April 30, 2009
Science, Society and The Merchants of Light
Over at The Science Network:
A conversation between Roger Bingham and Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss and Steven Pinker.
The Last Temptation of Risk
Barry Eichengreen in The National Interest:
THE GREAT Credit Crisis has cast into doubt much of what we thought we knew about economics. We thought that monetary policy had tamed the business cycle. We thought that because changes in central-bank policies had delivered low and stable inflation, the volatility of the pre-1985 years had been consigned to the dustbin of history; they had given way to the quaintly dubbed “Great Moderation.” We thought that financial institutions and markets had come to be self-regulating—that investors could be left largely if not wholly to their own devices. Above all we thought that we had learned how to prevent the kind of financial calamity that struck the world in 1929.
We now know that much of what we thought was true was not. The Great Moderation was an illusion. Monetary policies focusing on low inflation to the exclusion of other considerations (not least excesses in financial markets) can allow dangerous vulnerabilities to build up. Relying on institutional investors to self-regulate is the economic equivalent of letting children decide their own diets. As a result we are now in for an economic and financial downturn that will rival the Great Depression before it is over.
The question is how we could have been so misguided. One interpretation, understandably popular given our current plight, is that the basic economic theory informing the actions of central bankers and regulators was fatally flawed. The only course left is to throw it out and start over. But another view, considerably closer to the truth, is that the problem lay not so much with the poverty of the underlying theory as with selective reading of it—a selective reading shaped by the social milieu. That social milieu encouraged financial decision makers to cherry-pick the theories that supported excessive risk taking. It discouraged whistle-blowing, not just by risk-management officers in large financial institutions, but also by the economists whose scholarship provided intellectual justification for the financial institutions’ decisions. The consequence was that scholarship that warned of potential disaster was ignored. And the result was global economic calamity on a scale not seen for four generations.
A Profile of Andrew Sullivan
Over at the Economist's Intelligent Life:
Andrew Sullivan’s story is inherently implausible. How did an HIV-positive gay Catholic conservative from the poky English town of East Grinstead end up as one of the most powerful writers in America?
Today his blog, the Daily Dish, is regularly named as one of the most influential in America, and in November it reached 23m hits in the month. Politicians from Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama himself have courted Sullivan in the hope of friendly posts. After he moved his blog to the website of the venerable Atlantic Monthly magazine, the traffic there rose by 30%.
This is all the stranger since—unlike other big-name bloggers such as the liberal-Democratic Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos or the libertarian Republican Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit—he has no obvious political constituency. Sullivan is regarded by his critics as an attention-deficit bundle of contradictions. He is a conservative Christian who rages against the self-proclaimed forces of conservative Christianity. He is a pioneering crusader for gay marriage savaged by the gay left as “chief faggot”, herding homosexuals on behalf of The Patriarchy. He admits: “I’m very uncomfortable with audiences who agree with me… I’ve never really had a place where someone didn’t dispute my right to be there.” So what is the glue that holds together the blogger-king?
In a series of long interviews, Sullivan—a friend of mine—talks me through his story.
Walter Isaacson on Einstein
A long, slow descent into hell
Romesh Gunesekera in The Guardian:
For 26 years the main story in Sri Lanka has changed little: bombs, bullets, carnage and suffering. LTTE suicide bombs on buses, at train stations, suicide trucks at the Temple of the Tooth, the Central Bank, the assassination of one president, the wounding of another, and government military campaigns with increasing firepower and increasing casualties, terrifying air strikes and massive bombardment. Sadly, there have been other spikes of horror in the country with tens of thousands of dead - the 2004 tsunami, floods, the 80s insurrection in the south, disappearances, abductions - but the war has gone on relentlessly, in one area of the north or another, with only short periods of truce in which the Tigers and the government each gathered strength for the next round.
In those 26 years the great map of the 20th century was transformed: the Berlin wall came crashing down, Germany was reunified, the Soviet Union disappeared, China became the factory of the world and India boomed. But in Sri Lanka, the story remained the same.
A country that was once an admirable model of democracy, leading the way in agrarian reform, quality of life indices, and health and education services, got stuck as the prototype for suicide bombers on the one hand, and the new benchmark for "shock and awe" tactics with unbridled military muscle on the other. I find it difficult to believe that it was allowed to happen.
The Humanitarian Disaster in Sri Lanka
Meenakshi Ganguly in openDemcracy:
Tens of thousands of terrified civilians are trapped in a dangerous conflict-zone. The military says that the remaining LTTE cadre - along with their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran - have effectively hidden themselves among the civilians in a government-declared "no-fire zone". As the military plans the final defeat of the LTTE in this twenty-six-year conflict, the fact that the army has repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled these zones means that fear for the safety of civilians has increased.
This terrible plight of civilians is hardly surprising.
The LTTE has itself long been responsible for horrific human-rights abuses. These include forcibly recruiting people to serve its cause; turning schoolchildren into combatants; using Claymore landmines and human-bombs; indiscriminate killings and outright murder. During the 2002-08 ceasefire, the LTTE continued to commit systematic human-rights abuses, not least in the territory it controlled.
Sri Lankan governments, in an effort to appease the majority Sinhalese population, have consistently failed to address Tamil grievances; this has helped the Tigers to build support among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. But the present government of Mahinda Rajapakse is hoping that its current military campaign will finally mark an end of the LTTE. Since 2006, when both sides resumed major military operations, the conflict has killed and wounded thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands, leaving many suffering from disease and hunger.
To ensure its success, the Sri Lankan government has chosen to silence dissident voices. Many of those demanding another approach or criticising government actions or policies are accused of being closet LTTE supporters or otherwise sympathetic to terrorists. Journalists and human-rights defenders wonder when they might fall prey to a bullet or be subjected to arbitrary detention. Many have fled the country. Meanwhile, all over Sri Lanka, Tamils are treated as suspects, often asked to report for profiling and identification.
How to Be Black at the Beach
From The Washington Post:
No one writes with more acrobatic imagination and good humor about the complexities of race in America than Colson Whitehead. In "The Intuitionist" and "John Henry Days," he evoked the nation's racial history as deftly as he created bizarre alternatives. And in his 2003 paean to his home town, "The Colossus of New York," he captured the choreography of a vibrant, multicultural city. Now he surprises us again with a charming autobiographical novel that comes honey-glazed with nostalgia. Detailing the life of a dorky teenager in a community that's peculiar but oddly familiar, "Sag Harbor" is a kind of black "Brighton Beach Memoirs," but it's spiced with the anxieties of being African American in a culture determined to dictate what that means.
Like Stephen Carter, Whitehead writes about an enclave of upper-middle-class blacks, in this case a contented but separate summer resort on Long Island. (Whenever the narrator mentions Sag Harbor to white people in New York, they say, "Oh, I didn't know black people went out there.") Straddling parts of East Hampton and Southampton, Sag Harbor is an ancient town by American standards, a whaling community that predates the Revolution (it's mentioned in "Moby-Dick"). But the 20-acre section that Whitehead celebrates was settled in the 1930s and '40s by blacks from Harlem, Brooklyn and parts of New Jersey, professional people who "had fought to make a good life for themselves, vanquished the primitives and barbarians out to kill them, keep them out, string them up, and they wanted all the spoils of their struggle. A place to go in the summer with their families. To make something new."
Handle With Care
From Proto Mag:
The word care, in a medical sense, implies the many things physicians do for patients, among them: ordering tests, writing prescriptions, performing surgery. Or perhaps used to do. Abraham Verghese, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, thinks doctors have distanced themselves from the word’s basic definition: to show empathy and compassion. “The patient in the bed is merely an icon for the real patient, who exists in the computer,” Verghese has lamented.
At the center of Verghese’s first work of fiction, Cutting for Stone (Knopf, February 2009), is compassion shown and withheld—between physicians and patients, and physicians and their families. In Addis Ababa in the 1950s, twins Marion and Shiva are born to Indian nun Sister Mary Joseph Praise and British surgeon Thomas Stone. When Praise dies giving birth, Stone abandons the twins, who are raised—and eagerly inducted into medical careers—by married doctors. Marion leaves Ethiopia to complete his residency in the Bronx. On a visit to a Boston teaching hospital, he sits in on a morbidity and mortality conference (an examination of cases gone wrong) and sets eyes on his father for the first time.
More here. (Note: Thanks to Sughra Raza)
April 29, 2009
The Dilemmas of Graduate Education
Mark Taylor's op-ed on graduate education in the NYT has generated a lot of discussion. One of the more critical responses has been from Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works, in The Chronicle of Higher Ed:
Why golly, the problem with the university is that there aren’t enough teaching positions out there to employ all of our excess doctorates Mark C. Taylor says: “Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist).” Because there are just too many folks with Ph.D.‘s out there, “there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.”
Um, nope. Wrong. The New York Times loves this bad theory and has been pushing it for decades, but the reality is clear.
In fact, there are plenty of teaching positions to absorb all of the “excess doctorates” out there. At least 70 percent of the faculty are nontenurable. In many fields, most of the faculty don’t hold a Ph.D. and aren’t studying for one. By changing their hiring patterns over the course of a few years New York or California — either one — alone could absorb most of the “excess” doctorates in many fields.
Bousquet follows up in The Valve:
If you think I’ve been hard on Mark C. Taylor and the New York Times for their “hey! I went to graduate school, therefore” theories of higher education, you should consider that bad journalism and bad leadership have real consequences for people I care about, like Jamie Owen Daniel and the young fellow pictured below the fold.
In point of fact: I was rather tame by comparison to pretty much everyone else who actually knows anything about academic labor, especially the always-blistering Historiann and Jonathan Rees. Even the guy over at Savage Minds who wants to agree with Taylor admits, “this op-ed sucks.”
I answered most of the responses in the comments portion of the original post, such as where to find the data.
Among the excellent responses, I felt one deserved a post of its own. It went something like this: “well, if demand for education is rising, and tuition is soaring, where does the money go, if not to the faculty?”
For that, I promised to reprint this post from before I joined Brainstorm.
Mitchell Joachim is an architect and urban designer as well as a partner in Terreform, a New York—based organization for philanthropic architecture and ecological design. His design of a compact, stackable "city car," developed with the MIT Smart Cities Group, won the 2007 Time Magazine Best Invention of the Year.
Not Easy Being Greene: Graham Greene's Letters
Michelle Orange in The Nation:
"If anybody ever tries to write a biography of me," Graham Greene once mused, "how complicated they are going to find it and how misled they are going to be." It's a sentiment often held up by Greene's biographers as a kind of immunity medallion: his intractability appears to surpass that of even your average manic-depressive titan of twentieth-century literature, yet it is paradoxically essential to understanding his character.
Canadian scholar Richard Greene, who is no relation to the author, brandishes this medallion in the preface to Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, a new collection he has assembled from the tens of thousands of letters Greene wrote over his lifetime. A chief attraction of this volume is the access RG received to several recently discovered troves of letters, many written to Greene's family members, which were not available to previous biographers. Nevertheless, RG warns, "The sum of all these discoveries is to make Graham Greene a stranger to us again."
A stranger with no shortage of calling cards: devout Catholic, lifelong adulterer, pulpy hack, canonical novelist; self-destructive, meticulously disciplined, deliriously romantic, bitterly cynical; moral relativist, strict theologian, salon communist, closet monarchist; civilized to a stuffy fault and louche to drugged-out distraction, anti-imperialist crusader and postcolonial parasite, self-excoriating and self-aggrandizing, to name just a few. "But who are you, Mr. Greene?" Yvonne Cloetta, his last mistress, remembered Greene being asked throughout his career. "I am my books," he insisted, a problematic deflection for several reasons, the most obvious being that the Greene oeuvre and its secondary materials support any number of conclusions about who their creator was and what he believed.
Emmanuel Saez Awarded J.B. Clark Medal
Peter R. Orszag, Director of the OMB, on the award of the John Bates Clark medal to Emmanuel Saez:
Emmanuel is perhaps best known for his detailed examination of how wages at the top end of the U.S. income distribution have evolved over the past century. He and his co-author Thomas Piketty discovered that the overall pattern for the share of income accruing to those in the top 10 percent is U-shaped (see chart 1 below). Thus, the share going to the top 10 percent was around 45 percent from the mid-1920s to 1940, but then declined to approximately 33 percent during World War II. Emmanuel attributes this fall-off to the sharp reduction in capital incomes brought about by the war and the revenue increases needed to finance the war effort. After the war, the share of income accruing to the top 10 percent remained essentially flat until the late 1970s, when it began climbing dramatically, ultimately surpassing its pre-war highs. Indeed, in 2006, the top 10 percent earned 50 percent of national income, a higher share than even in 1928, the peak year of the "roaring twenties" stock market bubble.
Chart 1: Share of Total U.S. Income Accruing to the Top 10%, 1917-2006
Perhaps even more interesting than his findings about the evolution in earnings for the top 10% is what he found when he isolated data from just the top 1 percent of earners—namely, that virtually all the historical fluctuation in the share of income going to the top 10 percent was due to fluctuations in income within the top percentile alone (see chart 2 below).
Out of sight, out of mind, they say; but
what do they really know? –August O’Rielly
this evening the meadow seems the essential thing
and because of it
what we talk about this evening
includes stalks and streams and frogs
and insects and eggs and blackbirds
and lack of worries about work and contracts
rent contracts and other contracts
not far from us the children are walking
hand in hand with their grown-ups
it is a meadow
true, there’s a city on top of it
amis loved ballard
I first came across Ballard when I was a teenager. He was a friend of my father's, and my father championed his early work, calling him "the brightest star in postwar SF" (all purists call science fiction SF, and have nothing but contempt for "sci fi"). Ballard was a beautiful man, with a marvellously full, resonant face and hot eyes, and talked in the cadences of extreme sarcasm with very heavy stresses - he wasn't being sarcastic, merely expressive. The friendship between the two did not survive Ballard's increasing interest in experimentalism, which my father always characterised as "buggering about with the reader". But I was always delighted to see Jim later on. Funnily enough, he was an unusually lovable man, despite the extraordinary weirdness of his imagination. His imagination was formed by his wartime experience in Shanghai, where he was interned by the Japanese. He was 13 at the time and took to the life in the camp as he would "to a huge slum family". But it wasn't just the camp that formed him - it was the very low value attached to human life, something he saw throughout his childhood. He told me that he'd seen coolies beaten to death at a distance of five yards from where he was standing, and every morning as he was driven to school in an American limousine there were always fresh bodies lying in the street. Then came the Japanese. He said "people in the social democracies have no idea of the daily brutality of parts of the east. No they don't, actually. And it's as well that they don't."more from The Guardian here.
the cia sucks
Surely the most flabbergasting single disclosure in the recently released interrogation memos is the revelation that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured on March 1, 2003, was put to the water-board 183 times that month, or about six times a day. This can really only mean two things: that the method is very crude and inexact and/or that his interrogators were in a state of panic and under insane pressure to produce results. I have myself been water-boarded under controlled conditions, and it isn't possible to imagine undergoing it that number of times unless one was seeking martyrdom (which may well be the case with KSM, who is still demanding the death penalty from us). The memorandum rather silkily argues that "before the CIA used enhanced techniques," KSM was resisting "giving any answers to questions about future attacks," but if he was apprehended on March 1, 2003, and then "dunked" 183 times in the next 31 days, it suggests in the dry words of Scott Shane in the New York Times that "interrogators did not try a traditional, rapport-building approach for long." Here is a seldom-mentioned reason why the CIA might go crazy in this way, to the point where even the FBI and other agencies were cripplingly (for us) reluctant to cooperate with it. On 9/11, according to Bob Woodward, George Tenet audibly hoped that the suicide-murderers of al-Qaida were not connected to the shady-looking pupils at those flight schools in the Midwest. The schools, that is to say, about which the CIA knew! In other words, and not for the first time, the CIA (which disbelieved the evidence of Saddam's plan to attack Kuwait in 1990 and continually excused him as a "secularist") had left us defenseless and ignorant.more from Slate here.
The birds are back in woods behind my house. Wrens, nuthatches, tree-creepers; from first light their bright calls spill into my sleep. After a winter watching a monoculture of jackdaws floating over the lake like delicately made marionettes, the inhabitants of An Atlas of Breeding Birds in Cumbria have begun to spill into the peripheries of my poems. What is that draws poets to birds? And why have so many turned to them at critical points in their own writing? The collective nouns we all remember from childhood speak of language's innate fascination with all things avian: a murder of crows, a murmuration of starlings, a parliament of fowls. And it's no coincidence we afford them the most poetic collective nouns: right from the birth of literature birds have been present.more from The Guardian here.
Feminist friend or foe?
From The Guardian:
Friedrich Engels condemned prostitution but enjoyed it himself; called for equality but dismissed female suffrage. Tristram Hunt on a strangely enlightened sexist
"It is absolutely essential that you get out of boring Brussels for once and come to Paris, and I for my part have a great desire to go carousing with you," Friedrich Engels wrote to Karl Marx in 1846. "If I had an income of 5000 francs I would do nothing but work and amuse myself with women until I went to pieces. If there were no Frenchwomen, life wouldn't be worth living. But so long as there are grisettes [prostitutes], well and good!" The life of Friedrich Engels, the mill-owning Marxist, was one of supreme self-contradiction - particularly when it came to feminism. He was a socialist who condemned the use of prostitutes as "the most tangible exploitation - one directly attacking the physical body - of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie", but then regularly enjoyed their services. He demanded female equality, but couldn't bear the company of high-minded women. Engels was the intellectual architect of socialist feminism, and an old-fashioned sexist.
Obama promises spending boost for science
President Barack Obama bolstered his lofty promises to US scientists on Monday, saying he would push through an historic increase in research and development funding. Obama pledged to raise the country's R&D budget to 3% of the national gross domestic product from today's nearly 2.7% — an increase of roughly $46 billion annually. The government currently picks up about one third of the tab. Assuming that trend continues, public funding would need to increase by about $15 billion annually, says Rick Weiss, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
"This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history," Obama said in a speech at the National Academy of Sciences' 146th annual meeting in Washington DC. John Marburger, science adviser to former President George W. Bush, called 3% of GDP a "healthy target" but said the trick will be getting industry on board. "The federal government can't do all of that by itself," he says. "Remember, two-thirds of that figure is coming from the private sector, and we're in the middle of a recession." Marburger says Obama made the right decision to propose permanently extending the research tax credit to give private companies a stable incentive to invest in research and development. Bush proposed the same thing as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, which sought to boost funding for math, science and engineering, but it was never fully funded during Bush's tenure.
April 28, 2009
dilettantes of the world, unite!
Knapton, who was in fact an extremely accomplished painter, created a rogues' gallery that includes milordi like John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich (the very one who first put meat between slices of bread to avoid wasting precious gambling time by sitting down to normal meals) in a Turkish turban, gazing lovingly, and not quite soberly, at a glass of wine (of course it is a beautifully blown Venetian glass). Sir Bourchier Wrey (the names of the Dilettanti are often as colorful as their outfits) dips into a porcelain punch bowl; the window behind him reveals that he, and implicitly we, are inside a ship's cabin on a vigorously bounding main. The ceramic vessel's rim bears the inscription "Dulce est Desipere in Loco"; "it is sweet to act like a fool in the appropriate place." The whole composition rolls and heaves along with the ship and its tipsy toastmaster; the texture of paint evokes hot flesh, supple fabric, cool china, ripe fruit, the wine-dark sea, and a sea of golden wine. The Dilettanti not only acted like fools in the appropriate places; they could also be downright blasphemous, especially with regard to the Catholicism they had encountered in Italy. Knapton painted Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord LeDespencer, decked out as a Franciscan friar, tonsure and all, lofting a gilt chalice inscribed "MATRI SANCTORUM" (to the mother of the saints), but Dashwood's wide eyes are fixed on what he might have called the "charms" of a classical Venus, whose hand, which should have been poised to shield her celestial nudity, has conveniently broken off.more from the NYRB here.
WHAT IS IT like to be a baby? For centuries, this question would have seemed absurd: behind that adorable facade was a mostly empty head. A baby, after all, is missing most of the capabilities that define the human mind, such as language and the ability to reason. Rene Descartes argued that the young child was entirely bound by sensation, hopelessly trapped in the confusing rush of the here and now. A newborn, in this sense, is just a lump of need, a bundle of reflexes that can only eat and cry. To think like a baby is to not think at all. Modern science has largely agreed, spending decades outlining all the things that babies couldn't do because their brains had yet to develop. They were unable to focus, delay gratification, or even express their desires. The Princeton philosopher Peter Singer famously suggested that "killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all." Now, however, scientists have begun to dramatically revise their concept of a baby's mind.more from the Boston Globe here.
Let me tell you the basics of risk communication, and then I want to apply them, a little bit, to bird flu. The fundamental principle of risk communication can be summarized in a number, [which] is the correlation between how much harm a risk does and how upset people get about it. If you look at a long list of risks, and you rank them in order of how upset people get [about them], then you rank them again in order of how much harm they do, then you correlate the two, you get a glorious 0.2. Those of you who remember your statistics know you can square a correlation coefficient to get the percentage of variance accounted for: If you square 0.2, you get 0.04, or 4% of the variance. That is, the risks that kill people and the risks that upset people are completely different. If you know that a risk kills people, you have no idea whether it upsets them or not. If you know it upsets them, you have no idea whether it kills them or not.more from UPMC here (via Marginal Revolution).
A Poem of Changgan
When my bangs hung about my forehead
I played by the gates, bending off flowers;
Riding on a horse of bamboo, you come
Circling the well in play, infant plums in hand:
Two children without dislike or suspicion,
Living in the lands of the boatsmen.
At fourteen I became your wife.
My shy cheeks widened for laughter not once.
I lowered my head to a dark wall;
Beckoned a thousand times, I answered not once.
Only at fifteen my eyebrows opened to you:
I would follow you as ashes mix with dust.
I gave you my antique promise.
I won't climb the look-out for you.
At sixteen you traveled far beyond the Gorge,
Where the Horse-Head Rocks pile high.
Beware the month of May- there
The apes call of sorrow, the heavens wail.
Your footsteps at the gates
Grew of green moss,
Moss deeper than broom sweepings. Leaves fell--
By autumn wind. Early this year.
In August butterflies turn yellow, pair by pair,
Flying over the grass in the Western Garden.
They hurt your wife, pair by pair.
She frets on a chair for her cheeks growing old.
Tell me in a letter
When you will come down from Sanba.
I will meet you-- nowhere is far---
Even on the Sands of Lasting Wind.
Translation: Kevin Tsai
From The Boston Globe:
RELIGION CAN BE good for more than the soul, a growing number of studies seem to say. Over the past decade, academic research on religiosity has exploded, and with it has come a raft of publications suggesting that spiritual beliefs and practices can add years to life, lower blood pressure, or keep at-risk kids on the straight and narrow. As sociologists, psychologists, and physicians turn their attention to measuring the effects of religion, often fueled by grant money from private foundations, the results have percolated swiftly through weekend sermons and the popular media. Being nonreligious, one might conclude, looks more and more like a danger to your health.
But as the academic interest in religion has mounted, some scholars have begun to call this picture into question. What's missing, they believe, is a comparable examination into the lives of nonreligious people and even the potential benefits of nonbelief. Galvanized by a desire to even the scales, these researchers have been organizing academic centers to study the irreligious, conducting major surveys, and comparing their findings. They've already found that convinced atheists appear just as well equipped to cope with hardship as convinced believers, and that some of the world's healthiest societies have the lowest levels of piety.
To Fathom a Colony’s Talk and Toil, Studying Insects One by One
From The New York Times:
Anna Dornhaus is peering into a cardboard nest box only an inch on a side, at a “family” of 100 or so European rock ants. Known as Temnos, the ants — painted in primary colors — are going about their ant chores hauling, foraging, nursing the glistening maggoty brood. Next to a color-coded Temnos, a rice grain would look like an old-growth log. When the lid on an ant colony is raised, a whiff of dead cockroach — ant chow — wafts by. A quiescent larger queen is a study in brown. “She’s hardly a head of state,” Dr. Dornhaus said. “More like an ovary.” Nearby are bumblebee hives under glass in which each bee sports a number from 1 to 100 on tiny price-tag-like label attached to its back.
To understand what is really going on in a colony of ants or bees, Dr. Dornhaus, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, tracks the little creatures individually — hence the paint and the numbers. Individual ants, she said, have “their own brains and legs, as well as complex and flexible behaviors.” She continues, “Each ant’s behavior and the rules under which it operates generate a pattern for the colony, so it’s crucial to discover its individual cognitive skill.” Dr. Dornhaus, 34, a tall, blond German-born scientist, has great patience, a prime requirement in her trade, and a feel for the creatures she studies. When people find out that “I study ants, bees and other crawly things, the first thing they ask is do I know how to kill them.” She added, “I wouldn’t tell them if I knew.”
April 27, 2009
Dispatches: Rome Food Report
Fettuccine alla gricia, a common pasta dish in Rome, has four ingredients: the noodles, olive oil, bits of cured pig's cheek, and grated cheese. Most trattorias offer it. It's not innovative, nor is it usually presented with much elegance. It's simply an oily plate of flat, yellow noodles with some reddish brown bits of guanciale and a shower of pecorino. The pleasure it gives is hard to describe. The word delicious somehow seems too refined and cerebral, tasty insufficiently hyperbolic. Scrumptious is close, but kind of pretentious. Anyway, a good alla gricia is lipsmackingly, profoundly pleasurable to eat.
There's a difference between eating and dining. In Rome, you eat. By eating, I mean the straightforward, carnal pleasure of gnawing things that taste good. A perfect example would be another common speciality: abbacchio scottadito, which is grilled very young lamb sauced with a lemon wedge. There's usually a rib, a bit of shoulder or leg, and a chop. (Incidentally, Urdu speakers call a chop a "champ," which has always struck me as charming, and oonomatopoetic of lipsmackingness.) Abbacchio scottadito is variously salty, gamy, fatty, and cartilagenous. It tastes extremely, intensely lambish. Impossible not to chew the bones.
Not that you can't dine in Rome: at La Rosetta, Rome's most celebrated fish restaurant, you can wear your Lanvin suit, sit with the multinational haute-bourgeoisie, and have a spaghetti with seafood that costs forty-two euros. But I had a superb (superb!) spaghetti alla vongole for eight euros at a random neighborhood restaurant. By the way, you can make this at home very easily: fry a tiny bit of minced garlic, add some white wine and the smallest clams you can find, cover till they open, and mix with some high-quality pasta (I recommend Martelli, if you can find it; I can't anymore) and a bit of chopped flat-leaf parsley. End of story. But try getting dime-sized little vongole outside of Italy that are as fresh and sweetly saline.
You can find various cheap but amazing trattorias throughout Rome, even in the center. I had the aforementioned alla gricia at Da Francesco, a great, great place off the Piazza Navona, one of the most touristic places on earth. They won't make you an espresso, though--they maintain a pre-capitalist refusal to do things they don't want to do. This attitude, actually, marks most of these places, which often treat Italians better than foreigners, may not have written menus, and generally stick to the same dozen dishes. Fior de zucca (deep-fried zucchini flowers), baccala (salt cod), spaghetti cacio e pepe (with cheese and black pepper), bucatini all'amatriciana etc., etc. It's interesting how many restaurants are locally famous for their version of a dish with less than five ingredients.
Great renditions of dishes like this are like sketches by an old artist: slapdash and assured at the same time, with no mistakes. I think it's easier to be more attuned to the subtleties of how good fettuccine can be if you try to cook these dishes at home. Cooks know first-hand that making a perfect omelet is a lot harder than a perfect fifteen-ingredient stew. The tolerances are lower when the ingredients are so few: a restaurant can't save itself by selling you on its chef's virtuosity, the fact that he or she was the first to combine vanilla beans with sea bass.
Eating in Rome is a nice curative to the U.S. addiction to deism. Chef deism, I mean. When compared to the average three-course Roman meal with a jug of decent Falanghina, which often runs you less than twenty euros, a lot of New York's Italian food and wine appears bloated, garish, and drastically overpriced. Worship of culinary innovation and virtuosity bores me, anyway. Food is less serious, and more serious, than that. The deliciousness of great Roman meals doesn't have to do with a particular chef's combinatory talent, but with a chain of proud people. Arugula that tastes so good, anchovies that taste so good, puntarella that tastes so good: these are the collaborative achievements of a gastronomico-agriculture.
The good places don't court you; actually they're willing to deny you a dish if it's not in season. I once went in search of carciofi alla guidia (artichokes Jewish-style, with are deep-fried and taste as good as potato chips). A self-respecting Trastevere (the neighborhood across the Tiber: tras-Tevere) ristorante refused, saying those artichokes weren't in season as of last week, and that the ones that were available now were only for carciofi alla romana (artichokes stewed with mint) instead. So I had those.
Not that there aren't bad meals in Rome: there definitely are. And there are establishments where popularity has led to impatience. Nice-looking spots near popular sites are usually mediocre. Waiters behaved with exasperation at the Terence Conran-ian Gusto, although their fior di zucca pizza was very fine. The crazy lines at tourist spots like the Café Sant Eustacchio make their sugary, Neapolitan espresso less enjoyable. But the level of execution at dozens of unheralded cafés around the city make up for it. My pick, simply because I had an impeccable cornetto and cappuccino there every morning, is La Cornotteria.
My last night in Rome, which was last night, I said I wanted to go somewhere typical, which began a somewhat rollicking hour-long argument amongst the assembled company, with recommendations flying around, places being called only to find they were shut (Sunday), etc. Finally it was realized that we were only down the street from a very typical neighborhood restaurant, apparently the last place Pier Paolo Pasolini was seen, eating his dinner, before being murdered. This was Al Bionde Tevere, a few hundred yards from Cestius' first-century Pyramide, which sits there randomly at a traffic circle. We walked over. It's a crappy-looking place with plastic chairs, on whose terrace stray cats torture lizards. You should try it.
Al Bionde Tevere
Via Ostiense 178
tel. 06 574 1172
Piazza del Fico 29, near Piazza Navona
tel. 06 686 4009
Via dei Vascellari 29
tel. 06 581 8355
Via Ostiense near Montemartini Musuem
Via della Rosetta 9, near the Pantheon
tel. 06 686 1002
My Life as a Crime Fighter: The Case of the Predator Psychiatrist
[Note: Some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals, especially the victims.]
There is no justice except that for which you are willing to fight. There is no freedom except that which you claim as your own, and for which you are willing to suffer and fight. There is no unalienable right except that which you can articulate, and, with others, arrive at a consensus on its value and utility. Justice is not a reality, external to the human condition, that acts upon this world, its institutions, and its inhabitants; Nor is justice a cosmic balance sheet that compensates for our losses in the world we experience by allocating credits that are redeemable upon our death. Waiting for justice to be dispensed can be a wait for an eternity. You have to seek it, fight for it, persevere, and hope there might be some measure of fairness in the end. You have to pick your fights carefully. Sometimes you find justice and feel vindicated; You may find an incomplete measure of justice and wonder if it was worth the fight; There are times when the bad guys win and you're fucked. This makes the human condition, to some extent, tragic. This can also make the human condition redemptive, if in the search for justice, regardless of the outcome, we learn important lessons about ourselves, our institutions, and the world around us.
The Case of the Predator Psychiatrist
Nathan Kossik phoned me and asked if he could come over that evening. He said he had a very serious problem, he needed to talk to me, and could use my help and advice. He didn't want to discuss anything over the phone. I told him to come over after my kids were in bed. Nate was my neighbor and one of my best friends. We both went to graduate school, married, and started a family. Nate was an aspiring architect and in his second year at a local architectural firm. His wife Gertrude did not work outside the home for pay, at that time. Gerti was pursuing a nursing degree, part-time, at a local community college.
Nate came to my house alone. I had assumed he would come with his wife, Gerti. It's hard to describe his state except to say that he was very, very upset. He was devastated, heartbroken, angry, very concerned about his two children, and worried sick over his wife. Nate and Gerti were both in psychotherapy with the same psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph R. Dorsey, of Hopewell Junction, NY. They started together in marriage counseling, but they stopped seeing Dr. Dorsey as a couple. Instead they continued with separate individual appointments. This went on for two and one-half years. Nate and Gerti came from dysfunctional working class families. They were striving for a normal, middle class life through education and pursuing decent professional jobs. Nate and Gerti had two beautiful children who were school mates and regular play mates with my own kids. Some time before, Nate confided to me that his wife's father was an abusive alcoholic, who terrorized his family and sexually abused Gerti as a child. Gerti was also sexually abused by her neighbor. She had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist about 5 years earlier as having severe mental problems. The only thing Nate remembered about the diagnosis was that it included the phrase 'schizoid tendencies'.
It was the mid 1970s. I finished all my course work for my psychology doctoral program, but I was still working on my thesis research. Friends and family thought of me as the local shrink who could listen to their problems and dispense free psychological advice, analysis, and counseling, whether I was qualified or not. Usually, I listened, asked some questions, and then referred them to someone whom I felt was competent to handle their needs. I was, principally, a research psychologist and generalist working in the personnel department at IBM in Fishkill, NY. I did a limited amount of educational, vocational, and adjustment counseling under the supervision of my boss, Royal Joslin Haskell, Ph.D., a diplomate in clinical psychology. I knew Joe Dorsey, met him frequently at professional events in the mid-Hudson Valley, and consulted with him concerning employees who were referred to him on matters of vocational and psychological adjustment in the workplace.
What Nate told me made my heart sink, and gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. I didn't realize it till much later, but it made me very angry to the point of rage. In tears he told me that Gerti had been having sex with her psychiatrist, Joe Dorsey, for nearly the entire length of time she was seeing him for individual therapy sessions. During this time, Nate was seeing Dorsey for his own weekly therapy. I thought the revelations would stop there. They didn't. Shortly after Gerti started her weekly sessions of sex-laced therapy with Dorsey, she told her girl friend, Janice Wines, and invited her to see Dorsey for her own psychotherapy. Jan was recently divorced with custody of two young children. Eventually, they carried on a bizarre 'menage a trois' for almost two years. Outside of the therapy sessions, Gerti and Jan were secret lovers. Nate was in tears for a good deal of the time he was relating this awful and bizarre story. My heart was going out to him. I would have found the narrative hard to believe, except that Gerti had confessed everything to Nate. Gerti had become more and more mentally unstable over the past year. Eventually she confided in her sister, Ellen, a professional social worker. Ellen advised her that she had to stop her sessions, immediately, and that she had to tell Nate, who was still a patient of Dr. Dorsey.
I sat down on the couch next to Nate. I put my arm around him and tried to comfort him. I told him that Elizabeth and I would do all we could to help him and his family. Liz stayed a discrete distance from the living room where I was meeting with Nate, but eventually came in and offered him some support and consoling. You might think that Nate would be furious with Gerti. Instead, he was afraid she would have a complete mental breakdown, and that it would also have a devastating effect on his children. He was most concerned about keeping his family together and taking care of his wife and children. He felt he couldn't confide in his own family given his parents' history of mental illness and dysfunction. He believed they would be interested only to the extent that they could get in on the dirt and the sordid details. Liz and I met his family a couple of times. If anything, he understated their mental disorders and the toxicity of their personalities. He said he didn't know what to do, and didn't have anyone else to whom he could turn for help. “What should I do?”, he asked. “How am I going to take care of my family? What's going to happen to Gerti? I'm afraid of what may happen to her. What am I going to do about that fucking bastard, Dorsey? I want to kill that son of bitch.”
Something has to be done
I told him that the first thing he needed to do was to see a competent, ethical therapist – one who worked closely with a physician so that they could monitor his and Gerti's mental and physical wellbeing. I referred him to Dr. Dan Williams, a psychotherapist and counselor, who worked closely with Richard Ballman, MD. Ballman was the president of the mid-Hudson Valley Medical Association and could be helpful concerning disciplinary action against Dorsey. Nate and Gerti took my advice, immediately, and made an appointment with Dan Williams. Williams and Ballman were able to keep Nate and Gerti sufficiently stable so that they could continue with their responsibilities toward each other, their children, school and work. The next thing Nate had to do was get an attorney who understood matters of professional ethics and discipline. I got in touch with the New York State Psychological Association to find out who handled their legal matters. They used a well connected Manhattan law firm and gave me the phone number of the principal partner, Willard Marino. Neither Nate nor Gerti were in any position to navigate through institutions and the people to seek disciplinary action against Dorsey. They asked me to make the calls, set up appointments, walk them through the process, and accompany them to their meetings. Of course, I said I would do whatever I could.
Our first meeting was with Dr. Ballman, the president of the mid-Hudson Valley Medical Association. He encouraged Nate (Gerti was not present) to file a complaint against Dorsey with his organization. We wanted to know what would happen to Dorsey. Ballman tried to assure us by relating a recent disciplinary action handle by them. It seems one of the local physicians had been engaging in some shady billing practices. Charges were filed against him, an investigation was done, and a nasty letter was sent to the offending doctor. As a result, the bad doctor sold his practice, left the area, and set up a practice in another state. Ballman was very pleased with himself and proud to tell us about how they dealt with the unethical doctor by running him out of town. Neither Nate or I were impressed with how Ballman and his organization disciplined their own doctors. He was not referred to the New York State Education Department, the licensing agency for physicians. Nor did they report him to the police or the Dutchess County Attorney for possible criminal violations. Instead they let him relocate the base of operations to another state for his unethical billing practices. I didn't want to tell Nate what to do. The decision had to be his. He didn't see much opportunity for justice with the local medical association.
The Bomb Shell
I arranged a meeting with the attorney Willard Marino. Again, I accompanied Nate and Gerti. This time, Janice Wines was with us. Jan realized she was also a victim of Dorsey's predation. It seemed a bit bizarre to have Nate, Gerti, and Jan together. However, they were all victims and I was the only one they could trust to point them in the right direction. Marino invited his chief civil litigator, Robert Cohen, to join the meeting. I sat in on most of the discussions about who, what, when, where, and why. We had two or three lengthy meetings. Nate, Gerti, and Jan signed separate contingency agreements with Marino to pursue action against Dorsey. In between the meetings Marino and Cohen did their own research on Dr. Joseph Dorsey. What they uncovered was a bombshell. Dorsey had a private psychiatric practice for 20 years in New York City, before relocating to Hopewell Junction, NY, in Dutchess County. During those 20 years, he engaged in the same predatory behavior leading to sex with his patients. Too, he was a pioneer in the civil rights struggles in New York City. The following is from The New York Times, published December 9, 1946:
“IN NEW PROBATION POST
“Joseph R. Dorsey to Be Sworn
as Assistant Deputy Chief
“Joseph R. Dorsey, attached to
the Probation Department since
1936, will be sworn in today at 9
A. M. in the Court of General Ses-
sions as an assistant deputy chief
Probation officer. Mr. Dorsey will
be the first Negro to hold that
“Born in Omaha, Neb., Mr. Dor-
sey, who lives at 7 West 108th
Street, was graduated from West-
ern Reserve University. For two
years he was with the State Divi-
sion of Parole.
“He spent five years in the Army
and served as a captain in the
South Pacific. At the time of this
discharge last year he was with
the Transportation Corps as as-
aistant to the Commanding Gen-
eral of the San Francisco Port of
Copyright © The New York Times
Joe Dorsey was one of the principles in the legal fight to desegregate housing in New York City. There was a series of cases and appeals that were prepared and argued by the NAACP, the ACLU, the City-Wide Citizens Committee for Harlem, and the American Jewish Congress. The plaintiffs were Joseph R. Dorsey, Monroe Dowling, and Calvin Harper, three African-American veterans of WWII. [Dorsey v. Stuyvesant Town Corp., 299 N.Y. 512 (1949).] Thurgood Marshall, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was one of the writers of the brief that went to the New York State Court of Appeals. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, owner of the Stuyvesant Town Corp., prevailed in that case.
Eventually, Dorsey was proposed for a job as a Deputy Commissioner in New York. It was very likely he would get the appointment. That promotion, raise in pay, and greater prestige never happened. It was discovered that he was having sex with his patients and had been doing so for 20 years. He was forced to quit his government employment and leave New York City. He relocated to Hopewell Junction, NY, in the Town of Fishkill. Just like the unethical doctor with fraudulent billing practices, Dorsey was 'run out of town' so he could set up shop elsewhere, and resume preying on vulnerable women. Instead of dispensing healing, he proffered abuse.
A Plan Is Hatched
Marino put us in touch with an investigator from the New York State Department of Education. We had several meetings with one of the senior investigators, John Froman. He was very encouraging. The law was recently changed to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of charges against doctors. The new process was supposed to be more efficient than in the past. The intent of the state legislators was to deal with medical malpractice in a more timely and predictable manner. This case would be one of the first to be handled under the new law. Later we would find out that the new process was no more efficient or streamlined than the old process. We discussed the fact that Dorsey was a hero in the civil rights struggles of the 1940s and 1950s. We had no idea how that would affect the outcome of the case. Froman said he would put an African-American on the review board that will determine the final disposition of the case. He wanted to blunt any future charges of racism. Froman arranged to take comprehensive statements from Nate, Gerti, and Jan. Each was filing a separate complaint. Froman was candid with us and said it would be good if he could interview other victims who were not associated with Jan and the Kossiks. I knew of a couple of woman (not through any professional relationships) who had been Dorsey's patients. In confidence, and guaranteed anonymity for myself, I gave him the names, though I had no idea if any were victims.
We had another meeting with Marino and Cohen. Bob Cohen, the litigator, did an analysis of the case and gave us a great lecture on the principles and practices of tort law. I still remember how his thought process was a display of the critical scholarship of Rabbinic Judaism. It was a wonderful tutorial on the law, and I could have listened to him all day. The civil case came down to this: The medical malpractice insurance company will offer, initially, an insulting and demoralizing sum of about $1,200, and hope the plaintiffs will go away. Assuming the plaintiffs don't take the money and run, the insurance lawyers will do everything possible to beat the shit out of them, and destroy any credibility they may have. They will argue that the plaintiffs were crazy in the first place, as demonstrated by the fact that they sought psychiatric help. They will present Dorsey as the victim, and the plaintiffs as a trio of psychotic nut jobs and liars. This is a gladiatorial contest among lawyers, Cohen told us, and not a process to determine truth and dispense justice. Our legal system does not guarantee justice. Rather, it offers an arena for a fight, a contest among mercenary knights (lawyers), where the judges and the law try to keep the rules of battle as fair as possible.
Finishing his analysis and presentation, Cohen deferred to Marino. Marino was direct and sobering. He wanted to find other women who were recently victimized by Dorsey. I told him about our discussion with Froman and that I gave him a couple of names to pursue. Marino didn't seem hopeful that it would yield anything for the cases at hand. Then he started prodding us with some ideas that we had not considered before. He wanted to know if there might be any physical or corroborating evidence. Had he ever said anything to a third party? Did he order in food or drink while Gerti or Jan were there? Did he take them to dinner and pay by credit card? Is there a chance they could go back to Dorsey, engage him in a discussion and get him to make incriminating statements and record them on tape? Marino pushed them on the possibility of secretly recording Dorsey. Neither Nate, Gerti, nor Jan was mentally or emotionally up to the ploy. At that moment I spoke up. “I can do it,” I said. “I can go see that son of a bitch and try to get him to talk.”
Tune in for Part 2, Monday, May 25, 2009.
In the second and final chapter of “The Case of the Predator Psychiatrist”, I will describe how the how the events unfolded, what kind of justice was obtained for the victims, and what kind of justice was delivered upon Joseph R. Dorsey, M.D. I caution my readers not to make any assumptions.
A Sales Conference
By Namit Arora
On Sunday evening, Ved flies to Palm Springs, California, to represent his product at Omnicon’s annual sales conference. More than a thousand of his coworkers from scores of countries will attend the three-day event. A chirpy event coordinator greets him at the airport and drives him and six others to a sprawling resort hotel at the edge of the city. It has its own golf course, horse ranch, hot air balloon rides, an artificial lake with boating, and gigantic auditoriums.
The conference opens at 7:30 A.M. next morning with a video recording of a high-energy rock band on four large screens. The lead guitarist screams, ‘Omnicon is blazing ahead, blazing ahead with all the winning elements!’ The intent is to get the adrenalin flowing early in the morning. The band’s screechy cacophony annoys Ved, but the sight of his Japanese colleagues in dark suits clapping earnestly amuses him.
On the walls of their auditorium are multicultural posters of happy people in business attire: shaking hands, gazing at computer screens with animated smiles, or peering lovingly at Omnicon’s box-like equipment. So much joy their products bring into this world! A gleaming red Ferrari stands outside the auditorium, soon to be awarded to the Salesman of the Year.
Ved is one of over fifty thousand employees of Omnicon in 130 countries. More than half of the world’s Internet traffic passes through Omnicon’s equipment. It never ceases to astound him that his company spends more on R&D alone than what the government of India spends on all its schools and hospitals.
He is paid to think about market dynamics, competition, and product positioning for a line of products. He crafts easy-to-digest messages, and describes features and benefits for less technical audiences. In a nutshell, he helps Omnicon’s salespeople sell. In doing so, he must sell himself too: his ideas, personality, skills.
Omnicon’s CEO, Greg Dyer, opens the proceedings by pointing out the importance of ‘the passion within’ that keeps his ‘intense focus on the customer.’ He claims to wake up everyday to this thought: ‘What can I do for my customers today?’ With his body language and deep voice, he projects authority and confidence. Following a loud drum roll, he introduces a new corporate tagline for Omnicon: Your potential, our passion. It is to replace the current tagline: Business is the game, play to win. Greg’s hour-long presentation is laced with frequent references to excitement, power, speed, and killing the competition.
To usher in a new growth phase, says Greg, Omnicon needs proactive competence renewal, relentless focus on systemic process quality, end-to-end mission-critical service creation, leveraged opportunities in emerging value domains, tapping latent creativities, and last but not least, the shaping of end-user behavior in a converged world.
Greg ends with a misplaced quote by Martin Luther King Jr. and by reiterating Omnicon’s four corporate values: Customer satisfaction, Achievement, Relentless learning, Empowering people (CARE)—all neatly embossed on a genuine twelfth-century knight’s shield (bought from a private European collection) in Omnicon’s main lobby.
A few months ago, Greg sanctioned new artwork at Omnicon. What was once anti-establishment art is now the art of the establishment, defanged, made chic: a wall-sized woodcarving of Ché Guevara’s shaggy face in one conference room; a reproduction of a Diego Rivera mural in another. High-resolution posters adorn major hallways: a lone bald eagle in flight, muscular rowers in a longboat, lean white people scaling mountain peaks. Inspirational messages appear beneath: only those who see the invisible can do the impossible. True leaders don’t strive to be first but are the first to strive. Dream more than others think is practical, expect more than others think is possible.
During a break in the morning sessions, Greg stands in the hallway surrounded by other senior managers. Ved sips tea and watches them from a distance. He notices their deference to rank and power as they compete with each other to impress the boss. It is good to be the king.
Though Ved has long seen Greg as a dreary man, isn’t this precisely what one needs in a CEO—this dedication, hunger for success and growth, the cold and focused execution of a navy seal? Wall Street appears unanimous: a visionary par excellence, among the best of the new breed of entrepreneurs. Omnicon is lucky to have him at the helm. For this, Omnicon’s board of directors has granted him a private jet and millions of stock options.
The session resumes. Greg introduces the next speaker, ‘Every great company has a few individuals who boldly go where no one has gone before. These latter day gladiators don’t seek easy journeys but new adventures and the rewards of leadership. At Omnicon, we celebrate such people. I introduce the next speaker with great pride and humbleness.’
An animated young man, a project leader from the Internet Games Online Division (iGOD), walks onto the stage to give a sneak preview of the games due for release—Pocket Empire and Ballistic Adventure. ‘One thing that keeps me motivated,’ he says proudly, ‘is the opportunity to do something that nobody has done before. I want to be able to look back in ten years and say, "look what I’ve achieved!" That’s the cool thing about working for a company that gives you the chance to pursue your dreams.’ Next to Ved, an older British colleague softly intones, ‘Oh, puhleeze!’ just as the audience bursts into a hearty applause. Ved turns to him and smiles; there is hope yet.
Presentations continue all afternoon. An industry guru offers an “independent” take on Omnicon’s market. He unveils his big idea: The true killer application is killing time. He explains that the leisure that technology creates, and other remaining “idle time” in the life of the techno-savvy consumer, needs to be filled with new technology—this is the race and this is our ultimate challenge! Using homey anecdotes to foster intimacy and trust, he paints an upbeat picture of the potential ahead and endorses Greg’s daring strategy of growth via strategic acquisitions—twelve in the last year alone.
New hardware, software, multimedia gadgets, and gaming consoles are launched. The air reverberates with jargon: synergy, paradigm, leverage, proactive, deployment, value-proposition, mission-critical, solution ecosystem.
In the evening, a bus conveys everyone on his hotel floor to a noisy Brazilian Churrascaria. Cocktails start flowing, alongside self-congratulatory speeches from senior salesmen (‘what a great, hard-working bunch we are’). Only seven of the eighty employees in the dining hall are women. None are seated near Ved.
He finds himself seated across a sales director from the US western region, a “Top 5%” salesman last year. Conversation soon reveals that the salesman is fond of Harleys and once traversed the entire US west coast on one. Each year he also hunts elk and moose in the Great Northwest on a friend’s ranch. Last year, he and his two friends nearly broke their backs dragging the corpse of an adult moose back to their cabin, a task normally done by Mexican farmhands with pickup trucks. Thankfully, the perfect roast that night made up for it. His words are laced with common expletives (‘that fuckin' moose’, ‘friggin' awesome roast’).
Next to Ved is the marketing director for Asia-Pacific, a young Singaporean educated in a US business school. They often collaborate on regional marketing programs. The director is an ideal corporate employee: clever, hardworking, analytical, and devoid of distracting interest in anything beyond his profession. How do clever people let themselves be content with such tunnel-vision: knowing more and more about less and less? Is that being clever or obtuse?
Shortly, a dozen servers go around the hall with massive slabs of rare meat on skewers. They stop on request and use a china dish to gather the red-brown fluid that drips as they carve the flesh. Fortunately for Ved, there is also a salad bar.
‘How far are you on the Asian Telecom testimonial you promised me?’ Ved asks the marketing director from Singapore.
‘I’m working on it,’ he responds. ‘It’s real close.’
‘You are not getting the Shanghai Bank case study until you get me the testimonial.’ There is a friendly threat in Ved’s tone.
‘No worries, I have everything worked out.’ He leans towards Ved, lowers his voice and says, ‘Keep this to yourself. We’re sending the customer and his wife to Hawaii. For this favor, he has agreed to let us write our own testimonial in his name. In fact, I’ve already drafted it. I’ll show it to you tomorrow.’
‘Bravo. Is this the secret of your rapid climb on the Asia-Pacific management ladder?’
‘I always get the job done,’ he says with a straight face. ‘That is the secret.’
Two drinks later, the moose-hunting sales director’s eyes have turned bloodshot. His expletives have multiplied, as have his lustful stares at a young waitress. Chomping on rare cuts, his chin is slick with grease. His plate is heaped with bones and streaked with red. Ved, suddenly nauseated, excuses himself, rushes to the men’s room and throws up. Bits of rice, beans, salsa and chips he ate for lunch come gushing out.
After the meal, the sales director inquires about post-dinner entertainment: how about a gentlemen’s club? ‘I doubt there is one,’ someone opines. ‘Palm Springs is a retirement community, people come here to die.’
‘I bet there still are lots of horny bastards like me.’ There are subdued chuckles. The sales director accosts a waiter who, minutes later, reappears with several names scribbled on a piece of paper. For this he receives a $10 tip. Word spreads and before too long a small contingent is settled on their post-dinner entertainment.
‘Are you going to join us Ved?’ The sales director pronounces his name wade. He is used to it by now, this clobbering of his name in America.
‘No thanks, I am tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.’ Not his idea of fun, to wade through strip joints with tipsy salesmen away from their wives. This form of entertainment, he feels certain, is behind him. It is not even of anthropological interest. On the bus ride back to the hotel, Ved is seated next to Fardad, a field engineer from Los Angeles, who inquires where Ved is from before revealing his own place of origin: Persia.
‘Why not say Iran?’
‘Yes,’ Fardad pauses, then resumes in a softer voice. ‘I think you’ll understand. I say Persia because Iran has such bad PR in America: Axis of Evil, fatwa-rattling mullahs, and so on. Persia sounds neutral, even exotic, with its cats, rugs, and ancient culture. As it turns out,’ he smiles, ‘most Americans don’t know that Persia is also Iran! They think it’s another country.’
A team-building event is scheduled for the second evening in Palm Springs. Omnicon’s Human Resources team has worked for weeks to make it happen. Participation is mandatory. They say that such events help break down barriers, foster trust, communication, and teamwork, hone leadership skills, and identify strengths and weaknesses. The end result is improved employee motivation and productivity.
But such events remind Ved of his place in the corporate machine: a puny gear that needs to be lubed and conditioned periodically. He knows that in this system, their collective output and efficiency matters above all else, but who needs juvenile games to rub this in? He dreads the small talk, the pretense of interest.
He considers calling in sick (diarrhea? vomiting? diarrhea plus vomiting?). But the evening is pleasant and the option of room service is not too appealing. Besides, cocktails and dinner would be served right after the event in the nicest part of the resort, the velvety green garden by the man-made lake he saw in the morning. How striking its contrast with the barren desert behind! He will surely meet a few like-minded Europeans who find this American team-building stuff ridiculous too, not to mention the human comedy of such events. So he goes.
Omnicon’s contingent is soon divided into tribes of American Indians: Hopi, Navajo, Sioux, etc. Each is to compete in quintessential “Indian activities,” such as making a campfire, a treasure hunt, pitching a nylon tent, and climbing rope ladders. His tribe is Navajo, and he is part of a group that is to build a campfire. Meanwhile alcohol starts flowing from four portable kiosks. It is late evening shortly before sunset. The desert air is starting to cool.
The project gets a boost when his Navajos stumble upon prime firewood neatly piled for them to discover and use. Many Navajos, among them Mexicans, Chinese, and Japanese, display childlike enthusiasm in transferring the logs to a brick-lined pit. Good thing there aren’t any real Navajos watching this, he thinks. Without sharing their elation, he does his bit for the cause by tending a fire that burns evenly. His Navajos finish ahead of other tribes, congregate with beers and margaritas, and start bantering. He fails to see what team-building purpose was served.
But the dancing flames warm him up. Staring into them he wonders: if he were marooned on a deserted tropical island, what three things would he need the most? Potable water would surely be first. The next, he reckons, ought to be the art of making fire. What a difference fire must have made to early humans! Isn’t it is way up there with stone tools, agriculture, and writing? Did humans get civilized before or after learning to use fire, if civilization is defined as humans learning to see in others their own human essence?
People mingle, the din of conversation rises, dinner is served, announcements made, and awards given. For post-dinner entertainment, an ex-Olympian archer in a cowboy outfit displays his skill by shooting apples off his wife’s head. Is there anything people won’t do for a living? By now his colleagues have grown loud with alcohol and lustily applaud the performance. The evening ends with a resplendent fireworks display befitting Omnicon’s size and financial muscle. The twenty-minute show lights up the night sky.
And indeed what a vast enterprise Omnicon is! Even core government portfolios in most countries—the health ministry of Greece, for instance—lack the budget of an executive vice president at Omnicon. Money is power, and with it, corporations are changing the world in their image. In a way, he too is on this leading edge of change.
But what kind of change, he wonders? On one hand, he is part of a system that creates new vocations, convenience, and leisure through advances in technology, a quest as old as humankind. On the other, he now also belongs to a global culture of competitive self-interest that sanctifies yielding to desire without consulting the soul’s scruples. Rights are now chic, not obligations. The citizen has been replaced by the customer, who apparently knows best. Instant gratification is king, not personal responsibility. This is called progress. Yet if there is a sustained linear relationship between material and moral progress, he fails to see it. What good is the former without the latter?
Some argue that technology has given far more power to man than he can handle with grace. But were men graceful with power in any age? Except that the stakes are so much higher today. And one thing is clear to him: Technology skews power relationships, and unbalanced power corrupts the soul. By working for Omnicon, is he not helping the US and its cronies expand their power and dominance over other countries? Is he not helping the culture of narrow self-interest to swell out of bounds? Oh, how he longs to know: is the net impact of his daily labors good or bad for the world? Is he, or is he not, acting like a little Eichmann?
More writing by Namit Arora?
Imaginary Tribes #6
Justin E. H. Smith
[Please click to read Imaginary Tribes #'s 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.]
It's the 105th annual meeting of the American Society for Anthropology. Dr. Ken Vonderwelt is late to his own talk. He is rushing from door to door in the massive foyer of the Minneapolis Sheraton, looking for the appointed venue, from the Lake Superior Banquet Hall to the Madison Ballroom to the 10,000 Lakes Business Solutions Headquarters. He can't find a soul he knows, not even in the Twins Sports Bar.
Vonderwelt spots an employee and asks him where the anthropologists are. The employee's nametag says 'Jimmy'. Jimmy asks him if he means the convention. He says there was a convention on the mezzanine level, but that the mezzanine conventioneers were all carrying tote bags advertising some new hip-replacement device.
"I think they're like doctors," Jimmy says. "Are you a doctor?"
"Not really," Vonderwelt replies.
"Maybe your group is meeting in the basement rooms. They're along the hall next to the fitness center. They're named after cities from around here. You know like Brainerd and Duluth."
Vonderwelt takes the elevator down two flights below the ground floor. In the Bemidji Room there's a man wearing a turquoise bolo tie. He has a long grey goatee and is talking to an audience of a dozen people or so about a recent summer spent arrowhead collecting with his wife. "We took the camper out near Flagstaff," he recounts. "Great arrowhead country out there. Mitzi and I were in heaven." Alas, Vonderwelt says to himself, I'm with my people.
But this is not quite the group he's looking for so he moves on, further down the hall. In the St. Cloud Room there are two men, one of them Native American, sitting in front of microphones and unopened bottles of water. He's wearing a flanel shirt and a cap that says 'Buffalo Bills' on it. The man next to him is talking about resource conservation in the Finger Lakes area. "Otherwise," he says, concluding some line of reasoning Vonderwelt had missed, "pretty soon the bass fishing won't be so good for the region's original inhabitants." He turns to his neighbor and says: "You wouldn't like that, would you Jerry?" Jerry grunts 'no', and the dozen or so people in the audience emit a borderline-laugh of condescending agreement.
Vonderwelt goes out and opens the next door along the hallway, entering the Mankato Room. It's a younger crowd, and a larger one. A young woman, her face cluttered with eyebrow rings and horn-rimmed glasses, is talking about the teenaged 'cosplayers' of Harajuku. She maintains that Lolita goths need to be seen as a separate species from, rather than a variety of, the vampire goths. Vonderwelt hears the word 'intermediality' and quickly makes his exit. What the hell kind of profession is this? he wonders. What do any of these people have to do with one another?
Next to the fitness-room door he spots a flyer with one of those copyright-free bits of clip-art, those silhouettes with the protruding noses and question marks over their heads, those inane little icons that announce: here an instance of bottom-of-the-barrel scholarship is about to take place; here an event has been scheduled for people associated with universities, but which bears only the most distant ancestral relation to science natural or human: a brown-bag lunch for faculty and/or staff on smoking cessation or stress management ("Blood pressure soaring? Try walking to work!"), a workshop on learning styles and multiple intelligences sponsored by the Office of Teaching Support, a lecture by Dr. Ken Vonderwelt. Or the clip-art homunculus might be found frozen in a stomping motion, surrounded by exclamation points and asterisks, and for this bad behavior will have been crossed through with a red slash. "No hitting, swearing, threatening, or other violent gestures of any kind will be tolerated in this office," the sign will warn, perhaps concluding with that golden oldie of public-institutional morality: "It's About Respect!" Nay indeed, wherever that clip-art man is found, you will know that the university has lost its way.
"Looking for Dr. Ken Vonderwelt's talk on 'The Sociocosmic Context of the Nak Concept among Ural-Altaic Reindeer Herders'?" the flyer reads, as the homunculus scratches his head. "It's been moved to the Minnetonka Annex!" The little man appears again, now featured in a running motion, running, we may presume, towards the Minnetonka Annex, his question mark transformed into an exclamation point, bending backwards from the sheer speed of his dash.
Dammit! Vonderwelt thinks. Why do they always write 'Ural-Altaic' when it's supposed to be 'Aral-Ultaic'?! And where is that damned circumflex accent over nâk? Nak doesn't even mean anything! Come to think of it, nâk doesn't mean anything either. I thought it did when I did my thesis. I made up this whole big structuralist structure that made it mean something. That went out of fashion, the profession crumbled into a thousand little camps --dear old arrowhead collector here, indigenous advocate there, grating culture-studies clones all around-- and I was left with my meaningless nâk: just a sound, really, just a meaningless sound the fates had conspired to make the center of my career. Nâk means employee benefits is what nâk means. Nâk means braces for the girls. Nâk meant braces for the girls anyway. Now it's just this last meaningless talk of an undistinguished career, advertised with clip-art, to be given in the Minnetonka Annex of the Minneapolis Sheraton.
"Miss," Vonderwelt says, showing his unconcealable age, to a girl pushing a cart bearing multiple 24-packs of bottled water. "Where's the Minnetonka Annex?"
"Oh that's like out on the lake," the girl says. "That's where we host company retreats. You know like the kind where people who work together go out to the woods and they have to fall backwards so their co-workers can catch them? To build trust and stuff?"
Vonderwelt nods his head.
"Well they do that there."
Nâk means last talk before I move to half-time teaching and the faculty takes away my conference-travel stipend. Last talk of my career and they've moved it out to a business retreat out of town without telling me. Nâk means lichen and nâk means life-force-- Vonderwelt was by now mumbling in a mocking tone. Nâk means whatever you want it to mean. Louise, the older girl, used to make up new meanings for words she shouldn't even have known yet. She took the names of illnesses and extended them far beyond the human body. A potato with too many eyes or too much mold was said to have 'tuberculosis'; upon entering an odd-smelling room she would deem it to be suffering from 'roomatism'.
How many Sanskrit scholars have milked a steady paycheck and employee benefits out of om? What does om mean, anyway? Vonderwelt wonders. Something like the onomatopoeia of the cosmos; the sound the human voice makes to sound like nothing in particular, just life itself. But they have texts and tradition. I had reindeer herders.
Self-pitying Vonderwelt makes his way to the annex shuttle in the front parking lot. There he finds Jimmy, buck-toothed and acne-ridden, yet, it now seems, a disarmingly eager employee of this great hotel franchise. "Hi doctor," he says, "you going to the annex?"
"I told you I'm not a doctor. And yes, to the Minnetonka Annex."
"This way sir, watch your fingers. It's a slide door."
In the van, Vonderwelt pulls from his bag his decades-old copy of the translation of A. P. Okladnikov's Yakutia Before Its Incorporation into the Russian State. It describes the archeological work carried under the author's leadership along the Lena River in 1939-40, under the auspices of the Yakut Institute of Language, Literature, and History and the N. Ya. Marr Institute for the History of Material Culture, which was then attached to the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. To think that any science got done at all, in those years! More than today, that's for sure.
Tanya's father had been on that expedition. She says the archaeologists had been ordered by the Yakut Institute, transmitting a direct command from Moscow, to be on the look-out for signs of living woolly mammoths in the region of the mouth of the Khatanga and in the vicinity of Cape Chelyushkin. She says that in 1938 General N. V. Vatutin, inspired by his recent taste of dethawed mammoth meat from Karelia, had developed a plan, codenamed 'Hannibal', to create a sort of cavalry of woolly mammoths that would drive the German army out of Finland. Vatutin regaled Stalin with images of the Arctic elephants' mighty tusks, and assured him of the 'near-certainty' that they were still out there roaming, somewhere, in the great North. Stalin became fixated. The archaeologists were given tranquilizer guns, and strict orders to 'harness' and 'tame' at least a half-dozen of the beasts by the end of their year-long expedition.
"Who knows if Tanya was telling the truth?," Vonderwelt thinks. "Maybe I should tell the story when I get to the annex, just to keep the legend alive."
"Last stop, Minnetonka Annex," bellows Jimmy, awakening Vonderwelt from his private Sibériade, as he slams on the brakes in the nearly empty parking lot of a bleak, futurist little complex of glass cubes tucked among the pines on the edge of the lake.
In the entryway to the large, central cube, Vonderwelt finds a letterboard announcing an event hosted by a certain Dr. Glenn Bacca, Ph.D.: "Building Trust, Building Sales: It's Your Move!" On a fold out table to the side there is a cardboard box filled with glossy pamphlets describing Dr. Bacca's many accomplishments. "Dr. Glenn Bacca, Ph.D., is one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the country," the pamphlet announced. "Known to earn up to $20,000 for a single engagement, Dr. Bacca has made a name for himself wowing crowds and boosting sales from Palm Beach to Palm Springs."
There is no sign of Vonderwelt's talk, not on the letterboard, not in any pamphlets in a cardboard box on the fold-out table. Vonderwelt turns toward Jimmy, who had followed him in from the shuttle. "Are you sure this is the Minnetonka Annex?"
"Positive," Jimmy says.
"So you're sure this is where I'm supposed to be?"
"This is definitely where you're supposed to be," smiles Jimmy.
Vonderwelt seems to understand. He nods to Jimmy, thanking him for his help, letting him know he could bring the shuttle back to the hotel. This was the final engagement.
Vonderwelt hears the din of audience participation from a meeting room down the hall, and makes his way towards it. He can already hear Bacca's voice, the voice of a man-child, a honey voice honed through an adolescence spent in community-theater productions of Cats and Grease. When Vonderwelt enters the meeting room the motivational speaking came to a halt, and twenty or so middle-aged, Midwestern middle managers, a thoroughly middling tribe, stand gaping towards the door, waiting for Bacca to give them some kind of sign.
"I'm Ken Vonderwelt," the interloper volunteers. "I'm, uh, here for the seminar on boosting sales."
"Well I don't know if you can call it a seminar," Bacca replies, feigning an English accent for that unfamiliar word, "but we're definitely about boosting sales."
The middle managers all laugh heartily, gesturing for Vonderwelt to come join the fray. Bacca instructs them to go around the room and say a little bit about themselves. There is Doug from Cedar Rapids who is just trying to stay focused on his vision, and Harlan from Peoria who won't let any negativity kill his deals. There is Steve whose dreams didn't burst when the housing bubble did, and Barb who, to the great delight of her peers, is on her way to outselling her ex for the third year in a row.
Once everyone in the room has been introduced, Bacca announces a new plan: "You know what I think we're going to do? I'm going to have you partner with Tammy here, and what you and Tammy are going to do is what we call a trust-building exercise. Because why?"
"Because there's no sales without trust," three or four of the participants mutter.
"You think that's something you want to do?"
Vonderwelt nods his head.
"Good," Bacca says. "Now you know what? I think we're going to do one of the oldies-but-goodies here. Now I know you're all going to be like, 'that's so cliché, that's so cliché'. You're going to say you remember seeing it on Eight is Enough way back in the Stone Age. But you know what? It's been around for so long because it works. Techniques that work in the motivational business are techniques that last. So Ken what I'm going to have you do is to get ready to put your trust into Tammy here. And I mean your complete trust. You're going to have trust Tammy to catch you when you fall back into her arms. If Tammy doesn't come through for you, then you know what? Your skull's going straight for the tiles. Sound good?"
Vonderwelt nods his skull, and he begins to prepare himself to fall. He tries to imagine what might come next. Would he be stripped naked and painted black with soot, taking on the form of some god of the underworld? The god of no-sales, who would then be ritualistically cast out and plunged into Lake Minnetonka? Would they scarify him with motivational hortations, or adorn him with a bluetooth headset and a penile sheath bearing slogans that promise 'solutions'? And is this fate, Vonderwelt thinks as he waits to fall, not the fate of anthropology itself? Could anyone else offer a more incisive farewell performance than I, here, building trust, falling backwards into the arms of some homely sales team leader from some branch office in Grand Rapids?
team forms a circle around them, and begins to chant 'trust, trust,
trust' in the same tone and rhythm that Vonderwelt imagines college
kids in that same region must, at that same moment, be encouraging
their peers to 'chug'. Bacca enters the circle and lurks
over Vonderwelt and his partner. The motivational speaker had become
the high priest of trust, and trust had become --by some hidden chain
of cosmic associations that would have been entirely obscure just
minutes earlier-- that force that sustained sales, just as blood once
brought the rain that made the corn grow. The high priest leans in
closer and commands:
"Now Ken, on the count of three, I want you to trust, and I want you to fall. Tammy here's got your back, you remember that."
"No you know what? I'm going to do something different this time. Instead of just one-two-three, like that, I'm going to count 'one, two, three... trust!' And when I say trust!, just like that, that's when you fall."
Vonderwelt nods his head again.
This new variation on the countdown is carried out to great enthusiasm, and Vonderwelt begins his descent. And as he falls the din of the encircling mob faded into the distance, and Bacca's theatrics occupy just the narrowest corner of his eye, and Tammy's saving hands seem still hours away (if they are to materialize at all, and all this talk of trust is to succeed in summoning its deity after all). And the sensation of the wind, and the blur of the bodies, and the sound of their chant all blend together in Vonderwelt's falling brain, in his now semi-retired, entirely spent little brain, into a single word.
Is that word trust? God no, Vonderwelt is no heathen. Is it om? It isn't that either. Om echoes with pure harmonious being, but Vonderwelt's word comes riddled with provisos, stipulations, conditionality, and backtracking. Is it, then, that notoriously plurivocal nâk? How desperately he would have wanted it to be just that! It is almost that, but --oh, what a career!-- the circumflex is missing. He hears it with a long a as in marsh, not the a is in land that Aral-Ultaicists associate so strongly with that two-sloped diacritical mark.
"Damn where's the circumflex!?" Vonderwelt thinks, plummeting, just as Tammy's cell, programmed to ring to the tune of the Eagles' 1976 hit, "Life in the Fast Lane," begins to peel out for attention. And the heart of the sales team leader from Grand Rapids, who never really gave a damn about sales, but only turned her attention to them in proportion as her nubility waned, races with hope as she recalls the personal ad she has placed in the Grand Rapids free weekly (which, too, referenced life in the fast lane), and causes her, cursed be the gods, to reach for her classic-rock phone.
For an extensive archive of Justin Smith's writing, please visit www.jehsmith.com.
The End of Something
By Aditya Dev Sood
I am sitting
inside a white cube, watching things familiar but different. I know
this music, but there are no lyrics, nothing to anchor the sound
flowing round and through me. These soldiers, their rhythms, they seem
to be preparing for an event I was once at. Perhaps India's
Republic Day, which I remember attending with my kid brother when he was about six,
both of us sitting in grass in front of the VIP enclosure with passes
that Captain Kumar had arranged for us while he was serving as ADC to
the President. Perhaps the Beating of the Retreat, which is held in
front of the old Viceroy's Palace, now the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and which
ends with a spectacular drum detail, no two drummers in the same
uniform or from the same regiment, North and South Block reverberating
together, silhouetted by the camel brigade, whose mounted guards point submachine guns into the air as the flares come sailing down
to close the ceremony. It is, of course, another country, another time,
and these memories have been triggered by a haunting new video work by Shahzia Sikandar entitled Bending the Barrel (no still available).
There is something uncanny about the angle and depth of Sikandar's camera. The marching band is moving past without making much progress, as if depth had been flattened for framing the scene into a Mughal miniature painting. The music emanates from their instruments but the moment is intercut with other scenes -- we are there but no longer there. Before there can be boredom there is a new anomie, introduced by Krugeresque text fragments that overlay the image plane, not with slogans, but with the impersonal and passively-voiced militarese that cannot but be recognized as the public pronouncements of the Army's leadership. This is an acute, biting piece, crafted without polemic, so much more powerful for being all quotation, all documentation, all juxtaposition.
The conductor's back is to me, his musicians stare at their sheets of music. They are seated on an elevated bandstand whose steps were coated last night in chuna, lime, to shine back in the sun a brilliant, almost blinding white, outshining the musician's spats and their neelam-washed white tunics. Framed by Sikandar, the musicians at first appear anonymous, ordered, regimented. But now and again she swoops in. At first this causes me to worry that some amateurism had caused a camera shudder. But she is neither zooming nor panning, but shifting frame, capturing in perfect detail a particular Army bandsman staring directly back at the recording lens, a new composition, a new picture within the picture. This is the delirious pleasure of experiencing cinema through the eyes of a miniaturist, who like others of her craft, can see, and can desire to see the whole as well the individual parts of creation with the same detail, the same interest. Sikandar's way of seeing is elucidated by her film-making, and newly educated, I want more of this vertigo.
I have few
and fading memories of my father in uniform. He was already resigning
his commission by the time I was four, and the period of his gallantry
in combat and the near-thing escapes from border skirmishes thankfully
happened before I was born and before he even knew my mother. How much
of his joke-telling-scotch-drinking-jazz-loving social personality,
though, was shaped by his training as a cadet in Khadakvasla? Would it
have been much different on the other side of that border? Sikandar's
quiet study of the musical culture of the Pakistani Armed Forces is
immediate evidence of the common Anglo-Indian idiom that all legatees
of the British Indian Army share.
I feel I should know these tunes by name, but they are blending into one another in my mind. Was there a Reveille? A Taps? One of them must surely be The Last Post, with which soldiers from the United States through Britain through Pakistan and India are laid to final rest. I smile wanly at Pakistani troops marching jauntily to Colonel Bogey March, which I remember from Hollywood's Bridge over the River Kwai. Now a soldier sitting impassively in what appears to be a professional recording studio is belting out a folk or tribal tune that I can't completely catch either, now dissolving into soulful and jazzy improv and fadeout: jadon ho gae gori nal pyar, ho gae kisi de nal pyar...
The alternately seated and then marching Army bands, and their fluid medley of Western and Indian musicalities puts me in mind of my own wedding day, now a lifetime ago. The invitation card was based on a painting I'd commissioned from the contemporary Indian miniature painter Mohammed Firozuddin, who traces his families legacy back to the house of Mansur, Jehangir's court painter. Its cover was based on The Marriage Procession of Dara Shikoh, a famous Avadhi painting by Haji Madni, and showed an enormous imperial procession behind the mounted prince, including a troupe of musicians and foot-soldiers carrying their shields above their heads.
In her choice of Pakistani Army Bands as a subject for visual capture and representation, Sikandar triggers deep resonances from within the tradition of Indo-Islamic miniature painting. The corporeal language, rhythm, space-making and compositional effects that she discovers and creates in film appear rooted in courtly spectacles as well as in their painterly representation, in various Mughal and later Company and British Imperial styles. The pagentry of Army bands on both sides of the border, moreover, have their foundation in mansabdari and related feudatary traditions of spectacle, which involved the parade and presentation of armed battalions and material resources potentially available for the command of the Emperor. Though visually beguiling, they are a pre-democratic form of public spectacle, which have been variously accomodated within the modern republics of South Asia.
In a patch of green in front of a public building a marching band has been invited to play for the camera. Perfectly framed and perfectly composed, they are united in music. Although they have finished the music somehow is still sounding, while they shuffle off and sort into the individuals they are actually comprised of, walking away in twos and threes, or standing alone, struggling with a carry-belt or a piece of regalia. In the distance, a motorcade is being prepared, for General Staff, ready, also to depart.
The common threads of our Anglo-American and Indo-Pakistani martial cultures are easy to trace through all of these songs, national, martial and regional, as well as in the patterns of drill that the marching bands will follow and the diverse postures of relaxation and ease that the bodies of these men will fall back into when they break formation. While it is easy and commonplace to fault the Pakistani army for usurping civilian authority, Sikandar's video essay would suggest that this has occurred not on account of their own character, but because of the structure of institutions and society around them. It has been on my mind, since I saw Sikandar's piece and viewed her other exhibits, that Britain and India enjoy civil service bureaucracies with a strong cadre structure, traditions, and values of social and welfare service delivery, while by comparison, at least, Pakistan and America do not.
The emerging embrace of the American and Pakistani militaries and national security apparatuses is the subtext of numerous sketches and studies that are also on exhibit. Reading clockwise around the gallery, they are illuminations from an unwritten manuscript, whose themes and meanings build successively upon one another as the creative afterglow of her cinematic project, while also being informed by the Americana she has recently curated from the collections of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. As esquisses they give an intimate account of the Artist's process of thought, association, meaning-making, and so will be prized by contemporary collectors, though they might once have served as mere preparatory work for real paintings. Sikandar has, in fact, completed several major new paintings of this kind, folio spreads too large to be lost, larger than the measure of man, at the scale of architecture itself, wherein all the meanings and intentionalities worked out in these drawings are reassembled in grand compositional style.
Where her documentation of the Pakistani military was perspectival and immediate, Sikandar's depiction of the CIA and the Pentagon is visually and conceptually abstract. The Langley Series is a set of four drawings that serve as a kind of book within the book, which borrows from eighteenth century Architectural copper-plate print-publishing in the tradition of Palladio, documenting real and imagined labyrinthine gardens as templates for new potential projects. In case you missed it, the CIA is a labyrinth. Sikandar's four-part Empire Follows Art is executed in a similar idiom, but to greater rhetorical effect: Her drawings begin with the classical hexagonal grids of Islamic Art and Architecture, which replicate and extend in all directions clear off and beyond the drawing surface. They are an index as well as an icon of infinitude, as well as a vehicle and means for entering into a meditative state. An observer may simply fall away from everyday reality and begin to see the world as a mere reflection of the divine. An open doorway to the boundaries of the nation, however, allows alterity to enter. Within the hexagonal grid complexifications and secret patterns are discovered, which reveal first one and then another larger pentagon, now co-originous, squared-off but mutually generating, the radiating star-triangles of one becoming the corners of the other. The resulting pattern is a stalemate, from which no release now appears possible. It is damningly good work, for I will never be able to look at the Pakistani flag again, without seeing the Pentagon inscribed within and superscribed around its star. Yet there is also no space for optimism left in Sikandar's geometry, and this is deeply disquieting.
In the titles of these paintings and series of drawings, Sikandar is more clearly polemic and critical of the Army and of militaristic thinking than she has allowed herself to be in the video installation: Here Fido, Here Boy, Arteries and Artillery, The Little Boys Club, for example.
Tone-Deaf Top-Brass is a tart set of obvious double-entendres, that Sikandar also couldn't resist perhaps, though the painting's visual content allows even more deeply critical readings of the relationship between Pakistan and America: amidst a figural garden stands the dynamically arching body of a warrior-monk, his loin-cloth fluttering in the wind of his motion. His arms outstretch such that they might hold an M-16, or is it an AK-47, or is it just a deformed trombone, whose double-sided double-barrelled horns billow into parachutes. This is blowback, for virtual inversions and bilateral near-asymmetries must always describe the joint drills being conducted under a waving American flag.
In any number of these drawings the figure of the monk reappears, now dancing or playing music, now fighting, now transforming himself into an eagle-man, leaping into the skies, grotesque and mighty. The monk is an icon of the artist and also perhaps of the observer, but the donning of the eagle-gear is a complex image that can be read in so many different ways. Pakistan is something else, but hiding in an eagle's clothing. The Pakistani leadership is flying high, but American eagle-gear is no reliable means or mechanism of flight. The eagle-man is also a mythological figuration of America's drones, preying in the skies above Afghanistan and Pakistan, making mere mortals of the tribesmen and women below, for they can no longer seek sanctuary within the security or damnation of their own national boundaries. A possible follow up project to Bending the Barrel suggests itself in the form of a docudrama of the pilots of Predators that fly over Afghanistan and Pakistan, but who work at military bases in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, as they return home each day, catch a swim or play tennis to unwind before helping their kids with homework and sitting down to supper.
In a series of calligraphic remixes and medleys, Sikandar explores the imposition of freedom upon Pakistan and the transposition of American values and national narratives upon the region at large. She copies existing copies of that famed original parchment, the American Declaration of Independence, her version being interrupted by further Krugeresque text fragments, now esconced within arabesques and calligraphic flourishes that bleed into the declarative signatures of John Hancock and other Founding Fathers. Beyond the limits of foundational charters, beyond time and the reactionary logic of the state, there is a warning here, and also a terrifying invitation, to the blurring of cultures and national narratives, which will create monstrosities and beauties, the likes of which populate our dreams. The calligraphic line, the flow of ink, funding, influence and power which now interconnect the destinies of Pakistan and America, Sikandar seems to suggest, form an umbilical chord, stomach to stomach, America to West Asia, but who is feeding whom?
Unlike Steve Gaghan's film Syriana (2005), which appears to counsel Americans to stay home and stay out of West Asia lest they endanger their children, their marriages and their personal safety, Sikandar's ambivalent exploration of the engagement of Pakistan and America seems to acknowledge that there is no turning back. Yet these intersections of culture and national interests will not involve any simple relations of power and quiescence, but will continue to create terrible beauty and violence before something else, something new, however bastardized or unholy, is born.
Sikandar's painting The Last Post is a sly, subtle and poignant remixing of media and cultures. The surface of the painting is contiguous with a sheet of music, but as the notes of the tune dance along the page they are interrupted by Urdu calligraphic characters, the visual and formal similarity between these two forms of notation descending more and more fluidly into an enclosed garden, perhaps even Arlington Cemetery. Also dancing around and along the painting are the contoured peaks and lines of the Himalayas, between Afghanistan and Pakistan where death, these days, seems to come easy, no matter what culture or world region one originally came from.
As Sikandar's sketches turn to watercolor and gouache studies, they become increasingly lurid and phantasmagoric, tracing for example the intestines of the general as they curl into a fleshy great horn, the sound emanating therefrom becoming a grotesque fart. Finally, in the apocalyptic Faith, Unity, Discipline, named for Pakistan's national motto, the Artist's warrior-monk is dancing a tandava amidst the flames of a ruined state, whose mountains and clouds are equally inflammed, whipped up by whirring battleship helicopters, as Jinnah's likeness, with Pakistan's flag for backdrop, looks on impassively. If the flavors of these paintings includes fury, horror and disgust, the overarching mood of the series is of pathos -- but without compassion, and leading the observer not to shanti, cessation, but rather the indeterminacy of a stalemate. All known ways of living and being and managing Pakistan from within and without have been exhausted, no new ones have emerged, and still we must persist.
All images courtesy Scott Briscoe of Sikkema Jenkins & Co:
1. Empire Follows Art, 4th of 4 works, detail
2. Empire Follows Art, 3rd of 4 works
3. Tone Deaf Top Brass
4. Alter Ego, After Goya #2
5. Last Post
Shahzia Sikandar's exhibition Stalemate is on at the Sikkema Jenkins Gallery through May 2, 2009.
April 26, 2009
Jazz Standards That Aren’t: On the Debut of Secret Society's New Album Infernal Machines
3QD friend Darcy James Argue is the creative force behind the very brilliant 18-piece steampunk contemporary bigband jazz ensemble Secret Society. (Secret Society played the second 3QD ball to our eternal delight.) Secret Society's first album Infernal Machines is about to be released by New Amsterdam Records, and we all eagerly await it. Some of the pieces can be heard here. The review in Newsweek:
Each generation tries its hand at grafting new styles onto jazz, with varying results—note Gil Evans's not-always successful use of Jimi Hendrix's music—but lately there have been some hip moves in this direction. On the small-ensemble front, Jason Moran has turned the hip-hop anthem "Planet Rock" inside out on piano, while the Bad Plus have proved they can work up a fever interpreting, by turns, the music of Nirvana and Stravinsky. But often as not, the thrills given off by these mash-ups are those of reinvention, as opposed to sui generis invention itself.
For a wholly original take on big band's past, present and future, look to Darcy James Argue, a 33-year-old Brooklynite who has composed a batch of manifestoes that draws on past legacies, and adds a little postpunk energy to boot. A onetime student of big-band visionary Bob Brookmeyer, Argue himself seems a natural product of an era in which genres can be shuffled with ease on iPod playlists. Talking with him, you go from discussing obscure Italian serialist composers to indie bands like TV on the Radio. The composer calls his music "steampunk big band," a reference to the niche art movement that fantasizes about modern tech innovations existing in the steam-powered era. That range is reflected—and, more important, is made frictionless—on Argue's debut record, "Infernal Machines." Argue's tunes can command your attention anywhere—no small feat in our media-saturated world. He and his 18-piece Secret Society band pull off the trick by pairing electro-influenced rhythms with fuzzed-out guitars, fearsome horns and chamber-music voicings in the woodwinds. For all this panstylistic erudition, though, Argue's music still swings hard whenever it wants. "Transit" explodes with an elaborate fire that recalls Mingus's "Let My Children Hear Music." The song "Jacobin Club," named after Robespierre's merry band, slinks with the sly wit of "Such Sweet Thunder"–era Ellington, proving Argue is no enemy of history. Listen on headphones, and you can hear a lot of rocklike production layering. Two thirds through "Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar)"— a civil-rights ode that's timely in light of the Obama administration's release of Bush-era "torture memos"—the production supports its trombones, stabbing like sirens, with a guitar that chugs ominously low in the mix.
It's Better to Have Rich Parents Than to be Educated, in the US
Via Andrew Sullivan, Ryan Avent points to a remarkable finding in some recent research on education and economic well-being:
The truly amazing thing to me is that parental income isn't just crucial in getting to college, and getting through college -- its effects linger on, basically, in perpetuity. One of the most remarkable findings from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project is that a child from a family in the top income quintile who does not get a college degree is more likely to wind up in the top income quintile himself than a child from a family in the bottom income quintile who does get a college degree.
'How to Win a Cosmic War' by Reza Aslan
From The Los Angeles Times:
Reza Aslan's "How to Win a Cosmic War" recognizes the struggle between Global Jihadism and the war on terror as an insolubly infinite one. He proposes, instead, that we'd be better off if we replaced the rhetoric of the absolute obligation, which characterizes movements, with the campaign's rhetoric of the finite aim. "It is time," Aslan writes in his introduction, "to strip this ideological conflict of its religious connotations, to reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders and theirs, to focus on the material matters at stake, and to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse." Aslan goes on to devote much of his book to distinguishing the earthly grievances of Islamists from the cosmic grievances of Global Jihadists, and to detailing how the former are pressed into service of the latter. Islamists, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are "religious nationalists"; they seek specific domestic redress, through Islamic political parties, of political and economic deprivation. Global Jihadists, like Al Qaeda, are "religious trans-nationalists." They plait together stories of specific injustice -- Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the corruption of decades of secular Egyptian and Saudi leaders, the dispossession of Muslim minorities in Europe -- into a "master narrative" of universal Muslim humiliation. They are purists; they prefer the unspecific glory of the struggle to the disheveling imperatives of regency. For nationalists who despise some foreign patriotism, war is the health of the state. For religious trans-nationalists who despise all infidels, jihad is the bloom of the believers.
Aslan is not only a perspicuous, thoughtful interpreter of the Muslim world but also a subtle psychologist of the call to jihad. This book's achievement is less its big point (rather obvious and repetitively made) about the impossible nature of "cosmic war" than its smaller understanding of how, for example, a well-assimilated second-generation European Muslim might blow himself up on a bus; its finest chapter describes the sort of conversion process that allows a Leeds youth like Hasib Hussain to become one of England's 7/7 bombers. Aslan makes a convincing case for jihadism as a quasi-religious variant of militant romanticism: a young man like Hussain comes to look like a disenfranchised Werther with a rudimentary global consciousness.
The worst thing for the world economy would be to assume the worst is over
Add all this up and the case for optimism fades quickly. The worst is over only in the narrowest sense that the pace of global decline has peaked. Thanks to massive—and unsustainable—fiscal and monetary transfusions, output will eventually stabilise. But in many ways, darker days lie ahead. Despite the scale of the slump, no conventional recovery is in sight. Growth, when it comes, will be too feeble to stop unemployment rising and idle capacity swelling. And for years most of the world’s economies will depend on their governments. Consider what that means. Much of the rich world will see jobless rates that reach double-digits, and then stay there. Deflation—a devastating disease in debt-laden economies—could set in as record economic slack pushes down prices and wages, particularly since headline inflation has already plunged thanks to sinking fuel costs. Public debt will soar because of weak growth, prolonged stimulus spending and the growing costs of cleaning up the financial mess. The OECD’s member countries began the crisis with debt stocks, on average, at 75% of GDP; by 2010 they will reach 100%. One analysis suggests persistent weakness could push the biggest economies’ debt ratios to 140% by 2014. Continuing joblessness, years of weak investment and higher public-debt burdens, in turn, will dent economies’ underlying potential. Although there is no sign that the world economy will return to its trend rate of growth any time soon, it is already clear that this speed limit will be lower than before the crisis hit.more from The Economist here.
More American Workers Outsourcing Own Jobs Overseas
More American Workers Outsourcing Own Jobs Overseas
coral crotcheting with math
Step out onto the planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.
Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands, and, maybe
nobody’s ever really seen.
How many can you find?
from: Ring of Bone; Grey Fox Press, 1960
Sunday Iqbal Bano Special
Iqbal Bano, who died a few days ago, was one of Pakistan's most famous and beloved singers. She was expecially known for ghazal singing, and in particular for singing the ghazals of Pakistan's most famous and beloved poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Thanks to my sister, Atiya, I had the privilege of meeting her after a concert once in New York City, and she was as imperious and gracious as I had imagined she would be.
UPDATE 4/27/09: There's a very informative post about Iqbal Bano by Fawad Zakaria here.
Here I have chosen a few videos of her, beginning and ending with poems by Faiz:
Searching for My Pakistani Identity
From Broken Mystic:
It started off funny. I was at the mall buying a birthday gift for a friend of mine and, as usual, the store manager was friendly and conversational. After she took a good look at my gift, the following conversation took place: MANAGER: Aww, is this for your girlfriend? ME: She’s not my girlfriend. MANAGER: That’s an awful lot of money for just a friend. ME: (smiles) Well, maybe you can lower the price for me. She laughed as she scanned the item through. Another customer approached the counter and waited patiently. She decided to chime in: CUSTOMER: Ooh, you’re buying gifts! ME: (smiles) Yeah, it’s for my friend’s birthday. CUSTOMER: Aww, that’s so romantic, your girlfriend is going to Love it. ME: She’s not my girlfriend. CUSTOMER: Hmm, maybe she’s a special friend! I laughed at how both of them were teasing me while I waited for the manager to package the gift. The manager was really helpful that day, so I asked her if there was a number I could call to give her an “outstanding” customer service rating. She showed me the number on the receipt and thanked me for asking. As the manager wrote her name on the receipt, the customer waiting in line caught me off guard with an unexpected question: “What country are you from?” For some reason, the question struck me in an odd way, as if it triggered an alarm in my head and sprung forth countless things I’ve been ruminating about over the past few weeks. It wasn’t a new question at all. I have brown skin; it’s easy to notice, so I understood. People ask me where I’m from all the time, but it was different now. Almost immediately, I thought about the current crisis in Pakistan, I thought about the corrupt Pakistani president Asif Zardari, I thought about the Taliban taking control of Swat Valley – a beautiful place that I visited once – and I thought about the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and my sheer frustration with Obama’s foreign policy. Even though it only took me about two seconds to respond, I still had more thoughts and feelings swell inside me. I feared that disclosing my nationality would disrupt the friendly interaction I had with the manager and customer. I worried that their response would be offensive or ignorant and that I would go home feeling like an “outsider.” It was too late for that. And it wasn’t their fault. “Pakistan,” I said slowly with an unfamiliar discomfort in my voice.
It started off funny. I was at the mall buying a birthday gift for a friend of mine and, as usual, the store manager was friendly and conversational. After she took a good look at my gift, the following conversation took place:
MANAGER: Aww, is this for your girlfriend?
ME: She’s not my girlfriend.
MANAGER: That’s an awful lot of money for just a friend.
ME: (smiles) Well, maybe you can lower the price for me.
She laughed as she scanned the item through. Another customer approached the counter and waited patiently. She decided to chime in:
CUSTOMER: Ooh, you’re buying gifts!
ME: (smiles) Yeah, it’s for my friend’s birthday.
CUSTOMER: Aww, that’s so romantic, your girlfriend is going to Love it.
ME: She’s not my girlfriend.
CUSTOMER: Hmm, maybe she’s a special friend!
I laughed at how both of them were teasing me while I waited for the manager to package the gift. The manager was really helpful that day, so I asked her if there was a number I could call to give her an “outstanding” customer service rating. She showed me the number on the receipt and thanked me for asking. As the manager wrote her name on the receipt, the customer waiting in line caught me off guard with an unexpected question:
“What country are you from?”
For some reason, the question struck me in an odd way, as if it triggered an alarm in my head and sprung forth countless things I’ve been ruminating about over the past few weeks. It wasn’t a new question at all. I have brown skin; it’s easy to notice, so I understood. People ask me where I’m from all the time, but it was different now. Almost immediately, I thought about the current crisis in Pakistan, I thought about the corrupt Pakistani president Asif Zardari, I thought about the Taliban taking control of Swat Valley – a beautiful place that I visited once – and I thought about the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and my sheer frustration with Obama’s foreign policy. Even though it only took me about two seconds to respond, I still had more thoughts and feelings swell inside me. I feared that disclosing my nationality would disrupt the friendly interaction I had with the manager and customer. I worried that their response would be offensive or ignorant and that I would go home feeling like an “outsider.” It was too late for that. And it wasn’t their fault.
“Pakistan,” I said slowly with an unfamiliar discomfort in my voice.
Jared Diamond: The Evolution of Religions
In Defense of Common English
Ben Yagoda in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Not long ago, I took part in a panel discussion at the Free Library of Philadelphia. My fellow panelists were two linguists and a lexicographer. Anyone who knows any linguists and lexicographers will be unsurprised to hear that their position on usage was descriptive rather than prescriptive: They were interested in charting and interpreting recent and historical changes in the way English is written and spoken, not interested in labeling those changes as "mistakes," and even less interested in decrying such so-called errors as evidence of a decline in American civilization.
At the end of our conversation, there was time for questions from the sizable audience. The first questioner stood up and said (I paraphrase), "It always drives me crazy when people use 'impact' as a verb. How can we abolish that?"
The panelists hemmed and hawed, murmuring sweet nothings like "the language changes" and "functional shifting."
April 25, 2009
William Cannon in American Scientist:
THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE WRITING 2008. Edited by Sylvia Nasar. Series editor, Jesse Cohen. xvi + 316 pp. Harper Perennial, 2008. $14.95 paper.
THE OXFORD BOOK OF MODERN SCIENCE WRITING. Edited by Richard Dawkins. xviii + 419 pp. Oxford University Press, 2008. $34.95.
People unlucky enough to have been born with the rare genetic disorder Lesch-Nyhan syndrome (nearly all are male) live in fear of attacking themselves uncontrollably with their own hands and teeth. Gifted science journalist Richard Preston gives voice to their otherwise silent suffering in “An Error in the Code,” an article from The New Yorker that is included in The Best American Science Writing 2008. Preston introduces us to two Lesch-Nyhan patients he has befriended who have bitten off their lips, chewed their fingers to the bone and attempted to rip off their noses. I was so riveted by the details of their stories that I was barely aware that I was learning science as I read.
I was less enthralled by the rest of this anthology. Its editor, Sylvia Nasar (the author of A Beautiful Mind), teaches journalism at Columbia and was once an economics correspondent for the New York Times. So it should perhaps come as no surprise that in this collection of articles from 2007 she focuses on “what was in the news and on people’s minds” that year (health and the environment, she says, not math and physics). Many of the articles concern medicine, health policy and the shenanigans of the pharmaceutical industry. The reporting is first-rate and powerfully documented. But by and large, storytelling like Preston’s is difficult to find in these pages.
Not so for The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008, edited by Jerome Groopman. Groopman’s collection is more eclectic than Nasar’s and is a far better book.
More here. [I have Dawkins' book and it is indeed a brilliant collection.]
Obama Girl + Obama
Adam Kirsch reviews Michael Kimmage's The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism, in Nextbook:
There is no shortage of books about the New York intellectuals—the mostly Jewish circle of writers clustered around Partisan Review—and their ideological schisms. But Kimmage offers a new perspective on this familiar story by focusing on an unlikely pair of protagonists. Lionel Trilling and Whittaker Chambers could not have been more different in terms of personality and background. Trilling, the child of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, was a quintessential New Yorker, who spent his whole career at Columbia University; Chambers, a WASP from Long Island, came to see New York as a symbol of America’s decadence, preferring to live on a remote farm in Maryland. Trilling wrote magisterial literary essays for Partisan Review; Chambers wrote blunt polemical articles for Time Magazine. Most important, Trilling was a reserved, professorial figure, while Chambers was a man of action, a Communist spy turned anti-Communist prophet who figured in one of the most scandalous trials of the century.
Yet The Conservative Turn shows that, from the time they met as classmates at Columbia in the 1920s, Trilling and Chambers followed similar intellectual courses. In the early 1930s, with America sunk in the Depression and fascism on the march in Europe, they were among the many American leftists who turned to the Soviet Union for inspiration. The appeal of Communism was especially strong to American Jews, who saw in Russia’s “great experiment” the promise of a world without poverty, injustice, or prejudice, including anti-Semitism. Hadn’t Lincoln Steffens, the crusading liberal journalist, visited the Soviet Union and proclaimed, “I have the seen the future and it works”?
For Trilling, becoming a fellow traveler was primarily an intellectual commitment, not a practical one. He did nothing more to advance the revolution than joining a Communist front organization, the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, and writing some pro-Soviet book reviews. Chambers was much more deeply involved in the Communist cause. After joining the Party, he became a secret agent for the Kremlin, helping to organize a spy ring among mid-level New Deal bureaucrats in Washington D.C. He even tried to recruit Lionel and Diana Trilling, asking if they would help him by acting as a “drop” for secret messages. They declined, not wanting to follow Chambers so far into the realm of espionage.
But in the mid-1930s, both Trilling and Chambers underwent a crisis of conscience about Communism.
thames & hudson
During the late Thirties, some of Britain’s most distinguished architects, artists, musicians, film-makers and others, many of them Jewish, arrived on our shores with their meagre belongings having escaped from the Nazi threat in continental Europe. Many of them made their homes here and went on to leave a lasting mark on our intellectual and cultural life. Britain reaped a rich reward for its tolerance. These émigrés later helped to create the Glyndebourne and the Edinburgh Festivals, the magazine Picture Post and the Royal Festival Hall. Sir Ernst Gombrich, author of the classic The Story of Art, was director of the Warburg Institute of the University of London; Sir Nikolaus Pevsner systematically documented the significant buildings of England, and the philosopher Sir Karl Popper, the historian Eric Hobsbawm and many others became important figures in our cultural landscape. Among them were two refugees from Vienna, Walter Neurath and Eva Feuchtwang. Walter had fled with his wife Marianne to London in 1938 and Eva had come later that year with her second husband, Wilhelm, fleeing Berlin on the last train out, just hours before the Gestapo came to pick them up.more from the London Times here.
Maybe it's the books we read when we're young that stick with us the longest. That's the time when books not only excite us, but seem to tell us about ourselves and our futures. As a teenager I read (wallowed in and feasted upon, really) Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh, Emily Brontë, Jane Austen, "Great Expectations" and "David Copperfield," "Crime and Punishment," "The Great Gatsby," P.G. Wodehouse and Kafka. A predictably unstructured and non-academic bag, I guess. I also read, with mounting glee, and seized from different corners of the bookstore when my mother wasn't watching, the paperbacks of Michael Moorcock, especially those concerning the doomed prince Elric. I didn't even know, back then, that Moorcock was already becoming one of the greatest British fantasy writers, the heir to Mervyn Peake, nor that his "Elric" books belonged to the "sword and sorcery" genre; and only later, as sword and sorcery swept like a virus through movies and games and into the digital universal, did I understand that I'd read works whose influence would prove to be immense -- strange and exhilarating stories from someone at the top of his game. Moorcock is a master, and though he's written more carefully, and more beautifully, and with much more high-minded purpose (in "Gloriana" and "Mother London" for instance, or the dazzling quartet of books concerning the dandy Jerry Cornelius), he's never quite slammed home runs as outrageous as these.more from the LA Times here.
the verse of Sherod Santos makes Logan want to put his hand into the whirring blade of a lawn mower
“Our Savage Art,” the latest installment in William Logan’s prolonged and rumbustious assault on the state of American poetry, comes furnished with no fewer than nine epigraphs in which the phrase “savage art” appears. One of these is taken from the second chapter of James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans”: an unsuspecting party of white travelers, including a pair of sisters, is passing through a gloomy forest unaware that they are being secretly observed by “a human visage, as fiercely wild as savage art and unbridled passions could make it.” “A gleam of exultation,” Cooper continues, “shot across the darkly painted lineaments of the inhabitant of the forest, as he traced the route of his intended victims, who rode unconsciously onward.” One can’t help imagining Logan ripping open a freshly arrived Jiffy-Bag of review copies of slim volumes with a similar kind of exultant gleam shooting across his lineaments; and certainly many a poet over the last few decades must have felt a bit like one of Cooper’s hapless heroines, tied to the stake, war whoops in the ears, a blurred, scalp-hungry tomahawk glinting in the sun, as they absorbed the bad news about their latest collection in one of the hilariously damning New Criterion verse chronicles in which the savage critic biannually vents his spleen.more from the NY Times here.
Cambodia Targets Opposition MP
Mu Sochua is a Nobel peace prize nominee for her work on sex trafficking and senior MP in the main opposition party Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). She is also one of the subjects of the documentary play Seven Women. She recently filed a law suit against Prime Minister Hun Sen for comments made in a national radio broadcast during he referred to her as a 'cheung chat', a cross between hustler and a prostitute. She was suing for an apology and a symbolic sum equivalent to 15 Australian cents. In response, the Prime Minister Hun Sen's Justice Minister has charged her with gravely defaming the PM, which carries a prison term. (Here is the Australia Broadcasting Company story on the whole affair, and here is the story in The Daily Beast).
Between 1975-79 over 1 million Cambodian women, men and children, were killed by the Khmer Rouges, among them my parents. The world community knew about it but watched from afar. Cambodia has come out of genocide and on the road to reconstruction but this stage of reconstruction is stuck and in many ways fast falling back to point zero.30 years after the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia has made some progress but too small. Over 2,000 innocent Cambodian women die every year of childbirth, at least one million Cambodian children go to bed hungry every night, hundreds of thousands Cambodian children and female youth are ruined in brothels, over 200,000 families have been brutally forced of their land and homes, and over 75% of Cámbodia's forests have now been destroyed. Innocent lives of my people could be saved if justice were served, if top leaders of my broken nation were less greedy, if development were meant for all.
I left Cambodia as an innocent young adoles cent because the Vietnam war was approaching and hundreds and thousands of sick, wounded and hungry families were already telling us that Cambodia was lost. I returned home 18 years later with two young children, to a nation in ruins. A new beginning gave us hope when the UN came to help Cambodia organize its first democratic election in 1993. It cost the world community 2 billion dollars. I became a leader in the women's movement, moving communities and walking the peace walk in city streets and dirt roads to pray for non-violence. I joined politics and became the first woman to lead the women's ministry that was lead by a man, campaigned nationwide to put an end to human trafficking, authored the draft law on domestic violence, signed treaties wit neighboring countries to protect our women and children from being prosecuted as illegal migrants but to receive proper treatment as victims of sex slavery.
I witness violence not as a victim but asI listen to hundreds an d thousands of women and children speak of the shame, the violation, the soul that is taken away when violence is afflicted on their bodies and on their minds. As a politician I always try to take action, to walk to the villages where life seems to have stopped for centuries, I challenge the top leadership of the government, I question international aid.
Today, I am faced with the real possibility of going to jail because as self-defense I dare sue the prime minister of Cambodia, a man who has ruled this nation for 30 years. Having been assaulted to the point where I stood half exposed in front of men, by a general I caught using state car to campaign for the party of the prime minister, I found myself assaulted again , this time verbally by the prime minister who compares me to a woman hustler who grabbed men for attention.
Within days my parliamentary immunity will be lifted so the court can "investigate" my case. This is normal proecdure for polticians from the opposition party or human rights activists or the poor who can not bribe court officlials. I will be detained in the notorious prison of "Prey Sar" for as long as the courts wish to take.
Many of my colleagues in the opposition, including my party leader have faced this fate for speaking out.
Cambodia receives close to a billion dollars in 2009 from the internatinal community, the USA contributin close to 60 million. Is the world still watching in silence while Cambodia is now ruled by one man? Is the world afraid to say that its aid is actually taking Cambodia backwards?
Let no Cambodian children go to bed hungry no more. Let no Cambodian women be sold no more.
We must walk tall but not a people bent because trauma of the Khmer Rouge is still a part of us. Let us not let our leaders and the world community use this trauma to give us justice by the tea spoon.
Let there be real justice.
Mu Sochua, Elected Member of Parliament
Sam Rainsy Party
Also from Mu Sochua:
Please see the latest development by listening to Australia ABC radio.
Just even more recent as it is happening right now.
Following my announcement to file a law suit against the PM, the government is also filing a law suit against me for gravely defaming the PM.
The Ministry of Justice will then, by next week, request the president of the parliament to vote to lift my parliamentary immunity. My party that has only 25% of the votes will not be able to help me.
The next step:
The court will issue an arrest warrant (within hours)
The next step:
I will be arrested in order for the court to "ïnvestigate" the case.
Since Cambodia does not have a separate detention for people who are under police arrest,I will join the rest of the prisoners in the notorious prison of Prey Sar.
The same scenario to all political targets of the PM. My friend who was MP spent one full year in the military prison, sharing it with one of the top Khmer ROuge killers-Ta MOk.
My party leader had his immunity lifted twice and both times he went into exile in France, as he is a French citizen.
I will fight till the end and will not seek asylum in the USA.
Likely, I will go to jail.
Be it, for justice. Be it for all women who have suffered so gravely in shame and in silence.
INSIDE THE TALIBAN'S 'GRAVE ERROR'
"The Taliban finally made a grave error," said Javed Siddiq, editor of the influential Urdu language daily Nawa-e-Waqt. "Once they challenged Pakistan’s constitution as un-Islamic, Islamic scholars and the Pakistani people no longer saw them as the self-styled defenders of Islam against western infidels – but infidels themselves who want to dismantle the Pakistani state." Siddiq said that challenging the constitution was a wrong step and believes it has backfired. Pakistan’s constitution was carefully forged by a board of Islamic scholars in 1973 – every tenet was crafted to make sure it conformed to the principals of Islam. "Now, all the different sects of the Sunni and Shiite, the religious scholars, the army, the politicians and every Pakistani is against the Taliban," Siddiq said. "They have lost." The Taliban were quick to sense their blunder and the resulting sea change in the country. "The expansion into Buner was the turning point," said Siddiq.
‘No ordinary Taliban commander’
It was soon after the Taliban signed the February peace agreement with the Pakistani government that Commander Fateh began to plan the militants’ move into Buner. "I saw Swat as an opening for us," Fateh told NBC News in a recent interview. "I knew if I planned well, we would be able to advance little by little, hopefully in a peaceful way, and gradually enforce Islam in the valley." Fateh, a 33-year-old native of Swat, rose up through the ranks of Taliban fighters after almost 15 years of fighting in Afghanistan. The somber-looking commander, who is married with three sons, is considered to be an accomplished military strategist, often brilliant in battle, according to Taliban commanders in the region. With the bearing of a de-facto prince exacting homage from his subjects, Fateh, whose name means victorious in Urdu, rode into Buner last Monday in the back seat of a black Toyota pick-up truck. Taliban fighters flanked his vehicle and brandished Kalashnikovs at the throngs of locals who had come out to catch a glimpse of him.
Fateh was meticulously turned out in a silky black turban that hung low on his clean, pressed tunic. He wore expensive-looking light brown leather ankle boots, and his long black beard gave off a heady smell of musk-scented oil in the afternoon sun. "This was no ordinary Taliban commander," said an NBC cameraman, who caught up with Fateh in Buner. "Most of them are scruffy. This guy was different. I wanted to ask him where he got his shoes."
I want my country back
Sehar Tariq in The News International:
Today we legislated that a group of criminals would be in charge of governing and dispensing justice in a part of Pakistan according to their own obscurantist views. They have declared that the rulings of their courts will be supreme and no other court in the land can challenge them. They have also declared that their men that killed and maimed innocent civilians, waged war against the Pakistani army and blew up girls schools will be exempt from punishment under this law. A law that does not apply equally to all men and women is not worthy of being called a law. Hence today we legislated lawlessness.
What was most disturbing was the quiescence of the Parliament to this legislation. The utter lack of debate and questioning of this ridiculous legislation was appalling. The decision was not informed by any independent research or expert testimony, and to my knowledge none of the parliamentarians are authorities on matters of security, rule of law or regional conditions in Swat. This signals disturbing possibilities. Either our politicians are too afraid to stand up to criminals or maybe they don't possess the foresight to gauge the national impact of this action. There is no hope for a country led by cowards or fools.
How can one be hopeful about the political future of a country where the will and the wisdom of politicians becomes hostage to the threats of barbarians? How can I be optimistic about a country where doyens of the media like Ansar Abbasi hear the collective silence of the parliamentarians as the resounding support of the people of Pakistan, but are deaf to the threats issued by the Taliban to anyone opposing the legislation? How can I feel secure in a country where the army, despite receiving the largest chunk of our resources, cannot defeat a bunch of thugs? How can I expect justice when there are different laws for different citizens, and I as a woman am a second class citizen? How can I be inspired by a country where there is no culture, no music, no art, no poetry and no innovative thought?
How can I be expected to return to a country where women are beaten and flogged publicly, where my daughters will not be allowed to go to school, where my sisters will die of common diseases because male doctors cannot see them? How can I be expected to call that country home that denies me the rights given me by my Constitution and religion? I refuse to live in a country where women like me are forced to rot behind the four walls of their homes and not allowed to use their education to benefit the nation. By endorsing the NAR and giving in to the Taliban, Parliament has sapped my hope and optimism. Parliament has dealt a deathly blow to the aspirations of the millions of young Pakistanis who struggle within and outside the country, fuelled by sheer patriotism, for a peaceful, prosperous and progressive Pakistan.
When there is no hope, no optimism, no security, no justice, no education, no progress, no culture – there is no Pakistan. Maybe it is because I am the grandchild of immigrants who was raised on stories of hope, patriotism and sacrifice that even in this misery I cannot forget that Pakistan was created to protect the lives, property, culture and future of the Muslims of the Subcontinent. It was not established to be a safe haven for terrorists. We fought so that we could protect the culture of the Muslims of the Subcontinent, not so that we could import the culture of Saudi Arabia. Our ancestors laid down their lives so that the Muslims of the Subcontinent – both men and women - could live in a land free of prejudice, not so that they could be subjected to violent discrimination of the basis of sect and gender.
More here. (Note: Thanks to dear friend Abha Pandya.)