August 31, 2008
nussbaum on roger williams
When we consider the current uproar over Muslim immigration, particularly in Europe, we can see that the allegedly enlightened societies of the West still have a lot of learning to do. Instead of seeing ourselves as fighting on the side of the angels in a great "clash of civilizations," we should see each nation, Western and non-Western, as fighting its own internal "clash" between people who are prepared to live with others on terms of mutual respect and people who seek the protection of religious (and cultural) homogeneity. At a deeper level, each of us is always engaged, within ourselves, in an internal "clash of civilizations," as narcissistic fear contends with our capacities for concern and respect.
In this struggle, it helps to have philosophical friends. Locke, ubiquitously invoked in this connection, is a good enough friend, but somewhat lacking in psychological insight. The history of the North American colonies, however, shows us another friend, an even better one--a hero, really--whose writings, now virtually unknown, can help us greatly as we grapple with problems that are not unlike those he confronted in the seventeenth century. He is Roger Williams. Williams wrote many books, including two lengthy philosophical treatises that are among the major works on religious toleration in the history of Western thought. Prolix, diffuse, and ill-organized, their thousand pages are hardly ever consulted, while Locke's succinct A Letter Concerning Toleration is taught in countless college classrooms. Even Williams's American contemporaries did not have much knowledge of his books, which were published in England.
more from TNR here.
REFLECTIONS ON seeing leonard cohen PERFORM IN MONTREAL ON JUNE 23, 2008
Tickets for this Leonard Cohen concert were very expensive. I paid $180 for this ticket. Because I'm a music critic, it's tax deductible. Also, I thought I'd sell a review to someone, but in the end no one wanted a review. Sitting in the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, I think about what I would write if I were reviewing this for Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. "He seems at once smaller and larger than his songs. And, while I never need to hear 'Democracy' or 'Boogie Street' again, because they were terrible, I also never again need to hear 'Who by Fire' or 'Sisters of Mercy,' because they were beautiful."
"Malgré les prix gonflés," Leonard says, wryly, "j'espère que vous n'êtes pas déçus." Despite the inflated prices, I hope you are not disappointed. While Leonard is playing "I'm Your Man," I do some math. If the concert is three hours long, that's just $60 an hour. Or $15 for 15 minutes. Which is about the same price as a taxi. Or laser tag. This concert is far, far, far better than riding a taxi or playing laser tag. Leonard, I am not disappointed.
more from McSweeney's here.
Elizabeth Bishop died in 1979 and immediately ascended to the heaven inhabited by dead poets—George Herbert, John Keats, and Emily Dickinson—whom everyone venerates. In a review of Alice Quinn’s edition of Bishop’s unfinished poems, William Logan put the following question apropos of Bishop’s ascendancy: “Why has our age become so enamored of a poet who almost to the end of her life required a special taste?” Logan doesn’t quite answer that question, though he does suggest what is probably undemonstrable—that readers “adore themselves for adoring her.” Nor can I demonstrate that the poets listed above are indisputably ones whom everyone venerates; but they share a winning vulnerability to the assaults of life, a vulnerability that many sorts of readers find deeply appealing, indeed irresistible. By contrast, two poets who ascended to another part of heaven, John Donne and Robert Lowell, for all their dramatizing of vulnerability (“Batter my heart three-personed God”; “I hear my ill spirit sob in each blood cell”) beat—in Lowell’s words from a letter to Bishop—the “big drum” so forcefully that they seem scarcely in need of our sympathetic concern. At any rate, it’s undeniable that Bishop’s reputation has been untouched by anything like adverse criticism, and it is no surprise that she is the first twentieth-century woman poet to be included in The Library of America.
more from Hudson Review here.
Horrible! The Art of Francis Bacon
Robert Hughes in the Guardian:
In 1988, Lucian Freud had an exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. It was a great success, of course: the German art audience knew about Freud already, and were able to see his work against the background memory of the German realist art movement of the 1920s known as Neue Sachlichkeit, "the new objectivity".
In fact, the pictures were so well liked that one of them was stolen. It was a tiny portrait, done in 1952 on a sheet of copper no bigger than a leaf of typing paper, of his friend and fellow painter Francis Bacon. It belonged to the Tate, but someone just took it from the wall in Berlin and walked off with it.
Freud rang to tell me. It was shocking news. I had never known a friend's painting to be stolen, particularly not a picture that I thought of as an unequivocal masterpiece: that smooth, pallid pear of a face like a hand-grenade on the point of detonation, those evasive-looking eyes under their blade-like lids, had long struck me as one of the key images of modernity, though a dozen years ago practically no one in America, where the big reputations were meant to be made, had even heard of Lucian Freud.
"Well," I said to Freud, "at least there's someone out there who's really fanatical about your work." "Oh, d'you think so ?" he replied. "You know, I'm not sure I agree. I don't think whoever it was took it because he liked me. Not a bit of it. He must have been crazy about Francis. That would justify the risk."
And as I chewed this over later, I came to think that Freud was quite possibly right.
A Lawsuit at the European Court for Human Rights...Against the Large Hadron Collider
Richard Gray in the Telegraph:
Critics of the Large Hadron Collider - a £4.4 billion machine due to be switched on in ten days time - have lodged a lawsuit at the European Court for Human Rights against the 20 countries, including the UK, that fund the project.
The device is designed to replicate conditions that existed just a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, and its creators hope it will unlock the secrets of how the universe began.
However, opponents fear the machine, which will smash pieces of atoms together at high speed and generate temperatures of more than a trillion degrees centigrade, may create a mini-black hole that could tear the earth apart.
Scientists involved in the project have dismissed the fears as "absurd" and insist that extensive safety assessments on the 17 mile long particle accelerator have demonstrated that it is safe.
The legal battle comes as the European Nuclear Research Centre (CERN), in Geneva, prepares to send the first beam of particles around the machine at the official switch on, on September 10, although it will be several weeks before the first particles are collided together.
Opponents of the project had hoped to obtain an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights that would block the collider from being turned on at all, but the court rejected the application on Friday morning. However, the court will rule on allegations that the experiment violates the right to life under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The Dacca Gauzes
Agha Shahid Ali
...for a whole year he sought to accumulate the most exquisite Dacca gauzes. -Oscar Wilde/The Picture of Dorian Gray
Those transparent Dacca Gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:
a dead art now, dead over
a hundred years. "No one
now knows," my grandmother says,
"what it was to wear
or touch that cloth." She wore
it once, an heirloom sari from
her mother's dowry, proved
genuine when it was pulled, all
six yards, through a ring.
Years later when it tore,
many handkerchiefs embroidered
with gold-thread paisleys
were distributed among
the nieces and daughters-in-law.
Those too now lost.
In history we learned: the hands
of weavers were amputated,
the looms of Bengal silenced,
and the cotton shipped raw
by the British to England.
History of little use to her,
my grandmother just says
how the muslins of today
seem so coarse and that only
in autumn, should one wake up
at dawn to pray, can one feel that same texture again.
One morning, she says, the air
was dew-starched: she pulled
it absently through her ring.
From Half Inch Himilayas (Wesleyan U.P., 1987)
How to paint the MONA LISA with MS PAINT
And Mona Lisa painted another way:
Two of a Kind
From The New York Times:
Why is this preposterous? Because Orwell and Waugh were, in almost every salient respect, precise opposites. Orwell conjured up the nightmarish dystopia of “1984.” Waugh’s best-known work, “Brideshead Revisited,” was a reverie about a vanished age of Oxford privilege, titled Catholic families, large country houses and fastidious conscience. Orwell was tall, gaunt and self-mortifying, a socialist with an affinity for mineworkers and tramps. Waugh was a short, plump, florid social climber and a proud reactionary who declared, “I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants.” Orwell fought on the loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War. Waugh announced, “If I were a Spaniard I should be fighting for General Franco.” Orwell could tell you how to make a perfect cup of tea or where the best place was to roast a potato (under the meat). Waugh could give you advice on laying down a wine cellar or dressing like Beau Brummel on a budget. Orwell thought “good prose is like a window pane,” forceful and direct. Waugh was an elaborate stylist whose prose ranged from the dryly ironical to the richly ornamented and rhetorical. Orwell was solitary and fiercely earnest. Waugh was convivial and brutally funny. And, perhaps most important, Orwell was a secularist whose greatest fear was the emergence of Big Brother in this world. Waugh was a Roman Catholic convert whose greatest hope lay with God in the next. Indeed, about the only thing Orwell and Waugh seem to have had in common was the rather boring fact that they were both Englishmen born to middle-class families in 1903.
So what could David Lebedoff be getting at in “The Same Man”? Is he deliberately trafficking in paradox? Is he employing some sort of dialectical magic in which each thing is identical to its opposite?
Living Between Memoir And History
Sara Suleri is now a noticeable postcolonial literary figure. Her first and third book are memoirs but there is also sufficient commentary on Pakistan’s post-partition history. Perhaps, one reason to write the history of Pakistan under the umbrella of fictional memoir is that in Pakistan, text book history is often distorted and tailor-made for the ideological suppression of the community. Suleri’s narratives have even greater relevance in the present times as contemporary Pakistan grapples for political stability. Poised to dispense the dual role of the creative writer and an academic, she has also contributed to post-colonial theory. While there is nothing apparently ground-breaking in merging memoir, autobiography and history by a Pakistani post-colonial woman writer, a greater degree of critical concern is attached to the narrative form of her books. It is safe to say that Suleri’s books are not novels but these books have basic ingredients necessary for the making of fiction.
The novel, by virtue of its form, includes the autobiographical trivia and subliminal experiences of the author as a character and narrator. The 19th and early 20th-century European novel is irretrievably autobiographical because the writers were more insightful about the advantages and disadvantages of depicting personal and public life. Suleri herself has been ambiguous about the form of Meatless Days (1989). She has called the book ‘a chronicle of the inextricably married histories’ and having said that she appropriates the Shakespearean method of fictionalising history. Shakespeare has also written chronicles and those were given a dramatic life. Suleri has rightly caught the Shakespearean habit of making history look like fiction, but the temporal pressures in the days of Shakespeare were much different from that of present times. The author finds herself in a world (post-colonial/political) which demands a logical fidelity to one’s cultural identity in the face of larger world conflicts.
August 30, 2008
Joshua Knobe and Kwame Anythony Appiah On Politics and Identity
Does Public Ignorance Mattter for Electoral Outcomes?
Larry Bartles over at his web page:
One of the best-selling political books of this election season is Just How Stupid Are We?, a report on “the truth about the American voter” by popular historian Rick Shenkman. Shenkman’s little book presents a familiar collection of bleak survey results documenting some of the many things most Americans don’t know about politics, government, and American history. He concludes that “public ignorance” is “the most obvious cause” of “the foolishness that marks so much of American politics.” Lest this conclusion seem dispiriting, an obligatory hopeful coda offers anodyne proposals for civic improvement.
Never mind whether more civics courses and “democracy parties” are really going to stem the tide of public ignorance. The reader’s first response to Shenkman’s indictment should be: So what?
Does it really matter whether voters can name the Secretary of Defense or know how long a senator’s term is? The political consequences of “public ignorance” must be demonstrated, not assumed. And that requires focusing not just on what voters don’t know, but on how what they don’t know affects how they vote. Do they manage to make sensible choices despite being hazy about the details of politics and government? (Okay, really hazy.) If so, that’s not stupid—it’s efficient. Moreover, what really matters is not whether individual voters go astray, but whether entire electorates do. A lot of idiosyncratic individual behavior can be submerged in the collective verdict of 120 million voters.
Who was Noah? The Bible tells us little. He was the flood hero of course, but what else? A drunken viniculturist who lived to the age of 950; who was 600 at the time of the flood and 500 when he fathered Shem, Ham and Japheth. His wrinkled bottom was ogled by his 100-year-old sons when he passed out from drunkeness in his tent one night. But was he not also an ‘upright man’ and a man who ‘walked with God’?
Each year hundreds of pilgrims, known as ‘Arkeologists’ make their way to Mount Ararat (where the Turkish, Armenian and Iranian borders meet) hoping to find clues and relics. Some return home with splints of wood, others only with soft memories of mystic vision. Arkeologists are simple folk, of whom the late Apollo astronaut, James Irwin, was one. They ignore the fact that in Genesis, Noah’s ship came to rest ‘in the mountains of Ararat’, which is not the same as ‘on Mount Ararat’. Never mind, they say, and never mind that the modern ‘Mount Ararat’ is situated outside the old Kingdom of Ararat and is not therefore among the ‘Mountains of Ararat’. Why should Arkeologists care if their mountain only got its name from Marco Polo in the 13th century?
more from The Spectator here.
Poets and critics have been around for a long time, and some writers have been both poets and critics, but the “poet-critic” was invented in the 20th century. This hybrid role was created by T. S. Eliot and then adapted by a generation of poets who won positions in American colleges as literary critics, before the M.F.A. in creative writing gave poets jobs teaching writing workshops. The poet-critics of that era shared a point of view. They were against experimental literature. They valued rhyme and meter not only as expressive forms, but as safeguards against sentimentality, narcissism and even madness. They saw poetry as a way to preserve the individual’s spiritual and intellectual integrity in a society dominated by science and mass culture. They praised reason and proportion, but their mood was apocalyptic.
Adam Kirsch is a poet-critic of this type. He has taken up the aesthetic ideas of Eliot and his successors with anachronistic fidelity. Kirsch is not an academic; most of the essays in “The Modern Element,” his new book on contemporary poetry, first appeared as book reviews in The New Republic. Kirsch writes with admirable clarity for a general reader not automatically familiar with the poets he discusses. But when he is done with his poets, the general reader does not have much reason to read them. Like the poet-critics he admires, Kirsch mounts a defense of poetry at the expense of poetry he disapproves of.
A performance drug that could actually increase the fairness of Olympic contests?
Carl Elliott in The Atlantic:
Beta blockers seem to be especially good performance enhancers when the performance in question involves an anxiety-producing public setting. This is because a large part of the anxiety of performing in public comes from the worry that one’s anxiety will become outwardly obvious. Most people who worry about public speaking, for example, aren't worried that they'll flub their lines, trip and fall as they approach the podium, or deliver an hour-long speech on television with their pants unzipped. They worry that their anxiety will become apparent to the audience. They're terrified that their hands will tremble, that their voices will become high-pitched and quivering, and that beads of sweat will appear on their foreheads and upper lip, like Richard Nixon trying to explain Watergate. This is why beta blockers are so useful; people who have taken a drug that blocks the outward effects of their anxiety become less anxious—not because the drug is affecting their brain, but because their worst fears are not being realized.
Beta blockers have been around since the 1960s, but it took a while before anyone noticed how useful they were for performance anxiety. Probably the first performers to start using them widely were musicians, especially classical musicians, whose hands can get clammy or tremble during a concert performance.
Samuel Beckett in Lego -- Endgame, Scene I
Jesus Is Magic
Catherine Price in Mother Jones:
As the annual convention of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians kicks off on a hot July afternoon, the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University is awash in displays of irreverent reverence. Ventriloquists converse with Scripture-quoting puppets, unicyclists pedal through the halls, and a man plays "Amazing Grace" on a turkey baster. In the gym, vendors sell mysteriously materializing Communion cups, paper that dissolves in water (perfect for making sins "disappear"), and fire-spouting Bibles ($50 each, they open "with or without flames"). Visitors to the auditorium are greeted by a Noah's ark and Jesus, life-size and complete with cross and crown of thorns, made from balloons by a group of self-described "balloonatics." Outside, preteens wearing gold crosses and short shorts practice high kicks: The five-day event coincides with a gathering of the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders.
One of the main attractions is Duane Laflin, a 54-year-old former fellowship president who's known for taking his showmanship as seriously as his message. Notebook- and camcorder-wielding fans pack into a small auditorium to see him deliver a lecture titled "Gospel Magic With a 'WOW' Factor."
Laflin opens with a series of standard scarf tricks that ends with a twist—a silk square emblazoned with Jesus' face.
More (including video) here.
Little Cambray Tamales
(makes 5,000,000 little tamales) - for Eduardo and Helena
who asked me for a Salvadoran recipe
Two pounds of mestizo cornmeal
half a pound of loin of gachupin
cooked and finely chopped
a box of pious raisins
two tablespoons of Malinche milk
one cup of enraged water
a fry of conquistador helmets
three Jesuit onions
a small bag of multinational gold
two dragon's teeth
one presidential carrot
two tablespoons of pimps
lard of Panchimalco Indians
two ministerial tomatoes
a half cup of television sugar
two drops of volcanic lava
seven leaves of pito
(don't be dirty-minded, it's a soporific)
put everything to boil
over a slow fire
for five hundred years
and you'll see how tasty it is.
Translated from the Spanish by D.J. Flakoll From
WOMAN OF THE RIVER (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989)
A work in progress
From The Guardian:
Of all the beneficiaries of literary luck, Timon of Athens is perhaps the luckiest. All of Shakespeare's plays that appear in the First Folio would have been lost had the playwright's actor colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell not preserved them for posterity. But Timon was not supposed even to have been in the Folio. It takes the space reserved for Troilus and Cressida. Since that play had already been published in quarto, and particularly since there was some argy-bargy over copyright, another had to be dropped in that fitted. Timon was the play. To celebrate that good fortune, and at the invitation of Guildhall in London, I find myself waiting one morning at Guildhall Library with two of the actors from the Globe's revival of Shakespeare's satire - Simon Paisley Day, who plays Timon, and Patrick Godfrey, who is Flavius. The library holds one of the best Folios in existence, and this is the first time I have come into contact with one.
There is a certain Indiana Jones quality about the experience, as I imagine there would be for anyone from the literary world or the theatre. The First Folio is shrouded in mystery: is it all Shakespeare's work? How were the plays collected, and by whom? How much impurity is in them? There is also the Folio's tangled journey through time, as the 400 copies got sold and resold, and travelled all over the place, and were buried, and dug up, and stolen, and found, and collected, and became artefacts. There are only 14 so-called "perfect" copies left, one of which is here at Guildhall. Above all, there is the excitement of coming into contact with something so authentic, so close to the source, so in touch with the original magic.
The physical modesty of the Folio also has a kind of Indiana Jones aspect to it. At the end of The Last Crusade, the hero has to choose which of a selection of goblets and cups is the Holy Grail. Unlike the villain who goes for the gaudiest, Indiana walks past all the jewel-encrusted containers, and goes for the plain wooden cup. At Guildhall, we are shown down two staircases, into a small, brightly lit room. There, on the table, resting on cushions, is an unassuming book, about two feet by one, and three inches thick, which was rebound in leather a hundred years ago. We gather round, and there is a gentle holding of breath on opening it, but any anticipation that it might shine or glow, or that some literary radioactivity will pour out of it is disappointed.
From The New York Times:
MARRYING ANITA A Quest for Love in the New India
By Anita Jain
Like many single women looking for love in New York, the journalist Anita Jain was fed up with the local dating scene. In 2005, Jain, who was then 32, wrote an article for New York magazine — “Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craiglist?” — in which she wondered whether she should let her Indian relatives find her a husband. It seemed tempting. What marriage-minded woman doesn’t dream of never having to walk into a singles bar again? Yet, while few modern Westerners would be willing to outsource their spousal selection (heck, most won’t even let their mothers set them up on a coffee date), Jain actually hopped on a plane to Delhi. It was the reverse journey her father had taken more than three decades earlier, when he left his homeland for America in search of better job opportunities. Jain, on the other hand, was going to India for what she hoped would be better dating opportunities.
It isn’t until the final weeks, when her parents visit, that she tries the arranged marriage route. By then, it’s apparent that while you can take the girl out of America, you can’t take American ideals out of the girl: she still craves a romantic spark. Of course, there’s nothing new in the story of a woman seeking a husband. What’s new here — and stunningly so — is Jain’s engaging, intelligent voice, at turns wry (when she catches sight of a former Sikh suitor without his turban, she comments: “Now that I can actually see him, I realize he’s kind of cute”) and provocatively curious (why do her smart, married Indian cousins, who aren’t allowed to defecate during the day in their own homes, seem more at peace with their lives than she is?). The result is less a dating memoir than a thoughtful, incisive exploration of the nature of connection. Ultimately, Jain seems to be asking, Is modernization really progress? After all, if with choice comes freedom, then why do so many single women feel imprisoned by their loneliness?
August 29, 2008
Mohsin Hamid on Pervez Musharraf
From Time Magazine:
Musharraf's legacy is a mixed one. Like many Pakistanis, I was appalled when he seized control of Pakistan in 1999. Pakistan had stagnated in the 1990s under the bickering and incompetent elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and her rival Nawaz Sharif. But I recalled the damage done by the oppressive dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s and had no desire to see Pakistan revert to military rule.
I began to revise my opinion of Musharraf after 9/11. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in response to terrorism, and the terrorist attack on its parliament later that year led India to threaten to do the same to Pakistan. Musharraf seemed to offer firm leadership in this time of crisis, managing to reverse Pakistan's policy of support to the Taliban and embarking on a normalization process with India.
By the midpoint of Musharraf's nine-year rule, a combination of sound economic policies and foreign aid had resulted in rapid growth for Pakistan. Optimism was in the air, and Pakistani friends of mine who had lived abroad for years — artists, bankers, architects, professors — were flocking back home.
Musharraf spoke in favor of tolerance, women's rights and moderate interpretations of Islam. He liberalized the media, allowing dozens of private television channels to operate and freely criticize the government.
The American John Milton
Robert Pinsky in Slate:
Great art is great not because it enters an academic curriculum, and neither is greatness affirmed by the awarding of prizes or titles. But great is not necessarily a vague term. It can indicate work that penetrates the shapes, feelings, ideas, and sounds of a culture, as in the cadences of speech. Sometimes that kind of penetration is so deep, so transforming, that it is nearly invisible, or barely acknowledged.
W.E.B. Du Bois, the American essayist and political leader, begins the peroration of his great essay "On the Training of Black Men" with a sentence like a symphonic chord, fortissimo, compact, rousing:
I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.
This statement, and the paragraph it introduces, come at the climax of an argument against the idea of measured progress, associated with Booker T. Washington: first training a generation of freed slaves to be cooks and carpenters, then a generation of clerks, then artisans, and, finally, in four or five generations, doctors and judges and scholars. Du Bois, on the other side of this famous and crucial American argument, had emphasized individual qualities: "teach the workers to work and the thinkers to think; make carpenters of carpenters, and philosophers of philosophers, and fops of fools."
three scoops of rice and a piece of clothing from Hnin Se
When night falls in Rangoon, the city’s spectacular decay—patches of black mold devouring the yellowed walls of colonial buildings, trees growing wildly into crumbling third-story terraces—nearly disappears from view. The tea shops fill up, locals crowd the bookstalls on Pansodan Road, and the city, which seems furtive and depressed by day, becomes a communal stage. In the Chinatown district, two men in an alley crank out schoolbooks with a hand-operated printing press. At a sidewalk fish market, women sell shrimp, scallops, and squid by candlelight, while two teen-agers nearby strum guitars. Further east, along the Rangoon River, in the old residential quarter of Pazundaung, the wooden houses are open to the street, like storefronts, revealing an old woman sitting on a couch, a living-room shrine strewn with votive candles, and two men laughing as they listen to a radio.
One such evening in June, I had dinner at an outdoor restaurant north of downtown with a young man I’ll call Myat Min. He grew up in a working-class township on the outskirts of Rangoon, the son of a mechanic and a woman who sold spices from Thailand. His father had been trained by British Air Force officers, and in the years after the 1962 coup, which gave control of the country to the Burmese military, he kept the family radio tuned to the BBC. Each evening, he ate fried noodles, listened to the news in English, and cursed the dictatorship.
more from The New Yorker here.
Last year, Stanford University Press published a selection of Hannah Arendt's essays on the arts under the title "Reflections on Literature and Culture." One of the pieces in the volume was Arendt's review of a 1945 translation of the novella "Rock Crystal," by the 19th-century Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter. To Arendt, Stifter (1805-68) was "one of the very few great novelists in German literature," whose work stood out for its "pure happiness, wisdom, and beauty." Above all, Arendt stressed the power of Stifter's natural descriptions: He was "the greatest landscape painter in literature ... someone who possesses the magic wand to transform all visible things into words."
In casting Stifter as a writer of lucid serenity, a maker of natural idylls, Arendt was following a long critical tradition. One standard history of German literature describes him as "a poetic soul" with "a serious, sane view of life," who remained "untouched by the political currents of his age." It all sounds a bit dull and worthy, and perhaps helps to explain why Stifter remains almost unknown to English readers, despite his high rank in German literature. As even Arendt acknowledged, "nothing in our time or in the non-German literary tradition ... meets this work half-way. Our sense of homelessness in society and of alienation in nature ... are constantly contradicted by Stifter."
more from the NY Sun here.
if tank glut treasure, no pain
A lone gunslinger rides into town, ties his horse to the hitching post, and strides down the middle of Main Street. Two rival gangs come flooding out of their respective hideouts: the White Gang on one end of the street, the Reds on the other. There's a buried treasure hidden somewhere nearby, and everyone's crazy to find it, so the lone gunman stands between the two gangs and makes them an offer.
"Witch axe gonna by it. Marvy rose? What there—if tank glut treasure, no pain."
Welcome to Sukiyaki Western Django (First Look), the English-language Western by Japanese director Takashi Miike. The all-Japanese cast, augmented by Quentin Tarantino in two cameo roles, learned their English dialogue phonetically and attack their lines as if the words were small furry animals that need to be beaten into submission. The dialogue is crammed with weird, Christopher Walken-esque line readings and bizarre placement of emphases—phrases like "You old biddy," "Dang!" and "You reckon?" become hilariously divorced from meaning. But, like an alcoholic reduced to drinking sterno, the more you drink, the more brain cells you fry, and the better it tastes. Before long you not only start to understand Miike's "through the looking glass" English but also to appreciate the cadences. It's something like the dialogue in Deadwood or Cormac McCarthy's writing: stiff, alien, occasionally silly but not without a hypnotic elegance all its own.
more from Slate here.
Elias Khoury remembers his friend Mahmoud Darwish
From Abu Dhabi's The National:
“What will we write when you’re dead?” I asked him. And he told me a story about the assassination of Ghassan Kanafani.
Darwish recalled that he was taken by surprise when the Palestinian poet Kamal Nasser walked angrily into his office at the Palestinian Research Centre in 1972, holding the obituary The Poet had written for Kanafani. Nasser threw the article on the desk and demanded, gently, “What will you write about my death, now that you’ve written everything in this article?”
Less than a year later, when Nasser too was assassinated by Israel, Darwish wrote the poem Palestinian Wedding, in which:
Never will lover reach lover
Except as martyr or fugitive.
From Harvard Magazine:
As academics work to understand the architecture of the universe, they sometimes uncover connections in mysterious places. So it is with Smith professor of mathematics Richard L. Taylor, whose work connects two discrete domains of mathematics: curved spaces, from geometry, and modular arithmetic, which has to do with counting. Taylor has spent his career studying this nexus, and recently proved it is possible to use one domain to solve complex problems in the other. “It just astounded me,” he says, “that there should be a connection between these two things, when nobody could see any real reason why there should be.”
This is not the first instance of finding in geometry an elegant explanation for a seem- ingly unrelated phenomenon. Scholars during the Renaissance, seeking a mathematical basis for our conceptions of beauty, fingered the so-called Golden Ratio (approximately 1.6 to 1). Some analyses find the ratio in structures—most famously the Parthenon—built centuries before its first written formulation. More recently, scientists have found that the faces people find most beautiful are those in which the proportions conform most closely to the ratio. The geometry-arithmetic connection explored by Taylor solves another puzzle that has enticed mathematicians across centuries. In 1637, French mathematician Pierre de Fermat scrawled in a book’s margin a theorem involving equations like the one in the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2), but with powers higher than two. Fermat’s theorem said such equations have no solutions that are whole numbers, either positive or negative. Go ahead, try—it is impossible to find three integers, other than zero, that work in the equation a3 + b3 = c3.
The French mathematician also wrote that he had discovered a way to prove this—but he never wrote the proof down, or if he did, it was lost. For more than 350 years, mathematicians tried in vain to prove what became known as Fermat’s Last Theorem. They could find lots of examples that fit the pattern, and no counterexamples, but could not erase all doubt until Princeton University mathematician Andrew Wiles presented a proof in 1993.
His discovery made the front page of the New York Times, but six months later, the Times reported that another mathematician had found a mistake in the new proof.
Politics, Spectacle and History Under Open Sky
From The New York Times:
Under clear skies after a humid day, the crowd of nearly 80,000 was a hodgepodge of suited Democratic donors, senators, delegates, party bigwigs, celebrities, political tourists, teenage volunteers and older voters — many of them African-American — bent on seeing a moment they had thought they would never witness. Some waited for five hours in baking heat in a line up to a mile long to come to the stadium. “I have no reason to be here other than to be a part of history,” said Janelle Murph, who had booked a last-minute flight from Baltimore to see the first African-American accept the nomination of a major party on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “When I realized it was on that anniversary, it just felt like fate. I had to be there.”
As afternoon turned to evening, the mood evolved from giddy to serious to — by the time Mr. Obama was talking about Iraq — nearly silent. Mr. Obama’s face loomed on big video screens overhead while he spoke. About half of the crowd remained standing throughout, a group that included far more young people in the stands than delegates on the floor.
An elderly African-American man removed his oversize red, white and blue hat in deference as Mr. Obama spoke.
Akeel Bilgrami on Gandhi
In the philosophical tradition Gandhi is opposing, others are potential objects of criticism in the sense that one’s particular choices, one’s acts of moral conscience, generate moral principles or imperatives which others can potentially disobey. For him, conscience and its deliverances, though relevant to others, are not the well-spring of principles. Morals is only about conscience, not at all about principles.
There is an amusing story about two Oxford philosophers which makes this distinction vivid. In a seminar, the formidable J L Austin having become exasperated with Richard Hare’s huffing on about how moral choices reveal principles, decided to set him up with a question. ‘Hare’, he asked, “if a student came to you after an examination and offered you five pounds in return for the mark alpha, what would you say?” Predictably, Hare replied, “I would tell him that I do not take bribes, on principle!” Austin’s acid response was, “Really? I think I would myself say, ‘No thanks’. ” Austin was being merely deflationary in denying that an act of conscience had to have a principle underlying it. Gandhi erects the denial into a radical alternative to a (western) tradition of moral thinking. An honoured slogan of that tradition says, “When one chooses for oneself, one chooses for everyone”. The first half of the slogan describes a particular person’s act of conscience. The second half of the slogan transforms the act of conscience to a universalised principle, an imperative which others must follow or be criticised. Gandhi embraces the slogan too, but he understands the second half of it differently. He too wants one’s acts of conscience to have a universal relevance, so he too thinks one chooses for everyone, but he does not see that as meaning that one generates a principle or imperative for everyone. What other interpretation can be given to the words ‘One chooses for everyone’ in the slogan, except the principled one?
In Gandhi’s writing there is an implicit but bold proposal: “When one chooses for oneself, one sets an example to everyone.” That is the role of the satyagrahi. To lead exemplary lives, to set examples to everyone by their actions.
More here. [Thanks to Thomas Zipp.]
August 28, 2008
The Philosopher's Annual 10 Best Philosophy Papers, 2007
Via bookforum (links available over at The Philosopher's Annual):
“Reflection and Disagreement”
from Nous 41 (2007), 478-502
“Why Nothing Mental is Just in the Head”
from Nous 41 (2007), 318-334
“Socrates' Profession of Ignorance”
Michael N. Forster
from Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 3 (2007), 1-36
“When is a Brain Like a Planet?”
from Philosophy of Science 74 (2007), 330-347
Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Convention
Amitava Kumar reports from the DNC, in the Indian Express:
Near the end of his book The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama recalls a phone conversation with his wife Michelle after getting elected to the U S Senate, a conversation during which he began to tell her about a significant piece of legislation that he was fighting to get passed. But Michelle Obama had something else on her mind. She said to her husband, “We have ants.”Ants?
Yes, they were the problem. In the kitchen and in the bathroom upstairs. Michelle wanted Barack to pick up ant traps for their home. This conversation made the rookie Senator wonder if someone like Ted Kennedy or John McCain bought ant traps on the way home from work.
The point of the anecdote, I think, was to establish that Obama’s needs, and his family’s needs, even when he became a Senator, were ordinary. But a part of the story’s purpose is also to tell us that it is Michelle Obama who keeps Barack practical and grounded.
Was this the task that she was once again burdened with on Monday night?
Not to put too fine a point on it but ants just didn’t belong in Pepsi Center. The place is huge, its interiors soar. The very scale of things suggests size and ambition and vast sums of money. What occurred to me as I stood outside was that the building could swallow several of Saddam’s palaces.
In fact, I was still unprepared for the immensity inside and it took my breath away. If the practical entered the picture, as it must, at the level of planning and detail, it was only in the service of something grand. Michelle Obama delivered a powerful and deft speech, telling the story of her family and attempting earnestly to define herself for strangers. Except that she was also responding in a very precise way to criticism made of her in the past, and this open act, because it was being performed on such a big public stage, threatened each utterance by exposing its fragility.
I understood this more fully only when I came out of the Pepsi Center, and a friend of mine, who is black and a writer, sent me a text message from upstate New York saying that Michelle’s humanity had been diminished that evening: the white majority had imposed on her the view that she could be considered acceptable only if she said nothing critical of her own country.
Of Craps and Calculus
Jennifer Ouellette on the research for her upcoming book:
Few science bloggers have the good fortune to write off a Vegas trip as "research", but that's exactly what it was: my next book for Penguin is all about my experiences as a former English major learning calculus, inspired by a series of blog posts I wrote in 2006. (Current working title: Dangerous Curves: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Calculus. "Love" is rather a strong word. "Grudging appreciation" would be more accurate, but it just doesn't make for a snappy subtitle.) It's a testament to how far I have come over the years in breaking out of the kneejerk "mathogynist" mindset that I would even contemplate writing such a book, never mind relish the prospect. Perhaps that's because my pedagogical approach flies in the face of how the subject is usually taught; in fact, the Spousal Unit once observed that I was learning calculus "inside out." (He could have said "ass backwards," but he's far too polite.)
It all started with an impulse purchase of a series of DVD lectures offered by the Teaching Company: "Calculus Made Clear," with a math professor at the University of Texas, Austin, named Michael Starbird. (He also has a DVD lecture series on probability.) The Spousal Unit noted approvingly that there were actual equations/derivations involved in the lectures, so it wasn't just a lightweight "concept" course. Whatever. The two need not be mutually exclusive; a truly good teacher, like Starbird, will include both. He presented the underlying concepts beautifully, plus he told little historical anecdotes along the way about Buffon's Needle, the Newton/Leibnitz debate, Archimedes, even the famed "Dido's Problem" in the Aeneid. Nothing makes an English major happier than a strong, compelling narrative. Give us a good story, and we'll follow you anywhere -- even into the minefield of solving scary equations.
Ever the supportive partner, the Spousal Unit started leaving me simple calculus-related exercises on our resident white board in the mornings, just to shake off the dusty cobwebs of the math portions of my brain. I brushed up on geometry and algebra -- which reminded me how much I'd genuinely enjoyed geometry in high school, before I bought into the whole "mathogynist" self-identity. (Who knows where that came from? I earned straight A's in all my math and science classes.) And I took on some supplementary reading, including books by John Allen Paulos, Jason Bardi's The Calculus Wars (a history of Newton and Leibnitz), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Calculus. (The latter should perhaps be renamed The Half-Wit's Guide to Calculus, since it assumes a bit more knowledge than the average adult recovering mathogynist has at his/her fingertips. That high school trig class was a long time ago....)
Love and Valour in The Ramayana
Neil Gaiman on the Ramayana (MP3, 45min, 18.3MB) Listen now
Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman stories and many others, talks about his film treatment of Ramayana to Ravi Swami, animator, filmmaker and recent judge at the British Animation Awards.
The End of the Prague Spring and the Collapse of World Communism
Christopher Hitchens in Slate:
Forty years ago this week, the greatest English-language poet of the 20th century sat down and wrote an eight-line verse:
The Ogre does what ogres can,
Deeds quite impossible for Man,
But one prize is beyond his reach,
The Ogre cannot master Speech.
About a subjugated plain,
Among its desperate and slain,
The Ogre stalks with hands on hips
While drivel gushes from his lips.
W.H. Auden did not give this telling piece of brilliant doggerel a grandiose name. (He had, after all, called his finest poem "September 1, 1939," simply after the day on which it was composed.) But just as anyone with a sense of history will know what is intended by that date, so it is that those eight lines, titled "August 1968," evoke all the drama and tragedy of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The Warsaw Pact no longer exists. Czechoslovakia no longer exists. The Soviet Union, which tried by force to keep the second entity as a part of the first one, likewise no longer exists. Yet few events in memory can be as real and "concrete"—to borrow a favorite term of Marxist propaganda—as the struggle that once took place in these far-from-ethereal regions of Central and Eastern Europe.
On that day, I was in Cuba at a leftist student summer camp. The news, which wasn't a complete surprise, came to the island very early in the morning. The Cuban Communist Party had been officially neutral regarding the Russian and Czechoslovak parties, so there was no "line." It was announced that Fidel Castro would therefore produce a line in a speech to be delivered that night. Thus one could spend a whole day in a Communist state that had no official position on the main news item. Most Cubans were, one found, instinctively pro-Czech and anti-superpower. At noon came the information, which altered some people's opinion, that Ho Chi Minh had endorsed the Russian action. The Chinese Communists, on the other hand, denounced it as analogous to Hitler's intervention in Prague in 1939. Over the next few days, the world's Communist leaderships gave their verdicts. The Italian Communists: against. The Greeks (languishing under fascist dictatorship): split. The Portuguese (likewise languishing): in favor. The South Africans: strongly in favor. (That hurt.) The Spanish: quite strongly against. The American Communists: Why even ask? In favor, as usual, and of everything. And so it went on. What became clear, however, was that there was no longer something that could be called the world Communist movement. It was utterly, irretrievably, hopelessly split. The main spring had broken. And the Prague Spring had broken it.
The Novelist and the Murderers
Nathaniel Popper in The Nation:
Early last November, the novelist Francisco Goldman was shouldering his way through the Texas leg of a reading tour for his first nonfiction book, The Art of Political Murder. Published by Grove Press in September, the book had received glowing reviews in newspapers and magazines nationwide, and it would soon be included by The New York Times Book Review in its list of the 100 Notable Books of the Year. On November 5 Goldman was relaxing in his hotel before a reading at a Houston Barnes & Noble when his BlackBerry pinged with an e-mail from an innkeeper in the Guatemalan town of Santiago de Atitlán. One day earlier, Guatemalans had voted in a general election, and the winner of the presidential contest was Álvaro Colom, a self-proclaimed Social Democrat and head of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) Party. Quite unexpectedly, Colom had come from behind in the polls to defeat Otto Pérez Molina, a salt-and-pepper-haired general who had campaigned on the slogan of Mano Dura (Firm Fist), a sturdy platform in a country that was ruled by the military and repressive right-wing parties almost without interruption from 1954 until the late '90s. As it happens, the election was also the subject of the e-mail Goldman received from the innkeeper, David Glanville: The Art of Political Murder, Glanville wrote, may have been a decisive factor in Pérez Molina's loss.
Goldman's book is about neither the election nor the candidates. The Art of Political Murder is an investigation of one of Guatemala's most notorious and gruesome killings. On a Sunday night in April 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi had been bludgeoned to death just two days after publishing a report about the Guatemalan military's responsibility for civilian massacres in the country's recently concluded civil war. In the midst of investigating the case, Goldman found sources who told him that on the night of the murder, Pérez Molina was hanging out in a convenience store near Gerardi's church with a few conspirators in Gerardi's murder. That scrap of information is mentioned--but not heavily scrutinized--by Goldman in his book.
evolution and the 'other' disciplines
In the last decades of the twentieth century, constructivism became less dominant in the social sciences. Mead’s own work was brought into question, and evolutionary psychology gained credence, if not full acceptance, under the leadership of entomologist E. O. Wilson. In 1998, Ekman published a landmark edition of Darwin’s book that included Darwin’s original photographs and his own, along with related contemporary research.
In this decade, the evolutionary approach to psychology has almost become an orthodoxy in its own right: bestsellers such as Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature scathingly denounce social constructivism, while Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong posits a “universal moral grammar” in an attempt to explain why humans are nice to one another when from a narrowly evolutionary standpoint they have no apparent reason to be. Evolutionary ideas are also remarkably common in a wide range of popular self-help works, such as Ekman’s own Emotions Revealed and John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
more from The Walrus here.
No single imagination can truly own a city, so when we speak of Proust’s Paris, Joyce’s Dublin, Musil’s Vienna and Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria, we are really clearing a space in our minds where specific happenings and feelings may be identified and reconvened. It is these novelists’ pressing need to set their narratives down in some palpable place, almost as aliens colonizing a territory, rather than a compulsion to celebrate their country or fictionalize an already famous vicinity that leads to their iconic inventions.
This is especially the case with the four novels that make up The Alexandria Quartet – Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea – published in quick succession from 1957 to 1960. It had not been Durrell’s original intention to carry the story over so long a span, but once begun, he found he had an irresistible impulse to complete the full trajectory of a long-fostered obsession. Alexandria became the mise en scène of his masterpiece, if not by accident, at least fortuitously. To state this is not to question the powerful presence of the city throughout the novels. But Durrell’s creative instinct appears to have hit on Alexandria as the right domain for his long-anticipated magnum opus because it had become highly familiar to him during his wartime exile and, more importantly, because an Alexandrian woman had entered his life at a critical point.
more from the TLS here.
a fleeting illusion of knowability
The enduring popularity of hard-copy field guides is more surprising given the current transformation in the way we receive information — news through the Internet, say, or television on an iPhone. Publishers are clearly aware of these developments. Video podcasts supplement the new Peterson guide. The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America comes with a DVD of 138 birdsongs. And some guides, like eNature and FishBase, exist entirely online.
Yet it’s the “throwback” that remains popular. Indeed, the Peterson guide comes with a price of $26; the video podcasts created to accompany it are available for free on the publisher’s Web site.
In Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding, Scott Weidensaul views field guides as vehicles for experiencing for the awesomeness that is life. “Field guides make the natural world knowable; they are the first entry point for most people into the diversity of life on the planet,” he writes. “One can shuffle through life noticing little more than dandelions and roses, but open a field guide and…[w]hat had been a blur begins to resolve itself into myriad distinct shards, each unique, each lovely.”
more from The Smart Set here.
How To Like It
These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let's pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let's dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater, which hasn't been used since last winter.
The dog says, Let's go down to the diner and sniff
people's legs. Let's stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man's mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,
where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights,
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.
The dog says, Let's go to sleep. Let's lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another, and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he'll pull over and rest awhile before
starting again, and at dusk he'll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let's just go back inside.
Let's not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing. The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.
And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept-
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.
From Velocities: New and Selected Poems (Penguin, 1994)
Thanks to Harry Walsh
Gorky's Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences
ntAlexander Nemser in The New Republic:
Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov, the future Maxim Gorky, was born in 1868 in Nizhni Novgorod on the Volga River, and grew up in what he later described in his melancholy, violent autobiography as "that close-knit, suffocating little world of pain and suffering where the ordinary Russian man in the street used to live, and where he lives to this day." It was the world of the provincial petty-bourgeois -- neighbors cut the tails off each other's cats and sons besieged their fathers' houses, knocking all night on the doors with fists and clubs.
Gorky was struck from the start by the chaos and the carelessness of the life that he saw around him. Many of the most lyrical passages in his autobiography describe the silences that followed the savage outbursts of his relatives. He remembered his lazy cousin Sasha, whose two rows of teeth were "the only interesting thing about him": "I liked to sit close to him," Gorky wrote, "neither of us speaking for a whole hour, and watching the black crows circling and wheeling in the red evening sky around the golden cupolas of the Church of the Assumption, diving down to earth and draping the fading sky with a black net.... A scene like this fills the heart with sweet sadness and leaves you content to say nothing." The cruelty around him made him want to embellish and to correct what he saw. In his best work, however, he told his stories without ornament.
Spellbound by monsters of the deep
From The Guardian:
Philip Hoare began his writing career as the biographer of Stephen Tennant and Noël Coward. More recently, his work has turned into something harder to categorise: amazing feats of history and imagination that take you to places within yourself - never mind the places he is actually describing - that you did not even know existed. Leviathan or, The Whale is one of these feats and it is as elusive a beast as the great, unknowable creature that is its inspiration. It begins as memoir, then moves deftly through biography, literary criticism, social history and, finally, nature writing, in a muscular freestyle so compelling and all-encompassing that it cast a spell on me that endured for days after I had done turning its beautifully illustrated pages. Hoare has long been acclaimed as a brilliantly unconventional writer; WG Sebald was among his most devoted fans. This is the book he was born to write, a classic of its kind.
If you are going to write a book that deals, in large part, with the literary monolith that is Moby-Dick, then you had better be sure to have a good first sentence; Melville's three little words - 'Call me Ishmael' - are so unsurpassably resonant they might have come from the Old Testament. Hoare knows this well - he cannot get the book out of his system ('Every time I read it, it is as if I am reading it for the first time') - and he has conjured a pretty good first sentence himself: 'Perhaps it is because I was nearly born under water.' Hoare grew up in Southampton. In the days before his birth, his parents visited Portsmouth's dockyard, where they were taken on a tour of a submarine. As she climbed into its belly, his mother began to feel labour pains.
More here. (Note: For me, Moby Dick arguably remains the best book of American fiction).
August 27, 2008
The Underground Restaurant Movement
Melena Ryzik in the NYT:
The passionate enthusiasts who have opened dozens of unlicensed restaurants in apartments and other private spaces in recent years do not generally aspire to become traditional restaurateurs, with overhead and investors and the health department — a k a The Man — telling them what to do. They are not in it for the money or for Buddha Bar-size crowds; instead, they say, they are in it for the community and the creative freedom. It’s hard to imagine even the most adventurous legitimate restaurant encouraging customers to hack the hindquarters off a boar’s carcass. And underground restaurants have found their niche. Stringing together the farm-to-table movement and a bloggy kind of interactivity, they have gained a following among food lovers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, who have an opinion on local versus organic, prefer intimate and casual to grand and ceremonial, and are open to meeting people and building connections in new ways. No doubt a lot of them are members of a Facebook fan club for bacon.
“Any night of the week you can go out to dinner, but this is unique,” said Jeremy Townsend, a founder of Ghetto Gourmet, an early underground restaurant based in Oakland, Calif. “People want to get out of that cookie-cutter experience and have a shared experience that has some meaning and authenticity, and some story behind it.” Mr. Townsend’s Web site, theghet.com, tracks the movement; the number of underground restaurants has doubled in the last year, to about 70, he said.
Who are the citizens of Europe?
Alfred Grosser in the Rheinischer Merkur, translated in signandsight:
The Irish referendum raises many questions. Now I don't mean the ones concerning the circumstances of the 'No' vote. Questions such as: Was the economy slowing down instead of thriving on EU assistance as it had been until recently? Or: Was the advertising for the 'No' campaign funded by conservative anti-European Americans of Irish descent? No, the issues I want to discuss are commentaries which say: This is what happens when you disregard the people and submit a treaty which has been drawn up undemocratically and is incomprehensible to boot! Philosopher Jürgen Habermas also recently expressed his doubts about democratic practice in the EU. He suggested combining next year's European elections with a European referendum.
My first counter-question would be: Who are the citizens of the EU? The current phrasing of the treaty says: "Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship. Citizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights conferred by this Treaty and shall be subject to the duties imposed thereby."
A small number of citizens of the union have decided for everybody. This does not mean to say that national referenda are illegitimate. In France, the accession of Ireland, together with Britain and Denmark, was sanctioned on 23 April 1972 by a referendum initiated by President Georges Pompidou. However, it attracted little public interest. Sixty-eight percent said 'Yes', but only 60 percent of citizens actually went to the polling booths.
An Interview with Vivian Gornick
In the Boston Review:
What drives you to read a particular book?
There are people who feel obliged to read right up to the minute, whatever’s new and talked about. I’m not one of those people. I have never read with an agenda. But I do feel that I have my job as a reader, to engage fully with whatever I’m reading, that’s the only thing that matters.
How do you see your job as a critic?
I feel about writing criticism as I would about writing out of imagination. It has exactly the same responsibilities as any other kind of writing. Criticism is a window through which the writer looks and sees the world. What’s most important is those particular eyes and that particular vision and that particular way of seeing. Which, if you’re lucky, grows more and more coherent as you grow older. It’s a way of looking at things that I’ve found myself applying, not mechanically, not by virtue of agenda. So that there are all kinds of things I don’t feel obliged to read because I don’t feel they will deepen my way of seeing the world.
zagajewski is having trouble writing about milosz
I had read Milosz for many years before I met him in person. In the late Sixties and in the Seventies I didn't believe I'd ever meet him. He was then for me a legend, a unicorn, somebody living on a different planet; California was but a beautiful name to me. He belonged to a chapter of the history of Polish literature that seemed to be, seen from the landscape of my youth, as remote as the Middle Ages. He was a part of the last generation that had been born into the world of the impoverished gentry (impoverished but still very much defining themselves as gentry): he grew up in a small manor house in the Lithuanian countryside where woods, streams, and water snakes were as evident as streetcars and apartment houses in the modest, industrial city of my childhood. His Poland was so totally different from mine—it had its wings spread to the East. When he was born in 1911 he was a subject of the Russian Tsar; everything Russian, including the language which he knew so well, was familiar to him (though, as his readers well know, he was also very critical of many things Russian). I was born into a Poland that had changed its shape; like a sleeper who turns from one side to another, my country spread its arms toward the West—of course only physically, because politically it was incorporated into the Eastern bloc.
I grew up in a post-German city; almost everything in the world of my childhood looked and smelled German. Cabbage seemed to be German, trees and walls recalled Bismarck, blackbirds sang with a Teutonic accent.
more from Threepenny Review here.
Wind-bells tinkle and cypresses sway in the breeze. The sun casts sharp shadows across an undulating landscape. There are strange concrete forms everywhere: giant open vaults, painted half-domes with strange crests, an amphitheatre ringed by buildings with giant circular openings, little houses sunk into the hillside. Healthy-looking, vaguely hippy-ish people, young and old, stride about in dusty jeans and T-shirts. Beyond are the scrub-covered hills of the Sonoran desert. This not your typical American settlement. In fact, it's not your typical Earth settlement. For one thing, there are no cars or roads. Everything is connected by winding footpaths. Nor are there shops, billboards, or any other garish commercial intrusion. It looks like the set of a sci-fi movie designed by Le Corbusier. Round the next corner, you might expect to bump into Luke Skywalker, or Socrates, or a troupe of dancers doing Aquarius.
This is Arcosanti, 70 miles from Phoenix, Arizona. It's a curious taste of what an environmentally friendly US town could look like, but probably never will.
more from The Guardian here.
silent and slow and heavy and dead
When I was in Iraq, I might as well have been circling the earth from a space capsule, circling in farthest orbit. Like Laika in Sputnik. A dog in space. Sending signals back to base, unmoored and weightless and no longer marking time. Home was far away, a distant place that gobbled up whatever I sent back, ignorant and happy but touchingly hungry to know. And then I was back, back in the world with everyone else, but not returning all the way. Still floating like Laika among the regular people in the regular world.
For me, the war sort of flattened things out, flattened things out here and flattened them out there too. Toward the end, when I was still there, so many bombs had gone off so many times that they no longer shocked or even roused; the people screamed in silence and in slow motion. And then I got back to the world, and the weddings and the picnics were the same as everything had been in Iraq, silent and slow and heavy and dead.
more from the NY Times Magazine here.
Stepping across and into the creek, dear pelican, you find the strangest ways
we turn over on our sides and let the windows breathe a little
sitting in the middle of a driveway looking up at the stars
and kicking at small particles with our feet,
we can hear the cars go by on the freeway and imagine them as water moving
Dear pelican, unconcerned with forward movement unconcerned with the cars
sounding like water and the swing abandoned due to the season of all things
beginning again, we move as the light moves, chasing it across the sawdust
near the creek and plotting ourselves in the middle
taking care is pelicans is water moving and we are unconcerned
with the forward falling of cars and swings and light and pelicans
We just chase the light chase the creek chase the particles in the driveway
moving not backwards moving not like water unconcerned, move like pelicans
plotting and taking care, move like the abandoning of swings due to season
due to all things beginning again like pelicans
* * * * * * *
In anticipation of sudden shifts in weather, we pelicans sit up on the roof top
with the chimneys and the solar panels, borrowing each other’s sweaters
and ignoring the allergies due to the changing of the seasons
beneath the solar panels and next to the chimneys, we pelicans climb up
between the stacks, searching for unimportant documents
concerning books, concerning transportation and we pelicans
The days are filled with pinecones and chimneys and seasonal allergies
The days are filled with solar panels and unimportant documents and pelicans
In the workplace, we tape pictures of lake systems to our hard drives pretending
to river raft while we boot up in the morning
we hang on our cubicle walls pictures of zebras and a garage sale poster of James Dean
we pelicans walk around the block on our lunch break and kick at the leaves so,
wishing them still bright and hanging, thinking intently about the changing
of the seasons and the allergies, thinking about the chimneys and the solar panels
and the endless search for unimportant documents
Wishing the pinecones and lake systems and hard drives
wishing them still bright and hanging
wishing them bright and still hanging
wishing for pelicans and solar panels unchanged by the changing
of the seasons, bright and hanging
* * * * * * *
we of the alarm clock
we of the breakfast cereals
we the cassette tape
we the automatic juicer
we of the frenzied morning
we of the sack lunch
we of the pelicans
We brush our hair over our eyes and peer beneath feeling frustrated and unsure,
we brush our hair like pelicans like preening, walking a little to the left but
looking to the right and walking to the right while looking a little to the left
We are wavering in our decided paths, we of the marching forward
we are wavering in the way we place one foot in front of the other,
in our preferred modes of travel, pelicans
Our wavering is lackluster
is running with our shoelaces laced together
is pelicans preening
* * * * * * *
Oh we pelicans and our frenzied movements
Oh the trees dripping with blossoms like bowls
We pelicans tear ourselves away from the accident, point our eyes straight at the sky
and yawn, pelicans do not speak but push the hair away from the forehead,
pull the hair back and towards the sky
This is communicating
As in communication, we pelicans eat apples picked from backyards next to the freeway with
the grass and the smog and the urban apples blackened from the fumes of the cars and the
air, picking books from our shelves like apples, communicating like pelicans
gathering books and preening, tearing ourselves away from accidents and yawning at
the urban apples and the freeway and the sky
jamming pelican fists deep into our pockets, we communicate by pursing our lips
into tight pelican frowns
We pelicans are trying to find happiness in unmade beds and spilling trash cans
we pelicans are trying to find happiness in the urban apples and the view from freeways
we pelicans are trying to find happiness in books picked from shelves and in pushing
the hair away from the forehead and in communication and in the sky
* * * * * * *
We pelicans are driving several hours to say goodbye to loved ones
we are driving several hours to help pelicans say goodbye to loved ones
We pelicans are walking away from pictures in albums and postcards and warm beds
pelicans are diving and we are diving like pelicans deeply into nighttime,
saying goodbye to pictures of animals and safety and to loved ones
We pelicans are losing loved ones and helping pelicans drive several hours
to say goodbye, we are like pelicans, walking towards a dark hill in nighttime
and carrying with us small loaves of bread
We pelicans are holding hands, pelican-like, and losing loved ones
we bury our heads in each other’s soft necks, and like pelicans softly say goodbye
It is time for saying goodbye to loved ones and to warm beds and to safety
It is time for saying goodbye to pelicans and to pelicans losing loved ones
It is time for driving several hours in the dark thinking about pelicans and dark hills
and loved ones, it is the time for leaving picture albums and for goodbyes to loved ones
and for diving deeply into the unseen like pelicans making postcards and polaroids
of sand and dark hills and nighttime
How to Disown a Body Part
Here's a trick to make a rubber hand come to life. Hide your right hand under a cloth and stick the rubber hand where your right hand should be. Now have someone stroke your right hand and the fake hand at the same time. Before you know it, you'll begin to "feel" sensation in the rubber hand. But what happens to your real right hand? New research suggests that your body begins to disown it. Psychologists have used the rubber-hand illusion for years to study how people perceive body boundaries. How, for example, does your brain know where you stop and a bicycle begins? Brain scans reveal that the premotor cortex, the part of the brain that integrates vision and touch, helps the body adopt the rubber hand, but no one had looked at what was going on with the hidden, real hand.
Lorimer Moseley, a neuroscientist who studies pain at Oxford University in the U.K., and colleagues repeated the rubber-hand experiment on 11 volunteers, but they added a twist: They took the temperature of the hidden hand. During the 7-minute illusion, the researchers found that the average temperature of the hidden hand dropped 0.27°C in all participants; the temperature of other body parts, including the person's other real hand, remained the same. The researchers also tried stroking the rubber hand and the experimental hand asynchronously, a trick that diminishes the illusion. In this case, the hidden hand cooled down but slightly less than when the hands were stroked at the same time. The more strongly volunteers rated the vividness of the illusion, the colder their hidden hands became, the team reports online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Teen Brain: A Work in Progress
From Harvard Magazine:
Your teenage daughter gets top marks in school, captains the debate team, and volunteers at a shelter for homeless people. But while driving the family car, she text-messages her best friend and rear-ends another vehicle. How can teens be so clever, accomplished, and responsible—and reckless at the same time? Easily, according to two physicians at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School (HMS) who have been exploring the unique structure and chemistry of the adolescent brain. “The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,” says Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology. “It’s a paradoxical time of development. These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.”
Research during the past 10 years, powered by technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, has revealed that young brains have both fast-growing synapses and sections that remain unconnected. This leaves teens easily influenced by their environment and more prone to impulsive behavior, even without the impact of souped-up hormones and any genetic or family predispositions. Most teenagers don’t understand their mental hardwiring, so Jensen, whose laboratory research focuses on newborn-brain injury, and David K. Urion, an associate professor of neurology who treats children with cognitive impairments like autism and attention deficit disorder, are giving lectures at secondary schools and other likely places. They hope to inform students, parents, educators, and even fellow scientists about these new data, which have wide-ranging implications for how we teach, punish, and medically treat this age group. As Jensen told some 50 workshop attendees at Boston’s Museum of Science in April, “This is the first generation of teenagers that has access to this information, and they need to understand some of their vulnerabilities.”
August 26, 2008
Lisa Margonelli in The Atlantic:
For more than a hundred million years, termites have lived in obscurity, noticed only by the occasional hungry anteater or, more recently, by dismayed homeowners. Other social insects, such as bees and ants, are celebrated for their industriousness and engineering feats, but popular culture has not gotten around to cheering on termites for theirs—even though they build mounds as tall as 20 feet, which may be oriented north-south as accurately as if plotted with a compass, in order to maximize heat from the sun. The extraordinary powers evolution has bestowed on termites—some protect the mound by spraying chemicals from nozzles on their heads at intruders, while others have snapping mandibles that can decapitate invading ants—have similarly failed to elevate their status. On the contrary: last year, scientists at the London Natural History Museum called termites “social cockroaches” and proposed reclassifying them, in a paper brusquely titled “Death of an Order.”
The more closely one examines the termite, the more mysteries one finds. In some species, if a termite discovers a contamination in the mound, it alerts everyone else, and a hygiene frenzy begins. As a disease passes through a mound, the survivors vaccinate the young with their antennae. When a mound’s queen is no longer capable of reproduction, the workers may gather around her distended body and lick her to death.