November 30, 2008
Acorn Watchers Wonder What Happened to Crop
Brigid Schulte in the Washington Post:
The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.
Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.
But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing.
"I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe," he said. "But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."
The Not-so-Presidential Debate
James Baldwin and V.S. Naipaul
An excerpt from Vivian Gornick's The Men In My Life, in the Boston Review:
It was in India that Naipaul realized that he didn’t fit in anywhere: never had, never would. It had been an illusion to think he could make himself into an émigré English novelist. His mind, he realized, was his only home. He must occupy it. To go on looking hard at the kind of place he had come from—to see things as they are, in the here and now, without blinders or sentiment—was the rock on which he would build his church.
Refusing to put a good face on things became Naipaul’s article of faith. The countries where everything and everyone within living memory had been subjected to empire, where no one had ever belonged, especially not the natives, these were countries, he came to believe, that were overwhelmed by the task of making modern society, and thus hopelessly disposed to lassitude, terror, and an overriding self-deception. Everywhere he went, he experienced—and didn’t hesitate to say he experienced—intellectual deficiency and moral blindness masquerading as an assertion of “authenticity.” He despised the Africanization of Africa in the 1960s and ’70s, as well as Black Power in the Caribbean, the super spirituality of India, and the ever-present social illness of political Islam. He thought it all the mark of a fatal self-division within cultures that had vast need of a compensating single-mindedness if they were to go forward. He was, he felt, watching “people who are really ill-equipped for the twentieth century, light years away from making the tools they’ve grown to like.” And for this he had no pity.
In a 1981 interview, Naipaul, speaking of the breakdown he had suffered thirty years before, revealed that, at the time, he had seen a doctor who recommended treatment. Everything the doctor had said Naipaul had recognized as true, and he had hated him for saying it and stopped seeing him. He had cured himself, he told the interviewer. It had taken two years, but he’d done it. “Intellect and will,” he said, “intellect and will.” This is exactly what he expects of the Third World: that it will “cure” itself, not through some long, harrowing search for self-understanding, but by an act of will that simply pushes back the hysteria of magic and myth, employing the kind of disciplined mental work it takes to create a society ruled by reason and historical analysis.
The Triumph of Roberto Bolaño
Sarah Kerr in the NYRB:
Like Borges—whom he loved and from whom he learned much—Bolaño was attracted to the idea of literature that could speak to the Americas. He introduced a Spanish edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and elsewhere suggested that The Savage Detectives had been his stab at an adventure tale in the spirit of Twain. He hinted at another model worth thinking about: Melville, tackling the overwhelming subject of evil in Moby-Dick. Writing a brief note on a book by the Mexican reporter Sergio González Rodríguez, Bolaño sounded a similar theme. In 2002, González Rodríguez published his reportage on hundreds of unsolved murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez, just south of the Texas border. The murders had begun to accelerate in the early 1990s, in tandem with the drug trade and a proliferation of new assembly plants for exports.
As it happened, Bolaño wrote, the novel he was currently working on dealt in part with the murders, and he had struck up a correspondence with González Rodríguez, frequently seeking his grisly expertise. To the novelist, the story González Rodríguez was reporting on was becoming "a metaphor for Mexico, for its past, and for the uncertain future of all Latin America." It belonged not to the adventure tradition but to the opposite pole of stories of the Americas, the apocalyptic—"these being the only two traditions that remain alive on our continent, perhaps because they're the only two to get close to the abyss that surrounds us."
2666 was published in Spanish in 2004, a year after Bolaño's death. It runs to 898 pages in English and was not quite finished—yet one doesn't really feel the lack of final revisions doing much to diminish its power. At many points, one feels about to be able to compare the book to something else. When a former Black Panther reminiscent in a few details of Bobby Seale gives a sermon on such topics as "danger" and "stars," it feels like a nod to the sermon scene in Moby-Dick. Elsewhere there is an ominousness reminiscent of David Lynch, whose method of digging into his unconscious—whatever may come spilling out—seems an inspiration. Bolaño liked detective pulp, and once claimed he would have liked to be a homicide detective, facing the worst, with access to the scene of the crime. The grimy atmosphere of unsolved mystery should, to most readers, feel utterly familiar. Yet despite all the signposts, we quickly discover that we're no good at guessing what comes next.
Claude Lévi-Strauss at 100
Claude Lévi-Strauss, who altered the way Westerners look at other civilizations, turned 100 on Friday, and France celebrated with films, lectures and free admission to the museum he inspired, the Musée du Quai Branly.
Mr. Lévi-Strauss is cherished in France, and is an additional reminder of the nation’s cultural significance in the year when another Frenchman, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Mr. Lévi-Strauss shot to prominence early, but with his 1955 book, “Tristes Tropiques,” a sort of anthropological meditation based on his travels in Brazil and elsewhere in the 1930s, he became a national treasure of a specially French kind. The jury of the Prix Goncourt, France’s most famous literary award, said that it would have given the prize to “Tristes Tropiques” had it been fiction.
Mr. Lévi-Strauss, a Brussels-born and Paris-bred Jew, fled France after its capitulation to the Nazis in 1940. He spent the next eight years based in the United States, where he taught at the New School for Social Research in New York and was influenced by noted anthropologists like Franz Boas, who taught at Columbia.
On Friday, the culmination of several days of celebration, there were no false notes. At the Quai Branly, 100 scholars and writers read from or lectured on the work of Mr. Lévi-Strauss, while documentaries about him were screened, and guided visits were provided to the collections, which include some of his own favorite artifacts.
fukuyama on the new america
Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria has labeled the world ahead a “post-American world.” I do get a very strong sense that conditions in the global economy are changing in very dramatic ways. The assumptions that undergirded either the Cold War world, or this extended period of American hegemony since, are not going to be sufficient to guide America in the world that is emerging. The first obvious change the United States faces has to do with the emergence of a multi-polar world. This is not a story about American decline. The US remains the dominant power in the world, but the rest of the world is catching up. The power shift in terms of economic earnings is very dramatic. Russia, China, India and the states of the Persian Gulf are all growing while America is sinking into a recession. This underlines how the rest of the world has become decoupled from the American economy.more from NPQ here.
the jews of the other europe
In public perception, eastern European Jewish thought continues to be surrounded by an almost mystical veil. Particularly after the systematic murder of at least three million Polish Jews by National Socialist Germany, the perception of this culture is accompanied by a justifiable sense of irreparable loss. An outward sign of this melancholy, which is never precisely specified and often borders on kitsch, is the playing of klezmer music at any suitable – or indeed unsuitable – occasion. "Eastern Jewry" is itself a culture that is still seen as a mixture of nostalgic perceptions regarding impoverished shtetl life and the sometimes nebulous sayings of miracle-working rabbis. This narrow point of view fails to do justice to the reality of this destroyed culture, to the fact that at least just as many Polish or indeed Russian and Romanian Jews lived in large cities, that – in addition to the largely Hassidic miracle-working rabbis – eastern European Jewish culture also had at its disposal the intellectually demanding philosophy of the misnagdim, a Vilnius-based school of rational, even rationalistic interpretation of the Talmud.more from Eurozine here.
No Curfew On Bombay, Please
Rahul Bose in Outlook.India:
It started with the smses. Ten or 12 from around the world, asking if I was okay. I did what every Bombayite does at such moments: turned on the TV. It makes you wonder about the pre-sms terror days: could we have stopped, for instance, the damage caused by rumour-mongering if we had mobile phones and smses in 1992-93? With all that Bombay has been through, I was still unprepared for the news—the sheer audacity of Wednesday night’s attacks. Bombay is going to suffer internationally for the next five to 10 years, was my first thought when I saw the news. It’s not merely a cricket tour being called off, but the inevitable perception that Bombay is now unsafe for foreign tourists and businessmen. This attack is very different from bombs going off in Jhaveri Baazar or the stock exchange, which were meant to shatter the morale of the ordinary Bombayite. Last night was intended to send a message to the world.
I stayed glued to the TV screen till 5.15 am. It was an especially poignant moment to watch the Taj go up in flames. The Taj has an emotional connection, especially for those of us in south Bombay. I’ve been closely associated with it since I was in advertising—been to the rooms which were now burning, to the dome, to the presidential suite. I’ve marvelled at its antiquity and structure. It’s not just a five-star hotel but is iconic for the values of old Bombay, where the best and brightest walked through its doors.
But what do last night’s events signify to the ordinary Bombayite?
Some people flee some other people.
In some country under a sun
and some clouds.
They abandon something close to all they’ve got,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now preens.
Their shoulders bear pitchers and bundles.
The emptier they get, the heavier they grow.
What happens quietly: someone’s dropping from exhaustion.
What happens loudly: someone’s bread is ripped away,
someone tries to shake a limp child back to life.
Always another wrong road ahead of them,
always another wrong bridge
across an oddly reddish river.
Around them, some gunshots, now nearer, now farther away,
above them a plane seems to circle.
Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or, better yet, some nonexistence
for a shorter or a longer while.
Something else will happen, only where and what.
Someone will come at them, only when and who,
in how many shapes, with what intentions.
If he has a choice,
maybe he won’t be the enemy
and will let them live some sort of life.
Poems New and Collected, 1957-1997(Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1998),
translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.
The magical mirror of The Arabian Nights
From The Guardian:
Although The Arabian Nights became widely known in Europe after the Crusades and inspired countless artists and writers (from Chaucer to Dickens to Rushdie in Britain), Sir Richard Burton's translation in the late-19th century brought it a new level of popularity on these shores, not least because it was purported to expose the vagaries of the Muslim mentality and Arab way of life. Perhaps these injudicious perceptions, callusing over time, even laid the foundations for present-day Islamophobia.
The Arabian Nights is that magical mirror that reflects Islam's genius, its vast cultural scale and its incalculable contribution to the arts and sciences. The tales celebrate life and the blessings it offers. Praising love, joy, courage, defiance, compassion, they negate the teachings of such death-worshippers as Khomeini, Al-Qaida, Taliban et al. For those wondering where the true voice of Islam is, be assured it is here in these 1,001 tales.
But what of the brutality they contain? What about their obsession with death?
True, Death, "the destroyer of delights", is forever on the prowl. Indeed, even before Shahrazad, the teller of these tales, utters a word, it has claimed 3,000 virgins - all deflowered and executed, at the rate of one each day, by Sultan Shahryar, as punishment on womanhood for his wife's infidelity. However, when Shahrazad volunteers to be Shahryar's next victim, her intention is to defy Death, not to surrender to it meekly. And as she secures her daily reprieve with a fresh story, she denounces summary brutality and exalts the sanctity of life. Eluding Death is The Arabian Nights' raison-d'être.
November 29, 2008
Bush Pardons Scooter Libby In Giant Turkey Costume
In Thanksgiving Tradition, Bush Pardons Scooter Libby In Giant Turkey Costume
Q: A caller just said she forgot to baste every 10 minutes. I advised her to serve the turkey anyway. Was I correct? A: Not at all. The turkey is merely the vehicle for the basting. In a recent poll, nine out of 10 people would rather sit down at the table and suck on the end of a baster full of buttery juices than gnaw at some dry old wing. Bad call. Q: I just overheard my co-worker advising a home cook to truss the bird. I arrived late at the "Talk Turkey" seminar last week and missed the trussing segment. Can you advise? A: Trussing, while not the chef's best friend, is that pleasant acquaintance you see about once a year and always have a compliment for. Trussing is legal in every state. Trussing comes from the word "truss," which means to truss, or tie string or put pins in a turkey to help it stay in a pretty poultrylike shape that is pleasing to the eye. Cooks must remove pins and string before consuming. If a caller wants to know if she should truss, you should tell her you only go around this crazy world once. Trust truss.more from McSweeney's here.
felix salmon explains synthetic CDOs
Over the past few days, two very smart people have asked me about a passage in Michael Lewis's cover story for Portfolio in which he talks about synthetic CDOs without actually using the term. They said that they didn't quite understand it, so I'm going to try to explain what a synthetic bond is. Once I've done that, the Lewis passage should be a lot more comprehensible. Let's start with a simple single-credit synthetic bond. You're an investor, and looking at the credit markets, you see that IBM debt is trading at attractive levels, especially around the 5-year mark, where they yield about 150bp over Treasuries. You'd really like to buy $100 million of IBM bonds maturing in five years, but IBM isn't returning your calls (they have no desire to borrow money at these spreads), and there aren't any IBM bonds with exactly the maturity you want. What's more, even the bonds with maturities nearby are illiquid, and closely held: there's no way you can just blunder into the market and buy up that many bonds without massively skewing the market, since the overwhelming majority of the bonds are just not for sale.more from Market Movers here.
David Gates reviews Toni Morrison's "A Mercy" in The New York Times:
“A Mercy” has neither the terrible passion of “Beloved” — how many times can we ask a writer to go to such a place? — nor the spirited ingenuity of “Love,” the most satisfying of Morrison’s subsequent novels. But it’s her deepest excavation into America’s history, to a time when the South had just passed laws that “separated and protected all whites from all others forever,” and the North had begun persecuting people accused of witchcraft. (The book’s most anxious moment comes when a little white girl goes hysterical at the sight of Florens and hides behind her witch-hunting elders.) Postcolonialists and feminists, perhaps even Greens and Marxists, may latch onto “A Mercy,” but they should latch with care, lest Morrison prove too many-minded for them. This novel isn’t a polemic — does anybody really need to be persuaded that exploitation is evil? — but a tragedy in which “to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.”
Except for a slimy Portuguese slave trader, no character in the novel is wholly evil, and even he’s more weak and contemptible than mustache-twirlingly villainous. Nor are the characters we root for particularly saintly. While Lina laments the nonconsensual deaths of trees, she deftly drowns a newborn baby, not, as in “Beloved,” to save it from a life of slavery, but simply because she thinks the child’s mother (the “mongrelized” girl who goes by the Morrisonian name of Sorrow) has already brought enough bum luck to Jacob’s farmstead. Everyone in “A Mercy” is damaged; a few, once in a while, find strength to act out of love, or at least out of mercy — that is, when those who have the power to do harm decide not to exercise it. A negative virtue, but perhaps more lasting than love.
Mumbai: The city I love
Amit Chaudhuri in The Guardian:
The Indigo is only a five minutes' walk from the Taj Mahal hotel. In the past 12 hours, I have been watching pictures of the Taj taken from different angles: trapped guests leaning out of windows; the top storey burning; swathes of smoke covering the majestic dome. I have also seen pictures of two very young men with AK 47 rifles, one of them in a T-shirt with Versace printed on it in large letters. People, including my wife calling from India, have mentioned 9/11 and New York, and I suppose there is a comparable degree of strangeness - combined with the inevitable sense of having been betrayed and outwitted - in these attacks. The comparison also possibly arises from the joy-loving nature of both cities, capitalism and the new world order after the collapse of the Soviet Union having transformed them both decisively - New York into the world's first city, Bombay into India's great metropolis.
My parents moved to Bombay from Calcutta in 1965, when I was an infant - they stayed at the Taj for two weeks while the company found them a flat. This was the beginning of Calcutta's decline, companies and professionals fleeing labour trouble, and relocating at this optimistic seaside metropolis in western India. It was a charmed life - from at least two of the flats we lived in when my father was finance director and then chief executive of Britannia Biscuits, flats in Malabar Hill and Cuffe Parade, the city's two richest localities, you could see a skyline that, with its lissom, tall buildings (Bombay is the only Indian city to have had an obsessive romance with the vertical, the skyscraper), approximated Manhattan in some ways; in its sunniness, its palm trees, its disguised but obvious carnality, it echoed what we knew of California from films; and the gothic buildings were remnants of the old history that had first brought together these seven fishing islands.
I, too, am a Mumbaikar today
Adil Najam in All Things Pakistan:
I know what living with terror feels like. I have thought too much and too deeply about what it feels like to be the target of violence propelled by hatred. I know the pain of helplessness one feels as one stands stunned in grief, wanting so desperately to do something - anything - but not knowing what to do. This is why I identify with the expression on the face of the woman in this picture. This is why, like so many others in the world, today I too am a Mumbaikar.
This is why I stand with Mumbaikars everywhere, in prayer and in solidarity. At a loss for words but with an urge to speak out. My words of condemnation will not change the actions of those who have committed such heinous murder and mayhem. Nor will my words of sympathy diminish the agony of the victims. But speak out I must. In condemnation as well as in sympathy. To speak against the inhumanity of hatred and violence. To speak for the humanity in all of us that we all must hold on to; especially in the testing moments of grave stress.
But, today, I have no words of analysis. What words can make sense of the patently senseless? I do not know who did this. Nor can I imagine any cause that would justify this. But this I know: No matter who did this, no matter why, the terror that has been wrought in Mumbai is vile and inhuman and unjustifiable. And, for the sake of our own humanness, we must speak out against it.
And, so, to any Mumbaikar who might be listening, I say: “I stand with you today. In prayer and in solidarity.”
November 28, 2008
of time and the city
Terence Davies’ cinematic essay Of Time and the City was widely hailed as a masterpiece at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Although the film, the director’s first for a decade, did not win any prizes, it was recognized as part of the official selection by an honorary special screening. Not unlike Davies’ previous odes to Liverpool, The Long Day Closes (1992) and Distant Voices, Still Lives (1998), the film is a subjective expression of love, disdain and anomie for his home city and indeed himself.more from Frieze here.
the Toughest Man in Cairo vs the Zionist Vegetable
Kamal could see it. A flood of Israeli vegetables, inundating the Egyptian market, washing away the old dream of agricultural self-sufficiency. More pernicious still: the image of oversized Zionist produce coming for his two young daughters. Kamal was very concerned with what his children put in their mouths. "It is difficult to keep them pure," he complained, before listing the few shops that still sold untainted greens from Umm Al'Dunya. But it wasn't just the vegetables. In the years since Sadat's policy of infitah liberalized the Egyptian economy, delectable imports have come dancing through the open door to tempt the girls of Egypt. It began with foreign banks, foreign aid, and joint ventures with Xerox, Colgate-Palmolive, and Ford; and it culminated in a torrent of chocolates from Hershey's and Nestlé, as well as Dove Bars, Lay's potato chips, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, acid-wash jeans, waffles, bikinis, rap music, exercise videos, Britney Spears, and lesbianism. If he had a son, things would be easier. But Kamal has not been so lucky. He's been trying to have a son for years. He tries every night, he told me, but all his wife has given him are girls he will lose one day to a wet t-shirt contest and the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in Sharm el Sheikh.more from Bidoun here.
He made pictures from life
For more than 50 years, Saul Steinberg was the New Yorker's nonpareil sketcher, observer, spy and - though he would have thought the word dingy and depressing - its chief cartoonist, too. (He found the word depressing because, like "humorist", it cast too wide a net.) But then he disliked being called an artist, too, since it called to his mind the salon-swindle of "exciting" objects and collectors' manias. "All of those drawings, whimpering at night in the wrong houses," was his dry description of the consequences of selling pictures to collectors, rather than publishers. So: a cartoonist, of the highest, most complicated poetic order, was what he was, and will remain. A cartoonist, because a cartoonist is someone who sees with his mind - someone who is concerned less with preserving a world than recording a thought. Steinberg could make a metaphor into a matrix of lines, and, in an instant, turn an idea into an image.more from The Guardian here.
I have a small
Cleis, who is
like a golden
take all Croesus'
kingdom with love
thrown in, for her
Don't ask me what to wear
I have no embroidered
headband from Sardis to
give you, Cleis, such as
and my mother
always said that in her
day a purple ribbon
looped in the hair was thought
to be high style indeed
but we were dark:
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers
translation: Mary Barnard
Robert Fischell's Medical Inventions
For Syed T. Raza, M.D.
India cannot pin all the blame on outsiders
Maria Misra in The London Times:
But despite the multi-religious and multi-ethnic origins of terrorist violence the Indian authorities have, until recently, tended to treat only Muslims as terrorists. So while Muslim “terrorists” have been subject to extraordinary laws of detention and trial in special courts, Hindu nationalist “rioters” have been tried in regular courts, or, more usually, not been punished at all.
One of the principal complaints of Indian Muslim groups is the failure to bring to trial any of the Hindu ringleaders responsible for pogroms in Bombay in 1993 and Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 4,000 Muslims died. While the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, and international jihadist groups have undoubtedly trained and funded Indian Muslim terrorists, the chief recruiting officer is often the Indian State.
This is especially true at regional and state level where the police and judiciary are often “captured” by Hindu political interests that have used anti-terrorist laws to pursue political vendettas. The extreme poverty of many Muslims in India, whose status, according to a recent report, was below that of the “Untouchable” caste of Hindus, has increased frustration. While “Untouchable” and other low-caste groups are actively promoted into universities and prestigious state jobs, India's 150 million Muslims, who make up 13 per cent of the population, hold only 3 per cent of state posts. They are even less well represented in the police.
The terrorists attacked my city because of its wealth
Suketu Mehta in The Guardian:
The Taj was born out of a slight: because a man was turned away from a fancy hotel. When the prominent Parsi industrialist Jamshetji Tata was refused entrance into Watson's hotel in the 19th century because he was a native, he swore revenge, and built the Taj in 1903. It is less a hotel than a proving-ground for the ego. The Taj lobby and its adjoining toilets are where you test your self-worth; theoretically, anyone can come in out of the heat and sit in the plush lobby, or relieve themselves in the gleaming toilets. But you need that inner confidence to project to the numerous gatekeepers, the toilet attendants; you need to first convince yourself that you belong there.
The terrorists who swarmed the hotel on Wednesday ignored the gatekeepers, or shot them dead. They marched into the lobby with confidence, and in a rage. If, as seems likely, they are Muslims, then they are only the latest manifestation of the original sin of modern south Asia: the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
India has been congratulated, and has congratulated itself, for not supplying recruits to al-Qaida. India's 150 million Muslims are different, it was thought. During partition, they voted with their feet; until recently, there were more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. But Muslims are poorer, and less educated, than other Indians. Urban Muslims have a poverty rate of 38% - much higher than any other segment of the population, including the lower castes. The 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, just north of Bombay, made many Muslims think that if the state could not or would not protect them, they would have to take matters into their own hands.
November 27, 2008
Terror Strikes in Mumbai
Jyoti Thottam in Time:
As the debate over terror continues, various parties have been trading blame. The BJP has accused the Congress of cooking up charges against the arrested Hindu right-wingers, while the Congress has been accusing the BJP of playing a double-game of pointing fingers at the Congress while lending a hand to Hindu-fundamentalist terrorists. Mumbai has been a focus of the tension between the parties, as several of the so-called "Hindu terror" arrests have taken place in or near the city. Perhaps the size and scale of this most recent attack will force the country's political leaders to finally push through a long-shelved proposal to co-ordinate intelligence on terror incidents between the states and prevent a repeat of Wednesday's bloody spectacle.
After Mumbai, an end to complacency?
M J Akbar in The Guardian:
Some three years ago India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, rather smugly told President Bush in Delhi that Indian Muslims were not involved in any act of terrorism. The implication was that they constituted a success story, healed by the virtues of democracy, a conclusion that Bush happily repeated. Singh certainly did not fool any terrorists, some of whom may have read his self-congratulation as a challenge.
I am an Indian Muslim and proud to be both. Like any Indian, today I am angry, frustrated and depressed. I am angry at the manic, rabid dogs of war who have invaded the commercial capital and fountainhead of business energy. I am frustrated by the impotence of my governments in Mumbai and Delhi, its ministers tone-deaf to the anguish of my fellow citizens. And I am depressed at the damage being done to the idea of my India.
dispatch from mumbai
As columns of smoke rose from the Italianate dome of the Taj Mahal hotel in downtown Mumbai on Wednesday night, I came upon a woman standing a short distance away from the building, waiting for her friends trapped inside. She'd just ordered a steak when she heard gunfire as terrorists stormed through the establishment. The woman, who had been rescued through a window by the fire brigade after hours of hiding under a table, said that her name was Dalbir Bains. I recognised it from the society pages of the newspapers. She's the owner of a fancy lingerie store in the beachside neighbourhood of Juhu, and, amidst the chatter of gunfire, I found myself involved in a brief discussion about edible underwear. Everything that evening had been surreal.more from TNR here.
The Ethiopian cooks had two antelopes brought in from the zoo. They gutted, skinned, and roasted them in spices and butter. Twenty turkeys — stuffed with herbs and bread — were thrust into the antelopes and the empty crevasses filled with hundreds of hardboiled eggs. A bleating camel, feeling something sinister in the room, was soon slaughtered as well, his innards replaced with the antelopes, whose innards had been replaced with the turkeys and eggs, whose innards had been replaced with breads, spices, herbs, and fish. And the Emperor of Ethiopia ate only just a little. Bawdy, exorbitant, unethical. In the most mythic banquets, everything is permitted, nothing impossible. Mile-high desserts carved to resemble palaces, grapes served upon platters of young boys, vomit buckets. But aside from the slaves, drunkenness, and orgies, it is perhaps the dining upon outrageously prepared animals — much like the stuffed camel Bohumil Hrabel describes in I Served the King of England — that is most...indelible. Heliogabalus enjoyed ostrich brains and eels fattened with Christians. The Emperor Vitellius once served a dish including flamingo tongues and lamprey milt in the name of Minerva. Hampton Court under Henry VIII was often the stage for feasts of whale, peacock beaks, and the ever-popular flaming boar’s head. No organ was left unturned. The home version of this is the Turducken...more from Table Matters here.
Don't Wet-Brine Your Turkey. Do Stir-Fry Your Sweet Potatoes
It's already Christmas in print—this week, the mailman started delivering frost-kissed, cookie-strewn, tinseled December issues of my food magazines. But online, the media are content to let November persist until at least Thursday with lavish guides to the biggest eating holiday of the year. The Thanksgiving food advice on the Web is plentiful, copiously illustrated with videos and slide shows, and, best of all, free. I've sorted through the avalanche of online guidance and compiled a digest of cyber-Thanksgiving with trends of note—and the recipes that stand out as probable winners. The biggest turkey trend this year is a push-back against wet brining, which the gastronomic press corps has promoted enthusiastically for the past decade or so.more from Slate here.
Still At Sea
From Outlook India:
If anyone needed a lesson on how to conduct special operations from the sea, they could take a leaf out of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai late on Wednesday, November 26, night. With two magazines taped together, strapped to their AK-47s, the men who arrived on speed boats from the sea could have easily been mistaken for naval commandos carrying out exercises off the coast. But they weren't, and as a security expert told Outlook, "this is a quantum jump in terrorism in India. Global terror has finally come home."
In many was, this was India's 9/11, an attack on mainland India on a scale it has never witnessed. For a nation that has dealt with armed insurgency and terrorism soon after independence, this was still an unprecedented scale of attack. It was just not prepared for anything even remotely like it. "It is one thing to plant bombs and melt into the crowd. It is another to come in from the sea and launch an attack such as this," a senior intelligence official told Outlook.
So far what is known is that the email sent by the terrorists, claiming a group called the 'Deccan Mujahideen' carried out the attack, has been traced back to Russia. Senior security officials say that it was, in all likelihood, sent by a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and this is perhaps the strongest indication of the real face behind the attack. Intelligence sources also point out that the current group of terrorists could have also got help from the Mumbai underworld as well as Chechen elements within the Russian Mafia which has already found a foothold in India.
Mumbai Under Attack!
It is difficult to express the horror that one feels at the ongoing events in Mumbai (which I just found out about, not having looked at the news since yesterday). Here at 3QD, I am sure that I can speak for all of us when I say that our stunned thoughts are constantly with the victims, hostages, and their families. We fervently hope that no more innocent lives are lost and that the hostages are quickly rescued. The enormity of this crime is mind-boggling and one hopes the perpetrators of this disgusting outrage are swiftly identified and brought to justice.
Today, we are all Indians, and all of us, especially those of us from Pakistan, stand in resolute solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the border.
Pat Rogers in the Times Literary Supplement:
Most people know something of the events in 1714 when the British government instituted a prize for the discovery of a successful way to find longitude at sea. The aim was to reduce the heavy toll of shipwrecks caused by the crude navigational method of dead reckoning. Dava Sobel gave new life to this episode in her bestselling book, Longitude: The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time (1995), which inspired the widely viewed television programme Lost at Sea (aired in 1998). After these came a feature film directed by Charles Sturridge in 1999, starring Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons. All these versions place at their centre the heroic figure of John Harrison and his struggles to perfect a clock which would finally carry off the prize of £20,000. Meanwhile, an early rival who figures in the tale has gone down in history as another projector from Yorkshire, named Jeremy Thacker. Unfortunately Thacker never existed and his proposal now emerges as a hoax.
Gregory M. Lamb in the Christian Science Monitor:
What’s more, writer Stephen Baker artfully conjures up vivid images to explain what he’s talking about and why a reader should care.
“The Numerati” is a more literary name for what used to be called “number crunchers,” the mathematicians and computer geeks who understand programming, probability, and seemingly incomprehensible theorems. Teamed with ever more powerful computers linked to the Internet, they’re on a mission.
“They’re looking for patterns in data that describe something almost hopelessly complex: human life and behavior,” Baker writes. “The audacity of their mission is almost maddening.”
They aim to figure out what we’re going to buy, who we’re going to vote for, how well we do our jobs, perhaps even who we’re likely to fall in love with, by analyzing the statistical patterns of data.
Think you carefully guard your privacy? Think again. It’s becoming an almost impossible task.
We all leave a trail of digital bread crumbs from our cellphone calls, Internet searches, credit card purchases, and blog entries, or on our home pages at social-networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook.
Even withholding our names doesn’t necessarily make us anonymous anymore. Eighty-seven percent of Americans can be identified by name if only their gender, birth date, and postal zip code can be determined, one recent study found.
Data whizzes, Baker concludes, “are adding us up. We are being quantified.”
November 26, 2008
Slumdog Millionaire and India's "Maximum City"
Amitava Kumar in Daily Beast:
In the warren-like rooms that line the narrow, winding alleys of the Madanpura neighborhood of Mumbai, neat rows of bare-chested men sit cross-legged on the ground, sewing leather suitcases, or hammering soles into ladies shoes, or making tiny toys that will be sold by children on the city’s streets.
On the opposite side of the alley, sparks leap out of a lathe machine as a young man wearing protective goggles sharpens metal. It is late evening, and the entire area is a hive of activity. The heat is more unbearable than the smell of raw sewage.
Dense entrails of electrical wires hang in my path. A radio broadcasts cricket commentary, and behind a blue curtain a group of young men, clad only in loin clothes, stare glassily at a TV broadcasting the porn movie “Queen of the Himalayas.”
On the pavement outside, a man is a selling pirated copies of English pulp fiction and a cheap, Hindi translation of the Starr Report with a bodice-ripper illustration entitled “America’s President Bill Clinton and Monica’s Sexual Relationship.”
I have come to this neighborhood to meet Suketu Mehta, author of Mumbai, Maximum City. Mehta’s book, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for non-fiction in 2005, vividly describes a city teeming with slum-dwellers, cops, activists, actors, bar-girls, prostitutes, and mafia dons—a city in heat that is seething with energy.
habermas chats on the global crisis
You recently lectured at Yale University. Which images of this crisis impressed you most? A seemingly endless loop of melancholic Hopperian images of long rows of abandoned houses in Florida and elsewhere with "Foreclosure" signs on their front lawns flickered across the television screens. Then you saw buses arriving with curious prospective buyers from Europe and wealthy Latin Americans, followed by the real estate agent showing them the closets in the bedroom smashed in a fit of rage and despair. After my return I was struck by the sharp contrast between the agitated mood in the United States and the calm feeling of "business as usual" here in Germany. In the US the very real economic anxieties coincided with the hot end-spurt of one of the most momentous election campaigns in recent memory. The crisis also instilled a more acute awareness of their personal interests in broad sectors of the electorate. It forced people to make decisions that were, if not necessarily more reasonable, then at least more rational, at any rate by comparison with the last presidential election which was ideologically polarised by "9/11." America will owe its first black president – if I may hazard a prediction immediately before the election – and hence a major historical watershed in the history of its political culture, to this fortunate coincidence. Beyond this, however, the crisis could also be the harbinger of a changed political climate in Europe.more from Sign and Sight here.
wood navigates naipaul
The public snob, the grand bastard, was much in evidence when I interviewed V. S. Naipaul in 1994, and this was exactly as expected. A pale woman, his secretary, showed me in to the sitting room of his London flat. Naipaul looked warily at me, offered a hand, and began an hour of scornful correction. I knew nothing, he said, about his birthplace, Trinidad; I possessed the usual liberal sentimentality. It was a plantation society. Did I know anything about his writing? He doubted it. The writing life had been desperately hard. But, I said, hadn’t his great novel, “A House for Mr. Biswas,” been acclaimed on its publication? “Look at the people’s choices for the best books of the sixties,” he said. “ ‘Biswas’ is not there.” His secretary brought coffee, and retired. Naipaul claimed that he had not even been published in America until the nineteen-seventies, “and then the reviews were awful—unlettered, illiterate, ignorant.” The phone rang, and kept ringing. “I am sorry,” Naipaul said in exasperation. “One is not well cared for here.” Only as the secretary showed me out, and novelist and servant briefly spoke to each other in the hall, did I realize that she was Naipaul’s wife.more from the New Yorker here.
death of journalism?
But then the bloggers appear, writers of no training but natural talent, positioned by chance to see events and parts of the world which the news machines cannot reach. Fox never asks the question raised by his huge box of witnesses: were the professionals any better than the amateurs? The answer matters for the future as well as for the past. With the spread of digital technology, anyone can now be their own publisher. In these new circumstances, what defines journalism? What are journalists for? Many bloggers and operators in new media have already answered the question by declaring the “mainstream media” redundant. They predict that newspapers will close, deprived of advertising income and young readers, both migrating to the internet. The power of the separate priesthood of journalists, created because newspapers were capital-intensive businesses only a few could own and because governments wanted tame journalism, evaporates. “Citizen journalists”, enjoying instant peer-to-peer communication, storm the ramparts of the decaying old media regime. Was the age of the reporters just a passing final phase in Fox’s 2,500-year survey?more from the TLS here.
How can evolution explain both the appeal and recent failings of negative campaigning?
William Wells in Seed Magazine:
Negative campaigning plays off deep-rooted pathways in the human brain, which may explain its effectiveness as a tactic and its lure to politicians. Humans evolved to remember negative events not because they faced electoral choices but because they faced possible death. For example, "it matters exactly what the snake looks like — if you see it again, you can respond," says Elizabeth Kensinger, a neuroscientist at Boston College who studies the strength of negative memories. "There is this threat to survival from negative emotions. What the chocolate cake looks like is not going to be so important."
Negative campaigning, at its simplest, is an attempt to exploit this evolutionary response and make a strong impression on a distracted voting public. Indeed, in Kensinger's controlled laboratory experiments, negative words create the strongest memories. "When things are negative is when people feel that they vividly remember the experience in a really crisp way," she says. Katherine Kinzler of the University of Chicago has found that negativity also gets priority when remembering faces and actions. She thinks the responses are hardwired by evolution rather than learned via culture, because the phenomena are present even in infants. An ancient origin is further suggested by brain studies: Fear and negativity light up the amygdala, a primeval part of the brain.
But how, if at all, does the negative-memory bias apply to political campaigns?
Dude Transports 20 bricks on his head
Bailout costs more than Marshall Plan, Louisiana Purchase, moonshot, S&L bailout, Korean War, New Deal, Iraq war, Vietnam war, and NASA's lifetime budget -- combined!
Barry Ritholtz, via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:
If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars.
People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.
Crunching the inflation adjusted numbers, we find the bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:
• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion
TOTAL: $3.92 trillion
The like problems behind molecular gastronomy and modern artmaking
Our own Mogan Meis and Stefany Anne Golberg in The Smart Set:
1811: a French confectioner named Nicolas Appert publishes The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances for Many Years. He discovers that if you boil your mutton and eggs in sealed glass jars, you can eat them much later. Napoleon, in person, gives him a prize and canned food is born.
Early 1970s: American schoolchildren are introduced to thermostabilization, rehydration, and freeze-drying via space food. Tang becomes an American staple and likewise, the Tang moustache.
1974: The National Food Processors Association examines a 40-year-old can of corn found in the basement of a California home. Far from being just a rancid memory of food, the corn was, in fact, safe to eat, full of nutrients, and moreover, tasted just like freshly canned corn.
1986: The compact microwave is introduced into the family kitchen. Mothers around the nation proceed to make the driest roasts in world history with sides of flaccid broccoli.
Such are the trials and tribulations of food in the industrial age. They illustrate the obvious — industry and technology have had a massive impact on what we eat and how we eat it. The focus, however, has generally been convenience and cost rather than taste and gastronomic pleasure. Mass populations need mass-produced food as well as cheap and efficient means to package and transport them. The cuisine of classical fine dining, by contrast, tends to ignore all such developments. At most of your finer restaurants, canned foods and microwaves are not to be found, much less liquid nitrogen or a dehydrator. For 500 years, Western fine dining has been primarily dominated by a focus on fresh ingredients and authoritative (generally French) skills.
During the ’60s and ’70s, however, people started to play around a little.
The Little Vagabond
Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold,
But the Ale-house is healthy & pleasant & warm;
Besides, I can tell where I am used well,
Such usage in heaven will never do well.
But if at Church they would give us some Ale,
And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,
We'd sing and we'd pray all the live-long day,
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray.
The the Parson might preach, & drink, & sing,
And we'd be as happy as birds in spring;
And modest dame Lurch, who is always at Chruch,
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch.
And God, like a father rejoicing to see
His children as pleasant and happy as he,
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel,
But kiss him, & give him both drink and apparel.
From Songs of Experience, William Blake
Sarah Palin for Poet Laureate
From Prospect Magazine:
Reading Sarah Palin’s anguished interview with Greta van Susteren of Fox News just after the election, I had an epiphany: Palin is a poet, and a fine one at that. What the philistine media take for incoherence is, in fact, the fruitful ambiguity of verse. Here she is, in a work I have taken to calling “The Relevance of Africa.” (Not a single word or comma has been changed, but the line breaks are placed where they naturally fall.) In it, Palin blends the energy of free verse with the austerity of a classic 14-line sonnet.
It reads: “And the relevance to me /With that issue, /As we spoke /About Africa and some /Of the countries /There that were /Kind of the people succumbing /To the dictators /And the corruption /Of some collapsed governments /On the /Continent, /The relevance /Was Alaska’s.”
A great poet needs to leave open the door between the conscious and unconscious; Sarah Palin has removed her door from its hinges. A great poet does not self-censor; Sarah Palin seems authentically innocent of what she is saying. She could be the most natural, visionary poet since William Blake.
Amoebae Family Values
Tony Soprano and social amoebae have one thing in common: They only trust family. When things get tough, the single-celled organisms gang up with their closest relatives like any cutthroat mobster would, a strategy that may protect them from swindlers, new research shows. Scientists say the slimy cooperation may shed light on how some of the earliest social behavior first evolved.
The social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum usually lives alone, dining on bacteria in the forest soil. When food becomes scarce, tens of thousands of neighboring amoebae meld into a blob--about a third the length of an eyelash--that slithers much farther than any amoeba could on its own. When the slug reaches a warm, sunlit locale, the aggregate transforms into a fruiting body: About 20% of amoebae sacrifice themselves to form a rigid stalk, hoisting their comrades upward as a ball of spores. These lucky amoebae hitch rides on the fur of passing mammals to reach greener pastures. The martyrs of the stalk wither and die.
The strategy seems ripe for cheaters. After all, amoebae that shirk their stalk duty have a better chance of survival--and are more likely to pass their deceitful ways on to the next generation. Yet cheaters haven't overtaken the species, so something must be keeping them honest. A team led by biologists Elizabeth Ostrowski of Rice University and Mariko Katoh of Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston, Texas, wondered whether that something might be nepotism. In certain insect species, for example, workers "sacrifice" themselves for the good of their relatives so that some of their shared genes are passed on.
More here. (Do watch the fascinating video on this linkalso.)
November 25, 2008
Hilary Putnam’s Roadmap to God
David Kaufmann in nextbook:
Instead, Putnam asks us to confront some fundamental issues. What is the essence of the divine? How do we account for evil? What are the ethical demands that religion makes on us? He suggests that we need to pose these questions differently. We should not ask what God is, but how we should experience Him. We should not explain evil but confront it. We should find our way to God through our relations with our fellow humans and not the other way around. According to Putnam, the big problems aren’t so big. In fact they aren’t even problems.
Putnam’s book is recognizably and in a certain way also traditionally Jewish. It presents its own coherent argument in the guise of a commentary on other texts. It speaks through them as well as about them. This approach allows Putnam, who has been one of the leading American philosophers of science for over four decades, to begin with Wittgenstein’s insight that faith is different from science because it does not depend on proof. You can abide by the tenets of the Torah even if you don’t strictly believe that they were handed down at Sinai. You can balance the story of Adam and Eve and the theory of evolution because religious truths are not necessarily damaged by contradictory evidence.
Religion can withstand secular science because religion is more than a series of dogmas. It represents a way of life. It expresses an attitude toward the world and is deeply entwined with a set of everyday activities and commitments. Religion cannot be outfoxed by science or logic. Try as they might, cosmologists cannot prove that the heavens do not proclaim the glory of God.
Garrett Lisi's Exceptional Approach to Everything
Greg Boustead in Seed:
When Lisi published his physics paper, "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything," to an online archive last year, it created a media buzz about his lifestyle and an onslaught of support and skepticism about his model. Although the verdict is still out on whether Lisi's theory will prove predicatively accurate, the means by which he released and vetted his research point to a larger trend in the scientific community.
Barriers to data are falling, a cross-disciplinary community of commenters is replacing journal-selected peer reviewers, and "information to the people!" is becoming the raison d'être of the science information superhighway. The movement, combined with an evolving image of the contemporary scientist, is redefining how society interacts with science.
We checked in with Lisi recently for an update on his theory, his thoughts on publishing, and his pursuit of life.
You left academia to study physics on your own. Why?
On The Beatles' Lost Jam Carnival of Light
Paul McCartney in The Guardian:
Being far out is not something I'm known for too much, but I do enjoy that side of things. If you look at things I've done, from Why Don't We Do It in the Road, which is kind of out-there, to Carnival of Light, which is so out there it hasn't even been released, you can see I like experimenting. I don't like this phrase "more than John", though. We grew up as a couple of kids in Liverpool and I think we were both as earnest and experimental as each other.
In the 60s, I happened to have more opportunity to do some of that
stuff because I was living on my own in London, whereas John was in the countryside in Weybridge and married so he was a little bit more pipe and slippers! I was out in the clubs and Wigmore Hall, catching people like Cornelius Cardew. I was into Stockhausen and stuff. So I had more of an opportunity but I don't think that made me more experimental than John. I just possibly did a bit more during that period. And John ended up with Revolution No 9 so, perception wise, he was the most experimental Beatle. But that was something I'd been doing off-piste, as we say in the skiing business. I'd been doing it for a hobby and he was smart enough to bring it into the main event. That was John's courage. But I think we were both equally experimental.
What to Do With the Big 3
Daniel Khaneman and Andrew Rosenfield in the NYT:
When faced with disaster, the natural response of people — and businesses — is to fight for time and hope for the best. The likely outcome of this strategy would be a succession of failures that would spare no one. We believe that there is a better way: simultaneous bankruptcy filing by all three companies would substantially reduce both the uncertainty and the stigma for each one.
A coordinated filing would send a message that the problem is systemic — not an indication that American manufacturers produce inferior cars and trucks. It would also signal that a systemic solution to save the industry is in the works.
We do not suggest that this would be a panacea: the American carmakers’ market share would most likely decline, but less so than if the companies were allowed to fail one after the other.
The Big Three are competitors and not all would welcome the idea of coordinated bankruptcy. And even if they wanted to, they could not simply decide to simultaneously file, because any such private agreement could be viewed as a garden-variety violation of antitrust law. Government intervention will be required.
a new currency
The national headquarters of Liberty Dollar is housed on the commercial east side of Evansville, Indiana, in a low-slung beige strip mall with an awning that hangs over the facade like a hood. It sits between Strictly Shooting gun shop and a vacant storefront, and faces a service road, disused train tracks, and a state nature preserve cordoned off by a rusted chain-link fence. Though it looks like an average pawnshop, the nerve center of Bernard von NotHaus’s decade-old alternative-currency operation manages the production and shipping of several million Liberty Dollars—elaborately designed coins made of copper, silver, or occasionally, gold—and the sale of “warehouse receipts” redeemable for silver. After a bout with the law last November, von NotHaus changed the company’s name in order to make a semantic distinction between its product and legal tender, but business has only increased as the value of the US dollar has continued its forty-year slide. The headquarters in Evansville, a middling river city just across the Ohio from Kentucky, coordinates the nationwide circulation of the Liberty Dollars with offices in twenty-five states, acting as the hub for satellite communities from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to Berryville, Arkansas.more from Triple Canopy here.
It is fortunate for literary historians that Thornton Wilder and Edmund Wilson did not meet at the Princeton-Yale football game or, heaven forbid, in Edna St. Vincent Millay's bedroom. They were brought together instead at one of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald's weekend debauches at their rented estate of Ellerslie, outside Wilmington, Delaware, in the winter of 1928. Wilson had heard that the Fitzgeralds' latest parties were "on a more elaborate scale than their old weekends at Westport or Great Neck," an impression confirmed by the invitation. "All is prepared for February 25th," Fitzgerald wrote Wilson. "The stomach pumps are polished and set out in rows, stale old enthusiasms are being burnished.... Pray gravity to move your bowels. It's little we get done for us in this world. Answer. Scott." Ellerslie proved to be an imposing white mansion built during the 1840s, with majestic Greek columns and high-ceilinged rooms. "I had never seen Scott and Zelda in such a magnificent setting," Wilson wrote in his vivid account of the occasion in The Shores of Light. The main attraction for Wilson turned out not to be the house, the booze, or the women--who included Gerald Murphy's younger sister Esther--but a fellow writer. "I arrived there with Thornton Wilder," Wilson wrote, "whom I had not known before and whose books I had not read."more from TNR here.
FOR MANY AMERICANS, the idea of a world without nuclear weapons is a bit like the idea of a world without war or disease - it would be nice, but, contra John Lennon, it's hard to imagine. That's not to say lots of people haven't devoted themselves to the cause. As the atomic age was dawning, Gandhi was already demanding its end, and today Pope Benedict XVI echoes that call. A host of international organizations, from Greenpeace to Mayors for Peace to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to the German Green Party, are dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Many of them have been at it for decades. The movement, however, has always carried utopian associations, and been conflated in the popular imagination with pacifism. The leaders of the world's nuclear powers, their global stature buttressed by their atomic arsenals, have, with a few exceptions, shown little real interest in the idea. This is changing.more from Boston Globe Ideas here.