June 30, 2009
Five Movements To Watch Out For in Science FictionChina Mieville in Omnivoracious:
As Steampunk wheezes and clanks exhausted into the buffers, dragging an increasingly huge load of books behind it, the hunt for the next great somethingpunk is over. The orgy of para-Victoriana has been impressively tenacious, but it has its limits, and rather than yet another reclamation of an earlier mode of production--steam, dust, stone, diesel--the punk aesthetic of DIY, cobbling-together, contrariness, discordance and disrespect for the past will go meta. It will investigate not imaginary branchline points in a timeline (an understandable if rather plaintive discomfort with the idea that such a line was actually teleological, and ended with this bloody mess) but history itself as always-already a bricolage, and what we do about that. Though this might look like apocalypse fiction, it will in fact be not about any implied catastrophe, but about scobbing together of culture from the refuse (and implying that all culture is and always has been so scobbed). An art of making-do, tool-use and ingenuity. A fiction infused with a militant amnesiac uninterest about cultural memes' origins and 'pure' 'original' 'purposes' - which chimeras its adherents will derisively and polysemically render 'pUr(e)poses' - this will be literature that celebrates reclamation, and/but forgets that prefix 're-': so, clamation fiction, ignoring the fact that ruins are ruined, were ever anything else.
If Benjamin warns that history is a buffeted angel staring at a giant pile of debris, Salvagepunk ignores the angel and roots around in the debris looking for a car to hotwire.
Salvagepunk is the most developed of these schools so far: its bards and theorists already exist, and have brilliantly started the job of delineating its contours, and making notes for a manifesto. More than any other of these incipient movements, it will have a recent history of precursors on which to draw, Salvagepunk avant la lettre. These influences include the Mad Max films, The Bed Sitting Room, Charles Platt's Garbage World, Steptoe and Son and the entire musical history of sampling, at all.
Anti-Semitism in Chávez’s VenezuelaClaudio Lomnitz and Rafael Sánchez in Boston Review:
On January 30, 2009 fifteen heavily armed men stormed the Tiferet Israel synagogue in the Mariperez neighborhood of Caracas. They held down two guards, robbed the premises, and desecrated the temple, throwing the Torah and other religious paraphernalia to the floor and painting graffiti on the walls: “Out, Death to All”; “Damned Israel, Death”; “666” with a drawing of the devil; “Out Jews”; “We don’t want you, assassins”; a star of David, an equal sign, and a swastika.
The event, though shocking, was neither isolated nor unprecedented. Over the past four years, Venezuela has witnessed alarming signs of state-directed anti-Semitism, including a 2005 Christmas declaration by President Hugo Chávez himself: “The World has enough for everybody, but some minorities, the descendants of the same people that crucified Christ, and of those that expelled Bolívar from here and in their own way crucified him. . . . have taken control of the riches of the world.”
In late 2004 the police stormed Hebraica, a Jewish social, educational, and sports center, ostensibly to search for guns and explosives. No weapons were found. But finding them may never have been the purpose of the raid: it coincided with the beginning of Hugo Chávez’s official visit to Tehran. Thus, Sammy Eppel, director of the Human Rights Commission of the Venezuelan B’nai B’rith, poignantly interpreted the event: “Chávez was showing Iran: ‘This is how I deal with my Jews.’”
Percontations: System Justification Theory
Communist memory "hotting up" again
In 2002, Charles Maier published an article widely referred to in subsequent debates about historical memory in Europe. He draws a distinction between the "hot" memory of fascist crimes, which still has not faded, and the relatively short-lived, "cold" communist memory, which unavoidably becomes dispassionate with the passing of time. Indeed, while the Holocaust remains the symbol of absolute evil in human history, the horrors of the GULAG and of Stalinist terror, despite being publicly condemned Europe-wide after the collapse of the Soviet empire, have not received comparable institutional recognition (e.g. museums, educational programmes, victim compensation). Convincing as Maier's argument is, evidence has emerged in recent years that necessitates a revision of his thesis, at least the second part of it. After fifteen years of successful transition, culminating in the accession to the EU, it seemed that the accounts of the eastern European countries with the past had finally been closed. Yet what we observe today is that communist memory is "hotting up" again in eastern Europe. Bear in mind the "decommunization" campaign of the Kaczynskis in Poland, where the Institute of National Memory has been turned into an instrument of domestic politics; recall the controversies and political fights about communist memory in Hungary (where in September 2006 rightwing demonstrators staged a "re-run" of the anti-Soviet 1956 revolution); or look at the current conflict around the statue of the Soviet soldier in Tallinn, which caught the attention of both the European and the Russian public and has since even become an issue in EU-Russian relations.more from Tatiana Zhurzhenko at Eurozine here.
The Swedish dream is no more
The Swedes are coming. As Europe lurches to the right amid financial and climate meltdown, a horde of cool-headed Nordic warriors are riding to the rescue. Sweden's EU presidency from 1 July will be greeted as a breath of fresh air after the Czech leadership, what with the latter's antics on climate change and arousal chez Berlusconi. What the EU needs is a whiff of sense and reason. And who better to provide it than the social-minded, climate-conscious Swedes? Sweden still sets hearts racing across Europe. The "Swedish model" might bring up thoughts of a nubile blonde rather than a strong social state, but it is in the latter incarnation that my home country stirs the passions of left-leaning Europeans. Whatever Sweden does must be right, or so reason progressive politicians and Guardian journalists – not to mention scores of Swedes. But beyond this blue-eyed vision lurks a darker reality. Sweden's conservative coalition government has stood still as the financial crisis has engulfed the country. Jobs, social services and healthcare are eroding. The Sweden Democrats – the equivalent of the BNP – are on the rise. The social state is failing. The Swedish dream is no more.more from Ruben Andersson at The Guardian here.
sex and banality
King of kitsch, Jeff Koons, comes to the Serpentine Gallery this summer with his first ever solo British show. Work by the American artist, who will be exhibiting his Popeye series at the Serpentine, 'creates a world beyond taste' according to the Guardian's Jonathan Jones. Preview highlights from the exhibition (which runs from 2 July until 13 September 2009), before it opens to the publicmore from The Guardian here.
And when you showed me Brooklyn Bridge
in the morning
And the people slipping on ice in the street
two different people
came over, goin to work,
so earnest and tryful,
clutching their pitiful
morning Daily News
slip on the ice & fall
both inside 5 minutes
I cried and cried
That’s when you taught me tears, Ah
God in the morning,
And me leaning on the lamppost wiping
nobody’s know I cried
or woulda cared anyway
but O I saw my father
and my grandmother’s mother
and the long lines of chairs
and tear-sitters and dead,
Ah me, I knew God You
had better plans than that
So whatever plan you have for me
Splitter of majesty
Make it short
Make it snappy
and bring me home to Eternal Mother
At your service anyway,
from: Kerouac - Pomes All Sizes; City Lights Books, 1992
How we survived Iraq
From The Telegraph:
For much of his time in Iraq, the big decision of Patrick Hennessey's day was what to read. While guarding Iraqi detainees, he and young officer friends would lounge around sunbathing in boxer shorts, holding impromptu seminars on the relative merits of The Iliad over Catch 22. When the idealistic Balliol English graduate defied his parents to join the Grenadier Guards, he expected adventure and was disappointed to find it mostly within the covers of books. After he was shifted to Baghdad, that changed: quiz nights alternated with terrifying patrol duties.
Then, in 2007, he was sent to Helmand province where the action was relentless. In one 48-hour push up the Sangin Valley, his team of six, without Afghan support, had to take control of 80 compounds. By the end of the tour, his company of 36 had lost 12 "blokes" – one killed, the rest injured – and three of the six officers had been sent home. Hennessey, one of the youngest captains in the Army, was the only platoon commander left. With each new empty bed in the room, each friend helicoptered out hooked up to a morphine drip, his introspections shifted from the relative merits of Homer and Heller to why he simultaneously longed for and dreaded danger. "Is fighting sexually charged because it is the greatest affirmation of being alive?" asks Hennessey, now a 26-year-old law student in a civvy suit.
When Money Buys Happiness
John Tierney in The New York Times:
Maybe consumers – especially the ones reading this blog – aren’t so irrational after all. In my Findings column, I describe how the patrons of a restaurant in Israel turned out to be surprisingly immune to the experimental manipulations of behavioral economists. And now there’s more evidence of sensible shopping behavior from an informal (and unscientific) survey of Lab readers. It was conducted in connection with an earlier column about Geoffrey Miller’s new book, “Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior.” Dr. Miller issued an open invitation to readers to try this exercise:
List the ten most expensive things (products, services or experiences) that you have ever paid for (including houses, cars, university degrees, marriage ceremonies, divorce settlements and taxes). Then, list the ten items that you have ever bought that gave you the most happiness. Count how many items appear on both lists.
More than 200 readers responded. Dr. Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, has read the answers carefully and says he’s impressed with Lab readers’ “good insights, self-revelations and vigorous debate.” He has picked out some of the distinctive answers and identified five overall trends. Here’s Dr. Miller’s analysis, starting with some of the most notable expenditures by Lab readers:
On the “most expensive” lists, the most distinctive items were:
• “A week at a mental hospital”
• “Wine cellar filled, then emptied. Repeat.”
On the “happiness” lists, the most distinctive items were:
• Thrift store shopping
• Pilot’s license
• Social club dues, memberships
• Beach house rentals
• Yoga retreat
• Adoption of child
• $25 plain gold wedding band that lasted through a 46-year marriage
• Coffeemaker with auto settings for waking up to fresh coffee
• “Shack in the woods”
• “Studio apartment in Paris”
• “Upgrade to business class on international flights”
• “Weekend delivery of NY Times”
• “Tire swing”
• “Spleefs” (marijuana)
• “Ant colony”
June 29, 2009
The Owls: Multi-Use Area by Elizabeth Bradfield
By Elizabeth Bradfield
Would the day on the hay flats—
sun slight through clouds, grasses
just starting again from last year’s
grasses, geese and cranes bugling
over the marsh—have been better
without the old tires, the gutted couch
in a pullout, a moose slumped alongside,
meat taken but the head still attached?
I can close my eyes to the pop bottles,
booze bottles, and orange skeet shells
in the parking lot, along the river. Walk
past them. I can pretend my own steps
through the marsh convey a different
presence. But I can’t close my ears.
There, a white-fronted goose, there
a pintail, willow branches cracking
underfoot, F-14s from the base. And there, again,
the shotgun blast and whoop which I can’t
edit out, which I probably shouldn’t.
It stops when I walk into view. I stop
and stare across the flats through my
binoculars, thinking asshole. And of course
someone’s staring back at me
over a truck bed, thinking asshole.
Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of the books Interpretive Work (Arktoi) and the forthcoming Approaching Ice (Persea). She plasters the streets with collaborations published by Broadsided Press and works as a naturalist. "Multi-Use" was originally published in Interpretive Work (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2008), winner of the Audre Lord Award from the Publishing Triangle and shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award.
Read (or listen to) more of Elizabeth Bradfield's poems here >>
The Owls is a literary kind of site devoted mostly to collaborative writing projects. Poems, stories, and essays from The Owls appear on 3QD as a periodical feature.
The Owls site currently hosts a photostream by Frederick Schroeder, "Night Drive," and "Screen Grabs," an occasional column-by-Twitter-feed on movies by Ben Walters. Work by Jim Gavin, Morgan Meis, Amy Groshek, and Jill McDonough has appeared on the site in recent weeks as part of a project called "Stamps" that features writing about places. The Stamps project will continue this summer with a new post each week on The Owls site.
You may receive updates about writing projects at The Owls here at 3QD, via feed, or by putting the word "subscribe" in the subject heading of an email to owlsmag[at]gmail[dot]com.
The Humanists: Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep (1977)
It's easy to see Killer of Sheep as a social tract, a cinematic essay on the boredom and hopelessness of black families in crumbling, industrial 1970s Watts — a bit too easy. Though Burnett's best-known film — and for 30 of the last 32 years, a seldom-seen one — provides a window of unparalleled clarity and style into its time and place, to read it as an elaborate argument about the entrapment of the urban black working class is to choose the most convenient but least interesting interpretation. The unambitious film writer can simply parse the images of the title character's endless sheep-skinning toil in the abattoir that employs him as metaphors for the lives of he and his wife, children and friends — grim, desensitizing and doomed — and call it a day. "And thus we see," it's easy to imagine such a (likely non-American) critic pronouncing, "the poor forced into deadening oblivion, as lambs to the slaughter, by the callous society that surrounds them."
Were that truly the extent of the movie's depth, you wouldn't be reading about it here. The "statement film" probably has its place — he admitted, wearily — though fictional cinema has always been a remarkably ineffective forum in which to make an argument, allowing the filmmaker to spread the sheen of truth, at least within their picture's world, on any old flight of fancy. Even documentary film lacks a firm barrier between sound reasoning and unhinged agitprop; it's no accident that the best members of the genre simply observe, casting off the nonsensical obligation to push a thesis. Charles Burnett seems, on some level, to have known this when he made Killer of Sheep, a latter-latter-day piece of neorealism with the aesthetic stylization of that subgenre and the unstaged feel of a nonfiction film.
Given that Burnett originally shot it as his UCLA film school thesis without intent to distribute or even publicly screen, it's all the more impressive to reflect on what the film does — or, to put it more precisely, to reflect on what the film doesn't do. It's a common filmmaker's temptation, especially among the young ones and those embedded in a film school environment, to peddle their own worldview and grind the axe through subtle — or, more often, hilariously yet unintentionally unsubtle — tricks of framing and causality. Either Burnett eschews this practice or performs it so well as to go undetected, though my money's on the former. While their efforts may often end in vain, he never for one moment appears to strip his characters of their agency; at no point do they come off as puppets carrying out a preordained design of modern struggle and malaise.
Much of this surely has to do with Killer of Sheep's structure, which sits just this side of nonnarrative. Its scenes are those from the life of Stan, a 35-ish slaughterhouse worker and father of two, and from the lives that orbit his. The viewer enters in media res , with neither introduction nor exposition, as the kids in Stan's neighborhood continue what must be their perpetual search for improvised amusement, hanging around train tracks, tossing rocks and swiping one another's footwear. The picture's short runtime also captures, among other events, arhythmically real conversations, frustrated home-improvement projects, singing and dancing, a game of dominoes, purchases and sales, the rebuffing of various dubious moneymaking schemes and an aborted trip to the track. Never are these sheets of life hammered into a standard story's frame, much less that of the expected morality play, and indeed, they'd be bent beyond recognition in the process of fitting them to the curve prescribed by a cinematic blueprint. The blessed absence of time-blunted movie devices brings the cast of characters to life and makes the elements of their comings and goings real: Stan, his wife, his son, his daughter and his broad, loose web of friends and acquaintances surely lived before the film's first shot and live on after it.
Freed from the obligation to track closely any individual or series of events, the movie observes whatever happens to be richest, shifting its focus with impunity. In this particular case, what happens to be richest is what's poorest, or what's born of the characters' not-far-from-impoverished circumstances. The neighborhood children, from toddlers to teenagers, are collectively engaged in a hunt for free entertainment, converting even the most desolate or dangerous locations into makeshift playgrounds, dodging dirt clods, timing handstands and leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Trying to get a disused car running, Stan buys a used $15 engine under seriously sketchy circumstances, only to have it immediately roll from his truck's bed, irreparably damaged. A group of friends appear all seated and ready to go somewhere, only for one of them to reach through the air where their immobile car's windshield should be and grab the beer set on the hood. Another cluster, with much fanfare, sets off for a day at the races, only to be permanently sidelined by a flat and no spare. (Travel far enough down the socioeconomic spectrum, it seems, and the burden of auto part failure grows well-nigh Sisyphean.)
At the center of all this stands young yet preternaturally weary Stan, the "killer of sheep" himself. Wesley Morris describes his demeanor as "well north of suicidal but south of content," which just about sums it up. Looking to be running through the motions of life though occasionally livened with just barely enough force of will to attempt affecting change, Stan bears the impassive, distantly melancholic expression of a man on the verge of total, all-consuming resignation. But at least he's holding himself steady above the abyss, evincing as he does a certain pride in his situation. He's not poor, he argues to a friend, because he makes donations to the Salvation Army, and how could someone poor afford to do that? He makes reference to an unseen local, "Walter," whose family is rumored to huddle around the oven in their coats and boil greens pulled from a vacant lot for sustenance. Now Walter, he's poor.
Whether by subtle, deliberate craftsmanship, a beginner's lack of limiting preconceptions about what film should be or a bit of both, Killer of Sheep delivers the experience of life unreduced, albeit life carefully edited, arranged and aestheticized. But isn't that precisely what cinema, at its best, should be? Built on the framework of and thus inseparable from its soundtrack of Dinah Washington, Paul Robeson, Earth Wind & Fire and Louis Armstrong, the $10,000 movie's $150,000 music rights tab obstructed a commercial distribution for three decades straight. Between its initial exhibitions and its 2007 restoration and release, the film was rightly whispered about as something truly special, to be tracked down and watched, rapt, at every screening, no matter how obscure or inconvenient.
Narrowly hailed in the 80s and 90s as a refreshing departure from the relative mainstream — referring variously to the black film mainstream, the indie mainstream, the realist mainstream or otherwise — it's today widely hailed as the very same. This may speak to its irreproducible combination of Burnett's prematurely masterful technique and the beneficial accident-proneness inherent to such a constrained budget and scale. (Many of the picture's best moments — and this is a picture of fine moments — occur in ways no director could have plotted out with any precision.) But it could be that, owing to its long life spent underground, most of the filmmaking world has simply not had the opportunity to internalize the film's lessons. That's a pity; Killer of Sheep is just the sort of thing cinema is for.
All feedback happily accepted at colinjmarshall at gmail.
As the Minute Clicks
A new night
(as they always are)
and cool —unlike June
in Jersey when I was green
but June anyway
anyway it comes
regardless of you
in mid-late evening
8:30 by the clock
—the night dark
in the window the sky
glows grey behind
silhouettes of trees
which if seen from a jet
would billow bright
in the light of the torch
that makes us tick
while underneath on
cloud-muffled earth what
makes us tick is a phantom
flame we imagine
we imagine it hints it’s here
right now in June
from the other room
fountain water falling
nearby from a stone frog’s lips
makes you wonder how
you’re doing as the minute
Stamp Your Feet. Hard.
Amelia Vega dancing at Bar Cardamomo, Madrid. All photos courtesy of Randolyn Zinn.
The way she moves
her slender waist
pleases the eyes
and the soul.
-- Abu l-Hajjaj ibn ‘Utba, 13th c., Sevilla
You go scattering,
as you walk,
roses and lilies.
-- traditional flamenco Alegrias lyric
In Spain earlier this year, researching a collection of poems I am writing, it occurred to me that my quest to find flamenco puro might be as romantically ill conceived as clambering through the back woods of the Southern United States in search of the blues. A fool’s errand, because both flamenco and the blues share at least one common fate -- professional integration into their respective cultures.
Before my trip, I had visions of coming upon a late night impromptu scene of music and dance in some smoky room in an Andalucían town, aficionados yelling their appreciative ¡olés! (the first syllable is pronounced ah for reasons I’ll get into later). In fact, I did stay up late watching all manner of flamenco performances in very smoky rooms to learn that the art has become somewhat of a career path, enjoying renewed interest today from artists and audiences not necessarily born in the Andalucían province of its ancestral beginnings. And the pure flamenco I had fantasized about finding proved elusive.
In the Beginning, Complexity Not Simplicity
Even though the word "flamenco" elicits a variety of images and sounds, perhaps cliché -- dark-eyed women in long ruffled dresses clicking castanets and drilling the floor with rapid heelwork, a man hunched over his guitar plying its strings in the plaintive voicings of the ancient Phrygian scale -- the art bears closer scrutiny. Born of strife between Christian, Jew, Gypsy and Muslim, whose ancient shared anguish is mirrored by the challenges of our own era, flamenco is one of the world’s first multi-cultural art forms.
While definitive answers about flamenco’s origins are impossible to pin down, conflicting theories abound. Andalucía, the southernmost area of Spain, is one of the world’s original melting pots. Its mountainous regions fall down the west coast to the town of Cádiz, the oldest city in Europe, settled by the Phoenicians. From Tarifa or Gibraltar, Africa is a quick boat ride away.
Map of Andalucia from the Lonely Planet Guide
Throughout history, Muslim, Jewish, Indo-Pakistani, Byzantine, Greek and Roman peoples have congregated in al-Andaluz, the name colonizing Moors gave Andalucía. When Tamerlane expelled the Gypsies from India around 1400 CE, they wandered west, settling on both sides of the Mediterranean, while other tribes walked north through Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Germany and France, arriving in Spain around 1447.
Here’s a clip of music (alegrias) with images of Cádiz from the film "Rito y Geografía del Cante."
Some scholars contend that Gypsies were in al-Andaluz as early as the 8th century, as camp followers of the conquering Muslims, who ruled from 750 to 1492, gracing Spain with brilliant innovations in irrigation, art, architecture and the introduction of important new crops they nurtured in the dusty heat. The Arabs made Andalucía a peaceful simulacrum of their homeland, tolerant of cultural and religious differences until Ferdinand and Isabella mounted the Reconquest. When the Spanish monarchy prevailed and, in 1492, Boabdil had no choice but to hand over the keys of the Alhambra to Ferdinand and Isabella, tolerance fell to tyranny. The devastating Catholic Inquisition persecuted and/or expelled ‘infidels’ -- Jews, Muslims and Gypsies who refused conversion to Christianity.
Those ‘infidels’ who stayed Spain despite the dangers discovered common ground with others similarly oppressed. Frightened, desperate outcasts hiding in Sierra Nevada hill towns and caves aided and learned from one another, their survival promoted by intermarriage and the intermingling of cultural and artistic traditions. The very word for flamenco may have roots in two Arab words: ‘felag’ and ‘mengu’ put together as felagmengu, fugitive peasant. It is not a huge stretch to link the cries of protest and grief that so dominate flamenco to the outrageous predicaments of those fugitive peasants hiding in caves. As D. E. Pohren asserts in his seminal book The Art of Flamenco, “they must have all expressed their sentiments through song, dance, and musical instruments.” Gypsy artists borrowed from Arab and Jewish artists and vice versa, tinkering with style and content as influences blended to create new forms.
Clap Your Hands
Flamenco as we know it today surfaced in the 19th century. You can hear the original strands of its multi-cultural blending in, for instance, the rhythms of the tabla that show up in the palos (styles) of bulería, siguiryia and soleá.
Flamenco is counted in 12-count phrases, which is very different from the predominant 4/4 time signature used in most Western musical compositions (or the waltz, set in ¾ time). Varying accent patterns within the 12-count phrase determine the particular form. The bulería compás (meter or time signature) is counted with stresses marked below as / or in bolded numbers. Try tapping your desk with emphasis on counts 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12.
../.././././ 123 456 78 910 1112
The variations are endless when accompanied by palmas (clapping), if every count is given equal emphasis or if the unaccented counts are syncopated by pitos (finger snapping) or the dancer’s zapateados (footwork.) Trying to keep tabs of the counts is like counting Stravinsky when every measure might change its time signature.
Here’s a useful aid for counting via Ravenna Flamenco by Andy Fitzgerald:
The soleá or soleáres is an intensely sad song usually danced by a woman with the last two counts kept quiet: ../.././././ or 123 456 78 910 1112, while the guitarist hits beats 1, 4,7,9 and 10. For the emotional tone of this form, I will quote a few lines from one of my poems posted recently on 3 Quarks Daily.
No singing. No dancing.
Let the spores multiply on the dishes. My feet won’t move.
Outside the window celadon leaves tremble against the glass
but they don’t comfort me. It will take stillness to recover
from yesterday’s news.
Likewise, the form known as siguiryia, perhaps the oldest cante jondo (deep song), is concerned with grief and death, and is funereal in both tone and tempo. The counts are tricky -- you have to feel it.
/././../../.. or 12 34 5 678 910 1112
Torn Throat, Not Singing Pretty
The flamenco musical scale uses the plaintive Phrygian or Dorian mode and not surprisingly, its vocal style eschews a smooth or pretty aesthetic. In fact, the rougher the better. As it winds around simple, skeletal melodies, force of feeling marries the voice to the stylistic link back to Arab, Persian, Sephardic and Indian vocal traditions. A singer can extend one word of text for several minutes as he or she spirals down into the emotional cave. Lyrics tend to be compressed, but their subjects of love, jealousy, social protest and outrage reach back to the poetry of Ibn Arabi, Ibn Hasn, and others. A malagueña by La Trini.
If only out of pity
write to me sometime
for my heart
is so withered with suffering
that it can no longer even feel the pain
Some of the 20th century’s greatest exponents of the torn throat singing style include Nina de los Peines, Enrique Morente, and Camarón de la Isla, whose legacies are preserved on widely available CDs. Paco de Lucia is the contemporary guitarist who has moved flamenco forward the most without sacrificing tradition. Remember that the guitar was developed in Andalucía by Arab musicians. Flamenco has brought it to artistic heights (or depths, depending on your point of view), and not by taking the pretty route.
So why is the first syllable of that one-word Spanish pep talk, ¡olé! pronounced ah? The answer holds another secret of cultural amalgamation. Muslims cry Allah, Allah! when they have witnessed a spiritual moment in music. For flamenco performers, the worst audience is a quiet one. While Westerners have been taught to keep appreciation quiet until the end of a song or dance, in flamenco, a moment of depth or risk must be appreciated right away. The present is elusive and meant to be enjoyed to the fullest. Anda jaleo! Let’s have some commotion!
Maybe our polite society has subsumed its cri de coeur for too long. If we use the film Network as an example -- the moment when the newscaster Howard Beale raves "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!" -- and transpose his rant to a flamenco moment, instead of throwing our televisions out the window, we might stamp our feet. Hard. And shout ¡olé! to a lyric like this:
Tirando piedras por las calles
y a quien le dé que lo perdone
de puras cavilaciones.
(I’m throwing stones out of the window
and if they hit anyone, I’m sorry.
It’s just that I’m going crazy from all this thinking.)
If you’ve not had much exposure to flamenco, you might start by watching the films of Carlos Saura -- Blood Wedding, Carmen, El Amor Brujo and Flamenco. Saura grafts ballet, Bizet, Lorca and de Falla onto flamenco, meddling, as some aficionados complain, with its purity. In any case, you’ll never forget the scene in Carmen, Saura’s play within-a-play, when the choreographer (legendary dancer Antonio Gades) scouts Madrid’s dance school, Amor de Dios, for his leading lady and finds the alluring Laura del Sol, who will change his life forever.
Flamenco Everywhere, Where Is Flamenco?
I didn’t come upon a Gypsy wedding in Andalucía, but I did find the sleekly attractive Museo de Baile (dance) Flamenco in Sevilla, where the education-minded can wander through galleries made up as dressing rooms, and watch floor to ceiling screens showing scratchy old film clips of bygone flamenco artists and glossy collages of beautiful contemporary dancers. This tourist was non-plussed by the museum’s attempt at codification of an art that by its very nature resists definition. Sevilla, however, lives and breathes flamenco with its scores of professional schools and fiestas. More than once I lingered under a window to listen to someone giving himself to the guitar. One’s ears become so attuned to the wily counting patterns that it is easy to mistake the clatter of a suitcase rolling along the cobbled street for a flamenco compás.
By chance I wandered into Bar Peregil, the outpost of once-legendary singer Pepe Peregil, who is still a very busy man holding court, arguing with the bartender, slicing jamon (ham), yelling with customers he doesn’t fancy and beating out compás on the bar for those he does. At one point he started a song -- his voice ragged as he’s no longer in his prime – and the entire bar joined in spontaneously with palmas accompaniment. One fellow pulled out a guitar and the evening spilled out onto the street where the neighborhood had gathered for a fiesta of food and music. I was astonished to see that even children knew palmas, including one excited baby tucked into his stroller.
Up in Granada’s Sacramonte hills in a whitewashed cave roughly the length and width of a NYC subway car, I sat on a wooden rushed chair with other turistas to watch a band of desultory performers sing and dance. To their credit, as their concentration deepened, their initial disdain for us fell away. I empathized with their plight. It must be hard to crank out fiery songs and dances for foreign yokels night after night. But I wondered if such compromise stokes the fire of outrage, flamenco’s inexhaustible fuel.
La Canastera in Granada
The espactáculos in Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Madrid that concierges will urge you to attend (hotels must get a commission) are rather cut-and-dried affairs, presenting well-rehearsed numbers by either novice or waning professionals who sport the ubiquitous over-accentuated furrowed brow to denote seriousness. They click castanets (palillos), twirl fans and shawls and negotiate the tricky ruffled dresses with long trains called bata de cola. All these are folkloric accessories introduced in the 19th century by ballerinas performing flamenco for foreigners. They are meant to enhance the pretty factor but are not considered signs of jurando (deep) flamenco.
Quality varies on the espactáculo circuit. Some are downright dreadful. I’m remembering one chorus of chubby girls chewing gum and wisecracking with the guitarists as they marked through a raggedy number like schoolgirls in ill-fitting recital costumes. In another, a barely competent woman (wife of the proprietor?) wore black stretch pants and a saucy sombrero but could barely manage the footwork. My companion leaned over and whispered, “Desperate housewives of flamenco…?”
A dancer in Madrid referred to these shows as museums of “Jurassic” flamenco, but other venues were quite good, like Sevilla’s Los Gallos or Madrid’s Bar Cardamomo, the latter a small peña where artists gather to improvise, much like how jazz clubs operate in New York or Chicago. Improvisation is the keyword in flamenco, and improvisation is what you want to see: when musicians and dancers tending the traditional fires get close enough to burn. When the pre-ordained gives way to a deeper concentration and the elusive, indescribable force of duende takes over, the force Lorca writes about so well.
But there are neither maps nor exercises to help us find the duende. We only know that he burns the blood like a poultice of broken glass, that he exhausts, that he rejects all the sweet geometry we have learned, that he smashes styles, that he leans on human pain with no consolation…The duende works on the body of the dancer as the wind works on sand…But he can never repeat himself… The duende does not repeat himself, any more than do the forms of the sea during a squall.
Not only flamenco artists communicate duende. I would include the work of Francisco Goya, Francis Bacon, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Rimbaud, and Sylvia Plath, among others.
With only two days left of my month in Spain, I was finally granted a glimpse of flamenco puro. "Oh sure," aficionados will shrug. Jerez is the spiritual home of flamenco. Well, I was late to the party, but happily, I got there.
First, following the sound of voices raised in song, I was led to an outdoor café in the square where a group of grandmothers had gathered to play castanets and sing traditional variations of the Sevillanas, a popular folk dance every Spaniard knows. Were they members of a club? Did they meet regularly? One thing was certain. Their table crowded with empty bottles revealed that these ladies had been singing for quite awhile. The sun was setting. They put down their castanets occasionally to answer cell phones, but otherwise took turns dancing while their compatriots sang reiterations of Sevillanas. It is a sure sign that a country’s culture is alive and well when matriarchs don’t sit sequestered and alone, sadly turning pages of a scrapbook, but instead belt their favorite songs in a public square and don’t mind when an audience of strangers draws near to connect with traditions. The exuberant joy these women expressed with their voices and bodies stands as a correction to the clichés we harbor about how elders should behave. Their culture keeps them fit and engaged.
Later that evening, I walked over to La Taberna Flamenco, a joint in the Gypsy quarter that resembles so many others I had visited in Spain. Its walls were covered with drawings and photos of great singers, dancers and toreadors and a small stage barely large enough to turn around on with a bare set of simple wooden chairs. The bailora (female dancer) wore a skirt printed with traditional polka dots, but the cantaor (male singer) wore sneakers more suited to a skateboarder. Their company also included a cantaora, only the second female singer I had heard in four weeks.
Despite their youth (or maybe because of it), these performers were the most attuned I had seen in Spain. The lead guitarist ran his fingers over the strings like a spider as he improvised beyond the expected rendition of a bulería. I was startled by how quietly they started the set, moving gradually into deeper concentration and force. Nobody pushed emotionally.
At one point in her solo, the cantaora stared suddenly into the distance, arrested by an unbidden thought or memory and she turned away. When she faced us again, with eyes closed, she let loose with a howl that electrified the house. Something inessential had given way in her and she began to sing from necessity, giving away her privacy in the kind of performance moment every artist longs for.
La Taberna Flamenco, Jerez
No matter that I am a trained dancer and somewhat proficient in flamenco, I had long ago come to terms with the fact that I would never achieve that certain angle between shoulder and chin that is the birthright of Andalucían Gypsies. However, while writing this essay a possible explanation for my interest in flamenco emerged. Like so many Americans I cannot claim a singular homeland. My genetic makeup is a blending of Italian, French and German with a dot of Pocahontas’ blood. Maybe flamenco’s amalgamation of bloodlines compels my interest because its home is mutable like mine, having changed through centuries of wandering and suffering, bridging differences between cultures, embracing the Other. Flamenco has spread its message not by waving flags or drawing national borders, but by singing and dancing -- these days, not as far-fetched a homeland as a desirable one.
Randolyn Zinn is a writer and choreographer based in New York City and grateful to the Jerome Foundation for her stint in Spain to research her first collection of poems.
Franzen, Cola. Poems of Arab Andalusia. San Francisco, City Lights Press, 1989.
Garcia Lorca, Federico. In Search of Duende. New York, New Directions, Bibelot, 1955, 1998.
Menocal, Rosa. Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. New York: Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
Pohren, D. E. The Art of Flamenco. Madrid, Society of Spanish Studies, 1962, 1990.
Totton, Robin. Song of the Outcasts. Portland, Amadeus Press, 2003.
Don’t miss the superb clips from Dawn in Granada, a film made for television about fathers -- dancer Manuel Santiago Maya or "Manolete" (one of the greats), and singer Jaime Heredia "El Parrón" -- “…passing their art and their passion for flamenco along to their daughters Judea and Marina.”
In this one it doesn’t matter too much that the sound and movement don’t match perfectly, but the mise en scene and bulerías are fantastic. Featuring Camaron Turronero, Paco Cepero, Camaron de La Isla and Paco de Lucia.
Grape harvest fiesta in Jerez. Bulerías, Gypsy style.
Stonewall’s 40th Eye on the Prize, and the Prez Blinks
by Michael Blim
The bus Thursday night was late. I slumped back onto the bench as the four-hour trip to New York had just gotten longer. As I settled in, I noticed a young kid waiting too. He had a Sesame Street character sticking out of his pink backpack, and he wore pink tennis and a rainbow-colored belt. On the back pocket of his jeans was written “God loves gays.” He might have been eighteen.
Flaunt it, baby, flaunt it, I thought. There’s still a very good chance you’ll get to New York in one piece. We’re almost normal now.
Four and a half hours later, the bus came bounding off the Williamsburg Bridge into Chinatown. It was one o’clock by the time I transferred at West 4th Street. The C train was no longer running, the A train was stopping at Jay Street, and lovely shuttle buses were offered from thereon. As I boarded the train to Brooklyn, a bunch of drunken young revelers hopped on. They were a mess of plastered and tinted hair, and a few were prettily painted. Kids of several hues once more with rainbows, and these too were all right with the world.
Finally the shock of recognition hit: the Stonewall 40th Anniversary was coming up Monday, and New York’s big Pride parade was on Sunday.
I had been oblivious. On the long bus ride, I had been reading the U.S. Justice Department’s June 11 brief supporting dismissal of a suit challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The motion to dismiss will be held this upcoming August 3.
I had been steaming. By the time the A train reached Brooklyn, it was as if I had the taste of Mexican mole negro, the bitter chocolate sauce, in my mouth. Yes, we were free, to which the rainbow kids could testify. But we had not secured our rights. And American society and we had fallen far short of liberation.
The Justice Department brief says it all. The Obama Justice Department brief says it all. I add the adjective “Obama” because even though Andrew Sullivan has noted that the brief’s author W. Scott Simpson is a Bush appointee and part of a trial team that defended the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003, Tony West, the Obama-appointed Assistant Attorney General, signed off on the brief. No one has yet called it a mistake.
The brief seeks dismissal of a suit by Andrew Smelt and Christopher Hammer alleging that their constitutional rights are violated by the provisions of DOMA that established for the first time in American history that marriage in the federal system of laws consists of a union between a man and a woman.
The brief is an exercise in deceit and disingenuousness. DOMA merely “codifies” tradition, Justice argues, even if the republic had survived without a federal definition of marriage for over 200 years, and even though marriage is a state and not a federal matter. DOMA, Justice avers, doesn’t prohibit same-sex couples from marrying: it just prevents same sex couples from any claim to benefits based on marriage, and it protects other states from having to provide benefits to same sex marriage partners who leave same sex marriage states and move to states without same-sex marriage.
Perhaps knowing that congressional reports supporting DOMA might be read by someone once more, the Justice brief takes but a short paragraph to describe the bill’s real purposes. Congress declared that the United States --- here the Justice Department is quoting from the 1996 House Judiciary committee statement reporting the bill for passage -- has an interest “’defending and nurturing the institution of traditional, heterosexual marriage’ because of the role it plays in ‘procreation and child-rearing.’” The Congress wanted to support “’traditional notions of morality.’” The Congress wanted to protect “’state sovereignty and democratic self-governance.’” Finally, Congress wanted to preserve “’scarce government resources.’” (Case 8:09-cv-00286-DOC-MLG, Document 25, Filed 06/11/2009, pages 16-17)
The Congress, Justice argued, has a right to legislate as it pleases on same-sex marriage, and to assert as a rational basis for its actions any reasons, however, prejudiced it might care to give, because persons as homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people have no rights to due process or equal protection under the Constitution.
Bald, ugly, and true. We don’t have Constitutional rights as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender persons.
But did the Obama Administration Justice Department need to re-affirm this? No, it could have refused to defend DOMA, and the Court would have assigned counsel to defend the law. Instead, the President has said that his Administration will seek DOMA’s repeal. As an opponent of same-sex marriage, the President can borrow a page from his Justice Department’s brief and seek repeal of the law while not supporting any instrument or political effort to legalize same-sex marriage in the 50 states. Can’t you read the headline crawling across CNN now: “Obama seeks repeal of DOMA: Prez Says No Federal Question Involved.”
(By the way, how will the Administration seek DOMA repeal when it has just defended the Act in federal district court? That will sure provide a “profile in courage” to encourage the 218st member of the House and the 51st member of the Senate to vote for repeal.)
Moreover, nowhere has the President mentioned that he views discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation of whatever sort a Constitutional question. He taught constitutional law for some years. Has he no opinion on the matter? Let him speak it. He is no Supreme Court nominee.
Let me close on a personal note. I am no advocate of same-sex marriage. I could be married to my boy friend of 16 years legally as a Massachusetts resident, but having discovered from a lawyer that it confers no inheritance advantage on him if I leave a will that protects his rights, I have refused.
I was born under a different gay sign. Having come out shortly after Stonewall, liberation was my path, coffee houses and community centers my context. My tribe avoided bars, seeing them rather sagely for the time as commodifying gay sex and gay identities -- never mind their success rate in converting social drinkers into alcoholics. I didn’t give a damn about respectability or what straight people might think. I worried more about the perverse power the commodity culture was unleashing in our community.
I was “brought up” as a gay man to believe that marriage was the linchpin of a system that locked up women, glbt people, and even straight men into deadly heterosexist relations. I wasn’t too keen on the gays in the military campaign either, reasoning that American military power was a threat to world peace, and best diminished rather than rationalized.
If the goal is liberation, as mine remains, both marriage and the gays in the military seem odd struggles.
But scratch any American, and scratch me for that matter, and beneath whatever we profess, you’ll find a raging libertarian. Justice Douglas said that “the right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedoms,” and for a people obsessed with whatever passes for freedom, however fuzzy it may sound, that is saying a lot. For Justice Brandeis once put it, a civilized person craves above all “the right to be alone,” and even though Americans historically have been at least a quart shy of honest-to-God civility, each of us is full to the brim with libertarian reason.
Many glbt people find marriage and the military congenial with their version of the life worth living. DOMA and “don’t ask, don’t tell” are a profound insult to our human dignity. The Obama Administration’s pro-DOMA brief was an oddly timed insult, considering that gay communities, including mine in Boston, had begun celebrating PRIDE within a week of the court filing.
I stand with all who want same sex marriage and those who wish to serve our country in the military, even though these are choices I would never make myself.
But I ask all who care to ask President Obama if he stands with us in our demand for the Constitutional rights to equal protection and due process under the laws of these United States. I appeal to the 250 glbt people who will be gathered in the White House this Monday to ask the President to support our Constitutional right to equal protection and due process under the laws of these United States.
To them and all who care: Keep your eyes on the prize!
Thanks to JC Salyer for his help understanding DOMA and the law.
June 28, 2009
Wall Street’s Toxic Message: American Capitalism and the 3rd World
Joseph Stiglitz in Vanity Fair:
Among critics of American-style capitalism in the Third World, the way that America has responded to the current economic crisis has been the last straw. During the East Asia crisis, just a decade ago, America and the I.M.F. demanded that the affected countries cut their deficits by cutting back expenditures—even if, as in Thailand, this contributed to a resurgence of the aids epidemic, or even if, as in Indonesia, this meant curtailing food subsidies for the starving. America and the I.M.F. forced countries to raise interest rates, in some cases to more than 50 percent. They lectured Indonesia about being tough on its banks—and demanded that the government not bail them out. What a terrible precedent this would set, they said, and what a terrible intervention in the Swiss-clock mechanisms of the free market.
The contrast between the handling of the East Asia crisis and the American crisis is stark and has not gone unnoticed. To pull America out of the hole, we are now witnessing massive increases in spending and massive deficits, even as interest rates have been brought down to zero. Banks are being bailed out right and left. Some of the same officials in Washington who dealt with the East Asia crisis are now managing the response to the American crisis. Why, people in the Third World ask, is the United States administering different medicine to itself?
Robert Wright's The Evolution of GodDan Cryer in the Boston Globe:
As a bold formulator he’s also a lightning rod for controversy. “The Evolution of God,’’ which explores permutations in our concepts of the deity, will please neither hard-core atheists nor fundamentalists of any faith. It’s too open to theism for the former, too rooted in scientific rationalism for the latter.Wright assumes from the outset that religions change. And the most trustworthy means of explaining why is to trust “the facts on the ground’’ - that is, the economic-social-political context. In the final analysis, he emerges as an optimistic materialist. For he concludes that change will eventually tilt toward a more benign global religious environment. Now before you can shout “9/11’’ or “jihad,’’ listen to his argument.The author traces the growth of gods from the animism of hunter-gatherers (where spirits rule over natural phenomena) to the polytheism of chiefdoms and ancient states (where multiple gods govern every aspect of life). These gods are hardly paragons of right living; they are capricious and often cruel. Over millennia, these models give way to a hierarchy of gods, with a powerful sovereign in charge, and, later yet, to monolatry, in which a city-state or nation bows to a single god considered superior to all others.Most of the book, however, is devoted to the evolution of God concepts within more familiar precincts of monotheism: the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and the Koran. In the archeology and textual criticism of modern scholars, which Wright cites, these scriptures seldom appear in chronological order. Read in the proper sequence, however, they reveal a record of change.
Allen Buchanan on Enhancement
Biological enhancement of human beings in a variety of dimensions is now possible. But what are the ethical implications? Allen Buchanan discusses enhancement in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.
Are humans cruel to be kind?
John Whitfield in New Scientist:
Around the time of the G20 summit in London on 2 April, the streets of cities across the world were filled with people protesting against the excesses of the banking bosses, among other things. Chances are you agreed with the sentiment. Chances are too that if you had been asked to put your hand in your pocket to fund a campaign to seize their bonuses, even if you wouldn't see any of the money, you'd have been sorely tempted.
If so, congratulations: you have just confounded classical economics, which says that no rational person should ever reduce their own income just to slash someone else's. And yet that's exactly what we do. Classical economics, it turns out, is a pretty terrible predictor of how we actually behave.
But why do we inflict pain for no gain? On the face of it, it is rather a perverse way of going about things. Does spitefulness stem from an affronted sense of fairness? Or something altogether darker: envy, lust for revenge - or perhaps even pure sadism?
It might be all those things. Economists, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have been teasing out how, used judiciously, spiteful behaviour can be one of our best weapons in maintaining a fair and ordered society. But intentions that are noble in one situation can be malicious in another - making spite a weapon that can all too easily backfire.
Slightly tearful I get reading Henry King's "Exequy"
in the coffee shop imagining for three seconds what it would be
to outlive my dear Jill
but only slightly briefly tearful because it's a coffee shop after all
and because I do re-realize as usual that the tears would be
largely for me
and the beauty of my devotion
and that in a long blue shadow behind a sweetly hypothetical sorrow
there waits the possibility—
the probability by and by that far more expensive tears will need to be shed
in anyone's life as in mine, so to save for that day seems wise;
accordingly it occurs to me that when I teach the "Exequy"
I'd better not read it aloud in class
because I'd get tearful
even before Henry King exclaims in a sudden parenthesis
that his dead wife was for him a world, his little world;
it's good for the professor to care
but the students sense that when the prof gets weepy
it's not good teaching; a serious frugality of tears
should be our study amid the hasting years.
Why your marriage sucks
Why would anyone submit to the doomed delusion that is marriage? The unmarried among us have surely begun to ask this question. (No doubt the married have, too, though in the past tense.) For several years now, disdain for heterosexual unions has been on the rise -- or at least the disdainful have been more vocal -- and it's become increasingly difficult to believe that a lasting marriage is possible. If it is possible, the "hard work" it requires will wring the partnership of all passion and wonderment and joy. From the narratives of wifely grievance routinely published in women's magazines to the spectacular public bust-ups of numerous celebrity marriages in which we have placed our bruised faith, it's easy to glean that we currently inhabit a vast and bleak landscape of marital discontent. There are numbers to corroborate this: In a much-discussed recent survey of 35,000 American women, published in the July issue of Woman's Day, 72 percent of married women said they had considered leaving their husbands. Seventy-nine percent said they'd like sex more often, and 52 percent said they have no sex life to speak of. Contemporary marriage, all signs would indicate, is a long, tedious slog toward sex-starved paunchiness via an endless, embittering negotiation of banalities: who will shuttle the kids, walk the dog, prepare the meals, wash the laundry.
The meeting of minds
From The Telegraph:
In this extract from Quantum, shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, Manjit Kumar delves into one of the greatest controversies in the history of physics
Paul Ehrenfest was in tears. He had made his decision. Soon he would attend the week-long gathering where many of those responsible for the quantum revolution would try to understand the meaning of what they had wrought. There he would have to tell his old friend Albert Einstein that he had chosen to side with Niels Bohr. Ehrenfest, the 34-year-old Austrian professor of theoretical physics at Leiden University in Holland, was convinced that the atomic realm was as strange and ethereal as Bohr argued.
In a note to Einstein as they sat around the conference table, Ehrenfest scribbled: ‘Don’t laugh! There is a special section in purgatory for professors of quantum theory, where they will be obliged to listen to lectures on classical physics ten hours every day.’ ‘I laugh only at their naivete,’ Einstein replied. ‘Who knows who would have the [last] laugh in a few years?’ For him it was no laughing matter, for at stake was the very nature of reality and the soul of physics. The photograph of those gathered at the fifth Solvay conference on ‘Electrons and Photons’, held in Brussels from 24 to 29 October 1927, encapsulates the story of the most dramatic period in the history of physics. With seventeen of the 29 invited eventually earning a Nobel Prize, the conference was one of the most spectacular meetings of minds ever held. It marked the end of a golden age of physics, an era of scientific creativity unparalleled since the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century led by Galileo and Newton.
June 27, 2009
Iran's national poet speaks out
Via Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post:
"NPR's Davar Ardalan interviewed Simin Behbahani, Iran's national poet, today from Tehran. She's 82 years-old and one of the most respected figures in modern Iran. She recites two poems inspired by recent events -- one dedicated to the people of Iran and another to Neda, the woman whose death during the protests was viewed by millions on the web and on TV."
As Sully would say: Know hope!
UPDATE: Nico Pitney points out that the video below is from June 16th, but notes that "it does give a sense of how vibrant the election debate was before the government's vicious crackdown."
Via Andrew Sullivan: "Vive La Resistance!"
Iran: Night Raids Terrorize Civilians
From Human Rights Watch:
Iran's paramilitary Basij arecarrying out brutal nighttime raids, destroying property in private homes and beating civilians in an attempt to stop nightly protest chants, Human RightsWatch said today. Human Rights Watch also said the Iranian authorities areconfiscating satellite dishes from private homes to prevent citizens from seeing foreign news.
"While most of the world's attention is focused on the beatings in the streets of Iran during the day, the Basijis are carrying outbrutal raids on people's apartments during the night," said Sarah Leah Whitson,Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Witnesses are telling us that the Basijis are trashing entire streets and even neighborhoods as well asindividual homes trying to stop the nightly rooftop protest chants."
More here. What can we do?
Samuel Beckett changed the ways we see the world. He did so by transforming the genres we use to represent it, remaking them in the light of his grand inquisitorial playfulness. Despite his endlessly self-effacing way of writing, plays like Endgame, novels like Molloy, and a host of inscrutable poems, essays and prose fragments, bear his unmistakable signature. They announce on every page: Beckett was here. It is perhaps paradoxical that such a minimalist should have had such a maximal effect, and an opponent of biographical readings of art such a high biographical profile (witness the big biographies by Deirdre Bair, Anthony Cronin and James Knowlson, and innumerable iconic photos). Beckett was a prolific as well as obscure minimalist and his fans and 'biografiends' have been waiting a long time for the light to be thrown from his huge correspondence. The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940 is the 700-page first instalment of a four-volume 'comprehensive' selection (later to be published complete in twelve or more volumes). The correspondence, much of which was written in Beckett's elegant but almost indecipherable 'Ogham script', is edited with almost manic scruple by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck, charged by Beckett in 1985 with the task of 'its reduction to those passages only having a bearing on my work'.more from Hugh Haughton at Literary Review here.
the man's in love, jerks
"I never figured Sanford for anything like this," mused one of the governor's constituents in The New York Times this week. Mark Sanford's friends are aghast. His neighbors shake their heads. His community simply could not see it coming. The Internet is in convulsions: Who would have thought Sanford capable of this? Give it a rest. The man didn't commit murder here. He's in love. Anarchic, hurtful, but seemingly true love. Governor Sanford of South Carolina had what would, under ordinary circumstances, be considered an ideal romantic relationship in the 21st century. Slow to evolve and based on proven mutual friendship and respect, it was eight years in the making. The woman involved, Maria, was not offensively younger than he. She was not his intern, his boss, his student, his financial contributor. He was hardly using her for sex--indeed, he had not spent that much time in her company, as they lived on different continents. Nor was he deceiving her: He told her his family obligations, his pleasures, his fears. She even told him of the men trying to seduce her. In fact, they told each other so much (and slept with each other so little) that they left a huge paper trail--or cyber trail, rather--for their enemies to scrutinize. More hedonistic pairs leave far less ample evidence for their sins. But Mark and Maria confided in each other constantly. They supported each other tenderly ("I want to help [one of your sons] with film guys that might help his career ...") They forgave each other's differences--Maria's insecurity ("you do not need a therapist to tell you who you are") and the governor's prudishness ("that would be going into sexual details," he smiles, "...and unlike you, I would never do that!").more from Cristina Nehring at TNR here.
Werner Herzog is famous for his cinematic depictions of obsessives and outsiders, from the El Dorado-seeking Spaniard played by Klaus Kinski in his 1972 international breakthrough, "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," to Timothy Treadwell, the doomed bear-worshiper of his 2005 documentary, "Grizzly Man." Herzog's own reputation as an obsessive, not to mention daredevil and doomsayer, was solidified by "Burden of Dreams," a documentary chronicling Herzog's trials while filming "Fitzcarraldo" in the Peruvian jungle in 1981. "Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of 'Fitzcarraldo' " comprises Herzog's diaries from the three arduous years he worked on that movie, which earned him a best director award at Cannes in 1982 yet nearly derailed his career. It reveals him to be witty, compassionate, microscopically observant and -- your call -- either maniacally determined or admirably persevering. "A vision had seized hold of me . . . ," he writes in the book's prologue. "It was the vision of a large steamship scaling a hill under its own steam, working its way up a steep slope in the jungle, while above this natural landscape, which shatters the weak and the strong with equal ferocity, soars the voice of Caruso."more from Lawrence Levi at the LA Times here.
Remembering the Past is Like Imagining the Future
Sean Carroll in Cosmic Variance:
Because of the growth of entropy, we have a very different epistemic access to the past than to the future. In retrodicting the past, we have recourse to “memories” and “records,” which we can take as mostly-reliable indicators of events that actually happened. But when it comes to the future, the best we can do is extrapolate, without nearly the reliability that we have in reconstructing the past...
As it turns out, the way that the human brain goes about the task of “remembering the past” is actually very similar to how it goes about “imagining the future.” Deep down, these are activities with very different functions and outcomes — predicting the future is a lot less reliable, for one thing. But in both cases, the brain goes through more or less the same routine.
That’s what Daniel Schacter at Harvard and his friends have discovered, by doing functional MRI studies of brains subjected to different kinds of cues. (Science News report, Nature review article, Charlie Rose interview.) Subjects are inserted gently into the giant magnetic field, then asked to either conjure up a memory or imagine a future scenario about some particular cue-word. What you see is that the same sites in the brain light up in both cases. The brain on the left in this image is remembering the past — on the right, it’s concocting an imaginary scenario about the future.
The Improbable American
Iran's New Revolutionaries
Babak Sarfaraz in The Nation:
Unlike their wide-eyed parents with their utopias and romanticization of revolutionary violence, the new young revolutionaries are sophisticated and canny. They have few illusions about the magnitude of the problems facing their country or the complexities of living in a highly traditional and religious society. For example, despite the fact that they are overwhelmingly secular, their slogans mingle political and religious themes to avoid alienating the faithful. Their response to Obama's initially measured rhetoric is another sign of a new political sophistication at work: everyone understands that US meddling would be the proverbial kiss of death to the opposition's cause.
In the days and weeks to come, this infant movement will face difficult challenges. It may suffer some setbacks and reversals, but what matters is the experience it has gained. At this stage, it is doubtful that fear alone can contain the rising tide of discontent or return things to the status quo ante.
The Coeffient of Restitution
Michael Jackson Is Gone, but the Sad Facts Remain
Maureen Orth in Vanity Fair:
In August 1993, I was on the beach in Nantucket when I was told that Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter was trying to reach me: Michael Jackson had just been accused of child molestation by a 13-year-old boy. Thus began an odyssey of 12 years in which I wrote five lengthy articles for the magazine about the trials and tribulations of this music icon whose fame had literally deformed him. I spoke to hundreds of people who knew Jackson and, in the course of my reporting, found families who had given their sons up to him and paid dearly for it. I found people who had been asked to supply him with drugs. I even found the business manager who told me on-the-record how he had had to wire $150,000 to a voodoo chief in Mali who had 42 cows ritually sacrificed in order to put a curse on David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, and 23 others on Jackson’s enemies list. I sat through two trials and watched his bizarre behavior on the stand when he said he did not recognize his publicist of a decade. One of the reasons I endured this not-fun circus was that, when I began, I was the mother of a boy roughly the same age as the ones Jackson was so interested in spending the night with. His behavior truly troubled me. Understandably, in the wake of his death, there are those who do not want to hear these sad facts. Yet nothing that Vanity Fair printed was ever challenged legally by Jackson or his associates.
A man who made great music and entertained brilliantly has died. I’ve been told that he had endured an eight-hour rehearsal and was in rare form on the stage the night before his death. I’ve also been told that the lawyers swooped in yesterday to retrieve all the videos that had been made of these rehearsals. I believe the aftermath of his death will probably be as messy as his life was. I loved his music. Offstage, he could not escape his tragic flaw.
Here, in order of their appearance in Vanity Fair, are Maureen Orth’s closely reported articles about the Jackson cases.
Paul Bloom in The New York Times:
God has mellowed. The God that most Americans worship occasionally gets upset about abortion and gay marriage, but he is a softy compared with the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. That was a warrior God, savagely tribal, deeply insecure about his status and willing to commit mass murder to show off his powers. But at least Yahweh had strong moral views, occasionally enlightened ones, about how the Israelites should behave. His hunter-gatherer ancestors, by contrast, were doofus gods. Morally clueless, they were often yelled at by their people and tended toward quirky obsessions. One thunder god would get mad if people combed their hair during a storm or watched dogs mate.
In his brilliant new book, “The Evolution of God,” Robert Wright tells the story of how God grew up. He starts with the deities of hunter-gatherer tribes, moves to those of chiefdoms and nations, then on to the polytheism of the early Israelites and the monotheism that followed, and then to the New Testament and the Koran, before finishing off with the modern multinational Gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Wright’s tone is reasoned and careful, even hesitant, throughout, and it is nice to read about issues like the morality of Christ and the meaning of jihad without getting the feeling that you are being shouted at. His views, though, are provocative and controversial. There is something here to annoy almost everyone.
June 26, 2009
Evan Lerner in Seed Magazine:
“The starting position on video games is skepticism,” said New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in his keynote address to this May’s Games for Change Conference in New York City. In its sixth year, the conference is a gathering of developers, academics, and activists intent on using the medium of games for social and educational messages. Kristof was there to discuss his forthcoming social-networking game—an extension of his work on gender inequality and an endorsement of games as something more than mindless entertainment. “I think the way to change that perception is just the record of success in connecting to audiences,” he said.
But on what level are games connecting? The game industry’s roughly $26 billion a year in software sales is on par with Hollywood’s yearly box-office receipts, but the public conception of games remains closer to checkers than to Citizen Kane.
That perception may begin to change next Tuesday when Microsoft Research is slated to release Kodu for Xbox 360. Using terrain-drawing tools and an intuitive graphical programming language, players can design, play, and share a wide variety of 3D games.
Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius
Christopher J. Ferguson
A number of scholars, including L.L. Thurstone and more recently Robert J. Sternberg, have argued that intelligence has been defined too narrowly. But Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who won a prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius award" in 1981, has had enormous influence, particularly in our schools.
Briefly, he has posited that our intellectual abilities are divided among at least eight abilities: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The appealing elements of the theory are numerous.
It's "cool," to start with: The list-like format has great attraction for introductory psychology and education classes. It also seems to jibe well with the common observation that individuals have particular talents. More important, especially for education, it implicitly (although perhaps unintentionally on Gardner's part) promises that each child has strengths as well as weaknesses. With eight separate intelligences, the odds seem good that every child will be intelligent in one of those realms. After all, it's not called the theory of multiple stupidities.
The Eclipsed Celebrity Death Club
From New York Magazine:
The classic ECD example is Groucho Marx, who passed away the same week as Elvis Presley, and thus missed out on a good week's worth of TV tributes. But the easiest way for a famous person to vanish from the earth without so much as a blip is to follow a president of the United States. Ray Charles caught barely a moment's coverage when he died in 2004, right in the middle of the weeklong blanket coverage of Ronald Reagan's death and funeral. Same story for James Brown, who got some press but definitely ran second to Gerald Ford. (The only person who could square off against a dead head of state, it seems, was Mother Teresa. When she died a few days after Princess Diana, a good deal of the coverage tried to frame them as comparably angelic figures.) And don't forget Alice Trillin—granted, not a worldwide celebrity, but a beloved figure to her husband Calvin's thousands of New Yorker-reading fans. While awaiting a heart transplant, she died on September 11, 2001, following the horrible deaths of thousands of New Yorkers. Most of her husband's readers only learned about it many months later, when he published About Alice.
Michael Jackson AND Iran
David Ignatius moderates: Abbas Milani, Karim Sadjadpour, Nicholas Burns
Why are There 60 Minutes in an Hour?
Gary Wallace at Scienceray:
To understand the units of time we need to investigate the number systems of ancient civilizations. How did the Sumerians count to 12 on one hand and to 60 on two? What advances did the Babylonians make and how did they use this number system for measurement? And what refinements did the Egyptians make to time measurement to give us the system we still use today?
It is easy to see the origins of a decimal (base 10) number system. Our hands have 10 digits to count on, so a decimal system follows naturally. With the addition of the toes on our feet a vigesimal (base 20) number system, like that of the Maya, also makes sense. But understanding a sexagesimal (base 60) number system, as used by the Sumerians, takes a little more thought.
A quick glance at a hand shows us four fingers and a thumb that can be used for counting. But the human hand is a complex machine consisting of 27 bones...
Some of these features are evident externally, especially in the fingers. By using the thumb as a pointer, and marking off the distal phalanx, middle phalanx and proximal phalanx of each finger, we can count up to 12 on one hand, as shown [in the photo].
Science and Religion are Not Compatible
Scientifically speaking, the existence of God is an untenable hypothesis. It’s not well-defined, it’s completely unnecessary to fit the data, and it adds unhelpful layers of complexity without any corresponding increase in understanding. Again, this is not an a priori result; the God hypothesis could have fit the data better than the alternatives, and indeed there are still respected religious people who argue that it does. Those people are just wrong, in precisely analogous ways to how people who cling to the Steady State theory are wrong. Fifty years ago, the Steady State model was a reasonable hypothesis; likewise, a couple of millennia ago God was a reasonable hypothesis. But our understanding (and our data) has improved greatly since then, and these are no longer viable models. The same kind of reasoning would hold for belief in miracles, various creation stories, and so on.
See a psychiatrist? Are you mad?
From The Guardian:
Richard Bentall, a clinical psychologist, is a controversial figure in the field of mental health. An example of the hostility that his conclusions provoke among those practising conventional (that is, drug-based) psychiatry is given in the preface to this book, which raises serious questions about the treatment of mental illness. Bentall describes an encounter with an amiable-seeming psychiatrist who responds to a talk he has given as follows: "Professor Bentall has told us he is a scientist. But he is not! Nothing that Professor Bentall has said - not one single word - is true."
The unlikelihood of a professor of psychology delivering, in the sober environment of an NHS conference, a talk in which every word is fictitious and every opinion fallacious gives a flavour of the threat that Bentall's theories pose. The response, as reported, sounds deranged and it is interesting to observe how debate among professionals over the causes of mental illness appears to induce its own version of madness, as if the topic itself were contagious. One sign of sanity, both in the individual and society, is the ability to deal with dissent.
In an earlier book, Madness Explained, Bentall was at pains to distinguish his approach from other anti-psychiatrists - for example, RD Laing, whose radical views were discredited because of his flamboyant lack of rigour and attendant inability to accept criticism. Bentall, as this book attests, is a different kettle of fish. With patient persistence and without recourse to rancorous diatribes, he has appraised the scientific evidence for the success of contemporary psychiatric treatments and come up with a dismal report. It is probably the very balance of his approach that drives his opponents crazy.
Dreaming of Nonsense: The Evolutionary Enigma of Dream Content
From Scientific American:
Friday, June 19, 2:12 a.m.: Loading up the trunk of my car with clothes hangers when approached by two transients… try to engage them in good-natured conversation about the benefits of wooden clothes hangers over metal ones, but they make me uneasy, say they want to go out to get a drink but I’ve got to go. In a city somewhere… looks like a post-apocalyptic Saint Louis.
Saturday, June 20, 4:47 a.m.: Was just now trying to return my dead grandmother’s cane to her. Took elevator to her apartment… meant to go to the 8th floor, but elevator lurched up to the 18th floor, swung around violently then shot back down. Could hear voices in the corridors outside elevator shaft…. a mother yelling at her child. Grandma then became my other grandma, also decesased, yet in a nursing home; doctors say she’s doing fine.
Sunday, June 21, 5:02 a.m.: On a floating barge in the sea trying to get to some other country, just made it, the dogs are running all over the place but seem more like rodents.
Monday, June 22, 3.31 a.m.: Just learned that one of my colleagues died suddenly, everyone’s in shock (they say it was “an accidental overdose of oxygen from a breathing tank; he fell asleep”). Can’t believe it, was just talking to him today about death. Also something about an airplane delay… need to get home but can’t find my test results to submit, searching all over, trash cans, pulling out drawers… people preoccupied.
These are dreams, of course. Mine from the past few days, to be precise—and they are totally absurd. Why on earth do our minds conjure up such ridiculous imagery, such inane thoughts, such spectacularly vivid and surreal landscapes, intense emotions—such narrative trash?
Thinking About Michael
There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.
But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.
I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.
June 25, 2009
No! Michael Jackson is dead!
I don't care what you think. I am just terribly, terribly sad.
One of the most talented singers of our time has died. So much of my youth is mixed up with his stuff.
Here's my all-time favorite MJ song--from his BEST album (just LISTEN to the song):
the myth and the man
As a new South African permanent resident in April of 1994, I stood in line to vote in the first multiracial elections. I was a small-time activist in Cape Town for the next ten years, so I certainly shared Breytenbach's brain fever over the "rainbow nation". The West's fight against racism and authoritarianism was supposed to find its final triumph here. I dealt with the shock of my disappointment much as Breytenbach did, by nearly going round the bend, although my disappointment went in the opposite direction. It began with facts about Mandela that I learned from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (Little Brown, 1994), and progressed to knowledge of his business dealings when the local investigative magazine noseweek put me on the phone to get dirt. I found myself interviewing a business manager of Mandela's. This man had told the national and international press that the profits from the sale of lithographs Mandela had signed (but not created, in noseweek's opinion) went to a children's charity. We had proof that the money — probably amounting to many millions of dollars — went into a private family trust of Mandela's, from which he might be making charitable contributions (as anyone might from his own means), although there was no evidence of this that we could find. The manager finally told me that, yes, it was Mandela's money without restriction — he could spend it all on sweets if he wanted.more from Sarah Ruden at Standpoint here.
Love, Iranian Style
Sometimes, the soft literary citizens of liberal democracy long for prohibition. Coming up with anything to write about can be difficult when you are allowed to write about anything. A day in which the most arduous choice has been between “grande” and “tall” does not conduce to literary strenuousness. And what do we know about life? Our grand tour was only through the gently borderless continent of Google. Nothing constrains us. Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. What if writing were made a bit more exigent for us? What if we had less of everything? It might make our literary culture more “serious,” certainly more creatively ingenious. Instead of drowning in choice, we would have to be inventive around our thirst. Tyranny is the mother of metaphor, and all that.more from James Wood at The New Yorker here.
getting to know ida
“Ida” is a beautiful fossil. A few weeks ago, she became a very famous one, when the squashed-flat remains of this squirrel-sized creature that lived some 47 million years ago, in quasi-tropical forest around a crater lake in what is now Germany, were pictured on every medium known to mankind. Overcome by exhalations of volcanic gas from the lake’s depths, and apparently already weakened by injury, Ida had fallen in and found herself preserved, along with the bodies of a remarkable variety of other animals, in the accumulating muds of the lake floor. Like us, Ida was a member of the zoological group known as the Primates. Today, there are two major kinds of primate in the world: the very successful “higher” ones, consisting of monkeys and apes along with ourselves; and the now largely marginalized “lower” primates that include the lemurs of Madagascar and the lorises, pottos and bushbabies of the tropical Old World.more from Ian Tattersall at the TLS here.
Jason Jones: Behind the Veil - Ayatollah You So
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Jason Jones: Behind the Veil - Ayatollah You So|
Twitter Creator On Iran: 'I Never Intended For Twitter To Be Useful'
Creator Jack Dorsey was shocked and saddened this week after learning that his social networking device, Twitter, was being used to disseminate pertinent and timely information during the recent civil unrest in Iran. "Twitter was intended to be a way for vacant, self-absorbed egotists to share their most banal and idiotic thoughts with anyone pathetic enough to read them," said a visibly confused Dorsey, claiming that Twitter is at its most powerful when it makes an already attention-starved populace even more needy for constant affirmation. "When I heard how Iranians were using my beloved creation for their own means—such as organizing a political movement and informing the outside world of the actions of a repressive regime—I couldn't believe they'd ruined something so beautiful, simple, and absolutely pointless." Dorsey said he is already working on a new website that will be so mind-numbingly useless that Iranians will not even be able to figure out how to operate it.