damage, and (3) they are unlikely to be attacked by August 1945."
In addition, the cities chosen needed to be new targets; the sixty-seven Japanese cities that had received intense firebombing were precluded from selection.
The decision to drop bombs on urban centers killed more than human beings. In the words of Hannah Arendt:
"In the case of an atomic bombing...a community does not merely receive an impact; the community itself is destroyed. Within 2 kilometers of the atomic bomb's hypocenter all life and property were shattered, burned, and buried under ashes. The visible forms of the city where people once carried on their daily lives vanished without a trace. The destruction was sudden and thorough; there was virtually no chance to escape....Citizens who had lost no family members in the holocaust were as rare as stars at sunrise....
The atomic bomb had blasted and burned hospitals, schools, city offices, police stations, and every other kind of human organization....Family, relatives, neighbors, and friends relied on a broad range of interdependent organizations for everything from birth, marriage, and funerals to firefighting, productive work, and daily living. These traditional communities were completely demolished in an instant."
In the days between bombs, American forces in the Marianas devised a leaflet to be dropped on Japanese cities. The leaflet used a combination of kanji and kana characters and was produced on a printing press previously used to publish a Japanese-language newspaper. On August 7, a team working on behalf of the U.S. War Department in generating psychological warfare, worked overtime producing the leaflets. Their plan was to drop 6 million of them over forty-seven cities with populations over 100,000. The following is a translated excerpt:
"ATTENTION JAPANESE PEOPLE
Before we use this bomb again and again to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, petition the Emperor now to end the war. Our President has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender; We urge that you accept those consequences and begin the work of building a new, better, and peace loving Japan.
Act at once or we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
EVACUATE YOUR CITIES"
Two days to print and drop leaflets was not much time; even less so for the Japanese people to act upon circumstance in the many ways the leaflet suggested. A shortage of T-3 leaflet bombs also presented a snag in the delivery timeline. Nagasaki received its quota of leaflets on August 10.
Freshly printed paper falling from the sky was perhaps the only unscorched, unread gesture left in the aftermath of Fat Man's shadow.
I have seen a replica of Fat Man in a museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico. More important, I have seen the affects of a replica of the atomic bomb on a multigenerational Japanese family assembled around it, holding hands. With heads bowed, the grandfather reached out his hand, the one that wasn't connecting all the other hands, and extended it over the museum-quality velvet maroon rope, and on to the bulky body of Fat Man. As he laid his hand on the replica atomic bomb it sent a current of deep collective grief through each family member.
This moment was real. And so too, unfortunately and grotesquely so, were the lollipops for sale in the gift shop in the shape of Little Boy and Fat Man.
I had initially come to New Mexico to meet with a Navajo Code Talker. The Code Talkers used their native tongue to relay messages on ships and on the ground in the Pacific theater during World War II. They were needed to help clear the islands. The islands needed to be cleared so that the airplanes carrying the atomic bombs could load and refuel before reaching the main island of Japan. The record of translation by the Code Talkers from English to Navajo back to English remains at 100% accuracy.
While a majority of Code Talkers returned home to the four-states region of the Navajo Nation after the war had been declared over, two were sent to Japan to relay in code the affects of radiation on the Japanese people back to the scientific community without detection.
When I ask my friend about what he felt about being admonished as a child at the BIA boarding school for speaking Navajo and then later rewarded in war for using it to such successful ends, he said it had been resolved because, "Nobody has ever been able to steal the Navajo language." "Why can't it be stolen?," I asked. "Because it comes from the heart, the mind, and the tongue, leaving no other record." And because of this, he added, "only the speaker and the people closest to him can unlock its true meaning."
Language, it could be said, is the premier urban center kept alive by the community of people using it. How far does it extend and by what means? In honor of my Navajo friend, and all other urban centers kept intact by decent, daily observances, I sign off with the following Navajo [Dine] prayer:
"We are the Dine. Our endurance lies in our beliefs, prayers, chants, language and wisdom. Holding these truths, we return to our homeland within our sacred mountains. Our strength endures everlasting.
(each line is said while turning toward each of the four directions)
In beauty we walk,
In beauty we walk,
In beauty we walk,
In beauty we walk"
Laray Polk lives in Dallas, Texas. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chef of the North: An Interview with Karen Peters
Above, Basket of Wild Strawberries, 1761, private collection, and Still Life with Fish (detail),1769, J. Paul Getty Museum, by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
All food photography below courtesy of Karen Peters. Use the titles to search her blog for the recipes.
Recently, I embarked on one of those side trips that committed foodies can be lucky enough to get an invitation to -- I became a designated taster for a line of organic blended spices created and distributed by Winnipeg chef Karen Peters. (Warning: Do not attempt to compete with me for this job! It is mine!)
My first occasion to be useful came in June. Excitedly, I pried open a 250 mg tin of Karen's Ras el Hanout and sniffed in delighted reverie for several minutes, enjoying the synergy of more than two dozen spices - cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, peppercorns, among many others. Ras el Hanout is a discretionary blend, with ingredients and proportions varying from kitchen to kitchen. Sometimes, it's nothing special; other times, its aroma carries with it a civilization. My vendor of choice for the spices of the Eastern Mediterranean was Maison Hediard, in Paris. But Maison Hediard fell – that’s the only way to put it – and now that it’s been propped up, it’s all different. That was a big loss, for my own efforts to blend those spices - not only Ras el Hanout, but Baharat, Berbere, Mitmita and Za'atar - produced only tragic results. In one whiff, I ceased to worry about all that. Next to Ras el Hanout in my pantry now is Karen's Baharat - a Turkish rub for meats with cassia bark, cumin, black pepper, mint - and there's more to come. I am once again confident that when I prepare the dishes of this region, they will create for diners a civilizational encounter.
I could not help wanting to know more about any chef artful enough to get this stuff right. It's the equivalent of designing a truly great perfume - one that is definitive and characteristic and slots into your mind all the most precise and coveted associations - instead of one that is vaguely pleasant but will never generate a nanosecond's notice. Or, like being able to write - and not by accident - a melody that people will remember instead of one they will forget. All I really knew about Karen Peters when I became a designated taster for her product line was that we liked many of the same classic food movies, that she had four Russian grandparents and a Masters Degree in Philosophy from the University of Heidelberg. How did this add up to her taking the Mistress of Spices title?
By coincidence - this does tie in, so bear with me - I had been corresponding with 3QD columnist Justin Smith about the philosophical aspect of food. Justin had put up a new site, Opera Minora, for archiving his professional papers, and had just given a talk at Caltech, "How to Feed a Corporeal Substance: The Metaphysics of Nutrition from Fernel to Leibniz." In it, I found a line about the "transformation of world into self," and a fascinating reference to "the process of nutrition within the context of a corporeal-substance metaphysics." This resonated with my thinking on those immaterial-seeming fragrance molecules that carried with them a civilization - effecting the transformation of world into dish, perhaps - and I made haste to find out if philosophy came into play in Karen's kitchen.
Elatia Harris: Karen, you have an advanced degree in philosophy from the University of Heidelberg. While you are not the only cook I know highly trained to do something entirely other than cooking – there are lots of us - I want to know whether you believe cooking is a vacation from philosophy, or if philosophical ruminations in fact arise from it.
Karen Peters: I first went to Germany in 1989, after the program I had been planning to attend at the Beijing Teacher’s College was canceled. It was a phenomenal experience. I had Hans-Georg Gadamer as a professor and was keen on studying the philosophy of language, especially examining the ideas of meaning presented by Kant and Wittgenstein.
EH: What about Food World? Not yet on your screen?
KP: I was also fortunate to apprentice in a restaurant in Mannheim during my studies. I find cooking to be very calming, even in the rush of it all for business. I think about the combinations of ingredients and the anticipated delight of the diner. From my own philosophical experience, I try to be aware of the good, the true and the beautiful in all endeavors - including cooking. A lot to ask from an item to be consumed but I hope that I’m paying attention. I want to be aware of that first sip of good tea, coffee or wine and note that I should pay attention because this is good. It likely seems like fuzzy philosophy but being open to the ineffable is being open to delight. Or is that a tautology? In any case, I don’t see cooking as a vacation from philosophy but the action can put me in a state of mind where thinking is clearer. In some ways, having the mise en place kind of discipline is very Kantian in that there is a great deal of freedom arising through the discipline. I can’t have chaos in the kitchen, and I clean as I go. I hope that because of that discipline that I can make culinary ideological leaps as well.
EH: I should try it your way -- every now and then I feel like Mickey in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." I am in control of my result, perhaps not so perfectly in control of my process. The freedom I experience cooking is a freedom from the claims of the verbal imagination.
KP: Although there is great freedom offered in Nietzsche and great process can be learned from Kant, neither would likely be much good in a kitchen - not to trivialize. It's somewhere between the chaos and the control.
EH: Are there systems within thinking about food that you subscribe to?
KP: The Slow Food movement and Hundred Mile Diet tie in nicely with my other degree, a Masters in Environmental Studies. I did my field work on small-scale fisheries in Kerala, India. I was so lucky to have met and worked with so many amazing people. A group of women took me in as their daughter. I felt quite honored and humbled. These women would go into the clean canals without fishing gear and catch shrimp just by sensing their vibrations with their hands. It was absolutely fantastic. They would later sell their catch in the local markets. When we didn’t have a translator, we could communicate about food, family and living in simple terms. Malayalam, by the way, is the hardest language that I’ve ever come across.
EH: That was the language they spoke in The God of Small Things. There was a Western character so put off by it that she said, "I would have thought you'd call this Keralese..." At the time I remember thinking it must be awfully hard, if the word for the language was itself a palindrome.
KP: Malayalam is indeed the language of The God of Small Things. The author, Arundhati Roy, is a Keralite. She's very controversial in her home state as she demonstrates for human rights. When I arrived in Cochin, I looked for a simple language book. Not that easy to find. I found one that didn't help me function in the market, but showed my how I could enroll a child into school and read essays on the importance of the elephant.
Meyer lemon and blood orange marmalade, grilled chicken rubbed with Baharat
EH: What will the M. Env. do for your life - in and out of the kitchen?
KP: My M. Env. means that I am trained to work with communities around their resources. I have done a lot of work around food security issues not only in terms of GMOs vs. organic but in terms of charity and dependency models of food banks vs. self-sufficiency models of community kitchens, gardens and buying clubs. I am hopeful to get out of the kitchen more and work with those ideas with communities or in policy work.
EH: You and your parents traveled a lot. People my parents knew were usually deterred from going off the beaten track by all the really unfamiliar food involved. But your family sounds different. How did traveling lead you to cooking? Or did it?
KP: All of my grandparents came to Canada from Russia in 1925. My Dad’s parents were farmers and my Mom’s parents and uncles traveled due to work with immigrants and refugees. My grandmother traveled extensively throughout her life, and her children and my cousins all seem to have wanderlust. At one reunion, we discovered that in our family, there wasn’t a single country that hadn’t been visited or lived in. The foods of those countries are part of the discovery, and a door to their cultures.
In 1983, after I completed high school, my parents and I went to teach at Chongqing Medical College in Sichuan Province, China. Sharing food, learning and cooking together was a great way to gain understanding. When I came home from China in 1984, I tried to share some Sichuan foods with friends and family. Family members all seemed to enjoy Hot Pot and other spicy foods -- but friends were quite a bit more than hesitant.
EH: Did that surprise you? I made a Tuscan rabbit dish for a friend I hadn't seen in decades, and she acted like it was some kind of a test.
KP: I was surprised -- I was not expecting people to be hesitant to try foods from another part of the world.
EH: Well, hm -- maybe it's about rabbit or very hot spices. Still, the principle holds -- you don't expect it when you think how diverse Canada and Canadian cuisine already are. That's something that can be a surprise to us "other" North Americans.
KP: Canadian cuisine has influences from all over the world. I live in a medium-sized city but can access excellent world cuisines here. Toronto and Vancouver have that to a much larger degree as well as the fusion of cultures. Toronto Chef Susur Lee creates wonderfully inspiring food. His cookbook is accessible and comprehensive. Vancouver’s Tojo’s is listed in the book, Top 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and is a great experience. I love the Vietnamese restaurant across the river from where I live, Binh An, where I can get a huge portion of soothing sour soup for $10 with the tip. The owner tells me with pride that the broth is cooked for over 14 hours. While the food provides enjoyment and nourishment, a few questions and a little interaction provide warmth, insight and possible friendships. I guess that you can be open or closed where ever you are.
EH: Canada is way ahead of the US in policy encouraging a multicultural society.
KP: Multiculturalism is a difficult concept in many respects. I think that a Liberal notion of tolerance is not a desirable concept. That is, if I’m told that I’ll be tolerated, I’d suggest not to bother. Of course, there isn’t a war or violent situation going on here. Also, I am Mennonite and would rather leave a situation than be part of violence. I hope that we are growing up when it comes to addressing “the other.”
Acorn squash soup with lemongrass
EH: You know so much about the food of South Asia -- did you learn all that in Kerala?
KP: For a time, my parents were country reps of a relief and development organization in India based in Calcutta. They lived there for over 4 years. I traveled to visit with them for a while with my grandmother. They had a chef, Kasim, who had been a chef for a Maharajah’s family in Kashmir. I had time to sit and learn from him. I started to learn about cooking by the sense of smell. I also learned about biryanis and other north Indian dishes. I feel very lucky to have these exposures, and I think about the people and places when I cook some dishes. I taught for a while in South Korea, and came to adore good Korean food.
EH: Then you had more material than most to sort through before deciding what you wanted to be when you grew up...
KP: I really don’t think that I ever knew what I would do when I finally grew up. I think that I just knew that I would travel. Maybe our language is how we think but the food is how we love.
EH: I've heard of getting your chops as a cook in some very unlikely
places. But you're the only one I know who did it on a Turkish boat.
Please tell me about that.
KP: I had been home in Canada for a while, kind of floundering as to what to do next. A cousin who set up a thriving tourism business in Bodrum, Turkey, called to say that she needed a chef on her boat right away -- and could I come? A couple of weeks later I was on a boat in the Aegean, learning Turkish and Turkish cuisine, how to be a sailor and a German-speaking tour guide. Great learning curve, and just a gorgeous place to be. I learned so much about eggplants, tea, spices, cheeses, lamb, etc. I learned new cooking techniques as well as different healing properties of foods and herbs.
EH: When you want to get inspired now, what do you do?
KP: I read, of course. But I really love going to the different markets and trying out unknown ingredients. We have wonderful fish markets as well as stores for Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Ethiopian, Halal, India and West Indies as well as local foods. I often go to these markets to see what is new and what could be served in a new way. I have hundreds of Chinese soup spoons, for example, and I look to how they can be used for delightful purposes. For one-bite appetizers of cold soba noodles, stuffed pasta shells, sashimi with grilled udon squares, for example.
EH: If someone wanted to go from being a restaurant habitué type of a foodie to being one who was also a confident cook, would there be a fast lane to that transition?
KP: The economic argument is a great motivator. I usually ask people what their favorite foods are, and if they would like to learn how to make those. Then it's about going back to first principles, just breaking down a recipe to the how and the why with each step.
I had the pleasure of being a guest chef twice for Les Marmitons, a fine group of gentlemen who gather with the mandate, Gastronomy through Friendship. No one seems hesitant, and there is a whole range of skill levels.
I don’t want people to get bound up by the recipes always. I find a lot of grads of the culinary arts programs to be unable to adapt to situations outside of their recipes. In that regard, the informal learner might have an advantage over the trained chef. I have done a locally produced public access television cooking show. I want people to be excited about possibilities and not be intimidated by food. I want people to be brave enough to enjoy making risotto instead of adding water to instant varieties.
EH: I have Heaven knows how many cookbooks, but just a few I really don't like to be separated from. What about you?
KP: There are some I even travel with. One book that I’ve enjoyed, and have taken with me is World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey. I found out in traveling just how authentic her recipes are. They are also great recipes for learning the basics, step by step, such as making yoghurt or paneer. The Larousse Gastronomique offers a great base from which to work. I use it as a springboard to what I might have locally or could have on hand -- wherever I am. Other great books are Fields of Greens, by Annie Sommerville, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, Amuse Bouche, by Rick Tramonto, and two books by Jeffrey Alford, Hot Sour Salty Sweet and Mangoes & Curry Leaves. One book of further inspiration that my husband, Desmond Burke - an architect - gave to me is The Architect, the Cook and Good Taste, edited by Petra Hodgson and Rolf Toyka. It's a series of essays and photos around the idea of the two disciplines.
Stuffed bison tenderloin, elk moussaka
EH: I get from reading your blog that elk is good. When you're looking for local, organic provender in Winnipeg, what else is good?
KP: The gardens here provide so much great local vegetables in a very short
season. To start in early spring with fiddleheads and morels and then
all what the garden grows through the season. Local fish is amazing
with sweet pickerel, Arctic char, Manitoba goldeye and golden caviar.
Wild rice, blueberries, saskatoons, rhubarb, crabapples are all local
products. There is a growing organic meat production here with beef,
bison, elk, lamb, goat, chickens and rabbits. The Trappist monks make
a wonderful local cheese and there is a small artisanal goat cheese
producer nearby as well. Raw milk cheeses face some regulations but I
have found them relatively available. You can find the raw cheeses
more in Quebec than where I live.
University of Manitoba student garden, where Environmental Studies and City Planning students practice permaculture agriculture
EH: You have an incredible Russian bread recipe. I love the photo of it that Desmond took.
KP: The Russian Easter bread is my grandmother's recipe, but it was my husband, Desmond, who baked it as well as photographed it. He's a gifted amateur baker/pasta maker. He even takes the Russian Easter bread out and puts it on feather pillows, as per my Großma's instructions. Desmond isn't from my cultural background but he's really nailed this bread.
EH: When I cook for Russians, I think "mushrooms," because I remember a scene in Speak, Memory where Nabokov's mother was made unreasonably happy by them.
KP: There really is something about mushrooms. Unreasonably happy is
quite apposite to how I feel about mushrooms. I make a porcini mushroom consommé that is reduced and added to and reduced several
times. In the final service, it is a dark and clear mushroom broth
with a few porcini slices topped with a drizzle of truffle oil. I
served it for a wonderful birthday party that I felt honored to
cater. When the soup course came out, the formerly boisterous room
fell silent. I asked what was wrong and they said that they were
enjoying the soup too much to talk.
Russian Easter bread, shitake mushroom bouches
EH: Ah, a moment that one lives for! Is the mushrooming pretty good where you are?
KP: I had gone mushroom hunting a few years prior to that event of the mushroom consommé. We found Chicken of the Woods in autumn on the elm trees in certain neighborhoods. I love mushroom hunting. In early spring you can find local morels, later chanterelles and in the autumn, chicken of the woods. To be invited to go mushroom hunting by regulars is something never to be turned down. With morels, you can get quite giddy in the hunt. You can be looking directly at the mushroom and then have the experience that it has revealed itself to you.
Salmon on a cedar plank
EH: We have some favorite movies in common. Mainly Babette's Feast, Big Night and Tampopo. Those are all between 15 and 20 years old by now - yet even people too young to have seen them first time out know them.
KP: I’ve always loved “food movies”. There is so much delight and passion in them. Babette’s Feast is very inspiring. I’ve prepared formal dinners based on that inspiration and its been so enjoyable.
EH: I’ve read some of your menus – they’re spectacular. I don’t necessarily think of Babette as a cook, but as an artiste who has, after long exile, given everything to be reunited with her materials.
KP: I absolutely concur. Babette is an artist. There is such a celebration when she comes out of isolation from her materials.
EH: There’s a strain of fanaticism in all these movies too. The chef in Tampopo undergoes grueling muscle conditioning to be fit enough to make the best noodles. When she finally succeeds, her lover/trainer leaves her, having boarded up her bedroom window. Well, that’s the price of perfection. Funny that these “food movies” that are so delightful are also quite dark.
KP: I understand – I tend to be a dark thinker but really need the delight and the "Aha" moments. I had a whole semester with Gadamer just on "Ach so." I am keen on the hermeneutical, that quickening moment of understanding, ach so. Perhaps, then, I have more Romantic views of food and feeding the soul. What the Romantic German poet, Novalis, gives us is that every thing, every item and construct is a communication and can be understood.
I relate to the fanaticism of the chefs in these movies, too. I used to be much more fanatical with people when I cooked for them. I wouldn't allow them to come to the kitchen to taste the food, as it was a pure offering that I was creating for them. They really got offended, so I have to dance around that one a lot.
EH: I’ve learned to be a good sport about it. But I will never understand why, when I am orchestrating a superb experience for them, people would want to jump the gun to take a bite out of it – half-cooked, yet.
No such interruptions blending spices, I should think. What made you start your product line with Ras el Hanout?
KP: My cousin was in Morocco and brought me back a tajine and some Ras el Hanout. When I ran out of the spice blend...I just had to have more. I researched it and didn’t find much that matched my experience. I also didn’t find anything commercially available. So I had to make it myself. With a bit of trial and error, I came up with the blend of 28 spices with which I am happy.
EH: Oh, you should be happy with it. What future plans have you for your blended spices?
KP: At the moment, it’s a cottage industry. The product is in demand, however. How to get bigger while retaining full creative control over ingredients is an intellectually worthy problem to be solving.
To inquire about blended spices, contact Karen via her site.
Sughra Raza. City lights. 2002.
Acrylic on canvas.
From the private collection of Jaffer Kolb; posted with permission.
Digital photograph, May 2008.
July 27, 2008
Hitchens on Rushdie
Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic:
Salman Rushdie is so much identified with seriousness—his choice of subjects, from Kashmir to Andalusia; his position as a literary negotiator of East and West; his decade and more of internal exile in hiding from the edict of a fanatical theocrat—that it can be easy to forget how humorous he is. In much the same way, his extraordinary knowledge of classical literature sometimes causes people to overlook his command of the vernacular. Here are two examples of wit and idiom from his latest fiction, The Enchantress of Florence. In the first, an enigmatic wanderer, appareled in a coat of many colors, enters a splendid city:
Not far from the caravanserai, a tower studded with elephant tusks marked the way to the palace gate. All elephants belonged to the emperor, and by spiking a tower with their teeth he was demonstrating his power. Beware! the tower said. You are entering the realm of the Elephant King, a sovereign so rich in pachyderms that he can waste the gnashers of a thousand of the beasts just to decorate me.
This is the offbeat manner in which one might start a tale for children, as Rushdie did in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. By contrast, here is Ago Vespucci in Florence, trying by strenuous exercise in a whorehouse to cure his revulsion at the entry of the king of France to the city.
On the threshold of manhood Ago had agreed with his friend Niccolò “il Machia” on one thing: whatever hardships the times might bring, a good, energetic night with the ladies would put everything right. “There are few woes in the world, dear Ago,” il Machia had advised him when they were still only thirteen, “that a woman’s fanny will not cure.”
Nathan Lane & Faith Prince Sue Me Guys and Dolls
Ed Lake reviews Kluge by Gary Marcus and The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, in The Telegraph:
Why is our language so vague and ambiguous? Why are we so bad at sticking to plans, or keeping track of how we know what we know, or generally doing any of the things you'd hope to be able to do with a superlatively well-engineered brain?
Because it was a kluge. Evolution doesn't, in fact, tend to perfection: it goes with what works and tinkers with it later. That's why the retinas of vertebrates seem to be installed backwards, giving us all blind spots in the middle of our visual fields. Eyes like that do the job well enough, and there's no way of flipping the retina while preserving decent vision across intermediate generations. So we're stuck with them.
Likewise the mind: our meagre reasoning capacity is an afterthought, spatchcocked on to the ancestral systems that have the reins where practical decision-making is concerned. If only our higher mental functions could dominate; alas, the lizard- brain parts have seniority.
Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?
Thomas Schweich in the New York Times Magazine:
On March 1, 2006, I met Hamid Karzai for the first time. It was a clear, crisp day in Kabul. The Afghan president joined President and Mrs. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador Ronald Neumann to dedicate the new United States Embassy. He thanked the American people for all they had done for Afghanistan. I was a senior counternarcotics official recently arrived in a country that supplied 90 percent of the world’s heroin. I took to heart Karzai’s strong statements against the Afghan drug trade. That was my first mistake.
Over the next two years I would discover how deeply the Afghan government was involved in protecting the opium trade — by shielding it from American-designed policies. While it is true that Karzai’s Taliban enemies finance themselves from the drug trade, so do many of his supporters. At the same time, some of our NATO allies have resisted the anti-opium offensive, as has our own Defense Department, which tends to see counternarcotics as other people’s business to be settled once the war-fighting is over. The trouble is that the fighting is unlikely to end as long as the Taliban can finance themselves through drugs — and as long as the Kabul government is dependent on opium to sustain its own hold on power.
How the Mind Works: Revelations
Israel Rosenfield and Edward Ziff in the New York Review of Books:
Jean-Pierre Changeux is France's most famous neuroscientist. Though less well known in the United States, he has directed a famous laboratory at the Pasteur Institute for more than thirty years, taught as a professor at the Collège de France, and written a number of works exploring "the neurobiology of meaning." Aside from his own books, Changeux has published two wide-ranging dialogues about mind and matter, one with the mathematician Alain Connes and the other with the late French philosopher Paul Ricoeur.
Changeux came of age at a fortunate time. Born in 1936, he began his studies when the advent both of the DNA age and of high-resolution images of the brain heralded a series of impressive breakthroughs. Changeux took part in one such advance in 1965 when, together with Jacques Monod and Jeffries Wyman, he established an important model of protein interactions in bacteria, which, when applied to the brain, became crucial for understanding the behavior of neurons. Since that time, Changeux has written a number of books exploring the functions of the brain.
levelHead v1.0, 3 cube speed-run
New Zealand artist Julian Oliver's latest work, levelHead, allows viewers of the piece to interact with a 3D world by simply moving wooden blocks around in front of a web cam. How his work differs from most motion capture controlled art installations, is that the physical item that one uses to control the experience is replaced with a tiny digital world. Through moving and rotating coded blocks, the "player" attempts to move a tiny trapped man through an elaborate, interlocking labyrinth stretching one's spatial memory and logical reasoning skills.
How to Write With Style
Kurt Vonnegut at the San Diego State University website:
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way --- although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.
2. Do not ramble, though
I won't ramble on about that.
3. Keep it simple
As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. "To be or not to be?" asks Shakespeare's Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story "Eveline" is this one: "She was tired." At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.
Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
How hospitals are killing E.R. patients
Zachary F. Meisel and Jesse M. Pines in Slate:
A major cause for E.R. crowding is the hospital practice of boarding inpatients in emergency departments. This happens when patients who come to the E.R. need to be admitted overnight. If there are no inpatient beds in the hospital (or no extra inpatient nurses on duty that day) then the patient stays in the E.R. long past the completion of the initial emergency work. This is what happened to Green, and it has become widespread and common. The problem is that boarding shifts E.R. resources away from the new patients in the waiting room. While E.R. patients wait for inpatient beds, new patients wait longer to see a doctor. As more new patients come, the waits grow. And an E.R. filled with boarding patients and a full waiting room is an unhappy E.R.: The atmosphere is at once static and chaotic. If you or a loved one has waited for hours in an E.R., you know what we mean. The environment can be unsafe and even deadly. A recent study found that critically ill patients who board for more than six hours in the E.R. are 4 percent more likely to die.
More here. [For Tariq Jehangir Khan.]
Looking for a Sign?: Scientifically (In)accurate Horoscopes
From Scientific American:
We Scientific Americans are emphatic empiricists. And although astronomy and astrology have common historical roots, the modern practice of astrology is total hooey. (And we say that only because we choose not to use stronger words than hooey in a family magazine.)
Nevertheless, some staffers were recently musing about what a horoscope would look like in our august pages. (Or September, even.) So here’s a proof-of-concept. It’s not based on science, because it’s impossible to have a horoscope based on science. But it’s science heavy. Specific predictions accompany individual zodiacal signs as per the form of the typical newspaper or magazine horoscope page (and shame on all you allegedly legitimate news outlets for running such garbage). Some of the predictions may seem intimately related to the sign in question. Even so, consider them all totally interchangeable, as the truly important aspect of the coordinates of your birth is the GDP at that time and place. And away we go.
So that's who ate all the pies
From The Guardian:
Whatever the health police think of them, pies are a great leveller. In the late 1690s, a pastry cook called Christopher (Kit) Cat hung up his sign, a cat playing a small fiddle (or 'kit'), in Gray's Inn Lane. His signature dish was a mutton pie, dubbed a kit-cat in his honour, though he also sold cheesecakes, rosewater codling tarts (made with a kind of cooking apple, not fish) and many another inexpensive treat. It was a place where hungry authors could afford to chitchat while eating Kit Cat's kit-cats at the Cat and Kit. The coterie who met there became an institution, under the inevitable name of the Kit-Cat Club, and were a formidable force for social change, not least because theirs was a meritocratic club within a rigidly stratified society: 'A Kit-Cat,' observed poor playwright William Burnaby, 'is a supper for a Lord.'
The members of the Kit-Cat Club were writers of various kinds, politicians and aristocrats. Their names include a litany of famous authors - William Congreve, John Vanbrugh, Matthew Prior, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele - but they also included Jacob Tonson, the most important publisher in London, Robert Walpole and a shoal of peers. The unifying factor was Whiggery. In 1700, Whigs, as opposed to Tories, stood for constitutional government against royal absolutism; they were pro-parliament, progressive and hungry for cultural change. But beyond that, the Kit-Cats were friends. The group at the club's core had known each other since their schooldays. Field's highly intelligent book is about politics and culture, but it is also about male bonding and networking and how it works.
July 26, 2008
children of the revolution
When Julius Caesar marched his legions into Gaul in 58BC, he found a surprisingly coherent federation of barbarian tribes. They had a common religion - Druidism - and the sort of traditions and institutions that allowed vast armies to be marshalled at short notice. Two millenniums before the TGV (train à grande vitesse), the Gauls' high-speed chariots and expressways were the envy of the civilised world. Fine wines and luxury goods were transported safely over vast distances, and a Latin-speaking merchant with a basic grasp of Gaulish could made himself understood from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.
Reading Robert Gildea's sober, concise and masterly history of France from 1799 to the first world war, one is tempted to ask: where did it all go wrong? Or, to put it less frivolously, why, after 2,000 years, did so many educated Frenchmen look back wistfully on the good old days of Vercingetorix, when a patriotic army of handsome, hairy Gauls could inflict a crushing defeat on Caesar's legions?
more from The Sunday Times here.
alfred and emily
Doris Lessing has never been one to shy from bold moves. She married early to escape her overbearing mother, then left her husband and two children, wedding a German Communist classed as an enemy alien during World War II. Her most famous novel, "The Golden Notebook" (1962), was considered boldly feminist and structurally daring. In the 1980s, Lessing upset many of her readers by turning to science fiction. During the same period, she made headlines by submitting a novel to her longtime British publisher, Jonathan Cape, under a pseudonym -- demonstrating, with its rejection, how hard it is for unknown writers to break into print. Last year, when told she'd won the Nobel Prize for literature, she seemed more exasperated than exhilarated by the attention. "Oh, Christ! . . . It's a royal flush," she said.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that, nearing the end of her ninth decade, in what she declares is her last book, Lessing has pushed the boundaries of the memoir form. She does this by splitting "Alfred & Emily" between fiction and personal reminiscence, in order to attack from multiple angles material she's still struggling to understand.
more from the LA Times here.
In 1970, two discrete events helped define what would become known as “land art.” Michael Heizer, who had fled the East Coast for the ascetic rigor of the Nevada desert, had a New York gallery show featuring images of “Double Negative,” a pair of 50-foot-deep, dynamited and bulldozed trenches on a remote mesa near Las Vegas. Later that year, Artforum featured another monumental work, Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty,” an “immobile cyclone” of boulders jutting out from a desolate coast of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
As Suzaan Boettger writes in her definitive history, “Earthworks,” the art presented a curious dynamic. Built far from the white boxes of the New York art world, it could only be easily experienced (and validated as art) through the galleries themselves and the mediated form of photography. This could be powerful in itself: Gianfranco Gorgoni’s famous photographs of the “Spiral Jetty” in Artforum essentially were the “Spiral Jetty” for most people.
But there was another option: See the work.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.
Creative Capitalism: A Conversation
In case you haven't been to the site.
Creative Capitalism: A Conversation is a web experiment designed to produce a book -- a collection of essays and commentary on capitalism, philanthropy and global development -- to be edited by us and published by Simon and Schuster in the fall of 2008. The book takes as its starting point a speech Bill Gates delivered this January at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In it, he said that many of the world's problems are too big for philanthropy--even on the scale of the Gates Foundation. And he said that the free-market capitalist system itself would have to solve them.
This is the public blog of a private website where a group of invited economists have spent the past couple of weeks criticizing and debating those claims. Over the next couple of months we'll be posting much of that material here, in the hopes of eliciting public commentary.
Bill Gates’ speech at Davos calls for a greater involvement of capitalists in the fight against poverty, and is rightly concerned about the need to create a structure that can give would-be creative capitalists the proper incentives to apply their energies to the fight. The main driving force he identifies, and many of the subsequent posts discuss, is public recognition. Consumers, employees, and shareholders may all derive utility from the warm glow of being associated with a company that does good things for the world, and they may therefore be willing to pay for it in the form of slightly higher prices, lower wages, and lower dividends.
And in many cases no sacrifice is required. Firms spend large amounts of money to sponsor things like car races so as to gain brand recognition, presumably because it makes economic sense. One might imagine that being associated with a sufficiently sexy philanthropic cause could be a just as effective way to advertise. I once heard the CEO of TNT, a Dutch transport and logistics company, make this argument very cogently. He explained why he had decided to stop sponsoring Formula One rallies and instead spend the money helping the World Food Program. His argument was that helping the WFP transport food in TNT trucks would do more to build his brand as one capable of rising to the most complex challenges than would a banner on a racing track. This example also underscores another important point, implicit in Gates’s speech and explicit in Abhijit Banerjee’s post: One reason we want to lure the successful entrepreneurs to the development business is that they will bring their business acumen, technical expertise, and creativity to the problem at hand, all of which are badly needed.
For these two reasons, I largely share the optimism evident in Bill Gates’ speech.
Little suckers clear the path to the brain
Kate Benson in the Sydney Morning Herald:
The 52-year-old counsellor, from Chatswood, bought more than 35 leeches from a Victorian farmer and applied them to his body daily. Within five days, a CT angiogram showed the artery had cleared, stunning staff at Royal North Shore Hospital and his family.
Leech therapy, first documented in Greece more than 4000 years ago, is not new in Sydney. More than 50 Richardsonianus australis leeches are kept in a tank at Liverpool Hospital for use on patients who have had skin grafts or severed digits because their saliva contains hirudin, a chemical that acts as a powerful anticoagulant and vasodilator.
More here. [Thanks to Susan Anthony.]
The Science of Satire
Cognition studies clash with 'New Yorker' rationale.
Brilliant comment on the New Yorker cover controversy by 3QD friend Mahzarin Banaji, in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
On the morning of July 14, the Internet was clogged with discussions of the latest New Yorker cover depicting a Muslim Barack Obama and a terrorist Michelle Obama in fist-bumping celebration before a fireplace in which lies a burning American flag, while above it hangs a portrait of Osama bin Laden.
Asked by the Huffington Post whether, in retrospect, and in response to the public outcry, he regretted having produced the cover, the image's creator, Barry Blitt, said: "Retrospect? Outcry? The magazine just came out 10 minutes ago, at least give me a few days to decide whether to regret it or not."
If Blitt were aware of the science of social perception, he wouldn't need a few days to decide. If he were cognizant of the facts about how the mind works, the simple associations that typify the brain's ordinary connection-making, he might have thought differently before he sketched the first flame in that fireplace. If he had paid attention to a few of the dozens of experiments available — even in the popular media — that describe how the mind learns and believes, he and his boss wouldn't have responded as they did to the questions posed to them the day after the cover appeared.